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Michael Faulkner "Proofreader|author, The Blue Cabin" (Strangford Lough, N. Ireland)

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Frankie vs The Pirate Pillagers: Book 1 (Frankie's Magic Football)
Frankie vs The Pirate Pillagers: Book 1 (Frankie's Magic Football)
by Frank Lampard
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'There's always time for a game', 1 July 2013
I got this for a friend's seven-year-old and will no doubt receive informed feedback in due course, as he's football mad - I'm not, but I did read it because I love children's books, and I was charmed I must say.

The premise reminded me of one of my all-time favourite movies, Big, with Tom Hanks (which interestingly was co-written by Anne Spielberg, sister of Steven, although Penny Marshall directed) and it's a neat premise because it has potential to take you anywhere. Frankie wins a beaten-up old football at a fairground and without giving the story away, the ball takes Frankie, his friends Charlie and Louise and his dog Max on a magical journey to the ocean main, where they have to win a game against a bunch of pirates in the Fantasy League if they are ever to return home..

I see that one reviewer here rather unfairly doubted whether it was written by Frank Lampard at all, which he should take as a compliment because he writes very well - writing for children requires discipline and quite a light touch, and IMHO he shows both. You can't help liking the hero - he loves his mum, insists on fair play and doesn't like to show off, although he has the skills.. My favourite line is where Charlie steps on Lou's console and cracks the screen. She thinks it's broken, and her dad always told her not to take it out of the house, so this is bad. Frankie puts his hand on her shoulder and says solemnly, 'It might still work.' Excellent :)

Whether I send for the rest of the series as the titles are released will depend on said feedback from seven-year-old, but I see there's one called Frankie vs the Cowboy's Crew, and that's mine because I may not be into football but I'm definitely into westerns.

Oz: Around Australia on a Triumph
Oz: Around Australia on a Triumph
by Geoff Hill
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Made me jealous, 8 Jan. 2011
Oz is the story of the authors' three-month, 15,000-mile road trip, counter-clockwise around Australia's fabled Highway One from Adelaide to Adelaide, aboard a pair of Triumph Tigers.

It's a trip I'd love to make myself, and I always enjoy Geoff Hill's writing, so it's no surprise that I really enjoyed the read. The book is co-written with fellow journalist Colin O'Carroll, and they take a page or two by turns. This works surprisingly well because although there are two distinct voices, they complement one another - Hill dispensing wry observations with his easy style and typically offbeat humour; O'Carroll (who spent his youth in Australia, refers to Australians as 'us' and is clearly on an emotional as well as an epic journey) giving it to us straight by comparison; but both men sharing their love of adventure and the open road with an exuberance which is infectious. This is Geoff Hill on Queensland's Great Dividing Range:

'...we swooped and dived through lush grassland, copse and sugar plantations, on a road of such seductive curves that if it had been a woman , you would have married it and had its children, never mind the pain.
Finally, as the sun kissed the gold and azure sky farewell for another day...there was the Koorawatha Motel on our left, so sudden that we almost shot past it. We rolled up the gravel drive to its front door, laughing with happiness at the day to end all days.'

I forgive Hill and O'Carroll their appalling omission when they got to Longreach, gateway to the outback, in choosing to experience, respectively, the Qantas Founders Museum and a free barbeque in the local Rotary Park, instead of the Stockman's Hall of Fame, because Hill is a flier, O'Carroll obviously likes his tucker and it's still a great book - but it very nearly cost them the fifth star, as the Stockman's will be a highlight of my trip, if I ever make it..

Travels With Macy
Travels With Macy
by Bruce Fogle
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it, 22 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Travels With Macy (Paperback)
If you own a dog, enjoy travel writing or have an interest in North America, I can thoroughly recommend Travels With Macy.

It is enlightening, witty, involving - and extremely well written. It tells the story of the author's journey round rural and small-town North America, broadly following the route taken by Steinbeck in his 1962 classic, Travels With Charley. For transport, Fogle chose an iconic thirty-year-old GMC motorhome, and for company his adored - and adorable - golden retriever Macy. Their adventures are recounted with the exuberance of Macy herself, and after covering 10,000 miles in the author's easy company I felt that I had gained a new insight into the rich diversity of a continent which is often surprisingly - and in a nice way - out of step with the march of time.

