As an adult, I've come to enjoy realistic survival stories. As a teen, I needed some sort of fantastical element to make it compelling, but I don't require that anymore - the promise of real-life danger is excitement enough. So when I saw the blurb for Michael Cadnum's latest, Seize the Storm, I figured it would be my kind of book. The premise is pretty simple: a family is taking a vacation on their fancy yacht and come across an abandoned boat full of cash. They decide to take the cash, not realizing that the drug dealers - including the drug lord's teenage son - who own the boat (and the cash) are after it too.
It's a great setup, but I found myself pretty disappointed in the execution. There's a long list of characters: the teenage son of the drug lord, a teenage assassin, and another man in the employ of the drug lord all on the plane sent to retrieve the cash; plus a teenage girl, her male cousin, her parents, and a teenage sailor all on the boat that took the cash. Cadnum tells at least some of the story through each character's eyes, which means there's no true protagonist and we're encouraged to root for the "bad guys" just as much as the family on the boat. Unfortunately, while Cadnum gives us a little insight - via telling rather than showing - into each of the characters, it's not really enough to make any of them truly compelling.
The story itself is surprisingly thin, too. The family finds the boat and takes the cash; the drug runners hunt down the boat and a stand-off ensues. I expected there to be more of a sense of danger, a bit more action, more excitement overall. Perhaps I would have been more invested in the story had I cared about the characters, but what little development we get makes them all pretty unsympathetic. I know it's not necessary for characters to be likeable to also be well-drawn, but everyone was just so unpleasant, I honestly didn't care what happened to them. If they all drowned, I wouldn't have felt much of a pang.
I went in expecting a survival story, but what I got was more a story about some unpleasant people who make a series of bad decisions. I think kids who go into this book expecting a thrilling read will be disappointed, although I'm sure it will have its fans among those who like books told from the "bad guy's" point of view.
Justin Halpern's Shit My Dad Says was a surprisingly fun read for me. I appreciated that it didn't eliminate sentimentality entirely in favor of the profane humor, and I looked forward to more of the same mix in his follow-up, I Suck at Girls. In this volume, Halpern chronicles his romantic interactions with the opposite sex, beginning as a young child. He strives for ribald humor peppered with deep thoughts, but he's not terribly successful on the humor front.
There are certainly funny bits - unfortunately, they're mostly relegated to Halpern's conversations with his father, which is what made the first book such a stand-out. When it's just Halpern dishing about his girlfriends, the book is mostly forgettable; when it's Halpern discussing girls and women with his father, it's frequently hilarious. What this makes for is an uneven book that doesn't linger very long in the reader's mind.
Perhaps part of the problem is that Halpern's dating disasters aren't really disastrous - they're fairly run of the mill and not terribly exciting stories in themselves. He's got a nice way of writing, but it's not enough to elevate his pretty pedestrian stories into comedy gold. His father is still the star, and he doesn't make enough appearances to salvage the book. Still, if you're a fan of the first book, this is certainly worth a read.
Review copies received from the publisher. Both books are available now.