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
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A Few Quick Questions With…Ian Shane

So, I just blathered on about Postgraduate, the great novel by Ian Shane. And now, here’s a little from the Man Himself in response to some questions I had for him. I hope you enjoy. For those keeping score at home, after a few Q&As of one of my theories being validated, I totally whiffed one here. I still liked the answer, just wish I’d asked a better question 🙂

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.”?
First, in the interest of full disclosure, Postgraduate is semi-autobiographical. For a while, I was running an Internet classic alternative radio station (which has been offline for a couple of years). During this time, I was having a hard time finding a story I wanted to write. There would be ideas here and there, but nothing ever developed into a compelling story. On a whim, I picked up a copy of Old Records Never Die by Eric Spitznagel. It’s a memoir based on Spitznagel’s quest to rebuild his lost record collection. Not copies of the albums he lost, mind you…the actual albums. His musical mid-life crisis inspired me to write about mine.
In the writing of Postgraduate, 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”.
I was really amazed at how quickly I wrote the first draft. I have a day job, so the amount of time I have to write is limited. I decided to track my progress on Facebook to keep myself accountable to my friends. The first night, I wrote 1330 words. The next night, I wrote 1557 words. Then it started to become a thing…how many nights can I write more than a thousand words? In the first week, I wrote 10,269 words. I started Postgraduate on October 25, 2017, and I finished the first draft on February 1, 2018. The total was 92,947 words in 97 days. I’ve never had a writing streak like that before, and I am not likely to ever have one like that again.
Danny’s reaction to the news that his favorite record store had closed (and some time ago), was one of my favorite parts of Postgraduate. Is it one of the semi-autobiographical parts of the book? Tell us a little about the store/its closing.
This is very autobiographical. There really was a Cats Record Store in my hometown (Evansville, Indiana). Cats was the place to find stuff from The Smiths or Elvis Costello. It was as I described it in the book…hardwood floors, cedar walls, and a general warm feeling when you walked in. There were two locations, on the east side and north side of town (the north side was the one I went to often). Not too long after I left town, my brother had told me that Cats had closed. I just assumed he meant the one on the east side. A few years later, on a visit to town, I decided to go to the north side and see what they had to offer. When I got there, I was grief-stricken to see the “For Lease” sign on the door. It really felt like a death.

However, showing that Cats had closed also served two subtler purposes. One, I wanted to have something unexpected to happen for Danny. It shatters the frozen-in-time, idealized image of the area around campus he had in his head. Something had to be not quite right, and that’s what I chose to be the missing ingredient.

And, as an aging Gen-Xer, I wanted to have an image of how people get music today, as opposed to how we did it when I was a college student. Hard copies, at least on a digital format, have fallen out of favor with “the kids.” I realize by saying this, I run the risk of sounding like the old guy who complains that a ticket for the moving picture show used to be only a nickel.

Why is it, do you think, that male readers respond so strongly to books about music? (your novels, Hornby’s, etc.)
I think it’s because guys (especially when we’re in our teens and 20s) have a terrible time expressing how we feel. I don’t want to get all “blame it on society,” but we were taught at an early age to not show our emotions—boys don’t cry (you know, kinda like that Cure song), and we have a hard time hashing out what was going on in our heads. It’s a thing of beauty when a songwriter reads our minds and says something more eloquently than we ever could and does it in 4/4 time. It grabs us and shakes us to our cores. In a way, music becomes a part of who we are. That’s the reason we made mixtapes to impress women. We couldn’t find the words to say we liked them and wanted to get to know them better, but Neil Finn could. So, we’d let him and the rest of Crowded House stand proxy for us for four and a half minutes.

When we read a book like High Fidelity or Postgraduate, we relate to using music as a primary coping mechanism (like Rob and Danny respectively) more than we get Heathcliff walking along the moors. While dealing with my last breakup, I listened to “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis on a continuous loop while drinking a heroic amount of whiskey. I didn’t spit out a two-page soliloquy while standing on my patio and looking at the moon. It’s just how we do it now.

