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New Model Army
New Model Army
by Adam Roberts
Edition: Paperback

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars First section, brilliant. But then..., 29 Dec. 2010
This review is from: New Model Army (Paperback)
A short and punchy piece of speculative fiction which imagines the British Isles of 2030, divided into warring factions and dominated by new model armies fighting an increasingly ineffective and outdated British Army. Roberts closely examines the concept of ultimate democracy, and speculates as to whether it is a driving force that develops smart, strong social groups, or a destructive ideal that bypasses any sense of collective morality. The book also looks at everyday modern technologies like Google maps and wikis, and speculates as to how they could be adapted and used not only to build micro-societies that function successfully as ultimate democracies, but also how they could be used tactically within the context of modern warfare. A third major theme is that of love and trust -- Roberts examines the relationships that form between soldiers engaged in combat together, constantly attempting to define the connection that is formed by individuals within the context of war. All in all it is a surprisingly complex novel, and an enjoyable read. Unfortunately, Roberts has rather failed to balance the necessary confines of the book's genre with its literary aspirations -- the short final section, which attempts a homage to Hobbes' 'Leviathan', feels pretentious and confusing and does not draw the novel to any kind of satisfying conclusion. Far better is the confident first section, in which Roberts sets the scene, vividly and imaginatively depicts scenes of combat and introduces his carefully-drawn narrator, Tony Block. Although Roberts' predictions for a possible near-future are fascinating and well thought out, he fails to effectively resolve any of them -- in fact, the novel seems to spiral out of control and eventually just 'stops', rather than having any kind of real ending. An engaging read filled with a lot of interesting ideas, but due to its frustrating elements, not a book I'd pick up again

Sunshine State
Sunshine State
by James Miller
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't deliver, 29 Dec. 2010
This review is from: Sunshine State (Paperback)
Essentially a spy thriller, the book imagines a post-climate-change world, vastly changed by the melting of polar ice and spiraling further and further from order and morality and ever closer to a world culture of fundamentalism and eugenics. Miller's southern USA is a kind of Christian fundamentalist police state, with Florida set up as a naturally and morally barren buffer-zone in which atheists, homosexuals and non-Christians seek refuge. Miller's protagonist, unfeasibly young and fit Iraq veteran Mark Burrows, is sent into this cultural melting pot to seek out and contain a former fellow soldier who has become a the ringleader of a dangerous radical fundamentalist organisation. Needless to say, the novel begins from an overblown premise -- Miller is rather arrogantly attempting to at once re-write Heart of Darkness AND a satirize the contemporary US socio-political landscape -- and goes steadily downhill from there, managing to deliver characters and plot-twists which are at once ridiculously far-fetched but also depressingly predictable. The scenery in this never-defined future world feels wrong -- social groups, the landscape and the climate are almost unrecognizable, yet the Iraq war feels like a recent event and technology (laptops, mobile phones, cars, weapons, planes) seems to have remained at a standstill. Mark Burrows is a cardboard cutout and yet also the most real of all the characters Miller depicts -- and his methods of depiction are at their worst utterly cringeworthy. Mary, the young hitchhiker Burrows picks up as he journeys to Florida, speaks in a phonetically-spelled Southern-US accent that after a while, hurts to read. All in all the book feels resoundingly hollow, and suspiciously knocked-together-for-cinema-adaptation
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 6, 2013 8:43 PM GMT

The Bradshaw Variations
The Bradshaw Variations
by Rachel Cusk
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £2.98

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Plotless, but effortless, 25 Feb. 2010
A bittersweet and slightly strange family saga, following the fortunes of three brothers and their families as they negotiate middle-age, marriage and parenthood. Thomas, the novel's protagonist, is delightfully frustrating and highly elusive - Cusk skilfully sketches his character in such a way that the reader is desperate to understand him but never seems able to. Does Thomas love his family at all? Is he actually gay? Why is he so detached from everything but his piano lessons? Cusk's main intention seems to be to point out that even the most ordinary - indeed, even the most boring (as all the characters' lives are by turn ordinary and just plain dull) - of people can be fascinating when only a small snippet of their personality is revealed. The characters in the novel are beautifully drawn, and the power-struggles between husbands and wives, mothers and daughters, sinlings and siblings are brilliantly realised. However, the novel is essentially plotless and ultimately pointless as its dedication to depicting `real life' means there can be no climax, no big reveal; so for all the Bradshaws, life just goes on. A beautiful and accomplished piece of literary fiction, and surprisingly gripping and easy to read for a book where very little is challenged or resolved.

