Saturday, 25 December 2010

Seriously volatile. Handle with care (but soon)

ExploitsExploits by Poppet

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have read many books I would classify as all-time favourites over the last year, and here comes another one - Poppet's 'Exploits'.

It is chick-lit in structure, but it has been artisticly coated in sensual nitroglycerine to deliver the most explosive of authorial rub-downs on opening.

It is raw, spontaneously honest, and skin-tinglingly exciting, wrapped as it is around twists and writhings of plot and bodies.

It is about personal enslavement and the physical and emotional enjoyment that makes that enslavement possible - thus the pun of the title. It is also about being stripped to self-loathing by others before rebuilding your own sense of validity.

In short, it is about a young woman laid aggressively bare who doesn't necessarily want to be clothed but who does want to be safe and at home.

My only reservation - I cannot imagine the heroine Stef as a blonde. Definitely brunette, I would say.

And, very fortunately, I have another Poppet book to hand - 'Seithe' (a dark romance). Can't get enough.

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Friday, 24 December 2010

It's quiet - it's excellent

Surfacing (Descending Surfacing)Surfacing by Catherine Chisnall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved Catherine Chisnall's 'Descending' and this is the sequel.

She apparently feared that 'Surfacing' might not be as good as 'Descending' but in fact, if anything, it is even better.

Not that it could fail. Catherine's quietly precise voice coaxes you along the sense of searching, of coping, of outrage.

A wonderful book.

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You call it Vietnam; I call it Iraq

How Can You Mend This Purple Heart by Terry Gould

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the most terrifying things about life for me is that a child can be damaged at an early age and then is mutilated or disfigured for life. That is what Stacey Danson's 'Empty Chairs' is all about - being prostituted from the age of three in her case - but it is also the gist of 'How Can You Mend This Purple Heart?' where young men of 20 have stood on a landmine - or their mate has - and they have lost one, two or even three limbs. One minute they are lithe young men at the peak of their physical prowess, the next they are angry cripples, in this case publicly derided for taking part in one of the most unpopular wars in history.

This is an extraordinary book for the way it describes how these Vets came to terms with their appalling injuries. Apparently during the First World War only one person ever survived a triple amputation. During the current occupation of Iraq I am told there is one a week, so this book is still highly topical.

It reads a bit like a theatre piece or TV series and, sure enough, next year it will be premiered in a playhouse in Pittsburgh.

It is also outraging and funny. You may well laugh and sneer until you cry.

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Friday, 17 December 2010

Typically West Coast

Becoming Johnny NovaBecoming Johnny Nova by David Kupisiewicz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a young lad, I was very into the West Coast bands - Jefferson Airplane / Starship, The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver et al and I would have loved to have been out there lazing in the sunshine, dreaming to the music, basking in the casual amiability and maybe even choking on the weed (I have always preferred wine myself, but California has a few gallons of that too).

David Kupisiewicz's 'Becoming Johnny Nova' is a generation later than my fantasies and somewhat less fantastical, but it is still from another world of impromptu mass parties and irritatingly intrusive policing. I didn't even have the over-controlling parents.

You really do get a sense of being there in this life lived on Planet David, surrounded by some very dodgy friends, a very reliable girlfriend who isn't, drugs galore and academic rebellion. Then its all off to the hills - or the streets - to mill, drink, smoke and play, and occasionally to fight.

It is one of those books where you simply pick it up and read another couple of chapters at a time until you have soon finished it, with the thought that you have been living in somebody else's skin.

I don't believe that people are jerks, but I do believe in playing a little bit of rock 'n' roll.

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Not perhaps - definitely!

Perhaps .... PerhapsPerhaps .... Perhaps by L.A. Dale

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading 'Perhaps .... Perhaps' is like sipping a crisp, dry Chablis on a warm summer's day, and reading the whole book is like downing the whole bottle, which is just fine by me.

So this is how you should read 'Perhaps .... Perhaps', a glass of white wine in one hand and LA Dale (so to speak) in the other - a perfect combination.

The writing is elegant, sharp and bouncy, the characters well defined, the heroine neurotic-squeaky and her reservations a bit olde worlde. Thank God her boss knows how to get on top of his job.

This is a very enjoyable chick-lit which knows the conventions without choosing to follow them slavishly.

I shall certainly be hunting down LA Dale's other book 'Heart of Glass' which apparently bumps along to a soundtrack of classic songs. I fancy another bottle.

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Wednesday, 15 December 2010

I'd settle for being shopped

How To Meet A Guy At The SupermarketHow To Meet A Guy At The Supermarket by Jessica L. Degarmo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You can shop for anything nowadays and I reckon we are becoming more and more consumerist in everything we do. Statisticians have shown that we choose politicians like soap powder, so why not lovers too - great packaging, not too battered about, hours of fun and pleasure, dispose after use?

Well, the heroine of 'How To Meet A Guy At The Supermarket' thinks so. She's ready for a mate; time to go out and snag one. And, as a journalist, she can devise a syndicated column while she is at it.

What she finds, of course, is that while it is a clever conceit, actually doing it is one hell of a lot tougher. People just aren't looking out for lovers in supermarkets (in my experience and hers). A supermarket is simply the wrong context for those kinds of thoughts.

So her antics have to get a bit wild and intrusive, from which derives the humour in the book, and blokes are simply not guaranteed to give as much satisfaction as all those inanimate objects on the shelves.

However, the real pleasure of this book is that Quinn, the heroine, is human - not some chick lit artefact. You can really believe that author Jessica really did the things in the book and even wrote a column about them.

Einstein once said that he had the choice of studying either advanced physics or women, and that he had chosen to pursue the physics because he had at least some chance of understanding some of it. This book could help you if you are considering taking the other path.

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A book about love to love

Travels Through Love And TimeTravels Through Love And Time by Christine Hall Volkoff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first went to the Hyeres as an 8 year old when my parents took me on a day trip to the Ile de Levant which has a famous nudist beach. Appropriately enough, the first novella of this book is set on the Ile de Porquerolles, a neighbouring island.

This is a story of love in three aspects and at three ages. It starts when a teenage girl falls in love with a glamorous Italian actress, and then catches up with its narrator some twenty years on, I would guess, spotting a beautiful woman on the terrace of a cafe bar in Paris. The final novella is a kind of swan song.

It is billed as a lesbian book, which I suppose it is, but it is much more universal than specific, and reminded me at one moment of Francoise Sagan and at another of Truman Capote who wrote the only portrait of Marilyn Munro I have ever fully believed. I don't know if the actress in the first novella is / was a real person but, if so, you get an indelible sense of her private, yet not fully private, self.

A wonderful, lyrical book - the sort of thing you should read every year to remind yourself what being human and vulnerable is all about.

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A must-read YA (and there aren't many of those around)

HellogonHellogon by John Booth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read the original version of John Booth's 'Shaddowdon' a while back and enjoyed it so much that I read it to one of my sons too.

However, I reckon 'Hellogon' is even better. In fact it is definitely scary, not so much at the time as afterwards, when you come to think about it and realise that it is giving you a very unsettling insight into how real politicians, diplomats and secret services (the Establishment) calculate and strategise.

The tale is classic Harry Potter - a teenager who doesn't realise he is born to greatness suddenly finds that he has an unwelcome and burdensome job to do - in this case to save his race that happens to be a race most of us would have our doubts about saving.

However, the theme of 'Hellogon' is somewhat the reverse to that of Harry Potter and its core message is diametrically opposite.

It is also good to see a YA book that actually has some wholesome, playful sex in it accompanied by many a wry reference.

Good fun, well written, chilling, you know you are in the hands of a master as you read this book.

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A fun read - don't do this to the one you love!

Spoilt: Joanne EllisSpoilt: Joanne Ellis by Joanne Ellis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

'Spoilt' is a romantic slasher-thriller where a crazed maniac is abducting, torturing and killing girls all, seemingly, as a warm-up to abduct and carve up Chelsea whose boyfriend walked out on her without explanation a year beforehand. The romance hots up between Lucas and Chelsea, then ....

You don't see many chick-lit crime procedurals around - a bit cross-genre - but this is certainly one, and a fun one at that, with a twisty ending borrowed from a classic romantic plot. I suppose that is the fun of miscegenation - you can plug and play with the conventions of both genres as the moment takes you.

This is not one for the literati, but it swings along with much pleasure, and a little pain, and the lead characters are endearing and well-suited.

