I've been a huge fan of Jess Riley since her first novel, Driving Sideways made me laugh out loud. Come on, what Wisconsin girl wouldn't love a book where one of the characters sings the Menards jingle?!?! She does it again in All the Lonely People by referencing the Hamm's beer commercials. (I also really, really dig her politics. I'm fairly certain if we ever met, we'd be besties in no time.)
As an "expert" on women's fiction, one of the things I talk about in my books and in the programs I present to librarians is the fact that the major appeal factor in women's fiction is a sense of recognition. When a reader picks up a women’s fiction novel,
she is looking for a sense of recognition - feeling as though they are that
character, they know that character, or they understand just what that
character is going through. From moments of sorrow to joyful celebrations to
“thank goodness that never happened to me” – it’s pleasurable and comforting to
escape into a story that you can connect with.
Riley accomplishes this in spades. Her characters are realistic, the way they talk and the things they talk about are true to life, and the situations they find themselves in could happen to just about anyone. For me personally, I loved this story because it was hard for me to believe that Riley hasn't met one of my brothers and based the character Clint on him. I also just about died when Jaime turns to her husband (after he supports her on a crazy decision) and says "You're a good man, Charlie Brown". I say that on a regular basis to my husband and I wouldn't have guessed that anyone else would make that inside joke. If she happens to have characters in her next book flap their hands to "shoo the children" when "Fly Like an Eagle" by the Steve Miller Band comes on the car radio, then I'll know for sure she is somehow stalking my every move for writing fodder.
I started following Riley's blog after discovering Driving Sideways, and was dismayed when she announced a few years ago that her second novel wasn't optioned by her publisher. She was undeterred though, and eventually decided to publish it as an e-book (as well as print on demand) via CreateSpace on Amazon. (Go! Get it now! You won't be sorry!)
Here's the "official" review I wrote for work. I'm glad I have this outlet to gush more informally.
When her mother dies of cancer, Jaime tries to keep her family intact. Trouble
is, they sure put the funk in dysfunctional—her brother is a self-centered
blowhard; her sister is an ice queen who has distanced herself emotionally and
physically; and they haven’t seen their father since he left the family when
they were just kids. Jaime’s husband, Erik, doesn’t have it much better; his
father is sitting in a nursing home and doesn’t know who Erik is. After a
disastrous Thanksgiving dinner, Jaime decides to advertise on Craigslist for a
new family for the holidays. She gets... (read the rest of the review for free at Booklist Online)