Novelist and teacher Hall examines twelve of the best-selling novels
of the twentieth century to see what made them “spectacular
megahits.” His analysis of Gone with the Wind, Peyton
Place, To Kill a Mockingbird, Valley of the Dolls,
The Godfather, Jaws, The Exorcist, The Dead
Zone, The Hunt for Red October, The Firm, The
Bridges of Madison County, and The Da Vinci Code is
intended for writers who would like to see their books sell
millions. But Hall isn't interested in mere plot formulas. Rather,
this book studies the “genetic matter” of these stories, as
endlessly reshuffled by each new generation of writers. The novels
all tell “high concept” or “dramatic question” stories: Will
Scarlett marry Ashley? Will the shark kill the hunters before they
kill it? The characters are passionate and resolved, which leads
them to “gutsy and surprising deeds.” They may not be introspective,
but they act. Similarly, readers “don't want to miss what
happens next, because something is always happening.” And it's Big.
The Da Vinci Code is a catalog of superlatives used to
describe situations and surroundings. Everything Robert Langdon sees
or interacts with is Important. Each of these novels also offers a
privileged glimpse into a closed society, be that the mafia or
small-town cliques. And the careful use of details makes us feel
like insiders, whether it's The Firm's “unvarnished story of
the inner workings of a high-powered law firm...with snapshots of
the interview process and the bidding wars” or Red October's
“blueprint walk-through of a nuclear sub,” complete with product
model numbers, and fetishizing descriptions. Like the books it
discusses, Hit Lit is itself an entertaining, “pop” read.
Even readers who aren't interested in writing will enjoy Hall's
examination of what makes some of their favorite novels so
The original book was published in 2008 and was voted by Library
Journal as one of the Best Reference Books of the Year.
Strodder’s update only four years later has a ton of new material,
making the original title obsolete. More photos, history, and lists
make this an essential read for fans of the Happiest Place on
Each entry is easy to find since it’s alphabetical. There are also
handy indexes and maps. This encyclopedia’s design is perfect for a
quick look at a favorite attraction, restaurant, or person. Though
it is unauthorized, the author is clearly a fan, and his love for
the park shows. After I was finished reading, I wanted to book my
flight! For folks who have either purchased or read the first
edition, you are probably asking: Is it worth the new investment?
The answer is, without a doubt, yes.
TV, radio, and podcast comedian Carolla tells the story of his
formative years up to the start of his entertainment career. Growing
up in Los Angeles in the 1970s and '80s, his family practiced a sort
of benign neglect, never doing anything that required “burning
calories.” A typical Christmas present was a $1.29 shrimp de-veiner,
purchased at a grocery store on the way to the family Christmas
party—despite the fact that no one in his family could afford
shrimp. His desire to simply be away from his family led to years of
Pop Warner football, which he credits for teaching him discipline
and determination, something that he feels is sadly lacking in this
age of participation trophies: “The criteria for a trophy should be
more than being born and having a mom who owns a minivan.” His
stories here are wild and funny, whether it's almost burning down a
house by leaving a pot of body wax unattended on the stove or
Carolla and his friends sneaking into a country club late at night
in order to jump from the three-story roof into the pool. True, some
of his and his friends' shenanigans were fueled by alcohol or drugs,
but they also “did plenty of really stupid shit stone-cold sober.”
As he frequently reminds readers, this was before the internet, and
he and friends were poor; they had to entertain themselves. The book
is packed with plenty of the observational digressions that fill
Carolla's podcasts and comedy shows, like his one on name tags:
“the farther away from your chest the better.” If you're wearing one
on your vest, you've got a lousy job. Your name outside your office
door is better, and “if your name is on a building on the other side
of the ocean, you've really arrived.” Carolla barely made it through
high school, attended some community college, and spent his young
adulthood engaged in back-breaking manual labor (his application to
the titular Taco Bell was rejected). Still, in the back of his mind
was always the drive to entertain. No one reading this book will be
inspired to follow in his footsteps, but they might learn that even
after decades of poor decisions, it's still possible to overcome
inertia and follow your muse.
