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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Review: Swimming Home

Swimming Home
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the first Man Booker short-listed book that I struggled with (bare in mind I haven’t read Will Self’s Umbrella which I’m expecting to be the second). More of a novella that a novel, the clunky text, maybe to contrast against the poet’s prose or to highlight the disturbed emotions of the characters, made it a chore to read. The words didn’t have a rhythm and felt as jarring as someone trying to make sense of my stammer; it kept making me aware of the narrator more than the content.

There was some nice imagery, such as the rain, but for me this was just a so-so read.

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Review: Atonement

Atonement
Atonement by Ian McEwan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I struggled with this book, almost laying it to rest on at least a couple of occasions. The prose was so bloated in the first one hundred pages, paragraphs of nothingness spanning multiple pages, that it became a chore to read. Several friends suggested I persist, and I did, making it to the end where like a marathon, the satisfaction of crossing the finishing line was stronger than the joy of the experience. It was a tough read, a battle to get to the end, and I do feel ignorant for not liking it more than I did, especially given the critical praise the book has received.

Yep, some sections I enjoyed, such as the French chapter, and yep, the characters were strongly defined, they were all believable, but I’d struggle to recommend this book to others.

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