Violence: A Writer’s Guide Second Edition by Rory Miller

My rating: 5 out of 5

Rory Miller comes across as a good guy, but I wouldn’t want to bump into him a dark alley. Many of the examples in this writer’s guide come from his experiences; he’s been a prison guard, tactical police officer and a host of others, so he knows what he’s talking about. Folks in the UK have very little experience of guns, even the little details that Americans take for granted would be unknown to us, but Rory spans that knowledge divide excellently, for people of all experience levels.

The book does have a habit of repeating, sometimes within a few pages, so it could’ve done with a bit more editing, but the information is invaluable, and the writing engaging. An excellent writing resource.

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Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training by Karen Pryor

My review: 5 out of 5

Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot the Dog! is an interesting read for anyone, not just for dog owners, or dolphin owners, or the owners of children! Her background is in sea life training, and many of the anecdotes are based around those experiences, but a large part of the training philosophy also applies to human behaviour.

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Review: The Summer of Impossible Things

The Summer of Impossible Things
The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

I did struggle to get into Rowan Coleman’s The Summer of Impossible Things. I love the time travelling concept; I’ve recently finished Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time, and I adore Audrey Niffenegger’s Time Traveller’s Wife. The problem here was with over-writing. All sentences are conjoined, three parts linked together, in every sentence. It’s fine occasionally, it helps link thoughts and moods, but it does grate eventually. Writing should be the vessel carrying the story, it should be invisible, the reader shouldn’t be aware of it. I might be being finicky, but I kept seeing it, and it was a distraction. See what I mean!?

Another issue I had was with the descriptions of the 70s. Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time, despite its faults, was phenomenal at transporting the reader through time. He took you there, not just in the little details like the sights and smells, but the minutiae of every day life. With the Summer of Impossible Things, if you opened a random page it would be hard to tell where you were in time.

That’s the criticisms out the way. The good news is that I liked it. Yep, it was predictable: the twists were more like gentle curves than right-angle bends, the characters were all too trusting, but it was sweet. And sweet love stories can’t be a bad thing.

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Review: Post-Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back

Post-Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back
Post-Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back by Matthew d’Ancona
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

Trump, for all his faults, is gold dust for the entertainment industry. He’s petrol on the flames of satire, and the butt of countless books and articles that discuss every aspect of his erratic behaviour, from his handshake, to his wife’s every flinch, and the subject of this book, the fact that his supporters don’t care that he and his cohorts blatantly lie at every opportunity.

The preface of Matthew D’Ancona’s Post-Truth sets the tone, patiently explaining the issues, then demanding a call to arms: “Are you content for the central values of the Enlightenment, of free societies and of democratic discourse, to be trashed by charlatans – or not? Are you on the pitch, or content to stay on the terrace?”

Post-Truth is more than simple populism, it’s the bending of facts then the repeated denial of wrongdoing. It’s no coincidence that sales of George Orwell’s 1984 leapt after Trump’s inauguration. And those who believe Post-Truth will end when he leaves office are, as D’Ancona said, “confusing the leaves of the weed with its roots”.

Post-Truth can be traced from the end World War Two, through the rise (and decline) of post-modernism’s cynicism, the invention of the internet, to the modern phenomenon of click-bait. This is an interesting read, expertly researched and impressively written. A must read.

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Review: Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World

Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World
Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World by Mitch Prinstein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

Mitch Prinstein’s Popular is an interesting read. It addresses all aspects of popularity – why it’s important, how it evolved, and where it can lead. I did enjoy it, and many of his conclusions are thought provoking, but at times it did feel like he was shoe-horning populism into unrelated areas. Many of the sections are driven by anecdotes, some he acknowledges are made up, and many of the others I would assume are too. My big complaint is that he starts by saying there’s five type of people (accepted, rejected, etc.), then this varies throughout the book depending on the area being discussed, and this can be affected by parents and friends. I couldn’t help thinking that some people are just unlikable – whether they’re just rude, selfish, or maybe bad hygiene, and they may deserve to be unpopular based upon their choices. Still, some interesting points, so a solid 4*.

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Review: The One

The One
The One by John Marrs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The concept behind The One is interesting – match.com with DNA profiling. I was expecting a book that would explore whether likability or sexual attraction could be predetermined by something so scientific as a double helix. Some of the themes could’ve tackled the viability and ethicalness of such a solution, or social equality or religious considerations, heavy themes that would make you think.

