The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding: BOOK I., Chapter v.-ix.

Fridays with the Foundling
(yeah, I know, I typically hate using actor’s images when it comes to discussing the source material…but, w/o Finney, I’m not doing this)

https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/6593Miss Bridget shocks the housekeeper by showing actual tenderness and affection toward the (as yet unnamed) foundling. She follows that up with what could (should?) be construed as a less than compassionate move–she hunts down his mother (a far easier task than you’d expect) and brings her before the magistrate, Mr. Allworthy. Allworthy doesn’t condemn her for what she does, he gives her a lecture on morality, assures her he’ll take care of the child better than she could’ve, and then tries to get the name of the father from her. She doesn’t give that up, but does so in a way that she earns the approbation of Mr. Allworthy, as well as Miss Bridget and the housekeeper (who were absolutely not eavesdropping, they just happened to hear what happened between the magistrate and mother.

Really not a lot happens here, and Tom is “off-screen” for almost all of it. Still, it’s good to get this kind of thing out of the way and the narrator continues to be entertaining.

A Few (more) Quick Questions With…Matthew Hanover

So, I gushed a bit about Hanover’s upcoming novel, Not Dressed, earlier. Now it’s time to ask him a few questions about it and a few other things. I should add, the book is available for pre-order, get on it.

With maybe two exceptions, I’ve only had good experiences doing these Q&As over the years, but this was by far the best—Hanover went well above and beyond the call with this one and was more than generous with his time and effort. Drinks are on me if we’re ever in the same city, sir.

Before we move to Not Dressed, let’s look back at Not Famous for a moment—I’ve asked a couple of your colleagues this question, and I’d love to hear your perspective: Why is it, do you think, that male readers respond so strongly to books about music? (your novels, Hornby’s, etc.)
I think—and I could be wrong—but the love of music is such a universal thing that it’s easy for male readers to relate to characters that are interested in music, or music-themed books. It’s a universal language we can all understand even if we listen to different stuff.
What lessons were you able to take from the writing, editing, marketing, launch, etc. of Not Famous to the process for Not Dressed? Were there some things that you assumed “Oh, I’ll know better next time” or “I’ve got to do this again for the next book” that in the end, you couldn’t use? Was this an easier process, more difficult, or are the experiences so tied to the different books that you can’t compare?
Not Famous did better than I expected, but I kind of set a low bar for myself as to how it would perform. I was generally happy with the launch, but when sales slowed down, I was often told that the best thing to do is to write your second book because it’s easier to sell a novel if you have more than one. So, I’m hoping that plays out, but I’ve also learned that promoting a novel—any novel—is really hard work. Both traditional and indie authors are competing with millions of other authors trying to get their novels read. While I consider my genre to be “lad lit” it’s also quite clear that most readers are women, and you have to market to women readers as much as men.

One thing that was really different was the time it took to complete each novel. Not Famous was mostly an on-and-off effort over seven years to finish the first draft. Not Dressed took seven months to complete the first draft. My writing has also become a bit more efficient. The first draft of Not Famous was over 107,000 words. The first draft of Not Dressed was 97,000. They both ended up at approximately 94,000 words, so there was a lot more cut from the first novel, which makes sense because I was still learning how to write fiction. I suspect future books will also get easier to write. Whether I’ll improve on my marketing remains to be seen. We’ll see how this new novel goes!

Let’s turn to Not Dressed now: Jake has two significant females in his life his girlfriend (a talk radio producer/co-host who moonlights doing nude modeling) and his new friend (a giant geek who doesn’t know what to do with her life), which came first—the nude modeling hook or the idea for a geeky best friend? And just where, if you can recall, did the girlfriend helping make ends meet via nude modeling come from in the first place?
I knew I wanted to do a workplace comedy for my next novel, and my original development of ideas focused entirely on that. But, I think a good novel requires multiple arcs to be really interesting, and so the first arc hat I came up with was the nude modeling one. I’d been trying to write a short story about a guy whose girlfriend models nude for a long time, even before Not Famous was finished, but I just couldn’t get it to work as a short story. It worked great for the novel because she is driven to model because they’re trying to make ends meet, and her solution to that problem causes another, bigger problem for their relationship.

The geek girl theme I came up with towards the end of writing the first draft of Not Famous when I came up with the scene where the main characters end up at a vintage gaming night. I loved the idea of exploring that type of character and quickly realized a geek girl as a love interest would be a lot of fun to write. And so I decided to use that in my next novel.

Kaylee’s more than just a geek, there’s more to her than the excellent taste in SF/F, how did you make her more than the stereotype?
Developing Kaylee as a character was even more fun than I thought it would be. She started as more of a retro gamer geek but eventually decided to make her a sci-fi geek with an affinity for Star Trek.

