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When Lisa met Louise…

Last night, I went to Waterstones in York to see the lovely Louise Beech at the launch of her new book, The Mountain In My Shoe. I was very excited to meet the writer of one of the best books I’ve read this year, How To Be Brave. I was also a little nervous. Having never been to a book launch before, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect. However, with my fantastic friend Alison, we found our way there, albeit a tad late.

There’s one thing you should know about me. Whilst I can articulate myself pretty well in writing, actually engaging my brain in sync with my mouth is a skill that alludes me, particularly when I’m nervous. Also, because I’m aware that I can quite often sound like a moron when I try to have a conversation with someone I’ve not met before (and sometimes people I know😊), this increases my nervousness, thus increasing my incessant babbling.

I needn’t have been concerned, though. Louise was absolutely lovely, gracious, funny and put me at ease straight away. Once we had got over her surprise that I am, in fact, a brunette and not the blonde she had expected, she gave me a big hug and my nerves (more or less) dissipated. There’s always that danger that you will meet someone who you have an online rapport with and you’ll be disappointed that it isn’t the same as when you are chatting on Facebook. However, Louise was as lovely face to face as she is online and to hear her talk about her inspirations, her writing methodology and where the characters/locations in her book came from was absolutely fascinating.

I do wish that I could have said more about how much I enjoyed her books. “Your books are brilliant” was as far as my brain-engaging-mouth deficiency would take me. If my reviews were that sparse, they wouldn’t be worth reading!! What I wanted to say was how wonderfully engaging her characters were and how the style in which she writes her books is so unique. I wanted to say how her use of books as an extra character in these first two books was inspired.

I hope that the next time I meet Louise, I can encourage my brain and mouth to work properly. I had a lovely time last night at my first book launch, as well as the hilarious journey there and back with my amazing friend. I can’t wait until the next time, hopefully a tad closer to home, so that we may not get lost this time!

Thank you for the invite, Louise, and I promise I will do my best to sound more articulate next time we meet!😊

Look out for my review of The Mountain In My Shoe as part of the blog tour on 20th October.

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Stella Sky One – My thoughts and a plea to Ruth Jones!

I don’t watch much television. I don’t watch soaps, I dip in and out of a few American series but there are very few shows I watch religiously. I read in my spare time, as the abundance of book reviews on this site attests. However, I have watched the Sky One bittersweet comedy, Stella, written and directed by the fantastic Ruth Jones, since the very first episode and I haven’t missed an episode since. Last night I watched the final episode of season five and I was so profoundly emotional by the end of it, I felt compelled to write this post.

For those who haven’t seen it, Stella follows the fortunes of 40-something year old single mum of 3, Stella Morris, and her friends and family. Set in the Welsh valleys in fictional Pontyberry, regular viewers have been treated to antics that have guaranteed much laughter and a few tears along the way.

In the first two seasons, it was all about getting to know Stella, her past, present and potential future. Following the return of long, lost love Rob Morgan, who emigrated to Canada with his parents at 16, while Stella gave birth to their son, Luke, Stella’s new found love with a young biker is threatened by her feelings for her ex. The following three seasons have been filled with more hilarious japes and emotional moments, with new characters each series and the introduction of Patrick Baladi as hapless lawyer and Stella’s love interest, Michael Jackson.

Now, I realise that I have given a very quick and vague overview of the five seasons, mainly because this would be a ridiculously long post if I didn’t. What I actually want to do is tell you why I was so emotionally drained after watching the last episode of season five and more importantly, why I think there should be another series.

If you haven’t watched the episode yet, you might want to stop reading now, as there are a few spoilers in this next bit. It has been widely surmised that this may be the last season of Stella, and certainly, the way it finished last night could, in theory, have drawn a line under the series, as although there was plenty of room for future storylines, a lot of loose ends were tied up in that last episode. I believe there is a Christmas special if the fan forums are correct, which would be brilliant, but I want another series.

