Friday, 10 September 2010

Website Launch

Just to let you know that I have relaunched my website and a new blog to track the progress of my current writing projects... so future book reviews will be posted on this site....Please come and visit me at:
Louise Charles - Writer in Progress (Website)
Writer in Progress (Blog)

And tell me what you think! But be gentle...

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Book Review The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Book Review
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 978-0141039282

The Help is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960’s. We are taken into a world which is hopefully dead and buried. Where black maids were seen fit and able to raise the children of white families (and a whole lot more) but were treated with suspicion and often became the fall guy for their employers. The story focuses on a short period of time and the determination of one young white woman who refuses to play along with the inequalities of her peers. She is not only fighting the prejudices of her friends but also has to cope with her mother who despite being seriously ill, is determined to make a lady and a wife out of her daughter. ‘The Help’ is a tale of stories, recounted by the maids in Jackson - some of which ‘colour’ the morals of those who believe they are better.

There are a number of maids who play pivotal parts in the story but two of them stand out in helping the cause of the lone white woman, Miss Skeeter. Aibileen is caring for her seventeenth child, Mae Mobley and daily provides her little ward with the comfort and confidence she should receive from her mother. Aibileen, still grieving for her only son who was killed in tragic circumstances, is the key driver to not only encouraging her fellow maids to tell their tales but also in helping to shape the words.
And then there is Minny, Aibileen's best friend, mother of a family rising in numbers and beaten by her drunken husband. Minny often speaks before she’s thought about what it is she wants to say and this has got her into a whole load of trouble.
Miss Skeeter (so called because her father thought she looked like a mosquito when she was born, all legs and tiny body) yearns to be a writer and regularly resists her mother’s attempts to make her into a ‘lady’ eligible for marriage. She finds she has very little in common with her white counterparts and longs for the return of her maid who left under mysterious circumstances. Together these three women develop an unlikely friendship but one which is bound by a common purpose. To tell their story.

The Help is written in the patois of the setting and the main characters and at first is difficult to latch on to. However, once you do you’ll be turning the pages, eager to find out who has done what to whom. And the race to get the book completed in time for the publisher is supplanted by the real fears all the contributors experience when the book hits town.

About the Author
Kathryn Stockett was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. After graduating from the University of Alabama with a degree in English and Creative Writing, she moved to New York City where she worked in magazine publishing and marketing for nine years. The Help is her first novel.

Readability Rating: 10
Recommendation: 10

Friday, 9 July 2010

Book Review - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest by Stieg Larsson
Maclehouse Press (2009)
Translated by Reg Keeland
ISBN 978-1906694166

Well that’s it. I’ve read the final of the trilogy and I’m…well I’m not sure how I feel. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest is the longest of the three at well over 650 pages. It follows directly on from second one of the trilogy where we are left with Lisbeth Salander mortally wounded (one would be led to believe) from a bullet wound after a number of alarming, if not hard-to-believe events. I started this finale of the series thinking that the action would continue to happen from page 1. But it doesn’t. In fact, overall, I was quite disappointed by the lack of action from the main character. Well, I know she had been shot and all that brings to a human but she’s different isn’t she?

The pace did pick up in some areas, as the story line continued with Blomvkist trying to probe and find the truth behind the various plots to get Sanders committed for the rest of her life. He teams up with a detective (female, so you can guess what happens next) who is also investigating the secrecy behind Salanders father and the can of worms that his death uncovered. Berger, Blomkvists on/off lover from Millennium, has moved to the number one Swedish paper but is also having a hard time and we learn a lot about the politics of the time and that predating the current activities. Much of it wasn’t necessary and would be what I consider to be ‘back-story’. A lot of information overload which is essential for the writer, but careful selection is required for what and what not to include. Maybe it’s a special circumstance, maybe some of, a large part of this third book would have been edited to under the desk. I don’t know. But after a slow start, it did weave its magic in enthralling me though I longed for some more of my anti-heroine Salander. And I thought we might have met her twin sister… maybe that was for book number four. Who knows?
And I never found a reference to 'the hornets nest' but I guess that's something for the reader to decide. Let me know what you think it is...

Readability Rating: 8
Recommendation To Buy: Well, you can’t leave Salander hanging on the brink of death can you? 

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Book Review - The Girl Who Played With Fire

The Girl Who Played with Fire By Stieg Larsson
Maclehose Press
ISBN 978-1906694180

It's great to get back into a book which has a familiar feel yet new and exciting at the same time. I'm always wary of sequels as they never seem to live up to the promises of the first. But I was first impressed by the Harry Potter series (well and if it comes to it The Famous Five weren't that bad.)However, Larsson pulled this second book in a trilogy very well. 

We get to know Lisbeth Salander even more in this book and what lengths she is prepared to go to. I really like her feisty, edgy and at times completely wacky character. It's so fulfilling to have a female MC who is prepared to mock traditional stereotypes. Salander certainly does this and takes a few down with her in the process. She is extremely intelligent yet at the same time a little rough around the edges, not afraid of anyone or anything it seems. We find out more about what made her like that, what drives her and the reasons for some of her actions.

Blomkvist is also still there as her wannabe protector (though she does her best to try and shake him off) and the underlying love story which is very subtle is quite beautiful. He is back at Millenium and working on exposing more bad people when things go very wrong for Salander. But she has been absent from his life for over a year and despite his efforts to contact her she is very reluctant to let him back into her life.

Some of the action towards the end of the book may come across as a little unbelievable but you must remember that this is fiction and it's thriller fiction. It is fast and pacey and has lots of nasty cliffhangers which just beg you to turn the page. It's a great read and the third is proving to be the same. It's a shame Larsson never lived long enough to see the fervour that his writing has stirred up. And now I hear that the trilogy is going to be filmed - I have some thoughts about who might be up for these two characters, what do you think?

