Monday, 20 December 2010

James Herbert - The Dark

Many people get rid of books. The lucky books get given to charity and the most unfortunate go straight to the tip often with a half eaten sandwich or rotting fruit. I witnessed this sight, just the other day and it saddened me deeply. That’s why I jumped at the chance to rescue a few books from suffering a similar fate. The Dark was one of these lucky books to be plucked from the brink of destruction. It was in a crate on a pavement with a sign saying, ‘help yourself.’ So I took it.

At first I was pleased with my find: compelling protagonist; check. A saucy love interest; check. The grounds for a spine tingling scary thriller; check. But after writing the first thirty page, it seems that James Herbert decided to abandon all the rules of putting together a well structured paragraph for the rest of the book.

Looking back over my notes, the first glaring error occurs on page 36. By glaring, I mean a simple line break would have fixed it but let’s take our first trip to grammar corner and examine the inner workings of the error:

There are two characters in the scene, Bob and Les. The sentence goes as follows:

‘See anything Les?’ He glanced angrily towards Bob who had crept stealthily up the front path.

According to this sentence, not only is Les talking to himself but he is also getting angry at Bob in the process. Dangling modifier equals bad writing. This kind of thing happens throughout the book but this is the worst example. Many paragraphs are written from multi-perspectives with what appears to be a complete lack of control or awareness of the English language.

I could go on listing the silly errors... so I will. Miss Kirkhope, an elderly rich lady, has a maid from Portugal or Spain or something. The point is English is not her first language, yet throughout her earlier scenes, she speaks better English than me. Then a little later, she says, ‘Miss Kirkhope will see you much soon.’ Now, this is either a typo or a character inconsistency and I’m not sure which is worse.

Towards the end, the non-word, ‘foosteps’ is used, but this is the more forgivable of the offenses. It may seem like I’m being a bit picky, but the point is, if the mistakes are noticeable, the editing should have been more thorough and if the story stinks, they stick out even more.

The worst thing about the book is the basic paragraph structure. It becomes tiring trying to keep up with the volume of different perspectives the story is being told from, and in scenes with a few characters and a lot of action it becomes hard to work out what’s going on. When reading the fight scenes, the only thing I could picture was that comic dust could with the occasional limb poking out and ‘bang’ and ‘pow’ written around it.

I don’t like talking about how books end, so I won’t go into any details, but I will say this. James Herbert hasn’t really grasped the concept of the horror genre. The whole storyline is fine until halfway, then the writing errors begin to ruin the story, then Herbert completely destroys it with the most nonsensical conclusion ever. The worst part is that you could see where it was going but it still didn’t make any sense, and that’s where the writer should be feeling ashamed of himself. The whole point of horror being scary is that it’s believable, and if it’s not believable then it has to at least make sense in its own context. James Herbert has achieved a double fail for writing an unbelievable horror that doesn’t make sense.

I would honestly recommend The Dark as a future creative writing set text. That way, lecturers could use it as an example of what not to do. They could even set tasks where the students have to find as many mistakes as possible. Perhaps the winner could be awarded a prize... some chocolate perhaps.

The Dark by James Herbert was published by New English Library in 1980. RRP £3.50 (Paperback)

The Dark is also being reprinted for release in October 2011, RRP £7.99 (Paperback)

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Jules Hardy - Altered Land

This book has sat on my ‘to read’ shelf for about three years, so I thought I would remedy this by taking it on holiday and eliminating my other reading options. I bought the book in my first year of university as it was recommended by a tutor... and Jules Hardy was a Bath Spa Graduate.

Also I found the title compelling, and we all know how important titles can be after the Pacific Vortex!­ incident. Altered Land is quite ambiguous in its meaning; it could have been about a place that had changed after an event, or some twisted dream version of the real world. Jules Hardy’s Altered Land is the former, or rather how the lives of people are altered after an event.

I have to say, the first section of the book is one of the unsurpassed bits of prose I’ve read in a long time. The characters are well structured and even though the prose isn’t in chronological order, it’s still easy to follow. There is a missing ‘a’ on page 77 but that’s no big deal, and I was genuinely surprised by the revelation.

However, there are three things that annoyed me. There are POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD just so you are aware.

The first irritation is a big one. One of the main characters becomes deaf and is hospitalised for a year. After the character leaves hospital, his doctor writes him a letter where he says, ‘you can write or call any time.’ The character is deaf! What good is calling you if he’s deaf, he won’t hear you, you treated him for a year, how can you be so thoughtless!? It doesn’t end there though. Neither of the two characters who read the letter seem to notice this neglectful statement at which point it stops being the doctor’s fault and becomes the writer’s.

