Tag Archives: humor

Asked and Answered

How Long is the Average Book?   A Concrete Answer to a Longstanding Writing Frequently Asked Question

“How long should my book be?”   This is a question that comes up fairly often when working with early writers.   It is a deceptively simple question that’s historically had very little data to help answer it.

A common and generally unhelpful answer is, “As long as it needs to be.”   It’s an answer that is not only hard to implement, but I believe it is also built on the somewhat flawed assumption that if you have to tell an author how long the book is supposed to be, they’re asking the wrong questions.   Another common reference you’ll hear is that the average novel is roughly 100,000 words long, which is sometimes even true.   In reality, book length is dependent on the genre you’re writing in.   100,000 words is about right for Literary Fiction, but is substantially off for Romance, and totally wrong for Humor.

Given the data that we work with every day, I wanted to contribute some concrete, objective data points to the conversation.

Below is a self-contained graphic (in case it needed to be printed) containing the average length of a book in several common genres contained in the 85,000+ titles in the Book Genome Project, such as Literary Fiction, Science Fiction, Romance, Fantasy, and Biography.   These are objective data points regarding the average length of books on the market today, as represented by the Genome database.

So there you have it.   Of the 16,284 Romance titles in our corpus, the average length is 76,000 words.   Fantasy is the longest genre, on average, with 122,000 words per book.

First Person vs. Third Person Perspective

We also pulled up a breakdown of those same genres by perspective, as you can see in the graphic, as well.   This is another interesting writing style difference.   The data we use is not really binary, but most books tend to be either overwhelmingly 1st person, or overwhelmingly 3rd person.   Rarely do they fall in the middle (although it is possible).

In general, third person (he said/she said) is a more common form of perspective than first person (I said).   Across the entire corpus (regardless of genre) 69% of the titles in our corpus were mostly or entirely third person, with only about 31% being first person.   What is most interesting to me, though, is that there appears to be a strong genre preference/bias.   Autobiographies & Biographies, for example, understandably contain more 1st person titles than any other genre.

The first person Romance title appears to be particularly rare, for example.

On a final thought, I’ll reiterate that this is NOT a statement of what length or perspective a book should be written in.   We’re not making any qualitative statements in this data, only quantitative.   It’s clear that more books in our database are written in third person perspective than in first person perspective, but we consider this more a statement of a genre’s expectation than anything else.   If a Fantasy fan picks up a novel at random, it’s a fair expectation that it will be in 3rd person more often than 1st.

That said, as an author, it doesn’t hurt to be cognitively aware that your 1st person, 150,000 word Romance epic is going to be breaking the mold of what most Romance readers are used to.   Way to think different.

Aaron Stanton – Founder and CEO, Booklamp.org

You can see more articles like this at http://booklamp.org/ .

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Disco Inferno

One Dog Night: An Andy Carpenter Mystery by David Rosenfelt (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 400 pages)

A lot of people claim to be able to judge someone’s emotional state by looking in their eyes.   I don’t make eye contact, so that’s a talent I’ve never perfected.   When I talk to people, I generally look at their mouth, so while I can’t judge emotions, I’m pretty good at identifying cavities.

Andy Carpenter is the featured character in last year’s release by David Rosenfelt, One Dog Night.   Rosenfelt spins a most enjoyable yarn, so enjoyable that I read into the night only putting the book down after reading the last page.   This time around, Andy, Laurie, Maurice and the rest of the defense team are challenged by a client who believes he is guilty of a heinous crime, mass murder by fire.

Noah Calloway, the client, has been an upstanding citizen for many years after turning his life around, and away from addiction.   Noah has a deep, gnawing sense of guilt about a fire that killed 26 people; however, he does not remember setting the fire.   His wife, Becky, won’t accept a guilty plea and she takes her case to Andy.   There is, of course, a reason Andy can’t refuse Becky’s request.   Tara, Andy’s beloved dog, was Noah’s dog (nee Hanna) before she was placed for adoption because Noah’s addiction made him unfit to care for the dog.

