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Literary Glance: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah starts off with a family moving to Alaska.  Of course there’s more to it than that.  The book is set in 1974.  The father of the family is a former Vietnam War POW.  There are lots of 1970s references.  The main character Leni is the teenage daughter who is a social outcast because the family moves all the time and she likes to read the books that only outcasts read back in 1974, like The Lord of the Rings or Watership Down.  I know that because I was an outcast in the 1970s too, and those were the books I read then.

I’ve read only a few chapters of The Great Alone, but so far Leni seems like the typical social outcast female protagonist in YA lit.  I know about YA lit as well because I have daughters, so I’ve read a lot of YA lit over the last 10 years.

To be clear, The Great Alone is much better written than the vast majority of YA lit.  It’s not even close.  I’m just saying that the main character feels like a YA lit protagonist in a novel written for adults.  Maybe that changes as the book progresses, but I don’t know because this is just a Literary Glance.

Even though it takes place in 1974, The Great Alone doesn’t feel like a book that was written in 1974.  I have books written in 1974, and it feels like writing styles of bestselling novels have changed a little bit.  So The Great Alone is a novel that takes place in 1974 but is written in 2018.

That’s okay.  At least, the 1974 stuff is probably accurate… mostly.  Those books that were written in 1974 about 2018, those are always wrong.  I mean, look at a book like 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was written in 1968.  That book was way off.

The Great Alone just came out a couple weeks and it automatically number one on the bestseller list.  Kristin Hannah has been writing books for a while, so she has a following, so being number one probably isn’t that big a deal.  But I’m always suspicious of a book that hits number one before anybody has a chance to really read it.  That’s usually done by authors who churn out lots of books, and sometimes those books can be rushed to beat a deadline. Kristin Hannah writes about a book a year, and authors who are on a schedule like that sometimes publish books before they’re ready.  A lot of bestsellers by famous authors who crank out novels feel like that.

The Great Alone doesn’t seem rushed, at least not yet.  I’ve read only the first couple chapters, so maybe it will feel rushed later, but so far there is nothing outright bad about it.

A few months ago, David Eggers wrote Heroes of the Frontier which was also about a family moving to Alaska, but I didn’t finish it (another Literary Glance), so I’m not sure how far the similarities go.  Heroes of the Frontier is from the mother’s point of view and she’s hiding from somebody in the continental states, and there’s a lot more rambling stream of consciousness stuff.

I hope this doesn’t mean that there’ll be a bunch of bestselling novels about families moving to Alaska.  That could get old quickly, unless you live in Alaska and enjoy the attention.  Maybe somebody should write a novel about a family starting over in Tulsa.  I like Tulsa.  I’ve never lived there, but it’s a nice place, and nobody would ever suspect that Tulsa is where you’re taking your family to start over.  I’ve been there only a couple times, but people are always surprised that I’m going there.  If I told them I was going to Alaska, everybody would understand.  It’s vast and it’s beautiful.  But nobody (where I live) would understand Tulsa.

When I write my family starting over novel, my fictional family is starting over in Tulsa.  And they’ll move there from Alaska.  They need to get away from Alaska because all the fictional transplants are ruining everything.


What do you think?  Where would you want your fictional family to start over?

Why Is Dick a Funny Word?

Why is dick funny? Even Dick Van Dyke wants to know. (image via wikimedia)

When a car on the freeway cut me off and braked hard, I yelled out, “You dick!”  My daughter and her friends sitting in the back seat laughed.  Later on, when I directed profanity at other cars with drivers breaking traffic laws, my daughter and her friends had no reaction.  It was like I had said nothing at all.  Only the word dick got a reaction.

Maybe I shouldn’t have said dick in front of teenage girls, but they all have cell phones and watch YouTube videos, so they’ve heard worse.  And I don’t think it was just a girl thing to laugh at the word dick.  It’s universal.

Years ago I witnessed the same thing at a theatre performance of A Christmas Carol.  When Scrooge was reminiscing about Christmases in the past and his kind boss Dick Wilkins, Scrooge said something like:

“Poor Dick, dear Dick!”

And the audience laughed.  It was universal laughter, men and women alike.  We weren’t finding amusement in Scrooge’s anguish.  We were laughing at the name Dick.

