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After the Novel

Fun activities BEFORE THE NOVEL is published

The Sparkling Ghost in the Shell Extravaganza

I have no idea what all the complaints are about. Authors and Filmmakers appropriate storylines and characters from all of history and all countries. Charlton Heston shouldn’t be in a Roman epic? Mel Gibson shouldn’t be in a Western? And Scarlett Johansson shouldn’t be in Anime?

This is all political and/or cultural and/or censorship correctness gone mad.

Is Ghost in the Shell a great movie? Yes! Is Scarlett a great actress? Yes! Does she do a great job in Ghost? Yes!

Meanwhile, back at the purpose of the movie: entertainment. Ghost is a colourful, exciting and skillful rendition of anime into movie. In other words, job done.

I’d put it in the top 10 of Hollywood adaptations. 5 stars.

The Limp Iron Fist Catastrophe

Iron Fist Colleen WingI’m a comics fan. I’m a noir fan. And many Marvel comics achieve appropriate levels of darkness and noir to keep me engaged. But the Iron Fist tv series is hugely disappointing.

Colleen and Davos are the only ones who act as if their life depended on it.

Danny, Ward and Joy are limp. Danny’s fight scenes are limp. Danny’s dialogue delivery is limp. In fact, everything about Danny is so limp it’s beyond comprehension that Finn Jones got the part. Only Jessica Henrick and Sacha Dhawan convince.

Look, comics are not intended to be great literature – although I’d argue that many are. And comics are not necessarily the foundation of great cinema – and I’d argue that some are. But how Marvel approved the Netflix adaptation of Iron Fist is a great puzzle.

Just makes Iron Man seem even more brilliant! Although much of that is thanks to Robert Downey Jr.

Amazon’s Author and Publisher nightmare

Amazon and Kindle nightmareHow could this process be so difficult? One author plus two books. Easy! But not. Even though CreateSpace and Kindle are owned by Amazon, none of them speak to each other properly. CreateSpace blames Kindle and Kindle blames CreateSpace. That is, until CreateSpace also blames IngramSpark, while IngramSpark refuses to answer queries. Whew!

And CreateSpace is a customer of IngramSpark. Which appears to mean that CreateSpace doesn’t do much at all. They are just a front end – and a clumsy front end – for the real work which is carried out by IngramSpark (print-on-demand books and distribution). And carried out by Kindle Direct Publishing (eBooks). And carried out by Amazon (sales).

Books about Pacific Ocean sailing adventuresThree weeks to get one author and two books onto a platform that is supposed to make publishing easy is nonsense. The left hands and the right hands of the Amazon ecosystem need to speak to each other. And speak properly and efficiently. Otherwise Amazon will continue to have huge turnover and no profit!

The dozens of emails and web chats and web forms that have been necessary to achieve one author page will have cost Amazon et al at least the profits they imagine they make on 100 book/Kindle sales. Sounds like a wasteful way to do business!

The Hillary Clinton logo disaster

hillary-clinton-logo-2016Anyone who follows dystopian literature and comics and movies knows the signs. The logo is the message.

And the message from Hillary Clinton for her 2016 presidential campaign – or at least the message from her designers and marketers and advisers – is that you’ll get shafted.

The logo is brutal. It is ugly. It is authoritarian.

It says Democrats (red) will pierce Republicans (blue).

It says we’re moving way to the right. It says we’ll be so far to the right we’ll have gone beyond the Republicans.

It says “if you think the Republicans are right-wing, wait til you see us.”

Forget the economy and social issues and job security. This logo says “authority rules” and very strongly it adds, “don’t get in our way”.

Who you gonna trust? Upstanding, royal-blue Republicans, standing together? Or the red Democrats, shafting all under them?

Lost in Translation – All Tell and No Show

Book review: The Lost Girls of Rome by Donato Carrisi

lost-girls-of-romeThere are three or four stories wrapped up in this book. I hesitate to call it a novel as it fails so many tests.

None of the protagonists do much. They are puppets in the travelogue around Rome and environs, and in all cases anything significant is explained, usually at least twice. Once with the dialogue, and then with the following text:

‘Help me, please,’ she said, weeping, without realising that he was already helping her.

And …

‘Yes,’ Costa said, struggling to restrain himself. He was clearly taken aback by the offensive way this man referred to his handicap.

And, of course, there’s the water. Well, that is, the repeated way water is used to ‘reveal’ a hidden door or trapdoor which we’d already guessed, even if the police forensic teams – and the main protagonists – had missed the obvious.

How this can be described as a “literary thriller phenomenon” is, truly, beyond me.

No tribute compares to U

Prince-purple-300pxPrince has moved on and his music now stands testament to his incredible talent.

