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Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling
Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling
Price: 7.59

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A writing masterclass, 3 Feb 2013
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I must have read a dozen books on writing and the ones by Donald Maass stand out as being the most inspirational and influential. The author is a literary agent in the US and seems to have his finger on the pulse of what sells and why. It's a unique standpoint, as others in the trade seem unable to define why some novels `break out' and others don't. By `breakout', he means novels by unknown or small-time authors that hit the bestseller lists based largely on word-of-mouth. He has a passion for dissecting the appeal of recent breakout bestsellers and how the rest of us can bring out similar qualities in our own writing.

Because he's American, it's based on his experience of the US market but what resonates with fiction readers in the US often follows for the UK. And some of his examples of good writing are from UK authors such as Chris Cleve. If it sounds like the book is just about producing commercial fiction, it's not, it's about making your writing as good as it can be whatever your genre, partly through emotional resonance, which should be relevant to even the most literary of writers. Each chapter finishes with an extensive list of questions and prompts to challenge you to improve your own writing.

If you haven't read any of his books, I'd suggest starting with Writing the Breakout Novel, followed by the Breakout Novel Workbook. After that, the law of diminishing returns kicks in but I still found this one very useful to keep the inspiration going. I was going to read The Fire in Fiction but it wasn't available on Kindle so I went for this one instead. As this is his most recent book, it covers more recent examples of breakout novels.

Don't read this book if you're looking for a conventional how-to-write guide. But if you have an open mind and are prepared to be challenged to take your writing to the next level, you might want to read everything of his you can get your hands on.


The Church of Fear: Inside the Weird World of Scientology
The Church of Fear: Inside the Weird World of Scientology
by John Sweeney
Edition: Paperback

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Taking a stand against $cientology, 30 Jan 2013
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Scientology is a gift to writers: it's bonkers, disturbing and there's conflict within the organisation and outside it, which heaps on human interest drama. This is the second book I've read on the subject. The first was the more meticulous and even-handed `Inside Scientology' by Janet Reitman and while that one was a tad humourless and impersonal, this is the opposite.

It's an engaging read told from the personal viewpoint of a reporter who's been on the receiving end of Scientology's bullying tactics. If you haven't seen his Panorama investigations into Scientology for the BBC, they're both on YouTube and worth a squiz. This book is like a companion guide to the documentaries, going deeper into what happened during his time investigating Scientology. It reads as if John Sweeney has unfinished business with the cult and perhaps unusually for an investigative reporter, he's at the centre of the narrative, purely because Scientology made it personal, even spying on him during his wedding ceremony.

It yomps along nicely on the back of the mad world of Scientology and the author's dry wit. And let's face it, there's a lot to snigger at concerning the bad sci-fi of L. Ron Hubbard, which is still taken seriously today by his followers. But it's the personal stories that really got me. It was most absorbing when covering the stories of walking wounded ex-Scienos and those who've crossed paths with them, in particular, that of Shawn and his lonely crusade. At times it's disturbing and uncomfortable reading. Throughout, we get a sense of the author's decency in the face of Scientology's inhumanity.

Much is made of John Sweeney's run-ins with the handlers, who are brainwashed culties acting on orders from their self-appointed Dear Leader. The book is largely about their attempts to derail his investigation. The celeb Scienos lined up for him to interview were a gift from Xenu but more challenging questions would have been interesting, rather than the repeated `some might say it's a cult' that they were primed for. Why not pursue whether they knew their `confidential' auditing sessions were recorded and how personal information, including details of sex lives has been used against other high profile members who defected?

John Sweeney seems the sort of bloke you could have a pint with and be very comfortable in his company, and that's the matey style in which he writes. The slight downside is that it could do with a good edit - there are typos and in places it could do with smoothing out - I was expecting a more polished expose but this is a writer who is passionate about his subject matter, so the raw feel is understandable. When I say there are typos, I don't mean the ones intentionally left in, from Scientologists' leaked messages to each other in their breathless pursuit of the author, such as this charming little gem: `...I wqaited to get this crap? I can't even believe it. You just can't work or do can you? YS YS YS YS YS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!' YS is code for You Suck. Articulate, no?

It's a brave move to publish an anti-Scientology book in the UK, given our libel laws seem to be weighted in favour of those wealthy enough to initiate action, and God knows, Scientology has form when it comes to legal action against those who speak out. So kudos to John Sweeney for standing up for what he believes in. His deeply-felt convictions make it an absorbing read with a page-turning quality. More than that, his dogged stance against their bullying tactics might make Miscavige think twice about the way he treats people inside and outside of his shady organisation.


Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion
Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion
by Janet Reitman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 16.65

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well researched and fascinating, 15 Dec 2012
If you're interested in Scientology, this provides an in-depth and fascinating insight. The author originally wrote a piece on Scientology for Rolling Stone magazine and developed it into this book. It covers the early days of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, through to the current `Chairman of the Board', David Miscavige and everything in-between from tax evasion, criminality and its disturbing methods of keeping followers under control, through to its dubious reliance on Tom Cruise.

The book benefits from being more impartial than others that are written by ex-insiders with an axe to grind. She has clearly taken a lot of trouble over five years of research to give an objective view of Scientology, which must have been quite a challenge, given how secretive the organisation is and their dubious record for silencing those who publish negative coverage. I imagine one of the challenges of writing this book is not so much what to put in but what to leave out, as there's so much that is controversial, nuts and just plain wrong about Scientology. But I think she gets the balance right and I admire the clear-eyed take on what is a very slippery subject, along with the way she plays it straight, even though it's easy to ridicule the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard. I don't usually read non-fiction but found this very engrossing, mainly because (let's face it) Scientology is crazy bats**t.


With My Body
With My Body
by Nikki Gemmell
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.86

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars In a different class to Fifty Shades, 15 Dec 2012
This review is from: With My Body (Paperback)
This is a beautifully written book and I'm a sucker for good writing but it's probably not everyone's cup of tea. It has a claustrophobic style, partly because it's so painfully well observed and partly because of the unusual way the main character is addressed as `you' throughout.

It begins in rural England, with a stay-at-home mother who is slowly going under from living a life so far removed from her origins and her plan for herself. She's from the Australian bush and before long we're taken back there to be shown her lonely motherless childhood, running wild and barefoot, and her banishment to boarding school in the city, and during the summer holiday her sexual awakening plays out. The pace is slow since every nuance is lived on the page, such is the hyper-focus of her writing. She really takes time to get under the skin of the character in a raw and honest way. I didn't take to the lessons at the start of each chapter and after the first few, I skipped over them. Nor was I that keen on the extremely short chapters, which seemed unnecessary, except as a means to get even more pointless lessons shoehorned in.

The sex didn't do it for me. It was too obsessive, too self-absorbed - the girl's entire summer was made up of sex with an older man. We're led to believe she is the knowing one who does the snaring, but he's an older man and she is a child, which we're reminded of by the amount of times she pokes out her tongue and giggles. We're supposed to appreciate the story of a tender, experienced man teaching the schoolgirl about sex, but it's creepy and so hyper-analysed, it's as if sex is on the curriculum and she's cramming for an exam. He's withholding and holds the power, grooming her down an increasingly tawdry route. I almost wished for her to have an uncomplicated summer romance with a boy closer to her age.

If you're a fan of Fifty Shades, you might want to give this a miss as it's in a different class and is more slow-burn literary sex than mummy porn and doesn't go for cheap thrills. But it's an interesting read and I found the beginning and end - where she's older and wiser - worked better than the 200 pages of sexual obsession in the middle.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 9, 2013 3:38 PM BST


The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile
The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile
by Noah Lukeman
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Do as he says, not as he does, 15 Dec 2012
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For someone giving writing advice, the author doesn't write that well. I've read a lot of books on writing and nearly all of them have been helpful and inspiring but this falls short.

Some of his advice lacks clarity and some even displays the examples of bad writing he's trying to educate out of his readers. Other reviewers have flagged up the idiotic and juvenile examples of bad writing that are far worse than they need to be: in one, he gives us a cleaned-up version of a bad passage of writing, but admits his `after' text isn't that good. Why not? There's no excuse for bad writing in a book on writing. In another childlike example of bad use of punctuation, he gives us an overlong example, then laboriously examines what's lacking by telling not showing. It would be better to illustrate his points with a short `before' and `after' passage but over and over he tells us what's bad without illustrating what's good. He also abuses parentheses throughout and not long after telling us not to overuse them, he uses five sets of parentheses in one paragraph. I could go on but you get the gist: it comes across as lazily written and hypocritical.

It can be helpful to get tips from a literary agent, although he does that annoying thing of complaining about submissions that don't meet his exacting standards, and suggests it's really no trouble at all for us to pander to anal literary agents. He tuts about submissions not being formatted to suit his tastes, when his own book has formatting issues on Kindle, with most pages displaying both left and fully justified text, so he's in no position to preach. And a note to the publisher: the references to page numbers, line numbers and bold text don't relate to the Kindle version.

