It’s almost that time of year! Winter is (hopefully) letting up in Missouri and we’re all itching for a change of scenery. Or maybe just some sunshine? For me, that always means picking up a new book and getting out of the house and into a new environment. That’s why we’re so excited to bring you our new book review section featuring works exclusively by Missouri authors! So, whether you're hopping on a flight to somewhere warm, or sipping on something downtown at Coffee Zone, we’ve got the perfect book for you!
If you’re looking for a fun spring break read, you’ve found it. If you’re after a page-turning mystery, this book is for you. A fresh, fun, unexpected read? It’s all right here in Jill Orr’s The Good Byline.
The great strength of this book is its heroine. Riley is instantly relatable. From her messy love life, to her sometimes too-close relationship with her parents, she jumps off the page and into your life with such clarity, it’s as if she’s a real friend you’ve known for years. It’s this reality that grabbed me and kept me turning page after page as we follow her journey to uncover what’s really going on in her hometown of Tuttle Corner.
At the outset of the book, Riley is a bit of a mess. Her longtime boyfriend has left her to “find himself,” she’s living alone, relatively friendless and working a part-time job at the local library. All that changes, however, when Riley’s childhood best friend Jordan dies of an insulin overdose. Riley is asked to write Jordan’s obituary which sends her spinning into an investigation as to the true cause of Jordan’s death. The rest is one unexpected turn after another. Each time I thought I had my finger on the killer, the plot took a total twist throwing all my assumptions into a new light.
Another aspect that makes this book so readable is the author’s fresh spin on online dating. Blending the complicated world of 21st Century dating with the twisted web of Jordan’s death was truly unique. The emails from Riley’s Click.com Personal Romance Concierge add a lighthearted interlude to the deception and mystery. And who among us hasn’t had that overly enthusiastic matchmaker friend? You know, the one who runs a constant commentary on our dating life?
I also loved the framework of the Obituarist quotes interspersed between the chapters. As the story twisted and turned, this framework brought Riley’s true purpose back into focus. Getting down to the bottom of Jordan’s death so she could write her friend a meaningful obituary. A great obituary focuses on life, rather than death, the quotes shared here spotlight that in an unexpected and lovely way.
By the turn of the last page, you feel like a friend of Riley’s, but also of Jill’s. Her style allows you a peek inside her head almost seeing her mind change as the course of the story does.
So, who’s behind it? The Sheriff? The Prosecutor? The Boyfriend? You’ll have to read to find out!
One of the benefits of writing about local authors? Just that, they’re local! I was lucky enough to meet and chat with Jill Orr at an event held in Jeff City organized by Missouri River Regional Library Friends. After I’d finished the book I reached out to her and she was kind enough to answer a few questions for us!
Are you originally from Mid-Missouri? If not, how did you come to be here?
I am originally from suburban Chicago and came to the University of Missouri School of Journalism back in the 90s. While in college, I met my husband Jimmy, a CoMo native, and that was it for me! I've happily lived in Missouri ever since.
How has being a Missourian influenced your writing career (or work?)
I set my books in the small, fictional town of Tuttle Corner, VA. While it is not in Missouri (I needed proximity to Washington, D.C. for plot purposes), there are a lot of similarities between Tuttle County and mid-Missouri. I think living here has given me a good perspective on what it's like to live in a small community and that perspective definitely shows up in the books.
What’s your favorite part of writing?
There is this thing that happens occasionally when you're writing and it's like your characters just completely take over. They do and say all kinds of things that you never anticipated - and you simply become the transcriptionist. It is the coolest feeling ever. I compare it to "runner's high." It doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it's magical!
If you could share a meal with any author, living or dead, who would it be and why?
JK Rowling probably tops my list of authors with whom I'd like to have dinner. Unfortunately for her, though, I'd probably be so starstruck and overwhelmed I could do little more than stare at her while she eats. The whole thing would probably end in a call to security... and maybe a restraining order.
What are you reading now?
Right now I am judging a contest for romance novels, so I am up to my eyeballs in romances! It's not my usual genre, but it has been very interesting. The last non-romance book I read was another in the Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce series. I think I'm up to book 5 now - I just love those books! I am also reading an advanced copy of The Neighbors by Hannah Mary McKinnon - it's a great domestic thriller, ala Liane Moriarty.
Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere. I am a great eavesdropper.
What’s the most challenging part of being an author?
I think balancing the solitary act of writing with the decidedly non-solitary act of promoting your books. You can very easily lose giant chunks of time to social media if you're not careful! Also, there are very few authors who feel really comfortable in the role of marketer and advertiser, but it is something that all publishers expect you to participate in so you have to get comfortable promoting yourself.
What do you wish everyone knew about authors?
There's not an author I know who doesn't put their best effort into every single book they write. Sometimes people don't like a book or aren't able to connect with it-- and that's totally fair. But a novel often represents weeks, months, and even years of someone's life, so I encourage people to be respectful when they comment on it, especially on social media.
Coffee or Tea?
COFFEEEEEEE! (I'm on my second cup, can you tell?)
Computer or pen and paper?
Computer for writing, pen and paper for outlining or working out really tricky plot points.
Letter or email?
Email, though I love a handwritten note.
Fiction or non-fiction?
Librarian or Reporter?
Both! (Have you met Riley? 😉)
Paperback, Hardback or Tablet?
Yes, please. Actually, I have no preference between hardback or paperback - but I do prefer to read a tangible book. I will read on a tablet for travel sometimes.
At the moment and for no particular reason: kerfluffle.
You can find The Good Byline at Downtown Book and Toy. Also, keep your eye out for Riley’s next adventure, The Bad Break coming in April!
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