Instead, John Marrs, the author, went down a different route. Five independent story-lines follow couples who have been matched, and in the nature of page-turning fiction, they were all worst-case scenarios. All the themes were light, all had more holes that a dirt track, and most didn’t have any authenticity or believability.

This book made me think of James Patterson – he was even referenced in the book, so I suspect this isn’t a coincidence. All chapters are a few pages long, they finish on a cliffhangers and revelations, and the writing, to be kind, could be described as ‘accessible’.

I think this was a missed opportunity, but given the success of James Patterson and his co-writers, I may have a minority view. Still, I did read to the end, and it was a page turner, so it’s unfair to give it less that a 4*.

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Review: Option B

Option B
Option B by Sheryl Sandberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

I remember reading about the death of David Goldberg when it happened. He was holidaying in Mexico with his wife, Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook), and suffered some form of heart attack in the hotel’s gym. They found him lying on the floor, bloodied, near a cross trainer. The story resonated with me – we’re about the same age, with the same age children, and the same age wife – so I was interested when Sheryl released a book mixing memoir and self-help.

As is to be expected, Sheryl’s grief is the driving force in this book. She covers how they met, how he died, and then delves into the effect of the aftermath on her, their two children, and all other friends and family. Grief is so personal, that helpful friends sometimes fail to realise that their kind of help isn’t what’s needed. There’s no road map for grief, but there are steps that can help, especially for young dependants.

The book is co-written by Adam Grant, a professional psychologist. His case studies and academic research adds to Sheryl’s emotional story to give balance and general advice, such as when option A is taken away unexpectedly, all you have left is to “kick the shit out of option B.”

This is a fascinating read, sad at times, motivating at others. Worth a read.

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Review: How to Stop Time

How to Stop Time
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

I’ve read a few books recently where the tone or the style changes partway through, and typically when this happens, those changes aren’t for the better. Matt Haig’s How To Stop Time falls into this category.

The first two-thirds were excellent. The story, a historical romance with a science-fiction twist, was written so perfectly that everything was credible. The writing was crisp, the dialogue natural and the themes thought provoking. The historical sections were beautiful, little details made those eras come alive. Very few books have made me well-up, a notable other is a good comparison for this novel – Audrey Niffenegger’s Time Traveller’s Wife, one of my favourite books. Both deal with time, and both deal with far-fetched themes, but the writing in both is so good and so well delivered, that only the hard-hearted would shine a light on their faults.

The only trouble with How To Stop Time is that the final third appears rushed. The buildup was slow and masterful, hooks were placed and characters formed, but the climax didn’t fit the rest of the story. I felt like I was reading the screen adaption of the book, where details are omitted for brevity, where loose-ends are tolerated because limited screen time requires tidy endings, and where characters behave in different ways. This is a shame, since with a bit more planning and care, with the finesse shown in the first part, this could’ve been a classic on the scale of the Time Traveller’s Wife.

Because of the weak ending, this doesn’t deserve a 5/5 rating, though it deserves better than a 4. So 4.5, and I’m generous and always round up!

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Review: The Dollmaker

The Dollmaker
The Dollmaker by Harriette Simpson Arnow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

Harriette Arnow’s The Dollmaker, first published in 1954, was set during the last months of the second world war. With the current rise of economic migration, this story about the clash of cultures is as relevant now as it was seven decades ago. The Nevels, ‘hillbillies’ from rural Kentucky, struggle to ‘adapt’ and make sense of the industrial and cultural tensions of Detroit’s projects that exploded to cope with the war production.

The writing, though often wordy, is heartfelt. Phonetically spelt dialogue, and the sensitive well-formed cast of characters draw you in; their struggles are felt, their journeys are personal.

Like Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, the Dollmaker immerses the reader in the minutiae of living under conflict, under poverty, and the fear of whatever the future may be bring. This is a long book, over 600 pages in printed editions, and by the end you understand and sympathise with all the characters, even those you despise.

Hopefully one day the Dollmaker will be recognised for the classic that it is.

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Review: The Giant Jumperee

The Giant Jumperee
The Giant Jumperee by Julia Donaldson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

This is a typical Julia Donaldson, and that’s a good thing. The story is short, well written and with a twist that the kids love! There’s no Axel Scheffler and there’s less rhyming than her other books, but the story is sweet with enough characters to keep the reader busy voicing them all!

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