When I walked into B&M Booksellers and announced loudly “I need a copy of Moby Dick,” I saw three people laugh.  I’m sure there were more, but I didn’t see them.

When I said, “I’m looking for War and Peace,” I got nothing.

When I said, “I’m looking for Les Miserables,” I got nothing.  I even mispronounced Les Miserables, calling it Less MiseraBULLS.  I even complained that the cover misspelled the word Less.  Nothing.

But saying Moby Dick?  Big laughs.

If I ever become a comedian, I can build a routine around saying the word dick.  I’m not obsessed with dick or anything.  I just think it’s funny that people laugh at it.  If my jokes aren’t funny or if I start dry-heaving in front of the crowd, I can just say dick and get a laugh.  Then again,  the dry-heaving alone might be funny and I won’t have to resort to dick.

I can see why the word dick is funny.  It’s short and rhymes with –ick, and it’s a word that represents a body part you don’t see in public very often.  They kind of look funny and useless, and they’re located on an inconvenient part of the body, and they can put us in awkward situations.  Some people even claim too many men think with them.

Half the population thinks dick funny because they don’t have one.  The other half thinks it’s funny because they have to deal with it all the time.  It causes problems like manspreading, but if you try to explain that to a woman at the wrong time, you can get arrested or sued.

Most comedians claim that all humor has an element of truth to it.  If that’s the case, there has to be some truth in dick.  Saying it in just about any context will make somebody crack up.

For most of my life, I’ve believed that only guys should be called dicks, but I’ve since changed my mind.  Because there seems to be a thing called gender fluidity now, and I don’t want to seem like I’m stuck in the past, I will call anybody a dick, whether he’s male or female.  To be fair, we should either call nobody dicks or call everybody dicks, and dick is too good of a word to give up, so I choose to use it on everybody who behaves like a dick.

The way I see it, if people can choose their own genders today, then I can call anybody a dick.  Dick is not a state of being, like gender, so self-identification has nothing to do with it anyway.  Dick is a matter of behavior; your actions determine whether or not you’re a dick, and some women can be just as much of a dick as men.

A woman who acted like a dick used to be called a bitch, but nobody laughs at the word bitch.  Dick has an endearing quality, and bitch is just plain mean.  If I were a woman, I’d rather be called a dick than a bitch, but maybe that’s sexist and I don’t realize it.

At an rate, dick is funny.  If you don’t believe me, go to your local B&M Bookseller and ask the sales clerk if he has a Ragged Dick.  You’ll get a reaction.  It might not be a laugh, but you’ll get a reaction.

Literary Glance: Still Me by Jojo Moyes

The easiest job in the publishing business has to be book designer for Jojo Moyes.  Every one of her book covers has the same font with just the tiniest glimpse of a picture.  All the book designer has to do is pick a couple colors and font sizes, and the book is ready to go.

Some authors have very obvious traits.  James Patterson has extremely short chapters and lots of cheesy dialogue.  Stephen King uses lots of adverbs even though he gives advice not to.  And Jojo Moyes has book covers that look the same.  Out of all of those characteristics, the book cover is the least problematic.  To be fair, none of these traits are really problematic.  It just seems like problematic is the current word to use when offensive is too harsh.  And I don’t really get offended by much.

Anyway, to me, the book cover is less important than writing style.  I rarely pay attention to book covers anymore, especially with digital books.  The only reason I noticed the Moyes book covers is that it’s impossible not to.  Plus, I’d like to find myself an easy job.  I’d love a job where I just had to decide on a couple colors and font sizes.  I wish I had thought of that years ago.

Besides the book cover, I really don’t know what else to say about Still Me by Jojo Moyes.  After I read the beginning of a book for Literary Glance, I usually have an idea of what stands out.  Maybe there are rambling paragraphs that are too long.  Maybe there’s some great dialogue or outstanding descriptions.  Maybe there’s an awkward sex scene.  But I have nothing for Still Me.

I haven’t figured out what’s appealing about this book.  It hit the bestseller list in its first week, but some of that is because the author is Jojo Moyes.  She has a good reputation, despite the similar book covers.  I was expecting something more noteworthy about her writing.  I mean, I didn’t see anything especially humorous in her writing.  I didn’t see great dialogue.  I didn’t feel the main character’s wonderment as she discovered her way through New York.  The secondary characters didn’t seem particularly interesting.

