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Review of DEAD(ish)

13 May

I wasn’t sure whether to put this review on the blog, and then when I did I wasn’t sure whether to highlight it as a daily post. The author may not thank me, but in retrospect, I committed myself to reviewing self-published and small press authors this year and I’d be a bit of a hypocrite if I suppressed the not so good ones. And also, to put this review into context, I thought the author showed real promise, I just don’t think she did her book justice. Anyway, here is is:

DEAD[ish]DEAD[ish] by Naomi Kramer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have real mixed feelings about this book. Where do I start? Ok, let’s look at the positives. At the heart of DEAD(ish) is a great idea. It’s quirky and it’s different and it’s quite original. I wasn’t 100% convinced of the narrative twist where the ghost of Linda finds out what happened to her body, but I was convinced enough. It just about worked in an offbeat, Chuck Palahniuk kind of way. And it’s fair to say that Naomi Kramer can write. She has a great style which flows well and has an edge to it. No typos, no awkward turns of phrase. Technically speaking it’s written very well.

The big problem, though, is that this book to me doesn’t work as a novelette. I don’t have a problem with short work, but when something is this short I would expect it to cover only about a third of the narrative this one does, and to be a lot more densely written. What I mean is, DEAD(ish) covers a lot of ground. The framework is there not for a sixty or seventy page short but a fully formed two hundred page novel. Because it whipped through, because the chapters were so short, I was left feeling like this was an outline for a good book rather than being a good book. An early draft of something which, if worked on, could have been great.

Going back to Chuck Palahniuk (who Naomi Kramer reminds me of in some ways) – his novel Fight Club initially started out as a short story. DEAD(ish) reads as I would imagine that short story did: ie. really interesting, but in need of fleshing out. If Kramer had let some of the narrative ideas develop a bit more on the page, lengthened them out a bit, and if she had explored the characters a bit more, let their stream of consciousness build, this could have been really really good. As it is, I think it’s just ok. I didn’t waste the forty minutes it took me to read, but I came away a bit frustrated that it didn’t match its potential.

Even Lazier

25 Apr

This is an even lazier post than my last one. I didn’t think it was possible. But in my defence, I’ve spent Easter running around after a 4 year old in a garden centre playground, at Gulliver’s World, in a family orientated pub/restaurant (and playground), and in a woodland with her three year old friend from nursery. I’m looking forward to being back at work for a break.

Anyway, I’ve gotten a review from The No-Hoper, aka Iain Manson, whose blog I follow regularly as it is very well researched and informed, and whose comments about Oblivious I’m especially pleased with as I know his standards are usually very high. (Why he dropped them for me I’m not entirely sure :D). You can see the review here in any case. And now I’m off to make a cup of tea as I’ve just taken the dogs for a walk and am now completely parched…

Review – Loisaida by Marion Stein

15 Apr

Loisaida -- A New York StoryLoisaida — A New York Story by Marion Stein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a moment, I’m going to say a couple of things about this book that you may or may not believe. It doesn’t matter. I’m going to say them anyway because I’m convinced they are true. We’ll get to that though…

I initially bought this book as a present for someone else. I had no intention of reading it because I thought it was simply a bargain price thriller. Having poked around the Amazon forums for a few months, however, I started to see references to Loisaida which made me think that, actually, there was more to the book than I’d initially assumed. So eventually I gave it go. I read the first couple of chapters and thought I’d maybe misjudged as it came across as a well written, but rather straightforward crime story. However, I then hit chapter three and suddenly it opened out into this unbelievable range of voices, a cast of characters so authentic and distinct from each other that it is hard to believe they were all conceived and written by the same person. There are artisans, junkies, ex-cons, and amidst them all a TV actor trying to become a journalist and searching for his breakthrough story on the lower East side.

There are a lot of characters and you will have to make some effort in keeping up, but believe me when I say it’s worth that effort. In the hands of a lesser writer the different voices would have been in danger of becoming a cacophony, but Marion Stein manages to make them harmonise, with narrative overlaps that never leave you wondering what’s going on. The New York on display here is reminiscent of that of Arthur Nersesian, Jay McInerney, Hubert Selby Jr. It’s rich and evocative and gripping.

Ok, here’s my bombshell. I mentioned a couple of authors above. On the evidence of this book, I think Marion Stein is certainly as good as, if not better, than all of them. I know that’s a big claim when you consider I mentioned Hubert Selby, but I stand by it. All I can say is I enjoyed this book more than ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’, I enjoyed it more than ‘Song of the Silent Snow’. There was a vibrancy to the characters in this novel that, in my opinion, Selby never quite matches. I would go so far as to say that if this book had been written twenty years ago, it would now be talked of as a cult classic. It is truly, truly stunning. As I said, you might not believe me, in which case I suggest you try the book and then come back and attempt to tell me why I’m wrong. I’m willing to bet you won’t convince me. A tremendous piece of work.

—–

What I didn’t say in my review because I didn’t think it was appropriate is that this book depressed me greatly. Not in terms of content, but because it is just SO good it made me reassess the work I’ve put out. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but despite the quality of all the good indie work I’ve read so far I’ve been relatively happy that mine can at least hold its head up with them. This is something else though – it’s in a different league. To use a footballing metaphor, it makes me feel like a Championship player pushing for a play-off place alongside a Premier League star. Which is not a bad thing I suppose: it will probably just make me want to up my game. But what a book this is. If I ever needed convincing there were great authors going it alone, I certainly don’t anymore.