I’d imagine that in a novel like this, it’d be difficult to keep from making Sam (the one that got away) an idealized woman, or Angela (the adulterous ex) into . . . an idealized harlot, I guess. Especially with this being written from Danny’s perspective. How do you walk the line?
I don’t really know if I thought about it too much while I was writing Angela and Sam. I just had a full picture in my mind who these women were…their wonderful qualities and their flaws. I had an idea of what made Danny and Angela work and what didn’t. The same was true with Danny and Sam.
Thanks for your time and willingness to let me badger you with these questions – again, I really enjoyed Postgraduate and truly hope that it finds the audience it deserves.

Pub Day Post: Postgraduate by Ian Shane: A Funny, Nostalgic, Touching Novel about Maybe Finding Lost Loves/Dreams/Friendships

PostgraduatePostgraduate

by Ian Shane


Kindle Edition, 409 pg.
45rpm Media, 2019

Read: March 25 – 26, 2019

“. . . you did a bad, bad thing.”

“Then why are you helping me?”

“Because that’s what friends do. Someone needs to stand next to you when the world falls down around your ankles, and the other starting players seem to be leaving you one by one. You’re still my boy, but I question your decision-making skills.”

We meet Danny Jackson on one of the worst days of his life — the day his marriage legally ended (it was over long before). Danny’s quick to assure us that he’s had worse days, and not just because he doth protest too much (no matter what it looks like at the moment). He’s 44, about to be kicked out of his house, in a job he hates (many reasons are bigger than being forced to use Comic Sans, as bad as that is) and really has no idea what the rest of the year will bring — much less anything after that.

One of the many accommodations Danny made to get along with his wife was to trim his 4,000+ CD collection down to 150, and now that he finds himself without a real home or family and a strong need to fill up his time so he can’t dwell on that he starts rebuilding that collection — not with current music, either. But with the songs and albums that defined him at that age where music is so important to define, mold and express one’s identity — college. Before long, Danny’s investing some real money in stereo equipment as well as CDs. At one point a neighbor/friend from the apartment building says something about Danny having enough of both to start his own radio station.

This idea sparks something within Danny and he sets to do just that — not a real radio station (or even a pirate station), but an Internet radio station modeled on the one he learned all about Radio on in college, “The L.” While putting in the work necessary to launch an Internet station, Danny starts dreaming and scheming. I was honestly a little surprised to see how much work was involved, but after reading this I realize that’s just because I know so little about radio (even online) and hadn’t given it any real thought before.

He doesn’t just want to launch this passion project, he’d like to bury the hatchet with a bunch of people from his college days — and what better way to do both together than by launching the station in their old studio while they’re all returning to say goodbye to a mentor as he prepares to retire. Danny’s already speaking for the event, so that part will be easy. He trusts the others will be there, too — getting them to go along with his plans will be the trick.

Danny doesn’t know what kind of audience his online version of “The L” is going to have, but he figures there’s some audience — he’d listen to the kind of station he’ll be launching, why wouldn’t others his age? So kicks off (and then some) this story of friendship, lost loves, abandoned dreams, the love of music, and the attempt to recapture what we’ve lost (through fault of our own, or not). While we follow Danny’s rebuilding in 2017, we also get (in alternating chapters) the story of how the magic was assembled back in the day, and how it primarily fell to pieces (Danny had a significant roll in that, it turns out).

Danny’s glory days really were that (until they weren’t) and it was a lot of fun reading about them — especially when Sam’s on the scene. His 44th year wasn’t that great for him (it did improve from that inauspicious start), but it was almost as much fun to read, especially when Sam’s on the scene. Sam’s the one who got away from Danny, the love of his life, etc. She’s close to idealized, but Shane’s careful not to let Danny do that to her (more than anyone would in memory).

