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Book review – for readers and writers – no.134: Morgen Bailey reviews Not a Star by Nick Hornby

Today’s book review of a novella is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey. If you’d like your book reviewed or to send me a book review of another author’s book, see book-reviews for the guidelines. I am booked up months in advance though. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.

Being a writer and editor, I read and review books with both hats. If you’re a writer reading this review and found it useful, do let me know. If you would like help with your writing, do take a look at my online creative writing courses are currently half price.

Not a Star by Nick Hornby

Not a starSynopsis: It’s bad enough for a mother to discover that her son is a porn star, even worse when the nosy neighbours new first. When Lynn sees her son Mark in an adult film, she is forced to ask many difficult questions. How well does she know her son? Where did he get his obvious talent? And how will she tell his father? There are some things a mother should never know…

This novella is available via http://www.amazon.co.uk/Star-Open-Door-Nick-Hornby/dp/1934848220 or http://www.amazon.com/Star-Open-Door-Nick-Hornby/dp/1934848220.

I’ve taken a photo of the cover I had as the ones online are quite boring by comparison! This was an ‘Open Door’ Shortlist book which “are selected to appeal not only to emergent readers but to anyone wanting a quick, powerful and fast-paced read. Was this book one of those? Read on to find out…

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Book review – for readers and writers – no.133: Morgen Bailey reviews A Twisted Bard’s Tale by Selena Kitt

Today’s book review of a single short story is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey. If you’d like your book reviewed or to send me a book review of another author’s book, see book-reviews for the guidelines. I am booked up months in advance though. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.

Being a writer and editor, I read and review books with both hats. If you’re a writer reading this review and found it useful, do let me know.

A Twisted Bard’s Tale by Selena Kitt

A Twisted Bard's TaleSynopsis: Did you ever wonder what started the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues? Check out this naughty version of Romeo and Juliet — you’ll be surprised and delighted by this twisted Bard’s tale!

This eBook is available via http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B003GDIA0U and http://www.amazon.com/dp/B003GDIA0U.

Review (of the eBook via my Kindle’s text-to-speech function)

I’ve had this on my Kindle for a while and was looking forward to reading this story, not because I am a fan of Shakespeare (which I’m not – sorry if you are), but because I did Romeo and Juliet at school and wanted to see this take on it.

Other than the dialogue which felt authentic, the story itself is fairly modern, which I liked.

What happened throughout this story, which is hinted at in the warning at the beginning of the book, was a surprise indeed and I can see how it could have led to the events that we are all familiar with.

Apart from the love scenes, some of which were very Fifty Shades of Grey, it was well written.

And now for writers:

– Be careful with nouns. In this story we have, ‘The Lady Montague had come dressed for an outing – her long gown sweeping the floor, her full breasts pressed up as an offering in a tightly laced bodice. Their hands found one another…’ although the reader will know that their refers to the two women, because the author has just mentioned breasts (a noun), technically it could mean the breasts’ hands!

– I have mentioned this a few times in these reviews… in most cases there is no need to write ‘began to’ or ‘started to’ when something or someone is doing something, i.e. ‘began to unfasten’, ‘began to sink’, ‘began to lift’ when the action isn’t interrupted.

Conclusion

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Book review – for readers and writers – no.132: Iain Banks’ Crow Road

Today’s book review of a single short story is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey. If you’d like your book reviewed or to send me a book review of another author’s book, see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.

Being a writer and editor, I read and review books with both hats. If you’re a writer reading this review and found it useful, do let me know.

Iain Banks’ The Crow Road

Crow RoadSynopsis: From its bravura opening onwards, THE CROW ROAD is justly regarded as an outstanding contemporary novel. ‘It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach’s Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach.’ Prentice McHoan has returned to the bosom of his complex but enduring Scottish family. Full of questions about the McHoan past, present and future, he is also deeply preoccupied: mainly with death, sex, drink, God and illegal substances…

Review (of the audiobook)

When writing in first person point of view, it’s harder to have lots of action and to avoid too much description. The first couple of chapters were full of reminiscing and while it was charming, I started losing interest but persevered. It’s Iain’s sixth book (the first was The Wasp Factory) so it’s not a novice’s mistake of easing us in with lots of backstory before the plot starts, usually in chapter three… chapter four in this case (where Prentice finds his uncle’s book’s notes, The Crow Road) but then it plodded on again and it’s only mentioned briefly on an doff until chapter fifteen when – I felt – the story really got going. As there were only eighteen chapters in the book, this was too late and the final four chapters are by far the best.

For me there was far too much detail; I didn’t need to know what Prentice’s love interest’s parents did with the car Verity had been born in, and how the world started (also described in Kate Atkinson’s Human Croquet).

Regular readers of my reviews will know I’m a stickler for character names and Prentice’s grandmother’s solicitor, Lawrence L Block, shares his name with an American author, perhaps an homage by Mr Banks. The other names are generally very distinctive and I especially like Mr Gibbons extending those he meets.