Readability: 10 (didn't notice any translation hiccups)
Recommendation: 100%

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Book Review - Discovering the Writer Within

Discovering the Writer Within40 Days to more Imaginative Writing
By Bruce Ballenger and Barry Lane
Publisher: Writer's Digest Books; New edition (Mar 1996)
ISBN: 978-0898797398

I’ve not read ‘Discovering the Writer Within’ from beginning to end, so you may well ask why am I writing a review? Well, it’s not a book to be read in a sitting, it’s a book of writing exercises – which could take 40 days if you wish – or something to be dipped into when you feel the need. It’s kind of like having a lesson planner and the exercises on your desk for those time when you think ‘I can’t do this’. This book will not show you how to do it (you should have learnt by now, there isn’t one book on earth which will teach you to ‘write’) but it does provide some inspiration.

Discovering the Writer Within’ helps to get something down on paper, whatever that may be. It encourages you to release your dreams, live out your writing fantasies and get started. The book is based on the very simple and well-known premise, that the only way to become a writer is to ‘write’. Why do we never believe it is that simple? Well because writing is never just about writing, it’s about a truckload of other stuff too, but without the words, there isn’t any writing, so this is the first step.

Discovering the Writer Within’ promotes a kind of keep fit regime, providing exercises that will encourage you to explore your creativity and produce interesting ideas. It also takes you past the first ‘drafting’ phase and into revision so that the writing can become a polished piece if you want it to. It’s something to dip into when you are feeling hot, flustered and long to feel a sense of calm and understanding.

I’m now off to read Day 20, which is about retelling classic fairy tales, as there is a competition that I want to enter where the theme is ‘Modern Twists on Fables’. I’m hoping that it will allow me to shake off the glass slipper and find a hip and new way to tell the love story of a poor girl and her horrid sisters.

About the Authors: Both Ballenger and Lane are successful American authors with a considerable publishing history between them. Lane is also a singer/songwriter.

Readability Rating: It’s hard to set a rating as it’s not that kind of read. It provides examples of the authors experience and then asks you to undertake an exercise.
Recommendation: Sure, if you need help in getting started, this is a good place to go.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Book Review - The English Patient

Book Review
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; New edition edition (2 Aug 2004)

I loved the film of The English Patient. In fact, I have watched it several times and I now have the DVD. I find it absorbing, exhilarating, emotional and beautifully told. I was recently encouraged to get the book to read but I’m afraid I didn’t quite make it to the end. It may be that watching the film clouded my judgement but I tried not to. For me it just wasn’t the same story at all.

There was Hana the nurse suffering emotional pain and becoming perhaps a little too close to her ward; her patient the English man with his book and his memories, Caravaggio a thief, addict and generally sinister interloper and Kip the bomb expert and the beautiful setting of the Italian countryside and large war damaged house. However, I got to halfway through the book and there hadn’t been any development of the love story, which brought the English Patient to that point in time.

With each page I turned, I kept expecting to find some familiar thread, but they got lost in the language, which at times seemed a little too clever and intellectual. I almost got the sense that the author was trying too hard. Following my last review, maybe I’m not a reader of ‘great literature’ though I would argue that is quite a subjective topic. Maybe I expected it to mirror the film too much and again, I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

I read somewhere that this book had to be ‘read slowly and out loud’ to experience the subtlety of the writing. Well to me that’s not reading – I would rather watch the film and that’s what I’ll do.

About the Author
Michael Ondaatje is a Sri Lankan born Canadian novelist. The English Patient was awarded the Booker Prize and the film won Academy awards. He also writes autobiographies, poetry and films.

Readability Rating: 5
Recommendation: I’m not sure as I believe that my experience would not necessarily reflect another’s. I’m all for trying things out for myself and I loved the story so why not?

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Book Review - Remains of The Day

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Publisher: Faber and Faber; New edition (3 Mar 2005)
ISBN: 978-0571225385

I’m finding it hard to summarise The Remains of the Day. The trouble is as a reader and a writer; it didn’t fulfil either of those needs for me. The story centres on Stevens a butler of the ‘old’ sort. The last of his kind I suppose. The book is told through him and him alone as he takes a trip around the English countryside on the way to visit an ex-housekeeper whom I guess he wishes would return.

The book has little plot in itself, and the conflict (experienced by Stevens) is one which interferes with his duty, his prime and only – it appears- drive in life. Even when his father is dying, he continues with his duties and he continues to miss the emotional signals from Miss Kenton (the housekeeper) who eventually leaves to get married to someone else.

I know, I know this is a ‘literary’ book with very honourable awards, but that doesn’t always mean that it is a good read. One with a beginning, middle and end with living, colourful characters. Sometimes as a writer, I don’t read as a reader, and I fear that this is the case with this book. It’s not a long tale and not unpleasant, it just didn’t engage me totally. I know I shall be told that I missed the message but frankly, that’s not my problem. I shall try another book by Ishiguro, just to see what else he has been inspired to write so it hasn’t put me off. Well you can’t win them all the time and it shows the ‘fickle’ nature of writing. It’s hard to write for everyone and this book wasn’t written for me.

About the Author:
Kazuo Ishiguro is a Japanese-British author and has been nominated several times for the Booker Prize. He is listed by The Times as one of the best 50 Writers since 1945

Readability Rating: It’s hard to score, it wasn’t a 10 in terms of impact but it wasn’t hard to read.
Recommendation: Sure, check it out; it doesn’t take long to read