In Tuesday’s final episode, the viewers finally got their answer on whether Rob and Stella would find there way back to each other. Despite making it through a risky heart operation, Rob passed away suddenly, leaving Stella and son, Luke, devastated. I bawled like a baby, I don’t mind telling you. In fact, as I write this, I could cry again, remembering how beautifully shot the death and funeral scenes were to “How Long Will I Love You?”by Ellie Goulding. (Literally have tears in my eyes writing this, almost 24 hours later!!) These scenes put paid to any idea of them finally finding happiness with each other. Even the fact that Stella had asked Michael to marry her still had viewers who were Team Rob thinking there was still a chance! In poignantly understated scenes, the viewer was smiling then stunned as the hospital staff sped past the joking family to try to restart Rob’s heart.

Now here’s the thing. On one of the fan forums last night, there was real anger that Rob had been killed off from some fans, with cries that said fans would never watch Stella again. These, apparently ex-, fans were not appreciating the artistry involved, not only in that episode, but on the whole build up throughout the series, which I have to admit, did seemed geared up to be leading to Rob’s demise. They were furious that their imagined thought process that Stella and Rob were going to be together in the end had been so cruelly take away from them.

In the interests of full disclosure, I was also Team Rob from the start. I was gutted that Stella didn’t go to Canada with Rob at the end of season 2 and the arrival of the, quite frankly, gorgeous Patrick Baladi did nothing to abate my irritation that Rob wasn’t even on the scene to tempt Stella. In fact, it was the end of season four before we got a visit from Rob. I was very vocal about this on Twitter throughout season three and I just couldn’t get used to the pretty pathetic Michael Jackson. However, as season four got going, I was Team Michael. I accepted, with a slightly heavy heart, that his appearance in that final episode of season 4 indicated they had made peace with each other as being just good friends.

However, Rob was back in the fifth series and I was torn. I genuinely didn’t know what I wanted to happen. I was gutted to find out that Rob was dying. I was excited when, mirroring a scene from the first series, they found themselves in a clinch after a gripping birth scene. Yet I’d had enough time to get used to the bizarre relationship between Stella and Michael and really wanted them to be happy together.

Looking back over the five series, I wonder if Ruth Jones has had this long game planned from the beginning. She has managed to generate in the fans of Stella such a depth of feeling for all these characters that the emotional rollercoaster that was that final series five episode was so profoundly affecting. There has been a bit of a chatter that perhaps the storylines are a bit tired and that perhaps the ideas are running out. However, I think the fans who are of that opinion are missing the point. The true value of Stella isn’t found in the storylines or plots, it is in the characters themselves. Ruth Jones has developed these normal, unspectacular characters into become part of the viewers extended family.

Stella herself is completely average. She has missed opportunities because she became a young mother, yet she plods on, being completely lovely to everyone, a little bit mad at times but a real treasure of a character. Rob offers her a departure from the drudgery of her day to day life, but ultimately, he is asking her to abandon everything she knows, and loves, and hates, which is just too much to ask of her, and after all, he doesn’t give up his life at the end of season two. The two seasons that followed show Stella taking control, supporting her family and friends, finding new love and starting her training to be a nurse, after Rob had reminded her of her childhood ambition.

The juxtaposition of Stella to Rob, the what could have been, is enticing to the viewer but if she had gone to Canada, she would have missed and been missed, not only by the viewers, but by the other characters in the series. Michael is happy to be with her in Pontyberry, where she belongs, and he has ingratiated himself into Pontyberry life perfectly.

Every character has their own contribution to the Pontyberry life that fans know and love. Rhian “cocking” Evans is usually only on screen for a couple of minutes most episodes but she kills me with every sentence. She is hilarious and Maxine Evans plays her so perfectly vulgar. Aunty Brenda, played by the fantastic Diane Botcher with her “oo-arr”, “watchamacalls” and her “whatsinames” is such a strong presence for guaranteed hilarity ever episode, she could stand in an empty room doing nothing but rant and be entertaining. Big Al was sorely missed this series as Steve Spiers took a step behind the camera but he is also a brilliant character on screen that can be a absolute scream by doing very little. Bobby Gittings, the gay, bitchy funeral director and gasping gossip extraordinaire is a wonderful character who is so endearingly funny. Even George the Butcher is funny, and he’s only ever on for a minute or two at a time. And who can forget Daddy! Couldn’t understand a word he was saying yet he was brilliant to watch.