The focus of the novel is (rightly) those two, but Danny’s friendships with Marty — the Program Director of the L — and Tom are easily as important. The novel could’ve worked almost as well with the Danny/Tom relationship as the center instead of Danny/Sam. Tom was Danny’s high school friend who came to college with him and developed a radio show with him, both planning to keep doing radio together after college. One of my few problems I have is that I think we needed a bit more of Tom early on. I know he’s Danny’s partner, and the emotions both have toward each other (in the 90’s and 2017) indicate that, but he always seems to be playing second fiddle to Sam or Marty. Marty’s sort of the older brother figure to Sam, Danny and Tom — down for a good time as well as advice, and is just cool to read.

Mindy, Marty’s co-host, is a character I could’ve used a little more of, too — just because I really liked her. The narrative nowhere needs more of her, but I just liked her and wanted more. The professor, Dr. Black, they assemble to honor is a perfect mentor figure. Even Angela, the adulterous ex- that derailed Danny’s career, is a pretty well-designed and used character — but she’s about the only one in the book I don’t want to see more of.

I don’t mean this next sentence as a negative, no matter what it sounds like. There are few narrative surprises for the reader — by a certain point, you know pretty much how each storyline is going to go. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t surprises (pleasant and otherwise) for the reader, but it’s not that kind of story. You may not know exactly where Plot X will land, but you’ll know the ZIP Code for it early on. And that’s fine — the pleasure’s in the journey, and Danny ending up where you know he will is just a satisfying confirmation.

If you like Danny, you’ll like this book. I’m not sure why you wouldn’t like Danny, but I have to admit it’s possible. I think we clicked almost instantly, I was definitely on board in the first couple of pages. It’s possible you may not like Danny as a person, but would like his voice (well, Shane’s voice), I suppose. That should carry you through, too.

On his website, Shane talks about the impact Aaron Sorkin has on his writing — when you get to passages like this, it’s pretty obvious:

“Why didn’t you tell us?”

“I didn’t think you’d find out.”

“Really?”

“Did you have any idea before today?”

“None.”

“Then it’s a mystery to me as to why I’d think that.”

I can’t help but hear that last line in a Richard Schiff voice. But the book doesn’t only read like the work of a Sorkin-devotee. It 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. Unlike Sorkin, Shane’s style doesn’t draw attention to itself, if anything, it deflects it. It’s not flashy, but it’s good. I could’ve easily read another 400 pages of these people without breaking a sweat.

You know how maybe the best thing about Zach Braff’s Garden State was that killer soundtrack? That’s almost the case here. Shane has assembled a great playlist on Spotify to go with the novel — stuff that Danny refers to in the book, and stuff he’d listen to. I’ve been introduced to a lot of music that I probably should know through it. Most of what I’ve written in the last week (and some of what I’ve read) has had it as a soundtrack, and that’ll likely hold true for a while longer. I’m embarrassed to admit how little of it I knew going in — Danny, Tom and especially Marty would be ashamed that someone who went to college in about the same time as they did wouldn’t know this stuff. Maybe I should’ve listened to more college radio. Unlike, Garden State, Postgraduate can be read without it (and without knowing the music), but this is a great touch. If for no other reason than there’s going to be a couple of songs you’re going to be curious about after reading about them, this is a great resource.

How much did I like the book? Despite being given a copy (which I’m very grateful for), I bought one. I might give a few away. Danny 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 (the problems with that clause deserve their own post, but you all know what I mean). There’s an eleven year gap between Shane’s first two novels, after reading this you can only hope that his third will arrive much sooner. While I wait for whatever’s next, you should go read Postgraduate. You’ll feel better than James Brown if you do.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book by the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

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The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo by James Bailey: This Kid’s Struggles will Bring A Smile to Your Face

The First World Problems of Jason Van OtterlooThe First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo

by James Bailey
Series: The Jason Van Otterloo Trilogy, Book 1

Kindle Edition, 193 pg.
2018
Read: March 15, 2019

Subject: New worst day of my life

If you have stock in me, sell it now. Or is it buy? Buy low, right? Then buy, buy, buy, because if JVO shares go any lower it can only mean I’m dead. Nothing is going right and everything is going wrong. Very wrong.