Once Andy gets to know Noah, he realizes that there is no way this gentle man could have incinerated 26 people in an apartment building.   The task at hand is to find the arsonist and assure Noah’s exoneration.   The plot contains a generous helping of twists and offshoots.   While the main characters are familiar to fans of this series, the rest of the players are an odd assortment of famous and infamous folks who make the story take on a patchwork effect.   Everyone has a piece of the puzzle.

The race to the solution is very engaging.   Rosenfelt’s puns and the smart mouth he has given to Andy make it a page-turning delight.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   One Dog Night is also currently available as a Kindle Edition or Nook Book download, and as an Audible audiobook.   It will be released in paperback form on May 22, 2012.

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Crying, Waiting, Hoping

Spin: A Novel by Catherine McKenzie (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 448 pages)

McKenzie presents sensitive topics with such blatant honesty and humor that I found myself laughing out loud.

Kate Sanford is trying to hold on to her college days, scheduling parties instead of business meetings, when she is given an interview for the job of a lifetime as a music writer for her favorite magazine, The Line.   The night before the interview, to celebrate her potential life changing opportunity and as well her thirtieth birthday, she agrees to go out with her friends for a quick drink.   Still intoxicated the morning after, she bombs the interview but is offered an ironic opportunity.   Kate’s assignment is to go undercover and follow a Lindsay-Lohan-type icon…  in rehab!

Kate signs into rehab (drunk) and begins to go through the steps to recovery as she writes about the “it girl” Amber Sheppard and her “young James Bond” boyfriend, Connor.   Yet the story begins to spin as Kate befriends Amber as well as Connor’s perpetual assistant, Henry.   As Kate continues her assignment, she is challenged with perhaps the real reasons she is in rehab and the ultimate decision of whether her “dream job” is worth hurting those she has met along the way.

My head is spinning out questions, but I don’t have any answers.   I feel like they’re floating in front of me, but they haven’t taken shape.   And instead of making progress, I’m in suspended animation, waiting, hoping for something to happen, but unable to make it so.

Spin is a lighthearted, quick read full of interesting characters and believable experiences.   McKenzie presents sensitive topics with such blatant honesty and humor that I found myself at times laughing out loud.   Her characters are real, both the famous and infamous, with evident flaws but each possessing their own charm.   Everyone is on their own path of self-discovery and yield realistic and often disappointing conclusions as they deal with their addictions and shortcomings.   As the story unfolds they find that perhaps they have more in common than anticipated.

McKenzie touches upon the realism of chemical dependency.   Through her characters’ therapy discussions she presents scenarios on how individuals find themselves in these situations, how relationships are affected and how difficult it can be to continue down the path of sobriety.   She keeps the topics light through the quirkiness of her characters and with the flowing humorous dialogue throughout the novel.

McKenzie demonstrates Kate’s love of music with random references to songs that have particular meaning to her main character and provides “Kate’s Playlist” at the end of the novel.   This would have been an interesting way to perhaps introduce more of Kate’s past and further describe her family dynamics but I enjoyed the references for their simplicity.

If you are searching for a deep, life-changing novel, you will be disappointed, but if you are interested in a well-written story laden with real issues presented with quick wit and humor, this is the novel for you.   Spin would make a fabulous holiday or book club read.   I enjoyed the book from page one through to the end; therefore, this novel is…  Well recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Imagine if Bridget Jones fell into a million little pieces, flew over the cuckoo’s nest, and befriended Lindsay Lohan along the way, and you are beginning to grasp the literary roller coaster ride that is Catherine McKenzie’s Spin.   Filled with brutal honesty and wry humour, Spin is a story for everyone who has ever woken up hung over and thought, “Do I have a problem?   Yes – I need to find a greasy breakfast.”   And by that I mean everyone I know.   Leah McLaren, Globe and Mail Columnist, author of The Continuity Girl

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Barking Up the Right Tree

Dogs Tags: A Novel by David Rosenfelt (Grand Central Publishing, $24.99, 368 pages; also available in a Mass Market Paperback edition for $7.99)

Attorney Andy Carpenter is once again dragged into a criminal defense case that threatens to derail his laid back lifestyle.   This time his client is a former cop who is also a disabled Iraq war veteran named Billy Zimmerman.   But Andy actually sees his most important task as freeing Billy’s dog, Milo, from a cell at the animal shelter where he’s under 24-hour watch by an armed guard.   Milo is also a former badge-wearing cop who aged out of the canine division.   Just because a fellow is too old or disabled doesn’t mean he can’t use his skills in a new, second career.