This reminds me of a writer’s group experience I had decades ago where a blunt guy ranted about how much my manuscript sucked and he finished his critique with:

“There wasn’t one g****m thing about this that was any good.”

I wouldn’t ever drop a g-bomb on somebody else’s writing, but I understand what that blunt guy felt.  I’m bewildered by the beginning of Still Me.  I won’t even excerpt it because I can’t find a section that stands out as an example of average because all of it sounds the same.  I feel like I’ve read all the descriptions and dialogue before, even though I haven’t read much of Jojo Moyes before.  There was one brief scene where a secondary character was in an awkward situation and I wondered what was really going on, but I didn’t care enough to keep reading (and that’s rare for me because I love awkward situations when they’re happening to other people).

I know that Still Me is the third novel with Louisa Clarke (Me Before You and After You), and I haven’t read those books, so I’m probably missing a lot.  I also know it’s not a good idea to start the third book before the first book.  I get that.  But last week I began reading Iron Gold, the fourth book in a series, and I understood the appeal of that series even if I’m probably not going to read it.  I didn’t criticize it too much because I knew why readers would enjoy it.  But this?  Other than the cover, I just don’t know what to say about it.


What do you think?  What am I missing about Still Me?  What job is easier than being Jojo Moyes’s book cover designer?

Old Things That Are Tough To Explain: One Phone Line in Your House

When it comes to communicating with friends, my daughters are kind of spoiled.  Both have cell phones, and they pretty much have unlimited access to everything out there.  My wife and I talk about appropriate sites and behavior, but we don’t monitor it that much.  Sometimes my daughters don’t appreciate the freedom and access to information they have, and when I try to explain how things have changed in just a generation, they give me the blank stare.

Until recently, I try to explain to them, the telephone was used only for talking.  And it was usually attached to a wall or was set on a table and the cords kept you from walking too far from wherever the phone jack was.  There was no caller ID, there was no voice mail, and if you were already talking on the phone, whoever was calling would get a busy signal and you wouldn’t even know somebody was calling you.

When the phone rang, you had no idea who it was.  It could be your best friend, a prank, or a telemarketer.  The only way to find out was to answer it.  If you weren’t home and you missed a phone call, you didn’t know about it until that person called back.

When you were out, you had no communication with the outside world.  When your car broke down in the middle of nowhere, you were screwed.

For large families, the most violent fights amongst the kids, especially sisters, were about who got to use the phone.  Adults would fight over money, or drinking, or cheating around, but kids fought over the phone.  Phone fights happened when parents weren’t home or were too tired from work to care, but they could get pretty violent.

You might see a girl at school with a bump on her head and find out that her sister hit her with the phone because she was talking too much.  Boys usually would just get into fist fights over the phone, but to be fair, we’d get into fist fights over everything.  For girls, household violence was usually over who got to use the phone.  One friend of mine had a violent tyrannical older sister who would talk on the phone and watch TV at the same time, and she’d hit him with the phone if he ever interfered.

If you were lucky, you could maybe get a separate teen line.  That way your parents wouldn’t miss calls if you were on the phone all the time.  You could keep the teen line in your room so that your parents couldn’t hear what you were talking about.

If you had a teen line, it might be listed in the phone book as “teen line,” and then pedophiles would call you.  Back then, we just called them weirdos.  Every couple weeks some weirdo with a deep voice would call and ask questions about what you looked like and what you were doing.  When you called them a weirdo and hung up, they’d just call back so you’d have to disconnect the phone for a while or call a friend so that the weirdo would get a busy signal.

You couldn’t tell your parents about the weirdos because then your parents might take your phone away, and that wouldn’t be fair.  It wasn’t my fault the weirdo was calling me.  So you just kept quiet about the weirdo and hoped that some other unfortunate gullible kid with a teen line didn’t get lured into a white van.

On the other hand, you could get calls from crazy girls looking for phone love.  The crazy girls were fun because they were crazy.  They would tell you all the crazy stuff they’d do to you if they met you but you knew you’d never meet them, so you’d just laugh it off and lie about what you looked like.  If you ever called them crazy, though, they’d get mad and cuss you out and threaten to find you and kill you.