The tributes roll in with one band after another and one artist after another playing Purple Rain (or another Prince song). And all fail to capture the mystery of the genius of Prince.

Yet the answer is simple. Space. Listen to any recorded or live version of Purple Rain when played by Prince and his bands and you will hear space. Space between the notes, space between the enunciation, space for the emotion to appear and be revealed.

The tribute versions of Purple Rain don’t sound even as good as a cover band may produce. A cover band – or at least a good one – will often peel back the layers of a song and find the essence.

To hear that essence, that caressing use of space, check the recent upload to YouTube:

Even the audience appreciate how to go slowly into the aural space that Prince and his band create – it’s a calm and sensuous build towards a passionate explosion of voice and guitar that, it seems, none can equal, even when they try to play this signature tune.

And just to emphasise why so few other people can play Prince songs in the way he and his bands could, here’s Prince with Wendy, Lisa and Sheila E playing Purple Rain in the middle of their set at the Brit Awards 2006:

Long live the Prince!

Multiple Spoiler Alert

Book review: Learning to Swim by Sara J Henry

Learning-to-Swim-150pxI want to spoil your enjoyment of this book. And not just this book. In fact, all the other self-serving authors and so-called ‘reviewers’ who pat each other on the back, all in the interests of promoting their own mediocre books.

There are some good paragraphs in Learning to Swim. Full stop. Henry is a columnist, editor and writing instructor, apparently. And there are occasional glimpses of the characters and their environs. But mostly there is bland story development, trivial life observations and an absolutely terrible ‘reveal’ at the end which is complete nonsense.

So what is my beef? A poor novel is hardly something to write home about. But …

“From its shocking opening to its stunning conclusion, Learning to Swim is a frightening ride. Sara J. Henry will quite literally take your breath away.”  J.T. Ellison, author of The Lost Key

And …

“A thriller of the most thrilling kinda smart and crafty story with whiffs of Rebecca that insists from the first sentence that you sit down and not stand up again until you’ve read the last word.” Quinn Cummings, author of Notes from the Underwire

And lastly …

“With a strong, believable cast of characters and a breathtaking plot, it’s a nonstop thrilling ride that’s impossible to put down.” Cat Connor, author of Killerbyte …

These ‘reviews’ and the many others achieve nothing. For example:

  • they tell the reader nothing
  • they tell the author nothing
  • they tell publishers nothing

All they do is waste everyone’s time by foisting mediocre writing into people’s lives, dumbing down the whole publishing industry. As if it needed any help!

Almost Perfect Police Procedural

Book review: Deeper Than the Dead by Tami Hoag

Tami-Hoag-Deeper-Than-The-Dead-254pxAt last a book with believable characters, skilful dialogue and just about perfect story arcs. And you can ignore the nearly-standard praise-blurbs. This is an exciting book in the way it contrasts 1985 police and FBI techniques with what we accept as the ‘norm’ now – post CSI etc.

The “lives of more women are at stake” blurb and the occasional mentions of same in the book are correct in a way, but the writing elsewhere is so good that we want to follow the stories and characters. And anyway, we know this type of book will have a ‘successful’ ending.

In fact, arriving at the conclusion is almost a non-event. The numerous red herrings are the one flaw with the book. The suspected-but-not-villains gradually fall by the wayside with monotonous and obvious regularity.

But I’m not going to end on a low note. Deeper Than the Dead is a clever, captivating and carefully crafted novel that ticks just about every box. Go read it now.

Police Procedural Pain

Book review: The Ice Child by Camilla Lackberg

Lackberg-The-Ice-ChildSo here are 41 characters introduced in the first 30 pages! And being Nordic there are a hell of a lot of them with surnames ending in …sson. And the point? Zero. Or should I say Noll.

Following that supernumerary error, we have crime thriller 101 errors followed by serial killer 101 errors and psychopathology 101 errors, ad nauseam.

For example: “Patrik wondered what an outsider would think about the banter that went on between them, even during the most harrowing investigations. But it was something they all needed. Sometimes the work left them so weighed down that they had to take a moment to relax, tease each other, and laugh. That was how they coped with all the sorrow, death and despair.”

Continue reading “Police Procedural Pain”

“Being Clever” rather than Telling a Story

Book review: Trick of the Dark by Val McDermid

‘I’m not entirely sure,’ Charlie had prevaricated.

McDermid-Trick-of-the-DarkOh no, I thought. Surely not. The Val wouldn’t write like that. But the whole book is a peculiar departure from the usual tight storytelling and crisp arcs you might expect from McDermid. Although this book is copyright 2010 it’s almost as if it sat in a bottom drawer for the past 20 years. And the editor(s) didn’t get around to a close reading before sending to print.

