Humorist Dave Barry has produced his first solo adult novel in more than 10 years, and it’s hysterical. In a story reminiscent of The Hangover films, Seth is marrying a woman who is drop-dead gorgeous, and his buddies have the ultimate bachelor party planned.
The Groom Posse has wild ideas that involve strippers and alcohol while cavorting in the city of Miami. A misadventure inside a cab starts them on a different path that connects them with some Russians, a stripper demanding a gratuity and a giant bald man named Duane with a Burmese python named Blossom around his shoulders. The madness starts quickly and continues to escalate until the story’s surprising end.
A twist in the laugh-fest involves a look at the plight involving refugees from Haiti and Cuba and the real horror they experience trying to make it to the United States. The transition between the humor and Laurette, a Haitian with two children trying to make it to Miami, proves a bit jarring, but ultimately hopeful.
Barry obviously wrote Insane City as a means of delivering jokes, and sometimes the humor sacrifices the characters. But the novel is designed for laughs, and it’s quite funny. This is another winner from Barry, though the city of Miami might be upset, since it’s definitely not an endorsement for tourism.
— Jeff Ayers
The Joy Formidable
Two years after the Joy Formidable barreled to the fringe of the rock mainstream with the lush and brute The Big Roar, the Welsh trio returns with an even bigger and squalling encore. Wolf’s Law is the arrival of a headliner.
It’s a deserved reward. This is wonderfully noisy and hooky, shimmering with guitar-pop accessibility. So what if standouts such as Maw Maw Song and the whirlwind Bats have the nagging feeling of sounding familiar — maybe a head-bopper from the alt-rock heyday of the ’90s or another Brit rocker making massive songs for arenas like touring mates Muse. In the voice and guitar-hammering hands of frontwoman Ritzy Bryan, surprises (usually loud ones) are around every corner.
In the opener This Ladder Is Ours, Bryan begins with an inviting “Let’s take this walk/It’s long overdue.” She isn’t kidding. Where was an exciting rocker like this in 2012, and how soon before we can have another?
— Paul J. Weber
The Last Runaway
Tracy Chevalier’s Girl With a Pearl Earring, which brought Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer to life, has become a near-classic in contemporary historical fiction. And her latest novel, The Last Runaway, takes on similarly fascinating and little-known subject matter — the Quakers’ role in the Underground Railroad during the mid-1800s.
Honor Bright leaves England for America, settles in Ohio and becomes intimately involved in the movement — helping runaway slaves reach freedom. But despite this compelling fictional backdrop, Chevalier’s storytelling just doesn’t do it justice.
Bright, despite her name, is anything but. Her character is flat and dull and spends much of her time longing for home, harshly judging her new American friends and family and talking about how she really shouldn’t be complaining about it. This criticism seems all the more confusing when we learn that Chevalier intended her latest novel as her “love letter home.” (She’s made her home in England for nearly 30 years.) The rest of the characters are similarly unsympathetic and undeveloped.
And the quilting. Clearly, the discussion of quilting — the patterns, the styles, the methods — is intended as a motif to carry the reader seamlessly through the story. Instead, it feels obvious, annoying and overdone.
That said, it’s a quick read as Chevalier’s writing is solid and compelling. The Last Runaway remains a page turner as readers are eagerly waiting for something to happen. But when things do happen, the action seems trite and well-trodden.
— Kim Curtis