A Few Quick Questions With…James Bailey

I’ve had some really good Q&A’s this year — which is entirely due to those providing the A’s. Here’s one of the crème de la crème. Now I wrote about James Bailey’s book, The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo a week or so ago, but I didn’t have time to read and post about the sequel by today, its release date. So instead, I’ve got this little back-and-forth with the author to celebrate the release of Dispatches from a Tourist Trap. I’ll try to get something written about it by the end of this week, but I know better than to promise anything.

So sit back and enjoy this before you go to buy the book, which should have downloaded to my Kindle this morning. I’m going to go verify that as you read Bailey’s thoughtful and funny contributions below.

Most authors have dozens of ideas bouncing around their craniums at once — what was it about this idea that made you say, “Yup — this is the one for me.”? What came first, the choice to go for a YA story instead of your adult novels or the story idea?
I have so many Chapter 1’s on my computer it’s not even funny, so, yeah, I have ideas bouncing around all the time. Some of them never get any further than a few notes jotted down on a scrap of paper. The idea for Jason came to me while re-reading The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 . I thought it would be fun to try something like that, but more modern. I went with email instead of a diary. I got the image for his parents from my neighbors, who are probably closer to Rob and Janice than most people would want their parents to be. They are prone to fighting, occasionally physically, in their driveway. Any time we see a police car in the neighborhood, we almost expect to see it stop in front of their house. As for Jason, I wanted a likeable (if sometimes mildly self-centered) protagonist. On my last novel, Sorry I Wasn’t What You Needed, I started with the concept of a borderline asshole for the main character. He was definitely selfish, sometimes worse. One of my beta readers tabbed him a sociopath. I did soften him a little after that. I wasn’t quite aiming for sociopath. And I think he grew enough by the end that readers wouldn’t throw stuff at him if they met him on the street. But for First World Problems I wanted someone more likeable, and hopefully Jason comes across as a decent kid.

As for the YA angle, I’m not always even sure what counts as YA. I suspect most YA books are read by adults at least as much or more than they are by teens. Is it the protagonist being young, dealing with teen trials and tribulations, or is it the reader being young? Is Nick Hornby’s Slam a YA book? (One of my favorite Hornby novels, btw.) For me, when I read something that falls under the YA umbrella there’s often a nostalgia factor in there somewhere, and sometimes a “man, I’m glad I don’t have to relive all that again” factor. But when you look back on your life, there’s something about those high school years, as good or bad as they were, that never fades. Most of us will remember life as a 14-18 year old much more distinctly than we will life as a 24-28 year old or 34-38 year old, etc. It’s a formative period. Still, once I finish off the series, I’ll probably go back to writing “adult” books. (Though when you say it like that, it sounds like adult films, which have a seriously different meaning.)

I honestly laughed out loud there. Also, I have to confess — I’ve never read Slam. I bought it when it came out, my wife read and enjoyed it. But the Hardcover is sitting on my shelf. I really need to.

Anyway, why did you choose to go with an Epistolary book? What are the specific challenges that come with it — are there specific benefits?

As mentioned in the first answer, I was riffing off Adrian Mole a little when I started this project. The first couple of drafts were all Jason. I didn’t work in replies from the other characters until later. A friend who read an early draft said it was hard to get a feel for anyone else’s personality as it was. I’m really glad I changed course, because it definitely allowed them each to show more of who they are. Drew, especially, but Gina as well. Want a challenge? How about telling your brain to ignore all the spell-checker issues when writing her responses. While I was editing the rest of the book to make sure the spelling and grammar was correct, I had to keep making hers worse. She was fun to write. I only hope everyone can decipher what she said.
Ugh! I meant to talk about Gina’s grammar and spelling — how could I forget about that? It was so nice to read intentional misspellings and atrocious sentences. I’ve read too much of both lately in theoretially edited works.

Why 2003? Why not something more current — or further back? (Feel free to mock any of my rambling about the time)

You answered this one yourself in your review, almost exactly. I had to freeze it back in a time period when it was still realistic that guys like Jason and Drew wouldn’t have had phones. If I had set this in 2018, everything would have been in texts. That would be horrible. As it is, it still requires a minor suspension of disbelief that they would write in complete sentences, but then again, they’re intellectual fellows. I could have gone a little further back in time, but not much beyond the mid-90s. Earlier than that and email would have been a stretch for the opposite reason.
I’ve often heard that writers, or artists in general, will forget hundreds of positive reviews but always remember the negative — what’s the worst thing that someone’s said about one of your books, and has it altered your approach to future books?
I now have a 1-star review on Amazon for each of my four books. Fortunately, those are the minority. I’m not sure about the “worst,” but I do have a stupidest. A guy gave my first book, The Greatest Show on Dirt, a 1-star review. All he said was, “not about baseball. Its a dumb story about people who work at a baseball stadium,” That’s it. Well, there’s a lot of baseball in the book. Not sure what he was looking for. But here’s the kicker. He’s also the guy who left a one-star review on my second book, Nine Bucks a Pound. For that one he said, “only started it. Not very good.” He posted both reviews on the same day. My question for him would be, if you didn’t like one, why’d you bother with the other? But you can’t respond to reviewers. There’s nothing to gain from it and a lot to lose. You have to just try to tune the negative ones out. Not always easy. Then again, if most of the reviews for a book are 4 or 5 stars, and someone posts a 1 star review, to me that says more about them than it does the author or the book.

And try to find a book on Amazon that everyone liked. My favorite novel of all time, A Confederacy of Dunces, has 221 1-star reviews. That book is brilliant. It’s hilarious, creative, the characters jump off the page. How in the world that all came together in one man’s mind just amazes me. But 221 people hated it enough to rip it on Amazon. When I see people saying “This isn’t funny,” about Ignatius J. Reilly, that tells me all I need to know about them. They have no sense of humor, whatsoever.

What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
If I thought hard enough about this, I’m sure I could come up with a handful, but the first thing that pops into my head is a book called Dinosaurs and Prime Numbers, by Tom Moran. And while I might wish I had written it, if I’m honest there’s no way I could have. It’s just too zany. It’s about a time traveling detective named Walton Cumberfield, who has to solve the mystery of why an old man broke into his house after Walton beats him to death with a Guinness Book of World Records (2008 edition). It’s a bit silly at times, and if you hate puns you might struggle with it, but it’s clever, creative, and fun. Walton reminded me in some ways of Ignatius J. Reilly (two Confederacy of Dunces references in one Q&A; is that a record?). There was a second book in the series, called A Debt to the Universe, that was enjoyable, but not quite as good.

I’ve loved time-travel movies and books since I saw Back to the Future when I was 15. I’ve toyed around with some ideas for writing one myself, but I haven’t quite hit on the right storyline yet. Maybe someday.

You care to give the elevator pitch for Book Two of the Trilogy? (and maybe a hint about Book Three, if you can)
Okay, I’m hardly kidding when I say it’s easier to write a book than it is to write a blurb about that book. I’ve finally finished rewriting the one that’s going to go up on Amazon, and you’re asking for an elevator pitch, which to me connotes something even shorter, so I’m going to hack it down slightly here. If you want the fuller version, you can find it up on Amazon (the book is available now for pre-order). Anyway, here’s my elevator pitch version:

Thanks to his parents’ separation, Jason is starting his sophomore year of high school in tiny Icicle Flats, a quaint Bavarian-themed mountain village three hours east of Seattle. This town has barely changed since Janice grew up there, and she’s only going back because she has a new boyfriend, who is also her new boss.

Leaving his friends is hard, but the worst part is leaving Sian, right when things were getting good. In between visits, they exchange a lot of email and phone calls, but long-distance relationships are always challenging, especially for someone like Jason who forever seems to be digging himself into a hole. Fortunately, Drew is just an email away. If only Jason would ever heed his advice.

Jason joins an after-school book club, where he hooks up with a couple of other students who love to push boundaries. Mayhem ensues, involving the school board, the town Christmas parade, and a pirate radio station. Who ever said life in a small novelty town would be dull?