The new funeral director, whose name has provided a challenge for the Pontyberry residents, Ivan Schloss, has been a fantastic addition to the cast, just as Pesh the marriage guidance counsellor was in series two. His back-to-front English has provided much amusement and was such an easily likeable character that I actually didn’t mind that dippy blonde Nadine Bevan, another force majeur, ditched her loveably thick husband Karl for him. I did want to give Karl a big hug at the end but still, she had tried so hard to deny her feelings for her dance partner, it felt really sad that she originally left him at the train station to go to the “historic town of Middlesbrough” on his own. Nadine herself, played by the amazing Karen Paullada, is such a vibrant character, so Pontyberry but wishing she was Mayfair, she could be doing almost anything and could be a joy to watch.

Whilst Stella, Michael, Luke and Rob are the main characters in terms of the plot and storylines, all brilliant characters in their own right, there is an abundance of eccentric characters with their little indiosyncracies to fill the episodes. The combination of multi-faceted straight characters and comedy characters makes Stella magical to watch and I think that this is why this show could run and run. The straight characters provide enough seriousness to make it a drama that can hold its own with the best of them and the comedy characters bring the funny when emotions run high. I haven’t even mentioned mad nurse Cheryl, lovely Celia and odd Ianto!

The quality of the actors in this show is phenomenal. Craig Gallivan, who plays Luke, has had some real tearjerker scenes from series one and has played them beautifully. It was Luke’s reaction to his father’s death that finished me off last night. Being the first to notice the emergency trolley being pulled through to his father, the dash to his father’s room and the total devastation written all over his face as he watched Rob die was so heart-wrenching, I was a blubbering wreck. He played it so beautifully, even the scene earlier in the episode where Rob told Luke he loved him, was so understated but incredibly poignant, I was tearing up right there!

Ruth Jones has also shown her wonderful acting talent throughout. She is incredibly funny, wonderfully sassy and plays the emotional scenes so perfectly as Stella, there’s a hell of a lot of mileage left in her character. Her reactions to Rob this season have been brilliant. One scene that springs to mind is when they are sat in the car outside her house when he tells her he has been told he is inoperable, she loses her cool, showing just how much the thought of her first love no longer being there scares the hell out of her. I love the dynamic between Stella and each of the other characters but particularly Rob. I will miss this, and fully intend to revisit their episodes regularly!

Mark Lewis-Jones has played Rob brilliantly too this series. I always had a soft spot for Rob Morgan, having bought into Stella’s emotional connection with him from the beginning and to see him come back from Canada, his swagger from the previous seasons not quite lost but not quite in tact, was especially poignant to watch. His vulnerability on show, if only for Stella, was particularly endearing and while I never really thought they’d get back together, I did like that they continued to have a strong connection.

Patrick Baladi has come into his own this series, I think, too. He had a tough act to follow and Michael Jackson has always been just a little bit pathetic but he seems to have found his strength this series, after his mid-life crisis and affair with his baby-mama Beyoncé Evans (another vibrant and excellent character). He has often been the voice of reason this series and has stood up for himself against some particularly strong female characters. He quite rightly claimed Stella’s heart and I, for one, am happy it ended with their marriage and news that a baby is on the way for them. (Have to say, I’m surprised no-one asked her if she had done a test this time, after mistakenly thinking she was pregnant before!)

It’s also educational. What a fantastic word cwtch is! I was very smug in telling my ace author friend, Matt Johnson (author of Wicked Game (Orenda Publishing) – if you haven’t read it, you really should) that I actually did know what cwtch meant! I was even proud enough to say I learned it from Stella! (Could have done with a cwtch myself after watching that final episode!!)

