Tag: Bestseller Code 100 (page 2 of 14)

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld is next up on our Bestsellers List reading challenge.  I first read American Wife in 2012 and enjoyed the book then, so I was curious to discover if I still liked it.  I’m delighted to report that it was just as a good a read the second time through.  Sittenfeld has a real knack for writing dialogue and I was soon transported away to the world of Alice Blackwell.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Roberta’s Writer’s Review pretty much sums up my take on American Wife, so I thought instead I’d briefly outline Curtis Sittenfeld’s novels, which I have added to my reading list.

Female Protagonists

 All of Sittenfeld’s novels and collections of short stories have female protagonists.  She writes from experience (in the case of Prep) and also seems to enjoy fictionalizing and/or updating famous women or books (American Wife, Eligible).

  • Prep, (2005) – a coming of age story centered around a girl from the midwest, Lee Flora, who attends a preppy boarding school on the East Coast.
  • The Man of My Dreams, (2006) – follows Hannah from 8th grade thru her college years at Tufts and into her late twenties.
  • American Wife, (2008) – Alice Blackwell’s life from childhood in a small, Midwestern town, to her years in the White House as President Charlie Blackwell’s wife. Loosely inspired by the life of First Lady Laura Bush.
  • Sisterland, (2013) – the story of Kate, an identical twin, who has psychic powers.
  • Eligible, (2016) – the modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in Cincinnati, Ohio.
  • You Think It, I’ll Say It, (2018) – a collection of short stories, including “The Nominee,” about Hillary Clinton as she is just about to accept the Democratic Presidential nomination.

Sittenfeld is currently working on her next novel, one inspired by her short story, “The Nominee.”  Sittenfeld described it in an interview with The Guardian:

I’m actually writing a novel now about Hillary Clinton, which I think I was partly influenced to do by writing “The Nominee.” The premise is: what if Hillary had met Bill at Yale Law School in the early 70s – which she did – they had fallen in love, become a couple but then she made the decision not to marry him. Yeah… what if?

Yeah, what if?  I’ll be watching for that book to come 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 55. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010) – Discussion begins July 23, 2018
Won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of American Wife

Let’s take a look at American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld from a writer’s perspective.

This post may contain spoilers.

 

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: When quiet school librarian Alice Lindgren meets Charlie Blackwell, the charismatic son of a powerful Republican family, she doesn’t think they have much in common. That doesn’t prevent her, however, from falling in love and marrying him. Before she knows it, he’s governor of their state and then president. As first lady, she must decide how to cope with the challenge of loving her husband, but disagreeing with many of his beliefs and actions.

According to a preface in the book,

“American Wife is a work of fiction loosely inspired by the life of an American first lady. Her husband, his parents, and certain prominent members of his administration are recognizable.

Although not identified by name, the author admits her main character is modeled after Former First Lady Laura Bush.

The Cover

I don’t usually comment on the cover, but this one is striking. It shows a woman wearing a beautiful full length wedding dress. Laura Bush didn’t wear anything like it when she got married, however, and it also isn’t what Sittenfeld writes that ever practical Alice wore. Pretty dress, but doesn’t truly reflect the story inside.

The Writing

Because my perspective as a writer, I tend to dissect books as I read them and it takes me out of the story. For example, for our last book I noticed right away that E. L. James described her main character looking in a mirror, which is not considered to be best writing practice. For American Wife, however, the writing disappeared into the background and I became fully engrossed. It is high praise when the reader doesn’t notice the writing and it becomes simply a vessel for the storytelling.

The few times I did notice the writing was when the word choice — slang in dialogue — seemed too modern for the earlier time. But that was only a word or two.

How did Curtis Sittenfeld achieve such seamless writing? First of all, by choosing the first person voice.  The first person draws the reader in by allowing full access to the main character’s thoughts and feelings. It worked well.

Sittenfeld also has a gift for storytelling. She frames the work with a scene in the White House where Alice reflects our her life with her husband, the president. From there, she crafts the story in chronological order as events in Alice’s life unfold. Although it has been labeled as a bildungsroman (coming of age story or about growing from youth to adult), it is the inherent conflict between a serious, quiet wife and a jovial, extroverted husband is central to moving the plot forward.

Some people were shocked that the author included explicit sex scenes, as well as a less-than-flattering bathroom scene. At first it did seem out of character when portraying someone who exhibits such decorum in public. But, the author’s goal was to make Alice seem realistic — like a living, breathing woman– and real women do have sex and have embarrassing moments in bathrooms.

Public domain image of Wisconsin

Setting

Although Sittenfeld uses many details from Laura Bush’s life in American Wife, she chose to deviate with the setting. Instead of living in Texas, the whole fictional clan is from Wisconsin. Why did she choose Wisconsin? The author grew up in Ohio and was living in St. Louis at about the time she wrote this, so we shouldn’t be surprised she picked a state in the Midwest.

Discussion

One of the problems with fictionalizing a real person is that readers will wonder where the nonfiction ends and the fiction begins. For example, it is true that Laura Bush was involved in a car crash that killed a classmate when she was seventeen. Some of the details were fictionalized, however, such as having Alice drive alone whereas Laura had a passenger in the car.   She also changed some prominent, verifiable details, like Charlie Blackwell’s father never becomes president like George Bush did. It was distracting at times to have to stop reading and do an internet search to verify or disprove story details, but I did learn quite a bit.

Sittenfeld isn’t the first author to fictionalize people who have occupied the White House. Another book on our challenge list, Primary Colors, is a thinly-veiled look at Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. In fact, just in the last few months there has been a thriller by a former president,The President is Missing, by Bill Clinton and James Patterson, and a mystery series featuring Former President Barack Obama and Former Vice President Joe Biden, Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer.

Why this novel is special, however, is that it is an in depth look at the complexities of relationships, how marriages can survive and thrive between two people from vastly different backgrounds and opposite personalities under the pressure of being prominent public figures. Given that The Bestseller Code predicts novels about human relationships should do well, this fits the model perfectly.

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 55. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010) – Discussion begins July 23, 2018
Won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011

#BestsellerCode100: Number 56 American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listAmerican Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: When quiet school librarian Alice Lindgren meets Charlie Blackwell, the charismatic son of a powerful Republican family, she doesn’t think they have much in common. That doesn’t prevent her, however, from falling in love and marrying him. Before she knows it, he’s governor of their state and then president. As first lady, she must decide how to cope with the challenge of loving her husband, but disagreeing with many of his beliefs and actions.

According to a preface in the book,

“American Wife is a work of fiction loosely inspired by the life of an American first lady. Her husband, his parents, and certain prominent members of his administration are recognizable.

Although not identified by name, the protagonist is apparently modeled after Former First Lady Laura Bush, who was recently in the news.

 

Have you read American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld? 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 American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld? 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 55. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010) – Discussion begins July 23, 2018
Won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James is next up on our Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Considering that our last novel was categorized as Christian/Domestic Fiction and this one is Erotic Romance, we’re obviously covering a wide variety of genres with this reading challenge.

If you haven’t read Roberta’s Writer’s Review yet, please do.  It seems that we are yet again in agreement about this novel, but I will try to come up with something “novel” to say.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Fifty Shades of Grey* by E. L. James

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Warning:  This is an Erotic Romance, for mature audiences only.

Mass Appeal

 I remember feeling quite skeptical of the hoopla around Fifty Shades of Grey when it was first released.  It seemed like everyone was reading it, which to me was as good a reason as any NOT to read it.  If anything, this reading challenge has reinforced my belief that being on a bestseller list doesn’t necessarily mean a book is worth my time to read, and Fifty Shades of Grey is the perfect example of just such a book.  So why did it become a bestseller?

The authors of The Bestseller Code spend the major portion of Chapter 3 examining Fifty Shades of Grey to decipher exactly why it was a bestseller.  And even more than that, to understand why their computer algorithm placed it so high on its 100 Bestseller book list when so many other books in the erotica romance genre did not make the list.  As Roberta stated in her review:

When they examined the novel in more depth in Chapter 3, Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers discovered that this novel is more about relationships than purely about sex.

I’m pretty sure I would have enjoyed this novel more if James had downplayed the sex scenes a bit – I found myself skimming through them to get to the meat of the relationship stories. But then Christian wouldn’t have had quite the “bad boy” attraction and Ana wouldn’t have had all those conflicting emotions about Christian, so perhaps they really are an integral part of the novel.

Emotional Experience

The authors of The Bestseller Code also discovered that reader reviews left on the Goodreads website showed a definite trend of referencing the body.  They (the reader reviews) mentioned “shedding tears and overheating,” feeling “the bodily sensations of anticipation and nervousness,” and “ignoring the call to eat and sleep.”  The appeal of Fifty Shades of Grey was physical and emotional stimulation, rather than mental stimulation. This wasn’t a novel to dissect and analyze from a lofty, literary vantage point. This was a “let’s sneak a chocolate bar” guilty pleasure book!

A quote in Chapter 3 by Janice Radway, an American literary and cultural studies scholar, relates the emotional experience she occasionally has when reading:

There are moments for me now when books become something other than mere objects, when they transport me elsewhere, to a trancelike state I find difficult to describe.  On these occasions reading … manages to override my rational, trained approach to books as crafted objects.  When this occurs, the book, the text, and even my reading self dissolve in a peculiar act of transubstantiation whereby “I” become something other than what I have been and inhabit thoughts other than those I have been able to conceive before.  This tactile, sensuous, profoundly emotional experience of being captured by a book is what those reading memories summoned for me – and experience that for all its ethereality clearly is extraordinarily physical as well.

This must be what occurred with all those enthusiastic readers of Fifty Shades of Grey who so eagerly devoured this novel and the other two books in the Fifty Shades trilogy. It didn’t happen for me – maybe I didn’t feel the need to “inhabit thoughts other than those I have been able to conceive before” in quite the way Christian’s BSDM desires inhabited Ana’s thoughts.

I’d be curious to see the age demographics of the enthusiastic readers compared to those who disliked the novel. I would likely have been a more eager reader of Fifty Shades of Grey in my younger years, say my twenties to forties; a time when reading romance novels and daydreaming of some rich handsome irresistible man swooping down and “rescuing” me from my mundane life was appealing.  Fortunately, those days are long gone, which means I won’t be picking up the remainder of the Fifty Shades trilogy to read any time soon.

 

Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  2. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  3. (We aren’t doing a book beginning this time)

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 56. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (2008) – Discussion begins July 9, 2018
Bildungsroman

#BestsellerCode100: A Writer’s Review of Fifty Shades of Grey

Let’s take a look at the next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listFifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James, from a writer’s perspective.

This post does contain spoilers.

Warning:  This is an Erotic Romance, for mature audiences only.

Fifty Shades of Grey* by E. L. James

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  When Anastasia Steele fills in for her friend and interviews wealthy young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she is both intimidated by and attracted to his looks and spirit. Starting an affair with him, she discovers some dark secrets that she isn’t sure how to handle.

This novel is the first of a trilogy. The other novels in the trilogy are Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.

Romance Genre and Tropes

What is expected in a romance novel? GoodReads has extensive, useful descriptions of the different types of genre fiction. For example, romance novels have a love story as the central focus, and readers expect an ending with an upbeat, satisfying resolution. In the subgenre erotic romance, the basic romance is augmented with graphic descriptions of sex.

Fifty Shades of Grey is considered to be an erotic romance because there are many scenes of graphic sex (although E. L. James calls it “provocative romance”). This particular novel departs from the romance standard because it ends on a downcast note rather than an optimistic one. In the end Ana breaks up with Christian Grey and it looks like they are finished as a couple. Because this is the first in the trilogy, however, we can assume that the two characters are going to meet again in future books, which makes the ending a false or temporary resolution.

Romance novels are known to embrace tropes to the fullest, and Fifty Shades of Grey is no exception. The TV Tropes website has an extensive list of all the tropes found in the trilogy. The main trope is “all girls want bad boys.” Christian Grey is a very bad boy.

Writing in Fifty Shades of Grey

Critics have written scathing reviews of this novel because of the quality of the writing. Many of the mistakes, however, are those of an untrained writer rather than a “bad” writer. For example, in the first paragraph the readers meets Anastasia as she examines herself in a mirror.

I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror.

Looking in the mirror is a trope writers are taught to avoid. Writer coach K.M. Weiland has 5 reasons not to do this:

 

Setting

Christian Grey lives in Seattle, Washington. At first Anastasia lives in Vancouver, Washington but after she graduates she moves to Seattle to find a job.

Most of the descriptions of the outdoor settings are generic. The details of the insides of the buildings are much more richly drawn, probably reflecting the fact that E. L. James lives far away in a West London suburb.

Why did a British author set her novels in the U.S.? Fifty Shades of Grey is set in Washington state because  was originally written as fanfiction for Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. Twilight is set in Forks, Washington.

 

What Makes A Bestseller?

One of the reasons we started this The Bestseller Code reading challenge (in October 2016) was to learn what bestselling books have in common.

The huge popularity of this novel initially stumped the authors of The Bestseller Code. Their preliminary examination of bestsellers found that they rarely mention sex, yet on the surface this novel is all about sex. However, when they examined the novel in more depth in Chapter 3, Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers discovered that this novel is more about relationships than purely about sex. In fact, in a lot of ways the sex acts as a wedge to keep the two lovers apart because of Christian and Ana’s differences in experience and desires.

More importantly, Archer and Jockers discovered E. L. James wrote with regular swings of emotion. First things are going great and Ana is happy, then an obstacle arises and she is sad, they have sex and she’s happy, they separate and she begins to have doubts. After the awkward first few chapters, the rest of the book is a regularly-paced emotional roller coaster:  high -low-high-low. They suggest that this is pattern is what makes the book a bestseller.

Discussion

When I first started reading this book, the writing felt rough and awkward. The first few chapters were hard to read. But once the two main characters started a relationship, it seemed to take off. Either the writing got better, or I got more invested in the characters and spent less time analyzing the writing. In any case, the rest of the book went by pretty quickly.

Comparing this novel to the last one, I can see that many intangibles go into making a book into a bestseller. In both cases it seems to be a hardcore group of devoted fans — rather than skilled writing or topic — that makes all the difference.

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 56. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (2008) – Discussion begins July 9, 2018
Bildungsroman

#BestsellerCode100: Number 57. Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listFifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James. See notes below.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Fifty Shades of Grey* by E. L. James

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  When Anastasia Steele fills in for her friend and interviews wealthy young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she is both intimidated by and attracted to his looks and spirit. Starting an affair with him, she discovers some dark secrets that she isn’t sure how to handle.

This novel is the first of a trilogy.

Important Notes

Note 1:  Warning:  This is an Erotic Romance, for mature audiences only.

Note 2:  Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers devote much of chapter three of The Bestseller Code to explaining the phenomenal success of this novel despite that fact it was panned by critics. Their discussion starts on page 73.

Note 3:  This novel was first written as a fan fiction tribute to Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books. The original title was Master of the Universe and the author used the pen name Snowqueens Icedragon. You can find a PDF of the original linked to the Master of the Universe title in this article.

Note 4.: In Dave Barry’s book, You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty, he has a hilarious and insightful essay about Fifty Shades of Grey entitled “What Women Want.” (Also available online at Time.)

 

Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  2. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  3. (We aren’t doing a book beginning this time because Roberta discussed the beginning in her review)

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 Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James? 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 56. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (2008) – Discussion begins July 9, 2018
Bildungsroman

#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 Grey 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 Grey 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 Grey 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

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