Tag Archives: review

The worst Deus ex machina ever?

Deus ex machina: A plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and seemingly unlikely occurrence, typically so much as to seem contrived.

Phil: I like nerdy reading. I like sci-fi. I like space ships and I love the TV show Thunderbirds. Not for the plots, which are mostly rubbish, but for the models and whizz-bang stuff. The twenty-first century doesn’t look as good as it did when Gerry Anderson designed it!

Anyway, I was browsing in an especially nerdy (even for me) shop and spotted book for a couple of quid.

Thunderbirds Lost World isn’t a novelisation of one of the TV shows. No, it’s a brand new (for 1966 when it was published) novel offering a thrilling tale.

Investing the disappearance of two airliners over New Guinea, Thunderbird One and pilot Scott Tracey find themselves crash landing after his craft is hit by a mysterious invisible force. After some escapades that would be impossible to film with puppets, he is rescued by Thunderbird Two.

Separately, a boffin is planning an expedition to the island. He disappears and Scott heads off to find him. They suspect International Rescue’s arch-enemy, The Hood, might have something to do with it all.

Spoiler Alert.

Anyway, it turns out there is a race of being hidden on the island who are using alien technology to do bad things and are planning to take over the world.

Things look sticky for our heroes – they are trapped in jail with no hope of escape or rescue.

Then there is an earthquake, the jail doors fly open, the baddies disappear and everyone gets away to live happily ever after.

Seriously?

Pretty much an entire novel-worth of buildup, the ground shakes and everything is OK?

How on earth did author John W Jennison get away with this?

I had wondered as the bookmark was nearly at the back and we seemed a long way off a plot resolution, but I didn’t see this coming. Can anyone name a more blatant ending thrown in because the author wanted to go down the pub or was just close to their deadline?

(Nerd note: If you have a copy with a dust jacket, it shows Thunderbird One flying over a dinosaur. There are no dinosaurs in the story.)

 

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Demon Seed – so good he wrote it twice?

Phil: An odd one this. Heading into my local library in search of something to read, I spotted a book called Demon Seed on the shelf.

I knew of the film and decided to give the original version a go.

Or did I?

In the first chapter, there is mention of both the Internet and the World Wide Web. “Hold on”, I think, “I’m pretty sure the film was made back in the 1970s. How come we have talk of things not developed until the late 1990s?”

The plot revolves around a sentient computer program, so some sort of moving around the world’s networks is fine, but I’m pretty sure that neither term was in common us back then.

To Wikipedia, I head and I’m right about the film, it was released in 1977. Assuming the book predates the film then how does the author know about the web?

Well, a little more digging and it turns out that Dean Koontz has written the book twice. Once in 1973 and again in 1997.

All is explained at the end of the novel. Koontz simply says he didn’t think the original was very good so decided to have another crack at it. This allowed him to add in all those future references to computing technology.

I wonder how he pitched it to the publisher though. “You remember that great book I wrote years ago? I’d like to do it again and see if people buy another copy to find out what I’ve changed.”

Is it a brave move to decided that the story you are best known for isn’t good enough, or a cynical one to cash in?

I suppose I ought to say whether I enjoyed the book. Not much. All the talk of the computer controlling Susan, the main character, made me very uncomfortable. There’s also a fairly graphic murder of an innocent man as well as passing mention of several others. Not my thing at all, but then we’ve mentioned I’m a bit of a wuss about these things in the past.

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The Muse by Jessie Burton

Image result for the muse

Candice : I’ve just come back from a lovely week sunning myself in Gran Canaria.  The holiday hit all the usual Nolan criteria – sun, tick (though it took a day or so to appear), pool tick, mini disco, tick and happy child, tick.

We’ve been to Gran Canaria before when she was a bit younger, and I’ve also been when I was hitting the club 18-30 world.  Its a great for guaranteed sun but, to be the honest, its a bit characterless.  Being a volcanic island, they have to import sand from the Sahara to make the beaches yellow not black and its so small you can get from one side to the other in about an hour.  The other half and I discussed holiday options for our next trip and decided we wanted more character – but that’s another post for another time.

However, the sun and pool options meant that I did have time to crack open the odd book and get on with some reading.  I’d struggled to have time to pop somewhere to get a book before this hols so had ordered some of Amazon.  Its harder to pick that way because you do need to have an idea of what you want to read or an author in mind.  I picked Jessie as I’d read ‘The Miniaturist‘ the other year and had really enjoyed it.  It was quirky and different, not my usual read but I was hooked all the way through the twists and turns of the strange story.

‘The Muse’ was similar.  A strange premise of a woman who comes across a painting which has a complicated history.  Set in the 30s and 60s the story twists between the discovery of the painting and the actual painting of it.  But its more than that as it touches on what it is like to be a person of colour in the UK when that is frowned upon, the impact of war on a country and how deceit leads people to do strange things.