As for Book 3, I haven’t started writing it yet, but I do have some ideas. Jason’s family will expand when Rob gets remarried and a new bundle of joy appears. Fortunately for his little brother, his stepmother is a competent adult, which brings the grand total to one in Jason’s circle. His relationship with Sian will be strained once more when she heads off to Ireland as an exchange student. Jason will learn how to drive. And Rob may see a UFO. For now, I’m envisioning the book covering the summer before his junior year (picking up where Book 2 leaves off) and running through the school year. But there’s a lot TBD at this stage.

Thanks for your time — and thanks for introducing me to Jason Van Otterloo.
And thank you, for your time and the opportunity to reach some new readers.

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A Few Quick Questions With…Melissa Simonson

Okay, I’ve already raved about Lingering this morning (I haven’t written it yet, but it’ll be a rave, I know that much). And now we get to follow it up with a Q&A with Melissa Simonson, the author of Lingering and a handful of other things.

I really appreciate her taking the time — particularly because she doesn’t seem to like doing these. I understand that, but enjoyed her answers — I hope you do, too. I tried something new here, I gave her a thumbnail version of one of my working theories and let her respond. That was kind of fun, I think I’ll try that again sometime. I’ll shut up now and get to the good stuff so you can go buy some of her books after reading this.

Do I want to know how close to possible this book is? Actually, never mind, don’t answer this.
I’m probably the wrong person to ask about that. I can barely work Microsoft Word or smartphones so I’m a bit of a Luddite. Every technical thing I’ve so much as touched has broken, so I try to stay away for the most part. Though I don’t think the talk/text part of the Lingering business is too outlandish…
You’ve written a good number of books prior to that, and seem to bounce from genre to genre — is there a common thread to your work? Is there a genre you want to tackle, but haven’t yet?
Yes, I don’t restrict myself to certain genres….I mainly write in the “whatever the hell I want” genre. As for common threads, I really don’t know. I suppose I wander into the dark very easily, and they’ve all got that in common.
Who are some of your major influences? (whether or not you think those influences can be seen in your work — you know they’re there)
I’m such a bad interviewee, I never know how to answer this question. Of course there are authors and books I love, but I’m not sure whether they’ve got anything to do with my own. As far as Lingering influences go–have you ever seen Ex-Machina? Go watch it if you haven’t, but the second I saw that movie I was obsessed, and it was pretty much the source of my inspiration.
I’ve shared with you my half-baked theory — did you plant seeds for people to think that way, or was I just really out to lunch? (I expect the latter) Did you try to wave red herrings in the reader’s face to keep them off their feet? Or another way of asking this is — how do you go about keeping the audience guessing while being honest with them about what’s going on?
Well, if you’re out to lunch with that theory, you’ll be in good company. I’ve heard that from many people, and I can understand why you’d have thought something along those lines, though that idea never struck me when I was writing the book. RE: keeping people guessing, well, I’m afraid I don’t have a good answer for that, either. Half the time I don’t know what’s going to happen until about five minutes before I write it. I rarely outline and tend to go in with a foggy general idea, but that’s it.
I love the Kylie-Ben dynamic. Was Ben’s niece part of the novel from the get-go, or did you find a need for her later on? What on earth possessed you to have the two of them read The Art of War together? (I love it, don’t get me wrong, but that’s an odd choice)
Yes, Kylie was always around. I don’t know why I had them reading The Art of War, it just popped into my head and I ran with it. Is it an odd choice? Maybe. I’d considered striking the whole Kylie/Ben relationship because some people had asked me what the point of them is, but. I’m stubborn.
In my not-so-humble opinion, you need to stop listening to those people. But I digress. . .

What’s next for Melissa Simonson?

I have another work-in-progress on my hard drive, so I’ll be working on that just as soon as I get over the recent deaths on The Walking Dead and in between episodes of Game of Thrones. I lead a very exciting life, I’m sure you can tell.
Thanks for your time — and thanks for Lingering. I hope you find a lot of success with it.

Lingering by Melissa Simonson: A Touching and Creepy Tale about a Couple that will Always be together in Electric Dreams

This was just published — go grab your copy now and give Melissa Simonson a strong release week!