Sutherland presents a history of English-language novelists, ranging
from the seventeenth century's John Bunyan (The Pilgrim's
Progress) and Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe) to the
twentieth century's Alice Sebold (The Lovely Bones) and Rana
Dasgupta (Tokyo Cancelled). The entries in this over-800-page
tome cover the writers' lives and works in an average of three pages
each. Most of the novelists are from the last two hundred years,
and, along with the obvious choices—Dickens, Melville, Wharton,
Cheever, Plath, Rushdie—there are a great many writers you won't
find in similar books. Here Sutherland's selections may stir up
controversy. It's good to see genre fiction so well represented;
Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke are included, but
not Robert Heinlein, C.S. Lewis, or J.R.R. Tolkien. Mystery writer
P.D. James made the cut, but not Rex Stout. Margaret Mitchell is
here, but not Harriet Beecher Stowe. Of course, Sutherland couldn't
include everyone who's ever written a novel. He admits that his
selections are “idiosyncratic,” but it seems odd that he found room
for V.C. Andrews (Flowers in the Attic), yet left out the
creator of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse, despite the
fact that Wodehouse is mentioned in six of the other entries. But
Sutherland didn't merely include his favorite writers. His entry on
Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged) begins, “If there were an award for
the most influential bad novelist in literary history...,” and
Harold Robbins' (The Carpetbaggers) ends by noting that the
writer's death at age eighty-one proved “the preservative powers of
cocaine, gambling, and lechery.”
With that opening, Alan Jacobson’s latest thriller Hard Target
races off to a bracing and wrenching start. Jacobson, known best
for pitting his series hero Karen Vail against the best serial
killers this side of Hannibal Lecter, does an abrupt one-eighty here
and the result is a smashing success.
His foray into the high-action political thriller arena postulates
an ultimate nightmare scenario of a president-elect being targeted
for assassination on election night, of all things. Before you can
say Day of the Jackal, FBI agent Aaron “Uzi” Uziel is on the
trail of terrorists who may, or may not, have been behind the plot.
To his credit, Uziel isn’t one to accept the simplest solution,
suspecting from the beginning that Al Qaeda is a bit too convenient
a suspect. But if not our modern-day catchall boogeymen, then who,
and what may the truth portend for our political system?
rivals not only the best of David Baldacci, but can also stand
toe-to-toe with the best of Alan Drury and even the ultimate genre
classic Seven Days in May. It combines the best of the genre
with the pulp relevance of such high-concept Washington-centered
tales as The President’s Plane is Missing or Irving Wallace’s
vastly underrated The Man and The R Document.
Jacobson may not be a veteran of these corridors, but he walks them
with a seasoned step and polished hand, and as a result, Hard
Target scores a bulls-eye.
Derrick Storm finds his hands full in the second installment of this
marvelous e-book series. The action never relents from the very
first page, when a U.S. Senator is murdered. Soon, a secret
involving the Russian government and a defector proves to be the
only solid lead Storm can follow. Of course, he has help from a
beautiful FBI agent who doesn’t trust Storm at all. Romance and
high stakes: what else could one want from a book?
Fans of the television series Castle will find this a must-read.
This is clearly the second in a trilogy so reading the first title
in the series, A Brewing Storm, is mandatory to get the full
enjoyment. I can’t wait for the third and final one!
Caitlin Strong returns in her fourth adventure, and it's the best of
the series so far. As always, there's something ancient and
something cutting-edge coming together for the Texas Ranger to
contend with. This time, it's a centuries-old sunken treasure and a
plot by an underground Islamic terrorist cell right in her own
backyard to kill half a million Texans. But Land goes himself one
better, adding a third level: an adventure shared by Caitlin's
father and grandfather back in 1979 also turns out to be connected.
The two investigated the murders of five fraternity brothers whose
bodies were found ravaged out in the woods. The case, where the only
clues were an oddly-shaped piece of metal and the strange claw marks
on their bodies, was never fully resolved . . . until Caitlin ties
it all together. The series' antihero—and Caitlin's sometimes
boyfriend—Cort Wesley Masters also returns, after getting sprung
from a Mexican jail, in order to fight those same terrorists via a
commando raid on a Houston mosque. With side trips to an oil rig and
a trash processing plant, the series continues to take readers to
interesting, out-of-the-ordinary settings (as opposed to, say, the
White House, which turns up in half of today's thrillers) where the
unfamiliarity becomes part of the atmosphere and boosts the tension.
Add in hints of pirate treasure and a legendary Cajun swamp monster,
and the result is a page-turner that relies as much on mystery as
Stephen Wallenfels’ debut novel, POD, is an alien invasion
story with an apocalyptic twist. One day thousands of black spheres
arrive in the skies of Earth. They make no effort to communicate.
They simply destroy every person who goes outside. Within moments,
all survivors are trapped indoors. Josh and his father are in their
house in Washington state. Fourteen-year-old Megs has been ordered
to stay in the car until her mother gets back; now she’s alone in a
hotel parking ramp in Los Angeles.
alien invasion becomes subtext to the survival stories. Josh and his
dad had been waiting until Josh’s mom got home to go grocery
shopping, but they have some food. They face increasing challenges
as the power goes out and their supplies dwindle. Josh nicknames the
spheres “pearls of death,” or PODs. Megs, afraid of the adults in
the hotel, scavenges in the ramp after getting up the nerve to leave
her own car.