To really capture the realistic geek girl I reached out to people on social media, and drew upon my own interactions, and came up with a series of traits and quirks that I thought made her as realistic as possible. I liked making her a bit quirky with her geek obsessions, like her OCD with mixing and matching clothes from different SF/F properties. Which I thought was a fun trait. Most young women would say they feel sexier wearing matching bra and panties, Kaylee, however, would never wear Marvel and DC Comics together. I thought that was a perfect manifestation of her personality.

I’d forgotten you’d said that there’d be a tie between Not Famous and Not Dressed, so it was a pleasant surprise when I got to that passage. How fun was that to write? How tempting was it to bring the two sets of characters together more?
After Not Famous I heard from readers who said they’d love a sequel. I knew I didn’t want to write a sequel because I felt that I was done writing Nick and Alli’s story, and any attempt to continue it in a new novel would take me in a direction I don’t want to go down. But having the book set in the same universe was a lot of fun, and I started planning for this before finishing Not Famous. You may recall that Not Famous begins after Nick has a one-night-stand with Emma, who works at Burnham & Modine—the office where Jake, the main character of Not Dressed, works. I loved doing this as opposed to a sequel, and I really enjoyed featuring more of Emma in this novel. Her friendship with Jake is loosely modeled off a friendship I have with a female coworker.

Readers of Not Famous will be happy to know that even though they don’t appear in this novel, you will get some gossip about how things are going with them.

Typically, when I run into architecture in fiction, it’s the kind of career that Jake imagined himself having, not what he ends up with. Burnham & Modine, the architecture firm that Jake works for, strikes me as incredibly accurate—is that the result of research (if so, how did you go about that) or is this from personal experience (not necessarily as bad)?
I know a lot of architects because I work in marketing for a developer. So, over the years I’ve heard all kinds of horror stories about working in the business, and overwhelmingly I hear that the job isn’t as glamorous as it is made out to be in fiction and in Hollywood. And I loved that because it was a great angle to play up in juxtaposition to the theme of expectations versus reality. I also used some generic bad office stories I’ve experienced as well.
Sisters play a significant role in both of your books—is this coincidence? Do you owe your own sister some debt you’re repaying?
It’s not entirely a coincidence, that’s for sure. I think the dynamic between siblings makes for great stories, and while each novel delves into a sibling relationship, these relationships are completely different.

In Not Famous, Nick has a much younger half-sister going through her own coming-of-age issues. In Not Dressed, Kaylee has a younger sister, close in age, who, unlike Kaylee, was popular in high school, had a lot of boyfriends, and ultimately reaches certain life goals before Kaylee does. This wasn’t one of my original ideas, but as I developed Kaylee’s character and her backstory, I really liked the idea that while she’s comfortable being a geek she feels insecure around her popular younger sister. It really made for an interesting character and resulted in some of my favorite scenes in the novel.

That said, it wasn’t my original intention to have another sibling conflict in this story, but it really gave Kaylee the depth I felt she needed to be a three-dimensional character. She’s not defined just by her geeky interests alone, but by a rivalry with her younger sister who had a much easier time growing up because of her popularity.

It appears you put a lot of thought into the backstories of your female love interest characters. How do you approach creating these and making them realistic and unique?
I’m really proud of both characters and how they turned out. I spend a lot of time thinking about the backstories of my main characters and how that affects their actions throughout the story. I spent seven years thinking and rethinking and tweaking Alli Conwell’s backstory for Not Famous because it needed to explain so much of her behavior long before the reader finds out what her backstory really is.

Developing Kaylee and her backstory was a similar, albeit quicker, process. First and foremost, I wanted Kaylee to be different from Alli. But, I think readers will find lots of similarities and differences between them. Both are ambitious, but Alli knew what her path was, and Kaylee doesn’t. Alli is independent and works hard to maintain that independence. Kaylee, however, still lives with her parents and is trying hard to find her true calling so she can be independent. As for their differences, Alli is shy, while Kaylee is more free-spirited. Alli was proudly innocent and virtuous. Kaylee, however, feels insecure about her lack of experience and has years of pent up jealousy of her promiscuous younger sister. Despite their differences, both are strong young women with hopes, dreams, and fears.

How much Star Trek: The Next Generation did you have to watch to get this written? Favorite episodes from this time?
I actually binge-watched the entire series as research. I’d seen bits and pieces before, which is why I chose that particular Star Trek show to be her primary obsession. I wanted to have her quote some episodes and really feel like a genuine Trekkie. I also got the idea of her being fluent in Klingon after watching the show and learning about the subculture of people who have done just that. I even got help from the Klingon Language Institute (yup, there’s such a thing) to help with the translations when Kaylee speaks Klingon. I thought it would be a fun easter egg for Trekkies who know Klingon to read it.

TNG has a lot of great episodes, and I would have loved to have quoted more, but one of my favorites does get a mention by Kaylee as one of her favorites, too.