'Is there anything better', says Fogle, 'than bacon and eggs, buttered toast and dark coffee, all by yourself on a cloudless morning, on a mountain top under the big blue sky of Montana?' Well, no. This is one of so many passages where I found myself nodding, and smiling. Along the way, Fogle talks freely to the people he meets, itinerants like himself in RV camps and pull-offs, farmers, pump attendants and fellow dog-lovers; and it says much about the man that he finds these people almost universally giving, of their stories, their politics and, strikingly, their hospitality, in return.

Towards the end of the book Fogle says, 'I hadn't expected to fall in love', and although he's referring specifically to the charms of Northern New Mexico, he also means the continent at large, the place of his birth, and if I understand him correctly - 'home'.

Jamie's America
Jamie's America
by Jamie Oliver
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.67

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Passionate and down to earth at the same time - excellent, 9 Sept. 2009
This review is from: Jamie's America (Hardcover)
This is a really refreshing book. I hope it doesn't automatically disqualify me from writing a review that I'm not a cook..

My wife is though, and although she can turn her hand to anything we have a special interest in American, particularly Mexican American food, having travelled a fair amount in New Mexico and California. Watching (I think) the first programme in the television series, which covers Hispanic East LA, we were pleased, though not really surprised, to find that Jamie's mission (doesn't he always have a mission) was to get to the beating heart of the areas he was going to cover, and to ignore what he calls the cliches of American cuisine - eg. junk food and supersizing. In the book's Introduction he says, 'What is real American family life like?...what is the American reality?' and of course, 'What is real American food all about?'

The book, like the programmes so far, answers all three down to earth questions in Jamie Oliver's typically down to earth style. He writes the way he talks, which is to say directly to you, whoever you are, without a hint of pretentiousness. He reminds me a bit of Rick Stein in this way.

There are six sections: New York, Louisiana, Arizona, Los Angeles, Georgia and Wild West. Each has an introductory spread followed by a couple of dozen recipes, with a full page photo of each dish beside its recipe, and double-page photo collages interspersed throughout which have lots of narrative value in themselves.

By coincidence, Jamie's first night in East LA was Oscar night. He stayed with a Hispanic family within sight of the Hollywood sign, and he makes a telling comparison between the glitz of the Oscars and the reality of this deprived and sometimes dangerous community. But that is very much the style of the book. In New York, he dives straight into the immigrant communities - European, Far Eastern and South American - to find out what THEY cook, for themselves, at home. Great idea, and when he does find out, he cooks for them himself, adding his own take of course - and the recipes are here.

When you add to the integrity of the mission, the fact that the book is so well produced - a relaxed format, quite eclectic typography, David Loftus's wonderful photos and photo collages and even the texture of the paper all contribute to a book which begs to be handled - you've got a winning combination.

We live on an island and I was dispatched by boat the day after the first programme in the series, to get hold of the book before it sold out. No danger - you can't move without seeing the book, it seems to be everywhere. But there's a reason for that!

Pontoon: A Lake Wobegon Novel (Lake Wobegon Series)
Pontoon: A Lake Wobegon Novel (Lake Wobegon Series)
by Garrison Keillor
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Go Evelyn!, 1 April 2009
`There's a lot of human nature in everyone.' So says Evelyn Peterson, Pontoon's 82-year-old heroine - larger than life, recently deceased - and to prove her point Garrison Keillor packs a world of colour and character into this excellent novel.

Having read or listened to dozens of Keillor's Lake Wobegon pieces over the years, I can say that this is as good as any or better. You always feel that even in his novels he is writing for speech, which is a great strength and makes for an easy rhythm that trips the reader along from page to page - once aboard, it's a physical effort to step off. In terms of style and tone, Keillor has perfect pitch. He can change tense and point of view three times in a sentence and it still flows like honey; it's as if he sits down at the keyboard and whole paragraphs come out fully formed. It helps that the novel has such a memorable opening sentence - `Evelyn was an insomniac, so when they say she died in her sleep, you have to question that.' - but from then on, one sentence leads to another and suddenly you're on page two hundred and forty-eight.

