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!



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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.




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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.

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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.



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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!



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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.



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Review: Lazarus Is Dead

Lazarus Is Dead
Lazarus Is Dead by Richard Beard

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had the pleasure of meeting Richard Beard at a recent writer’s conference. He came across as intelligent and passionate about good writing, so I was curious to see whether his own writings hit the mark. And for me, the answer is a resounding “yes”.

The book fictionalises the New Testament’s Lazarus tale: the only person ever referred to as a friend of Jesus, and who was brought back from the dead just before the Crucifixion. I’m not at all religious, quite the opposite if fact, but this book personalises the Bible in a remarkable way. The depth of Richard’s research makes the character’s motivations believable: Lazarus, his sisters and even the Romans; they’re all human, not good, not bad, just people doing the best they can.

This certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like intelligent, well written literature, then you should certainly give this a try.



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Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book surprised me. It’s marketed as a novel, an adult fairy tale, yet it reads more like a young-adult short story – all well and good apart from the adult novel price tag. That complaint aside, it’s a good read, some nice ideas and decent writing as you’d expect from Neal Gaiman. I wanted to love it, but as the ending approached, the story felt constrained in a straight jacket. There were so many characters and subplots dying to be released, to be given more space, but in the end they remained trapped in this quick read. Maybe a follow-on is in the works – fingers crossed.



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Review: Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a fun whodunnit, slightly spoiled by the fact that my mother-in-law gave me this for Christmas last year, only for us to flop down on the sofa with our turkey-filled stomachs to watch the television adaption in the afternoon. Still, good dialogue, convincing characters and a solid blast of class values from yesteryear.



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Review: Rewrite Right! : Your Guide to Perfectly Polished Prose: 2nd Edition

Rewrite Right! : Your Guide to Perfectly Polished Prose: 2nd Edition
Rewrite Right! : Your Guide to Perfectly Polished Prose: 2nd Edition by Jan Venolia

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been reading this book on and off for over a decade. I bought it as a single man, living in Boston, Mass., and finished it with my second child soon to be born, back in Bristol, UK. It’s a great little book for dipping into: pick it up for a couple of minutes and you’ll learn something new. Ideal for writers, or for those curious about grammar.



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Thoughts on writing, publishing and some general drivel