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on 16 October 2005
This is not the sort of book I would normally read, but was curious to see why it won the R&J competition. The moment I began reading it I could not put it down and was pulled into a world which was both unsettling and haunting. Even when I put it down I still felt I was in the story, and couldn't wait to get back to find out what was going to happen next. It's certainly a page turner - and the characters sweep you along with them. The writer has created a wonderful, enthralling but dark world with her use of words - sometimes poetic. It's not a comfortable read though. I found it challenging and thought provoking and the ending came as a whopping surprise. I'm still recovering!
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I started this and fell in love with it, to the extent that I recommended it to several friends. I read the first third of it in a day and was eagerly lloking forward to completing it.

The first third of the book is beautifully written, reminding me a lot of Margaret Atwood's style. It drew me in and had me hooked. However, when I continued on I'm afraid I fell out of love with it pretty damn quickly. The main character was the only one I felt I knew, the rest being merely used to progress the plot with no idea of their motivation or thoughts. When the action moved from the Olive Country the book completely fell apart for me. It was so rushed, simplistic, under developed, under explained, hackneyed and trite.

The author was obviously suffering from having to rush to meet a tight deadline and it really showed in the shift in her style and pace of writing. I'd have given this 1 star but gave it 2 as a concession to the fact that the first third of it was a great book, shame about the rest though. It's a shame for the author herself too as I can't imagine she can have been happy at the end result of her 18 years hard work; at least I only spent a few hours reading it!
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on 30 October 2005
Christine Aziz's first novel, The Olive Readers, was the winner of the Richard and Judy 'How to Get Published' competition. And while it certainly has some interesting paragraphs and some choice descriptive passages, you constantly get the impression whilst reading it that had the competition not promised a prize of publication to the winner, this novel would not have seen the light of day.
For while the use of language is often admirable, it winds itself around a story that feels woefully underdeveloped, which is a shame, as the background concept - which was infinitely better utilised in one of the stories within David Mitchell's excellent Cloud Atlas - certainly had the potential to provide an entralling tale.
Unfortunately, the storyline is not given the time and space to develop, and this is the same of the characters as well. While there could and should be real people there, they are just too little developed to draw the reader into empathising with them, and come across for the main part as two-dimensional objects.
Without wishing to go into too much detail and give away some of the themes woven in by the author, many of the concepts that underpin the novel - such as the nature and ambitions of the corporations, the relationship of the protagonist to the historical Maya figure, and the 'sphinx' device are either hackneyed or ill-explored. And this is the fatal weakness of the book. The pacing, too,seems to have been overlooked completely: the first half of the novel is relatively measured, but once the love interest has been removed from the picture, the story rushes onwards trying to tie the few plot details up in as short a time as possible. If this was indeed the author's intent, then the goal has been achieved admirably in that every problem that faces the protagonist and the world is easily and rapidly solved without any problems, hold-ups or resistance. The all-powerful 'evil' corporation against which the central character is pitted offers no resistance to her at all, explaining to her it's secrets without the merest hesitation. This is done in the manner of the old children's programmes where the villain would explain the evil scheme to the hero, who has been tied up and faces an imminent demise. The enemy of The Olive Readers, however, does not even bother to tie up its nemesis or pose any physical threat to her at all - it rather welcomes her into the heart of its power base, gives her a tour of its secrets and lamely does nothing while she tears down its means of control.
While the concept had a fair amount of potential, sadly the book feels entirely rushed, and the resolution of the world's problems comes about far too easily. Christine Aziz can certainly string an elegant sentence together every so often, but I hope that her next novel is altogether better realised, and given the time, space and passion to develop that it needs. Sadly, I would doubt that I will be picking up a copy of her next book, should it be published, to find out.
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VINE VOICEon 28 November 2006
The early chapters of this book showed great promise, but unfortunately it deteriorated in the second half.

The basic plot idea is good, and (as other reviewers have said) it could have developed into a classic of science fiction. I also loved the use of language in the early chapters, and (again like other reviewers) was reminded of Margaret Atwood.

However, the second half of the book deteriorated horribly (she says it was written in a rush - and it shows!). There are all sorts of "continuity errors" that better editing should have captured; the charactersiations are shallow, and the plot clearly wasn't thought through at all, so that it deteriorates into a sort of teenage "James Bond" drivel at the end - surely only children think that the moment you capture the holy grail (sorry, "sphinx") everything wrong in the world is magically and instantly put right!

I do hope this author gets her act together and writes another novel that is properly planned and executed - I will be watching with interest.
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on 16 November 2005
The Richard and Judy judges were very brave to select this unique and hugely imaginative book ahead of more orthodox contenders. It is based very much in the future but the links to our present are clear and stark.
It has a gripping and intriguing story line which is taken along by a beautiful use of language which at time is quite breathtaking.
Here is a first time author who can really write and whose thinking challenges the reader to go into areas they rarely think about.
I think this will be the first of a number of successful titles.
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on 6 May 2006
I only read this book because it was chosen by my book club. I found it a complete waste of time, with so many good books out there to read.