Both Billy and Milo have turned to robbery to supplement Billy’s pension.   Milo’s police training in disarming suspects has been modified to include snatching valuables from the hands of their mark.   The serious trouble erupts when a simple robbery set-up goes bad and a shady figure is murdered.   Billy stays with the body until the authorities arrive.   Milo has grabbed an envelope and high tailed it away from the scene.   Since witnesses accuse Billy of the  murder, he is whisked off to jail.   The federal government plays a role in the ensuing investigation as do the local authorities.

Andy is drawn in deeper and deeper until everyone in his immediate life is involved in freeing Milo and Billy.   Helping Andy with the case becomes life-threatening for each member of the group.   The story can easily be dismissed as a light-weight mystery full of action and intrigue, but the reader will also come to appreciate the bonds of loyalty and friendship between the attorney, his investigator and the others in the group.   They form a family of sorts not unlike the ones that come together in tamer workplaces.

Author Rosenfelt is a master at understatement and the not-so-obvious.   He uses sharp wit and sarcasm to infuse his story with sentiment.   He also introduces new characters to keep the story fresh.   As is the case with his most recent Andy Carpenter mystery, New Tricks, he deftly avoids boring repetition to bring the reader on board.   These two books can easily stand alone.

There are multiple ruthless killings, savage attacks on kindly folks and an elusive villain who is known as “M.”   The reader will not suffer the pain inflicted by an author like Nelson De Mille who seems nearly sadistic in his long, drawn out scenes of torture and killing.   Rosenfelt knows his audience and he resists harming them unnecessarily just for the sake of shock value.

Dog Tags is the type of book to take to work in order to enjoy reading it during the lunch hour and/or quiet break periods.  

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Laugh-out-loud humor mixed with suspense.”   Associated Press

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Beauty’s Only Skin Deep

One Day: A Novel by David Nicholls  (Vintage, $14.95, 448 pages; Random House Audio, $19.99, 13 compact discs)

If ever there was a clear-cut category for One Day, “dramedy” is where it belongs.   By now it’s likely that the book, audio book and movie have been enjoyed by countless tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people.   The story thread is not really new.   A similar example this reviewer recalls is Same Time Next Year.   In the play and movie of the same name, a couple’s thrown together by chance, has a romantic encounter and agrees to meet on the same weekend each year.   They do so for 24 years.

One Day revisits the main characters, Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew each year on the 15th of July, St. Swithin’s Day, for 20 years following their graduation from Edinburgh University in Scotland.   Emma and Dexter spend graduation night together at the beginning of this saga.   Dexter is a beautiful young man from a well-to-do family who enjoys being admired and bedded by many women.   Emma, on the other hand, comes from a lower-class background and is significantly brighter academically than Dexter.   However, her life experience and confidence are seriously lacking which does not bode well for her success in life.

Post-graduation finds them in London.   Dexter exudes confidence and is highly photogenic which lands him a job as a TV show host while Emma toils away at menial jobs including as a waitress and eventually the manager of a Tex-Mex restaurant.   Their annual check-ins prove to be both funny and poignant.

The years roll by and it is clear that both Emma and Dexter are good friends, although Emma is clearly more devoted to Dexter than he to her.   Let’s face it, Dexter is devoted to Dexter.   On St. Swithin’s Day their lives don’t always intersect, although Nicholls provides the reader with ample evidence of how each is managing life.

This novel has been reviewed twice previously on this site.   The prior reviews were written based on the hard copy.   This review is based on the unabridged audio book.   The word “unabridged” is key here because, unlike the book, the movie version is highly abridged and offers little more than snapshots of some of the July 15th episodes.   This reviewer is grateful to have heard the audio version prior to viewing the movie because the film was no more than a shallow glimpse into the characters’ actions.   Sadly, the serious and deeply moving aspects of the book were lost in the movie version.

