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And This Is True
And This Is True
by Emily Mackie
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brave and compelling, 8 July 2010
This review is from: And This Is True (Hardcover)
Emily Mackie is clearly a novelist unafraid of taking risks. A female author writing her first novel from a the viewpoint of a 15 year-old boy is bold enough; throw into the mix that 15 year-old boy's incestuous desire for his father, and it becomes clear that `playing it safe' simply wasn't an option. But perhaps the biggest surprise is that Mackie largely pulls it off.

Protagonist Nevis has lived a nomadic existence with his father Marshall for most of his life, travelling the country in a camper van with no formal education and no other company. He's encouraged to live life in the moment, with little value placed on memories; with Nevis's absent mother largely forgotten, his father becomes the all-encompassing focus of his life. But when Marshall discovers the true nature of his son's feelings, he decides to combat this by giving him a more `normal' life, and attempts to consign the van and their time on the road to history too. However, Nevis is less willing to forget, and becomes obsessed with remembering and the concept of truth.

`And This Is True' works because Mackie successfully creates a believable voice for Nevis, and is unapologetic in dealing with a controversial and at times disturbing subject. In the same way that Nevis never quite gets the 100% absolute truth he craves, certain issues are left unresolved for the reader, creating a believable if slightly frustrating climax. If there's anything to criticise here, it's the way creative writing course techniques creep in at times; elements of the structure, including the self-consciously non-linear timeline and the at times unreliable narration, come across as attempts to please a tutor rather than a reader. However, that shouldn't put you off trying out an engaging and highly promising debut.

One More Stop
One More Stop
by Lois Walden
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Engaging but flawed, 8 July 2010
This review is from: One More Stop (Paperback)
20 years after the death of her mother Beatrice, touring drama teacher Loli Greene finds herself in a dying farming town of the same name, convinced this is the place she will finally fit the pieces of her life together and escape past and present demons. Over the course of Loli's literal journey across America, Walden reveals in a fashionably non-linear style the figurative journey that has lead to her current troubled state. Loli is a vivid, naturally appealing character that most readers will instantly route for, and it is largely this that will keep you hooked. However, there are obvious flaws in Walden's debut novel that prevent it being the resounding success it could be.

In early chapters of the book Loli's thoughts are revealed in short, deliberately fragmented sentences, as if she were sharing her life on Twitter rather than allowing us access to her innermost thoughts. This technique not only falls somewhat flat, but also abruptly seems to end halfway through the book for no apparent reason. Key obstacles to Loli's happiness are resolved suspiciously quickly more than once, most notably her troubled relationship with her father; having wished him dead in one moment, she's phoning him up the next purely because he called her first, and forgives a lifetime of hurt almost instantly because he sounds like a broken man. Loli falls in love with a divorced mother on arrival in Beatrice; said woman almost immediately returns her love, despite having had no previous interest in her own sex. Loli's involvement in a cult in the wake of her mother's death also ends with no real denouement.

There is much to love in `One More Stop', and Walden clearly has a talent for characterisation. But by the time the reader reaches the last page, he or she may be left wondering if a few chapters went missing somewhere.

Bonfire Of The Brands: How I Learnt to Live Without Labels: How I Learned to Live Without Labels
Bonfire Of The Brands: How I Learnt to Live Without Labels: How I Learned to Live Without Labels
by Neil Boorman
Edition: Paperback

7 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't fall for this pointless publicity stunt, 27 Mar. 2008
So Neil Boorman has changed his life and gone 'brand-free' has he? I take it then that this book is not actually published by major publishing house Canongate; that's a printing error is it? Was it written on handmade paper? After all, Boorman couldn't possibly have composed it on a branded PC or Macintosh, could he? And of course his book won't be sold through major high street chains and international web retailers, will it? Its appearance on Amazon must be some kind of computer error which I imagine he's fighting to rectify as we speak. And I'm sure he hasn't spent a penny of the money he's made from it on branded goods - perhaps he burnt all the cash, as he did with all his branded clothes (allegedly).

This book is one long publicity stunt that does nothing to make a serious point about consumerism. Why burn all his branded clothing; why not give it to charity and do something to genuinely help others? There's a simple answer to that question; giving goods to charity helps others, but it doesn't get you a nice fat advance on a book. Not much anti-consumerism about that, is there?
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 16, 2008 4:14 PM BST

The Facts of Life
The Facts of Life
by Patrick Gale
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An engrossing epic, 12 Dec. 2007
This review is from: The Facts of Life (Paperback)
Like Gale's most famous novel, 'Rough Music', 'The Facts of Life' features two narratives several years apart concerning the same family. While the two threads are not interweaved in the same way as 'Rough Music', and do not have the same obvious link, both prove gripping reads, and the strong characterisation of Edward Pepper is retained throughout. As is common in Gale's work, a key theme is homosexuality and its complexities, but it would be unfair to pigeonhole this purely as 'gay literature' - anyone who appreciates strong storytelling will enjoy this novel. The contrasts between Edward and Jamie, the similarities between Sally and Alison and the three key deaths all provide particularly strong moments; and fans of Joan Collins are sure to indulge in a wry grin at the character of Myra Toye...

Life Skills
Life Skills
by Katie Fforde
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Low on realism and excitement, high on predictability, 6 Dec. 2007
This review is from: Life Skills (Paperback)
If you're reading a lightweight `30-something woman doesn't know where she's going in life' novel, you generally know what to expect. The plots are usually predictable, and not what keeps you interested; it's how the author and the characters get to the inevitable ending that counts. Judy Astley is a great example of an author who knows how to turn a predictable plot into a charming read through strong characterisation and sharp dialogue. On the evidence of Life Skills, Katie Fforde isn't. From the first page the reader can see what will happen on the last, and none of the characters or situations are interesting enough to make you care what happens in between. Realism also appears to be sadly absent from the book too. Lead character Julia begins the book as a country estate agent - yet cannot drive. A recurring theme is the truth behind why Julia was sacked, but the real mystery seems to be how she got the job in the first place. Unfortunately by the time everything is tied up in a neat little package in the end, one crucial element to any novel - the reader's interest - has long since evaporated.

Death Duty
Death Duty
by Clare Littleford
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Some great sections, but too long and over-detailed, 14 Sept. 2004
This review is from: Death Duty (Paperback)
'Death Duty' is a dark tale of a social worker from Nottingham drawn into the world of two brothers, with disastrous consequences for all involved. While very well-written, there are major problems with the structure of the book. If you read the sleeve notes, it tells you author Littleford is an ex-social worker from Nottingham - and this is where the book's biggest fault lies. Littleford packs it with minute detail about Nottingham, right down to the names of the roads the protagonist travels down on her route to ASDA! This irrelevant information adds nothing to the plot, only serving to bog down the action. It's a great shame, because the ending in particular is excellent, but because this book is around 100 pages too long in the middle, less patient readers might not get there.

The Queen and I
The Queen and I
by Sue Townsend
Edition: Paperback

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilariously funny and very human, 27 Nov. 2003
This review is from: The Queen and I (Paperback)
Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole books are justifiably hugely popular, but her other work shouldn't be ignored, especially this hugely funny novel. Set at the time of the 1992 General Election, John Major's real-life shock win is replaced by another even bigger shock - the election of republican Jack Barker. The entire Royal family stripped of its wealth and dumped on a hellhole Midlands council estate.
The comedy potential in this is obvious, but because Townsend is such a gifted comic writer she really makes the most of it. Even though most of us don't 'know' the Royal family, we all have pre-conceived ideas of what they're like as people, and Townsend plays on this brilliantly.
The Queen herself is the strongest character, perhaps inevitably, but other members of the family come to life well, and the residents of Hell Close are also vividly drawn and endearing in their own unique way. You'll laugh at this novel throughout, but what makes it special is the fact that you'll also feel sympathy for the Queen (she is never referred to as Elizabeth by the narrator) as she struggles to cope with an everyday life she's never had.
One warning: this was set five years before the death of Princess Diana. She is portrayed as somewhat dippy in this novel - although not in a malicious way - and some may find this difficult to cope with now. But otherwise this is an almost perfect comic novel that you will enjoy again and again. A modern classic.

