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

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

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

A Few Quick Questions With…T Gamache

Earlier this morning, I posted my thoughts about T Gamache’s novel, Not-So-Common People. He was kind enough to take a few minutes to A a few Q’s that I sent his way. I think you’ll appreciate these answers, I did.

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.”?
                     Well, it’s interesting. This started as a way to write with my 12-year-old son. He had a story idea he was trying to get out but I couldn’t get him to commit to writing. So we both did NaNoWriMo in 2018. I had no idea what I was going to do and then one day Nathan showed up.

He was a fully formed character in my head so I just started putting him on an adventure and the story began unfolding for me. So, I guess there weren’t many other ideas at that time, so this one stuck. Now, I have a couple of plot lines I’m trying to work on, but Nathan is calling back into his world, so I think I need to finish that one first.

In the writing of Not-So-Common People, what was the biggest surprise about the writing itself? Either, “I can’t believe X is so easy!” or “If I had known Y was going to be so hard, I’d have skipped this and watched more TV.”
                     Being that it was my first venture into writing, I wasn’t aware of the pantser vs plotter approach to the art. And I am definitely a pantser. I found it really cool when I would sit down and I had the major plot points in my head, and I knew I needed to get from A to B, but once the story would start to move it would take its own direction. I would get there, but now I had new side stories and things to think about.

Many of the characters were spun on the fly and looking back that seemed really cool to me. As a musician, I am used to improvising when playing and thinking my parts up as I go, but to see this happen in another art form was really a new experience for me.

Nate’s feud with Rick felt very real – is this an autobiographical bit? Did you have a fued/frenemy relationship with a Record Store owner you based it on? Or is it just a bit of genius on your part?
                     Lol-I would love to say genius on my part, but I think it more comes from many 2 AM conversations I have had with other musicians whether it was when I was in college as a music major or on the road playing in my early 20’s. You know there are always those arguments, Beatles vs. Stones or Paul vs John, or any other rock comparison you want to make. And true music lovers are an opinionated bunch. So Rick just embodies those conversations for me. I knew that Nathan needed another neurotic person that he could relate to, but in true Nathan form, would also annoy him.
Why is it, do you think, that male readers respond so strongly to books about music/protagonists who are so focused on music? (your novel, Hornby’s, etc.)
                     I have often wondered that myself. I’ve seen it be a common theme in the lad-lit world, and I have to think that it ties to the passion many males have for music and the feelings it brings out. For me, it was writing about what I know, so it came easy. Also, I think that music lovers tend to make interesting and deep characters that a “thinking man” can relate to. I mean if you look at Hornby, it’s music and sports. Two things that are very tribal to guys and when you combine that with a passionate fandom (I think Fever Pitch and High Fidelity) I think it makes for a really interesting story. Plus, as a guy, when I walk into a bookstore and I want to find a fiction story, sometimes I don’t want a story about war or spies or murder, I just want a happy and funny book. I’m not really all that interested in what I see in the romance isle, so I think that’s where stories like this come in. And music seems to be a place of common ground.
There are a lot of characters to focus on in this book, but let’s go with Anne – how did you go about creating that character? How do you keep someone like her from being idealized/unrealistic?
                     Well, to be honest, when I first started developing the character of Anne I based a lot of her on how I felt when I first met my wife. She (Anne, not my wife) has since taken a different direction in book 2, but being that we are seeing her through Nathan’s lens, she was seen as someone who he had never had in his life in this way before. When you meet your spouse to be, I find that it is not the fireworks they like to portray in the movies, but more of a feeling of “I can’t imagine my life without this person” and it grows from there. At least that’s how it happened for me. So being that we are so close to Nathan’s emotions in all of this, we are seeing her as someone he feels he can’t be without because he has never had something outside of his friends and his music that he has ever been passionate about. He is an “all or nothing” personality so everything in his life is either an obsession or part of the background noise. So, in his mind she is someone that may come across as unrealistic, but again that is her being Nathanized. When I am able to flesh out her story more in the next book, I think she will read as a little more grounded. That’s my hope, we’ll see how I do.
Thanks for your time and willingness to let me badger you with these questions – again, I enjoyed Not-So-Common People and hope it finds success.

Not-So-Common People by T Gamache: Family disasters bring out the best in this protagonist

Not-So-Common People

Not-So-Common People

by T Gamache

Paperback, 209 pg.
Indie Owl Press, 2019

Read: November 27-28, 2019

Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

” . . . I don’t want to surprise you.”

Surprise me, hell I’m Captain Blindside lately! Every time I turn around one of my siblings is tossing a proverbial bombshell in my direction. I’m barely keeping this crap together, Calvin! When did it become a good idea to throw your emotions at Nathan? I’ll tell you when, NEVER! I’m the introverted, quiet, keep to myself guy in the family. Not the “hey, here’s our crazy laundry” guy!

Nate is a self-professed music geek/snob. That’s his primary description. He’s also a hipster barista with control issues (which he keeps hidden most of the time). He’s around thirty now and should really be making an effort to do something with his life/college degree rather than work part-time at a coffee house. This novel isn’t so much a coming-of-age novel about Nate, as it is that external forces impose age/maturity upon Nate. Which is a great and novel way to approach this kind of character.

I was trying to come up with something to say about the other characters in the novel, and realized that I really didn’t get enough of any of them, except maybe Rick and his parents. I do think they’re probably well-developed and three-dimensional, but there’s so many of them (including people who are maybe around for one scene—like various co-workers) that they can come across as flat and two-dimensional just because we don’t get to spend that much time with them.

