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George Kelly (London)

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Price: £2.49

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars He's mastered it . . ., 20 April 2014
This review is from: Mastery (Kindle Edition)
“The brain that we possess is the work of six million years of development, and more than anything else, this evolution of the brain was designed to lead us to mastery . . .”

In Mastery, Robert Greene (bestselling author of 48 Laws of Power) tackles an interesting subject: the principles of success and intelligence.

There are many people who believe success is down to good fortune, or nepotism, or it’s accidental—a by-product of dumb luck. They also believe geniuses are born that way, as if their intelligence and ingenuity is hardwired into their DNA. But the truth is we’re all designed to succeed; we can all reach a level of mastery. It doesn’t take talent—not entirely—but instead, success and mastery requires tenacity and discipline; and above all, a thirst for knowledge: a deep-rooted desire to chase your dream and acquire all the skills (and more) in your chosen field.

And Robert Greene, with this in mind, delves deep into this theory, drawing from an exhaustive well of past-and-present high-achievers and geniuses, flitting seamlessly between stories of Mozart to Einstein to Edison and Darwin. Writing with depth and conviction, and fusing his own beliefs with examples of success (along with the occasional neuroscience and psychology facts), Greene not only delivers on his premise, but also paints a wonderful picture of historical (and present day) figures, making this both a self-help manual and an entertaining history book.

The continual insights into mastery, gleaned from hundreds of years of past successes, add weight to the words, and the sense of authenticity bolsters Greene’s opinions, giving them an authority and power that another author might have failed to serve. The book is engaging throughout and teaches the audience in a relatable way, without boring or preaching. And, ultimately, the stories work to inspire the reader with a deep and inarticulate yearning to succeed, whether it be in everyday life or your career.

If you want to succeed in a particular field, this book will push you on the right path. And if you don’t want to succeed (what’s wrong with you?), read it anyway. It’s worth the journey.

Price: £2.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious, 17 April 2014
This review is from: Candyland (Kindle Edition)
"The brunette is telling Ben what he's done with the space is truly remarkable. She's a lawyer with the firm, and he can't possibly imagine her knowing anything at all about matters architectural, so he guesses she's flirting with him, although in an arcane legal sort of way . . ."

Candyland was co-written by two writers, who are actually the same writer: Ed McBain and Evan Hunter. The novel is split into two distinct parts, like two novels put back to back: the one written by Evan Hunter—and the one written by his pseudonym Ed McBain. (In actual fact both names are a pseudonym for his real name, but I can’t be bothered to get into that before this whole section gets too convoluted and confusing).

The first part of the novel is a hilarious insight into the fractured mind of a sex addict. We follow Benjamin Thorpe who is in New York for the night, away from his wife, and looking for sex. It’s by far the strongest section of the two, and could easily be sold separately as a novella, with only a tweak or two to the end, just to give it more of a conclusion.
The second part, the Ed McBain part, is told from the perspective of a rape-homicide detective Emma Boyle, who is investigating the death of a hooker. In the first part of the novel, Benjamin Thorpe came into contact with this same hooker, and along the way he naturally becomes a suspect, thus tying the two sections of the novel together. We, the readers, do not know whether he has killed the hooker or not, so the suspense and mystery is sustained throughout the second part and it definitely holds the attention, although not as much as the first. It's more of a by-the-numbers cop investigation, which is Ed McBain’s forte.

However, this doesn't ruin the enjoyment to be had from this novel. Read separately, the two parts could work on their own, and read together they work nicely too, one story complimenting and alluding to the other. Overall it's a good read, a fun novel written by two of the greats—meaning one of the greats, Ed McBain, who unfortunately passed away after a long battle against cancer a few years back.

But a word of warning: if you’re offended by swear words, or you're a prude, you shouldn't read this—both plots revolve around sex, and the language is explicit from page one.

For everyone else, make sure you check it out, especially the first section. You'll (probably) love it.

Write Good or Die
Write Good or Die
Price: £0.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Bad, Not Great, 17 April 2014
This review is from: Write Good or Die (Kindle Edition)
“Each writer only knows one set of truths, and those things are only true for that particular writer . . .”

Write Good Or Die is a collection of writing articles from a selection of published and unknown authors. The advice and subjects vary, as does their relevance. There’s no structure to the book: no unifying themes or thoughts or overarching point. It’s merely a mass of articles—some good, some bad—much like Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies but without the consistency, intelligence and wit of that book.

Much of the advice is obvious or clichéd and most aspiring authors will have already read or learned it elsewhere. However, a few pieces of gold can be found amongst all the rubble. Plus it’s free and a quick read, so it’s worth checking out. Just don’t expect for it to change your outlook on writing, or unlock a secret key to success.

Download it, skim it, then delete it and move on to something better.

Price: £8.34

4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, terrifying, well-researched., 16 April 2014
This review is from: Columbine (Kindle Edition)
“A terrifying affliction had infested America’s small towns and suburbs: the school shooter . . .”

Columbine is the in-depth account of the infamous Columbine High School shooting, committed in April 1999 by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. A decade in the making, Dave Cullen spent endless hours researching all the available evidence and poring over thousands of pages of witness testimony, police reports, newspaper articles, diary entries, psychiatric opinions and theories, and any other related literature on the subject of Columbine. He also interviewed a slew of people, including many of the survivors and survivors’ families, along with police officers, FBI agents, teachers, and local pastors. He immersed himself in his work, and it shows.

Referencing multiple sources, Cullen works to debunk many of the rumours, myths, lies, and half-truths that circulate around the tragedy. On top of that, he offers every small and relevant detail about the case, sifting through the minutiae of the killers’ lives and dragging us into their reality. He further draws the reader into the action by painting the victims and survivors as if characters in a novel, taking the reader on a journey, making us care about how it all ends. And even though the main bulk of information could be found in an hour-long documentary on YouTube, that doesn’t make Columbine any less gripping.

It’s a testament to Dave Cullen’s skills as a journalist and writer that we join this story at the beginning and follow it through a fractured past-and-present structure, a seamless puzzle between the murders, the pre-murder, and the aftermath, and stay locked in the entire way, wanting to know how it all ends (something we already know). And along this path of destruction, we learn every single detail—important and otherwise; the inside, outside, downside, all side of Columbine and what really happened that day.

The painstaking research lends credence to the book, and the writing and structure gives it the air and feel of a fictional thriller novel.

It’s long, and at times laborious or depressing reading, but it’s worth every second of it. If you didn’t want to know about Columbine before, you soon will.

The Double (Spero Lucas Book 2)
The Double (Spero Lucas Book 2)
Price: £5.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Double The Action, Half The Depth, 16 April 2014
“When he walked down the street or into a bar, women noticed him. Some of them got damp . . .”

George Pelecanos is the author of almost twenty novels. He’s worked as a writer and producer on the critically acclaimed HBO series The Wire, and, more recently, has production and writing credits on Treme. His work, for the most part, is centred on the ghetto and criminal activities within Washington. Esquire called him “the poet laureate of the D.C. crime world”.

In The Double—his latest foray into the underbelly of Washington—Pelecanos revisits a recent creation of his: Spero Lucas. First seen in The Cut, Spero’s an Iraq war veteran who now works as a kind of private eye, usually at the request of the attorney he works for. He knows how to locate things, and all he asks for is a forty percent cut of whatever bounty he manages to reclaim. This time around, the item in question is an expensive painting. Spero accepts the task and starts searching, which leads him into a world of scam-artists, sexually aggressive sociopaths, gun-toting murderers, and a whole plethora of equally despicable people. Alongside this, Spero meets a woman—a one-night stand that turns into something more; something that threatens to cloud his judgement, to make him weak.

From the start, The Double grips the reader, drawing us into the plot within a few pages. Pelecanos’ pared down, almost script-like prose, sets the pace well and works to build the tension and intrigue early on. However, the story soon loses steam, and the plot is perfunctory, following a predictable formula that Pelecanos has rehashed numerous times now. There are no real twists, turns, or complexities. It’s merely a straight road to the finish line. Nothing challenges the reader.

On top of that, the characters are, for the most part, one-dimensional. There’s nothing truly memorable or particularly interesting about them. We’re occasionally shown glimpses of something—a moment of pathos or intelligence or skill. But collectively, they’re just pawns on Pelecanos’ stacked chessboard of criminal cutouts. And the dialogue, although realistic-sounding, tends to be samey and lacking depth, much like the characters themselves. They all engage in the same witty banter, Pelecanos working his way through a repetitive strain of jokes and insults, usually one character commenting on another character’s choice of clothing. It’s authentically written, and people do—especially men—mock their friends’ dress wear on occasion, or their choice in music, or their failure with women. But Pelecanos writes conversations like this so often that they lose their power and become stale.

Criticisms aside, The Double is still an engaging novel with plenty to enjoy: gunfights, sex scenes, moral ambiguity, and a satisfying conclusion.

Just be aware of the limitations.

And read it anyway.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
by Malcolm Gladwell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and informative, 3 April 2014
“How does a thirty-dollar pair of shoes go from a handful of downtown Manhattan hipsters and designers to every mall in America in the space of two years?”

The Tipping Point is about the moment when something—a video, a fashion trend, a business idea—‘tips’ and goes viral. Malcolm Gladwell, an eminent psychologist, delves into the reasons why some things ‘tip’, and others fade away into extinction. It’s an interesting subject and Gladwell produces his theory in a relatable way, presenting his thoughts and opinions in a conversational manner, whilst managing to slip in a variety of modern-day psychology to back up his theories. Gladwell’s aware of his audience: the psychology aspect is easily accessible to the average reader, although he manages to do this without dumbing it down too much. He also uses plenty of anecdotes and statistics to solidify his thesis, which gives further credence to his concept.

Aside from putting forth his theory on tipping points, Gladwell further plunges into the foibles, paradoxes, and idiosyncrasies of the human mind and how it affects us as people and society at large, citing numerous studies to reinforce his points. These apparent digressions, however, always link back to the central subject.

Essentially, underneath the surface of entertainment, this book is an insightful, witty guide to successful marketing; it offers a cross-section of examples from recent times, and would be useful for any up-and-coming entrepreneurs or established businesses that are seeking to expand on their brand. Artists, novelists, and musicians looking for a wider audience will also benefit from reading The Tipping Point.

If, however, you’re simply searching for knowledge with no real desire to utilise the information within, this is still worth the read. It’s both illuminating and quizzical. Gladwell’s book is something that will simultaneously appeal to both the business world and the easily distracted minds of the average reader.

It’s only a matter of time before the book ‘tips’.

And rightfully so.

250 Things You Should Know About Writing
250 Things You Should Know About Writing
Price: £0.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and Puerile (in a good way). Recommended., 2 April 2014
Chuck Wendig, author of The Blue Blazes (and other novels that I’ve never heard of), dishes out 250 tips/opinions about writing. Each piece of advice (or rant, or comment) is written in a concise, humorous paragraph or two, and primarily littered with swear words. The advice, for the most part, is good, but there’s a chance some people will lose it amongst the rubble of Chuck’s twisted (and entertaining) sense of humour. Also, due to the length of each section, Chuck rarely elaborates on his points, which works for someone who already understands the mechanics of writing but might be annoying or frustrating to amateurs hoping to learn the fundamentals.

In essence, it’s a refresher guide: a quick, funny reminder of all the writing techniques and tips you probably already know. If you’re a beginner, however, it might not be the best teaching tool—but it’s worth a read anyway.

Unless you’re easily offended.

Then—stay away. Stay far, far away.

Price: £3.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Devil Has Never Been Prettier, 17 Mar. 2014
This review is from: Horns (Kindle Edition)
For those who don’t know, Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King. And even though having a famous author for a father clearly helped Hill’s work gain extra exposure, that doesn’t detract from his obvious skills as a writer. If Heart-Shaped Box showed a debut author with flare, good humour, a twisted mind, and heaps of potential, then this novel solidifies him as a serious talent to keep an eye out for.

Horns is the story of Ignatius Perrish, a young man who wakes up one morning with a hangover, horns on his head, and the ability to hear people’s deepest, most evil thoughts, with just a touch of their skin. And even if he doesn’t touch them, they tell him their sins anyway, unknowingly pouring out their darkest desires to him. He doesn’t want to know, they don’t want to tell him, and yet it happens.

I want to screw my daughter.
I’m attracted to dogs.
I punch my wife in the ribs when no one’s around.
I defecated on my boss’s car last Christmas.

The confessions stream out, and at first, the story follows Ig on his journey, from house to house, person to person, following him as he comes to terms with this painful—but hilarious for us—power he’s been cursed with. Or maybe it’s a gift, something he soon realises: a way for him to finally uncover the truth of his girlfriend’s rape and murder. Ig has been suspect numero uno for as long as anyone remembers, and despite the case being thrown out of court due to a lack of evidence (it was all burned up), the town still thinks he did it. They know he did, and they hate him. And so using his newfound curse/gift, Ig is able to find out some answers and eventually piece together the sick and twisted puzzle of his girlfriend’s murder, which ultimately leads to a big showdown and a satisfying ending.

And aside from the initial concept (which probably started off as a cute idea for a short story that gradually developed into something bigger), the novel itself is packed with so much more than just a gimmick: it’s the perfect onion novel. Every time you think you know about a character, or a scene, Hill peels away another layer to reveal a different facet to the story. Layer upon layers are stripped as each chapter progresses, twisting the plot in multiple directions, and drawing the reader in deeper to Hill’s beautifully drawn world of darkness and fire.

The writing is strong throughout, the dialogue sharp and witty, the plot well-thought out and executed, and the themes of redemption and the power of sin are all intricately woven into the text, neither feeling obtrusive, forced, or preachy.

If the book is any indicator of Hill’s future, then I imagine he’ll soon become just as big and successful as his father, both with critics and fans alike.

And rightfully so.

Telling Lies for Fun & Profit
Telling Lies for Fun & Profit
Price: £4.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Highly Recommended, 25 Feb. 2014
“During this time I had read perhaps a dozen lesbian novels . . .” -- Lawrence Block.