White is for Witching
White is for Witching
by Helen Oyeyemi
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Weird, and partly wonderful, 14 Feb. 2010
This review is from: White is for Witching (Hardcover)
OK, where better to start than with a rant, eh? Why oh WHY has this trend for whimsical, naive book covers come along, set up camp and refused to move on? I am really sick of being instantly put off a book because it has a cover that looks like it belongs on the front of something written for the female 8-12 age bracket. STOP IT, publishers! I mean, look at this cover. There are FAIRIES IN THE TREES. I mean it's pretty, yes, but if you read the book, you'll see how off-base the cover really is. Gah!
OK, there. Rant over. On to the book itself...

I was not expecting to like this novel. The cover, as you may have already gathered, had a lot to do with it. But the person who wrote the back cover blurb should also be sacked (I think they were trying to mirror the book's own stop-start, staccato narrative, but they just sounded a bit silly). Basically, I eventually gathered that it's a modern take on the classic Gothic novel... and imagining a bastardization of all the Gothic books I've ever loved (why can people not just leave Wuthering Heights alone?!), I held my nose and prepared for horrors.

It's actually not that bad. It's not utterly fabulous and I probably won't read it again, but it's A Good Read. The story's protagonist is supposedly the absent Lily -- killed while undertaking aid work (I think; this is never made very clear) in Haiti. The four narrative 'voices' (promised by the blurb anyway -- I only counted two, or possibly three, myself) are actually her children, twins Eliot and Miranda, her husband Luc, and their big creepy ghostly supernatural house/B&B, which not only talks but also eats people.
I say 'supposedly' because I actually think the real protagonist is Miranda -- her storyline is dominant, and I was far more interested in what she had to say than anything to do with her mother, who at times felt a bit like a cariacature... her absence allows Oyeyemi the freedom to be lazy in terms of depicting her, and you can sometimes feel that. Miranda on the other hand is very vivid, and fascinating -- she suffers from pica, a rare eating disorder where the sufferer is compelled to eat inedible objects. I liked the way Oyeyemi used Miranda to strike a balance between traditional Gothic themes and contemporary female concerns. I also like the subversion of the Big House theme from Gothic literature -- traditionally, the Gothic protagonist is trapped in a Big House which seems to be somehow alive and plotting against them. Here, the house really is alive, really is plotting against Miranda (and everyone else for that matter) -- it's also muscling in on telling the story, the ultimate unreliable narrator. That was the main thing I liked about this novel -- on the surface, it was just a rather weird, dark little tale. Underneath, though, it was quietly really rather clever.

I was surprised to see people lining up to criticise this book, though I guess I can see why people might not like it. It's dressed up in a pretty cover and looks like a cosy, quirky little book. In fact, it's bloody dark and more than a bit difficult. The narration is very staccato, fragmented and sometimes needlessly weird (single words hanging in the middle of the page for absolutely no reason, etc), and the ever-present-but-never-present Lily is actually more sacharine than intriguing. However, I'm assuming that the OMG-I'd-have-given-it-zero-stars-if-I-could brigade are missing the intertextuality and clever little nods to classic Gothic... because no matter what you think of the original/annoying (delete as appropriate) narration, you can't get away from Oyeyemi's skillful use of both.

by Anita Brookner
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars New to Brookner, 6 Jan. 2010
This review is from: Strangers (Hardcover)
I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of Anita Brookner, until I came across this latest work. Strangers is a rather weird novel -- definitely not what I expected from the cover blurb. Brookner writes in a style that's only a whisker away from old-fashioned... and at times her prose here seems repetitive, but I think that's part of Paul's "voice." Other readers say they found the story depressing, but I'm inclined to think, well, elderly people really live like this, and as one reviewer pointed out, a sad book (if it is well written and engaging) is as worthwhile as a happy, uplifting one. Personally, I am enjoying the novel. I found Paul's character intriguing -- he seems frustratingly selfish but is also justified in his feelings of vulnerability -- and I was curiousthroughout to see if his odd shufflings and strange encounters would actually lead to anything. I think the book's most fascinating turn was the section in which Paul finds out that his cousin Helena has been living a lie -- she preferred to invent a social life than to admit her loneliness, even though the admittance would probably have brought Paul closer to her. It was a heartbreaking moment, and also a well-observed one. It's not a book that's easy to read, but I'm terrible for giving up on prose as soon as I get to a patch that bores me and I didn't put this one down. I probably won't be moved to read it again, but it is definitely A Good Read.