I’ve harped on a bit here, I know. Apologies for that! However, I hope that I have illuminated my point that the characters in Stella are what makes it so special. It is a beautifully written, fantastically performed comedy drama set in the beautiful backdrop of the Welsh valleys. If the characters just did everyday things in their own inimitable way, I’d tune in every time and rewatch every episode. I could even stand to have Rob Morgan visit Stella in ghost form to give her a few sarcastic rebukes every now and then. I thought the voice over at the end of the episode was beautifully done, and had me crying again! I could stand some more of that. I want to see Stella and Michael have their baby. I want to see more Mayor Aunty Brenda antics, odd guttural noises and all. I want to see Luke and Zoe be happy with their little family. I want to know if Nadine Bevan has gone for good. I want to see Big Al and Little Al reunited. I want to see Jagadeesh get married. I want to see what Emma does next. I want to see Bobby be the campest funeral director in town, and get a love life. In short, I want more! I hope that those who were disappointed that Rob died can see that it had to happen for Stella and Michael to evolve. I hope they realise how wonderfully unique this show is and that it has more to give, with Rob Morgan gone but never forgotten. I implore Ruth Jones to continue to make this series. When I write book reviews, character is always the big seller for me. That is what I love about Stella and what has compelled me to write this blog post (potential biography, if I don’t stop writing!!) If Stella finishes with that last episode as it’s final goodbye, then it was a bloody good one. But I really hope it doesn’t. Ruth Jones, my plea to you, please write another series!

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

I thought I’d share with you my favourite love poem and my favourite romantic quote. 

i carry your heart with (i carry it in my heart) is such a beautiful, romantic poem.   It encompasses the passion and completeness of true love. I absolutely love the sentiments it portrays.

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)by e.e.cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart)i am never without it(anywhere

i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done

by only me is your doing,my darling)

                                                      i fear

no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want

no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗

Pride and Prejudice quote

My favourite romantic quote has to be from the delectable Mr Darcy, as he declares his undying love for Elizabeth Bennet. Beautiful words written by Jane Austen 

“”In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

What love poems or quotes strike you as being the most romantic? Please share in the comments.

💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗💗
 

Some Reviews Can Be Bad For An Author’s Health!

I’ve been involved in a few conversations recently about the kind of reviews people leave on Amazon, Goodreads etc. and it never ceases to amaze me that there are people who can be downright malicious in their reviews with no real substance to their criticism. While there are some truly dire books out there, behind those books are authors with real feelings who have put their all into their novels. It frustrates me that this seems to be forgotten with the “what a load of crap” and “it’s boring” comments.

Of course, all reading is subjective. What I enjoy to read will not necessarily be what others enjoy to read and vice versa. However, it is possible to dislike a book but be able to appreciate the skill that has gone into writing it. I read a book not long after I started my website called Cold Call by Colin L. Chapman. I didn’t particularly enjoy it; it just wasn’t my cup of tea. However, it really was beautifully written and despite the grimy, sleazy storyline, Chapman had made it an engaging, clever narrative and I gave credit where it was due, although I did say that it wasn’t to my tastes. Why wouldn’t I respond in this way? I’d been invited to read the book and I felt obligated to give an honest review. Honest, not offensive! Indeed, the author has spoken very highly of my review on numerous occasions since. Any criticisms were reinforced by valid points.

How can any potential reader looking at the reviews for a book to read gain any insight where the entire review is full of insults to the writer/book and no proper comment on the reasons why they don’t like the book? What possible assistance can that kind of review be? I can only surmise that the only objective of the people who leave these kinds of reviews is to hurt the author, which seems a bit ridiculous when the worst thing the author has done is written a book that the reviewer didn’t like. Yet it happens all the time. One author friend of mine stopped reading their Amazon reviews because some of the reviews were so upsetting. That’s not to say that their books were awful, on the contrary, the one’s I’ve read so far have been fantastic, and the split of 1-5 star reviews supports this, as there are only a few reviews under 4 stars. However, as these reviews are so scathing and because the author has spent months or years perfecting their novel to the best of their abilities, these reviews must be very hurtful. It’s like throwing a glass of wine in the sommelier’s face just because the wine is not to your taste, or throwing your popcorn at the cinema usher because the film was awful. Just because the book wasn’t to your taste doesn’t mean that you can insult the writer.