What’s next for Author Matthew Hanover? Is Novel #3 underway, or are you solely focused (for now) on getting this launched?
I’m currently focused on the forthcoming launch of Not Dressed, but I have been jotting down ideas and notes for a third novel, of which I’ve already determined the primary plot. Just like Not Dressed, it will be in the same universe as Not Famous and have some character crossovers.
Thanks so much for your time and help in getting this Q&A into better shape. Also, thanks for Not Dressed, I had a blast with it and hope that it finds its audience.

Not Dressed by Matthew Hanover: If this book doesn’t bring a smile to your face, something’s broken

Not Dressed

Not Dressed

by Matthew Hanover

eARC
2020

Read: January 3-6, 2019

“Hey there, Jake. This should be fun, right?”…

“I guess,” I say.

“You don’t sound too excited,” she says as she takes a hair tie off her wrist and pulls her disheveled hair back into a ponytail.

“Yeah, well. I’m not good at dancing.”

“Obviously! That’s why you’re here. Same as me. I’m probably just as bad as you. But we’ll learn together, okay?”

“Okay.”

Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra,” she says.

“I…have no idea what that means.”

“It’s from Star Trek…Actually, Star Trek: The Next Generation. It means we’ll work together to solve a common problem. In this case, the problem is learning how to dance.”

“I gotcha. So, you’re like…a Trekkie?”

“Was my sweatshirt not a big enough clue?”

“No, I just—”

“You’re not a Star Wars fan, are you? If you are, you’ll have to find a different partner.”

Jake Evans is our protagonist—he’s a decent enough guy, who could probably use some maturing (which means he’s like 90% of guys in their twenties). He’s got a great girlfriend (although the relationship seems a bit rocky when we meet him) and is second-guessing his chosen career (partially because he has a horrid employer, and partially because architecture isn’t the career he thought it would be). There are signs that he’d be a pretty fun guy to hang out with, but when the book opens he’s got a pretty good-sized cloud over his head between the girl and the gig.

Lindsay’s his long-time girlfriend. She works in radio and is very passionate about her job. She’s enjoying a little bit of success, and has a hard time relating to Jake’s struggles. She’s the producer and in-all-but-name on-air sidekick to a Boston-area conservative talk show host, who calls her “Lefty Lindsay.” (don’t worry, politics are absent from the book!) At least when the book opens, I really didn’t see why the two of them were a couple. There’s a good chance that neither of them rembered at that point, either, it had been so long.

Two things about their relationship provide most of the initial conflict for the plot. First, due to some financial hits they’ve taken recently, Lindsay has taken some modeling gigs to make some extra money. She did it back in college, which was recent enough that she still had connections. Why didn’t Jake do something to make extra money? He’s having a hard enough time finding a replacement full-time job that it didn’t seem like a good idea to try to add another job search to his plate. Besides, Lindsay’s moonlighting is profitable enough. What she neglects to mention to Jake is that this modeling is for art classes at a local college. And, well, none of these artists-in-training are working on fashion degrees—clothing gets in the way of what they’re learning to draw/paint/sculpt. Jake’s an open-minded kind of guy, except when it comes to this, it’s not pretty when he finds out (although it’s a pretty amusing scene for readers when he does).

Meanwhile, Jake’s sister’s wedding is coming up and Lindsay has decided the two of them need to learn to dance before it. Besides, it’s a fun activity for the two of them—they never go out mid-week anymore, and their relationship could use a boost. So she signs them up for a dance class, and then tells Jake about it after she paid for it, so he pretty much has to agree to it, but isn’t really that interested. So she basically promises him sex if he goes. Which pretty much seals the deal. But then Lindsay’s show gets moved to a new (and better) time slot. So, in addition to not being able to make the class, the couple will hardly see each other during the week. Her plan is that Jake will go, and then on the weekend, teach her the moves (he insists on getting his payment in advance for this).

Jake hates this new plan, and is convinced that he’s going to be stuck dancing with the instructor (after he and the reader meets this instructor, no one thinks this is going to be fun for him). Thankfully, just before class starts, Kaylee walks in. You read her opening dialogue up above. She’s a few years younger than Jake, taking some time out from college to figure out what she wants to do with her life, and is a major geek. She’s almost a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but doesn’t fit the category in a few ways (I’m only using that term because I’m afraid this post is getting too long and I want to pick up the pace). She’s also my favorite character of 2020 so far (granted, that would mean more if it wasn’t January 13th).