The negative tone is grating and his fixation on long sections of bad writing with very few good examples suggests he only recognises the bad. His priggish attitude in that respect made me demote it to two stars. Some of the advice is dated and off-putting, so ignore what you don't agree with. It's titled the First Five Pages, making it seem as if there's a magic formula for a successful submission, but it's really a book on how to edit and polish your entire manuscript, so don't expect shortcuts - you'll need to work at it. What a shame the author didn't take his own advice.

A much better resource is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, which I highly recommend.


The Other Daughter
The Other Daughter
Price: 0.77

2.0 out of 5 stars Missing child, missing depth, 9 Oct 2012
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This is a short story on the effect on a family when a child goes missing, never to be found. I tried it because it sounded interesting and was one of the most popular on the list of free Kindle books. I wasn't going to leave a review but I took slight issue with it being touted as a `number one bestseller' when it's not that well written.

In its current state it lacks emotional depth and the author could do with getting a handle on author intrusion and show/tell issues as the heavy handed writing style takes the reader out of the story. The characters are so annoying I wanted to shake them (which might just be me) and the plot is faintly ridiculous. Sorry to not be more positive, I just think it was uploaded too soon and needs to be better developed.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 9, 2012 12:44 PM BST


WAY OF THE PEACEFUL WARRIOR: A Book That Changes Lives
WAY OF THE PEACEFUL WARRIOR: A Book That Changes Lives
Price: 5.65

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Amateurish and certainly not life changing, 22 Sep 2012
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A friend absolutely insisted I read this book and even sent me a link to it. I wish he hadn't. I couldn't believe how dire it was - naive, amateurish and very badly written. It's like one of those free Kindle downloads that you're glad you didn't spend any money on, but unfortunately I did spend money on it.

It's not that I'm a non-believer when it comes to New Age theories, I'm open minded and interested. The stumbling block is that I don't appreciate bad writing and this is terribly written in a way that insults your intelligence. It reads like a first draft and given that it's a full price book, it should at least have been better edited.


Shoot For The Moon Journal (Notebook, Diary)
Shoot For The Moon Journal (Notebook, Diary)
by Peter Pauper Press
Edition: Diary
Price: 7.13

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Starrily good!, 22 Sep 2012
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I was taken by the front cover, and beyond that, it's a sturdy, practical notebook. The cover is made of thick card and the pages are lined and thick enough to write on both sides (useful for cheapskates like me:o). The only drawback is that it's not very smooth to open and close, you have to manoeuvre the cover over the spiral binding. Not a big deal, and overall, I recommend it to anyone shooting for the moon!


The End of Everything
The End of Everything
by Megan Abbott
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.39

5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, dark and engrossing, 22 Sep 2012
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This review is from: The End of Everything (Paperback)
This a beautifully written novel that's darkly sensitive, evocative and utterly convincing. Evie and Lizzie are school friends, neighbours and nearly inseparable. The story is narrated by Lizzie, who has a love affair going on with the Ververs, Evie's family. She's enchanted by them: Evie, her little soulmate; Dusty, her fearsome 17 year old goddess of a sister and most of all, Mr Verver - handsome, fun, charismatic and flawed Mr Verver.

When Evie disappears, Lizzie is irresistibly drawn into discovering what happened and where she is. In the process, she's pulled further into the Verver family and their secrets.

If you're looking for a crime novel with lots of action that gets to the point without dallying along the way, this isn't for you, but if you appreciate really good prose and a subtle story, carefully woven and intelligently told, I recommend this one.


Shadow Sister
Shadow Sister
by Simone van der Vlugt
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.77

3.0 out of 5 stars Believable but not a thrilling thriller, 3 Sep 2012
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This review is from: Shadow Sister (Paperback)
Identical twins, one single and the other married with a child and a job she loves. The novel is translated from the Dutch original, and the translator seems to have done a good job. It's an interesting story, nicely written but it's not pacey and although it starts with an impressive bang, it slows right down after that and I didn't find it very engaging.

The story itself is believable - I could imagine it happening, which is more than can be said for a lot of psychological thrillers. However, the story was hampered by the twin main characters who are terminally dull and one is downright annoying. The other characters aren't much better, which is a shame as more likeable characters might have lifted it. The narrative switches between the twins, which is fine, as they were fairly interchangeable but it was slightly annoying the way it kept jumping back in time. I've liked this approach in other novels but in this one, it didn't always serve much of a purpose and at times it disrupted the flow of the story by going back in time to tell us minor points that weren't really adding anything at that stage. So some of it would have been better in a more chronological order and I wished the author would get to the point.

If you like literary or psychological thrillers that are grounded in reality, give it a whirl but if you prefer your thrillers to be, well, thrilling, this isn't the book for you. It's more of a quiet psycho-drama about family dynamics with a murder tacked on.


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