I wrote a post a few months ago on the merits of using dialect and swear words in novels after an author had expressed his surprise that I had not felt the need to comment on the number of swear words in my review of his novel. The book was Ghost in the Machine by Ed James, which was a crime novel set in Edinburgh, where the accents are strong and the language often blue. Bearing in mind this novel was set in a police department where they were seeing all manner of miserable scenes of murder and rape, I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t any swearing. It fitted with the setting. It wasn’t gratuitious, it supported an image of downtrodden policemen and women who spent most of their days knee-deep in grime and unsavoury characters. Yet some of the criticism by the few people who had given this book a 1 and 2 star rating is based on the language and dialect, which to me, added authenticity to the novel, and people did not seem to consider this in their judgement, only that it had swearing and Scottish accents in it and they didn’t like it, therefore the book must be awful!

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that all 1 and 2 star ratings are pure insults and that some books don’t deserve it. I’m sure there are. I rarely rate a book 1 or 2 stars, as I can usually find some merit in most novels, but there are some that, in my opinion are not worth more than 2. However, my criticism would be constructive, not a string of insults. In my experience, authors appreciate an honest review, no matter how critical, if the argument is supported by valid comments. I don’t imagine for one minute that they are particularly nice to read, though. As my good friend Alison can attest, I got very irritated when I got an assignment back at university and read my tutor’s comments. Not that the assignments were dreadful, just that I was never satisfied with the marks! Yet none of my tutor’s ever wrote “Lisa, this is absolutely dull and boring. You are rubbish.”. They may have thought it, but none felt the need to write anything other than constructive criticism. After I had ranted with Alison a little, I could understand that the comments were meant to assist, not to insult, and I considered the points for my next assignment, hopefully improving them. So, why do some readers of books feel that it is okay to not even try and appreciate the merits of a novel beyond whether they personally enjoyed it?

I don’t tend to read Amazon or Goodreads reviews as I do not wish to be swayed before I’ve even given the book a chance by opinions of people who may, or may not, have the same tastes as me . I understand the merit of reviews, obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t write them, and I also understand that the bulk of a review is really based on opinion but surely, as readers, we should give a little respect to these authors purely for putting themselves out there with their work. In such a competitive market, a writer who makes a lot of money is the exception to the rule and given how long it must take to write a book, the risk taken by a writer to spend all that time researching, writing, editing, re-editing, publishing a novel that may or may not make a little bit of money should be admired. That’s not to mention the myriad emotions felt by the author whilst undertaking this unforgiving, confidence-draining process as they pour their creative juices onto the page. How would these reviewers who have nothing good to say feel about the author telling them that their review-writing skills are lousy, the spelling, grammar and punctuation leaves a lot to be desired and their writing lacks analytical style? With supporting evidence! This would be constructive criticism and perfectly valid for a lot of the nasty reviews that people leave, or at least, the one’s I’ve read.

My most critical review was for Gray Justice by Alan McDermott, yet there were many, many people who did not agree and thought it was brilliant. My review was honest and supported by the elements that I didn’t like. I addressed the fact that the premise was a good one and had the potential to be brilliant, yet it wasn’t, and I explained why. I felt incredibly frustrated by the author’s lack of consideration for some of the issues that would have made it such a wonderful book but the points I made, in my opinion were valid ones. At no point did I dismiss McDermott as an awful writer. I haven’t read any others so who know, perhaps the sequels are brilliant. Maybe one day, I’ll give them a try. I’ll be honest, though, even though I still maintain that my review could be justified, it didn’t sit well with me that I’d written such a negative review. I would do it again, though, because it was my honest take on the novel.

I wasn’t particularly complimentary about Grey by EL James either (not so much in the minority here, though) but again, I backed up my issues with specifics and commented on what I did like as well as what I didn’t. I much prefer to give a balanced review rather than a one-sided, all-negative review. Mostly, I like doing glowing reviews and I have been very fortunate to have done quite a few of these since I started Segnalibro. It’s nice to be nice, in my opinion, and I enjoy explaining what I like about a book. I have read some really amazing books by some truly skillful writers, and a lot of them have made my Book of the Month.

