My father recently stayed with me for two months. He’s retired now, so can visit for longer—which considering the time it takes to fly from Australia to the US is a very good thing. One week is a jet-lagged fever dream, two weeks just isn’t long enough, and three weeks allow one for recovery, one for the holiday, and one to get ready to fly again. Four weeks is good. Longer is even better.
One of the pleasures of having my dad visit is that, like me, he loves movies and books. We generally have a movie to watch every night, and will sit side by side with our phones out, checking facts on IMDb. Where else we’ve seen that actor, what other movies the director has made, who wrote the script, and who did the music. Invariably, this exercise adds another movie or ten to the queue. This visit we did a mini Samuel L. Jackson retrospective and sought out any Jackie Chan films we may have missed. We watched the Cornetto Trilogy (Edgar Wright) and were pleasantly surprised by how good John Wick 2 was. Previous visits have included Fast and Furious marathons and all Jason Statham’s films. We’ve spent an entire weekend on the couch watching back to back disaster movies on SyFy.
My dad also likes to read and unfortunately it’s not a hobby he indulges much while at home, even now that he’s retired. He’s got a dozen other hobbies, he’s always helping someone do something else, and he’s renovating a house. While living in it. One of the reasons I like having him here is that he gets a chance to rest. He sleeps in, surfs the internet for pleasure, takes naps, and reads. Naps again. Reads some more. He reads a lot. I save up books for him before each visit so he has a stack to get started with, then—as we do with movies—we tend to get on a theme and will read several books together, or one after the other, and talk about them when we’re done. It’s the best kind of buddy read because he’s RIGHT there. I can walk into the kitchen, see he’s two thirds of the way through a particular book and say, “Who do you think the headless corpse in the woodshed is?”
Or he can say, “You have to read book two because we’ve got to talk about Jack’s brother.”
So what did my dad and I read this visit? Well, I’m so glad you asked. Mostly mystery. It’s his favourite and I’m pretty fond of it. We also tried a couple of new authors, found him a new favourite, and got in a Jack McDevitt science fiction adventure toward the end.
The Mountain Between Us, Charles Martin
I had this book on the table waiting for Dad because I knew it would be one he’d enjoy. It’s a story of adventure in the remote wilderness of Utah with a wholly unexpected thread of romance woven through. I didn’t tell my dad about the love story part as I was unsure of his perspective on romance, and because I felt the adventure was enough of a draw. It was for me. I loved this book and wanted him to love it too.
He did. He read it in about a day and a half—only interrupted by me asking where Ben and Alex were. “Have they found the lake yet?” “Did Ben make his big mistake yet?” “Do you think they’ll eat the dog?”
After he finished, we pulled the book apart chapter by chapter and then discussed the film adaptation—which he hadn’t seen—why it wasn’t the same story, and why it really didn’t work for me. I don’t know if Dad will read Charles Martin again. I know I will, but he might require more adventure than some of the other books on Martin’s list seem to promise.
I sort second hand book donations for the library and one of the names that pops up over and over again is Sandra Brown. I had an idea she wrote mystery but wasn’t really familiar with her work. I have my small cadre of writers that I turn to when I want a mystery and I’ve stayed fairly loyal to them for a number of years now.
While Dad was visiting, we went to Book Con in NYC. (Of course we did.) One of the panels we attended was called “Novel Suspects” and featured Brad Meltzer, Walter Moseley, Sandra Brown, and David Baldacci. Dad’s a fan of Baldacci’s and I’ve read Meltzer and Moseley, so we went along to hear them talk. It was one of the best panels I’ve ever attended. All four authors were wonderfully entertaining, mixing personal stories in with banter. They seemed to regard one another with great respect and were really fun to listen to. We had a great time. Afterward, my dad asked if I’d ever read Sandra Brown. I hadn’t. The next day, we bought our first Sandra Brown book.
Dad read it first. Devoured it. I think he came up for air once. He might have eaten something. The best part, though, was when he looked up after the first few pages and said something like, “I haven’t read a female author before, or a book with a female main character.”