Author Nicholls is a genius at dialogue and fortunately for this reviewer, the audio version was captivating.   Anna Bentinck lends her talents to the character voices and manages to do a good job on both the men and women’s parts.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

The audio book was purchased by the reviewer’s husband.

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A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty

Joshilyn Jackson’s new book, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty: A Novel, was released on January 25, 2012.   Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants, says of Pretty that it’s, “Enthralling!   A heart-thumping mystery, an edge-of-your-seat drama, and a fiercely sweet comedy all at once.”   Jennifer McMahon, the author of Promise Not to Tell labels it, “A clever, hilarious, wild adventure of a mystery that immediately pulls you in.”

Pretty is already a 4.5 star (out of 5) rated book at Barnes & Noble, and a 5 star rated book at Amazon.You can read the first chapter of A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty here:

http://www.joshilynjackson.com/A-Grown-Up-Kind-of-Pretty-Excerpt.pdf

Jackson is the author of the earlier bestselling novels Backseat Saints, Gods in Alabama and The Girl Who Stopped Swimming.   You can read our review of The Girl Who Stopped Swimming here:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2009/10/23/arc-of-a-diver/

Joseph Arellano

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Crazy

Running With Scissors: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs (St. Martin’s Paperbacks, $7.99, 352 pages)

Don’t you ever feel like we’re chasing something?   Something bigger.   I don’t know, it’s like something that only you and I can see.   Like we’re running, running, running?   Yeah, I said.   We’re running alright.   Running with scissors.

I was intrigued when my book club chose this memoir, Running With Scissors, as our first nonfiction choice.   Rumored to be both dark and humorous, it did not fit our typical book club culture.   However, our discussion was lively and laden with comments from “disturbing” to “hated it.”  

Those that grew up in the 1960s recognized some of the “character traits” mentioned in the book, while a younger group was left on the edge of their comfort zone.   Yet the discussion was one of the best we’ve had.   We found ourselves discovering the humor as we recalled particular details described within the book.   As a memoir it was, to me, a refreshingly different view of the typical, mostly not-so-interesting portraits of everyday life.

Burroughs describes his eccentric and unconventional upbringing with incredible detail and honesty, yet with a large serving of humor that made it  hard to put down.   He describes his childhood, mostly under the guardianship of Dr. Finch – his mother’s Santa Claus look-a-like psychiatrist, following his mother’s series of mental breakdowns.   This was a home with high energy in which arguments were encouraged to dispense anger and to develop emotional growth.   Within Burroughs’s unpredictable daily life, regular off the wall adventures occurred and conventional standards like rules, discipline and structure were unheard of.

The problem was not having anybody to tell you what to do, I understood, is that there was nobody to tell you what not to do.

Burroughs’s story includes atypical details of his life such as his relationship with a patient of Dr. Finch’s, a man three times Burroughs’s age, and the witnessing of his mother’s psychotic breakdowns.   Many of the details are descriptive, vulgar and somewhat horrifying, yet the story is written in delightful prose with dark humor and such blatant honesty you’ll find yourself continuing to read…  If only to find out what else Augusten could possibly be exposed to, and feeling the need to find out what happens to these real-life characters.   (An update is contained in the Epilogue.)

While I truly enjoyed the tremendous writing skill and recommend Burroughs for sharing his eccentric story, I have to admit that the themes and facts were disturbing enough to impact my enjoyment of the book.   However, good books are created to challenge us with new perspectives.   They can challenge us with new, unique perspectives and force us to think outside of the box and outside of our comfort zones.   This memoir most certainly does that and, therefore, this book is recommended.

Kelly Monson

This book was purchased by the reviewer.   “Running With Scissors is hilarious, freak-deaky, berserk, controlled, transcendent, touching, affectionate, vengeful, all-embracing…  It makes a good run at blowing every other (memoir) out of the water.”   Carolyn See, The Washington Post

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The Last Worthless Evening

The Last Blind Date: A Real-Life Love Story by Linda Yellin (Gallery Books, $15.00, 316 pages)

As I was finishing the Prologue (“Some Pertinent Information You Should Know Up Front”) of The Last Blind Date, I was thinking that this was going to be one entertaining popular fiction novel about love and romance.   Also, a very funny one…  It wasn’t until a few minutes later that I noticed the subtitle on this book, “A Real-Life Love Story.”   Oh, so this is not a novel but a memoir.   Interesting.

