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Review: Gone

Gone by Michael Grant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this with my daughter, and we both loved it. Gone is a cross between Lord of the Flies and Akira – super powers affecting children in a world without adults, yet far smarter and better written that the recent splurge of YA dystopian novels. As with all super power books, you end up thinking, “Why didn’t so-and-so just use their power there?”, but, only a minor criticism, highly recommended. Stephen King likes this series, I’m not going to disagree with him!

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Review: The Ballad of a Small Player

The Ballad of a Small Player
The Ballad of a Small Player by Lawrence Osborne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the opening sentence, it’s clear Lawrence Osborne knows what he’s doing, that you’re in the hands of an assured writer. The writing is beautifully sparse, navigating the reader through the casinos of Macau, dipping into China’s culture. The only issue is that it’s hard to empathise with any of the characters. Like the ghost stalking Lord Doyle, the leads seem transparent without the definition needed for the reader to root for them, and the secondary characters come and go like Lord Doyle’s fortunes. Still, the quality of the prose compensates for these shortcomings. Recommended.

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Review: Raven Black

Raven Black
Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I hadn’t heard of Ann Cleeves, before my father-in-law gave me this book after attending Harrogat’s crime writing festival. First impressions weren’t good; the writing is simple and surprisingly clumsy at times. But, the story is a good one, and that helps smooth over those cracks. I’ll be reading White Nights next, the second book in the series, which is a pretty good indicator of what I thought of this one…

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Review: The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement
The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an interesting attempt to fictionalise a business book; interesting, though I’m not sure entirely successful. The storyline anchors the advice into the real world, showing how processes should be constantly reviewed and how the naysayers can be bought around, but without Alex Rogo’s struggling marriage I suspect the business element to this book could be squeezed into a pamphlet.

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Review: Station Eleven

Station Eleven
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Note: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in place of an honest review.

Straight off, without faffing around, I’ll confess that I loved this book. When I first heard about it, I thought, “ah, the world needs another trilogy chronicling a dystopian future.” Luckily this is just a single book, dense with wonderful characters, armed with a long list of positive reviews, so indeed it seems the world did need one more.

Emily St John Mandel’s “Station Eleven” nestles between the bleakness of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”, and the accessible glut of YA heroines battling corrupt regimes – you know the ones I mean. Like those other books, the world has crumbled, society has fallen, anarchy rules the land, and yes, a heroine is wandering the land, but that’s not the focus of “Station Eleven”. Instead, the story flits between the now (twenty years after a virulent flu decimated the world’s population) and the few years leading up to that fateful day, or Year Zero as the survivors call it.

The story cleverly weaves numerous flashbacks, all linked by a dubious level of coincidence, but still remaining believable at all times. The writing is sparse, more is left unsaid than said, and that suits the world being described. It’s a dangerous time: anarchy rules, killing is the only way to guarantee survival.

This is an excellent book, worthy of the praise it’s received, and highly recommended.

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Review: The Story Of Lucy Gault

The Story Of Lucy Gault
The Story Of Lucy Gault by William Trevor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘The Story of Lucy Gault’ was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize way back in 2002, and like anything shortlisted for a prestigious award, you know the quality will be there: the writing was crisp, the characters unique and a well defined voice carried the novel.

And that’s where my problem lies.

This was a good story, a statement of how multiple lives can be affected by a single incident, made in the heat of the moment. It would’ve fitted neatly into a short-story, or padded and stretched into a novella, but in novel form the pace trundled along like the characters residing in the family house at Lahardane: briskly at first, then staggering and crawling towards the end of their days.

Remember the final scenes of the last Lord of the Rings film? Tears were shed, hugs were given, characters stared purposefully into the sunset? The audience reached for their jackets and grabbed their handbags, gobbled down the last of the popcorn, only for another ‘final’ scene to be shoehorned into life.

For me, Lucy Gault’s story was the same: it finished way before the end. You knew where it was going, where it had been, and I was continually flipping to the end to see how many pages remained.

Still, a rambling William Trevor is still an enjoyable William Trevor, so worth taking a nose.

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Review: Full Dark, No Stars

Full Dark, No Stars
Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novella collection was a mixed bag. All were written with Stephen King’s usual relaxed and readable style, but a few felt lazy, as though he rushed them down without exploring and developing the what-if’s like he normally does. Fair Extension is a good example. The story, even brief as it was, plodded towards a predictable ending. That said, it’s still Stephen King; when he’s not at his best he’s still yards ahead of the pack.

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Thoughts on writing, publishing and some general drivel