It’s been awhile since I read an epistolary novel (maybe Where’d You Go, Bernadette? — oh, and The Summer Holidays Survival Guide from last year — duh — I should stop thinking before I have to rewrite this whole paragraph), but I’ve always enjoyed them. There’s something about the structure, the conceit, the immediacy of it all that really appeals to me, and has since the day I first cracked the cover of Dear Mr. Henshaw 35 years ago or so.

This particular novel is a collection of e-mails from fifteen year-old Jason Van Otterloo (known by some as Otterpop, others just call him Jason) and his friends over the summer of 2003 in Seattle. This is a good setting for the book — it’s before the ubiquity of cell-phones/texting among teens, but at a time they could be emailing several times a day and it not seem strange (like it would in the mid-90s). I don’t know if that was Bailey’s thought process, but it’s what occurred to me. The emails are primarily Jason’s — not just because he’s prolific, but that’s a lot of it. Incidentally, I only caught one thing that jumped out at me as an anachronism — which is about the best that I can think of in an indie book set in the past (I don’t go looking for them, but they jump out at me. Binge-watching wasn’t a thing in 2003. At least not by that name)

Jason’s a pretty bookish kid who loves classic movies — not just AMC (back when that’s what the station was about), but there’s a theater near his home that shows old movies. His best friend, Drew (the recipient of most of his emails), frequently goes to those with him — they also play video games together, generally at Drew’s. Jason’s parents, Janice and Rob, aren’t in the running for Parents of the Year, to say the least. I’m not sure at what point Jason lost enough respect for the that he started calling them by their first name, but it could have been when he was pretty young. On the other hand, there’s enough venom in it (at least the way it reads to me) that it might be a recent development.

Janice shows the occasional burst of maternal activity or instinct, but it’s rare. Rather than a father, Rob seems like the bullying older brother character in most books I read as a kid. But in general, the two of them act like they’re stuck in their early 20’s — coming home from work long enough to greet each other and Jason, then they leave (not together) to meet up with friends and get drunk. Occasionally, they’ll get into a fight with each other, but nothing too serious. It doesn’t appear there’s any intentional abuse — physical or mental. It’s primarily neglect that they’re guilty of. Over the course of the summer, Rob does say a few things that will likely cause emotional scars when Jason has a few years to think about them, but they’re unintentionally mean (one was said when Rob was attempting to be nice and fatherly).

Generally, Jason’s e-mails are about whatever antics his parents are up to, arranging to meet Drew or whoever else, Jason’s soliciting Drew for advice about a girl he meets (he ignores almost everything Drew says, to the reader’s amusement and Drew’s frustration), and Jason recruiting Drew or someone to get summer jobs together. There’s an ongoing thread about a new neighbor who enjoys sunbathing, and Jason enjoys (hopefully surreptitiously) watching her. Rob enjoys watching her, too, but doesn’t bother trying to be surreptitious.

Jason’s emails are largely self-centered. Most of the stories told are his, not Drew’s. He does seem to care about Drew and is interested when Drew unloads a little. But largely, the relationship seems to be about Drew listening to Jason. Drew gets something out of it, however — maybe offline — because he seems emotionally-centered enough (for a fifteen year-old) to not put up with Jason as much as he does, if Jason just didn’t contribute anything to the friendship. Just don’t ask me what it is. His self-centeredness seems typical for his age, and it doesn’t make him a bad kid — just a selfish one, and a lot of that is because he’s never been parented by anyone who has a clue. Although, really, I’m not sure how many kids who have been well-parented who don’t act like that.

His parent’s (individually and corporately) show a signs of self-improvement — AA, marriage counseling, and others. Jason is openly skeptical about these efforts — perhaps because he’s seen similar things before. Not only is he skeptical, but he seems to actively subvert these efforts. It seems odd for a kid who spends so much time complaining about his parents to complain about them trying to be better — but it’s honest. He doesn’t believe in them, so why get his hopes up that this time will be any different? Sure, from the reader’s perspective it’s easy to say that these reforms might be longer-lived if he supported them. But from Jason’s? Nah.

There is a little character development over the course of the novel — but not a lot, But it’s just a few months, so there shouldn’t be a lot, right? What’s there seems genuine and true to the character — which is great. At the end of the day, you’ll have enjoyed watching Jason struggle and survive — learning enough to keep going.