I’ve probably laboured my point a bit here (something the reviewers of my author friend’s books would apparently take particular issue with, with no consideration for the fact that there may be a stylistic motivation for doing so) but essentially, I want to implore those people who review on Amazon and Goodreads to put yourself in the place of the author before you press submit on your reviews. By all means, make criticism, but make it constructive. I will always put as much of a positive spin on a book that wasn’t really for me because there will be a considerable amount of other people who will like it, for whatever reason. Certainly with McDermott’s book, I am definitely in the minority of people who didn’t like it. Author’s are people who have feelings that can be hurt by cruel words, especially when those words are aimed at a piece of work that has been their raison d’etre for such a long time. For those who take the time to review a book, keep it kind, keep it honest, but most of all, keep it respectful. Also, bear this in mind next time you leave a review:

 

Guy Martin: When You Dead, You Dead

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Enigma

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The Girl on the Train

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The Secret Life of Bees

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Old School (Diary of a Wimpy Kid book 10)

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Harry Potter Colouring Book

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Six Months of Reviewing Novels: An Education

It’s been a while since I did a train of thought post so I thought I’d put the reviews to one side for an evening and do one now.  My first few posts on Segnalibro were about my thoughts on things that interested me in the literary world. However, two conversations with the brilliant authors Rob Sinclair (Dance With the Enemy, Rise of the Enemy) and Matt Johnson (Wicked Game and Deadly Game) inspired me to review their début novels, as I found myself surprised that I was reading, and enjoying, books in a genre that would never have appealed to me before. It is pretty safe to say that I caught the bug and I have reviewed books in more or less every genre since then. Six months after that first semi-review of Rob and Matt’s books, I feel that I have learned a few things about this reviewing lark.

One thing I have found is that it is much easier to review books you have enjoyed immensely or hated with a passion. I’ve been very fortunate that I have read some lovely novels which have been engaging from start to finish and I have loved waxing lyrical about some of the books that I really felt stood out among the others I was reading at the time. There are three books that spring to mind as books that completely floored me with their amazing narratives and wonderful plots. The first one is The Last Days of Disco by David F. Ross. I loved this book for its nostalgic reminders of my childhood in the 1980’s and the hilarious antics of main protagonist, Bobby Cassidy. Just when I thought that this book couldn’t get any better, by the end of the book, the flood gates were open. If a book can make me laugh and cry, it’s a winner for me, and The Last Days of Disco did just that. This was also the first book I reviewed from Orenda Books and it won’t be the last, that’s for sure!

The next book that had me stunned was One Man Crusade by Steven Suttie. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this book but after being contacted by Steven Suttie requesting that I tried his book, I thought I’d give it a try. Never have I had such an intense reaction to a novel. I broke my heart reading it. This gritty novel about a Manchester police department hunting down a paedophile killer left me reeling as Suttie, in true journalistic fashion, gives the reader an illustration of how a situation can escalate in a society that has 24 hour updates and constant social media feeds. Suttie merely gives the facts, leaving the reader to decide their own point of view, not to mention, his clever tactic of waiting until you are a several chapters into the novel before giving you the story of the man who is killing paedophiles and has become the hero of the nation for doing so. I implored everyone I know to read this book and if I’m ever asked to recommend a book, One Man Crusade is always one of the first I mention. A friend of mine read this recently on my recommendation and I was really happy that she liked it, so much so that she bought and read the sequel, Neighbours from Hell, which was released on Monday, which I haven’t even got round to reading yet!

The third book that has surprised me by its brilliance is a recent read, The Demon of Darkling Reach by PJ Fox. Again, I wasn’t sure that this was going to be a book that I’d enjoy, again allowing myself to be put off by the genre. (I will never learn!) However, this is one of the most beautiful narratives I’ve read in a very long time. When I was studying towards my English degree, I read many classics, a number of them gothic novels, and I was reminded of the intricacy of these novels when I read Fox’s tale of Isla, a feisty, young daughter of an imprudent earl who has squandered his money away to the point where he has to offer the hand of his daughter in marriage to the enigmatic duke, Tristan Mountbatten, aka The Demon of Darkling Reach. The plot itself is magnificent but what I loved was that the narrative had all the beauty of a classic novel but with the features of modern literature that are only hinted at in their predecessors, such as swearing and direct sexual references. This book was also an education in the traditions and practices of mediaeval life, which I found absolutely fascinating. This is another book that I am plugging endlessly to anyone who will listen!

