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Review: Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity

Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity
Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a short read, a collection of essays from the past four decades, in the style Stephen King’s On Writing – autobiographical with a few morsels of advice on creativity thrown in.

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Review: The Last One

The Last One
The Last One by Alexandra Oliva
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

There’s not many books, especially debuts, where within the first few pages the quality, the craftsmanship, the attention to detail, makes you realise you’re reading something special. Oliva’s The Last One falls squarely into that category. From the moment Zoo’s voice entered my head in the second section, I was hooked, racing through the book in just a couple of days. Comparisons, not unkindly, will be made to Station Eleven (on genre), and The Night Circus (on style), both of which also blew me away. As with Station Eleven, it’s easy to find fault in the author’s post-apocalyptic world, but that’s not the point. Just lie back and let the quality of the prose, the strength of the voice, wash over you. This is story telling at its best.

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Review: The Amateur Marriage

The Amateur Marriage
The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Anne Tyler is one of the greats. The subtlety of her writing, the huge swathes left unsaid, allows the reader to mirror their own experiences onto her character’s. I’ve read much of her work, and though her writing style is consistent, the uniqueness of her voice and the depth of her characters, make her books classics. She writes about humdrum, no thrills, no spills, just average people going about their average lives. The Amateur Marriage, in my opinion, is one of her best, and given the quality of her writing, that makes this quite exceptional.

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Review: Dear Amy

Dear Amy
Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Note: this book was supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

I liked this book. It’s a fairly standard psychological thriller, but nicely done and paced to hold the interest. The writing was good, some lovely prose in places. I did feel Margot was a bit too wobbly at times, but a small criticism for an otherwise solid read.

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Review: The Art of Perspective: Who Tells the Story

The Art of Perspective: Who Tells the Story
The Art of Perspective: Who Tells the Story by Christopher Castellani
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As Castellani says, “in devising and drafting a narrative strategy, an author makes all sorts of craft decisions that influence how the work will be read and enjoyed”. He adds that the language can seduce the reader, maintaining the staying power of the work. It’s both of these that won me over – the book opens with his account of an incident in Philadelphia, the quality of the writing and the questions posed made it clear that this book will be truly memorable. He goes on to analyse the work of other writers (E.M. Forster, Grace Paley, etc.), hardening his points by recommending other sources (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted talk, John Gardner’s book, etc.), to show how those narrative decisions can make or break a novel. The book becomes more academic towards the end, losing some of the passion of those early chapters, but it’s a must read for anyone interested in the construction of fiction.

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Review: Hunger

Hunger
Hunger by Michael Grant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Despite this second instalment having some good themes (anti-hero uprising, food shortages, etc.), I enjoyed it less that Gone. It’s turning into one of those series where you just know however bad it looks, the lead characters are going to emerge alive. Hopefully Lies will have more surprises. Still, it’s good stuff, so a solid 4 rating.

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Review: Gone

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: Talking About Detective Fiction

Talking About Detective Fiction
Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not quite the book I was expecting – this is a history of the genre rather than a how-to guide. Still, an interesting read, though I did skim some of repetitive sections towards the end.

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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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