LingeringLingering

by Melissa Simonson


Kindle Edition, 326 pg.
2019
Read: March 21 – 22, 2019

Typically, when I just quote the official blurb, it’s because I’m feeling lazy — or I don’t like the book and don’t want to spend energy coming up with my own synopsis. But this time, it’s because I just like this so much:

           Death doesn’t have to be the end.

With Lingering, your departed loved ones are only ever a phone call or text message away.*
Say all those things you should have said. Get their advice, hear their comforting words. Let them celebrate your achievements and soothe your fears like they used to.
Everyone is welcome, and consultations are always free.

*Some conditions may apply. Please call our office for details.

That’s all Simonson said when she pitched me the book. And it absolutely worked. Now, maybe it’s because of what people typically try to get me to read, maybe it’s because of what I was reading at the time — I don’t know why, but I took this to be a supernatural/urban fantasy/beyond the grave thing. It’s not there in what she said about the book, but that’s the impression that I walked away with.

It couldn’t be further from the case, actually. In this case, the grieving client gives Lingering access to the dead person’s social media, texts, emails, etc. and then using the kind of social engineering that Identity Thieves dream about, come up with an approximation of the dearly departed. Obviously, the more data given them, the better the approximation will be.

When Ben is approached by a strange woman while he’s visiting his fiance’s grave about five months after she was murdered, he obviously has no idea what he’s in for. This stranger wants him to be a beta user for Lingering’s services. Not only was his fiancé a prolific texter, she was a fashion blogger and vlogger — so there was a lot of data to use as a source. After weeks of texting back and forth — in which the software was able to imitate Carissa pretty well, they move on to voice calls, and so on.

Lingering is made up of one engineer/developer and his girlfriend who’s in charge of recruitment and the business side of operations. We don’t get to meet other clients, but they do exist (or at least did — maybe they only have one beta at a time — it doesn’t matter). The engineer is a creep, and is clearly invested wholeheartedly (and maybe unhealthily) in this project. The recruiter, on the other hand, isn’t as invested, but does believe in the project (or at least her boyfriend). Their involvement in this story keeps it from being your typical “Boy meets AI/Computer Simulation of a Girl” story.

Because in many ways this is that kind of story — with the added twist of Carissa being the victim of an unsolved murder. But for anyone who’s watched Her, Ex Machina, or even Electric Dreams most of this story goes just like you anticipate. The Lingering duo add in some interesting complications, as does the murder investigation looming over portions of it. Simonson tells this familiar(ish) story in a compelling way, with a hint of menace mixed into star-crossed love. It’s tense, taut and heartfelt.

As the reader knows — and Ben does, too — he’s not talking to Carissa. In his own words, it’s “a machine pretending to be Carissa.” But that doesn’t stop him from sort of falling for her, and for the reader to wonder if there’s a way for it to work out for them. Even as the reader and Ben both feel the wrongness inherent in it all. A feeling that’s compounded as more about Lingering is shown to Ben.

Just with this, I’d recommend the novel. But that’s not what makes this book a keeper.

Simonson gives us a protagonist that you can’t help but feel for. The woman of his dreams, a woman out of his league that somehow truly loved him, his friends and family (well, maybe not his mother — but she wanted to), the woman he would die for was stolen from him in the worst possible way. They have a big fight, he storms out and hits a bar for a couple hours only to come back to discover her body.

Ben plunges into depression and grief — the only good thing to come out of things immediately is that Carissa’s cat suddenly decides she doesn’t hate him. His work suffers, his friendships and family relationships do, too (we’ll come back to that in a minute). He eventually finds a friend in his grief — Joe’s wife died from cancer around the same time as the murder and the graves are near each other. As the two men visit the graves they eventually visit each other and establish a mutual support system (that involves a lot of alcohol).

While we get to know Ben, we get to know the (real) Carissa and those in his life. We can see the devastation that Carissa’s murder has left in everyone’s life. His grief is real, and his efforts to move on aren’t that successful (they are half-hearted at best, too). Yes, Ben has a secret crutch helping him — but this really could be diving into work, substance abuse or something else — in a sense Simonson could’ve used anything here to give Ben a reason to keep going, she simply chose a machine pretending to be a person.