Of course, these all fall into the “Books I’ve Loved” category. There has only been one book that has left me so irritated that I felt the need to write an almost fully negative review, which was Gray Justice by Alan McDermott. I was completely frustrated by this book because it had all the makings of a really enjoyable novel, if only the writer could be bothered putting the time into his main protagonist. As a reader, it was expected that you would sympathise and champion Tom Gray, yet we know barely anything about him. McDermott focuses his attention on the wrong characters, has unfeasible plot twists and the final showdown has so many characters in so many locations that it is impossible to fathom who is where, at what stage and what the implications are of where the characters are located for the rest of the novel. I was frustrated because it could be such a better novel than it is with a bit more investment from the author into the main character’s emotions, perceptions and by building an affinity between the reader and Tom Gray.

What these four books had in common is that they were easy to write about. The paragraphs almost wrote themselves as I typed away, because, good or bad, the narratives were rich in elements to comment about. What I have found during this reviewing learning curve, is that it isn’t always that easy. I will always give my honest opinion and I will always try to focus more on the positive than the negative, but sometimes, when the narrative is distinctly average or it is a book that doesn’t particularly interest me although it may be enjoyable to others, it is difficult to find the words, which for someone who can normally talk/write until the cows come home (this post being a classic example), is a very strange situation to find myself in. There have been a few books which, to be honest, have just not excited me. They were okay and readable, but there is just not much to say about them. I probably just need more practice, but that would mean reading many more “okay” books and less time reading the “amazing” books as I have noted above.

However, I have found that I have really enjoyed reading and reviewing books from all genres and I have loved the conversations that it has led to with the various authors who I have reviewed books for. Special mention must go to my lovely guest reviewer, J.L.Clayton, who has become an amazing Twitter/Facebook Buddy and is, without a doubt, my biggest supporter as she retweets/shares everything I post, which is invaluable to me. She has also wrote two fantastic books with a third in progress (A Spark of Magic and A Blaze of Magic) and I really value her encouragement and her experience in writing and publishing her own books.

The fact that I have generated a review feedback page attests to my joy at the great feedback I have received over the last six months. The feedback has been so gratefully received by me while I have been finding my feet at book reviewing and I want to thank every author who has taken the time to thank me for my efforts. Of course, my feedback tweet from Rob Lowe, though short and sweet, will be forever etched in my memory (and in my phone photos, and on my website, Twitter feed, Facebook page…) although a “Thanks for making Stories I Only Tell My Friends Segnalibro’s July Book of the Month” would have been nice! (Just kidding – I love my tweet for Love Life and I will treasure it forever!) In all seriousness, another thing I have learned in this process is that the authors I have encountered are lovely and I have been very fortunate that I have had nothing but encouragement from the authors whose books I have reviewed. Long may this continue!

Finally, I have learned that book reviewing is an addictive hobby. If I’m not reviewing, I’m reading (although I did a lot of this anyway) and it is a lovely way to enjoy my spare time. I have got myself into a little routine now: day job, time with the children, reading/reviewing, with a few meals and chores in between. I never thought when I started my website that I would be enjoying writing posts as much as I do. I wish I had more time to spend on it but nonetheless, setting up www.segnalibro.co.uk is one of the best things I have done and I am immensely proud of it. Here is to many, many more book reviews, train of thought posts, Golden Book Ratings, Segnalibro Book’s of the Month and to making contact with some amazing people. I hope this indulgent, not-so-little post hasn’t put you to sleep, and if it has, I hope that was the intention when you started reading, in which case, the post is a success! Thanks for reading and thanks for your support over the last six months. Lisa xx

 

Girl Online: On Tour

Zoe (Zoella) Sugg Release Date: 20 Oct. 2015 Buy new: £12.99 £6.49

The Signature of All Things

Elizabeth Gilbert The Signature of All Things 2 days in the top 100 The Signature of All Things (213) Download: £5.39

Millie Marotta's Animal Kingdom – A Colouring Book Adventure

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After Anna

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The Amazing Book is Not on Fire