That was a valuable lesson.  A woman who calls herself crazy usually isn’t because she at least understands the concept of boundaries.  The crazy woman who gets angry when you call her crazy usually doesn’t realize that boundaries apply to her too.  If you’re going to deal with a crazy person in general, it’s better to do that on the phone or the internet.  I’ve tried to avoid crazy people in real life, and I’ve taught my daughters to do the same because there are still lots of weirdos and crazy people out there.

That’s the good thing about my daughters having their own cell phones at a young age.  They already know about weirdos and crazy people.  And if they run into a crazy person in real life, they can always hit him with the cell phone.

And then they can use that cell phone to call for help because that’s what phones were originally supposed to be used for.  But that’s an old idea that’s kind of tough to explain now.

Literary Glance: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Sometimes I get burned by the way I read books.  Ever since I started writing the Literary Glance, I just grab new books and begin reading them before knowing what they’re about.  The problem is that sometimes the titles, covers, and first chapters are misleading, and that’s what happened with me and Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate.

I have to admit, at first I thought Before We Were Yours  was a cheesy title.  That’s not just me, a 52 year-old guy, saying that.  Even my daughters agreed with me, and they take pride in arguing with me about anything whenever they get the chance.

Before We Were Yours sounds like something that would be on the Hallmark Channel (or something similar).  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Even people who love watching Hallmark Channel know it’s cheesy.  People might spend a couple hours watching a cheesy Hallmark Channel movie, but few of them would want to read a book that’s written like a cheesy Hallmark movie.  At least, not enough people to keep a book on the bestseller’s list for over four months.

I wasn’t even going to read Before We Were Yours until I realized it had been on the bestsellers list for over four months, but I thought if it’s been that successful for that long I should at least look at it.

The prologue of Before We Were Yours was a tragic scene written in present-tense with obvious foreshadowing.  It wasn’t quite what I expected from the title, but okay, I kept on.  The first chapter was more like what I expected from the title.  It was a little sappy.

In this Chapter One scene, the protagonist Avery Stafford is watching her politician father host a birthday party event for some of his donors:

The events these two have weathered make me marvel.  This is what’s possible when love is real and strong, when people are devoted to one another, when they’ll sacrifice anything to be together. This is what I want for myself, but sometimes I wonder if it’s possible for our modern generation.  We’re so distracted, so… busy.

Glancing down at my engagement ring, I think, Elliot and I have what it takes.  We know each other so well.  We’ve always been side by side

The birthday girl slowly pushes herself out of her chair, taking her beau’s arm.  They move along together, stooped and crooked and leaning.  The sight is sweet and heart tugging.  I hope my parents live to this ripe old age of life.  I hope they’ll have a long retirement… someday… years in the future when my father finally decides to slow down.  This disease can’t take him at fifty-seven.  He’s too young.  He’s too desperately needed, both at home and in the world.  He has work to do yet, and after that, my parents deserve a retirement with quietly passing seasons and time to spend together.

The above scene was a little cheesy and had a formulaic rhythm to it.  The character’s thoughts stay with each topic (the elderly couple, her own marriage, her parents) for two or three sentences and then she moves on.  To be fair, she didn’t get too carried away or over-the-top emotional.  It made me sympathetic for a person I normally wouldn’t care for, the daughter of a wealthy Washington D.C. politician. But it was a little cheesy.

I read this section and I thought, it’s okay, but that’s enough for me.

Then I read the back cover to find out what the book was really about.  HOLY CRAP!

I never would have gotten that just from the first few pages of the book, even with the prologue.  I mean, I won’t go into what Before We Were Yours is about because you can find that just about anywhere, but… HOLY CRAP!

This experience shows me that sometimes a Literary Glance isn’t quite enough.   At least I understand what the title Before We Were Yours means.  But I’ll probably still make fun of the title.  Without context, it’s a little cheesy.

Literary Glance: Iron Gold by Pierce Brown

Iron Gold by Pierce Brown has a limited audience for a bestselling novel.  It’s science fiction, and it’s the fourth book in a series.