Kaylee and Jake strike up a nice little friendship during the class, and pretty soon, he’s going so he has an excuse to hang out with her. The two of them are fun together—she’s socially awkward and embarrassed to be herself, Jake tries to shake her out of that, and even encourages her to let her Geek-Flag fly (even if he doesn’t get any of it). Meanwhile, she’s encouraging about his job hunt (as opposed to Lindsay, who mostly nags or wants him to find a way to succeed where he is), and gets him to be a little less angst-y about his life. I like Jake more when he’s in friend with Kaylee-mode over guy with Lindsay-mode. But what do I know? I have a tendency to pick people the protagonists don’t in these situations (I won’t provide examples because I’d expose myself to too much ridicule).

The one last bit of Jake’s life we need to talk about is his job. It’s horrible. He has a nice group of work-friends who band together for mutual support (and complaints), but the atmosphere at work is toxic, and their superiors would be enough to turn anyone against their chosen field. For example, in the first chapter, Jake’s two-year anniversary with the company happens and he asks his boss about scheduling his annual review (which will hopefully involve a raise, which he could really use). His boss stammers and suggests an alternate date, nine months away. Yeah, Jake’s bad attitude toward work makes a little sense, doesn’t it?

I worked as a draftsman at an architecture firm some years ago, and while the atmosphere there wasn’t at all what Jake experienced, Hanover did do a great job of capturing the kind of work and personalities that I saw—which doesn’t really match the typical depiction of architects in fiction. I liked that bit of realism. (I asked Hanover about that in an upcoming Q&A, but I haven’t read his responses yet, looking forward to seeing where that authenticity came from).

Getting back to Jake’s life—what we have here is a stagnant (at best) relationship that’s got a couple of pretty big things to work through; a job situation that needs addressing; and a new friend that is really the only positive thing in his life. Jake’s life is basically begging to be shaken up, is Kaylee going to help instigate that?

There’s something about Hanover’s style that I can’t express, but I wish I could. This book (like last year’s Not Famous) is effortless to read. When I started this book, it was late in the day and I thought I’d just stick a toe in the water, maybe read about 10% of it. Before I knew it, I was about a third into the book (and were it not for the time of day, I’d have probably finished it in one sitting!). It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s infectious, it’s engaging as anything I can remember. I cared about these characters and got invested in their lives faster than I typically do.

Jonathan Tropper tends to have certain character types that show up in every novel—particularly the wise sister/friend-who-might-as-well-be-sister* (many authors do this kind of thing, I know, but Tropper is who I thought of when I was reading this book). Hanover shows signs of the same thing—sisters play a big role in both of his novels to date. He doesn’t use them the same way that Tropper does, don’t get me wrong, but his male protagonists are more honest and open about their emotional lives because of sisters. This is neither good or bad, it’s just a trait that he may have—it’s something I’ll be looking for next time. (again, see the Q&A for more on this topic). I like that there’s someone who can draw this out of a character without the need for alcohol, drugs or trauma—also, that he bares his soul first to someone who isn’t a love interest.

* There are other types that Tropper utilizes constantly, too, if I ever get around to my big re-read of his corpus, I’ll end up compiling a chart.

There’s a bit of conventional wisdom discussed here that I didn’t know before reading this book.

“You realize that dancing is basically foreplay, right?”

“So I’ve heard.” [Jake replies]

Four chapters later:

“Because dancing is, like, totally foreplay, you know.”

“Why does everyone keep saying that?” [Jake asks]

I counted someone telling that to Jake four times (with at least one more allusion). Is this really a thing that everyone thinks/says? I may need to cancel some of my daughter’s plans for the next 20 years…

I’d forgotten that Hanover had said there’d be a link between Not Famous and this book. It’s small, and if you haven’t read his other novel, you won’t miss anything. But if you have, you’ll enjoy the brief catch-up you get about the lives of the protagonists of that novel. It brought a big grin to my face.

There was a slight flavor of Nick Hornby wanna-be-ness to Not Famous that’s not present here. Instead, what Hanover has done is take that same voice and put it to use telling a story that’s all him (while being the kind of thing that Hornby readers will appreciate). I do think that Hanover could go a bit deeper in his characterizations (I have very little sense about Jake apart from work/Lindsay) and his plots could add a little more complexity. I’m looking for a few degrees of depth/complexity, not much. But that doesn’t stop me from loving this world and characters, and it doesn’t keep me from encouraging you all to grab this book when it releases next month.

This heart-warming tale about being who you are and finding acceptance for it is a real winner. Adorkable, irresistible, and just fun—Not Dressed is sure to please (if you are so led, book is available for pre-order). I don’t know what Not Description is next for Hanover, but I’m already eager to read it.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion and this post. I appreciate the book, but it didn’t sway what I had to say.


4 Stars

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding: BOOK I., Chapter i.-iv.