The novel’s packed with humour with phrases like ‘your father raises you to be an atheist and you go and find religion’, ‘Lloyd Cole city because she had perfect skin’, and the ‘tassel’ scene between brothers Rory and Ken, and when Prentice first has sex were brilliant.

Sadly it’s packed more with unnecessary description, family goings on (or rather not going) and my eyes glazed over so often I’ve given SafeStyle or Everest a run for their cliched money.

Speaking of cliches, despite Mr Banks being a clearly very skilled writer, there are few cliches including ‘inky black’, ‘a look like thunder’, ‘see the wood for the trees’ and ‘white as a sheet’. Adverbs were also present including ‘said sniffily’ (more than one of those as well as a ‘turned sniffily’), ‘said angrily’, ‘ploughed crunchingly’, ‘conspiratorially’, ‘strode purposefully’, and ‘laughed throatily’ where the __ly adverbs aren’t needed because of what the characters said. Surpluses include ‘shrugged his shoulders’ (how else do we shrug?).

Unless I missed something, Prentice bought a VW Beetle but then not long later talked about going up north in ‘the 2CV’. Next thing we know, he’s driving a VW Golf, although he did inherit some money in between. I confess that I zoned in and out – in true Walter Mitty fashion – at the slower points of the story.

This novel is very Adrian Mole and will appeals to Sue Townsend fans as it will those of Roddy Doyle who also writes about – Irish in Roddy’s case – his characters’ culture and The Crow Road did remind me of Roddy’s The Deportees which I reviewed back in October 2014. Readers in Irvine Welsh would also likely enjoy the book given the drug taking and swearing in it, albeit in far smaller proportions than Mr Welsh’s gritty tomes.

I only gave ‘The Deportees’ 3 out of 5 and this book would have earned less had it not been for the humour and fantastic narration by Peter Kenny (if you get to listed to the audio version, you’ll love the part where Prentice’s brother Lewis imitates a radio tuning).

Generally the characters are the most important aspect of a book and never more so in this case, in the absence of a solid plot. Sadly I didn’t warm to these characters and therefore the book (the film version was better but still not one I’d rush to watch again). Has it put me off reading another Iain Banks book? No, but I will stop if it doesn’t engage me more than this one.

I put a call out in Facebook asking my friends whether they’d read the book or seen the TV series and had a mixed response, with some disliking (or not having read) the book but enjoying the series.

It often happens that readers of a book are disappointed by the visual version because it didn’t live up to their expectations but this time, it was the other way round for me. It was written in 1992 so I’m sure that if Mr Banks was alive to re-write (or at least edit) it, he’d probably make many changes; as most of us writers would with our ‘old’ works.

Rating: 3 out of 5

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Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a freelance editor, online tutor, prolific blogger, 2015 Head Judge for the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition, Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction CompetitionRONE 2015 Judge, and teaches creative writing (and writing-related I.T.) for her local county council and online. She is also a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary. She is also active on TwitterFacebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page) and has created five online writing groups. She also runs a free monthly 100-word writing competition where you can win her online creative writing courses!

Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List ($0.99 / £0.77) and she has nine others (mostly crime) in the works. She also has eight collections of short stories available (also $0.99 / £0.77 each) – detailed on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine/short-stories.

She also helps other authors with an inexpensive freelance editing and critiquing service (free 1,000-word sample), and welcomes, and actively helps to promote, guest authors on her blog – see opportunities.

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If you would like to send me a book review, see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.

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Morgen Bailey Cover montage 2I now run online courses – details on Courses – and for anyone looking for an editor, do take a look at Editing and Critique.

If you would like to send me a book review of another author’s books or like your book reviewed (short stories, contemporary crime / women’s novels or writing guides), see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog. And I post writing exercises every weekday on four online writing groups.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2015 in critique, ebooks, novels, review, tips, writing

 

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Book review – for readers and writers – no.131: Morgen Bailey reviews StoryWorks by Jane Bailey Bain

Today’s book review of a writing guide is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey. If you’d like your book reviewed (please note I’m usually booked up months in advance) and / or to send me a book review of another author’s book, see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.

Being a writer and editor, I read and review books with both hats. If you’re a writer reading this review and found it useful, do let me know.

StoryWorks by Jane Bailey Bain

StoryWorks coverSynopsis: Inspirational leaders know the power of story. Top coaches use words as a tool for personal transformation. Great speakers and writers realize the importance of narrative. Do you have a new idea? A good proposal? A great product? The best way to sell it is by telling a story. This book shows you how to do that effectively. It is a practical handbook on how to tell stories, and ranges from classic tools like the ‘Rule of Threes’ to the new mnemonic ‘Five Finger Technique’. There are stories and creative exercises to expand your narrative repertoire. If you’re a leader who wants to communicate well, a professional keen to improve your speaking skills, a manager with a team to motivate or a writer looking for more ideas – you’ll find resources here to inspire, to inform and to entertain. Whether you have one minute to impress at an interview or the keynote speech at a conference, this book will help you tell better stories.

