Robert’s Rules Featured on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Chapter A Day

Robert’s Rules is Book Three in J.F.Riordan’s North of the Tension Line Series, and is the recent winner of a Gold Medal from the Independent Publisher’s Book Awards. It is this month’s selection for Wisconsin Public Radio’s popular Chapter a Day program.

You can tune in to WPR every day to hear one of twenty episodes at 12:30 pm and 11:00 pm. It’s also available for download on their site. 

It is beautifully read by one of WPR’s regular readers, Jim Fleming. Check it out!


Wisconsin author J.F. Riordan has been called “a latter-day Jane Austen”. Her mesmerizing literary fiction makes the Great Lakes region one of the characters in this continuing series. The North of the Tension Linebooks (North of the Tension Line; The Audacity of Goats; and Robert’s Rules) represent a sensibility that is distinctively Midwestern, even though the small town politics and gossip will be universally familiar. Riordan celebrates the well-lived life of the ordinary man and woman with meticulously drawn characters and intriguing plots that magnify the beauty and mystery lingering near the surface of everyday life. Book Four in the series, A Small Earnest Question, is due out in 2020

J.F. Riordan’s Mesmerizing ‘Robert’s Rules’

Told in a beautifully crafted literary style, Robert’s Rules is an engaging story filled with deep insights about people and their environment. In the process, Riordan reveals the eccentric and oftentimes unexpected realities behind the bucolic images of modern small-town life.”

The Shepherd Express

Learning to Love Again

To the both of you who follow my blog: by now you are probably used to the reality that when I am writing a book, I don’t post many blogs. It’s a husbanding your resources thing.

Nevertheless, I interrupt this novel for a brief announcement:

We are in the queue again for a puppy. He has been born. He will be two weeks old tomorrow. We hope to pick him up and fly him home (on our laps) on May 6th. He is a cousin, of some sort, of Moses.

My husband insists that his name will be St. Augustine the Younger. He gets to pick, since I picked Moses, but I am still lobbying for St. George, the Dragon Slayer.

He will win.

So, watch this space for puppy pictures. Because my life needs a complication, albeit a delightful one.

Here is one of the puppies from the litter. Who knows? We may become friends.


Milwaukee Book Launch at Boswell Book Company


Goat photo courtesy the Washington Post (Flickr/Bagsgroove)

Come and celebrate the publication of The Audacity of Goats with me at Boswell Book Company on Friday May 20th, at 7 pm.

You can buy your copy there, or pre-order.


Support your local bookstore!

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Friday May 20 at 7 pm

Boswell Book Company

2559 N. Downer Ave.

Milwaukee, WI 53211

(From their website)

This is the only location. Don’t let a yellow pages tell you otherwise. The store is located on the same block as the Downer Theater, up the bluff from Lincoln Memorial Drive. They’re north of Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital and south of UWM. We’re also pretty much on the southernmost tip of Lake Drive.

North of the Tension Line Reviewed in National Review

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It’s behind the paywall, but here is the text of the review found in the April 20 edition of National Review.


Women’s Lives

April 20, 2015, Issue

North of the Tension Line, by J. F. Riordan (Beaufort, 478 pp., $24.95)

My initial impression of this book was: I’ve walked into the novelistic equivalent of a chick flick. What am I doing here — by myself? I go to these only in my wife’s company and at her behest.

Other male readers are likely to have the same first reaction. North of the Tension Line is a novel by a woman about women. Is it for women? Well, I wouldn’t say it’s not for women — but my judgment in the end is that it’s also for men, perhaps even primarily for men. A gifted female writer — one with a nearly Austenian gift for observing human nature and describing the quirks and foibles of the entire cast of characters one finds in the human drama — has produced a novel that reveals some things to us guys about how women’s minds and hearts work.

Women themselves, of course, already know these things. They can read North of the Tension Line for entertainment. Men should read it for instruction.