Joe doesn’t have Lingering, and he doesn’t seem to have much of a support network, either. He has Ben and alcohol. And memories. Many, many memories. As wrong as Ben’s “relationship” with cyber-Carissa is, he does seem to be functioning better than Joe, and the reader has many opportunities to see that. But man, Joe’s experiences are genuine, his pain is real. Ben’s got something keeping him from those experiences, and you can’t help but think how bad this is for him.

One of the many people almost as devastated by Carissa’s death was his young cousin, Kylie. I’m sure we’re told her age, but I don’t remember — I’m going to guess 8. Young enough that Goosebumps and Baby Sitters Club books are age-appropriate, but maybe a little advanced. She’s a good enough reader that they aren’t really her speed anymore, though. She calls Ben her uncle (he’s too old to be a cousin in her view). The two of them have a very close relationship, and Kylie will spend time at Ben’s house after school and the two of them make regular runs ot the library and read together frequently. While there’s almost nothing in this book that I didn’t like — my favorite parts involve Kylie.

Early on, they find themselves at a Library book sale and Kylie talks him into buying her The Art of War as well as Little Women (they only tell mom about one of the purchases). Throughout the book the two will read Sun Tzu together, Ben helping Kylie understand (and apply!) the classic. He picks up a handy tip or two from the old warrior/philosopher, too. Those scenes are priceless — warm, cute and insightful. Kylie’s a great addition to the book and humanizes Ben in ways that nothing else can. If Simonson needs a side project, an edition of The Art of War annotated with commentary by Ben and Kylie would be an insta-buy from me.

Thanks to watching Ben with Dexter (Carissa’s cat), Joe, his friends and, most importantly, Kylie you learn to care about him and his loss. You understand what he’s missing in his life and the degree it’s affecting him. So when things happen with Lingering and cyber-Carissa, you care about that. It’s not just some dopey guy being taken in by a computer generated fraud (that he signed up for, don’t get me wrong) — it’s this character you care about risking everything for some clever software.

The writing was excellent — I don’t think I had a negative note anywhere. The closest came when Ben was trying to box up Carissa’s clothes and I said something about how hard it was to read. The grief is real and palpable throughout the book, and really strong in others. All the characters are well drawn and developed — even those we spend only a few paragraphs with. The merging of the SF-ish elements with the story of Ben trying to recover from the death is really well done and adds shades and nuances to both, making the novel stronger.

Simonson took a lot of care about the appearance of the book, too. Which is important (maybe more so for a self-published book than one put out by one of the bigger houses). That’s an eye-catching and fitting cover — but even the graphic elements dividing up the text aren’t run of the mill and are attractive (I read a book a couple of weeks ago that went for an atypical graphic element, but I couldn’t tell what it was — nor could other readers that I talked to). I really appreciate it when people go to the extra trouble that someone clearly did here.

I’m not sure if this is really Science Fiction, but it has some SF elements. There’s a touch of a thriller about it, too. But I wouldn’t categorize it there. Maybe just General Fiction? But it feels too genre-adjacent for that. Eh, just categorize it as a read for people who like good things.

I can’t think of anything else to say here, really. This is an excellent read that totally sucked me in and wouldn’t let go. I spent a lot of time thinking about it between reading sessions, and have mused about it frequently since I finished, too. I guess you could say it’s lingering on in my mind. But you shouldn’t, because that’s just lazy word play, and we’re all better than that here. Just go read the book, okay?

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book by the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Pub Day Repost: Not Everyone is Special by Josh Denslow: A Short Story Collection that’ll Gobsmack You at Least Once

Not Everyone is SpecialNot Everyone is Special

by Josh Denslow

eARC, 160 pg.
7.13 Books, 2019
Read: February 2 – 24, 2019

I’m not sure what to say about this collection of 15 short stories. They’re all really well-written — there was one or two I didn’t care for, two that I really liked — but they all showed skill, craft, and achieved what I think Denslow intended to achieve. But I’m not sure that I can muster up any excitement over the collection.