Ugh. I can’t believe I’m late in composing this. Not the best way to start this series…

Fridays with the Foundling
(yeah, I know, I typically hate using actor’s images when it comes to discussing the source material…but, w/o Finney, I’m not doing this)

https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/6593

…the Excellence of the mental Entertainment consists less in the Subject than in the Author’s Skill in well dressing it up. How pleased, therefore, will the Reader be to find that we have, in the following Work, adhered closely to one of the highest Principles of the best Cook which the present Age, or perhaps that of Heliogabalus, hath produced. This great Man, as is well known to all Lovers of polite eating, begins at first by setting plain Things before his hungry Guests, rising afterwards by Degrees as their Stomachs may be supposed to decrease, to the very Quintessence of Sauce and Spices. In like manner, we shall represent Human Nature at first to the keen Appetite of our Reader, in that more plain and simple Manner in which it is found in the Country, and shall hereafter hash and ragoo it with all the high French and Italian Seasoning of Affectation and Vice which Courts and Cities afford. By these Means, we doubt not but our Reader may be rendered desirous to read on for ever, as the great person just above-mentioned is supposed to have made some Persons eat.

Having premised thus much, we will now detain those who like our Bill of Fare no longer from their Diet, and shall proceed directly to serve up the first Course of our History for their Entertainment.

So in these opening pages, we kind of meet Tom Jones, but primarily, we’re introduced to the world he will live in and those who will (I’m assuming) have care of him during his formative years. An infant is left on the metaphorical front porch of Squire Allworthy, who seems to be a kind and generous soul. He puts the infant into the care of his sister, Miss Bridget, a censorious spinster type, who enlists the housekeeper, Mrs. Deborah, to give her aid.

The first thing that occurred to me was: why did I stop reading this in the past? I got into the story right away, I loved the voice, and am eager to move on.

This narrator…he’s practically chatty. He’s not the impartial third-person type, for example:

Reader, I think proper, before we proceed any farther together, to acquaint thee that I intend to digress, through this whole History, as often as I see Occasion: Of which I am myself a better Judge than any pitiful Critic whatever; and here I must desire all those Critics to mind their own Business, and not to intermeddle with Affairs or Works which no ways concern them: For till they produce the Authority by which they are constituted Judges, I shall not plead to their Jurisdiction.

Okay, yeah, he could be more concise, sure. But you have to smile at that.

The last thing, I got a quick vocabulary lesson. At one point Miss Bridget is describing the infant’s unknown mother as “an impudent slut, a wanton hussy, an audacious harlot, a wicked jade, a vile strumpet, [and] every other appellation with which the tongue of virtue never fails to lash those who bring a disgrace on the sex.” I didn’t realize that slut and hussy were so old, same for strumpet (although I figured it was more dated than the others).

Anyway, I had fun and did have to stop myself from carrying on. That’s a good sign for this project.

My Favorite Crime/Mystery/Detective/Thriller Fiction of 2019

Once I settled on dividing this chunk of my reading out for its own list, I knew instantly half of the books that’d make it before I even looked at my reading log. After my first cut (which was pretty hard), I had 20+ candidates for the other 5 spots. Whittling those down was difficult, but I’m pretty comfortable with this list. That doesn’t mean the other 90 or so books I read in this family of genres were bad—most were really good and worth the time (sure, a handful should be missed, but let’s forget about them). But these are the crème de la crème.

Not all of these were published in 2019—but my first exposure to them was. As always, I don’t count re-reads, or almost no one could stand up to Stout, early Parker, etc. and my year-end lists would get old fast.

I should say that I was a little worn out by the time I composed a lot of this and ended up borrowing heavily from my original posts. Hope you don’t mind reruns.
(in alphabetical order by author)

Deep Dirty TruthDeep Dirty Truth

by Steph Broadribb

My original post
Lori is kidnapped by the same Mob that wants her dead, giving her basically two choices—do a job for them or else they’re coming for JT and Dakota. Nothing about this book went the way I expected (beginning with the premise), it was all better than that. I had a hard time writing anything about this book that I hadn’t said about the first two in the series. Broadribb’s series about this tough, gritty bounty hunter (who is not close to perfect, but she’s persistent, which is easier to believe) started off strong and remains so.

4 Stars

ThirteenThirteen

by Steve Cavanagh

My original post
One of the best serial killer antagonists I can remember reading. A breakneck pace. An intricately plotted novel. An already beloved protagonist. Genuine surprises, shocking twists, and a couple of outstanding reveals make this fourth Eddie Flynn novel a must-read (even if you haven’t read any previous installments).

5 Stars

Black SummerBlack Summer

by M. W. Craven

My original post
It’s hard to avoid hyperbole in a Best-Of post like this, it’s harder still when talking about this book. But I just did some math, and Black Summer is in the top 1% of everything I read last year—the writing, the plot, the pacing, the tension, the protagonists, the villain(s), the supporting characters are as close to perfect as you’re going to find. The first note I made about this book was, I’m “glad Craven gave us all of zero pages to get comfy before getting all morbid and creepifying.” It’s pretty relentless from there—right up until the last interview, which might elicit a chuckle or two from a reader enjoying watching a brilliant criminal get outsmarted. It’s dark, it’s twisted, and it’s so much fun to read.

5 Stars

An Accidental DeathAn Accidental Death

by Peter Grainger, Gildart Jackson (Narrator)

My original post
Grainger’s DC Smith couldn’t be more different than Craven’s DS Poe if he tried, and these two books feel so different that it seems strange to talk about them at the same time. What’s the same? How easily they get the reader invested in their protagonists. How easily they get you plunged into their world and caring about what they care about. Grainger has a nice, subtle style (with even subtler humor) that made this novel sheer pleasure to read (well, listen to, in this case).

4 Stars

Dead InsideDead Inside

by Noelle Holten

My original post
When I was about halfway through this novel, I wrote, “While I’m loving every second of this book, I’m having a hard time shaking the bleak outlook on life and humanity that seems to be part and parcel of this novel…Seriously, read a few pages of this book and see if you’re not willing to replace humanity as the apex predator with something careful and considerate—like rabid pit bulls or crack-smoking hyenas.” This is not an easy read thanks to the characters and circumstances, later I wrote, “This isn’t the cops dealing with a larger-than-life genius serial killer—rather, it’s the everyday reality for too many. Just this time tinged with a spree killer making a grim circumstance worse for some. It’s a gripping read, a clever whodunit, with characters that might be those you meet every day. As an experience, it’s at once satisfying and disturbing—a great combination for a reader. You won’t read much this year that stacks up against Dead Inside and you’ll join me in eagerly awaiting what’s coming next from Holten.” I can’t put it better than that.

5 Stars

Deception CoveDeception Cove

by Owen Laukkanen

My original post
I heard someone describe this as Laukkanen writing fan-fic about his dog Lucy. Which is funny, and pretty much true. From the setup to the execution and all points in between, Deception Cove delivers the goods. Anyone who read just one of his Stevens and Windermere books knows that Laukkanen can write a compelling thriller with great characters. In these pages, he shows that in spades—you take a couple of characters that could easily be cardboard cutouts and instead makes them three-dimensional people with depth, flaws, and a relatability—and throw them into a great thriller. What more could anyone want? A wonderful dog. Guess what? He’s got one of those, too. Leaving the reader wanting little more than a sequel.

4 Stars

HackedHacked

by Duncan MacMaster

My original post
Duncan MacMaster is a new (for me) go-to author if I need someone to break me out of a gloomy mood because of books like this. Clever, well-plotted, and filled with more laughs than some “Humor” books I read this year. It also features what’s probably the best secondary character from 2019. Take out the humor (for the sake of argument here, don’t you dare do that really) and this is still a smartly-plotted and well-executed mystery novel. Adding in the humor makes this a must-read.

4 1/2 Stars

The ChainThe Chain

by Adrian McKinty

My original post
There was enough hype around this that I can see where some of my blogger acquaintances were let down with the reality. But McKinty’s breakout novel absolutely worked for me. The tension is dialed up to 11, the pacing is relentless, the stakes are high enough that the reader should make sure their blood pressure prescriptions are filled. The Chain is as compelling and engrossing as you could want. It’s a near-perfect thriller that doesn’t let up. Winslow calls it “Jaws for parents.” He’s right—I can’t imagine there’s not a parent alive who can read this without worrying about their kids, and reconsidering how closely to track their movements and activities.

4 1/2 Stars

Black MossBlack Moss

by David Nolan

My original post
This is one of those books that the adjective “atmospheric” was invented for. There’s an atmosphere, a mood, an undercurrent running through this book. Hopelessness surrounds the so many of these characters. Wretched also works to describe the feeling. You really don’t notice the time you spend in this book, it swallows your attention whole and you keep reading, practically impervious to distractions. Yes, you feel the harsh and desolate atmosphere, but not in a way that puts you off the book. The mystery part of this book is just what you want—it’s complex, it’ll keep you guessing and there are enough red herrings to trip up most readers. As far as the final reveal goes, it’s fantastic—I didn’t see the whole thing until just a couple of pages before Nolan gave it to us. But afterward you’re only left with the feeling of, “well, of course—what else could it have been?” And then you read the motivation behind the killing—and I don’t remember reading anything that left me as frozen as this did in years. There’s evil and then there’s this. This is a stark, desolate book (in mood, not quality) that easily could’ve been borrowed (or stolen) straight from the news. Nolan’s first novel delivers everything it promises and more.

5 Stars

The Power of the Dog The CartelThe Power of the Dog / The Cartel

by Don Winslow

My original post about The Power of the Dog, The Cartel should be up soon.
There’s simply no way I can talk about one of these without the other, so I won’t. This is a fantastic story about a DEA Agent’s obsessive drive to take down one of the most powerful, deadly and successful Mexican Drug Cartels around, as well as a devastating indictment of the U.S.’s War on Drugs. Despite the scope and intricacy of the plot, these are not difficult reads. Despite the horrors depicted, they’re not overwhelming. In fact, there are moments of happiness and some pretty clever lines. Which is not to say there’s a light-hand, or that he ever treats this as anything but life-and-death seriousness. They’re not easy, breezy reads— but they’re very approachable. I don’t know if there’s a moment that reads as fiction, either—if this was revealed to be non-fiction, I would believe it without difficulty. I will not say that he transcends his genre to be “Literature,” or that he elevates his work or anything—but I can say that Winslow demonstrates the inanity of pushing Crime Fiction into some shadowy corner as not worthy of the attention of “serious” readers.

5 Stars

Books that almost made the list (links to my original posts): Flight of the Fox by Gray Basnight, Who Killed the Fonz? by James Boice, Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg, Going Dark/Going Rogue by Niel Lancaster (can’t pick between the two), You Die Next by Stephanie Marland, The Killing State by Judith O’Reilly, Dead is Beautiful by Jo Perry, Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin, Paper Son by S. J. Rozan, and How To Kill Friends And Implicate People by Jay Stringer.

My Favorite Non-Crime Fiction of 2019

Like last year, while trying to come up with a Top 10 this year, I ran into a small problem (at least for me). Crime/Thriller/Mystery novels made up approximately half of the novels I read this year and therefore dominated the candidates. So, I decided to split them into 2 lists—one for Crime Fiction and one for Everything Else. Not the catchiest title, I grant you, but you get what you pay for.

These are my favorites, the things that have stuck with me in a way others haven’t—not necessarily the best things I read (but there’s a good deal of overlap, too). But these ten entertained me or grabbed me emotionally unlike the rest.

Anyway…I say this every year, but . . . Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1. Also, none of these are re-reads, I can’t have everyone losing to books that I’ve loved for 2 decades that I happened to have read this year.

Enough blather…on to the list.

(in alphabetical order by author)

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove

by Fredrik Backman, Henning Koch (Translator)

My original post
I’ve been telling myself every year since 2016 that I was going to read all of Backman’s novels after falling in love with his My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. The closest I got was last year when I read his first novel, A Man Called Ove (and nothing else). It’s enough to make me resolve to read more of them, and soon. The story of an old, grumpy widower befriending (against his will, I should stress) a pretty diverse group of his neighbors. It’s more than that thumbnail, but I’m trying to be brief. The story was fairly predictable, but there’s something about the way that Backman put it together that makes it perfect. And even the things you see coming will get you misty (if not elicit actual tears).

5 Stars

Dark AgeDark Age

by Pierce Brown

My original post
When I started reading this, I was figuring that Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Saga was on the downward trend. Boy, was I wrong. Dark Age showed me that time after time after time after time . . . Entertaining, occasionally amusing, stress-inducing, heart-wrenching, flat-out captivating. It was brutal and beautiful and I can’t believe I doubted Brown for a minute.

5 Stars

Here and Now and ThenHere and Now and Then

by Mike Chen

My original post
One of the best Time Travel stories I’ve ever read, but it’s so much more—it’s about fatherhood, it’s about love, it’s about friendship. Heart, soul, laughs, and heartbreak—I don’t know what else you want out of a time travel story. Or any story, really. Characters you can like (even when they do things you don’t like), characters you want to know better, characters you want to hang out with after the story (or during it, just not during the major plot point times), and a great plotline.

4 1/2 Stars

Seraphina's LamentSeraphina’s Lament

by Sarah Chorn

My original post
Chorn’s prose is as beautiful as her world is dark and disturbing. This Fantasy depicts a culture’s collapse and promises the rebirth of a world, but getting there is rough. Time and time again while reading this book, I was struck by how unique, how unusual this experience was. As different as fantasy novels tend to be from each other, by and large, most of them feel the same as you read it (I guess that’s true of all genres). But I kept coming back to how unusual this feels compared to other fantasies I’ve read. The experience of reading Seraphina’s Lament isn’t something I’ll forget any time soon.

4 1/2 Stars

No Country for Old GnomesNo Country for Old Gnomes

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

My original post
Having established their off-kilter world, strong voice, and approach to the stories of Pell, Dawson and Hearne have come back to play in it. The result is superior in every way that I can think of. I lost track of how many times I said to myself while reading something along the lines of, “how did they improve things this much?” These books are noted (as I’ve focused on) for their comedy—but they’re about a lot more than comedy. The battle scenes are exciting. The emotional themes and reactions are genuine and unforced. And tragedy hits hard. It’s easy to forget in the middle of inspiring moments or humorous aftermaths of battle that these kind of novels involve death and other forms of loss—and when you do forget, you are open to getting your heart punched.