Fiona and Elisabeth, our heroines, are intelligent, attractive thirtysomething single women — and best friends. They have interests and professions — satisfying but not high-powered — and are far from preoccupied by the need to find Mr. Right. They are open to his walking into their lives and hopeful that someday he will: Finding him would be a good thing — indeed, a very good thing — and they’re not making the perfect the enemy of the good by holding out for the Ultimate Mr. Right when Mr. Right Enough will do. But neither are they pining away, or pursuing their avocational and professional interests as mere distractions while they wait. They have lives — lives worth living, lives in which non-romantic friends, jobs, passions, goals, and challenges of various sorts occupy them meaningfully and worthily.

Yet J. F. Riordan’s point is not the old feminist canard about a woman’s needing a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Quite the contrary. Fiona and Elisabeth are, like most women, sensible. Their hearts yearn for a special bond with one of those creatures on the other side of the mysterious line dividing the sexes, and their minds tell them that such a bond is worth the sacrifices — including some degree of loss of independence — required to establish and sustain that bond. They are not boy-crazy, nor are they imagining a knight in shining armor who will come astride a white charger to sweep them off their feet. What they want is a decent, honorable man, a man who is comfortable in his own skin and who is willing to be a man — a fellow whose gentle strength would complement their own strong gentleness.

There is nothing more familiar to readers and viewers these days than the story of a woman who manages to be caught up in an unhealthy relationship with every man in her life. She has, or had, an unhealthy relationship with her father; an unhealthy relationship with her first boyfriend, then her second, then third, and so forth; she has unhealthy non-romantic relationships with her guy friends, her boss, her dentist, her pastor, her plumber. She has an unhealthy relationship with her husband — one that doesn’t improve when he becomes her ex-husband. By the time her son is a teenager, she has an unhealthy relationship with him, too. Is the problem with her — or with them? In the standard plot, she begins by blaming herself.

But, of course, enlightenment eventually comes when she realizes that the fault is not with her at all, but indeed with them — and even more fundamentally with the institutional sexism and sexist (and, of course, heterosexist) culture that is ultimately what is driving both their bad attitudes and behavior and her initial impulse to blame herself. Pretty soon she is “off men” and living happily ever after in a lesbian commune in central Massachusetts.

What’s refreshing about Riordan’s novel is that her protagonists have healthy relationships with men. And it isn’t because Fiona and Elisabeth — or the guys with whom they have romantic and non-romantic friendships — are perfect. They’re not. In fact, North of the Tension Line is a sort of study in how imperfect but fundamentally decent women and imperfect but fundamentally honorable men can relate to each other (whether their relationships are romantic or not) in constructive ways, and find satisfaction and contentment in their relationships. In fact, part of her message is that the project of navigating the mysteries involved in relating to people of the opposite sex can — and where our relationships are healthy almost certainly will — challenge us and change us in ways that make us better men and women than we were: a little less imperfect. Relating to each other across the mysterious divide takes effort, but it’s worth it. The payoff is genuine. There must be something to the idea that men and women are made for each other — that by entering each other’s lives they supply a lack and have a lack supplied.

What about the relationships between women and other women and men and other men? Perhaps part of the reason Riordan’s characters can relate in healthy ways to those of the opposite sex is that they have deep, constructive friendships with people of their own sex. The friendship between Fiona and Elisabeth is front and center, and a beautiful friendship it is. The two women delight in each other’s company and each appreciates and cares deeply for the other. They are cognizant of each other’s imperfections, but each is no less aware of her own deficiencies. And each is grateful to the other for the gift of her friendship. They are fast friends, loyal friends. Yet neither woman jealously worries that the entry of a man into the other’s life will weaken the lovely bond between them. On the contrary, they are pulling for each other on the boyfriend front — precisely because they appreciate that there is something good, something uniquely fulfilling, that even the deepest friendship between two women (or, I daresay, two men) cannot provide.

Most of the guys in the book are good guys, and their friendships with other guys are good friendships. J. F. Riordan finds countless ways — usually suitably subtle ways — to call attention to the deep bonds of affection good men can form with each other. Of course men, being men, don’t talk about their feelings much, but rather express them in actions — including in actions toward women or for their sakes. Because of the setting Riordan has chosen for her study, most of the men in the novel — at least those we get to know best — are skilled workers. They build things, or fix things, or do things (like run a ferry from the mainland to an island). They are not intellectuals. Indeed, most are a bit less intellectual than the women. But they are not less intelligent, nor are they less thoughtful. What they are, God bless them, is old-fashioned, even chivalrous. They respect the womenfolk, and even look up to them in various ways; but their instinct is to help them and protect them because . . . well, because that’s what good men do.