Wallenfels does a great job of cutting between these stories,
ratcheting up the suspense. The desperation builds as Josh’s dad
plans how to survive as long as possible. Megs plays cat-and-mouse
with the dictatorship that’s arisen among the hotel guests.
Occasionally the behavior of the PODs changes, and the alien
presence returns to the forefront.
storylines eventually come together in a way that provides a
satisfying ending while also setting up the next book
(unfortunately, it doesn’t have a pub date yet). Heartily
recommended, and looking forward to the sequel.
A cinnamon brown Oldsmobile Cutlass crawled up Edgewood Avenue, the
windows lowered, the driver hunched down in his seat.
With that opening, Karin Slaughter lays claim to being the best
crime novelist working today in the aptly titled and wondrously
crafted Criminal. Slaughter has always been good, very good
in fact. But there’s something truly special, even seminal, in her
latest effort that clicks perfectly on all cylinders like the finely
oiled machine that it is.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation detective Will Trent has plenty of
skeletons in his closet. But he’s moved on, building a new life for
himself that begins to unravel when his supervisor Amanda Wagner
keeps her top dog off the case of a missing college student. Turns
out Wagner’s got a few skeletons of her own, dating back forty years
to her early tenure with the Atlanta Police Department when she
found herself driven to solve a vicious crime no one else cared
about, just as Will Trent cares now. That these two crimes may be
somehow connected should come as no surprise to anyone; it’s the
emotional fabric Slaughter uses in stitching them together that’s
special, an intricate web wrapped around pursuit of one elusive
truth after another. Revelation after revelation follows until
we’re left with a Chinatown-like puzzle reminiscent of John
Sayles’ brilliant Lone Star as well.
reminds me of Greg Isles at his best and James Lee Burke, who is
never anything but at his best. Slaughter seems to be painting on a
much richer and fuller canvas here, and the result is a dark tale
that leaves just enough room for light to peek through. Surely the
perfect book for summer, but it’s hard to imagine a better or more
satisfying read for any season. Not to be missed.
This prequel to Mario Puzo's TheGodfather is based on
a screenplay that Puzo himself had written, and Falco has turned it
into a very exciting novel. Set at the end of Prohibition, ten years
before the start of the novel and first film, it fleshes out things
only mentioned briefly in the original material. Vito Corleone is
just moving his family and “business associates” out of the slums to
a compound on Long Island. We learn how Tom Hagen (here, still in
college) first came to live with the Corleones. Michael and Fredo
are just kids, and Sonny is a young hothead anxious to follow in his
father's footsteps. So anxious that he and Bobby “Cork” Corcoran, a
young Irish hood, have started pulling small heists of their own,
highjacking alcohol being smuggled in from Canada. But the smuggler
they're stealing from, Giuseppe Mariposa, is a powerful don himself.
When Mariposa decides to flex his muscles, the result is gang war.
The conflict between Irish gangs, used to running New York, and the
encroaching Italian Mafia plays a big part in this story, as does
the transformation of Luca Brasi. Those who remember him as Vito's
somewhat dim enforcer, will here find him sharp as a tack and all
but an enemy of the future Godfather. Though not as epic in scale as
the films or novel, this book stays true to their spirit and feel,
and fans will not be disappointed. Throughout, we see how Vito
intelligently and quietly commands respect, and how, from the very
start, the criminal life was not the one he wanted for his children.
It's the year
2019, and NASA has conceived a plan to generate public interest in
the moon in order to restore funding for its lunar projects: a
world-wide lottery to send three teenagers there for a week. None of
the winners turns out to have any particular interest in science.
French Antoine is doing it to forget / impress his ex-girlfriend;
Midori wants to avoid “the Japanese trap” of a dull future living in
a tiny apartment married to a salaryman; and Norwegian Mia thinks it
will drum up publicity for her high school rock band. Although this
may sound like a comedy premise, the novel is deathly serious. There
is more going on behind the scenes than the kids are led to believe.
NASA scientists are concealing a big secret about the moon—one that
will eventually prove deadly. (This book was originally published in
Norway, so be forewarned that a typical “Hollywood Ending” is not
guarSanteed.) Readers will learn a little about the history of the
American space program and the discomforts of space travel, but not
much about the practical problems of life on the moon. The kids and
attendant adult astronauts quickly move into a previously-secret
moon base, and a couple of difficulties, which would have made it
harder to have pulse-pounding action, are quickly eliminated: the
base has artificial gravity and an air generator. Still, the silent,
alien setting is appropriately eerie. The book is peppered with
actual photos taken on the moon and fictional blueprints of the
base, which give it a nice touch of verisimilitude.