In brief, Odelle comes to the UK from Trinidad, degree educated she struggles to find a job until she is taken under the wing of Marjorie, second in command at prestigious art gallery.  Odelle meets Lawrie, who’s once rich family are now struggling after the death of his mother, he has been only left a painting in her will.

The painting weaves a tale of a Foreign diplomat and Art Seller in war besieged Spain, where his wife and daughter are trying to fit in.  His wife struggles with depression, his daughter a gifted artist who is ignored by her father.

The daughter falls for one of the servants who is also an artist and through a twist of fate (orchestrated by the artist’s sister) her painting is represented as his to her father.  Fame and fortune follow for the man, but he doesn’t want to take the glory of his girlfriend’s work.

War breaks, and the family and artist are separated and some end up back in the UK, with the final painting in their possession.

When Lawrie shows the painting to the gallery it causes uproar, an undiscovered work by this celebrated artist.  But all is not as it seems and Majorie becomes cagey, Odelle thinks she is hiding something about the painting.

The story twists and turns nicely, with an added plot twist I thought I’d worked out but wasn’t quite what I expected.  The book is well written, and unlike other stories where it moves from different story lines I didn’t struggle to keep up with who is who.

Being able to read it over a few days definitely helped but one to recommend.

 

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A twisted last post?

Phil: This might be my last blog post. I may not get the chance to write another. The reasons should be clear by the time you reach the end.

Sharing books can be an enjoyable thing. You find yourself presented with something you might not have chosen yourself. Maybe even a complete genre that had previously passed you by.

I’ve never been into books which involve people getting killed. I know they are called “thrillers” but I like to read for escapism, and that generally doesn’t involve me being reminded that I could be killed randomly just because some loon wants to send a message to someone else – usually a detective. I mean, why can’t they just pick up the phone and dial 999? Maybe send a text, or even a postcard?

Anyway, the latest novel to come my way is Twisted by Steve Cavanagh.

I wasn’t really intending to read this but found myself short of books, and I quite liked the orange and black cover which is a bit stylish.

By the end, I enjoyed it. Not just because I found some matching colour cake either.

The plot is confusing. Apparently, the novel is written by JT LeBeau, a mysterious and very, very successful author. Or is it?

You see there are twists, turns and red herrings aplenty.

Halfway through, you think you know what’s going on and the whole thing turns on its head.

By the end, we have an author who is a killer, and a woman with nice shoes lying on a beach.

Now, I know a woman who has nice shoes and is partial to lying on a beach. How far would she go in pursuit of said shoes and sunlounger? Has she got a list of previous writing partners that I don’t know about, all of whom have disappeared in mysterious circumstances? Why does she keep giving me books about people being murdered?

If you don’t hear from me again, please send flowers. And cake….

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The great speed writing challenge

Phil: You might know that my job involves (cue eye-rolling from Nolan) writing and editing model railway (Candice: Toy train you mean) magazines. You might even know that currently, Channel 5 is running a TV show called The Great Model Railway Challenge.

At the mag, we thought it would be a great wheeze to write a summary of each episode, to be published as soon as possible after the show airs. It’s something that many newspapers do so they can pretend not to be interested in a reality show whilst grabbing as much web traffic as they can from leaping on the bandwagon (I’m looking at you the Guardian).

The problem we have is that no previews are available to us (The producer said no) so the job has to be done fast. Really fast.

Now, I quite fancied having a go at this so volunteered to give it a try.

Thanks to the joys of the web and catch-up telly, I had a practice run on an episode from the first series. It was hard work, but I wasn’t unhappy with the results.

I’m now two episodes into the current run and it’s still hard work.

As I watch the show, I take note of anything I think is worth mentioning. That’s 6-7 pages of scribble in my notepad. Scribble I hope I can read in a short while.

I also start typing during the advert breaks. You know how you wish they were shorter? Not me, I’d be happy with lots more time.

At the end of the show, I stick it back on catchup while I finish the first draft. Having the episode play away in the background keeps my memory fresh and augments the scribble. With the first draft finished, the whole lot is run through Grammarly to pick up the really big boo-boos and also allow me to re-read in a different format. After that, it heads off to our editor who has agreed to proof it properly. We did try to skip this step, but it turns out that you really can’t see something with fresh eyes when you’ve been so deeply embedded in writing it, at least not for a couple of hours, so a lot of rubbish slips through.

While the words are being proofed, I’m collecting screenshots to illustrate the article. I’ve noted down some times on my pad and use these as a guide, but always find others.

The end result, so far, has gone live about 90 minutes after the 75-minute show has finished.