You may, gentle reader, be worried that North of the Tension Line has no villains, mean dogs, or ghosts. But fear not: There is an excellent villain — a woman, by the way — a scary mean dog, and an exemplary ghost. To avoid spoiling things for you, I’ll say no more about them than to report that Riordan’s verbal artistry is up to the challenging task of handling villains, mean dogs, and ghosts — which is saying something when reviewing a writer’s first novel.

Mr. George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and the director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University.

Read more at:

Happy Launch Day!

Gratuitous Dog Picture

Regular readers of this blog (both of them) are familiar with my distaste for Facebook. However, as a sop to Cerberus I knew I had to have a page to promote my book, North of the Tension Line. My editor and publicist at Beaufort Books, lovely people that they are, having heard of my misadventures, assigned an intern to set up a page for me.

Interns, of course, are college students–mostly English majors–hoping to gain experience so that they may beat the odds and find a job in their field after graduation. So, when they were asked to enter my birthdate on Facebook, they cleverly put in today’s date–the official launch date of NOTTL, and the most likely year for an adult to have been born–which is, obviously, 1993.

I woke up this morning to three different birthday greetings, all from people who know perfectly well how old I am, and who, therefore, were rather smirking in tone.

So, yes. Today is the birthday of North of the Tension Line, now officially out in the world. So please go purchase a copy. (Gratuitous cover shot to follow.)

Novel poster

For my part, I will alter my daughter’s suggestion of the traditional 21st birthday shot of tequila and celebrate instead with some nice champagne.

Although I may wait until after noon.

(Photo of Moses and me by Manning Photography)

Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics

I was honored to be able to introduce Dr. Charles Krauthammer at the Milwaukee Public Library in 2014. I feel fortunate to have met him on several occasions, and found him to be soft-spoken and kind, and best of all, a dog lover. The world is a better place with him in it. He and his family are in my prayers today.

In this age of tweeted selfies, twerking and Miley Cyrus, Charles Krauthammer is that rare and essential thing: a public intellectual.

He is, by most estimates, the nation’s leading conservative commentator, noted for his insight, his wit, and his clarity of mind.

An alumnus of McGill, Balliol, and Harvard, trained as a doctor, along the way he re-invented himself as a writer. He has described his life story as improbable and characterized by serendipity and sheer blind luck.

He is the originator of the phrase “The Reagan Doctrine”, and he has been a keen observer of, and indeed, a profound influence on American foreign policy for over three decades.

He is distinguished by being, in his own words, “the only entity on earth, other than rogue states, that has received an apology from the White House.”

And he is a fierce opponent of the errant comma.

His most recent book, Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics, is a collection of his columns. It is a wide-ranging demonstration of the breadth of his interests and the fluency of his thinking, all built on the fundamental premise that politics is just a means to an end; That it exists only to make possible the things that matter: friendship, love, art, philosophy, baseball, science, chess, nature.  Politics, for all its banality, is the essential platform for these real things. And if politics goes wrong, all these things—the things that matter—are destroyed.

In reading Dr. Krauthammer’s book you will learn—if you hadn’t already known it—that he is a man of deep feeling. The ringing simplicity of his eulogies to his brother, his mentor, his friend, the subtlety of his humor, and his relish for the ridiculous make his writings both companionable and engrossing.

And if the underlying compassion of his essays is not evidence enough of his character, Dr. Krauthammer is a dog lover. At the passing of his son’s black lab, Chester, he wrote:

Some will protest that in a world with so much human suffering, it is something between eccentric and obscene to mourn a dog. I think not. After all, it is perfectly normal, indeed deeply human to be moved when nature presents us with a vision of great beauty.

Should we not be moved when it produces a vision—a creature—of the purest sweetness?

And should we here tonight not be privileged to encounter a man of such depth and fundamental humanity?

March 6, 2014

Centennial Hall

Milwaukee, Wisconsin