Jason’s optimistic and amusing — which is says a lot about him. The whole book is told with a light touch –it’s not overly comic, but you grin as Jason recounts his latest embarrassment with Gina, or Rob’s most recent humiliating escapades — or even as he and Drew talk about their mutual astonishment when another friend has some romantic success. Things are bad, but they’re not bleak. They’re even kind of fun.

The cover, by the way, is perfect. It not only reflects a plot point, but it encapsulates the feel of the book. In a figurative sense the world pees on Jason the way this dog literally does. Yet, it’s kinda cute and amusing while it’s happening. Several good things happen to the boy, but overall, the book is about his problems (right?) and his reactions to them.

I don’t know what a YA reader would think of this — I imagine they’d find Jason relatable and likeable, but I’m not sure. But for those of us with enough distance from their YA days, it’s something that can be read with an air of “I remember when life was like that.” Even if it’s set over a decade later than my own teen years, I know people like Jason, I had friends who had a Gina in their life, and I dreamed of a girl like Sian. I’m probably not alone in this. This is a comfort-food kind of read — it’s entertaining and makes you feel good. I get kind of a Thomas Rockwell or 80’s version of Todd Strasser feel from this, very much a Lad Lit starter kit kind of thing, now that I think about it — which is good. Young Adults need something that’s not dystopian. There’s a sequel coming out in a week or two, and I’m really looking forward to it.

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

—–

3.5 Stars
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A Few Quick Questions With…Matthew Hanover

Matthew Hanover’s Not Famous was released last week (see my initial post about it)– and he was clearly and understandably busy with that. Still, he took the time to answer a few questions for me — which I greatly appreciate. As usual, this is designed to whet your appetite for the author so you go check out their website/twitter feed/etc., but more importantly, you check out their book. I hope that’s what happens here.

I threw in a bonus question about the Nick Hornby/Ben Folds album Lonely Avenue to see just how deeply the Hornby-fan in him ran. Also, his book is about a musician — we should talk music, right?

You’ve spent a lot of time blogging your way through the production of Not Famous — which, incidentally, forces lazy bloggers to get more creative than usual when coming up with interview questions — why did you decide to do that? Did thinking about what you were going through via reporting it help you in any way?
My hope was to build an audience before my novel came out and help motivate me to get the novel finished.Talking about my novel’s progress on my website and on Twitter did help me connect with potential readers and book bloggers like you, so I guess it worked!
In the writing of Not Famous, 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.”
I think the biggest surprise was how much I cared about the story and the characters. There came a point where, even though I was the writer, I felt I was just transcribing the story as the characters I’d developed would play it out naturally. As nice as that sounds, it was really difficult other times… If I didn’t feel inspired to write, I didn’t force it. There were definitely stretches of weeks and months at a time I never touch it.
I’ve made it clear that Lacy is the character that I’m most interested in — where did Lacy come from? Was it a conscious choice to make her role in the Nick/Alli relationship so pivotal, or did that just happen as you wrote?
Lacy, as you know, is Nick’s half-sister. Originally, she was just his sister, but as various plot points evolved, I felt it was necessary to put as much distance between them as I could, and so she became the daughter of their mother’s second marriage which contributed to his struggle to connect with her, and gave him a stronger opportunity to redeem himself with her. It seemed like an interesting way to explore a different kind of relationship (other than a dating relationship), and the problems that exist in that dynamic. Intertwining those to arcs was a real learning experience because I wanted it feel natural, and not forced.
Is “Lad Lit” all you write/want to write? Can you articulate what draws you to the genre? Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy reading, but could never write?
As far as novels go, yes. When I first read books by Nick Hornby and Jonathan Tropper, they were totally the kinds of stories I want to read… and eventually discovered I wanted to write. I do like science-fiction and post-apocalyptic novels, and I’ve written one sci-fi/paranormal short story… but I don’t think a novel in those genres in my future. Lad lit has always been the genre I’ve been most drawn to, and there’s quite a few stories in my head trying to get out!
What’s next for Author Matthew Hanover? Is Novel #2 underway, or are you solely focused (for now) on getting this launched?
I’ve been plotting out my next novel since before Not Famous was finished. I’m not actively writing it yet, and I should tell you straight out it is not a sequel, but is set in the same universe as Not Famous. Some characters you met in Not Famous will make an appearance… but this will be an office comedy / romantic dramedy. I hope to start it soon!
Oooh, sounds great. Hope to see it soon.