A number of years ago Lawrence Block—a now prolific crime author—was contracted to pen a monthly column about the craft of writing. Telling Lies For Fun And Profit is a collection of those articles: four years’ worth, spread out over a few hundred pages, and sectioned into five different parts.

As for the content itself, Block, writing with an informal conversational style, offers the reader his years of experience and wisdom, flitting from one subject to the next, sometimes going deep on a subject, sometimes elaborating on his advice or passing along a task for the reader to perform; other times, choosing an anecdote from his career to further shine light on his ideas and writing choices. He seemingly covers every aspect of fiction, and runs through a gamut of possible-issues an amateur writer might come up against, dumping a wealth of knowledge in the process, as well as giving the reader plenty of insider tricks and a deeper insight into his writing influences.

However, if you’re looking for a more technical, in-depth guide to writing, this isn’t it. Block writes almost autobiographically, telling the audience about his own pitfalls and mistakes in his career, and the rules he’s learned over the years—but it’s all in a relaxed style. There’s nothing as distinct or solid as other writing manuals. No set rules of DO NOT WRITE THIS but DO WRITE THIS. Much the same as Stephen King’s On Writing, it’s like having a private conversation with a master of the craft; a humorous, pleasant, long conversation that you never want to end. And that’s a good thing—Block understands that writing can’t be broken down to a set of strict rules. There are certain conventions a writer needs to follow, and there are clear signs between bad writing and good writing. Everything else is just opinion.

What works for Block, might not work for you. Everyone has to find their own niche, their own way of doing things. And this is Block’s way. It might not define your career, or change your outlook or style or even your techniques, but it’s an interesting book and will at least add a layer to your knowledge of writing.

Check it out. Then check out some of his novels, too.

The Lonely Dead
The Lonely Dead
Price: £3.49

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as The Straw Men, 21 Feb. 2014
This review is from: The Lonely Dead (Kindle Edition)
The Lonely Dead is the sequel to Michael Marshall's successful serial killer novel The Straw Men.

The story picks up a few months on from the end of the last book with a bloated fifteen-page prologue. And for the first 50 pages or so, the writing's kind of wooden, almost as if Michael Marshall was writing without any direction or purpose. Even the dialogue seems forced, the whole mess stilted from page one until it suddenly finds its rhythm and evens out. However, in spite of it improving, there were still times when I was lost in the story. This is because Michael Marshall writes the book from about fifty different perspectives.

There's one main character, writing in first person, then there's about four or five other participating characters, all who have their own strand within the book in third person--which became confusing and hard to keep up with at times, especially when Michael Marshall then gave supporting minor characters their own strand of narrative for the short time they appear in the book. Sometimes characters would go a whole chapter without a part, just for their part of the story to be picked up again in the next chapter. At one stage a main character was shot, then went missing for about twenty or thirty pages during the next chapter, then came back and it took me a moment or two to realign my thoughts and remember what had happened before. This book is definitely not for the type of reader who takes their time, dipping in and out every few days -- you're bound to forget some of the key players and their back-stories and you might get to wondering what exactly is going on in places.

Plus there are a few more elements that have been thrown in this time, not just horror and crime; such as the possibility of ghosts and creatures from the lagoon and some other Sci-Fi type stuff, which some people might not like or get. I didn't mind it, as such, although that part of the story is left without any resolution or explanation, so hopefully Marshall will delve into that more in the next instalment of the series.

Also, finally, Marshall has this annoying writing technique which he picked up from who-knows-where. He does this thing where he cuts words down almost to bullet points, presumably to speed up the writing. For example, something like this (which I've made up):

"Johnny turned. Saw Danger. Reached for his pistol. Brought it to eye level. Pulled the trigger. The bullet tore through skull. The man was dead."

Now I know this kind of bullet-point writing can be effective from time to time, but my problem is that Marshall uses this technique way too often, and usually for no reason at all other than to speed up a sentence here and there. And the reason it doesn't work is because it becomes part of his style, and it's too noticeable as a technique and takes away from the prose rather than adding to it. Usually his sentences are seamless, the prose fluid, but this is like a flashing beacon that says you're reading. I don't know why he does it, but maybe he'll break out of it. Probably not, though. Not unless he reads this, and then definitely not. You know what these stubborn authors are like . . .

Anyway, in conclusion, the book has its moments, and it's a good read, but nowhere near on the level as The Straw Men--plus it's pretty convoluted and at times confusing. Pushing that aside, though, the writing is strong (once you get past the beginning) and the characters are written well, although not as fleshed out as in the first novel, which is to be expected--and overall it's an enjoyable read and worth suffering through the bad parts for.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 23, 2014 7:23 PM GMT

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