For starters, we’ve got Claire, the BFF and roommate—always good for emotional support and sage advice; Frank, his other roommate; Gary, Frank’s fiancé; and Rick, the proprietor of Nate’s record shop—a frenemy of sorts. There’s Nate’s parents and then his siblings—Graham, the Type-A businessman; Calvin, the Lutheran minister; and Marcie, a housewife and mother. Last, but not least, we have the object of his affections, Anne, a little quirky, a little geeky, and driven to succeed.

In the weeks following a fateful Thanksgiving, each of his siblings goes through a major life-changing event (or series of events). And for reasons that he cannot understand, they turn to Nate. Not only do they turn to him, he steps up to help (which might surprise him more than the fact that they came to him for support). Sure, he doesn’t always know what to do for them (this is where Claire and Frank come in), but he’s willing.

In the middle of all this induced maturing, Nate meets Anne. Who is charming, attractive, and funny. Nate falls for her—probably in a ridiculous way—in a time when that’s the last thing he has time for.

While his siblings are reeling and he’s twitterpated, Nate realizes that his life needs some less dramatic life-changing, too.

We really need more time with Anne—it’s hard to buy how involved he gets given their time together (but, it’s cute and you do want to root for them to have a Happily Ever After). And it would be good for us to get more time with the siblings and roommates, too—they all need a little more space.

I have issues with Calvin being a Lutheran minister. If he was some sort of Methodist or non-denominational minister, I’d buy it. But he doesn’t seem that Lutheran to me (he’s definitely not a Missouri Synod or Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran; and he’s not believable as a ELCA minister, either—but that’s closer). I definitely am uncomfortable with the way his religious activities are portrayed, but I can understand why an author would characterize them in the way that Gamache does.

This is a sweet story, a touching story, with a very likable protagonist (even if he wouldn’t believe me saying that), and you can’t help but want to cheer all these characters through their lives being upturned. If my biggest complaint is that we don’t spend enough time with the characters, I think that’s a pretty decent compliment. Recommended.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion. I appreciate getting the book, but not so much that I altered my opinion.


3 Stars

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Dispatches from a Tourist Trap by James Bailey: Jason’s Woes Follow (and Grow) in his new Small Town

Dispatches from a Tourist TrapDispatches from a Tourist Trap

by James Bailey

Series: The Jason Van Otterloo Trilogy, Book 2

Kindle Edition, 253 pg.
2019
Read: April 1, 2019

Sometimes lately I feel like life is a chess match, and no matter how hard I look at the board I can’t see the next move. Or maybe I think I see it, but really I don’t. Like my pawn is sitting there, all ready to put the other king in check, and somehow my queen gets swiped and two moves later I’ve lost the game and my pawn is still waiting there, impotent and useless.

So Jason mother’s Janice continues her bad decisions when it comes to men — she leaves her husband for a new guy, who happens to be the dentist she’s started working for. We met him in The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo, and they clearly didn’t waste time resuming whatever it was they had back in high school. Janice has moved herself and Jason to her parents’ house, enrolled Jason in a school filled with very friendly people, and tried to move on with her life.

Jason realizes full-well that his choices are a life with his grandparents and a much smaller school, hours away from his friends and girlfriend; or life with Rob, near them. As much as he doesn’t want to be in Icicle Flats, he knows it’s the better choice available. But he complains the whole time about it — this is good for readers, Jason complaining makes for an entertaining read. This time, he’s not just complaining in emails, he’s set up a blog, too. I was wondering how the blog was going to work instead of the emails — it’s actually a really good move, allowing Jason to tell longer stories without the emails being too long.

Which is good — because he has long stories to tell this time. There’s a literature club he’s involved with at school that’s discussing books that ruffle the feathers of many, which leads to all sorts of trouble. There’s a flirtation with pirate radio. A camping trip that is fantastic to read about (and probably not a lot of fun to live through). A disastrous experiment with eBay. And basically, a bucket-load of culture shock. Also, after a few short weeks of dating, Jason’s first real relationship becomes a long-distance one. High school relationships are bad enough, throwing in a few hour bus-ride into things is just asking for trouble. So yeah, between emails and his blog — he’s got a lot to write about, and his friends have a lot to respond to. Somehow, they make it through the school year more or less intact.

Jason feels incredibly authentic — immature, self-centered, irresponsible, but he’s got his moments. He can put others before himself, do the right thing because it’s right — not to stay out of trouble; But man, he can be frustrating the rest of the time. There were a lot of opportunities along the way here for him to be a better friend, a much better boyfriend, son and grandson; and he missed almost all of them. He comes through when necessary, don’t get me wrong and he’s not a bad guy — I just wish he’d grow up a bit faster. Which again, means that Bailey has nailed his characterization, this his how people his age should be.

I’m less than thrilled with Bailey’s approach to religious characters in these two books. I’m not questioning that there are people like the characters he depicts running around everywhere and that the situations would’ve played out a lot like they did here (but some of it pushed believability). I just would like a small indication that there were some sincere people trying to do the right thing in the middle of all this.

Having talked about The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo just two weeks ago, it feels hard to talk about this book beyond some of the plot changes — this feels like the same book, just with new problems. Which is pretty much the point, right? I still like Jason (as frustrating as he can be), his girlfriend is fantastic, I want good things to happen to Drew. Jason’s already complicated life is about to get a lot worse, which should prove very entertaining for the rest of us. A strong follow-up in this series.

—–

3.5 Stars
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge