Bookworm: Sharp characters, humor in ‘Better Luck’

‘Work-from-Home Hacks’ from Aja Frost

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“Better Luck Next Time”

  • By Julia Claiborne Johnson
  • c. 2021, Custom House
  • $28.99, $35.99 Canada; 274 pages

It’s always a roll of the dice. You meet someone, hit it off, hang out sometime, and it’s a win or a loose. You either continue and see how it goes, or you can ask for more cards or put your chips elsewhere. No matter who you are, relationships are a gamble but in the new novel “Better Luck Next Time” by Julia Claiborne Johnson, you learn to deal.

“Better Luck Next Time” author Julia Claiborne Johnson.

At well over 80 years old, Dr. Howard Stovall Bennett III doesn’t get many visitors anymore. That doesn’t surprise him; he never married or had any children.

You must be wondering how that happened to a guy like Ward.

His mother had high expectations for him before the Depression: he was supposed to go to medical school but instead, he went to work as a “common laborer” on Boulder Dam. She was devastated, so he didn’t even bother telling her when he got hired at The Flying Leap, a Reno-area dude ranch that catered to wealthy women awaiting quickie divorces.

Six weeks, that’s all it took for their bad memories and mistakes to be erased.

If only that was true for Ward.

“Better Luck Next Time” by Julia Claiborne Johnson.

He was “not quite” 25 years old the summer that Nina arrived at The Flying Leap and while Ward usually paid little attention to ranch guests, it was hard to ignore Nina, who arrived behind the controls of an old bi-plane. Tall, beautiful, blonde, and breezy, Nina was a force to be reckoned with; she never met an adventure she didn’t like, and when tiny, quiet Emily became her roommate, Nina made sure Emily came along for the fun.

And that was fine; Nina knew what a good time was, she insisted that Ward be their chaperone, and he was happy to go along with the shenanigans – until Emily’s teenage daughter came to the ranch to try to stop her parents' divorce and everything fell apart.

Ward has no regrets now, just memories. Memories of Nina, and a costume party, and Emily’s broken heart, and falling in love.

Ward will never forget falling in love…

Much like a pre-World War II black and white comedy-drama on a Sunday afternoon, “Better Luck Next Time” is quick to pull you in. With that in mind, it's even easier to stay fast.

Indeed, author Julia Claiborne Johnson's tale has the feel of one of those old flicks, but with more than just a little ooooh-la-la. Yes, you've got your typical Hollywood kitsch here, a not-quite-real ranch, the ubiquitous Gary-Cooperish cowpoke and two no-shame dames who flirt mercilessly with him, but things happen inside this book that Granny never saw on a big screen. Don't fret: the tale doesn't rely on profanity to move it along, and what's here – a little nudity and hinted trysts – is told scandalously, in the same vein as bobbed hair and rolled stockings.

Come for the sharp characters and humor in “Better Luck Next Time,” stay for the snappy dialogue and you'll be a happy rancher. You'll love this novel. That's a safe bet.

“Work-from-Home Hacks”

  • By Aja Frost
  • c. 2020, Adams Media
  • $15.99, $21.99 Canada; 255 pages

Zooooom. Since you started working at home, that's how fast your day goes. You get up, walk to wherever you'll work for the day and that's where you stay until, zoom, your day is over. You love the extra freedom it gives you, but things could be better, maybe tweaked a little, and in “Work-from-Home Hacks” by Aja Frost, you could find some ideas.

First, there was the dream: working from home.

Then, there was the reality: working from home, and though it's been awhile since you started, just setting up an official place to work in your abode still needs some finessing. Frost says to look for wasted spots, for instance, that “awkward space” where you toss your to-be-laundered things? Welcome to your new workspace.

“Work-from-Home Hacks” by Aja Frost.

Working from home sure seems like it would save you money on your commute so Frost recommends spending that extra on a good chair, a decent convertible desk, and an extra laptop so you don't cross work and leisure by accident. She also warns readers to double-check their routers because routers get outdated.

Get yourself into some sort of routine: don't sleep in. Take a couple spins on the stationary bike before heading to work, to trick yourself into a “commute.” Wear shoes while working, to signal “work” to your brain. Keep a calendar and don't procrastinate.

On your email signature, add your pronouns and your time zone, especially if you're working with people from outside your area. If you find your interest lagging, take a power nap or move your laptop to another room. Teach your children to heed do-not-disturb work time with colored lights. Outsource tasks as much as possible; it might cost a little extra, but it'll give you more downtime. Check in with co-workers often or find a friend who'll hold you accountable. And finally, know when it's time to quit for the day; you work from home, but not 24/7.

You'd think that a book full of advice on how best to work remotely would be helpful right about now, huh? That depends on your definition of “helpful.”

“Commonsensical” is more to the point: that's a lot of what's inside “Work-from-Home Hacks” and some of that's belabored by unneeded, infinitesimal break-downs of a subject. There's also plenty of repetition and several instances where advice completely contradicts a point made a few pages prior; other entries could feel cheekily presumptuous, especially if posed by non-managerial workers, because it's often unclear to whom the advice is aimed. Most annoyingly, each subjects' headers are printed in yellow characters, making it difficult (if not impossible) to read in artificial light.

It's not all bad: there are nuggets in this book that, if you haven't thought of them or considered them, might be worth the price of the book alone. The best advice, perhaps then, is to page through “Work-from-Home Hacks” and see what author Aja Frost has to offer. You might appreciate the simplicity of it all, or you might want to just zooooom on by.

More:Bookworm: Advice on getting, keeping love

And:Bookworm: Get ‘Blood Grove’ and put that bookmark in a drawer

Also:Bookworm: Many layers of surprise inside ‘Eleanor’

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.