Some of the stories fall into the SF/Speculative Fiction category, but by and large these are “General Fiction” (whatever exactly that is). Some are comic, some are very tragic (I think you could make the case for all of the stories containing elements of both).

“Proximity” a bittersweet story about a young man on the brink of maturity (but resisting stepping over it) who happens to be able to teleport is one of the best things I’ve read in months. A great combination of imagination and story, that sadly, I read the same day I read the best novel I’ve read so far this year, and completely forgot about until I started flipping through this book again while writing this. (but, man, am I glad I remember it now…)

Then there’s “Mousetrap,” which starts with the line,

I want to find a not scary way to tell my sister that I’m contemplating killing myself, but I don’t want her to think that it has to do with the fact that she asked me to start paying rent.

And openings don’t get much better than that (the story lives up to it).

There are a handful of other really high high points in this collection. I can’t talk about “Dorian Vandercleef” beyond encouraging you to read it — but you really should. “Blake Bishop Believes in Love” is sweet, grotesque and unpleasant (intentionally so). “Extra Ticket,” a story about a teenager dealing (and not well) with grieving over a friend’s death would serve as a handy example of the concept of “poignant,” if you ever find yourself in need of one.

I might not be over-the-moon with this book, but I did like it. I can even see me being in a situation where I’d re-read parts or all of it (I don’t normally re-read short story books, but I’m not opposed to the idea). I would absolutely read more by Denslow — long form or short form. Not Everyone is Special is a good book — some of the stories might even be more than good. I’d absolutely encourage you to get your hands on this to judge for yourself. I promise you’ll find at least one story that’ll knock your socks off.

—–

3.5 Stars
Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion, which is what I provided.
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Who Killed the Fonz? by James Boice will leave you groovin’ all week

Who Killed the Fonz?Who Killed the Fonz?

by James Boice
Hardcover , 208 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 2019
Read: March 9, 2018

“Everyone gets old,” said Ralph. “No one stays cool forever. Not even the Fonz.”

Like almost every American of a certain age — I have warm memories about the show Happy Days. Granted, my memories are a bit hazy — the show premiered when I was a few months old, but I was 10 when it ended. So I know I watched a lot of it between the first-run episodes and syndication (surely, someone syndicated those and I watched them) — I mean, we had 3 channels (plus PBS), what else were we going to do? I remember very little about it — I thought Potsie was kind of annoying, Ralph was hilarious, I didn’t care too much about Joanie or Chachi, and the Fonz? I mean . . . who didn’t want to be Fonzie? For everyone in my generation, our first exposure to the concept of “cool” our first symbol of it, the avatar of coolness was Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli.

I have clear memories of being 5 (+/-) and being at a semi-local amusement park riding a Carousel that in addition to animals, had some cars you could ride in — or motorcycles. I hopped on those motorcycles and every time I went around to where my parents were standing and watching, I’d give them a big thumbs up and an “Ayyyyyyy.”

What I’m trying to say is that I am a full-fledged member of the target audience for this book. But then again, pretty much everyone alive who’s roughly my age or old is, too.

This novel takes place in late October of ’84. Filmmaker Richard Cunningham’s career is on the skids, he’s got an epic movie he’s been trying for years to make, but no one wants him to (today we’d call it Oscar-bait, his agent and movie companies considered it to be Box Office poison); he’s just spent time talking to friend/contemporary “Steve” about his new time travel movie with the kid from Family Ties and his agent is trying to get him to write a script for a well-funded Star Wars-knock off.

The poor guy is having a rough day . . . and then he gets home to learn that his old friend, Arthur Fonzarelli has been in a wreck on his beloved motorcycle and is dead. Granted, the two had lost touch, but the knowledge that the Fonz is dead shakes Richard to his core. He quickly makes arrangements to head back to Milwaukee to attend the funeral. Neither his mother (who lives in his home) or Lori Beth can make the flight, so he’ll stay in Joanie and Chachi’s house (they’re on vacation and can’t catch a flight home in time to attend). Shortly after arriving, he runs into Al, Ralph, Potsie — and even the jukebox.

Very quickly, Boice has set the tone (nostalgic, amusing, and wistful) and ticked off the major boxes when it comes to fan-service. He’s going to have some fun with and even re-examine some aspects of the series (see the conversation that opening quote came from) — but he’s going to do it with respect for the source material. This isn’t The Brady Bunch Movie, but it’s not a slave to the original (see, Superman Returns).

That accomplished, he puts Richard into new territory — he’s brought out to the home of a Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate, who wants him to write a commercial for the final days of the campaign — Richard even agrees to direct it. This gives him time to decide if he wants to follow his agent’s wishes as well as an excuse to stay in town. Which he needs once he’s given some information that leads him to conclude that Fonzie wasn’t the victim of an accident, but was murdered.

So Richard has to figure out the direction of his career, convince anyone else that the Fonz was killed and/or find the killer, in a matter of days. All the while coming to terms with being home for the first time since he left for Hollywood, just days after coming home from the Army.

You make this a novel about struggling filmmaker Robert Cummings, returning to Detroit for the funeral of his old friend Frankie — free and clear of pre-existing pop-culture prejudices and baggage — and I’d still probably like t his book. Not as much, but it’d still be good. Wrap this up in beloved characters? The pretty good book becomes something else.

The identity of the killer was pretty clear soon after Richard started thinking about it (maybe even before then), and the motive seemed semi-obvious. But a big reveal close to the end changed the stakes significantly and made the motive and identity much more believable. And like with so many mysteries, the “whodunit” is less important than the journey taken to get to the revelation of the identity — and this journey rocked. Richard’s introspection and self-assessment was well-handled, as was his getting re-acquainted with his old high school friends, seeing what they’d made of themselves, etc. There’s a good balance of sentiment and story here — not unlike a certain situation comedy at its best.

I read this in one sitting, which I love doing, and the book moved along so nicely I didn’t even think about putting it down for any reason. It’s a thoughtful read, but not a ponderous one. It’s a murder mystery, but there’s only one or two moments of danger — it’s very much on the cozy side of the street, and can easily appeal to people who’d never read a murder mystery. It’s lightly told and frequently amusing, but not very comedic. I will say that I laughed once — thanks to Ralph, of course. While frequently amusing, this wasn’t a comedy — but Boice was able to use Richard’s friends to lighten a pretty tense moment — and to use that incident to push the story along rather than detract from the story. It’s not a grab you and won’t let go, kind of book — but it’ll easily keep you engaged.

The nostalgia starts with the Table of Contents (I’m serious here) and flows right to the last page, but never dominates anything. Boice keeps it from being schmaltzy or cheap, it’ snot just about the show, it’s about the characters (which I think would be particularly difficult with this group). This gets a strong recommendation from me — even if you end up not liking it as much as I do, I can’t imagine anyone walking away from this anything but happy about the time they spent with it. It’s one of those that gets better the more you think about it — the way that Boice built-on the foundation of the series and yet created something wholly original (and possibly deserving of a sequel, as long as it didn’t involve a murder) is truly impressive.

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4 1/2 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge 2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Not Everyone is Special by Josh Denslow: A Short Story Collection that’ll Gobsmack You at Least Once

Not Everyone is SpecialNot Everyone is Special

by Josh Denslow


eARC, 160 pg.
7.13 Books, 2019

Read: February 2 – 24, 2019

I’m not sure what to say about this collection of 15 short stories. They’re all really well-written — there was one or two I didn’t care for, two that I really liked — but they all showed skill, craft, and achieved what I think Denslow intended to achieve. But I’m not sure that I can muster up any excitement over the collection.

Some of the stories fall into the SF/Speculative Fiction category, but by and large these are “General Fiction” (whatever exactly that is). Some are comic, some are very tragic (I think you could make the case for all of the stories containing elements of both).

“Proximity” a bittersweet story about a young man on the brink of maturity (but resisting stepping over it) who happens to be able to teleport is one of the best things I’ve read in months. A great combination of imagination and story, that sadly, I read the same day I read the best novel I’ve read so far this year, and completely forgot about until I started flipping through this book again while writing this. (but, man, am I glad I remember it now…)

Then there’s “Mousetrap,” which starts with the line,

I want to find a not scary way to tell my sister that I’m contemplating killing myself, but I don’t want her to think that it has to do with the fact that she asked me to start paying rent.