This guide is available via http://www.amazon.co.uk/StoryWorks-Handbook-Leaders-Writers-Speakers-ebook/dp/B00W8FCM7Y and http://www.amazon.com/StoryWorks-Handbook-Leaders-Writers-Speakers-ebook/dp/B00W8FCM7Y.

Review

This guide starts with a really interesting background to storytelling over the centuries and how it has influenced us ever since. Jane then goes on to show how fiction can have much more impact than nonfiction and analyses examples showing this.

It was very interesting to learn different techniques for not only writing but some that can be used in other areas of our lives. The five senses section was unusual, and although we all know that chopping things into segments work well (I tell my students that 300 words a day equates to over 100,000 words a year – you could write a novel in just 20 minutes a day), it was a useful reminder.

Jane shares her extensive knowledge with us, and this book is so rich that, like a calorific cake, it is best devoured in small chunks in order to savour each portion.

For me, though, there were too many fables, and I wondered the relevance of having so many seemingly illustrating the same type of character, but it leads by example, and lovers of fables and fairytales would relish this style of teaching and the content within. I would have preferred more of a balance of contemporary to historical.

I spotted a cliché: ‘until you are blue in the face’ but it didn’t feel so bad in non-fiction narration.

Apart from the five finger technique (which in itself would be worth purchasing the book for), the most interesting pieces for me where right near the end: tips for storytelling, story worksheet, creating characters and business application and stories.

The final ‘about the author’ lists Jane’s background. Apart from being an executive coach, she has worked for several years as an advisor on development projects in Asia and Africa and these clearly have an influence on the stories chosen for this handbook.

Conclusion

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Book review – for readers and writers – no.129: Morgen Bailey reviews Wedding Hells by Jennifer Gilby Roberts

This week’s book review of a single short story is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey. If you’d like your book reviewed or to send me a book review of another author’s book, see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.

Being a writer and editor, I read and review books with both hats. If you’re a writer reading this review and found it useful, do let me know.

Wedding Hells by Jennifer Gilby Roberts

Wedding HellsSynopsis: Mel Parker’s perfect little sister is getting married and she’d rather cut her own arm off than attend. Her relatives are guaranteed to give her hell about not going first, her dress is unbearable and her beloved best friend Will isn’t even invited. But her boyfriend is there. And there’ll be cake. So maybe it won’t be as bad as she thinks. Maybe it’ll be worse…

This story is available (currently for free!) via http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00EKDLKE8, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00EKDLKE8 etc.

Review (via my Kindle Fire’s text-to-speech function)

This is the second short story I’ve read by Jennifer and I’m glad I read them in this order as I preferred this one. It is another realistic tale but I felt more empathy with this main character, again told in first person, Melanie.

Both leading ladies have attitude but Melanie is funnier and any singleton at a wedding can vouch for how miserable they can end up.

The characters are engaging (I especially liked Melanie’s father), the writing is excellent with fewer ‘well’s than in Flights of Nancy (nine vs eighteen), and plenty of action and character foibles to keep us entertained. The phrase ‘I’m dumped, drenched and depressed’ made me chuckle.

Conclusion

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Book review – for readers and writers – no.128: Morgen Bailey reviews Flights of Nancy by Jennifer Gilby Roberts

Today’s book review of a single (5,000-word) short story is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey. If you’d like your book reviewed or to send me a book review of another author’s book, see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.

Being a writer and editor, I read and review books with both hats. If you’re a writer reading this review and found it useful, do let me know.

Flights of Nancy by Jennifer Gilby Roberts

Flights of NancySynopsis: What if you knew exactly when Mr. Right was going to show up? Nancy does. And, after years of waiting (im)patiently, the great day has finally arrived. And so has he. He’s not exactly what she was expecting …

This 5,000-word short story is available via http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00FIOQXTK and http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FIOQXTK.

Review (via my Kindle’s text-to-speech function)

Just for a change, I’ve picked a short story and from the off, the tone is nicely chatty. Nancy is in a predicament that many could relate to, and I enjoyed the interaction between the two main characters. Although Nancy’s name is in the title, it is also mentioned fairly early on, which is good because the story is told in first person point of view so it is often difficult to get in the main character’s name.

Despite David supposedly being the man of her dreams, Nancy is understandably very wary, at times a little over fussy and analytical, but it was an interesting process her getting to know somebody she is apparently destined to be with and the antics they get up to.

When the ending was revealed, I went back to the beginning day in the cafe thinking I may have missed something but I didn’t. If there is going to be a twist at the end, there should be a clue at the beginning. Also when the reveal about David happened, I had no sense of why they wouldn’t get together for that reason. Again there should be one or two clues.

And now for writers… Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2015 in critique, ebooks, review, short stories, tips, writing

 

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