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4.5 out of 5 stars
Life! Death! Prizes!
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on 3 May 2012
This is a terrific story that grabs you on page one and keeps you reading right to the last sentence. Stephen May's portrayal of 19-year-old Billy trying to be a 'dad' to his little brother after their mum's murder is beautifully realised. May gets straight to the heart of the story in unflinching detail. His prose his clear, poetic and he manages to inject humour, drama and tremendous pathos into this sharply observed contemporary story. The narrative has such drive that you simply have to read it in as few sittings as possible. TV producers, listen up - this would make a great screen drama.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 16 March 2015
Here's the thing - I didn't buy the characters, the premise is hard to swallow, substantial developments in the story are unrealistic, and on close reflection a lot of the plot doesn't make sense. But I admired and enjoyed the book anyway. There are bits - set scenes, throwaway lines, little moments of insight and honesty and authenticity - that are beautifully handled and nicely captured.

And as I think about it, there are many well loved or at least appreciated books that are carried by completely unconvincing characters or totally implausible story lines. This isn't supposed to be a "realistic" novel in the angry young man tradition. It isn't slice of life or kitchen sink drama. It isn't a sprawling epic or an historical fiction or a classic bildungsroman. There are touches of all those styles, but mostly the novel provides an opportunity for the author to riff on all manner of contemporary issues, and to explore questions of family and identity and sibling love, through the eyes, mind, and heart of a character who is articulate, wise, flawed, young, and idealized in a way that only good fiction allows.

The book has variously been described as raw, funny, heartfelt, sad, comic, gritty, heartbreaking, confused, happy, bleak, wry and tender. It is all that. It is confessional, almost more like a journal or diary turned into a running narrative, and if you like the hero's voice and are interested in what he's interested in, (or if you just like tight, sharp word craft), I would think you would enjoy this a great deal.

Please note that I received a free ecopy of this book in exchange for a candid review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.
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VINE VOICEon 16 September 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
19 year old Billy Smith's mum was knocked to the ground and killed in a street robbery gone wrong. Billy is left to look after his 6 year old brother, Oscar, and try and cope with all that life is throwing at him now his mum isn't around.

This is a touching story of a teenage lad's struggle to care for Oscar on his own. You can tell that he's making mistakes even though he thinks he's doing great, but as the reader I found myself wanting him to succeed. This book also has its funny bits, as Billy tells the story himself and he has quite a sarcastic tone of voice that made me smile and laugh out loud at stages. The title of the book relates to the kind of magazines that feature Life! Death! Prizes! as something on the cover to draw people in, and inside there are bizarre tales that seem to be made up they are so odd. Billy uses them as a way of rationalising what happened to his own mother, sort of a way of seeing how mundane it was. His relationship with Oscar is lovely and he really does try to make it work.

I really enjoyed this story. It's very contemporary in style and kind of raw. It's very well written too and drew me right into Billy and Oscar's world.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 11 December 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Nineteen year old Billy strives to adjust after the sudden death of his larger than life mother Suzanne. Bills mount - as does pressure from relatives, school, social services. He is out of his depth, but one thing is for sure. Nobody will take away his little brother Oscar. If all else fails, there could be one of those devastating outcomes featured with such relish in the trashy "Life! Death! Prizes!" papers he reads....

A rite of passage tale, wincingly of our times. All the way through there are acerbic reflections on current trends - general decay, lawlessness, ingenious new ways of fleecing the vulnerable. Billy himself is no angel, capable of erupting if thwarted, but his loyalty to Oscar is very moving indeed. Particularly worrying is his state of mind, it at times teetering close to the edge - hopefully not ultimately heading in the direction seems.

Much here is grim. Much is heartrending. Much too is achingly funny. Take, for example, the Wake. Damp hugs and platitudes, most of those present steadily succumbing to drink - two nipping off to the garden shed for conduct inappropriate. Take Billy's confrontation with Oscar's headmistress Mrs. Bingley, she all drapes and jangles. Note especially what Oscar said to cause Billy to be summoned.

Meanwhile what of Aidan Jebb, the youth on the run ever since Suzanne died? His was the mugging that went so horribly wrong....

Totally involving, with the stirring of emotions more often dormant.

Squirm. Cry. Laugh.

Most of all, praise.
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VINE VOICEon 20 May 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
It's rare nowadays that I pick up a book which is so well-written that it keeps me gripped throughout, but this novel is an example of this. I was intrigued to read that it was author, Stephen May's second book, with talent like this you'd be mistaken in think he'd be better known than he currently is.

The plot of the novel centres on Southwood resident (a fictionalised Essex town), nineteen-year-old Billy Smith, whose mother, Suzanne is murdered by a local hoodlum in a bungled mugging. Billy has to juggle the care of his six-year-old half-brother, Oscar with the wants and needs of his Aunt Toni and Oscar's estranged father, Dean plus the hierarchy of the PTA mothers at the school. Also, his job at the local museum and on/off relationship with Lucy Avis, a teacher adds to his worries as he seeks out the truth behind his mother's demise.