You can see the results for episode 2, appropriately enough for this blog, with the theme “Classic Books”.

I’ve never done anything quite like this before. I have to write very fast, try to be interesting AND witty. The process is very intense and I’m glad it’s only once a week. By 11, the show airs at 8, I’m shattered mentally.

Still, this is an interesting challenge and it’s fun to do. Perhaps we all need to really stretch ourselves once in a while? Who knows what we might find out?

 

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The Guilty Party by Mel McGrath

The Guilty Party: Dive into a dark, gripping and shocking psychological thriller from bestselling author Mel McGrath by [McGrath, Mel]

Candice : I bought a collection of books from Sainsburys before jetting off to a lovely holiday to Majorca earlier in the summer.

As it always the way, and what happens when you buy books from a supermarket, the selection was limited to chic lit or crime drama.  I picked this one up because it looked a little different.

The premise is built around four friends who meet at university and then stay connected over the next ten years. Their lives change – one gets married and has a child, one comes out as gay, one becomes wildly successful as a business man, and one gets left behind.  But they have something that ties them all together, they are all serially unfaithful to their partners and keep a record of their relationships by photographing their conquests naked and posting pictures on a shared ‘black book’.  Their appetite for competition and  being sexual predators drives them to stay in touch even though, by the time we enter their lives, they don’t seem to really like or trust each other.

The story is held together with a central premise; they have all been to a festival and on their way home a fight breaks out, in the ensuing melee they see a girl being raped.  The next day she turns up dead, drowned in the Thames.

Meeting a month later one of the party is unsure that the story she has been spun by her friends about the rape is the truth, she wants to tell the police what she has seen but they are reluctant to spill the beans. Why, she is doesn’t know but as the weekend in a remote house unravels it seems that each member of the party had more to do with the deceased than it first seems, and each has something to hide which informing the police would expose.

The book is hard to read as it flits between the view points of each of the four characters, and both past and present, so you struggle to keep up with what is going on unless you read it in long stretches.  It also struggles with empathy, as each character is exposed as someone is isn’t that likeable; the play each one off against the other, and don’t seem to care about anyone else but themselves.

Many years ago I read ‘Gone Girl’ and felt a similar way about that book. I read it to the finish as I wanted to know what happened with the characters, but I didn’t really like any of them or care that much what happened to them.  This seems to becoming a more prevalent style of writing, both in novels and TV shows, where every character is so flawed you don’t particularly want to root for them.  I recently watched ‘The Affair’ and felt this too.  It probably gives a truer version of the world, but I’m not sure I want to see it.  I want escapism not nasty reality.  I can watch the news for that.  I’ve got no doubt however that this book will get optioned soon as it seem to fit with what TV and film producers are looking for these days.  I don’t think I will be watching.

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The grass isn’t always greener

Phil: Team NolanParker were chatting a few days ago, talking about work.

Like most people, we have the occasional “issue” with our jobs. I think it’s fair to say that no-one enjoys a job that is entirely trouble-free. Into every life, some rain must fall and when you get wet at work, there is some relief in getting things off your chest with a like-minded friend.

For example, you find yourself lunching in a pub on a sunny day. There is a fullsome gin menu and a large screen about to show the Wimbledon semi-finals. But, completely unreasonably, your boss will be under the impression that you should return to your desk instead of getting slowly blotto while watching sportsmen whacking a ball around and getting a suntan. Personally, I don’t like gin, but could see her point.

En-route to the pub I’ve been reading This is going to hurt by Adam Kay.

The book tells of his time as a Junior Doctor working in obstetrics and gynaecology. There are incredibly long hours, shift changes at a moments notice. Next to no home life, holidays interrupted, days off cancelled, bodily fluids spurting around the place, poor pay and a thousand other “issues”. All of which makes any complaints I have pale into insignificance. At many points, I wondered why he didn’t just chuck it in if someone in McDonalds was being paid better. 3/4 of the way through he explains that it’s the positive outcomes, the successes, the making a difference to someone’s life that keep people doctoring.

It is a cracking read, I’ve been racing through the book, picking it up at odd moments for a couple more pages – helped by the diary style which breaks the text up into short bites.

As Candice says, it’s easy to look at your current position and wish you were elsewhere (in this case, a pub with tennis) but the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. To continue with the trite phrases, you can easily find yourself jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. All I know is I don’t fancy being a doctor. I might wield a scalpel occasionally, but the things I cut into don’t bleed, unless I get my own fingers through clumsiness.

One thing this book is good for though, contraception.

In stark contrast to a recent read which to make anyone feel broody, this one will have every woman pointing at her other half’s wedding tackle and saying, “You’re not bringing THAT thing anywhere near me again!”

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