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Thursday, 11 November 2010

I'm in the women's hygiene section - 'How To Meet A Guy In The Supermarket'

Having been educated in more or less all-male establishments between the ages of 7 and 22 (well, Cambridge University was 24 males to each female at the time), I have to admit to a certain fondness for well-written chick-lit while I still try to understand how women's minds work in relation to love and romance some 30 years later.

The central core of any romance tale has to be that you actually want the girl and the boy to get all hot and sweaty together somewhere around the last chapter, whilst knowing that almost everything will get in their way en route.

As in Jane Austen's 'Sense and Sensibility', the problem here is that Quinn is looking down all the wrong aisles and taking some pretty dubious advice from friends.

The great thing about this book is that psychologically it rings much more true than its more manufactured chick-lit cousins. I don't know if Jessica really writes a column on travel and dating, or whether she has indeed picked up men in supermarkets, but the more I read, the more I came to believe that this was a thinly disguised documentary.

So, not only do I thoroughly recommend this book, but I shall pay much more attention down my local Tesco's or Co-Op from now on. There may even be a 2-for-1 offer at one of the gondola ends.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Brendan Gisby's 'The Island of Whispers' reviewed by Teresa Geering

(Teresa Geering is the author of the excellent time-travel romance 'The Eye of Erasmus' - here).

With great trepidation, I began to read The Island of Whispers.

I hate Rats with a passion, but under the influential, cunning writing of Brendan Gisby, I found myself reading this in one long sitting.

Out of sight of prying eyes deep underground, live a colony of rats with imaginative names, such as Twisted Foot, his mate Grey Eyes and their offspring Soft Mover.

Their world is regimented and overseen by A King Rat, who ensures that only the strongest survive by having the weakest culled. These bodies are then in turn used for the feeding cycle.

As the Cold Cycle begins above ground so the breeding season begins below. All in their world is exactly as it should be....

Then the story takes a different turn. A group of the rats led by Twisted Foot and his mate Grey Eyes, who had been subjected to rape, decide to make a bid for freedom to the greener lands above, along with their offspring.

With unexpected help from the lower rat quarters, a bloody battle ensues and they are finally free but at what cost?

Keeping well hidden from four legs, (a nifty Jack Russell called Nipper) and the two legged variety of rat catcher, they set out to cross the sea to safety. Could they swim? They had no idea but were prepared to take that chance.

I found myself willing these little rats to overcome all of the obstacles put in their way, (and there were many) to obtain safety on the other side.

Twisted foot and his followers are pursued by the remaining rats in the colony that have orders to bring them back at the cost of their own lives.

I breathed a sigh of relief, as these intrepid adventurers finally make it to safety but again at what cost?

Do they set up a new colony and live happily ever after.......

At times, the song ‘Bright Eyes’ from Watership Down popped into my head. Was I getting to like these disgusting little furry creatures?

Would I highly recommend it?

The answer is a resounding yes for all age groups, because The Island of Whispers is extremely well written and thought out, albeit highly gory in places.

('The Island of Whispers' is available from here).

Monday, 25 October 2010

Lose your legs and smile - How Can You Mend This Purple Heart?

‘How Can You Mend This Purple Heart?’ is not an intrinsically funny book.

It is the story of how a young naval recruit, Jeremy Shoff, is involved in a lethal car crash coming back from a party and finds himself in the U.S. Naval Hospital in Philadelphia among a ward full of mutilated Vietnam veterans who have lost between one and three limbs while stepping on landmines in the war that was considered by many Americans to have brought shame upon their country.

While some of the therapeutic treatment of these wounds is agonising, it is the convalescence which is the most traumatic, not only for the endless pain subdued by massive amounts of pain killers, but also for the physical and psychological adjustments required to face almost an entire life of handicap after having been the fittest of the fittest, and for the horrific flashbacks to the moment when this crippling transition occurred.

Jeremy is looked down upon as a non-combatant by one hardened and embittered marine in particular, and Terry Gould is excellent at identifying the complex socio-military cross-currents of the situation – marines vs. non-marines, optimists vs. pessimists, warriors vs. peaceniks.

However, and miraculously, most of this book is far from dour. There is a tremendous fondness and understanding in the writing, a recognition of the humanity in all of the participants in all situations, and true admiration for the tact, professionalism and generosity of the hospital staff.