If the title of the book is somewhat confusing it concerns a fictional magazine along the same lines as `Take a Break', `Chat' or `That's Life' - you know the ones, full of true life stories of death, births, misery, puzzles and prizes. The dialogue and social comment in this book are fantastic and at 275 pages it was the perfect length. The characterisation was brilliant too; May really brings his characters to life, which is fairly ironic when you consider how rounded the late Suzanne appeared to be on the page.

To conclude: a brilliant novel, recommended to anyone who enjoys a stonking good read allied with a social conscience.
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on 13 November 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Misery Lit is not my genre of choice. I don't purposely go out to read a biography of how someone was abused as a child. I can only imagine that a lot of people who read this type of book do so in a `there but for the grace of God go I' fashion - their life is not as bad. Billy, the protagonist of `Life! Death! Prizes!' would agree with me, he reads glossy magazines full of depressing stories just to put his own sad life in perspective; his mother recently killed after a botch mugging, the killer on the loose, and now Billy has to look after his 6 year old brother.

If only one thing stays with you after reading `Life!' it will be the voice of Billy. His is a truly effecting way of looking at life that is bleakly realistic. Steven May has taken a rather pedestrian, sad story and written it brilliantly. There is a strain of dark, dry humour throughout the book, as Billy describes the sycophants who prey on him and his brother, feeding off their grief to make themselves feel better. If you met Billy in the street you probably would not like him, an apathetic youth who is letting his intelligence go to waste, but my setting the book from Bill's PoV, May is letting you into the reality behind the mask.

`Prizes' is a slightly depressing novel, but also a page turner. You really want to know if everything will turn out ok for the boys, even if the odds are stacked against them. This is testament to May's descriptive ability inviting you further and further into the book. My only misgiving was the aspects that had Billy playing an online computer game - these were not really needed and lacked the genuine feel of the rest of the book. With equal parts humour and sadness, `Life! Death! Prizes' is a great book that will stay with you after reading it. Perhaps you will see a little of yourself in Billy, or more likely in the people around him that he hates ...
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VINE VOICEon 26 July 2012
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Billy's mum has been murdered, all over a note book PC. Billy is a 19 year old going through all the things that 19 year olds go through and having to deal with the death of his mother, his younger brothers grief and Billy's own needs. Coupled with him being stalked by his mums killer. Covering a period of what appears to be four weeks this book takes the reader on a roller coaster ride, I was reminded in some ways of 'The Curious case of the dog in the night' in the writing style, I read this over two evenings and loved every bit, a great book that will make you wonder about the stories behind, Life Death and prizes!!
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VINE VOICEon 26 December 2012
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i really enjoyed this book, it had me gripped from the end of the first page and I didn't want to move until I had reached the end!
It is a book about Billy, whose mother has been murdered and he is left trying to bring up his younger brother. He makes mistakes but he is determined to succeed.
The author cleverly tells the story - a psychological thriller where Billy is on an emotional rollercoaster and is trying to be a big brother but also be a carer and will not accept help - but the story is also intermingled with humour and child observations that an adult would not see or think of.
Although the synopsis for this book is not one which would immediately draw you to it, I would encourage you pick up the book, you won't regret it!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 31 August 2012
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"Life! Death! Prizes! is what I would call a very modern novel, a book of today.

It is quite gritty and raw in it's language with a lot of swearing.

Billy is a typical teenager, full of youth and varied emotions but he is also very caring and protective of Oscar, his little brother. In turn Oscar looks up to and adores big brother Billy.

Life is not easy for the brothers after the sudden death of their mother. Billy wants to step up and look after himself and Oscar but has a battle with well meaning relatives and social workers. Having to be both mother and father to Oscar is not easy, but Billy does not give up and I think makes the best of a bad lot.

Mixed with anger and frustration, there is a lot of love throughout the book and just when you think nothing is ever going to go right for Billy, it all turns out ok in the end.
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on 1 June 2012
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After his mother's murder Billy Smith is left looking after his six year old brother. "Life! Death! Prizes!" recounts his attempts to deal with his grief, the fact that his mother's murderer is still at large, and his new role as parent.

Billy is a fairly normal nineteen-year-old who is in a horrible but believable situation. The book is strong in its portrayal of Billy's love for Oscar (an adorable child) and the way this love is tempered for the reader by Billy's inadaquecies as a carer.

"Life! Death! Prizes!" (named for the 'trauma porn' magazines Billy likes to read so he can feel better about his own situation) is a readable book with an interesting and funny narrator, although Billy's cynicism bordered on misogyny at times. I didn't feel that I was reading anything particularly new, but it was enjoyable.
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