And openings don’t get much better than that (the story lives up to it).

There are a handful of other really high high points in this collection. I can’t talk about “Dorian Vandercleef” beyond encouraging you to read it — but you really should. “Blake Bishop Believes in Love” is sweet, grotesque and unpleasant (intentionally so). “Extra Ticket,” a story about a teenager dealing (and not well) with grieving over a friend’s death would serve as a handy example of the concept of “poignant,” if you ever find yourself in need of one.

I might not be over-the-moon with this book, but I did like it. I can even see me being in a situation where I’d re-read parts or all of it (I don’t normally re-read short story books, but I’m not opposed to the idea). I would absolutely read more by Denslow — long form or short form. Not Everyone is Special is a good book — some of the stories might even be more than good. I’d absolutely encourage you to get your hands on this to judge for yourself. I promise you’ll find at least one story that’ll knock your socks off.

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3.5 Stars
Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion, which is what I provided.
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

The Great Brain (Audiobook) by John D. Fitzgerald, Ron McLarty: A frequently pleasant stroll down memory lane

The Great Brain (Audiobook)The Great Brain

by John D. Fitzgerald, Ron McLarty (Narrator)
Series: The Great Brain, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 4 Hours, 41 Minutes
Listening Library, 2002

Read: February 25 – 26, 2019


Growing up, these stories about a pre-teen con artist in late 19th Century Utah were among my favorites. I remember stumbling on a box set at a Yard Sale after I’d read them from the Library a couple of times and just about wore out the set reading and re-reading them. Even then, I remember that I had problems with some of the characters, and recall that my favorite was always the narrator, John D., not the titular Great Brain himself, Tom D. About 10 years ago, I read the series to my kids, and enjoyed it (possibly more than they did), but not as much as I remembered. Still, when I saw it listed as a new addition to my library’s catalog, I took a second glance and when I saw that Ron McLarty did the narration, I had to try it.

This book is a series of episodes from over a year or so in the life of three brothers, Sweyn D., Tom D. and John D. Fitzgerald. Sweyn is around a little bit as the more mature eldest brother, John’s the youngest (8 or 9, I believe) and Tom is 10 and the star. He’s Greedy, conniving, and ambitious — and his ego is bigger than the rest of his attributes combined. They live in a small, largely LDS, town in Utah during the last decade of the 1800s. The episodes feature different ways in which Tom’s Great Brain works to make him money and/or notoriety in the community, especially with the kids.

Some of these antics are silly, some are serious. Almost all of them are profitable for Tom. The strength of the stories is the humanity of the rest of the community — the traveling Jewish merchant, the local farmers, the Greek immigrant family, for starters. The weakness comes from the very laissez-faire approach to parenting the Fitzgeralds take — allowing Tom D. to pretty much get away with everything he wants.

There is some charm, some heart, throughout — even from Tom. That part appeals to me, the ego-driven greedy exploits of the Great Brain don’t. John’s narration occasionally will critique Tom’s motives, but mostly John’s a little brother thinking his big brother is fantastic no matter what. I know John becomes more disillusioned later, but for now, it was annoying. I want better for him.

How’s the narration you ask? Honestly, the chance to listen to Ron McLarty narrate was half the reason I had for grabbing this. McLarty will always be Sgt. Frank Belson to me, despite the many other things he’s accomplished in life. He did a fine job, at times a great job. Something about him reading the contraction-less dialogue bugged the tar out of me. George Guidal can make it work when he reads Henry Standing Bear — although it helps that no one else does it. McLarty can’t make it work, probably because despite the fact that slang is used, time appropriate language — but not a contraction from anyone? I don’t lay the fault at McLarty’s feet, it’s just a prominent feature.

I still recommend the books and enjoyed them. It’s just a tempered enjoyment. I’ll probably keep chipping away at the series over the next few months — waiting to see John’s disillusionment grow, and the brothers develop a conscience.

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3 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge