Tag Archives: Best First Novel

New Morning

“So happy just to see you smile/Underneath this sky of blue/On this new morning, new morning/On this new morning with you.” – Bob Dylan

It's Nice Outside amazon

Honest, Uplifting, Revealing… Excellent.

Its. Nice. Outside.: A Novel by Jim Kokoris (St. Martin’s Press, $24.99, 320 pages)

Jim Kokoris’ 2002 novel, The Rich Part of Life, which has been published in 15 different languages, earned the Friends of American Writers Award for Best First Novel. I have not read that book, but I plan to do so now. Having just ripped through his latest, Its. Nice. Outside., it’s easy to see why Rich was so highly acclaimed.

Its. Nice. Outside. is the tale of many things, “Family, Family, Family, USA,” among them (one must read the book to understand this reference). But the truth is, in today’s world, how does one even begin to imagine a Leave It to Beaver perfect family? How does one define love? How do young adults ever actually leave the nest or get their feet under them? How does one forgive? Who does one blame when one has run out of people to blame?

How do adults move past broken dreams? Does anyone ever really know how and when it’s time to let go? And how does one, in the midst of the chaos that has now become a normalized reality, manage to simultaneously raise a disabled child?

When John Nichols embarks on a cross-country journey with his adult autistic child, Ethan, to attend his adult daughter Karen’s wedding; and when he joins up with celebrity daughter, Mindy; and when he finally encounters his ex-wife, Mary, things have deteriorated so much in the present that the past begins to matter much less. To hold grudges, to forgive, to have the courage to move on, to have the courage to let it go… Its. Nice. Outside. is a story of love and humanity, with these five characters the vessels through which important themes are channeled. Yet they are real enough to be your neighbors.

Any flaw in the telling is so minor that it does not merit referencing.

books Its Nice Outside 1

After many swimming pools, potty stops, Cracker Barrels, hotel rooms, and pickles, the reader who is continuously compelled to turn to the next page, regrettably comes to the end of this great novel. The genius of it is that Kokoris manages to accomplish this in 308 pages. This is indicative of someone who knows how to both write a very, very good story and provoke an honest look in the mirror.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is an education administrator in Illinois, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Every Good Boy Deserves Favour

The Good Boy (nook book)

The Good Boy: A Novel by Theresa Schwegel (St. Martin’s Press, $15.99, 368 pages)

“And they tell me you are crooked and I answer; Yes it
is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
kill again.” Chicago, Carl Sandburg

A Solid Writer Delivers an Average Book

The Good Boy is Theresa Schwegel’s fifth novel. The Chicago native won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel for Officer Down. In her latest, Officer Pete Murphy and his partner, the dog Butchie, get caught up in a traffic stop gone bad that involves bad people with whom he has a not-so-pleasant past. This leads to a police cover up, revelations of an alleged affair between Pete and a judge he was assigned to protect during an ugly trial, and a civil suit against him.

Pete’s strained marriage and problem child daughter, McKenna, take center stage soon enough, and before one can say, “Freeze,” Joel – Pete’s young son, takes Butchie on an escapade related to McKenna’s shenanigans. This compulsive act takes him through virtually every Chicago neighborhood as he becomes mired in the middle of a revenge plot against Pete.

It seems that most contemporary novels requite some form of family dysfunction and troubled children, so that formulaic prerequisite aside, the writing is pretty good. However, despite being well constructed, the plot fails to be compelling enough to make this more than a run-of-the-mill cop story. This being said, readers who favor stories of this genre will likely find it to be an enjoyable read.

Longtime fans of author Schwegel – used to reading her award winning caliber books may, however, be disappointed in this C-level release.

Recommended, for some.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Dave Moyer is an education administrator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Midnight Caller

The Dead Caller from Chicago: A Mystery by Jack Fredrickson (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 320 pages)

Dead Caller

“I’ve learned to hate Russians/All through my whole life.” Bob Dylan (“With God on Our Side”)

The Dead Caller from Chicago is the fourth in a series of Dek Elstrom novels by Jack Fredrickson. The first, A Safe Place for Dying, was a Shamus Award nominee (sponsored by the Private Eye Writers of America) for Best First Novel. The second, Honestly Dearest, You’re Dead, was a Mystery Guild selection.

Frederickson’s bio admits only to a former career as a consultant, owner/manager of an interior design/commercial furnishings firm, and living with his wife somewhere west of Chicago.

Dead Caller starts with a phone call from Snark Evans who was reported dead decades ago. It takes place primarily in Chicago and the faux suburb Rivertown, though any reader who hopes to be drawn by a Chicago backdrop, imagery or traditions (other than corruption) will be disappointed, because there is little of that.

What the reader does get is a private investigator by the name of Elstrom, who becomes entangled in a “confluence” of circumstance that include the return of an ex-lover and news anchor, Jenny from San Francisco – who is equal parts hot for him and a story; an ex-wife who is kidnaped (and only seriously referenced 169 pages into the story); two murders; the disappearance of an old “friend”: an art heist; and, let’s not forget, Russian gangsters to boot.

Fredrickson is generally successful in balancing the construction of a plot, the need to move it along at a rapid pace, and the development of characters that have some pull for the reader. The second to last chapter explicitly ties all of the information together, which is probably good, because there are things that don’t hang together as well as intended.

The last couple of chapters more than hint at continued dalliances between Jenny and Dek, so expect that a fifth novel is in the works.

There is more promise than delivery in this book, but the novel is intriguing and has merit. The writing in engaging and solid, with the exception of too many “cutesy” lead-ins to the next scene or tie-ups of some type of situation or another. The repeated use of this device borders on annoying, yet can be overlooked on the whole as there are scenes that are very well done. There are several examples of the author capturing the reader’s attention, depicting an event or character well, or just plain advancing the plot effectively. But there are just a few too many times when this isn’t the case.

Examples from both ends of the spectrum include this resonant, succinct passage: “It had started to snow. I stepped out of the Newberry into great, sticky clumps of it, coming down as though some maniac upstairs were sitting in the dark, shedding wet, white felt. March was like that in Chicago.”

And these lesser attempts: “I bid a silent adios to the tattooed backsides at the bar and tumbled off to my room at the 8, sure to sleep well and safe.” “The Bohemian, that knower of all things, had done me well. Leo was in sharp, professional hands. Protected for now. Only for now.”

There are very few perfect novels. All nitpicking aside, this book mostly satisfies and will be enjoyed by fans of the crime novel genre.


Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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