As usual, his characters are just that. Often introduced as caricatures, the dialogue is so real and the layers so skilfully built upon by action and back story that they become entirely believable - we recognise those we don't like and empathise with those we do. Beginning with Evelyn Peterson's death, the main narrative takes place over just a few days. Having led an exotic double life since the rekindling of a sixty-year-old romance, the last thing Evelyn wanted was a sober Lutheran funeral and she has requested that her ashes be dropped into Lake Wobegon in a bowling ball (she and Raoul had enjoyed bowling together). The ceremony is scheduled for Saturday, coincidentally the day of two other events: Debbie Detmer's equally unorthodox `celebration of commitment' to her partner Brent, at the other end of the lake, and a champagne barbeque on board the pontoon boat The Agnes D for twenty-four Danish Lutherans on a two-week tour of the United States.

As the clash of these competing events, or what's left of them, draws near and the narrative builds to a climax which manages to be both poignant and funny, we are taken from pathos through drama to comedy, high farce and back to pathos.

Pontoon is a beautifully crafted and highly enjoyable read.

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them
Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them
by Francine Prose
Edition: Paperback

50 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Useful and highly enjoyable, 22 Feb. 2009
The title struck a chord because when I read a good book I'm forever stopping and thinking, `How did she do that?' or `Where did that construction come from?' - and whereas I've always thought of this as a bad idea because it tends to interrupt the flow, Francine Prose actively encourages the habit and indeed demonstrates how to indulge it in forensic detail.

I found Reading Like a Writer quite fascinating. It takes the reader on a crash course in close reading, starting at the level of single words and sentences, then paragraphs, dialogue etc. to explore the writer's intentions with a particular inflection or form of words, and demonstrating that what we enjoy as rhythmic, lucid prose which engages us and carries the narrative along, is the result of careful choices, often so subtle as to be near-invisible. Every point is illustrated by example, and if the list of writers is subjective I would say that's inevitable, perhaps crucial - it's certainly wide enough, and there are several writers whose work I'm keen to explore now that I've been introduced to them.

The author clearly enjoys breaking the `rules' - we share a suspicion of the writing-course mantra `Show, don't tell' - and the final chapter on Chekov, rule-breaker par excellence, shows that we are in good company.
I would recommend the book to anyone interested in good prose, whether to read it or write it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 12, 2011 11:59 AM BST

Nantucket: Island Living
Nantucket: Island Living
by Leslie Linsley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.00

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A treat, 1 Jan. 2009
I gave this book to my wife for Christmas and borrowed it back the next day. Eventually I was forced to return it and I'm pleased to say she is now enjoying it as much as I did.

Nantucket Island Living is a sumptuous portrait of a special and highly individual place. Nantucket lies thirty miles off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and according to the author it is the island's isolation that accounts for its charm, in two particular ways: its distinctive weathered shingle homes reflect the simple, functional demands of it's early influences - a solid Quaker outlook and the self-reliance of a population that accommodated itself to the elements and made a living from the sea; but after the demise of the whaling industry Nantucket managed to reinvent itself as the ultimate island getaway for affluent second-homers and holiday makers, who recognised that it's history and traditions were its greatest assets and should not be subsumed, as so often happens elsewhere, by the trappings of commercialism. The resulting balance of the quaint with the sophisticated is beautifully captured here in both words and images.

What struck me most, though, is that wherever it might appear on the map, and whether fashionably cosmopolitan or untouched and untamed, an island is an island. 3,500 miles from Nantucket, on the other side of the Atlantic, my wife and I happen to live on an otherwise uninhabited island, and the two could not be more different; but reading of the author's love of her adopted home, and seeing through the photographs how completely the islanders' experience is shaped by the water, I can see that we have much in common.

This is a highly successful collaboration between writer and photographer. I recommend it.

Plug Your Book! Online Book Marketing for Authors: Online Book Marketing for Authors, Book Publicity Through Social Networking
Plug Your Book! Online Book Marketing for Authors: Online Book Marketing for Authors, Book Publicity Through Social Networking
by Steve Weber
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent resource, 7 Nov. 2008
I sent for Steve Weber's book because I was aware that unless a title becomes a big seller by the conventional routes of endorsements, reviews, features, the enthusiasm of bookshop managers and of course word of mouth; then there comes a time when the only realistic way to maintain it's currency, and to invoke the elusive Long Tail of marketing, is by putting some effort into online sales, particularly through Amazon.

What I discovered is not only that there are numerous tried and tested strategies for directing internet users to your book, including imaginative use of the marketing tools on Amazon itself, and the use of social networking and bookmarking sites; but also that these strategies should really be implemented early on - in many cases, well before publication.