Moving on to point number too, and it’s a minor thing, there seem to be a few Americanisms. Firstly, another of our characters gets tenure at the University of Exeter and while this may have been possible, it’s not likely as the tenure system is not widely used in the UK, and Exeter University wasn’t very old at the time. Later on, there is a description of a house with a basketball hoop above the garage door; the American equivalent of having a mini football goal in the back garden.

I probably wouldn’t make much of the above point if Hardy’s main character wasn’t a carpenter. I make a point to read books cover to cover and I’m glad because on the author introductory page, it says that Jules Hardy is a trained carpenter. So, for a book, we have a carpenter working in the area where the author lives. Exactly how much research did Jules Hardy do? It’s like she researched the hospital bit at the beginning, got bored, and then didn’t research again. I’m guessing she got all the tenure stuff from an episode of Friends, and the basketball hoop from watching too many movies.

And the talk of research brings me round to my last subject; football. Hardy has used a memory from the 1966 World Cup Final to frame the novel. It’s not that her facts are wrong, but more that her main character has an avid interest in football. As stated in the novel, it’s one of the only things he can watch on TV without the luxury of sound. But, when she writes from this character’s perspective, she doesn’t highlight his interest. Just a little fact about what’s going on in the matches he watches would be enough, but we don’t even find out what team he supports.

But, other than those three tiny issues, Altered Land is probably the best 324 pages of literature I’ve read in a while. I would recommend it to friends, relatives and fans of light literary fiction with a balance between storytelling, imagery and character insight.

Altered Land by Jules Hardy was published by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd in 2002. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)

A side note on location: One of characters drives from Noss Mayo to Exeter University on a regular basis. Getting there and back means covering 90 miles a day.

Erin Hunter - Warriors, Into the Wild

Getting this book hinged on a simple decision; left or right. I went right and it resulted in a mile walk across a city to a second hand book where I found Warriors, Into the Wild for a small fee of two pounds. If I had gone left I would have found an Oxfam bookstore practically next door to my start location. And I would have found a cheaper book.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Warriors. The blurb is ‘cats live in wood, kill each other’ so I thought this could be an entertaining fast-paced read... or another psycho-mole thing. Luckily, it was the former. The book is written in a way that doesn’t give you time to get bored. It’s concise and to the point, as you would expect from a book of 272 pages, and there is no padding and enough description to give you a feel for the surroundings.

At first I would have said the book was written for a young audience, maybe ten plus, but some of the word choices make me think this wasn’t intended to be the case. I would like to think I know a lot of words so when I saw ‘caterwauling’ for the first time, I began to reassess the target and by the end of the book... I still had no idea.

There was also one thing that didn’t make sense and that was the way the main character Rusty/Firepaw/Fireheart (such is the pace of the novel, he undergoes two name changes) perceives the world around him. Firstly, as a cat who lives near a road, I would expect him to be familiar with the concept, but when he encounters a road with the wild cats, he’s like, ‘eh, what’s that black thing?’ The second thing, and probably the more important, is that adapts ridiculously fast to his new life away from his comfy bed and free food. Normally I wouldn’t have a problem with this if he was revealed as the son of some lion cat or some kind of chosen one, but he’s just a regular house cat, and yet he is better than the ones born and raised in the wild at hunting. It doesn’t make sense. There are five more books in the series and I want to find them just to find out if Rusty/Firepaw/Fireface is later to be revealed as son-of-lion or chosen one.

Oh, and while I’m talking about stuff that doesn’t make sense, there is a bit where one of the older cats explains about their ancestors – namely being lions and tigers and bea... ahem, I mean leopards. But these animals never lived in the same habitats, unless they were in a zoo, so it doesn’t make any sense. This kind of assumption leads me to believe that the book is meant for a younger audience, one who Erin Hunter has assumed, won’t know any better.

While I’m on a role the indents are wrong. When there is a break in time in the same chapter, you do not indent the first line, yet Erin Hunter indents throughout, but at least she is consistent. It would have been worse if she had changed half way through.

Despite all the negativity, Warriors is something that many other books are not; enjoyable. I would recommend it to friends and cat lovers alike. Saying that, if you don’t cats, it’s probably not you.

Warriors, Into the Wild by Erin Hunter was published by Working Partners Ltd in 2003. RRP £5.99 (Paperback)

A.S. Byatt - The Children's Book

I bought this one as a hardback because I chose to do a critical analysis of how the book was received, you know, critically. I found myself, having not read the book, defending it against harsh criticism from James Wood at London Review of Books. However, nearly a year later, having found the time (and I don’t use that word lightly) to read the book, I also found myself agreeing with James Wood.

Reviews of The Children’s Book state that the novel consists of a combination of the life of the characters and Olive Wellwood’s children’s fiction. This is a gross over exaggeration. There were no more than 10 pages of Olive’s writing out of the 615 comprising the novel. And these pages aren’t the smallest either.

Many people think this book is about how the writing and social lives of Olive and Humphry affect their children, and why shouldn’t they? It states as much in the blurb. But at one point I was reading, and for a considerable amount of time, about mining and then about banking. Oh, and there’s loads of stuff about pottery and how to make pots, and how it was hard in the late eighteen hundreds.

What I’m trying to get at here is that, at some point, the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction become quite thin, and that’s putting it mildly and being polite. If the novel was about the blurb it would be half the length and better for it.

Byatt has done her research and credit to her for going to such lengths but there is a point where the research becomes the novel. The story is drowned by the facts and the characters are strangled by each other (not literally).

There is one scene reasonably early where Byatt decides to introduce the entire cast of the novel in one scene. One scene in which I had no idea what was going on, but that might be down to the fact that I don’t know about the works of H.G. Wells. Or how to manipulate silver.

There were also a few little things throughout that irked me, granted, not as badly as they irked James Wood who managed an outstanding 3,000 words on the subject. Byatt makes the mistake of writing ‘though’ instead of ‘thought’ on more than two occasions. There is one sentence that reads, ‘He observed her observing his observations’ which pretty much sums up Byatt’s over-zealous need to inform the readers of exactly what’s going on.

Later, Byatt uses, and not for the first time, ‘at the time’ from a narrative stand-point, which removes the reader from the story. Most of these events don’t add anything to the story. About half way through, Byatt spends thirty pages talking about twentieth century art when none of the characters are artists (in the painting sense, anyway.) It’s basically the author going, ‘Look! Look at all this stuff I know about! Aren’t I clever! MEEE!!!’

Another unnecessary and repeated scene shows us one of the characters, Philip, masturbating. I mean, I understand that these characters are young and learning things but if you go to someone’s house after they rescue you from a museum basement, you probably shouldn’t wank into their clean handkerchiefs. And if you do, I certainly don’t want to know about it, especially when I’m supposed to be learning about pots and German history pre-World War I.

Oh, and for the record, why should I care if The Kaiser killed 84 out of 134 foxes on a fox hunt?

I would recommend this book to members of the literary community and those who enjoy dreamy, vivid, imaginative... no, that’s not it. Those who enjoy heavily researched, over-written prose. Maybe I'm being unfair or maybe I’m not smart enough to enjoy the book for what it is. But in the words of Ben Crowshaw, I’d rather be stupid and having fun than be bored out of my huge genius mind.

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt was published by Chatto & Windus in 2009. RRP £18.99 (Hardback) £7.99 (Paperback)]

To read James Wood’s critique of A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book, visit:

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Christopher Paolini - Eragon

Earlier on This is My Face, I wrote a review of A Cavern of Black Ice where I said that I had tried to find a fantasy novel that tried to get away from Lord of the Rings connotations. However, long before I had that brainwave, I purchased Eragon, a fantasy novel involving a boy and his dragon. And some Elves. And Dwarves. And Orcs... oops, I mean Urgals.

However it isn’t a complete rip-off. Paolini did come up with his own world map and characters with their own problems. The boy and his dragon is something the target audience will can with; every young boy wants his own pet dragon, surely??

The whole novel is written from Eragon’s perspective which makes it easy to follow. The book is 497 pages long and doesn’t take that long to read once you get into it, which does credit to Paolini’s writing style.

However, going back to the similarities with Lord of the Rings, the general concept is the same. Young character inherits strange object; The One Ring/The One Dragon Egg. Character must then travel; to destroy The One Ring/to protect The One Dragon (now no longer an egg.) The character has elders and friends to help them; Brom and Murtagh/Gandalf and friends. The story is told over three books; Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr/Fellowship, Two Towers, Return of the King.

The best aspect of the novel is the main character. Eragon does everything the reader would expect him to do. He acts his age, is curious and adventurous but at the same time makes mistakes and learns from them. I wasn’t ripping my hair out with frustration, like I have done with many other books, where the characters are overly stupid and end up creating problems for the author. It’s another credit to Paolini. He understands and has control over his characters.

So who would I recommend this book to? Fans of Lord of the Rings would probably like this or children and young adults. Any fans of dragons and the like would also appreciate a bit of Eragon, best served flame-grilled with a hint of scales.

Eragon by Christopher Paolini was originally self-published by Paolini International* in 2002. Due to its success, it was then re-published Doubleday in 2004 and Corgi in 2005. RRP £6.99 (Corgi, Paperback)

*I was actually disappointed that Eragon wasn’t a pile of shit. Then I could have gone on a tirade about how Christopher Paolini is a spoilt child whose parents gave him everything, even his own book. I’m going to have to find something bad to read next week to make up for all this... niceness.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Malcolm Pryce - Aberystwyth Mon Amour

My reasons behind reading this one were purely course-motivated. I was writing a piece set in the Welsh sea-side town of Aberystwyth and thought that Malcolm Pryce’s book, set in the same locale, would provide some much needed inspiration. I was wrong for two reasons.

The first being that Malcolm Pryce must have been on some kind of high-powered hallucinogen when he came up with the most absurd story I’ve ever read. The characters are so ridiculous that it’s hard to relate to the setting at all. We’ve got a crazed teacher-cum-gangster called Lovespoon and Dai Brainbocs, the aptly named boy-genius. The plot is so twisted and bizarre that the setting could be planet Mars and it wouldn’t make that much of a difference.

The second reason, and I think the most important, is that Malcolm Pryce wasn’t even living in Aberystwyth when he wrote Aberystwyth Mon Amour. I’m not the kind of writer that focuses too much on research, but having lived in Aberystwyth for a year and read this book, I can honestly say a little field trip wouldn’t have done any harm.

It’s hard to focus on the writing when the plot is so whacked out. It’s one of those books that uses the, ‘oh my God, what could possibly happen next?’ approach to keep the reader going. But it goes too far. The only reason I got to the end is because it’s only 245 pages long (and because I refuse to stop reading books once I’ve invested any amount of time in them. Let’s call it OCD).

Like any book, no matter how bad they are, there are always good points and that falls to the main character, Louie Knight, Aberystwyth’s only private detective. He seems quietly aware of the fact the world around him is fiction and it makes it believable because he attitude and dialogue seem to hint that he doesn’t care that he is a private detective in arguably one of the only places in the UK where they aren’t needed or wanted.

Also, Mr Pryce is a very good writer. His prose is clean and I believe if he kept his imagination under a little more control Aberystywyth Mon Amour could have been a corker. And I haven’t even mentioned Myfanwy, the local dancer who does... something naughty with Brainbocs or Sospan, the ‘philosopher-cum-ice-cream seller.’ I can’t make this shit up. Thankfully, or otherwise, Malcolm Pryce can.

Recommendations go to anyone who is a fan of crazy. And, based on 23 year’s experience, that’s a large proportion of the British public. On reflection, I guess Malcolm Pryce does know his audience.

Aberystwyth Mon Amour by Malcolm Pryce was published by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc in 2001. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Stephen King - Carrie

I’ve been wanting to review Stephen King’s Dark Tower series of books for a while now, but it’s been so long since I read the first one that I need to read it again to recap what actually happened – and familiarise myself with the mistakes. In the meantime, after completing a university assignment on the man himself, let’s pay a visit to 1974 and the beginning of King’s career as a novelist.

So what can I say about the book? Well, for starters, reading about a girl getting her first period wouldn’t normally be my first choice of literature, but I’ll roll with it because King has a fantastic way with words. When describing a girl losing her virginity he says, ‘it felt like being reamed out with a hoe handle.’ Is he speaking from experience?

There are many things about Carrie that highlight King’s future prowess, but there are also many examples of inexperience, impatience and sloppiness. I think that King’s agent must have only asked for the first 80 pages of the manuscript because if Carrie’s publication came down to pages 80 to 242, it wouldn’t have seen the light of day.

Here are some of the more noticeable mistakes: ‘reaons’ instead of reasons, ‘throught’ instead of through, ‘dowtown’ instead of downtown and, my personal favourite, ‘so domething’ instead of do something. There are so many spelling mistakes, it almost makes Cy Flood, the travel rep, look good. Almost.

That said the first 80 pages are very well polished and professional. I was drawn in from the start and couldn’t help but feel a degree of empathy towards the characters.

Carrie is written from three different perspectives and King does well to write in this way and still keep the reader’s attention. However, the perspective strays from time to time and I found myself having to reread one paragraph a couple of times before working out which perspective it was from, and even then, it still felt out of place.

My last issue with the book is the ending. Even though it’s a short book, the majority of the ending feels unnecessary as it’s just other characters’ perspectives of the event which the reader witnessed firsthand. However, the last few pages add a nice twist... and also make the novel inconclusive.

Recommendations would go to people who had already read Stephen King but have failed to read Carrie and here is why. I’m afraid new readers to King would be put off the rest of his work after all this stuff I’ve just said. King is a good writer and a fantastic storyteller. It’s just a shame that, on the whole, Carrie doesn’t get the basics right.

Carrie by Stephen King was published by New English Library in 1974. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Lauren Kate - Fallen

Once upon a time, a woman called Stephanie Meyer wrote a series of books about a girl who fell in love with a vampire. It was a wildly successful venture which led to her and her stories becoming a worldwide phenomenon. Four years later, Lauren Kate decided to write the same book.

Fallen is the first book I’ve read where I can use the description, ‘like Twilight, but....’ In this case, like Twilight, but angels instead of vampires. I will state now that this is the only difference between the two books. There are opposite characters for most of the main players in the Twilght books and Fallen even goes as far as ripping off a few set pieces. Daniel saves Luce from a falling statue from an impossible distance: Edward saves Bella from a car from an impossible distance. I wouldn’t know if it’s shameless copying, I would have to ask Lauren if she has read the books, but I expect she has at least a little knowledge of them.

So I’ve picked on the content, now for the writing. Not a lot happens over the 452 pages that’s worth mentioning. Luce goes to a school full of kids who’ve basically broken the law in horrible ways, yet the only bad thing that happens to her is having food put over her head on her first day. She immediately finds a friend who comes to her aid and after that, nothing bad happens to her at all. Except for not being able to decide which one of our superhuman boys is fittest. If I knew reform school was such a breeze, I would have broken the law a long time ago.

The place probably is a living hell, but the way Kate writes about it, you wouldn’t think it was. The writing is so uninvolved in the surroundings, it’s almost like she as an author only cares about Luce’s teenage drama issues and is prepared to have atmosphere and setting have no importance in order to have her main character drool over boys.

Now, how to get across the passage of time in a book is something I have studied and according to Fallen is something that Lauren Kate has no idea about. At one point it says that Luce had missed two months of classes. This is probably the worst use of hyperbole in published literature I have ever seen, especially when, later on, it says that two weeks had passed since Luce started at the school. Somewhere in the middle of this time warp, one of the main characters goes completely missing and when she reappears, there is no sign of a previous relationship between her and Luce. And missing classes at reform school, something that Luce does more than brushing her teeth, apparently carries no punishment.

The ending is the only interesting bit where stuff actually happens, unless you can count drooling as an activity, and she introduces about four new plot points which had not even been hinted at before. It’s confusing more than clever and it doesn’t keep the reader guessing, but more has them asking, ‘What the hell just happened?’

Lauren Kate has tried to do too much in the last 50 pages and spent the other 400 trying to be like Stephanie Meyer. She has another book scheduled for release next month where all will become clear. Or just get even more twisted and confusing.

I would recommend this book to... no one. The only people who would enjoy it are Twilight fans but they would more than likely be pissed off that someone had made cheap knock-offs out of their beloved Edward and Jacob.

Fallen by Lauren Kate was published by Tinderbox Books in 2009. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Anne Lamott - Bird by Bird

Books about writing have always seemed strange to me and I wouldn’t have read this one if it wasn’t recommended to help with my own work. I will say now that the book did help me in terms of building my confidence as a writer, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to attempt to tear it to shreds.

I’m going to start with the introduction. There is a mistake on the second page which led me to believe that Anne Lamott and Clive Cussler had the same writing tutor. Lamott makes up for Cussler’s missing words by repeating ‘at life.’ Making a mistake on the second page of a book about how to write is not a good start especially if Anne is trying to lead by example. After this, she then goes on to say she chooses to write because she’s good at it which means I get to use the word oxymoron for the first time on This is My Face.

Despite the early lapse, there are several useful bits on the very basics of writing. There is a section on just sitting down and doing some writing, instead of spending hours thinking about what to write, which is helpful to new writers and is quite effective at teaching. There are other good beginner’s tips, such as writing ‘shitty first drafts’ to get them out of your system and ‘short assignments’ as another way of just doing some writing.

However, all this earlier stuff leads up to one big assumption about the readers: that no one who wants to be a writer knows what kind of writing they want to do. She is assuming that all other writers are just like her. I’m not writing because I’m good at it. I do it because I’ve got a story I want to tell. There is no point in writing for the sake of it. Where is the enjoyment in that?

However, she goes on to question writers who have a message they want to convey. She writes, ‘If you have a message, as Samuel Goldwyn used to say, send a telegram.’ This put a smile on my otherwise angry face.

Despite my criticisms I have a lot of other nice things to say about the book. Out of the 237 pages, none of them feel wasted. There are some cuts that could be made, but that’s true of any book. Lamott uses humour very well. Her sentences are memorable and this alone makes Bird by Bird a strong piece of non-fiction.

I would recommend this book as essential reading to all creative writing students, especially those struggling with self-belief. It’s also handy to have around for new and experienced writers alike. Pages 110 to 130, I think, are the most helpful pages about writing I’ve ever read and on the whole, Bird by Bird is one of the best help books for writing and life.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott was published by Anchor Books in 1995. RRP £13.95 (This regular retail price appears on, where they are selling the book for £6.41. Somehow, I think the RRP is a wee bit exaggerated....)

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Steve Voake - The Dreamwalker's Child

Acquiring books is often more fun than reading them. I got my hands on this one at an author’s reading, where there was wine, and I had it signed by the author, making it my first ever signed book.

There are a lot of good things to be said about The Dreamwalker’s Child. It has an original story, (insects being piloted by tiny people from another world,) believable characters (which is an excellent achievement considering the influx of child characters who act older than their age) and it’s very clean and well written (in fact, easily the best on this list so far).

However, with all the good bits, (and I will say now that I enjoyed the book), my cynical side came up with a few things worth mentioning.

Firstly, the opening chapter is written in a way more suited to a young audience compared to the rest of the book. The audience seems to be between four and seven judging from the opening page, but later in the novel, a man is torn apart by a giant ant! It’s a bit distant from the ‘colours and sounds and wonderful things’ from the first page.

Early on, there is a formatting mistake with line spacing. This isn’t Steve’s fault, but it does look odd. What is Steve’s fault though, is a line from the lead bad guy Odoursin, where he speaks over a loud speaker to the main protagonist Sam: ‘I know you’re here Sam... I can feel it.’ After I’d gotten over my initial fit of laughter, I was reminded of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker... only we already know who Sam’s father is so unless there is some other deep connection between the two, Odoursin being able to ‘feel it’ is an unnecessary clichĂ©.

Odoursin can also be likened to Hitler with the amount of Nazi symbolism thrown into the bad guys. They dress like the SS and I swear one of them even had blonde hair and blue eyes. This almost led me to believe Odoursin’s main evil motive was to propagate the master race, but that’s a bit heavy for a kid’s book.

As far as the length of the book goes, it’s well paced and spread out evenly over the 300 pages. The only cut I would make would be removing chapter 25 as the stuff about Sam’s parents doesn’t add anything to the story.

The setting was another thing that puzzled me. I had no idea when the book was set and looking at all the cultural references, there is only one that really places the book in any era. It’s really cleverly put in and shows the skill of the author as he doesn’t make any slips regarding setting ambiguity.

I would recommend The Dreamwalker’s Child to any parents with children aged nine plus. And there are some enjoyable bits for adults too. It’s acclaimed to be one of the best books for its target audience and I would agree. Or suffer the wrath of Darth Voake.

The Dreamwalker’s Child by Steve Voake was published by Faber and Faber in 2005. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

William Horwood - Duncton Wood

I found this book on my Mother’s bookshelf, which maybe should have been a warning but the back of the book sold it to me. ‘Lord of the Rings out of Watership Down. I liked Lord of the Rings so I thought that Dunction Wood could have a lot for me to enjoy. However, I failed to acknowledge the fact that Watership Down scared the crap out of me as a child and my common sense must have abandoned me because moles can’t use swords or bows.