Bonus Question: Best song on Lonely Avenue and why?

Wow, what a great, and difficult question. How about I give you my top five? I’m guessing since you’re a Nick Hornby fan you’ll understand!

5. Picture Window
4. From Above
3. Claire’s Ninth
2. Practical Amanda
1. Your Dogs

As for why? I think these are the most solid songs on album… they’re all different… each tell vastly different stories…

Technically cheating — but I figure Rob Fleming would approve of the Top 5 approach. Good answers, too — although if we were hanging out in Championship Vinyl, I’d be compelled to tell you that you got 3 out of 5 correct, but your order is wrong. Good thing we’re not there, right? 🙂

Seriously, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, I hope that Not Famous does well — and I look forward to your future work.

Pub Day Repost: Not Famous by Matthew Hanover: A Sweet bit of Lad Lit that’ll fill your Heart with Song.

This is now available for pre-order at a discounted price! Take advantage of it while you can!

Not FamousNot Famous

by Matthew Hanover

eARC, 382 pgs.
2019

Read: December 3 – 4, 2018

We meet Nick a couple of months after one of the most embarrassing experiences of his life — a marriage proposal that goes awry. He’s still reeling from that when he meets a very cute, and comparatively young, barista at his favorite Seattle-based Coffee chain shop. Alli’s not just a barista, she’s also a musician — a solo act, just a girl with a guitar — so Nick goes to one of her shows. He falls in love with her music right away, and somehow convinces her to go to dinner with him.

Which is just the beginning of their story. Alli’s a very private person with no romantic past. At all. Which seems hard to believe when you read it here, but when she tells Nick that, you have no problem believing it. Unless she’s singing, she seems nervous, uncertain, and shy. But on stage . . . she’s a different person. And while she seems like a shrinking violet, she has a will of iron when it counts. One of the places it counts surrounds her past — it’s a closed book — and it doesn’t seem likely that she’ll open up until and unless she truly trusts someone. Although she’s put up enough walls to protect herself that it’s going to take quite the guy to get her to let her defenses down.

Now, on the other hand, Nick has some kind of romantic past, but it’s hard to believe it sometimes as he fumbles his way through this relationship. It’s kind of fun to watch him act like he’s an expert on romance, someone guiding Alli through this new territory for her, and then frequently doing and saying the wrong things — almost sabotaging the relationship more times than he’d care to admit. Some of this comes from general ineptitude, some comes from the damage done to him in his last relationship (much of which he doesn’t realize happened).

Now, I don’t want to take any thing away from Nick or Alli — they’re they heart and soul of the novel. But, I want to talk a little bit about Nick’s sister, Lacy. Her father was their mom’s second husband, and about ten years younger. They’re not close, but their mother keeps trying to get Nick to be involved — after his step-father died, Nick’s really the only male influence in her life. Lacy, like their mom, wants them to be close. She sees him as her big brother, even if he only sees her as his much younger step-sister. As the book goes on, Nick’s maturity can be gauged by his relationship to his little sister. Naturally, like just about everything that’s not work in his life, Alli’s influence and action improves things — the friendship between Lacy and Alli forces Nick to play a larger role in his sister’s life. And before long, he doesn’t need Alli’s efforts to want that closeness himself. I thoroughly enjoyed Lacy as a character, and watching how Nick changes in relation to her — she was the added something that made this book more than just a sweet love story. She’s not around much, actually, and there are characters that have a more obvious impact on the plot — but she’s the non-Nick/Alli character that sticks with you.

