Review: Digging to America

Digging to America
Digging to America by Anne Tyler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read Anne Tyler’s ‘Accidental Tourist’ many years ago, so long ago that I wouldn’t be able to remember the plot if the film hadn’t refreshed my memory. But one thing I clearly remember about that novel was quality of the writing – how easy it was to read and how each word was perfectly placed.

‘Digging to America’ has that same familiar style, as though it’s being narrated by someone you’ve known since childhood. This is a bigger accomplishment than it may sound, since the POV character changes with each chapter. Maryam, an Iranian immigrant to American, is the main character, but other chapters are told from her daughter-in-law’s POV, others from her would-be suitor, the widowed Dave, and one from a young child, one of the Korean orphans.

The book is subtle. At a glance, nothing happens, but what’s left out is as important as those scenes which were put in. Family tensions are shown by the wave of a hand or a passing comment layered with ambiguity.

This certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like quality literature told in an authoritative voice, this will be worth a look.



View all my reviews

Review: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was really looking forward to this book. I reread Hitchhikers recently and have watched the Stephen Mangan’s Dirk Gently production and loved them both. As an aside, I provided the crew’s electricity for the fish and chip shop scene. A guy knocked on my door one night with a power lead in his hand and asked if he could plug it in – Dirk Gently would’ve loved the interconnectedness. Although this read like a typical Douglas Adams story – lots of sciencey bits, a disgruntled robot and clever dry humour – it was a bit too random for me. Still, a good read, and it’s made me want to dust off the rest of my Hitchhikers series.



View all my reviews

Review: Look Who’s Back

Look Who's Back
Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

It’s easy to take offence at the concept of ‘Look Who’s Back’ (Hitler miraculously regenerates in modern-day Berlin) but read it first before making a judgement. Timur Vermes does an excellent job of ridiculing the Nazi ideals while staying within Hitler’s thought process. He broaches on the darker elements of World War II and the horrors committed by the Nazi regime, yet he always treats those events with dignity by highlighting the ridiculousness of Hitler’s agenda. This is a humorously dry satire, very well written (and translated) and well worth a read. Top marks!



View all my reviews

Review: Narcopolis

Narcopolis
Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Narcopolis is a rambling story consumed within a narcotic haze that flits between characters and times, drifting decades at a time. It’s hard to explain what the story is about. Imagine trying to recall a dream: some parts will be clear, others foggy and unclear, while others will seem pointless or nonsensical, but you have an overriding feeling that at the time it was enjoyable. Thayil can write, that’s indisputable, and if you like poetic prose you’ll enjoy this but be warned, this book reads like a drug hit: you’re likely to be disappointed if you like clear narratives and structured plots. To misquote Wallace Stevens, this “is a book too mad to read before one merely reads to pass the time”, and like the drugs, the madness is addictive.




View all my reviews

Review: Page After Page: Discover the Confidence & Passion You Need to Start Writing & Keep Writing

Page After Page: Discover the Confidence & Passion You Need to Start Writing & Keep Writing
Page After Page: Discover the Confidence & Passion You Need to Start Writing & Keep Writing by Heather Sellers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

‘Page after page’ is one of those books that probably sits better with American readers, no offence to my friends on the other side of the Atlantic. Us Brits are a cynical lot, we just like to be told where we’re going wrong and how to fix it, everything else is fluff, padding that gets in the way. Motivational razzmatazz, ra-ra pep talks, ‘you are the centre of your world’ kind of sentiments, all that stuff appeals to America’s go-get-em culture.

I stopped reading this book twice but kept finding it buried under papers on my desk, so both times I continued reading. On the third occasion, I admitted defeat and with some sadness returned it to my bookshelf. I had wanted to like it, but I found myself getting frustrated by Heather’s style of writing, her constant use of minuscule sentences. That fragmented style, and the upbeat positivity made me feel as though I was trapped in a childcare nursery.

I’ve given this book three stars since it does contain some sound advice that other reviewers found helpful, but I hate to say it, I gave up before reaching the end.

View all my reviews

Review: The Lie

The Lie
The Lie by Helen Dunmore

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

This is a simple story, interspersing three periods of a man’s life: as a child, fighting in the Great War and finally upon his return. This is the second book of Helen’s that I’ve read, the first being Burning Bright (1995). Her poetic writing, gorgeous in that earlier work, has matured significantly. The fluid, evocative style creates believable characters and dramatically sets each scene, creating a book that is a joy to read. If you like war stories heavy on plot, Birdsong springs to mind, then this probably isn’t for you, but if you enjoy getting lost in meandering prose, you won’t go wrong with The Lie.



View all my reviews

Review: Burning Bright

Burning Bright
Burning Bright by Helen Dunmore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Burning Bright’ was an interesting read – this one book could be used in a classroom to teach how to write fiction, and how not to. Some of the writing was excellent, quick paced and descriptive, then the next chapter would try too hard to be literary and drag needlessly. I did skim towards the end, glancing quickly over those heavier paragraphs, but the book was enjoyable. I’m looking forward to reading Helen’s current book, ‘The Lie’ – something for the new year!



View all my reviews

Review: The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes

The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes
The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes by Jack M. Bickham

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Some solid advice, but I found it was too heavily wrapped in fabricated anecdotes and a know-it-all writing style. I skimmed the majority of the last third, it was getting too hard to read. In my opinion, I found Donald Maass’s “Writing the Breakout Novel” far more readable, with better tips and examples.



View all my reviews

Thoughts on writing, publishing and some general drivel