Dunction Wood deals with a lot of issues including but not limited to: childhood isolation, parental abandonment, bereavement, disability discrimination, the difficulties of puberty, baby murder, building your own home, rape, incest and incest rape. You would think with this list of things that the book spreads itself too thin. This is exactly the case because, at 730 pages, it’s unnecessarily long. With the book’s over ambitious approach to getting so much in, it has a lot wrong with it, so much so that I probably couldn’t list them all in a 10,000 word dissertation, so here is my top 5, in reverse order.

Number 5: Length. I’ve already mentioned the length of the book. Out of the 730 pages, 300 could be cut due to unnecessary details, a further 200 for over-description and the remaining 230 would make quite a fantastic read. If not for my other 4 issues...

Number 4: Using ‘mole’ instead of ‘one.’ This is a personal thing and it only made me angry after reading the afterword. Horwood says he describes the mole as ‘seeing’ when they are seeing with their sense of smell and hearing. But he still refers to them as ‘somemole, nomole, anymole.’ It doesn’t make sense that the author is worried about moles not seeing, reading or writing when the characters don’t consider themselves beings. Humans don’t walk around saying things like, ‘is anyperson there?’ so why the hell would a mole say it?

Number 3: POV. Sometimes the point of view changes three times in the same paragraph which would be fine if it was done for a reason or there was some kind of control involved, but it reads like lazy writing and can become quite confusing. At one point I read on for a page after the POV changed thinking I was still with the mole, when actually, it was a dog lash wolf thing. Oh, the dogwolf was afraid of the mole. But that’s believable because these moles can read (William Horwood would like to state that when he says ‘read’ he actually means, ‘read brail through touch.’)

Number 2: Poetic language. Poetic language can be excellent if used well and in the right places. However, Horwood uses it sporadically and while this could be to highlight the mood in the Dunction System, it’s used too far apart to be the case. There is a lot of it in the beginning, with alliteration and colourful language but as the novel grows longer, Horwood seems to lose interest in it which, again, is a sign of laziness. Because of its inconsistency, it has a negative effect on the flow and pace of the novel.

Number 1: General writing style. Out of the books I’ve already looked at on here, Dunction Wood is a cross between A Cavern of Black Ice and The Book of Mormon. It’s not a great combination. The two aspects don’t work well together and over the last 300 pages, I was literally dragging myself to the end, not completely kicking and screaming but it felt more like hard work than anything else. The narrative is so distant for such a long time it’s hard to empathise with any of the moles/characters/dogwolves.

If you love moles and want to hear about mole love, mole hills and mole rape this book is definitely for you. My summary of the book? ‘Here are some moles.’ Enjoy.

Dunction Wood by William Horwood was published by somemole at Country Life Books in 1980. The paperback edition was published by another mole at Hamlyn in 1981. RRP £1.95 (1981) Book is currently out of print.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Clive Cussler - Pacific Vortex!

Okay so now that university is over, I can branch away from the constraints of reading for course related purposes and move on to random books I find places. Pacific Vortex! is one that I found in Sainsbury’s for two pounds next to the check-outs. Yes, it was an impulse buy, along with Slumdog Millionaire.

As I bought the two things are the same time, I must resist the urge to write a comparative review, stating which item I got the most enjoyment out of as this is not a movie review blog. So, without further a dew, let’s dive right into Cussler’s first Dirk Pitt adventure.

The first thing that rang the 'stop reading' warning bells was the title. I’m looking directly at you Mr Exclamation Mark. What on Earth are you doing punctuating this novel title? You certainly aren’t making me afraid of the said vortex, but it does conjure images of the hapless blond, mid-scream with her hands raised as if in fear of her life from some kind of monster.

I’ve never agreed with punctuation in titles. The title should speak for itself without the need of any help from over-the-top articles. However, the title was the not the main thing that would discourage readers from carrying on with the book. In the first sentence of the Foreword there is a missing word. Can you fill the gap? ‘This the first Dirk Pitt adventure.’ No Clive! (I believe here the exclamation mark highlights the extent of my anguish.)

However, once I had braved the title and gotten over the initial shock of the missing word in the first line, I found the book to be very compelling. And Dirk Pitt to be a James Bond clone. Cussler even goes as far as giving him a few cheesy one-liners, including, ‘I always wondered how I’d bear up under torture.’

To be honest, what I’ve said about the book is a little picky. It’s a good entertaining read with some genuinely funny moments. Pitt is a believable hero, if also a male chauvinist and the other characters work well around him. He has also researched the maritime aspects of the book meticulously which helps with its authenticity.

I also like a book that can teach me things. Before reading Pacific Vortex! I had no idea there were only seven consonants in the Hawaiian language, in fact I had no idea Hawaii even had its own language. I have also learned how fog is formed over the sea. How do I know these things? Because characters explain them to Pitt as if they are talking to a child. The dialogue reads almost as if it's been copy and pasted from a text book. It seems Cussler struggles to hide his research within his work because it’s right there, almost slapping you in the face.

I would recommend this book to a variety of different people. Those who enjoy Ian Fleming would be top of the list, closely followed by fans of adventure and manliness, and sea lovers. I will definitely be reading another Dirk Pitt adventure the next time I find myself impulsively buying things near check-outs.

Pacific Vortex! by Clive Cussler was published by Sphere in 1983. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Frank Lampard - Totally Frank

Now here is subject I actually know stuff about: football. I bought this book when it came out directly after England’s exit from the 2006 World Cup and such has been my huge pile of reading to do, it has only just made its way to the top. I like to think every book comes with a lesson and Frank Lampard’s offering came with a simple one. Never read books by footballers who haven’t finished their careers.

My initial thoughts about Frank Lampard’s 424 page football extravaganza was that it could be summarized in seven words; ‘My name’s Frank Lampard, I play football.’ I wasn’t far off. Although, for all the football that Frank Lampard has played he still can’t get his facts right. On page 405 he says that Argentina beat Ukraine by six goals in the group stage of the World Cup, going into detail saying that one of the six goals was voted goal of the tournament. Argentina did win the match by six goals but they didn’t play the Ukraine. At all. In the entire tournament. It was actually Serbia and Montenegro. For a moment I thought I was reading a BBC match report, where factual errors are common place, but I don’t think I’m being too picky in complaining about an autobiography getting the facts wrong.

The book has a lot of similar grammatical errors to Cy Flood’s Sun, Sea and Sex: True Confessions of a Holiday Rep, but it’s not as bad in this respect. It reads like a transcription and if that’s the case then Ian McGarry, who I would imagine did the transcribing, really needs to sort it out. I’ve read quite a few novels over the last few weeks and only autobiographies seem to have noticeable grammar errors. I know it doesn’t apply to all autobiographies. Dave Eggers’ is good but that doesn’t really count as he’s a writer anyway.

Structure is very important when writing a book of great length and Totally Frank is written with what appears to be, a complete disregard for any kind of organisation. This goes hand-in-hand with it’s transcription like appearance and makes it out to be a horrible way of writing.

I’m not usually critical of content but there was a revelation is here that shocked me to my very core. Before England’s loss to Portugal in Euro 2004, Lampard reveals that the team was treated to a meal at McDonald’s. Lots of tasty burgers and fries were eaten by professional footballers before one of the biggest matches of their lives. Lampard goes on to say he felt sluggish during the game, but defends the meal choice, calling it ‘a treat’ for the players. By all means, have a treat, but not in the middle of a major tournament. Maybe if we won then yes, have some McDonald’s, feast on Burger King or visit The Colonel. I was hugely disappointed to find this out when I thought that professional sportsmen avoided that kind of food as part of their career; a small sacrifice surely, if you are being paid over £100,000 a week (before tax) to do something you love.

As I mentioned earlier, my main issue with this book is that it has been written by a twenty-eight year old whose football career hasn’t even finished. Over the last few years, England have failed to qualify for Euro 2008, Frank Lampard has become separated from his fiancĂ©e, with whom he now has two children (by August 2006, he has just the one) and we now face another summer where the media expects us to win the World Cup. My point being there is and will be so much more to write about by the end of his football career and he could go on to become a manager when he can‘t play anymore. Then, instead of complaining about how West Ham fans are not very nice to him, he could write about more interesting aspects of his life. The ones that haven’t happened yet. Maybe he will visit The Colonel in the future, I just hope it’s not before we play Brazil in the final of World Cup 2010.

I can’t do it. Even as a Chelsea and Lampard fan, I can’t possibly recommend this book to anyone. Ever. Maybe if he writes one at the end of his career with good grammar and structure and less whining… actually, that one will be longer. Forget it.

Totally Frank by Frank Lampard and Ian McGarry was published by HarperSport, HaperCollins in 2006. RRP varies greatly from store to store. Apparently, new copies are available on Amazon for £74.57 at the time of writing. I wonder how much I can sell my copy for?