Blood and Guts in High School
Blood and Guts in High School
by Kathy Acker
Edition: Paperback

15 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Tries too hard to be controversial, 30 Oct. 2003
'Blood and Guts...' isn't so much a novel as a loose mix of novel, poetry and artwork. It's form is in many ways groundbreaking. Unfortunately, as with many texts that try to subvert readers' expectations and experiment with form/language etc., a plot has been decreed unneccessary.
This text is meant to provoke shock, outrage and disgust in many, but many texts that can provoke these extreme emotions will affect readers profoundly and stay with them for a long time. This will just make most people think 'what was the point of that?'
The violence, sex and above all the swearing are just gratuitous and largely ineffective. I'm no prude, but when every other word is an obscenity, the words lose their power. This book is a tedious, overblown 'look at me, aren't I provocative?' exercise. The only reason to read it is the novelty value of having read one of the worst novels of all time.

Innocent Eyes
Innocent Eyes
Offered by wantitcheaper
Price: £3.23

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A hugely promising debut with some real stand-out tracks, 24 Oct. 2003
This review is from: Innocent Eyes (Audio CD)
My first thoughts on hearing Delta Goodrem was releasing a record? 'Great, another bland actress turned pop puppet'. One listen of her debut single 'Born to Try' changed all that.
Delta is a talented singer, pianist and writer - and as the blurb on this product page says, her PR people are keen to push that. But why not when it's all true? Rather than the usual 10 track pop disc, this is a mix of piano ballads and lively tunes with soft rock elements, and is surprisingly long for a debut at 14 tracks.
Hit singles 'Born to Try', 'Lost Without You' and title track 'Innocent Eyes' all stand out, but these aren't the only memorable moments. 'Predictable', 'Not Me, Not I' and 'Throw it Away' all deserve a mention, as does 'Longer', wasted as the B-side of 'Born to Try'.
The only thing that stops this album from getting a fifth star is that towards the end, a couple of the tracks become samey, and you feel the producers were perhaps too keen to include everything Delta herself wrote to push the 'young, pretty AND she writes it!' image. But these certainly don't spoil this very promising debut. If she gets her second album right, Delta Goodrem could leave the tag of Neighbours actress turned popstar far behind her.

Cat's Eye
Cat's Eye
by Margaret Atwood
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.80

20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Atwood's writing as strong as ever, 23 Oct. 2003
This review is from: Cat's Eye (Paperback)
As a writer myself (largely unpublished I'm afraid), I read Margaret Atwood and regularly find myself thinking 'I wish I'd written that'. Her prose is always beautifully written and compelling, and she has a habit of finding the perfect phrase to describe an event or emotion.
This expertise is displayed strongly in 'Cat's Eye'. The mind games played between the teenage Elaine and Cordelia, and the lasting effect they have on Elaine's adult life, are told in a way that makes us believe Atwood has been there. Only the most expert male author - or pyschologist! - could understand the adolescent girl in this way; this really is the woman's inside view.
A reservation many have about Atwood is that her novels on occasion become a showcase for her excellent prose, ahead of a real plot. This is the one thing that let's 'Cat's Eye' down. By the end you know all about Elaine, but you were someone to ask you 'so what happens in this book?', you might well struggle to answer.
This is far more noticeable in some of Atwood's other work, and 'Cat's Eye' is still very compelling. But for her best work, I recommend 'The Handmaid's Tale' and 'The Blind Assassin', which both combine her superb writing and plots that will have you turning pages frantically until the very last.

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