It also regularly dips into outrage and rises to humour, once both at the same time when a passing admiral insists on being treated with the respect he so little deserves.

In common with its publishing stable-mate ‘Confronting Cancer with the QiGong Edge’ by Robert Ellal, this is a book detailing extreme medical trauma that transcends the horror of what it is describing to offer the residual hope that many human beings can overcome almost any setback, the message and the quality of writing exemplified by Primo Levi in his books about the Holocaust.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Simon Swift's 'Black Shadows' reviewed by Teresa Geering

(Teresa Geering is the author of 'The Eye of Erasmus' - here).

'BlackShadows' is not a book I would normally choose to read, but I’m so glad the opportunity was given to me.

We are introduced to the main character Errol Christopher Black, a rookie private detective as he tucks into a large bloody porterhouse steak. Detectives Terry Shadow and Dyke Spanner of the Shadow Man Detective Agency are helping him work his way through a now half empty bottle of claret.

The story unfolds in Newark New Jersey in 1935 where mobs rule, and we are witness to a typical shoot out of the time. As the table is upended to afford some form of protection from the flying bullets, they realise that they are not the intended targets but Terry Shadow meets his untimely end with two clean bullets to the head.

Ten years down the line we find Errol Christopher Black with a new partner, Hermeez Wentz and now based in Manhattan at the Black and Wentz Detective Agency along with his very obliging secretary Ava Jameson.

Errol seems happy to take on run of the mill cases and his new client Claudia seems to fit into that category. She tells of a straying fiancé George, along with the discovery of a lipstick and pair of lacy panties which don’t belong to her.

As he takes on what he considers to be a routine surveillance case, Errol is unexpectedly drawn back once more to the mobsters and gangs of that time.

His one time partner Dyke Spanner is shot to death and Errol finds himself on the trail of a blue diamond coveted by hoodlums and beautiful women alike.

The story unfolds with many twists and turns, whilst the reader is witness to the beautiful women that Errol chooses to bed, in his quest for the diamond and the elusive George. Murder is not a rare occurrence either. To state more would give away too much of the plot.

The strength of the writing led me to imagine that I was entering into a 1940’s movie with Humphrey Bogart in the wings.

I also firmly believe that with the right exposure, there is potential here for a film.

Many times during reading BLACK SHADOWS I was convinced that I had all the answers, only to be completely wrong footed by the superb, imaginative writing of Simon Swift.

More information on 'Black Shadows' - here.

Sheila Mary Taylor praises 'Conronting Cancer' by Robert Ellal to the rafters

Sheila Mary Taylor (aka Sheila Belshaw) is the author of 'Fly with a Miracle', the story of Sheila’s son Andrew who overcame a usually fatal form of teenage cancer against all adversity, and fulfilled his dream to learn to fly. Published by Denor Press, London, available from Amazon - here.

'Confronting Cancer with the QiGong Edge' - the true life horror tale of facing cancer four times.

The unputdownable quality of this book lies not only in the superb writing, but in the mesmerising balance the writer achieves between the horror of his protagonist’s journey through seemingly never ending onslaughts of cancer, and the philosophy behind his remarkable recovery.

He is not afraid to show the weaknesses of the main character alongside his strengths. He doesn’t keep you strung up on the edge of your seat all the time. He gives you an enlightened breather every now and then, skilfully juxtaposing events that are not necessarily chronological and yet perfectly fit a pattern ─ creating cliffhangers as in a thriller that draw the reader ever forward.

This book should be read not only by cancer patients, or those touched by cancer, but by everyone. For there is a wealth of knowledge to be gleaned about how by one or two simple processes we can escape the stresses of the modern world that lead to so much ill health. One of these is a simple qigong exercise, a method of exercising from the inside out, instead of from the outside in; a combination of mind, breath and body co-ordination that leads to stillness, which in turn leads naturally into meditation, and from there to the art of visualisation ─ visualising the body whole and healed, a concept so important in augmenting the very necessary highly technical treatments of cancer. The “Embrace the Tree” exercise (what a lovely title that would make), is the most important of these, and one we could all use, if only to chase away the common cold.

There is a fine line to be drawn between bravery and fear, between strength and weakness. Bob Ellal acknowledges that his usual iron will sometimes falters. He does not pretend that that it isn’t happening. This endears the reader to Bob. We can all identify with this weakness. But at the same time we are astounded at his tenacity, in his belief that he will recover, in his ability to face whatever new monstrous horror is thrown at him.

Bob’s wife Cheryl also shows great fortitude. Throughout the terror and drama of the recurring cancer, she remains strong, as do his children. In periods of remission Bob and Cheryl are able to resume a semblance of normal married togetherness. “That’s the litmus test of true love,” Bob tells us. “To sit in an empty room, say nothing and not get on one another’s nerves.” He highlights the stresses and strains of the carer, the wife who has to stoically stand by him, exercising inexhaustible strength. Cheryl is underplayed by the writer, but she shines through as a crucial cog in the wheel of Bob’s extraordinary journey.

It was a toss-up for me to decide which element of this book made me most excited: the beautiful prose, or the spell-binding content. But I suppose that in the end it is a combination of both. I love the easy conversational tone, the elegance of style, the metaphors, and the perfect syntax which gives rhythm to the prose, at times almost as alluring as poetry. But above all there is the ring of truth and honesty in every word. He illustrates graphically how great things can be achieved through being faced with the prospect of death. At so many different levels ─ physical, mental and philosophical, he concludes that the importance of good health and the achievement of it, far outweighs the material achievements that so many of us consider necessary for a “successful life”. And he gives tangible hope to other sufferers.

You can buy 'Confronting Cancer with the QiGong Edge' in paperback or on Kindle - here.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Ramzy Baroud reviews two excellent George Polley books

(Ramzy Baroud is the editor and publisher of The Palestine Chronicle and author of several books, including the recent 'My Father Was a Freedom Fighter').

What struck me most reading George Polley’s books, Grandfather and the Raven and The Old Man and the Monkey are their ability to relocate the reader geographically without dislocating him culturally or intellectually. The place is maybe Japan but the moral of the stories are to be applied everywhere, and on everyone.

My children read both books and enjoyed them immensely. They appreciated the sense of adventure, readability and the uniqueness of the style. I appreciated their subtle moral messages. Indeed, the reader is left without a restricting set of values imposed by the author, but the ability to think and glean the messages of the stories using his or her moral contexts or cultural values. My younger daughter saw The Old Man and the Monkey as a clear anti-racism message. My older daughter argued it teaches kindness to animals and appreciation of everything around us, no matter how different or seemingly strange. I appreciated the fact that the books allowed them to think outside the carefully tailored, yet often simplistic messages imparted on them by the media regarding the ultimate right and wrong.

George Polley’s text is readable and enjoyable. No gimmicks and no stylistic fads. Seemingly classic in its approach to writing for younger readers, it is still very creative in the way it conveys the content and the overall moral of the stories.

Grandfather and the Raven leaves one wondering if indeed such stories have been carried from one generation to the next in Sapporo, Japan. The way the stories are told transmits the feeling of generational wisdom that is conveyed through ancient legends and fables of East Asia, the Middle East, Africa and beyond. George Polley expresses that astute sentiment so wonderfully through his prudent, careful but at times mischievous characters.

Even as an adult, I found myself very much involved in reading and attempting to interpret the stories. The conclusion of The Old Man and the Monkey had me pause and reflect for a while with a mix of feelings, partly sadness, but also appreciation of that often unspoken relationship between us and nature which keeps our world moving, often unnoticed.

George Polley’s beautiful style is a model of anti-sensationalism, a breath of fresh air at the age of intellectual profit-generation and mass production of ideas. It’s beautiful and sweet. It gets the reader to think, and often smile.

Thank you George.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

'Simon's Choice' by Charlotte Castle

Simon's ChoiceSimon's Choice by Charlotte Castle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The topic of a seven year old child dying of leukemia could have come across almost as insufferably as the fictional tragedy itself, but in Ms. Castle's hands it doesn't. It comes over exceptionally powerfully, warmly, movingly, provocatively, inevitably.

There were times I could have hugged the characters and others when I could have thrown a very sharp plate at Melissa, which means that this book probably works just as well for men as for women.

This is a really involving book which is as much about the stresses and strains of modern marriage as it is about the suffering of a dying child.

It also reminded me of Winston Churchill's famous quip when a woman MP came up to him and said "Mr. Churchill, if I were your wife I would poison your food," to which Winnie replied "Ah yes, Madam, and if I were your husband I would eat it".

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Friday, 23 July 2010

Descending by Catherine Chisnall

DescendingDescending by Catherine Chisnall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Catherine Chisnall's 'Descending' is one of those books which it is easier simply to read than to read reviews about.

It is about a low key love affair, an aberration, a few days in a life which might change everything or nothing.

It is about the role of a support teacher and how she fits into a male dominated classroom. It is about how pupils play games with teachers and about how the management of any institution plays those same games but in a more self-righteous and pompous way.

This is the tale of a minor transgression that says so much about how we politic to puff ourselves up and to put others down.

It is a very quiet and powerful book.

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Monday, 19 July 2010

The Old Man & The Monkey

The Old Man & The MonkeyThe Old Man & The Monkey by George Polley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a really, really beautiful tale of friendship across races - quite a long way across races, given it is between an old man and a Japanese snow monkey.

Snow monkeys are considered pests. Old men can be pests too, especially on the roads, so perhaps they have more in common than you might at first imagine.

The old man's wife and the villagers fear an infestation of snow monkeys in their village, as if they hadn't infested it first away from the snow monkeys.

It is a wise story. Legendary.

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Get Some

Get SomeGet Some by Daniel Birch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm a big fan of Danny Birch and this is a great book, better even than his 'Clipped'.

This tale of persecution and revenge has excellent female characters too.

It just fires along. You could even say it rocks.

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Buenos Aires: a train ride over the rainbow

'Buenos Aires: A Train Ride Over the Rainbow' by Paul Perry

***** (five stars)

There is that saying "Some people drink to remember, others drink to forget".

I think that travel is like that too.

Paul Perry travelled to forget Philadelphia and in search of the Land of Oz - not Oz as in Australia, but his personal Land of Oz as in Argentina.

Well, from the look of his poetry it sure ain't paradise for him. Which is our gain. Happiness makes for lousy music and for pretty bad poetry too.

This misery is very immediate and evocative - quotable too.

Little Guide to Unhip

Little Guide to UnhipLittle Guide to Unhip by Kate Rigby

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It was obvious from the beginning that this book was going to be a laugh.

It was obvious from near the beginning that it was also going to be an assault course - could I jump over the hurdle of every chapter unscathed?

Gilbert O'Sullivan - no worries there
Elasticated waists - not my fault
Morris dancers - you jest
Austria - don't care if I don't go there again

And triumphantly on until 'TIM' - Tim? Yeah, Tim is one of the unhippest names in the universe according to Kate Rigby. I lost it at birth or soon after.

Now I am too ashamed to stand in a pub next to a Morris dancer. He is a better man than me.

Take the test; feel the humiliation.

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The Eye of Erasmus

The Eye of Erasmus: Erasmus the OmnipotentThe Eye of Erasmus: Erasmus the Omnipotent by Teresa Geering

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a real shaggy dog story of a book. You just get sucked in by the writing. Is it going anywhere? Who knows? Who cares? The journey is so mesmerising.

Is there a punchline?

There is.

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Quick review of Monday Afternoon by Steve Sangirardi

Monday AfternoonMonday Afternoon by Stephen Sangirardi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A really intense tale of a love affair. The first section grabs you by the throat as you remember what it was like to fall in love during those first few breathtaking hours, and then there is the hangover. Great book

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Sunday, 25 April 2010

Once upon a time in a time and space far distant from our own, I used to work for 3M, a company famed far and wide for its innovation.

Inside 3M we were far less convinced of 3M's innovative capabilities than seemingly those who had read the publicity, but it was clear that 3M in its first 75 years had been ground-breaking, commercialising one landmark innovation after the other in a relentless, if never smooth, sequence.

The insight that 3M had from around 1920 was that all landmark innovation is not a risk, but a gamble. The chances of success cannot be calculated. However, there is a formula which 3M used. Identify a whole bunch of crazies, fire them up, tell them to break every rule, and taunt them with the idea that their obsessively cherished baby of an invention will never, ever be born unless they go through hell and back again.