First of all, it’s tough to make science fiction appealing to readers who aren’t naturally drawn to it. Movies and television can do it if they throw in a bunch of attractive actors and actresses getting naked, but otherwise it’s difficult.  This is reflected in the sales so far for Iron Gold.  Last week it debuted at #3, which might seem shockingly high, but this is the fourth book in the popular Red Rising series, so a bunch of fans of the series bought the book the first week.

Now it’s the second week and Iron Gold isn’t even in the top 15 anymore.  That doesn’t mean the book sucks (though it might; I’ve read only the first part).  It just shows that the fan base for this kind of novel is very devoted but also relatively small (compared to other genres).  Several novels (mysteries, thrillers, and literary fiction) have been on the bestsellers lists for over ten weeks.

25 years ago, I would have been all over this book.  It starts off with an intergalactic armada invading the capital planet of a fading empire, and the scene is brief but effective.  25 years ago, I loved books that started off like that. But it’s not 25 years ago, and I feel like I’ve read all of this before.  If you haven’t read a bunch of science fiction already and you like this kind of stuff, this book might be right for you.  But I’ve already read a bunch of Larry Niven/Jerry Pournelle, Orson Scott Card, David Weber (especially the Honor Harrington series), and others that I can’t think of (and would bore people who hate science fiction).

My other issue with Iron Gold is that it’s the fourth book in a series and I haven’t read the other three.  Even though I could follow the battle sequence at the beginning, I had no idea what was going on politically in the universe of this book.  There’s a huge cast of characters listed on the first few pages, and I thought, whew, I’m not ready for all of that yet.  I’d have to commit to three other books before I could get to Iron Gold, and I don’t do that very often anymore.

I mean, I haven’t even read the Song of Ice and Fire series yet because it’s so long (and unfinished).  If I’m not willing to read Game of Thrones until I know the series is done and I won’t be left in eternal suspense, then I know I can’t commit to Iron Gold and the books before it (and after it) until the whole series is completed.

I know my reading habits are unusual.  I won’t read a series until it’s completed.  I won’t read a series that goes over three books.  I rarely read more than three books by the same author.  I intentionally begin reading a lot of books, but I don’t finish them unless I really like them.  I’m not saying everybody should share my reading habits.  Some people think I’m too nitprickety about the books I read.

There are benefits to my nitprickety habits.  I’m familiar with a lot more titles than most people.  I don’t waste time with books I’m not interested in.  I return books to the library very quickly.  I don’t feel like I have to keep as many books in my house, so we’re not as cluttered.

25 years ago, I would have had all four Red Rising books in my house and book shelf space ready for the rest of them when they were published.  But it’s not 25 years ago.  And I don’t think I have four of anything anymore.


What do you think?  Do you find yourself getting more selective about what you read as you get older?

University Library: Scooter

(image via wikimedia)

During my freshman year at the State University, some guy on my floor tried to give me the nickname Scooter.

This was back in the mid-1980s, and I was one of the few freshmen on my dorm floor who had a car.  It wasn’t much of a car.  It was a chevette scooter, a tin foil compact that didn’t fit adults of any size comfortably, but technically I could cram three people into the back seat without breaking any laws.  Since the chevette was already paid for, my parents gave it to me for college, and I was glad to have it.  It raised my social status just a bit and gave other students on my floor a reason to be nice to me.  I was the quiet guy with the obnoxious roommate, but I didn’t drink, and I didn’t mind being the designated driver.  Without that car, I might have been a social outcast.

This cheap car had a cost, besides the insurance, maintenance, and gas.  Some dick on my floor kept calling me Scooter.   His name was Dennis, and everybody agreed he was a dick, so the nickname Scooter didn’t catch on, but it still ticked me off.  Every time Dennis called me Scooter, I told him to cut it out.  I’m not the kind of guy to get into a fist fight over stupid stuff, but Scooter was my breaking point.

“Don’t f***ing call me Scooter.”- I’m pretty sure I said that to Dennis a couple times.

The Scooter nickname came to a head late in the first semester.  It was a Saturday night after a football game, and we’d had an early November freeze, and the wind made it one of those nights that hurt your face, and there were five of us in the chevette (Kirk on the front passenger side, with Dennis and two Nameless Guys next to him in the back), fogging up the windows, so that everybody was wiping and holding breath at the same time.