Review of Oblivious

8 Apr

I just got my first review from an established reading website – Book Pleasures – so I thought I’d post it up here as a bit of self promotion. I’ve just finished doing an interview for them as well, my first ever interview, so that should be up on the site shortly too.

I was a bit nervous about this one, it being the first time I’ve actually sent my book somewhere for an honest opinion, so I’m really pleased it turned out well. I’ve seen a real upturn in sales over the last two days, and I think this may be partly because of that stupid promo thread I posted and partly because of the exposure on Book Pleasures (it’s a great site by the way, I’ve seen a few things reviewed on there that I want to check out now too):

“This is a wonderful collection of short stories.  I enjoyed the sparse prose, the evocative description, and the fact that although the stories are all about different people, male and female, they could almost merge into one.  All the main characters are struggling in some way.  The themes of difficult family relationships, addiction, regret, depression, guilt, repeat themselves over and over.  Schiller has created real characters; these could be people you pass in the street.  Schiller has stripped away the layers that ordinary people use to hide their true circumstances or feelings, and gone beneath to examine and reveal the underbelly of human nature.  We are taken right inside the characters’ homes, hearts, and minds.  Schiller has mastered the art of short story and likes to show off about it too.  He has included a one sentence story, ‘Trapped’, and a half a page story, ‘Half’—both of which are perfect—and the latter is one of my favourites in the collection.

The descriptive prose is fresh and original.  An example of his writing, from, ‘Brand Awareness’, a story about a man facing redundancy:  “I’ve squandered six years of my life on this job.  More if you count the myriad of spoiled hopes it pulled into the swirling vortex of its black heart.  I’ve commuted over twelve thousand miles; I’ve missed my daughter’s first steps, first words, first school play; I’ve worked and slept and stressed myself into an isolation around which my wife has built a new life to compensate.  And it was all for nothing.”

And from, ‘Sabotage’, about a man estranged from his young son. “In the midst of the other families, in the kinetic frenzy and shrill excitement of the afternoon, we are silent and desperate and miserable.  A dark stain on the gaiety of life.  Two broken pilings of rock in a glinting sea of youthful energy.”
There is much more where that came from in this fabulous collection.

This is a book that will give you a fly on the wall look at ordinary lives and the common scars and ties that bind us.  It will reveal to you the hidden side of life, the side most people will never reveal, and of which we are usually oblivious.

Highly recommended.”

What I’m most pleased about, with all the reviews I’ve gotten, is that they pick up on things I intended to feature in the stories. It’s nice to know I must have gotten it right in some instances at least for the ideas to have been successfully transmitted. “Ordinary lives and common scars” mentioned here is exactly what I was aiming for. Another mentions “understatement” which is absolutely the approach I was attempting, and yet another says the style I write in stops the bleakness of the subject matter from descending into total despair, which is what I really really hoped it would do.

Not much of a ponderous post today I’m afraid, just a lazy and opportunist one…

Reviews

1 Apr

I’ve been reviewing indie and small press books on the Blog since last year, but I have been a bit lax about updating it. At the end of the day, it’s probably more important to get the reviews up on Amazon and Goodreads anyway – they get more traffic than I do – but still, if I said I was going to do it then I really should stick to it.

It occurred to me last night that most other blogs highlight the reviews on the posts pages, whereas I’ve been putting them off on a dedicated reviews menu. I think I’m still going to do that as it’s an easy way to see where they all are. But from now on, each new review will also be a blog post so it has more visbility right after I’ve done it. So below is the first one in the new process – Andy Conway’s The Girl with the Bomb Inside:

The Girl with the Bomb InsideThe Girl with the Bomb Inside by Andy Conway

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this book, I really did. The synopsis claims it’s like a three minute punk song, and I kind of have to agree – it does bring to mind that time when bands put records out that were a bit rough round the edges and made their sleeve art from scraps of paper and handwritten text.

Likewise, this book is a bit rough around the edges. It has some great ideas in it, for example I loved the three false start chapters while the fifteen year old narrator tries to work out how to frame his story. But not all the ideas work as well as they were probably conceived – there is a chapter towards the end which points out the differences between the fictionalised version of events and the actual events as the narrator experienced them and I didn’t think that really added much. What it has got going for it though, more than anything else, is its representation of a fifteen year old consciousness and the realities of being at school in the eighties. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything before that captured that experience so well. Everything Andy Conway talks about I recognised, it was almost like he went to my school or tapped into my memories of the experience.

Some readers might be put off by the fact the book is a bit raw, but for me that added to its charm. Just because something isn’t polished to within an inch of its life doesn’t mean it can’t be good. There should be more books like this. For some reason we accept music that retains its rawness, but we expect books to be a bit more sanitised, and on reflection I have no idea why. I mean, just look at the cover, for me that’s a great example of the punk design ethic I mentioned above and it’s a good indication of what to expect inside. The references to Joy Divison and Throbbing Gristle will take you right back, and they add to the period atmosphere as well as the whole indie ethic of the book. A good, solid read in my opinion, very stylish in its own way, and one which would make me watch out for Andy Conway’s work in future.

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