Apart from the adverb issues (of which there are many), there are the cardboard characters and the enormous “tell, don’t show” passages that go on for page after page. Repeatedly.

So what we’ve got is the smarter-than-smart main protagonist and an emotional goddess partner, alongside the stunningly attractive heroine (sort of) and her plain-Jane but oh-so-sharp sister, plus the fiendishly wicked antagonist, and the … . Need I go on.

Continue reading ““Being Clever” rather than Telling a Story”

Mini cars, mini skirts, punk fashion and punk music

Book review: Stories We Could Tell by Tony Parsons

Parsons-Stories-We-Could-Tell.jpgThis is a wonderful #music #history #novel that was written before we had hashtags dominating our reading preferences. Nonetheless, there are dozens of potential hashtag references dotted through the story: #JohnLennon, #CarnabyStreet, #Mods, #Punks, #Riots, #MelodyMaker and on and on.

So what happens? Terry, Ray and Leon are all music journalists at various stages of development/disintegration, partly trying to grow up. But they’re in an age when we didn’t really have to grow up! Yes, it’s the 1970s and the fashion, music, non-fashion and non-music is tossed around the narrative with happy abandon. Let’s just say that Parsons appears to be a bit OCD about the 70s and the emergence of the attitudes and yoof-kulture of the time.

Continue reading “Mini cars, mini skirts, punk fashion and punk music”

A Tale of One City, or, Ian Rankin joins Mills & Boon

Book review: Doors Open by Ian Rankin

Doors Open by Ian RankinWell yes, I have loved the Rebus stories and the wonderful descriptions and depictions of Edinburgh as a character in the Ian Rankin novels. Although he is a curmudgeon of the highest order, there’s still huge humanity lurking beneath the Rebus exterior.

There’s depth of experience of life, there are the wrinkles of bad experiences and bad decisions, plus there are the friends and colleagues, loyal or not, who surround the Rebus plots with lightness or darkness — and all knit together into profoundly satisfying novels.

With Doors Open Rankin introduced a bunch of new characters and surrounded them with the Edinburgh personality with his usual acumen. The streets, buildings, climate and atmosphere are as alive as always. The characters, not so much — in fact hardly at all — and that was a disappointing surprise.

Continue reading “A Tale of One City, or, Ian Rankin joins Mills & Boon”

A Tale of Two Cities

Book review: Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton

Book review: Canary by Duane Swierczynski

Philadelphia is the fifth largest city in the US of A, while Seattle is possibly the fifth most attractive. I’ll leave the second ranking up to the reader to decide.

In the two books under review, the cities are as much characters as the people, with both the urban areas lending obstructions and help in various ways to the inhabitants.

Past Crimes Glen Erik HamiltonPast Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton is the lesser of the two books, with too many of the characters not much more than a cliche – powerful grandfather, rugged henchmen, foolish minnows, etcetera. If the author had put as much time into developing the characters as he had into the often warm and loving descriptions of Philadelphia and its environs, the book would have soared. As it stands, it’s a rather obvious read of how the ‘hero’ will use his awesome talents to outwit the baddies, the weather, the ocean, asphyxia … you get the picture.

Canary Duane SwierczynskiCanary by Duane Swierczynski achieves so much more, even with a YA hero. Sidebar: are we allowed to say heroine any more? Or do heroines have to be called heros, just like actresses have to be called actors. Or so some would have us believe. And can a book that depends extensively on long passages from the YA’s journal really work?

Swierczynski pulls off every technique to perfection, giving us believable characters, believable plot and action, and very believable outcomes. Sure, there would be other stories very similar to Sarie’s which could end badly – and there a few in the book. But then there also stories where the Davids outwit the Goliaths, even if they occur one in a thousand. Canary is a one -in-a-thousand delight – about both the city and the YA heroine – so rush out and grab a slice of Swierczynski soon.

Top 10 Things Wrong with Girl in the Spider’s Web

Book review: The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz

Yes, you are reading correctly. These are just the top 10 things wrong; I could go on for some time, otherwise, and that may not be fair to any brains hoping for a simple afternoon of catching up with the latest “international blockbuster”. Or whatever they’re saying this week.

girl in the spiders web book reviewSo let’s begin …

1. Personality Problems 

Blomkvist went into the kitchen to get some peace and quiet. He was exhausted and wanted to go home.

This is laughable. Blomkvist had just had sex with his lover, a married woman and therefore extra frisson, he had just heard from the most dangerously exciting woman in his life after many months of silence, he had just been shot at, and he was the first to discover a hugely important dead man alongside a highly traumatised autistic boy. Blomkvist would be wired on adrenaline, testosterone and a dozen other synaptic exciters. He would not be a tired wimp!

Continue reading “Top 10 Things Wrong with Girl in the Spider’s Web”

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