Sunday, 11 August 2013

Review: Drama: An Actor's Education

Drama: An Actor's Education
Drama: An Actor's Education by John Lithgow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Superb. Would highly recommend this as an audio book:as you can imagine, Lithgow's tone and delivery is exemplary and his unflinching honesty about his life is a joy to behold in a modern autobiography.
The only thing I would have like more of is his time in Hollywood over the last 20 years as this is skimmed over in the last chapter. But if that meant editing out some of his earlier years and any of the wonderful anecdotes about his early years and his wonderful father, then it's a worthy sacrifice.

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Review: Joyland

Joyland by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We all know King. We all know that King can write epic, sprawling, huge and fantastical stories. But there are times when King is at his best when he scales down the chapters of set-ups and scene-setting, when the characterising speeches are minimized, and the locations are sparse and few. It's a long established opinion that the best film adaptations of his works come from the shortest stories (Stand By Me and Shawshank Redemption being the obvious candidates), and Joyland, is another one of his 'short but sweet' wonders.

It's 1973 and 21 yr old Devin Jones is disillusioned-with his love-life, his education and himself. On a whim he applies to work at old fashioned carnival come theme park Joyland, and finally his life begins.

To call Joyland a 'horror' or 'thriller' story would be doing it a disservice and I notice a lot of reviews claiming it's "nothing like King". I can only presume that these people haven't really 'read' King properly, as it's EXACTLY like King as it's what he does best. It's 100% a character study with the 'crime/horror' element firmly in the background. Every single character is believable: full of heart, full of sorrow and pain, all with the common bond of living for the now, the future being something they don't want to consider.

Don't pick this up expecting another 'IT' or 'Salem's Lot', Joyland is a novella full of heart with a side-order of menace and the perfect beach/flight/curl up in your book-nook and not come out 'till you're finished novel.

Go and get it.

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Saturday, 10 August 2013

Review: Lexicon

Lexicon by Max Barry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s hard to find contemporary literature that crosses over with Sci-Fi that produces satisfying results, yet Max Barry manages this and then some with his latest novel Lexicon.

It starts at breakneck speed with the capture (and apparent torture) of male protagonist Wil as he fights against two agents determined to extract something via his eyeball (yeah…still uncurling the toes over that one) his subsequent escape and recapture while racing through an airport lounge. It appears the info the agents need could be vital in fighting an organisation known as The Poets, one in particular known only at this point as ‘Woolf’. Woolf’s done some bad things, some very bad things and it would seem only Wil can stop her.

We then meet Emily a young fraudster living on the streets. She’s good at would she does; she can read and persuade people and this brings her to the attention of the Poets. She’s scooped up (almost literally) and taken to a unique training facility where among other things, she’s taught the power of words and to hone her powers of persuasion.

We follow Wil, Emily, and an amazing cast of supporting characters as the novel gives us both the build-up as well as the aftermath of the ‘Very Bad Thing’. And that’s where Barry shines as an author. At no point is the reader patronised or spoon fed plot details; the chapters are simply numbered, there are no dates or locations as sub-headings and the book is merely separated in sections with only quotes from books or poems to guide the way. Barry acknowledges that the reader may well have the brains to work it all for themselves and this is so refreshing. It makes for a better novel too, as there are moments in the story that are genuinely jaw-dropping ‘did not see that coming’ affairs. Another excellent device is the use of other printed media at the end of each chapter; these range from memos to staff in the diner Emily has been using, news articles on incidents occurring in the story, even questionnaires used by the school to screen applicants.

I borrowed this from the library (after a lengthy wait) but will definitely be buying a copy to keep as I feel it’ll be one of those novels that you gain a little something more from on each reading. Full concentration is required (this isn’t a doze off at bedtime book) but you will be handsomely rewarded with a clever, mature and thought provoking read.

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Thursday, 8 August 2013

Review: The River of No Return

The River of No Return
The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'll be honest with you, right from the beginning, I'm not one for 'love stories' in my literature: 'girl meets boy, boy's an idiot/oaf/rich egotist, girl pines, boy realises mistake, and hilarity/heartbreak/humping ensues' etc etc. It all bores me witless, especially if there are bonnets or Bennets involved. But, when that love story is set as the background to a clever, witty, tightly constructed novel with time-travel as its main crux, then that’s me sold.
The opening prologue sets us up nicely for the journey to come by introducing us first to Julia Percy a 19th Century orphan left in the care of a Grandfather on his deathbed. As he faces his final moments he tells Julia that she “…must pretend-“before using his mystical ability to speed up his demise. Soon we discover that Julia has powers of her own and that she must indeed ‘pretend’ several times to save her own life.

We’re also introduced to Nick, a wealthy playboy with a nice little side-line as a Vermont cheese farmer in 2013. His world is about to be torn apart by a summons from a mysterious organisation known only as The Guild, the society that gave him his new affluent life after he ‘jumped’ through time seconds before he was due to be slaughtered on the battlefield 200 years previously.

What follows is an amazing ride across the time lines full of good guys, bad guys and quite a few ambiguous guys as well, but it’s testament to Ridgway’s writing that none of them feel forced or surplus to the plot. And what a plot it is! I’m no dumbo, nor am I na├»ve when it comes to the topic of time travel, but I was genuinely kept guessing by Ridgway, and it’s rare that I’m impressed by a debut author as much as I was by her. My only gripe (though its reasoning could mean a sequel) is that there a few threads left dangling at the end of the novel. I’m hoping there is, as I would love to take a trip with these characters again.

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