Category: The Bestseller Code 100 (page 1 of 16)

#BestsellerCode100: A Writer’s Review of Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good

Let’s take a look at our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 challenge listSomewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon, from a writer’s perspective

This post does not contain spoilers.

Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good by Jan Karon (2014)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Father Tim Kavanagh has returned to Mitford, North Carolina with his wife Cynthia. He’s retired, but feels his life is missing something. He can’t seem to figure out what he wants to do about it.

This is the twelfth novel in the Mitford series, which features the multiple generations of the Kavanagh family. The fourteenth novel in the series came out in September, 2017.

****

Because both Karen (see her review) and I failed to finish reading this novel, it might be informative to try to figure out why.

Characters

Ever been to a gathering where everyone else had known each other for a long time, such as the first time you met with all your in-laws? Or go to the company softball game when you’ve just been hired and they’ve been playing together for years? People who know each other well, and have history together, often speak in shorthand or code. You feel left out because you have no idea what they are talking about.

Because this is the twelfth novel in the series, the characters are old friends to people who started the series at book one. The author apparently expects new readers to understand the characters the same way as old fans and makes little effort to introduce us. By jumping in at book twelve for this challenge,  we are left standing on the outside.

Genre and Pacing

Although writers try to reach a general audience, realistically they often must gear their writing to the expectations of a subset of readers who prefer their genre.  For example, cozy mystery writers avoid a lot of violence. Their books focus on restoring order to a community that is basically good. The pacing is moderate with a good distance between conflicts or incidents.  On the other hand, thriller writers pile on the violence and often the central question is whether the villain is going to get away with the mayhem. The pacing is fast and distance between conflicts is short.

As Christian Fiction, Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good is supposed to have a gentle touch with no violence  and a relatively slow pace. As a person who reads mysteries and thrillers for fun, I like my novels to feel like I’m in a race car plunging down a hill. This novel felt like I was on a very rickety bicycle that meandered a lot. I didn’t like it. It is a personal preference, however, and many people probably find the slow pace refreshing.

Little Mysteries for Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good

A good novelist provides little mysteries in the story. Those are questions put into a reader’s mind to keep them turning pages. To be effective, the answers should be revealed within a few pages, hence “little” mysteries.

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good  starts out with the question whether Father Kavanagh will be able to fit into his tux. When he can’t, he and his wife (mainly his wife) go in search of an alternative. The last mention of their search is around page 19 or 20, then that thread pretty much disappears. We never learn what happens until an oblique mention on page 63:

‘There we were, two of three misfits who didn’t show up as penguins…’

So, about 40 pages later we learn that apparently he didn’t wear a tux. If you had forgotten the question, the answer was so subtle you would have missed it. If you had remembered the question, it was a long time to ponder such a trivial mystery that apparently had no bearing on the plot except to send the main characters to visit a friend. The author promised a reward, but never fulfilled it.

Too Slow

In fact, the novel is way too slow in providing  the solutions to the little mysteries throughout. Another example:  On page 19 we learn that Irene is missing and her front door was left open. That sounds alarming. Has something bad happened to her? On page 38, they check again. Irene still isn’t home, but this time the police show up. When do we find out what happened to Irene? Not until page 90, where we learn she was in Georgia with her new grandson. She was never in danger. The reader is left wondering why such good friends, who knew so many other details of her life and felt comfortable rummaging through her house, didn’t know she was expecting a new grandson.

Again and again the author has failed in her promises to the reader by either holding out too long or hiding the answers to the little mysteries, if she gives them at all (see quote in Karen’s review). When they arrive, the answers are often anticlimactic or serve no purpose. It was enlightening to me as a writer to realize how frustrating that was. I will definitely make a big effort to make sure any little mysteries I include will fulfill their promises to my readers in a timely way.

Setting

The setting is the fictional small community of Milford, North Carolina. Although there was a map in the front, I never got a strong impression of place. In contrast, Alice Sebold, for example, never names the setting in Lovely Bones, and yet it seemed much clearer and much more concrete. Perhaps the setting has been described in detail in some of the earlier novels in the series? Again, jumping in at novel twelve was frustrating.

Discussion

In summary, some of the issues we had with the book were due to it being the twelfth in a series and others were issues with the author’s choices about plotting and storytelling. Perhaps the inability to connect with the characters and the settings would not have been a problem if we had read the novels in the order intended. Given the popularity of the books, that is likely the case.

Have you read Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 57.  Fifty Shades of Gray by E. L. James (2011) – Discussion begins June 25, 2018

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good

Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good by Jan Karon is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Categorized as Christian/Domestic Fiction, Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good returns to Karon’s fictional town of Mitford, NC (think Mayberry), to continue the story of Father Timothy Kavanagh’s ordinary life in an ordinary town.  It’s a peaceful town, a storybook small town where people are kind and life is sweet.  The Mitford series has been extremely popular, with many of the later books landing on the New York Times Bestseller List, some even debuting at #1.  Karon appears to have a loyal fan base!

This post does not contain spoilers.

Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good by Jan Karon (2014)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

What’s Wrong?

 As Roberta mentioned in her #BookBeginnings post, reading a book that is placed in the middle of a well-established series isn’t always the easiest.  Often you really need the backstory of all the characters to be able to follow the current story, and I found that to be the case with Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good.  There are so many characters to get to know in the town of Mitford and I didn’t feel that Karon did a very good job of providing us enough backstory for each, which meant it was extremely easy to confuse who was who and why they were saying this or that.

I also disliked Karon’s writing style.  It felt choppy and disjointed.  I often couldn’t follow who was saying what in long sections of dialogue.  And there were many times that it seemed Karon was writing for a movie instead of a book and expecting her actors to show what she meant, rather than actually writing what she meant to show.  Here’s an example:

While shaving, he had an impulse toward the ridiculous. He scarcely ever did anything ridiculous.

Puny’s ten-month-old twin boys were in the kitchen in their bouncing chairs, each with a pacifier. He was not a fan of the pacifier but it would be politically incorrect to express that opinion in his own household.

‘Tommy,’ he said, standing near the door while Puny swept the side porch. ‘What do you think?’

Tommy burst into tears, the pacifier fell to the floor; Violet pounced and skittered it to the corner of the room.

Puny opened the door a crack. ‘What’s goin’ on in there?’

‘I asked Tommy a question and he started crying. Sorry.’

‘Could you please pick ’im up? I got to get these steps cleaned off, you wouldn’ believe th’ raccoon poop out here.’ She closed the door.

He picked up Tommy, all eighteen pounds, jiggled him as he had jiggled Puny’s first set of twins, Sissy and Sassy. Jiggling was good—Tommy stopped crying.

Puny opened the door again. ‘What did you ask ’im?’

‘Oh, nothing much. He’s fine now.’

She closed the door; he put Tommy in the chair, went after the pacifier, washed it under the hot water tap, and stuck it back where it belonged.

Timmy, his very own namesake, looked up at him with Carolina-blue eyes.

‘What do you think, Timmy?’

Timmy took the pacifier from his mouth, laughed, and handed it over.

‘Thanks for sharing,’ he said. ‘Maybe later.’

Out of the mouths of babes, so to speak. He kissed both boys on the tops of their heads.

So, what exactly did Father Timothy do while shaving that was “ridiculous?”  Did he shave only one side?  Did he make a weird face with the shaving cream to scare the babies?  Who knows?  I kept reading, watching for reactions from others in the subsequent scenes that would indicate if he’d done some weird shaving of his head or something, but no comments were made, so I finally surmised he must have done something with the shaving cream itself.

Unfinished

I tried, I truly tried, but I couldn’t finish this book.  This is the very first one on our challenge that I’ve not been able to finish.  I made it 45% of the way through and my patience wore out.  Too many scenes like the one highlighted above just wore me down.  Not knowing the backstory of all the characters led me to not care about their current stories.  Perhaps it would have been different if I started with the very first book.

I know small town people and events can be interesting – I used to live in a small town.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s why Somewhere Safe With Someone Good was a bestseller.  One of the topics that The Bestseller Code’s algorithm found to be most useful in identifying best-selling novels was the topic of human interactions and relationships, human closeness and connections.  Karon’s novel is all about human connections and relationships. In the end, though, that wasn’t enough for me.  Her writing style that left me cold and confused and I decided there are simply too many good books out there to waste another moment reading one that I disliked so.

 

Have you read Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 57.  Fifty Shades of Gray by E. L. James (2011) – Discussion begins June 25, 2018

#BestsellerCode100: Number 58. Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listSomewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon.

This post does not contain spoilers.

Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good by Jan Karon (2014)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Father Tim Kavanagh has returned to Mitford, North Carolina with his wife Cynthia. He’s retired, but feels his life is missing something. He can’t seem to figure out what he wants to do about it.

This is the twelfth novel in the Mitford series, which features the multiple generations of the Kavanagh family. The fourteenth novel in the series came out in September, 2017.

Mitford is a fictional place, but there’s a map of the town in the front of the book.

Have you read Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 57.  Fifty Shades of Gray by E. L. James (2011) – Discussion begins June 25, 2018

#BestsellerCode100: A Writer’s Review of The Next Always by Nora Roberts

Let’s take a look at The Next Always by Nora Roberts from a writer’s perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

 

The Next Always by Nora Roberts

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Clare Brewster returns to her hometown of Boonsboro, Maryland after losing her husband. Running a bookstore and taking care of her three sons keeps her busy, but somehow she finds time to check out the renovation of a local inn, and also the architect in charge of the project, Beckett Montgomery. He is also a busy man, but not too busy for Clare.

This novel is book one of the Inn Boonsboro Trilogy.

Karen has really already said it all in her review, which you should read first.

Where’s the Hook?

If you are a popular and prolific author like Nora Roberts, you don’t have to start your book with an obvious hook for the first line. Instead you can start with exposition about stone walls.

The stone walls stood as they had for more than two centuries, simple, sturdy, and strong.

Even though she does manage some nice alliteration, somehow I don’t think a beginning author could get away with that first sentence.

If you are a popular and prolific author, you can also get away with featuring your own businesses as most of the setting.

Characters

Nora Roberts is great at developing characters. Each individual  in The Next Always is unique. I was particularly impressed with her male characters – the guys can often be cardboard cutouts in romances –so I located an interview with her to find out how she does it.

It turns out Nora Roberts has four older brothers and two sons. She has had plenty of experience with how men act. That is why the three Montgomery brothers and Clare’s three sons are so authentic.

Nora Roberts is also the queen of dialogue. Every character is not only unique, but also has their own agenda. The characters are often at cross purposes, just like people are in real life.

“What’s up?” Owen demanded. “We’re just knocking off.”
“And I want a beer,” Ryder added…

{Beckett shows them a sign he made.}

“This is it, Anybody doesn’t like it, I’ll kill them with a sledgehammer. I’ll feel bad if it’s Mom or Carolee, but I’ll still do it.”
Ryder studied it, said, “Huh.”
“What font is that?”
“The one I picked,” Beckett told Owen, “I can kill you. I have a spare brother.”

 

 

Plot

The plot is straightforward. Beckett has loved Clare since school. Clare married someone else and has three young sons, but now has moved back because her husband died. The central story problem is whether the two will now find true love.

The story moves along quickly because it is mainly dialogue. In fact there is very little exposition. Opening randomly to pages 220-221, 7 lines out of 63 are exposition. The rest of the lines are all dialogue.

A side story is a thread of the plot that does not solve the main problem, but adds depth to the novel. In this case the side story involves a stalker who is obsessed with main character Clare. It is clearly the weakest part of the book. The stalker isn’t developed well enough to be believable. Apparently the side story was thrown in as an afterthought to add some tension, but Roberts heart wasn’t in it.

The stalker side story also involves an obvious Deus ex machina (which is when a problem in a story is solved by an unlikely device). In this case, the ghost tells everyone to get over to Clare’s house and rescue her from the stalker. Really?

Discussion

Overall, although it is an easy, frothy read, I did not enjoy The Next Always as much as Karen did. I won’t look for the others in the series. I haven’t, however, given up on Nora Roberts completely. I am going to look for the futuristic romantic suspense/police procedural series she writes as J. D. Robb.

Have you read any novels by Nora Roberts or J.D. Robb? What did you think?

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 58.  Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (2014) by Jan Karon  – Discussion begins June 11, 2018

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Next Always by Nora Roberts

The Next Always by Nora Roberts is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Nora Roberts is an extremely successful and prolific writer.  She has written over 200 novels, many of them bestsellers, and there are over 500 million copies of her books in print.  With that many novels written, I was surprised to realize that I have never read any of her works.  This reading challenge is definitely introducing me to new authors!

This post does contain spoilers.

 

The Next Always by Nora Roberts

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The Inn

As Roberta stated in her #BookBeginnings post, the Inn Boonsboro that is so lovingly restored in this novel is a real bricks and mortar bed & breakfast in Boonsboro, Maryland, that Nora Roberts and her husband restored and currently operate.  If you love watching renovation shows on cable television, you’ll delight in following the progress of the inn restoration throughout this book.  If you are not as interested, then this book will be a fast read as you skim through all the details of tile and wood and brick.  I’m squarely in that latter camp, but still, I would love to go to Maryland and see the actual Inn.  It sounds quite luxuriant and memorable.

After reading The Next Always, I was curious what other readers and professionals had to say about this book – was it a good indication of the caliber of Nora Roberts’ novels?  I found very mixed reviews, but many of the professional reviewers felt that this novel was one long infomercial for Roberts’ and her husband Bruce Wilder’s businesses in Boonsboro (they also own the real Turn The Page Bookstore & Café and the Gifts Inn Boonsboro gift shop).  I see their point, and it would be a valid one if the story itself didn’t work, but I felt that the story did work and that the Inn was a good setting.  Honestly, after writing 200 books, who can blame Ms. Roberts for diversifying a bit and cashing in on her writing fame?  And after writing 200 books, I’m sure she has a large faithful fandom that would love nothing more than to come stay at her Inn, walk the streets of the town where she’s placed one of her series, and even possibly have the chance to see the novelist in person.

It’s The Dialogue

One of the things I liked most about The Next Always was the dialogue.  The dialogue revealed strong love and respect between the three brothers (Beckett, Owen, and Ryder), between the three friends (Clare, Hope, and Avery), and even between Beckett and Clare’s 3 young sons without the author having to tell us about it.  There was very little to none agonizing head talk and angst for the reader to slog through as we’ve had in some recent romance novels.  The dialogue provided the action and the smooth flow of the story.

The family units were strong in The Next Always.  The relationships both within the two families (the Montgomery’s and Clare & her sons) and between the friends are what most readers wish they had in their own lives.  If there is such a thing as a cozy romance, The Next Always is definitely such.  Even the Inn’s ghost was a helpful, friendly ghost.  The side plot of Clare’s stalker played up the strength of the family and friendship bonds to the max, while providing the catalyst for the love declarations at the end between Clare and Beckett.

Three Brothers, Three Loves?

Nora Roberts knows how to write interesting characters.  Some of the romance novels we have read concentrated on the two main love characters to the detriment of the rest of the supporting cast.  In The Next Always, Roberts gives us three strong male characters in the Montgomery brothers. And it isn’t just coincidence that there are three female best friends.  Can you say trilogy here?  One can easily see early on the seeds being laid for two more romance novels to come. And you know what?  I loved it!  I want more and have already reserved the next book in this Inn Boonsboro trilogy, The Last Boyfriend, from my public library.  I do so want Owen and Avery to find true love.

 

Do you have a favorite Nora Roberts novel to recommend? I need more books to add to my “to read” list!

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 58.  Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (2014) by Jan Karon  – Discussion begins June 11, 2018

#BestsellerCode100: Number 59. The Next Always by Nora Roberts

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, The Next Always by Nora Roberts

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

The Next Always by Nora Roberts

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Clare Brewster returns to her hometown of Boonsboro, Maryland after losing her husband. Running a bookstore and taking care of her three sons keeps her busy, but somehow she finds time to check out the renovation of a local inn, and also the architect in charge of the project, Beckett Montgomery. He is also a busy man, but not too busy for Clare.

This novel is book one of the Inn Boonsboro Trilogy.

 

Have you read The Next Always by Nora Roberts? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about The Next Always by Nora Roberts? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 58.  Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (2014) by Jan Karon  – Discussion begins June 11, 2018

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review of In the Woods by Tana French

In The Woods by Tana French is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  In The Woods is also the forty-first book we’ve read, which means we are 2/5 of the way through the list.  Can you believe we’ve read 41 books?  That also means that, between the two of us, Roberta and I have written 82 book reviews for this challenge alone, which is no small accomplishment.  We should throw ourselves a virtual celebratory party!

This post does not contain spoilers.

In The Woods* by Tana French


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

For a summary of In The Woods, read Roberta’s Writer’s Review and her excellent description of the eight key components of a plot.

Debut Novels

Eight of the books we’ve read so far in this challenge were debut novels:  The Mill River Recluse, The Weird Sisters, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, The Silent Wife, The White Tiger, The Weight of Silence, The Marriage Bargain, and now In The Woods.  So 1/5 of the books read so far were debut novels.  I find that fact interesting – it means that 1/5 of the authors figured out early on or intuitively already knew what makes a great novel.

For this Bestseller Code Challenge we are reading through the list of books in The Bestseller Code, Anatomy of The Blockbuster Novel by Jodie Archer & Matthew L. Jockers for several reasons, one of which is to see how our tastes in books compares with the computer model.  In The Bestseller Code, the authors discuss a writer’s style and how that factors into making a bestselling book.

 

In short, style is important: it is the mechanism through which plot, theme, and character get delivered.  Style is at once mechanical and organic; it springs from a combination of nature and nurture; from innate ability and practiced craft.  And nowhere is the importance of style seen more vividly than in the work of those authors who are hitting the NYT list for the first time.  Saying it is difficult to make it straight onto the NYT list with a first novel is a great understatement.

First Lines, or #BookBeginnings

One of the elements of novelistic style the authors of The Bestseller Code discuss in great detail is the first line of a novel:

We believe that the first line of a novel can tell you a lot about the writer’s command of style.

They give three examples of famous first lines and then explain:

One thing that is immediately clear about all three of these classic writers is that their first sentences create voice.  Someone is talking to us, and that someone sounds authentic, in command of some sort of authority.  There is no wavering, or cautiousness, or lack of surety.  All novelists have the challenge of creating some sort of selfhood, and readers might note that they tend to keep reading when that selfhood, attractive or not, at least knows itself and leads its reader.  The best writers – or those that will achieve the most readers – are able to establish this kind of presence from the opening sentence with tiny and seemingly effortless modulations in style.

This is one reason why Roberta begins the discussion of each of our challenge novels with a BookBeginnings post.  The first line is an important style feature and bestselling authors know how to craft a first line that will hook their readers.  For a debut novelist, this ability is even more important – they cannot rely upon their faithful following of readers to buy their books because they don’t have a faithful following yet!

Here’s the first line from Chapter 1 of In The Woods:

What I warn you to remember is that I am a detective.

We don’t yet know if our narrator is male or female, but we do know that we’re being cautioned about him/her being a detective.  Why would he/she warn us about this fact?

This is the stuff a good stylist needs to recognize: that the first sentence is the hook and the hook is a mixture of voice and conflict achieved through the mechanics of diction and syntax. – The Bestseller Code

Are you hooked already?  I was.

Page Turner

From the very first sentence, In The Woods was a page turner.  I enjoyed the interplay of the two main detectives, Rob (“I am a detective”) and Cassie.  I was intrigued by the inner conflict of Rob as he tried to solve one murder that took place in the same location where, twenty years before, his two best friends disappeared and he was left with no memory of what happened to them.

In The Woods is not just a mystery, it is a psychological mystery, and a very good one at that.  I loved the little seeds and distractions that French left for the reader to pick up – I kept wondering who the psychopath was that Cassie warned the reader about and if maybe it was Rob, our detective narrator.

While the ending of the novel wasn’t all I wanted, I can see why French didn’t resolve the twenty year old case.  Rob does his best throughout the book to avoid memories, to avoid dealing with his past in any way, and that spills over into every aspect of his life, so it would have been terribly out of character for him to remember what happened to him and his friends all those years ago.  Knowing French has turned this Dublin Murder Squad division of the Irish police into a series, I hope she eventually resolves that old case, but I guess I’ll have to read the series to find out!

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 59.  The Next Always by Nora Roberts (2011) – Discussion begins May 28, 2018
Romance

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of In the Woods by Tana French

Let’s take a look at the next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, In The Woods by Tana French, from a writer’s perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

In The Woods* by Tana French

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

Summary:  Twenty years before, three young children disappeared into the woods that surrounded their Dublin neighborhood. Only one survived, and he can’t say what happened. Now he’s a police detective faced with investigating the murder of a young girl in the same woods.

This award-winning novel is the first in a series of six featuring the Dublin Murder Squad.

 Characters

Author Tana French’s characters are well-drawn and complex. The first person narrator is Detective Rob Ryan (the one who survived the earlier event).  He reveals on the second page of Chapter 1 that he might be an unreliable narrator when he says,  “And I lie.”

His partner is Detective Cassie Maddox, a young woman who also might have some personal demons.

The two detectives have been partners for a couple of years before the story starts. Their bantering, close relationship is the best part of the book.

“Behave yourself,” I said, pulling her hood over her face.
“Help! I’m being oppressed!” she yelled through it. “Call the Equality Commission.” The stroller girl gave us a sour look.
“You’re overexcited,” I told Cassie. “Calm down or I’ll take you home with no ice cream.”

 

Setting

The main setting is a patch of woods near a small neighborhood in Dublin. Rather that being just a simple backdrop, the mood of the woods changes with situations throughout the story:

  • from a joyful playground,
  • to a terrifying trap,
  • to a sad final resting place,
  • to a contentious construction site.

 

The wood is all flicker and murmur and illusion. Its silence is a pointillist conspiracy of a million tiny noises — rustles, flurries, nameless truncated shrieks; its emptiness teams with secret life, scurrying just beyond the corner of your eye.

The Plot

I recently attended a workshop where the presenter suggested deconstructing eight key components of plot in a novel as a way to learn the craft. Let’s see how it goes.

1. The hook – The purpose of the hook is to grab and hold the reader’s interest. Because most readers decide whether or not to continue on with a book after reading the first few paragraphs to first few pages, it is important to make the beginning sentences really count.

I already discussed the beginning of the book in an earlier post, but to summarize, in the prologue the author does a good job of making the reader wonder what’s going on with the kids and want to read more to find out.

2. The set up – This is where the author introduces the characters, reveals details of their world, and presents the problem that is central to the story.

The character and setting introductions work well. Readers are drawn to Rob and Cassie. They have a cool relationship.

The story problem is multi-layered, which adds complexity. The main problem is to figure out who killed twelve-year-old Katy.  Underlying that problem is what happened to the three young children twenty years prior and is it related to Katy’s death?

3. The obstacles – For a successful story, the characters need to overcome hurtles and learn from their mistakes. Sometimes the obstacle is simply moving down the wrong path or following a red herring. There are several red herrings in this story, including mysterious strangers.

The biggest obstacle which hinders the investigation is Rob’s past experiences.  His emotions roil as memories surface.  For example, he messes up in court when he is supposed to give evidence for another case.

4. The side story – This is a subplot that is not directly involved in solving the problem, but that adds a sense of realism and depth.

The side story is easy to spot in this novel. There is also a side character, another detective named Sam O’Neill. His part of the investigation is to figure out whether Katy’s death was politically motivated due to conflict over a proposed road construction project. Personally, I found the side story to be rather flat, although perhaps that’s what the author intended.

5. This Changes Everything! – Toward the middle of most novels there’s a time when the rug is pulled out from under the hero. Something occurs or is discovered that defies the reader’s expectations and wakes him or her up.

This component wasn’t as clear (or handled in such a straightforward way). Right about the middle (roughly page 210 in this 429 page book), Rob remembers witnessing a rape in the woods as a child. It doesn’t change things drastically, but he and Cassie pursue it.

The biggest shake up comes near the end/climax when Rob’s boss finds out Rob was involved in the earlier case. That really does change everything.

6. The escalation – The section that is push to the climax of the story. Often the pacing becomes more intense, and the ratio of dialogue to narration shifts to more dialogue.

The pace does pick up as the detectives hone in on the killer.

7. The climax– When everything comes together and the reader finds out who did it.

This is where In the Woods really departs from the norm. Instead of a satisfying resolution, suddenly Rob’s life is turned on its head. His boss finds out about his past, he sleeps with Cassie and then withdraws from her which destroys their partnership, and the person who instigates the murder turns the tables on them and gets way with everything. Instead of everything coming together, everything falls apart.

8. A satisfying ending – Again, the novel doesn’t follow the mystery novel blueprint. It almost seemed like two endings.

In the “first ending”, we do learn who kills Katy, which is the solution to the primary problem. The fact that the instigator escapes is not satisfying, but it works.

On the other hand, almost nothing is revealed about the earlier disappearances. If anything, things are murkier. In this tacked on “second ending” Rob wanders around, his life in shambles.

If this novel was a stand alone, the first ending would have been sufficient. As part of a series, however, the less satisfying “second ending” makes sense. The author is probably setting things up for the next novel. It is possible that solution to the older mystery isn’t revealed until much later in the series, if at all.

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What did you think of the plot deconstruction? Did it enlighten, or was hard to follow?

I learned a few things about my expectations as a reader and how I would approach things as a writer.

Discussion

For the most part, I enjoyed this novel, but I did have one issue with the story line (besides the unsatisfactory ending). In contrast to Rob who is up front that he lies, Cassie does not lie unless forced to do so by her job. This character trait made it less believable that she would go along with Rob when he hides his involvement in the earlier crime from his boss. Even with her close relationship with Rob, it didn’t ring true that she would allow him to blatantly jeopardize both the case and their careers. Of course, as the main character Rob needed to be involved in the mystery for it to work, but it would have been more realistic — and have added another layer of conflict — if Cassie had revealed Rob’s past connection to her boss right away and Rob had had to fight to be included at every step of the investigation.

According to Book Riot, reading In the Woods isn’t the best way to start the series. largely because of the problems I mentioned with the ending. Jessica Woodbury suggests starting with the fourth book in the series, Broken Harbor, because of how the characters reoccur. I’ll have to keep that in mind.

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What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 59.  The Next Always by Nora Roberts (2011) – Discussion begins May 28, 2018
Romance

#BestsellerCode100: Number 60. In the Woods by Tana French

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, In The Woods by Tana French

This post does not contain spoilers.

In The Woods* by Tana French

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

Summary: Twenty years before, three young children disappeared into the woods that surround their Dublin neighborhood. Only one survived, and he can’t say what happened. Now he’s a police detective faced with investigating the murder of a young girl in the same woods.

This award-winning novel is the first in a series of six featuring the Dublin Murder Squad.

Have you read In The Woods by Tana French? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about In The Woods by Tana French? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 59.  The Next Always by Nora Roberts (2011) – Discussion begins May 28, 2018
Romance

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review of The Choice by Nicholas Sparks

The Choice by Nicholas Sparks is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Gabby moves to small town Beaufort, North Carolina, to be nearer her long-time boyfriend and hopefully soon-to-be fiancé.  She just happens to buy the house next door to a good-looking, adventurous, and fun-loving confirmed bachelor, Travis.  A series of mishaps and misunderstandings (typical romance novel set-ups) brings these two together and sparks fly (or we’re expected to believe sparks fly).  Can you tell I wasn’t buying it?

This post contains spoilers.

The Choice* by Nicholas Sparks

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

A Tale of Two Romances

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens wasn’t referring to our last two romance novels, but that’s how I felt after reading Me Before You and The Choice back to back.  Me Before You gave the reader the best that romance novels can offer and The Choice gave the worst.  Me Before You created memorable and believable characters; The Choice offered two clichéd main characters and a supporting cast that we barely got to know.  The plot of Me Before You presented each of the main characters with life choices to make and allowed them come to realistic decisions; The Choice had a Hollywood-scripted plot and the pro forma happy (unrealistic) ending.  Me Before You gave me renewed hope that romance novels were worth reading; The Choice only reinforced my previous belief that romance novels aren’t worth my time.

The Choice

This novel is split into two parts.  Part One presents Gabby’s dilemma: will she listen to her head and stay with her long-time boyfriend whom she expects to marry or will she listen to her heart and build a life with her neighbor Travis, who has turned her life upside down in a whirlwind romantic weekend.  But as Roberta writes in her Writer’s Review, due to the prologue, we already know which choice she makes, so there’s no suspense and no emotional investment by the reader.

Part Two presents the Real Choice of the novel: will Travis follow his head regarding Gabby’s specific instructions concerning her present medical situation (a long-term coma) or will he follow his heart.  I found Part Two to be even more clichéd and unbelievable than Part One, if that is possible.  Where Gabby was too much in her own head in Part One, dithering back and forth between her choices, in Part Two it is Travis’s turn to bore the reader as we are forced to listen to his feelings of guilt over the accident that caused Gabby’s coma and his anguish about the resultant choice he must make.  Truthfully, by then, I ceased to care.  I won’t even go into just how unbelievable Gabby’s remarkable recovery was from her long-term coma – it was the expected happily-ever-after ending, but totally unrealistic.

The Right Choice

 If you want a feel-good, tear-jerker, realistic romance novel to read this summer and you have two choices on the shelf, Me Before You by JoJo Moyes or The Choice by Nicholas Sparks, do yourself a favor and spend your money on Me Before You.  You won’t be disappointed.

Have you read The Choice by Nicholas Sparks? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 60.  In the Woods by Tana French (2007) – Discussion begins May 14, 2018
Mystery

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