That really gets the manic juices going.

The truth is, though, that while a small-to-medium sized company can handle a bunch of out-and-out whackos, it is untenable for a massive mega-corporation to do the same with 70,000 employees, which is why those sorts of companies nearly always buy in landmark innovations from elsewhere.

So, the old 3M innovation model was:

1. Darwinian - send a thousand baby turtles scurrying for the sea - some will evade the swooping skewers and grow to become big, fat turtles

2. the future and the success of any one project are unknowable, but you have to take a position regardless

I believe that this is the only way for any company to become truly innovative - to be 'the house' in gambling terms, to encourage thousands of punters to place their bets and to be assured that overall you will win, without knowing which individual gamblers will win or lose against you.

At the moment, the whole of the publishing industry is a roulette wheel which can fudamentally pay out on odd or even numbers.

The 'odd' will be that it follows the 'paper market paradigm'. Since the 1970s, everybody has been foretelling the collapse of the paper industry in that it should by all logic be virtually replaced by digitisation and yet, every year up to the last time I looked, the paper market grew in overall size. Far from depressing the demand for paper, digitisation has actually accelerated it.

According to the 'odd' scenario, therefore, paperbacks are here to stay and may become even more popular overall.

The 'even' paradigm is that of audio / video / photography whereby despite all the fond assurances of many experts that analogue musical tones were 'warmer' than cold digitital ones, that digital images were less nuanced than photographic ones, and that we all yearned to hold a photograph in our hands and onscreen viewing just wouldn't wash, the original vinyl, VHS and photographic paper markets have tumbled in the face of CDs, DVDs and digital photography.

According to the 'even' scenario, in 3-5 years' time e-tablets in combination with portable computing systems will rule the world (and may even merge), and bookshops will be but a nice place to drink coffee and to try to remember what paperbacks used to look like.

While the experts are hesitating between these two positions, declaring it is all too early to be sure which of the odd and even scenarios will play out, commercial operators have to place their bets.

And three little-known niche market players already have - Amazon, Google and Apple.

You may not have heard of these three, but you will one day.

All three have definitively decided that the paperback is fundamentally dead. Google has been digitising books for years, Apple now has the iPad which is a serious e-tablet platform, and Amazon is hailing every passerby to persuade him or her to invest in a Kindle.

My guess is that if these three digital giants are determined to make this revolution happen, the heads of the ancien regime will surely roll.

The big enticement here is not the digitisation of the erstwhile paperwork in the humble written word. That is merely the first step. The biggie is multi-media publishing.

Within a very short period, books will read, sing and dance - and it is tough to do all that in paperback.

Take bird books as I was discussing them with my twitcher brother-in-law Steve the other day. Currently you have a bird watcher's book whereby you have beautifully rendered plates of a bird in a limited number of static positions with some sage words to describe how wonderful it is. Happily, the real bird doesn't have such a limited repertoire and the vast majority of them have been known to fly, and to sing. Indeed, real ornithologists rely on a bird's call more than on its visual appearance to identify its presence. So, the ideal book for a serious bird watcher is not in any paper form that exists today, but a digital book which blends static shots, words, the moving image, sound and links to further sources of information or even live webcams - watch the birds on XYZ wetland now! Given developments in intelligent CCTV technology, that could save pampered bird watchers from suffering some very cold days in the field and take the more enterprising ones around the world in seconds at the flick of a switch, or less. Oh, and by the way, a tip from Steve - expert bird watchers are only interested in brown birds. Don't embarrass yourself by declaring loudly "Oh look at the astonishing plumage on that one" while the anorak at your side is thinking "Tart!".

All this is but a mere preamble to where Bruce Essar and I are taking Night Reading / Publishing. Bruce is infallible even if I am not, but our gamblers' bet is that the digitisation of books is the only likely future and that bookshops will become literary-chic cafés anytime soon. When that happens, the classic book marketing strategy of pouring money into the hands of bookshops to muscle in on their window displays and instore facings will be over. The only way forward will be to market books via social network media and book review bloggers.

So that is where we are headed and, in that vein, we are pleased to announce that all our future books will appear on the three key publishing platforms - paperback (initially via Amazon's CreateSpace), e-tablets (Amazon's Kindle / iPad / the Sony eReader) and e-books (Smashwords). Fortunately, all three platforms are relatively painless to access.