She’s also the one character whose main role isn’t to serve the Nick/Alli relationship in some way. Now, she does serve that — don’t get me wrong. But that’s not the chief purpose for her. I have nothing against Alli’s Starbucks coworkers, or fellow musicians who only show up to encourage the romance. Or Nick’s roommate, or friend/partner who give him reality checks and the prodding her needs. But they really don’t do much else. But little sister does. If I ever get to interview Hanover, we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about her.

I would have appreciated having a better sense of who Nick is outside the relationship. I do have a sense of him as a single guy, as a friend, as a professional — but I’d have liked a bit more of that. It’s really hard to have much of a read on Alli outside their romance, as it’s all told from Nick’s POV. But you do get hints — I’d have liked a few more. But since this is the story of Nick and Alli, it’s appropriate (and enough) that we get a really strong idea about them as individuals relating to each other and them as a couple, and how that dynamic functions. I’m just a reader who almost always wants a little more than an author gives me.

At the end of the day — and long before that, actually — what you think about this book boils down to one thing: Alli. Do you like her as a character — do you fall under the same spell that Nick does? (or can you see why someone would?) Moreover, her secret — do you care? And is that caring based on this struggling artist trying to make her way in the world, or do you care because you’re curious? Nick, his struggles, his ineptitude, Lacey, etc. — you’re appreciation of the book will be flavored by your appreciation of those, but it’s all about Alli when it comes to the question of, “Do you like this book?” And Nick, at least, would have it no other way.

Not Famous is almost as much a tribute to Nick Hornby as it is a story in the same vein as his work. There are nods to Jonathan Tropper and Matthew Norman, too — probably Mike Gayle as well, but it’s been so long since I’ve read him, it’s hard for me to recognize that. This is not a bad thing — in fact, I quite appreciate it, and enjoyed the process of seeing how Hanover reflects his influences in his writing.

At some point, I can’t tell you where, I stopped thinking about Not Famous as something that I was going to post about, or something I was going to provide feedback on. I just got wrapped up in the story and the fate of these two characters (and his sister, actually). I stopped thinking about how Hanover wrote and was only concerned with what he wrote (not that I didn’t notice the former, I just didn’t care). It’s always a good sign when I disengage the critical part of my brain and simply read.

Not Famous — it’s cute, it’s amusing, it’s charming, it’s sweet. It’s the kind of book that you want to bring home to mother (okay, that line’s borderline cheesy, I know — but my mom would really enjoy this book) — and even bring it home to your daughter. I hope this book is successful enough to warrant future novels from Hanover, because I would love to read more.

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this ARC by the author in exchange for this post. Which gave me something to opine about, but otherwise didn’t influence my opinion.

—–

4 Stars

Not Famous by Matthew Hanover: A Sweet bit of Lad Lit that’ll fill your Heart with Song.

This is now available for pre-order at a discounted price! Take advantage of it while you can!

Not FamousNot Famous

by Matthew Hanover

eARC, 382 pgs.
2019

Read: December 3 – 4, 2018

We meet Nick a couple of months after one of the most embarrassing experiences of his life — a marriage proposal that goes awry. He’s still reeling from that when he meets a very cute, and comparatively young, barista at his favorite Seattle-based Coffee chain shop. Alli’s not just a barista, she’s also a musician — a solo act, just a girl with a guitar — so Nick goes to one of her shows. He falls in love with her music right away, and somehow convinces her to go to dinner with him.

Which is just the beginning of their story. Alli’s a very private person with no romantic past. At all. Which seems hard to believe when you read it here, but when she tells Nick that, you have no problem believing it. Unless she’s singing, she seems nervous, uncertain, and shy. But on stage . . . she’s a different person. And while she seems like a shrinking violet, she has a will of iron when it counts. One of the places it counts surrounds her past — it’s a closed book — and it doesn’t seem likely that she’ll open up until and unless she truly trusts someone. Although she’s put up enough walls to protect herself that it’s going to take quite the guy to get her to let her defenses down.