“Scooter, turn that defroster up,” Dennis said while rubbing his arm on the back window.

I was ticked off already because of the visibility problems.  “Don’t call me Scooter,” I said.

“My arm’s getting tired, Scooter.”

That was it!  I braked hard along the curb and turned off the car radio so I knew he’d hear me.  “Get the f*** out.”

“What?” Dennis actually looked surprised.  I hardly ever used profanity.

“I told you not to call me Scooter.  Now get the f*** out.”

“It’s alright, Jimmy,” Kirk said.  “He’ll cut it out.”

“Bulls***,” I said.  “I’m not moving this car until he gets out.”

“What am I supposed to do?” Dennis said.  We were miles away from the university, and it would be a windy freezing walk.

“I don’t care.  Just get the f*** out,” I said.

“You heard him,” Kirk said.  He unbuckled, stepped out, and pulled the front seat up.  Nameless friend #1 got out too from the back, and Dennis sat there.

Kirk stuck his head in.  “Dennis, if you don’t get out, I’m gonna pull you out and beat the sh** of you.”

Nameless guy #1 said “And I’m gonna help.”

Nameless guy #2 said, “You’re gonna have to walk either way, man.”

Dennis pleaded for a couple minutes.  He swore he’d never call me Scooter again.  He swore he didn’t mean anything by it.  I told him he was making it worse by not getting out of the car right away.  Finally, he relented and pulled himself out.

Kirk and the two Nameless guys got back in, and as we started to pull away, Dennis ran up, kicked the car (I think), and yelled “F*** you, Scooter!”

“Stop the car,” Kirk said.

In a split second decision, I stopped the car; Kirk and the two nameless guys rushed out, but it takes a long time for three guys to get out of a chevette, and Dennis ran and managed to get away with a decent head start.  Kirk and the two guys chased him for a couple minutes, cussed him out with threats, and returned breathing heavily to the car.

“If he calls you Scooter again, I’ll kick his ass,” Kirk huffed.

“I usually don’t condone violence,” I said, “but this is an exception.”

Looking back, maybe I should have turned the car around and given Dennis another chance.  The walk back to the dorm was long and cold and wet.  Dennis made it back to the dorm, but he hated me even more for kicking him out of the car.  I guess he never understood how crappy his nickname was.  Still, I could have used Dennis’s help later that year when the University Library incident happened (which I’ll get to).

The rest of the dorm floor heard about Dennis and my car, but there was no divisiveness over it.  Dennis was unpopular, and I was just a quiet guy who had a car and didn’t bother anybody.  At least everybody knew I had a breaking point.  I could tolerate a roommate who got drunk and slept with drunk chicks in our room.  I could tolerate spending most of my free time studying at the University Library.   I could even tolerate a guy kicking my car.  There was a lot of stuff that I could put up with as a college freshman.

But Scooter… don’t f***ing call me Scooter.


To be continued!  And you can read University Library from the beginning at University Library: State School.

Weekly Ranking: Fiction Bestsellers, 4th Week of January, 2018

There wasn’t much change in the bestselling fiction list from last week, but some of the changes are noteworthy.  For one, there’s no James Patterson book in the top ten this week.  That’s a good start.  Last week, the top two spots were held by books that were promoted as the next Gone Girl.  One of those books has dropped seven places.  Two new novels have made the top ten.  And one bestseller this week has been nominated for a literary award!

Which books did what?  It’s time to find out!

Below are the best-selling hardcover fiction novels for the final week of January 2018, according to the New York Times:

  1. The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn-

Readers were impressed that a first-time author could hit the #1 bestseller spot… until they found out this first-time author was an executive editor for the publishing company that put out the book.  Oh by the way, this is one of those books promoted as the next Gone Girl.

  1. City of Endless Night by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child-

Cool title for a book that starts off like a standard Law & Order episode.

  1. Iron Gold by Pierce Brown-

The fourth book in this popular series, so popular that this fourth book is already a bestseller.  If you try reading this without reading the first three books (like I just tried), you might not know what’s going on.

  1. Origin by Dan Brown-

Critics disagree about the accuracy of some of the historical stuff in Dan Brown books, but that doesn’t seem to his book hurt sales at all.

