Sunday, September 16, 2012

Gone by Randy Wayne White

Gone by Randy Wayne White introduces a new protagonist, Hannah Smith.  While the plot is mildly interesting, but not overly exciting, and a quick read, the poor characterization is the book’s ultimate undoing.

It’s not the the characters are caricatures, but they are sort of franken-caricatures.  Parts of different cut-out characters stitched together in a way that make no sense.  Since most of the unraveling of the mystery here involves long conversations, sometimes oddly recounted after the fact, I spent most of the time frustrated with the stupid or bizarre actions of the characters.  

The main character, Hannah Smith, is a pretty girl, who doesn’t think she is, but sort of knows she is, who doesn’t look pretty, except she does, in a certain light, or after a couple of drinks, in a mannish but totally feminine way.  I was confused too.  Her best friend is a muscle bound gay dude who is terribly shy, but can have a temper, except he just wants to be friends and is willing to play the muscle, but kind of wants to run away from any social situations.  

None of the characters in the end did I really care about.  And the ones that Hannah felt sympathy for, I’d have rather she just slapped.  They were too irritating to inspire real sympathy.  

The solution to the “mystery” is pretty much a foregone conclusion almost from the moment it’s presented, with only how the final confrontation would play out really at issue.  I may have found that confrontation a little more interesting if I’d cared more about the characters.  

I haven’t read White’s Doc Ford books, and maybe he has a better handle on those characters.  There’s enough writing skill here for me to check them out.  There are too many other better books similar to this one to recommend Gone, though.  I received an advance copy of this book.

A Foreign Country by Charles Cumming

Excellent slow-boiler of a spy novel.  While not depending on constant action, this book still manages to be a real page-turner.  Well-written and fleshed out characters leave you constantly guessing as to motives and whether or not a double or triple-cross is brewing.

Cummings also manages to paint various locales vividly so they feel like real and distinct places.  Likewise, his description of the real tasks of spycraft, both exciting and mundane, add a level of sophistication to his work.  The outcome never feels like a foregone conclusion and the fact that the characters aren’t infallible lends true suspense to the plot.  The various plots are layered like an onion with the peeling back of each piece revealing something new.  Even when everything is revealed, the outcome remains in doubt, almost to the last page.

A Foreign Country is a cut above other spy novels, and Charles Cumming is clearly at the forefront of the next generation of great spy novelists.  Highly recommended.  I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

How I Became A Famous Novelist, by Steve Hely

Truly laugh-out-loud funny books are too rare, but this is one of them.  I was hooked from the first chapter and by the end of the second chapter I’d picked up a second copy to give to a friend so I could stop messaging her constantly about how funny this book is.  

This is a faux memoir about a cynical young writer who decides to write a best selling novel for one main reason:  spite.  The book is a cynical look at the publishing world mocking best-selling authors, publishers and reviewers.  It smartly skewers all of them.  It is impossible for me to walk through a bookstore without chuckling thinking about this book.

Healy looks both at common literary devices as well as the calculations that may or may not (but probably do) occur in publishing houses, college literature departments as well as the minds of authors.  Ironically, you can’t write a book this funny without being well-read and a pretty good writer yourself, which Healy clearly is.  

This is a book that should appeal to anyone, but is a must read for any lover of books.  Highly recommended.