Now, on the other hand, Nick has some kind of romantic past, but it’s hard to believe it sometimes as he fumbles his way through this relationship. It’s kind of fun to watch him act like he’s an expert on romance, someone guiding Alli through this new territory for her, and then frequently doing and saying the wrong things — almost sabotaging the relationship more times than he’d care to admit. Some of this comes from general ineptitude, some comes from the damage done to him in his last relationship (much of which he doesn’t realize happened).

Now, I don’t want to take any thing away from Nick or Alli — they’re they heart and soul of the novel. But, I want to talk a little bit about Nick’s sister, Lacy. Her father was their mom’s second husband, and about ten years younger. They’re not close, but their mother keeps trying to get Nick to be involved — after his step-father died, Nick’s really the only male influence in her life. Lacy, like their mom, wants them to be close. She sees him as her big brother, even if he only sees her as his much younger step-sister. As the book goes on, Nick’s maturity can be gauged by his relationship to his little sister. Naturally, like just about everything that’s not work in his life, Alli’s influence and action improves things — the friendship between Lacy and Alli forces Nick to play a larger role in his sister’s life. And before long, he doesn’t need Alli’s efforts to want that closeness himself. I thoroughly enjoyed Lacy as a character, and watching how Nick changes in relation to her — she was the added something that made this book more than just a sweet love story. She’s not around much, actually, and there are characters that have a more obvious impact on the plot — but she’s the non-Nick/Alli character that sticks with you.

She’s also the one character whose main role isn’t to serve the Nick/Alli relationship in some way. Now, she does serve that — don’t get me wrong. But that’s not the chief purpose for her. I have nothing against Alli’s Starbucks coworkers, or fellow musicians who only show up to encourage the romance. Or Nick’s roommate, or friend/partner who give him reality checks and the prodding her needs. But they really don’t do much else. But little sister does. If I ever get to interview Hanover, we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about her.

I would have appreciated having a better sense of who Nick is outside the relationship. I do have a sense of him as a single guy, as a friend, as a professional — but I’d have liked a bit more of that. It’s really hard to have much of a read on Alli outside their romance, as it’s all told from Nick’s POV. But you do get hints — I’d have liked a few more. But since this is the story of Nick and Alli, it’s appropriate (and enough) that we get a really strong idea about them as individuals relating to each other and them as a couple, and how that dynamic functions. I’m just a reader who almost always wants a little more than an author gives me.

At the end of the day — and long before that, actually — what you think about this book boils down to one thing: Alli. Do you like her as a character — do you fall under the same spell that Nick does? (or can you see why someone would?) Moreover, her secret — do you care? And is that caring based on this struggling artist trying to make her way in the world, or do you care because you’re curious? Nick, his struggles, his ineptitude, Lacey, etc. — you’re appreciation of the book will be flavored by your appreciation of those, but it’s all about Alli when it comes to the question of, “Do you like this book?” And Nick, at least, would have it no other way.

Not Famous is almost as much a tribute to Nick Hornby as it is a story in the same vein as his work. There are nods to Jonathan Tropper and Matthew Norman, too — probably Mike Gayle as well, but it’s been so long since I’ve read him, it’s hard for me to recognize that. This is not a bad thing — in fact, I quite appreciate it, and enjoyed the process of seeing how Hanover reflects his influences in his writing.

At some point, I can’t tell you where, I stopped thinking about Not Famous as something that I was going to post about, or something I was going to provide feedback on. I just got wrapped up in the story and the fate of these two characters (and his sister, actually). I stopped thinking about how Hanover wrote and was only concerned with what he wrote (not that I didn’t notice the former, I just didn’t care). It’s always a good sign when I disengage the critical part of my brain and simply read.

Not Famous — it’s cute, it’s amusing, it’s charming, it’s sweet. It’s the kind of book that you want to bring home to mother (okay, that line’s borderline cheesy, I know — but my mom would really enjoy this book) — and even bring it home to your daughter. I hope this book is successful enough to warrant future novels from Hanover, because I would love to read more.

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this ARC by the author in exchange for this post. Which gave me something to opine about, but otherwise didn’t influence my opinion.

—–

4 Stars