(but mostly you laugh)

4 1/2 Stars

Twenty-one Truths About LoveTwenty-one Truths About Love

by Matthew Dicks

My original post
It’s an unconventionally told story about a man figuring out how to be a businessman, husband, and father in some extreme circumstances. The lists are the star of the show, but it’s the heart behind them that made this novel a winner.

5 Stars

State of the UnionState of the Union: A Marriage in Ten Parts

by Nick Hornby

My original post
This series of brief conversations held between a married couple just before their marriage counseling sessions. At the end of the day, this is exactly what you want from a Nick Hornby book (except the length—I wanted more, always): funny, heartfelt, charming, (seemingly) effortless, and makes you feel a wide range of emotions without feeling manipulated. I loved it, I think you will, too.

4 1/2 Stars

The SwallowsThe Swallows

by Lisa Lutz

My original post
This is not my favorite Lutz novel, but I think it’s her best. It has a very different kind of humor than we got in The Spellman Files, but it’s probably as funny as Lutz has been since the third book in that series—but deadly serious, nonetheless. Lutz puts on a clinic for naturally shifting tone and using that to highlight the important stories she’s telling. From the funny and dark beginning to the perfect and bitingly ominous last three paragraphs The Swallows is a winner. Timely and appropriate, but using tropes and themes that are familiar to readers everywhere, Lutz has given us a thrilling novel for our day—provocative, entertaining, and haunting. This is one of those books that probably hews really close to things that could or have happened and you’re better off hoping are fictional.

5 Stars

PostgraduatePostgraduate

by Ian Shane

My original post
This has the general feel of Hornby, Tropper, Norman, Weiner, Russo (in his lighter moments), Perrotta, etc. The writing is engaging, catchy, welcoming. Shane writes in a way that you like reading his prose—no matter what’s happening. It’s pleasant and charming with moments of not-quite-brilliance, but close enough. Shane’s style doesn’t draw attention to itself, if anything, it deflects it. It’s not flashy, but it’s good. The protagonist feels like an old friend, the world is comfortable and relaxing to be in (I should stress about 87.3 percent of what I know about radio comes from this book, so it’s not that). This belongs in the same discussion with the best of Hornby and Tropper—it’s exactly the kind of thing I hope to read when I’m not reading a “genre” novel (I hate that phrase, but I don’t know what else to put there).

4 1/2 Stars

The Bookish Life of Nina HillThe Bookish Life of Nina Hill

by Abbi Waxman

My original post
This is a novel filled with readers, book nerds and the people who like (and love) them. There’s a nice story of a woman learning to overcome her anxieties to embrace new people in her life and heart with a sweet love story tagged on to it. Your mileage may vary, obviously, but I can’t imagine a world where anyone who reads my blog not enjoying this novel and protagonist. It’s charming, witty, funny, touching, heart-string-tugging, and generally entertaining. This is the only book on this particular list that I know would’ve found a place on a top ten that included Crime Novels as well, few things made me as happy in 2019 as this book did for a few hours (and in fleeting moments since then as I reflect on it).

5 Stars

Books that almost made the list (links to my original posts): Not Famous by Matthew Hanover, Circle of the Moon by Faith Hunter, Maxine Unleashes Doomsday by Nick Kolakowski, In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire, The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion, and Lingering by Melissa Simonson

Fridays with The Foundling: An Introduction

Fridays with the Foundling
(yeah, I know, I typically hate using actor’s images when it comes to discussing the source material…but, w/o Finney, I’m not doing this)

https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/6593My history with Tom Jones goes back to 1995 when we watched it in class for a Survey of British Literature class. It was the week before finals, and the professor thought we all (him included) could use a little less to do, and there was no way we could’ve fit the novel into our schedule. To be fair, he interrupted the movie frequently for us to learn a little about the novel.

And, really, who cares? We got to watch the 1963 classic.

But like with all good movies adapted from a book, all it really made me want to do is read the book. If for no other reason than it being one of the first things in English that is considered a novel. It literally defined the convention of what a novel is. I’ve attempted to follow through and read the book several times. But I’ve never managed to get too far into it. The reasons vary, but I’ve just not made this particular summit. One obstacle I do remember stumbling over repeatedly is the length. I’d start reading and decide there was no way I could finish the tome before it was due back at the library. Don’t ask me why it took me until 2019 to come up with the solution: buy a copy.

So, I’m going to approach it differently this year. Every Friday, I’m going to read 4 chapters. Then post about those the next week. The chapters are pretty short, so I should be able to accomplish this with little difficulty.

Now, I reserve the right to abandon this and just finish the whole thing if I really get into the story and just can’t wait for the next regularly-scheduled reading session.

Anyone else ever read this thing? Any thoughts?