  1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

If you can get past a few excessively long paragraphs, you can see why it’s been on the bestseller’s list for 18 weeks.

  1. The Rooster Bar by John Grisham

There’s no James Patterson this week, but we still have a John Grisham sleazy lawyer novel.  The reading public can’t get enough of John Grisham sleazy lawyer novels.

  1. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin-

A psychic predicts the exact date that four adolescents will die; that’s an interesting idea for a story.   Meanwhile, psychics disagree on the exact date this book will drop off the bestsellers list.

  1. Before We Were Yours– by Lisa Wingate-

The cheesy title almost overshadows a (so far) decent book.

  1. The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen-

Last week it was #2, but it’s tough for two books being compared to Gone Girl to maintain both positions.  One of them had to slide.

  1. Sing, Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward-

This novel was just nominated for a 2017 National Book Critics Circle award for best fiction, making this a bestselling novel AND an award nominee!  Good job!!


It’s not always possible to read every bestseller, but it doesn’t hurt to be familiar with them.  Out of all the books on this list, I’d probably rank them (from what I’ve read) in this order  (I ranked Iron Gold last only because I’d have to read three other books before it would make sense to me) :

  1. The Immortalists
  2. Before We Were Yours
  3. Sing, Unburied, Sing
  4. Little Fires Everywhere
  5. Origin
  6. City of Endless Night
  7. The Rooster Bar
  8. The Woman in the Window
  9. The Wife Between Us
  10. Iron Gold


What do you think?  How would you rank these novels (even if you haven’t read them)?

Literary Glance: City of Endless Night by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

I have to admit, City of Endless Night by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child has a pretty cool title.  I don’t often judge a book by its cover, but sometimes the title can be an indication of the quality of a book.  At least, it’s a better indication than the cover.

I’ve never read a Preston & Child book, but I know that their books are mysteries, so with the title City of Endless Night I expected something different, almost poetic in the prose.  Instead, I opened the book to discover a typical Law & Order episode where in the first scene a couple stupid kids unwittingly stumble onto a crime scene.

The second scene is the homicide detective getting a rundown of the victim with the ME, all in dialogue.  And then the reporters show up, and the detective inwardly complains about what a high profile case this will be.    Then we get the introduction of the familiar FBI agent who has been assigned to the case.  The only deviation is that there is hardly any conflict between the detective and agent because they know each other from previous books, and the pain-in-the-neck reporters are no longer important (at least not in this scene).

This isn’t exactly a bad start to a mystery.  It’s just a formulaic start.  If I hadn’t already read a bunch of other books that started this way, I’d probably keep going.  The victim is a decapitated college girl, and lots of readers will want to find out who killed and decapitated the college girl.  Maybe there’ll be some other lurid details.

I’m not sure how a seemingly pedestrian mystery is going to connect with a cool title like City of Endless Night.   If anything, this book is the opposite of another novel I started reading recently, Robicheaux by James Lee Burke.  The title Robicheaux itself is kind of boring (I’m not a fan of character name book titles), but Burke’s writing is very interesting.  I don’t know if it’s better to have a seemingly generic mystery with an interesting title or an interesting book with a boring title.

Anyway, City of Endless Night is the 17th(?) book in the Pendergast detective series (starting with Relic in 1995), and it presents me with a challenge.  I know these two authors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are supposed to be very good writers.  I know they have written lots and lots of books together.  I haven’t read any of their novels before, but they have a good reputation.  City of Endless Night is their new book and current best seller, and I’ve just started it.

But this is a time constraint issue.  Authors who have written lots of novels usually have written novels much better than their current releases.  Should I read Preston and Child’s current book because that’s the best seller right now?

Or should I find their most critically acclaimed book and read that instead?

Maybe I could do both.  But I have a family and a full time job, so I can’t read everything that I want to read.  City of Endless Night is okay, but I’ve read a bunch of mysteries in my lifetime, and this one doesn’t seem to be unique, despite the relationship between the two protagonists.  If I’m going to read a novel by these authors, I’d rather read their best effort, which isn’t necessarily their latest effort.  In other words, I might read a book written by Preston & Child, but it probably won’t be City of Endless Night.


What do you think?  Do you go for an author’s current best seller, or do you choose that author’s best book?  If you’re a fan of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, what is their best novel?

Awkward Moments in Dating: The Public Argument

(image via wikimedia)

I dreaded going back to work the Monday after my awkward date.  I didn’t think my coworker with the bland name would make a big deal about our mishap (you can start reading about it here ) because she was higher up in the company than me and had more to lose.  I figured she would just pretend the whole thing had never happened.  Maybe she would stick me with an unpopular project, but I didn’t think she would try to get me fired or anything like that.

The next Monday, _________ (remember, I don’t want to use her real name) and her friends left for lunch without me.  They worked on a different floor, so there would have been no way for me to know they had left, and we didn’t have cell phones back then, so I couldn’t call, but I wouldn’t have anyway.  I figured she needed a few days to let the effects of my perceived insult wear off and maybe we could work things out.  On Wednesday that week, I ran into ___________ (unplanned on my part), and our banter seemed to be back, so I was invited to the group lunch the next day.

At first, I thought that was a good sign.  We ate at a crowded restaurant, and five of us were squeezed around a square table for four.  I like a quiet spacious place when I eat, so I felt a little uncomfortable with the elbow collisions and the butts brushing against the back of my head as people kept bumping behind me.  Despite all the noise, I made a couple humorous comments with my monotone delivery, and my coworkers laughed.

Everything seemed back to normal when __________ said: “I still don’t understand what’s wrong with my name.”

I pretended I didn’t hear.  I didn’t want to take the bait.

“Who said there was something wrong with your name?” a male in our group asked.

“Jimmy,” _______ said.  “He said he didn’t like my name.”  She said it with a thin smile and direct eye contact right at me.

“I didn’t say I didn’t like your name,” I explained, the exasperation from Saturday night returning.  “I just said it didn’t fit you.”

“Your name is beautiful,” a red-headed female coworker said to _________, but I could tell she was lying.  Nobody would say ___________ was a beautiful name.  Maybe it has meaning.  Maybe it has tradition.  Maybe it’s somewhat standard in some cultures, but it’s not beautiful.  Nobody would say  __________ was a beautiful name except to get on __________’s good side.  But I couldn’t say that, at least not with ________ there.

“There’s nothing wrong with your name,” I said.  “I never said the word wrong.”  There she was, rephrasing me again.

“Your name is Jimmy,” she said.  “That’s juvenile, but I don’t say bad things about it.”

“Jimmy is a nickname for James, and James is Biblical,” I said.

“Maybe I’m not a Christian,” she said.

Crap, crap, crap.  I never should have brought up religion.  I had no idea what _____________’s religious affiliation was (or if she even had one), and we had never discussed it, and I wasn’t sure if it was ever going to be discussed, but if it were going to be discussed, this wasn’t the way to start it.  We were at the curiosity stage of our dating, and we weren’t serious enough to delve into religion yet.

Thankfully, I didn’t say, “Nobody’s perfect.”  I’m not that dense.

Instead I said, “Neither am I.  Kind of.”

I wasn’t going to church at the time, but nobody else knew that, so my comment probably made no sense to them.  I was hoping we’d talk about something less personal than __________’s name or religion, something like weather or sports.  I would have even talked politics.  Any other topic would have been better than discussing ___________’s name.

“I like my name,” she said.

I was starting to really hate her name.  I was embarrassed that we were having this disagreement in front of coworkers.  I don’t like conflict; public conflict is even worse, but the absolute worst is arguing in front of people you know.  I was taught not to do that.  Growing up, my family presented a united front in public, but once our front doors were closed, we’d destroy the house.

“Hold on,” the redhead said excitedly.  “Are you two dating?”

“No,” I said.  If this got out, it would be worse than arguing in public.

“That’s really cool,” the red head said, ignoring me.  She turned to ___________.  “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Can we talk about this later?” ___________ said.

The red head laughed.  “Leave Jimmy alone about your name,” she said, reaching out to touch my wrist.  “He was complimenting you, in his own way.”

“Finally, somebody understands me,” I said.  “But we’re not dating.”

“Right,” the redhead barely said before changing the subject.

The redhead didn’t fool me.  I knew she would remember that __________ and I were dating, and I knew we were going to hear about it again.  And I knew nothing good would come from this.

To be continued!