by Ogo Akubue-Ogbata
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.64

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unsettling, but enthralling, 6 Jan. 2010
This review is from: Egg-Larva-Pupa-Woman (Hardcover)
I was expecting to find Egg Larva Pupa Woman heavy-going, but the author has created a narrative that is by turns unsettling, poignant, funny and sad -- but above all, it is incredibly easy to read. I became utterly invested in Nkiru's story and was unable to put the book down until she was finally reconciled with her terrible past. I loved Ogbata's deft use of her protagonist's voice -- Nkiru's character underwent myriad subtle changes from girlhood to motherhood which really brought her to life, and added to the novel's sense of temporality, which was also well realised. In short, the novel far exceeded my expectations, and I am quite sure it will bear reading again and again.

The Sound of Paper: Inspiration and Practical Guidance for Starting the Creative Process
The Sound of Paper: Inspiration and Practical Guidance for Starting the Creative Process
by Julia Cameron
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly excellent., 30 July 2007
Although I am a writer by trade, I am not a fan of 'how to write' guides, and so when I was given Cameron's book I had small hopes. However, after the first few chapters, the book quickly warms up and becomes a real eye-opener and an invaluable tool, for artists of every kind.

Firstly, it helps that this book is not a 'how to' at all, though it may appear like one. In fact, it is a practical study of the artistic psyche -- Cameron explores issues such as what causes writer's block, how to cure it, and how to keep it at bay. The exercises at the end of each chapter are more confidence-builders than writing exercises -- and though some (such as one which recommends that you do some mending!) are a little offbeat, others can be real eye-openers and helpful starting points for creating new work.

Furthermore, Cameron writes from an "I've been there" perspective, and starts every chapter with a little glimpse of her own life, which draws the reader in. She also quotes other artists of her acquaintance and is able to give good examples and make practical suggestions for a more productive and creative life.

This book really has changed the way I approach my writing work. A fantastic read -- inspiring and enormously helpful.

Self-promotion for the Creative Person
Self-promotion for the Creative Person
by Lee Silber
Edition: Paperback

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars No thanks., 30 July 2007
As an artistic person with a forthcoming book to promote, I thought I'd give this book a go. I have a strong marketing background and just wondered what 'offbeat, creative' marketing solutions Silber offers.

The answer is none. This is an absolutely bog-standard get-ahead-in-business-type book. There is nothing creative about it. Silber focusses entirely on product and profit, entirely on selling -- there is no recognition of the fact that buyers of 'creative product' are very different from the buyers of other types of product, and that simple exposure alone (rather than comercial benefit) is often incredibly valuable to an artist.

Silber manages to alienate numerous groups of artistic people, too. In the first few pages he attacks poets, basically saying "there isn't much of a market for poetry. You'll have to reinvent yourself. Sorry." He also takes a dim view of people who are 'scared' to set up their own website or who don't know how to use technology to market themselves -- "how silly" he seems to say.

Furthermore, he reckons his sollutions are "free or nearly free" -- and then recommends flying cross-country (as he apparently did) to a publisher's office in order to "beg" for more publicity.

The book smacks of a non-creative person thinking they can talk down to artists, because apparently no artist knows anything about marketing. Silber has clearly done very well for himself in a non-creative arena. He really ought to stay there.

Smoke and Mirrors
Smoke and Mirrors
by Neil Gaiman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding, 20 July 2007
This review is from: Smoke and Mirrors (Paperback)
Just fabulous.
It was this book that first pitched me headlong into the strange and scary world of Neil Gaiman's writing -- now I am a huge fan. I would recommend this to anyone, whether you like fantasy/sci fi or not, because Neil Gaiman's writing has more to do with how fantasy imitates real life than how it deviates from it.

The people who "didn't get" this book were obviously in the bathroom when the imagination van came around.

Howl: Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript, and Variant Versions, Fully Annotated by Author, with Contemporaneous Correspond (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)
Howl: Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript, and Variant Versions, Fully Annotated by Author, with Contemporaneous Correspond (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)
by Allen Ginsberg
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.33

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ultimate 'Howl.', 20 July 2007
If you're a scholar of the poem, the poet, or even just a dedicated fan, this is the edition to own. Not only do you get to actually see copies of the original manuscript in every stage of the drafting process, the book also includes full correspondence between Ginsberg, his critics, his friends and his family. Barry Miles is a fantastic Ginsberg biogapher and Beat Generation scholar, and makes the perfect editor for this excellent book.

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