He wasn’t sure why, except that maybe he’d fallen into the same rut I have with mystery authors and had a handful he liked and rarely moved away from. He said he used to like reading Nancy Drew, but didn’t remember reading a book with important female characters since then—and he really felt as though he’d been missing out. He liked the perspective of a female character. He was enjoying it. He also liked the thread of romantic tension Sandra Brown adds to many of her books.
I read the book next and I really, really enjoyed it. I loved Sandra Brown’s writing. I enjoyed her characters and the mystery kept me guessing. I’m happy to report that Sandra Brown has been added to my mystery author roster. Dad went on to read three more of her books.
Zero Day and The Forgotten, David Baldacci
We read one each of his books: me the first in the series, Dad the second. He’d already read the first. We chatted about the books, but mostly we cyberstalked poor Mr. Baldacci. (We’re not coming to visit, don’t worry.) (Not this year, anyway.)
During the “Novel Suspects” panel, David Baldacci had some of the funniest stories to tell, including his “best” one star review and the time his favourite table wasn’t available at the lunch spot he frequents way too often. We used the latter to narrow down his location, along with facts gleaned from several online interviews.
We might have scanned the area with Google Street View looking for his house.
We talked about a road trip and how many restaurants we could visit a day looking for him.
(Dad is safely on a plane back to Australia and I’m way too busy editing my own books to visit random restaurants. This year, anyway.)
The books: what we loved about the series we started was the similarities to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, and the proximity to Maryland, where we used to live. The mysteries were great and the characters just the sort we enjoy. Baldacci has been added to our list!
So, we’re both HUGE fans of Lee Child. We love Jack Reacher. Neither of us understands how Tom Cruise got cast in the movies, but we watched them anyway because we love Jack Reacher. We’ve read about a dozen of Lee Child’s books each, and Dad managed to get through five while he was here. I read two. I had one waiting for him and we chose the others based on our mutual interest in stories that include mention of Reacher’s brother, Joe.
The biggest surprise for both of us was how much we enjoyed No Middle Name, which is a collection of short stories ranching from Reacher’s childhood until well into his career as a trouble-seeking former MP.
Again, the one that featured Joe most prominently was our favourite. We’d like to respectfully submit a request for more books about Joe. Joe could easily have a series of his own.
Jack McDevitt is one of the few authors on my preorder list. Not only do I preorder his books, I preorder hardcover editions because I know I’ll want a copy to put in my library afterward. I always enjoy his stories—both the Alex Benedict series and The Academy novels. What I love is his exploration of big ideas, his characters, and his point of view—all of which combine to make Infinity Beach such a great book. Another aspect of McDevitt’s books I like is his preference for female leads.
I generally don’t pay a lot of attention to the gender of an author. They’re mostly a name on book until I get to know them a little bit. I do pick books based on the gender of the lead characters, though, and in the past, when reading science fiction and fantasy, I more often chose books with male leads. The why of it was pretty simple: male leads got to do the fun stuff. They were the warriors, the adventurers, the risk-takers. They were the kings, and the character that got to stand at the edge of the cliff with the fate of the entire world tied up in their balance.
Thankfully, there are now thousands of books where female characters get to do all of this. But I’m fifty years old. I grew up reading about men going on adventures and women supporting them. If a book appeared with a female hero, she was more usually going to wield magic than a sword, or be compromised in some way by her male counterparts. I wanted female assassins, ship captains, and barbarians. Choosing a book with a male lead became a shortcut to getting what I wanted out of a story.
So it’s not hard to figure out why Jack McDevitt has long been on my list. He writes wonderful female leads. They are the adventurers as well as the support structure. They get to make the decisions that change worlds, and they save lives. And they read like real women, too. Not just dudes with boobs. McDevitt’s books also have a wide range of other characters, embracing the diversity that has become so important to me over the past decade.
Did Dad enjoy this one? He did. It took him a while to get into McDevitt’s voice, but he loved the concept of the novel and really enjoyed reading another female lead. By the time he’d reached the halfway point, a virtual “Do Not Disturb” sign had been hung in the sunny corner of the kitchen he’d claimed as his favourite reading spot.
I’m happy to report that Jack McDevitt now has another fan.