I didn't find anything in this story credible. The characters were "character-less"; we never learned of their real thoughts or feelings, as all their emotions were described by actions, for some strange reason. Also, the characters hardly had any TIME for emotions, as they were sent rushing through this story. There are huge lackings in explanations on how the world had developed into the futuristic stage described. We're never given a credible reason to believe in the technology and science of this new world either. The writer seems to have had a couple of good ideas for the plot, but has ignored the fact that to tell a good story she needs to evoke feelings in the reader, make the reader curious, make it interesting by giving the story substance, whitch is totally lacking in this story unfortunately. The work seems rushed and unfinished, and I was left with a completely empty feeling, thinking that this has not given me anything at all (other than anger for wasted time). I'm very surprised this book won the right to be published. Can't believe the publishers read this before they printed it...? Somehow I don't think we'll see another book by Christine Aziz.
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on 24 November 2006
I bought this novel thinking it was going to be a book about books - which it was - but the book spirals downwards into the most ridiculous ending I have ever come across. The 'sphinx' device left me extremely confused. I have no idea what the author was thinking but it seems to me that she wrote it in a rush. Some of the early parts reminded me of Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake. Also, like 1984, it gives us a warning of what we are doing to the world and of what we stand to lose.
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on 19 March 2006
The author admits that the first half of this book was written over 18 years and the second half to a tight deadline - and doesn't it just show it! Whilst the first half is intriguing and relatively gripping, the end is of the 'and with one bound he was free' type.
As science fiction there is not enough, or rather there is only hazily understood, science with devices introduced to suit the needs of the heroine's quest without any explanation of how they work or came to exist. Bearing in mind the basic premise that the world has been divided into Companies rather than Countries it seems strange that technology has survived at all outside the (never mentioned) IT Company. As a novel the plotting is dreadful.
The main food for thought having finished this book is dissecting the logical flaws and the inconsistencies of the characters.
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on 12 March 2013
I seem to remember that this was the first book Richard and Judy chose - but I haven't even seen it passed on second hand in the British Heart Foundation shop recently. I do admit that there were aspects to it that did not seem quite usual - about the style of writing etc - which was not easily ignorable or senselessly fluent. The story was about the dangers of Monopoly - only one or two companies own absolutely everything - except an underground library in Greece - which I think pops up again in one of the Dr Who episodes. All the water is owned and the company/ies that own it exploit their power. There is frightening ritualistic stuff in it that is horrifying - there seems to be a mixture of the highly developed wrongly sophistication and superstitous witchcraft/wizard stuff to excuse lust.

The worries that are voiced in this book have been re-enforced by a new Monopoly Game that has been brought to my attention - it says on the right hand corner 'University Games' - it is called 'Anti-Monopoly' but it says on the right hand bottom corner it is made by Hasbro still. However, on the back it says it is made by Paul Lamond Games - and seems to have been made both in China and Australia. There is a card enclosed saying 'Instructions for Competitors' (red side) which directs:

2. Go to tram company.
3. Pay bank 75 euros or dollars - can't make out sign.
4. Collect 25 euros or dollars from each monopolist.
5. Go to electricity company.
6. Pay bank 25 (of the thingys)
7. Go to Champs-Elysees in Paris.
8. Collect 75 from bank.
9. Go to start.
10. Pay bank 50.
11. Collect 50 from bank.
12. Go to price war.

Then, on the back - it says Instructions for Monopolists in blue and says

2. Go to start.
3. Collect 75 from bank.
4. Go to Champs Elysees in Paris.
5. Pay bank 75.
6. Go to electricity company.
7. Collect 50 from bank.
8. Go to station.
9. Pay bank 50.
10. Collect 25 from each competitor.
11. Go straight to prison.
12. Pay bank 25.

I'm not sure who the Monopolist(s) are if they are also not allowed to be competitors. There is a bit of foam in the tin, some small ticket like paper money attempt and some cards with Electricity company on front - with a picture of a plug (two pronged) and London Picadilly on back (the back of the card) - which says it can be bought for 165 of them (the notation thingys).

P.S. Do we know what happened to this writer once she'd won the Richard and Judy prize?
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on 27 July 2006
I love the idea of the story told in this book. There are some very original ideas and with a more even hand could have been turned into a classic of modern science fiction. Unfortunetly, it really didnt turn out that way. The writing is quite immature in places, I felt I was reading a school essay. I wonder if Ms Aziz got her readership confused? At times the book reads like an adult novel and at others it was closer to teen fiction. The second section of the book spirals downwards into the most ridiculous ending I have ever come across. I have no idea what the author was thinking but it is very obvious that it was written in a rush. I do hope that Ms Aziz continues to write, as she obviously has some original ideas, maybe a better editor would help next time round! I certainly wont be buying her next book in hardback!
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