Michelle Rever's Reviews > Simple Jess

Simple Jess by Pamela Morsi
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Jan 22, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: sugartail, speech-therapy, lavyrle-spencer-ish, rar
Read in January, 2011

(Review originally appeared at Red Adept Reviews.)

Overall: 3 ¼ stars

Plot/Storyline: 3 ¾ stars.

Simple Jess is more than a simple, no pun intended, love story. The book is just as much about the community of Marrying Stone, in the Ozarks, as it is a story about the growing love between Althea and Jess. I appreciated that, because unless you believed in this community, it would be difficult to understand how a woman could be forced to pick a husband by Christmas.

I think romance novels can be divided into two kinds. First, you have the kind that has beautiful people occupying beautiful spaces, or at least living on the periphery and lamenting their relative poverty. In these books, the reader is supposed to live vicariously, and find the hero every bit as swoon-worthy as does the heroine. The intimate scenes are supposed to titillate.

The second sort of romance is based on respect for common decency and the dignity of the working man and woman. We aren't meant to so much live vicariously through them, their lives might already mirror ours, as we are supposed to root for them to find happiness. Whether or not we'd pick the hero for our own, or whether or not we find the intimate moments to be sexy, our own sense of decency says that this couple should be together. They don't have to be perfect, or perfect for us - they only need to be perfect for each other.

Do I need to point out that this book is in the latter category?

In some ways, Simple Jess reminded me of a much-loved Lavyrle Spencer book called Morning Glory. Both books feature heroes who are underdogs, widowed heroines with children, and a community that can either be a resource or a detriment. Make no mistake: Morning Glory is the superior book, but "Jess" does share in common with it some key virtues.

Overall, I enjoyed the storyline and Althea's slow realization that Jess was a man and not an oversized child, that he was a good dad to her child - the truly annoyingly named Baby-Paisley - and that he was the right groom for her.

Two other storylines focused on her other perspective husbands. I think these enriched the story, even though I had mixed-feelings about one of these men.

While I have few issues here, my mixed feelings toward the one character, as well as a sense that there could be a scene or two more in the "B" storylines, took something away from my enjoyment. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure other readers would prefer the opposite - a tighter focus on Jess and Althea.

The story clearly implies that what happens involved a little heavenly intervention, but it's not a big focus.

Characters: 3 1/2 stars.

While I liked Jess and Althea - more so Jess - and found myself moved by the scenes in his point of view, I didn't enjoy all the secondary characters. There's a secondary hero named Eben. He is set up to be a suitor to Althea, but it's clear that he is meant for the shop-keeper's daughter. As is not unusual for romance novels, he's a bit of a jerk. Of course, also in the tradition of romance novels, he repents. I still don't like him. Perhaps this is because of the lack of time with him, but he just seems to be schizophrenic. This means that I feel I spent both too much and too little time with him.

Morsi did a terrific job with Jess, showing how his thought processes were slower, but making it clear that he was capable of making his own decisions. I was touched by the greater care her took to not only do things right, but also to do the right thing.

In the words of Baby-Paisley, in a baby-talk free moment, "He's right `bout lots of stuff. Just `cause he ain't smart, doan mean that he's dumb."

Writing Style: 3 ½ stars.

I debated whether or not to put the next issue under character or writing style. I'm going with writing style. Althea has a toddler son named Baby-Paisley. I don't actually, when I think of his actions, dislike the character, not even in his brattiest moments. What drives me bonkers is his phonetically rendered baby talk. B-P says "pwease" a lot. A whole lot. He laments not being allowed to dwink coffee. And then he joins with Jess to get his mother a Cwissmas pwesent. (Well, once in a while he slips - or Morsi does - and he actually says present.)

I have absolutely no choice but to reference Dorothy Parker's classic review of The House at Pooh Corner. (Parker referred to herself in reviews as Constant Reader.)

And it is that word `hummy,' my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up.

I also found the language to be repetitive on occasion. If a character called a woman "sugartail" once per scene, he seemingly called her it half a dozen times. I wanted the woman in question to bop him on the back of his head to unstick the needle on his phonograph. (See, kids, in the olden days before MP3s...)

However, the author also brought to life a community and a way of life, and that takes genuine and undeniable skill. I felt like I witnessed many of the hardships and charms of living in Marrying Stone.

Formatting: 2 1/4 stars.

This was a disaster, particularly when you see that a traditional publisher - Jove Books - was responsible for this. Simple Jess was originally published in the 1990s, before ebooks were "a thing." Jove either got a lot of requests for this book to be available in that format, or wanted to make it available because the author's name is well-known. Older books take more care in conversion - and this was pretty much a mess, with weird paragraph breaks, spaces and divisions in words, and wonky alignment. I consider this inexcusable. I think the only reason why I'm rating it so high is that it's a shame that this has to bring down the overall rating for Ms. Morsi's book.

I'll acknowledge that, over the course of the book, I learned to auto-correct the issues and block most of them out on a conscious level, but that should be unnecessary.

There's another Morsi book I was looking to get when it came to Kindle. I see it's now available, but at 11.99 and with this as an example of the lack of care, I'll have to see - and certainly sample.
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