Not often enough, a writer comes across books she wishes she'd written. Her only recourse is to study such a book so as to steal, as invisibly as poss...moreNot often enough, a writer comes across books she wishes she'd written. Her only recourse is to study such a book so as to steal, as invisibly as possible, that writer's techniques. THE HUNGER GAMES is such a book for me. I read it in three hours, took time to pee, then went back and read it again. A few days later, again. How did Collins force me to turn the page from chapter to chapter? I needed to know, because I was writing my own mystery and needed any tips on how to make it compelling. I discovered--as most readers of this series do, consciously or not--that at the end of every chapter we either learn a new piece of information, see another key character in danger, watch the stakes get even higher (which I kept thinking was impossible, but wasn't, not for Collins), or see Katniss do something that demands we read on to see the reaction. Etc.
I learned that my own story UNACCOUNTED FOR had plenty of events in it, but the pacing could be improved. Also, my hero needed to take a tip from Katniss and keep thinking about his immediate goals, to remind the reader why things are important. I re-ordered it a la Hunger Games--it ratcheted up the excitement enormously. I'm not claiming my book's as riveting as Collins', but I owe her a big debt. Not only did she give me three books of tremendous entertainment value, but she stuffed them with serious issues that demand thought of serious readers--the kind of readers you hope will savor your own work. (Or just sit next to you at dinner.) A must-read series for any mystery writer, or any reader in search of a compelling tale.(less)
I've re-read this one several times over the years. The best Smiley book and the best overall book by Le Carre, in my opinion. There's much here to en...moreI've re-read this one several times over the years. The best Smiley book and the best overall book by Le Carre, in my opinion. There's much here to engage an espionage fan, as well as a suspense writer looking for great models of craft. George Leamas is an action figure, and act he does, and though there's plenty of moral introspection to let the reader guess why he does what he does, it's presented so deftly and sparingly that it never feels like the navel-gazing you often get in self-billed literary fiction. This is good, suspenseful, character-driven fiction, transcending genres.
The author uses omniscient POV throughout, with a focus on the two main characters of Leamas and the girl (whose name escapes me) but with quick dips into other characters' heads that help characterize the main two. The plot is challenging and comes close to being too complex--but isn't. As with any Le Carre novel you can't let your attention drift. The alert reader will be well-positioned to catch the tiny, subtle shifts the author uses to make his story. The world of international intrique hasn't gotten any simpler since this was written, though writers of this kind of life-or-death moral complexity continue to emulate Le Carre. Usually they fail.(less)
Another one of those books I loved as a reader, years ago. These days I re-read this as a writer to see how Stewart pulls off a first-person narrativ...more Another one of those books I loved as a reader, years ago. These days I re-read this as a writer to see how Stewart pulls off a first-person narrative that holds a shocker at the end. As with all these suspense/thriller/romances from her early career (as opposed to her Merlin books, a different genre), our heroine is a decent, resourceful, well-adjusted young woman who has to cope with danger. The set-up is that Mary Grey of Canada is a dead ringer for the missing English heiress Annabel Winslow. When Annabel's cousin Connor spots her visiting near the family farm in Northumberland, he persuades her to impersonate his (surely) dead cousin in order to swing an inheritance his way. She agrees. We think we know everything that Mary Grey/Annabel Winslow knows--she's the one telling the story, after all. But, it turns out, we do not. Yet as a reader, I never felt manipulated or cheated. The author puts in just enough subtle clues throughout to lead the reader one way but still play fair. By the time you realize you've misled yourself, you HAVE to (well, I had to) read it again from the beginning and underline just where she was most artful. The setting, as always, is beautifully and precisely rendered. Here it is the English countryside and farm community of Northumberland in the 1950s. The author's knowledge of local plant/herb lore expertly invokes a tranquil, nostalgic atmosphere that is effectively disturbed by the hints of violence and decay that keep us spellbound. If you like a tightly constructed plot, characters to root for and villians to fear, and an intelligent, often lyrical authorial voice(you can skip the long passages of description the first time around, if you must), don't miss The Ivy Tree.