What I liked most about Weber's book is that it doesn't remotely recommend any of the sleight of hand or shady practice sometimes associated with online marketing, spamming etc. On the contrary, the key things are practicality, courtesy and good old fashioned hard work.

Every author should have a copy.

Anyway, Where Was I?: Geoff Hill's Alternative A-Z of the World
Anyway, Where Was I?: Geoff Hill's Alternative A-Z of the World
by Geoff Hill
Edition: Paperback

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No-one does it better, 1 Nov. 2008
I so enjoyed this book.

First of all, it's hilarious. If you like to go to sleep with a smile on your face I suggest you keep it on your bedside table - you could open it at random and find something to chuckle at.

But (and it's a big but), these travel pieces, while funny, are not gratuitously funny, by which I mean a)that they are written with great elegance and economy of style, and b)that for Geoff Hill, humour seems to be simply the natural conduit for the important business of communicating his obvious (and infectious) passion for travel; for getting to the beating heart of the places he finds himself and the people he meets; and above all, for leaving us better informed. As in his previous books, political comment, historical reference and general observation may be dispensed with a spoonful of the author's quirky and irreverent sense of humour, but they aren't diluted by it. So: `..the amazing thing about China, as Mao found, is that there are so many people in it you can remove millions of them without anyone noticing.' Or a typically Hill observation on the habits of Italian motorists: `Simultaneously engaged in a stormy marriage with the throttle pedal and a passionate affair with the brake, Italian drivers view pedestrians with the same sort of hungry scorn that lions view three-legged wildebeest. Hardly worth the effort, but may as well kill them anyway.'

For me, particularly in non-fiction, and particularly when you are asked to share the author's experiences - to come along for the ride - it helps if you get the feeling you would like them if you met them; and Geoff Hill comes across as a most congenial travelling companion.

My recommendation: a strong Buy!

The Telling Year
The Telling Year
by Malachi O'Doherty
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.50

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking, 25 Sept. 2008
This review is from: The Telling Year (Paperback)
It is so hard to return to this bewildering, terrifying and, in the end, seemingly hopeless chapter in Northern Ireland's history - so tempting to fast forward to later heroic efforts at political inclusiveness, to de-escalation and of course to the recent peace process - that I wasn't sure how much I would 'enjoy' this account by Malachi O'Doherty of his first year as a journalist in Belfast.

1972 was the year of Bloody Sunday, direct rule, Bloody Friday, the first big ceasefire that wasn't, the emergence (or re-emergence) of loyalist paramilitarism, and, more appalling than anything else in the troubles, random sectarian violence and murder.

The book's title is - forgive me - telling: had events taken another turn, it could so easily have been The 'Momentous' Year. If I understand him correctly, one of the author's central points is that after the prorogation of Stormont, had the IRA realised, or conceded, or perhaps agreed amongst themselves, that their only realistically attainable goal while there existed a de facto majority in Northern Ireland in favour of the union - a future with in which unionists and nationalists would work together in government - had effectively been met; then years of suffering might have been avoided. It's a good point, and well made by someone who had a bigger stake than many in the resolution of the conflict. O'Doherty lived in the barricaded Riverdale estate in Andersonstown, where many of his neighbours were either IRA, or IRA auxiliaries, or IRA sympathisers and where it could be difficult - that's to say dangerous - to remain neutral. Some of the most eye-opening passages of the book are about his everyday interactions with ordinary people who, depending on your point of view, are either terrorists or the bloke next door. In the end, these conflicting perceptions prove impossible to reconcile, but I do respect his courage in trying.

While sufficiently in tune with the aspirations of the IRA to understand that, far from being a disparate, undisciplined and rudderless bunch of thugs, they actually had a logical strategy, O'Doherty comes across as a fair-minded, compassionate and often bewildered commentator who abhors violence and simply seeks to understand what is going on around him. In this almost diarised account, he describes, with self-deprecating humour, his first job as a young reporter at the long-defunct tabloid Sunday News, which 'looked into the miasma of political chaos, not for the thread that would explain it, but just for intriguing elements'; and manages, perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, to interweave the kind of shrewd analysis which anyone with a desire to understand the complexities of the conflict would do well to read.

The Telling Year is thoughtful, well-written and full of insight.

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