We have also nearly completed loading our backlog onto these platforms as well. To take a look, click on the magic words here:

'Get Some', by Daniel Birch - CreateSpace - Kindle - Smashwords
'Missio', by Tim Roux - CreateSpace - Kindle - Smashwords
'Buenos Aires: a train ride over the rainbow', by Paul Perry - CreateSpace - Kindle - Smashwords
'.... at last!', various - CreateSpace - Kindle - Smashwords

Stephen Sangirardi's runaway 'Monday Afternoon' is next.


Monday, 19 April 2010

Is Danny the first Nick Hornby of the FB / Twitter age?

I came across Danny Birch because he happened to have just released his first book 'Clipped', and to have got it puffed in The Hull Daily Mail, at the time I was setting up The A63 Revisited site to identify, showcase and promote Hull writers.

So, 'Clipped' was one of the first Hull books that I read. The A63 Revisited might have died there.

And opening 'Clipped' was certainly an odd experience.

I have frequently described Danny as being one of the first great writers of the Facebook / Twitter generation both because he has the intimacy of Nick Hornby's delivery (with an added 'street' angle), and because of his complete disregard for the formalities of literature. He even litters his dialogues with "Ha!' or 'Ha! Ha!', so that proves he is straight off the FB page (don't remember any 'LOLs', though).

'Clipped' was early days, so not only did anybody picking up that book find random grammar and syntax being hurled at them from all directions, but the ground was decidedly shaky too, rocked by some traumatically shifting tenses.

Still, after a handful of pages I got my Danny-legs and didn't feel at all queazy after that. In fact I loved the book.

I did, however, beg Danny to let me get after his grammar and syntax, but Danny was having none of it. "What's done is done," he said, or words to that effect.

Then Danny lent me an early version of 'Get Some' - same old grammar and syntax, but what a fabulous book, maybe even better than 'Clipped'.

"OK, Danny, can I have a go at the grammar and syntax on this one?" I pleaded.

"Oh, go on, then," the great man conceded.

Danny is very polite in real life - a lovely guy - which made it very funny when Rich Sutherland was putting together the 'Writing on the Wall' exhibition at the Hull Truck Theatre and counted about 30 expletives within any two random pages of the book Rich wanted to feature in large lettering on posters.

So, I got my own way and was allowed to apply the grammar and syntax steam iron to Danny's elegant prose and, though I say it myself, it flattened out really very nicely.

Danny, you see, has an absolutely unerring eye for character and storyline, it's just that some of it looks like it has been written to be blasted across Facebook and Twitter.

One of the big surprises of 'Get Some', after 'Clipped', is how sensitively Danny handles the female characters. I don't think there was a single female character of note in 'Clipped', but this time around there are two really impressive ones - Emma and Sarah. I met Sarah at the Hull Truck exhibition launch recently (Danny has a tendency to name his characters after real people). I also met Chris Colton, Danny's cousin, who came to a horrible end on a toilet in 'Clipped'.

Another big surprise was how much I found myself savouring the language and the constant under-current of wry humour Danny has built into 'Get Some'. When you are editing a book, you get to read it rather a lot of times, but I found that I was enjoying Danny's wordsmithing more and more with each iteration.

The final big surprise was George Polley. George is an American writer living in Japan whose own writing is firmly anti-violence. Night Publishing has just published his 'The Old Man & The Monkey' which is a fervent allegorical plea against racism and towards greater understanding and friendship in the world. When 'Get Some' was all ready to go, I sent George a pdf copy, saying that I doubted it was his sort of thing but ..... The next day George wrote back saying he was fifty pages in and absolutely loving it - he continued to love it too, and he promptly pasted the proof onto

What is not surprising about Danny's writing is that it draws in people who would not otherwise be tempted to pick up a book. What is perhaps more surprising is how many other writers on Night Reading and elsewhere really appreciate his work. Danny seems to have an extraordinarily wide appeal.

So, I urge you strongly to go out and buy a copy. Do yourself a favour, as they say. And you can find out more about it here:

The Daniel Birch profile on Night Publishing
The A63 Revisited
The Hull Truck 'Writing on the Wall' exhibition
Night Reading
George Polley on Night Publishing