Linda Yellin’s book arrives at the  right time for those impacted by either Seasonal Affective Disorder – the aptly abbreviated SAD – or the holiday period blues.   Or maybe you’ve just done too much shopping or quaffed too much eggnog and you need something to bring your spirits up.   Belly up to the bar run by Ms. Yellin, a Boomer who offers healthy servings of humorous observations about life and living.   (Yes, she’s a baby boomer and you will find yourself asking, “How old could she be if she can remember watching Sky King on TV as a child?”)

In our household the mark of an engaging read is the number of times that I read excerpts to my wife or vice-versa.   In this case, I interrupted many episodes of Law and Order to read passages such as this one:

Commenting on other women’s relationships has always felt dicey for me…  I never know when to scream Red flag! and when to keep my trap shut.   I figure if you tell a friend she’s dating a jerk, don’t expect to be a bridesmaid if she marries the jerk.   Then, again, couldn’t at least one of Eva Braun’s girlfriends have sat her down and said, “Eva, sweetheart – trust me.   You can do better.”

What is the book about?   Glad you asked.   Yellin lost her first husband to cancer, lives in Chicago and had pretty much given up hopes of ever  being happy again when she’s set up on a blind date with a resident of New York City.   This is her true tale of how she found the right man, even if by blind accident, and became his second wife and the stepmother to this two children and their robot dog, Eddy.   (Yes, everyone needs at least one robot in their happily ever after home.)

The Last Blind Date is also about the culture shock experienced by a Midwesterner moving to the Big Apple, where everyone wears black and comments on one’s “strange” accent.   It’s also a story of learning to  love what you already have, and appreciating the fantastic experience of being a parent:

…along the way she’d break some hearts of her own, followed by lonely nights when she doubted herself and wondered why love came quickly for others but not for her.   Until there was finally a matching up of souls, and it seemed that every event in her life had led up to this one man, and she realized that if love were any easier, any less fateful – it wouldn’t feel like magic.

That’s Yellin writing about her stepdaughter Phoebe, but once you finish Blind Date, you’ll realize that it’s also about Yellin herself and her long, strange road to meeting and marrying her husband Randy.   Read this book and play Don Henley’s song, The Last Worthless Evening.   You’ll be so glad you did.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Last Blind Date was released on October 4, 2011.   Linda Yellin is also the author of the novel Such a Lovely Couple.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of The Last Blind Date: A Real-Life Love Story by Linda Yellin.

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All I Have to Do is Dream

The Sniffles for Bear: A Bear and Mouse Children’s Book by Bonny Becker; illustrated by Karly MacDonald Denton (Candlewick Press; $16.99; 32 pages)

“Bear was sick, very, very sick…  Bear was sure no one had ever been as sick as he.”

This terrific book in the Bear and Mouse children’s book series is perfect for teaching a sensitive child that a transitory illness can have a bark that’s worse than its bite.   In this finely illustrated tale, Bear (and he’s a big one!) is down with a winter flu and he’s sure that he’s dying – so sure that he decides to draw up a will to give away his worldly possessions.   Mouse (the far smaller of the two friendly animals) helps Bear to keep his grip on this mortal coil by nursing him through his illness with the benefit of some hand-holding and Nettle soup.   A congested Bear says of the soup, “Dat was just the thing.”

Eventually, Bear comes to feel better and – wouldn’t you know it? – Mouse winds up catching the flu and all he wants to do is rest.   So the tables are turned, and its Bear’s turn to take care of Mouse; some Nettle soup and Mouse goes happily, snuggly to sleep.

The colors in this book are subtly relaxing, and the story is told with such humor and irony that your child will likely plead with you to read it before catching 40 winks.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Sniffles for Bear is recommended for children ages 3 and up.   The first book in the series, A Visitor for Bear, was a New York Times Bestseller and an E. B. White Read Aloud Award Winner.

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