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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Review: The Best of Adam Sharp

The Best of Adam Sharp
The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

I loved this book, it’s like Nick Hornby for a maturer audience. Maybe because I’m more or less the same age as Dooglas, or maybe because I’ve had some of the same experiences, but something in the writing and the characters resonated. Adam’s thoughts are passionately and eloquently expressed, and the whole book had a very believable feel. I was worried at the start that the constant references to music and piano technique would start to grate, but instead it was handled with subtlety and added to Adam’s persona.

My only issue, and a minor one, is that you can tell that Graeme Simsion works in IT. All complex matters of the heart were reduced to simple problems, resolvable with a single solution. That’s possible in IT, less likely when emotions are involved.

Well worth a read!

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Review: Behind Her Eyes

Behind Her Eyes
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

I was really enjoying this book. The writing had the urgency and passion of Gone Girl, and both have a lead character whose scheming offers intrigue and suspense. Great, loved it, flying through the pages, dying to know more.

Then I hit Part 3.

Christopher Castellani, in his excellent book ‘The Art of Perspective,’ says that the first few pages of a novel serve as a contract between the reader and the author, establishing the narrative strategy and the style to expect. In ‘Behind Her Eyes’ the first two parts strongly defined what to expect, i.e. ‘Gone Girl 2’, but without ruining the twists, Part 3 didn’t just throw a spanner into the works, it emptied the entire toolbox. I could see where the book was going, enough hints had been laid, but I just hoped it was a tease and it would veer away. Sadly it didn’t.

This is difficult to rate as the ending didn’t work for me, but, since the writing is good and the characters are well formed, it would be unfair to give it less that a 4!

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Review: Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur

Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur
Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur by Derek Sivers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I came across Derek Sivers from the Tim Ferriss podcast. He gave a brilliant interview about a year ago where he talked about his start-up, CDBaby, and the decisions that allowed the company and himself to be successful (while defining what ‘successful’ means). Most of the information from that interview is contained within this book, some of the stories are pretty much word for word so I suspect they’ve been told them a few times by now. It’s easy to criticise the length of this book, it comes in at a slip of 88 pages, but given the podcast was free and I enjoyed both, I consider this as payment for both. I’ve bought a couple of Tim Ferriss books using the same rationale!

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Review: A Spool of Blue Thread

A Spool of Blue Thread
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

This is the third Anne Tyler book I’ve read, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them all. Her themes are consistent – families appearing content hiding underlying problems that they themselves are unaware of. As always, the writing is sparse, the words not said mattering as much as those laid down on the page. Anne has said in interviews that this will be her last novel. The only consolation is that she’s been prolific – her twenty novels means there’s still plenty for me to read.

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Review: Productivity for Creative People

Productivity for Creative People
Productivity for Creative People by Mark McGuinness
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I suspect Mark McGuinness and Steven Pressfield are good friends. I discovered this free ebook from a link on Steven’s site, and Mark frequently references Steven’s acclaimed The War of Art in this book. Still, since you’re judged by your associates, this doesn’t harm either of them – both are talented and knowledgeable in the field of creativity.

This book is a quick read, a taster for Mark’s other publications and websites, but crammed with useful suggestions on managing your time to focus on the important things in your life – whether that be family, friends, or your creativity.

Well worth a read.

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Review: Author in Progress: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published

Author in Progress: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published
Author in Progress: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published by Therese Walsh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Writer Unboxed is a web-based community of writers, some traditionally published, some self-published while others write as a hobby, but everyone within the community wants to learn more about the craft and to share their experiences. I was sent an ARC of Author In Progress for an impartial review as I’m a member of that community. The thing is, though this is impartial, I knew I was going to love it even before it arrived.

One of the benefits of being in the WU community, is that every few days one of their essays arrives in my inbox. The topics of these essays vary hugely, ranging from where to find ideas on what to write, to how to deal with agents once those ideas are moulded into fully-formed novels. Some of the essays are from authors whose books I already own and whose views I value (Donald Maass and Dave King for example), others are from unpublished members of the community who despite their amateur label still have experiences that can benefit the group.

Author In Progress takes these essays (I’m not sure if they’ve been written fresh for the book or whether they’re recycled or adapted from their website) and groups them into the various phases of writing – preparation, writing, editing, etc. All essays are short, 4-5 pages, so the book is easy to dip in and out of. With such a wide range of topics and voices, some essays resonate stronger than others, but just because some, for me, missed the mark today, it doesn’t mean they won’t have greater value when I’m further down the writer’s path tomorrow.

My only criticism is that I would’ve liked to have seen a couple of essays on the nuts and bolts of writing, something akin to Dave King’s co-written Self Editing for Fiction Writers, but that’s only a minor point. With over 50 authors giving advice on all aspects of writing and the publishing industry, you’re guaranteed to find something of interest.

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