Dan Howell , Phil Lester Release Date: 8 Oct. 2015 Buy new: £16.99 £8.49

Rogue Lawyer

John Grisham Release Date: 20 Oct. 2015 Buy new: £20.00 £10.00

Little Girl Gone

Alexandra Burt Little Girl Gone (18) Download: £0.99

The Effects of Dialect and Swearing in Novels

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m experimenting with the use of Scottish dialect in the chapters that I have written so far in my book. I’ll be honest, it doesn’t come easily to me, as I’m not actually Scottish. However, as my Dad is Scottish and I have relatives in Edinburgh, I am familiar enough with Scottish phrases to be able to blag my way through (and I have every intention of running it past an actual Scottish person to make sure I don’t get it wrong!)

I do worry that perhaps people who are not familiar with Scottish idioms would struggle with the “cannae’s”, “wouldnae’s” and “ken’s” in the speech of my Scottish Mum and Granny characters. Surely, though, by omitting the dialect, I’m losing the authenticity of the dialogue. I’m considering putting footnotes in to give the translations but again, I worry that this would be distracting. So, I find myself in a bit of a catch-22 situation.

Initially in my first draft, I didn’t really add dialogue, just the occasional “wee” and “aye” to make sure that the reader knew that the characters were Scottish. However, following a read-through by my fab proofreader extraordinaire, she suggested that it should really be all or nothing, and I was inclined to agree with her, otherwise it would seem like a lazy attempt at authenticity, and I certainly didn’t want that. If, and when, I ever feel ready to publish a finished novel, I want it to be well-written, accurate and as perfect as I can possibly make it, so I certainly don’t want any potential readers to feel like I couldn’t be bothered to make it authentic.

So, with all this in mind, any dialogue by the Mum and Granny characters will now (hopefully) be authentically Scottish. Both characters will only feature in certain chapters as neither character is my main protagonist (who is from Manchester) so I hope that overall, if they are not totally understood, the gist of the conversation will be enough to keep the interest of the reader. I’m toying with the idea of having a glossary too but again, I worry that his would distract the reader if they feel the need to keep looking up various words in the glossary. I need to give this more thought.

Following last Sunday’s blitz on my already drafted chapters, I ditched my laptop for my Kindle to continue reading Ed James’s novel Ghost in the Machine, which is also set in Scotland; in Edinburgh, to be precise. Having tweeted about my task for the day, Mr James very kindly tweeted back with some sound advice following his own writing experiences on the pros and cons of using dialect. He removed most of the dialect from his own novel as “nobody south of the Tweed could understand it” and also it may “take the reader out of the book”. I was really grateful that an author who has already published a number of novels had taken the time to give advice to a “rookie” like me, and Ed James wasn’t the only one. Matt Johnson (Wicked Game) has also took time to advise me on occasion (including his thoughts on the subject matter of this post via my Facebook page), and it is really heartwarming that they have been willing to use their experience and knowledge to make suggestions on how I might approach my own writing. Thank you to both of you. If I ever do publish my book, I’ll make sure you get a mention in the acknowledgements!!  smile,emotion,emoticon,happy

Following the posting of my review of Ghost in the Machine (http://segnalibro.co.uk/ghost-in-the-machine-by-ed-james/) on Thursday, Mr James posted a very complimentary comment about my review and commented that I “[d]idn’t even mention the swearing…”. This confused me a little and I commented that “I may have made comment if there hadn’t been any swearing! Adds authenticity!!”. Mr James asked me to take a look at the 1 star reviews he had received as the swearing seemed to be a real irritation to some of those that had read the book, as well as the amount of dialect in the first edition of the novel. Sure enough, many of the readers had taken issue with the swearing and dialect. It was these comments that prompted this post in the first place.

Now, I understand that sometimes excessive swearing can be unnecessary. Personally, I don’t find swear words particularly offensive (unless they are aimed at me, of course face,wink ) as I just consider them as words trying to convey the extent of someone’s irritation or frustration. I understand, however, that not everyone feels that way. Also, there are particular groups of people where swear words are used more than perhaps they would be in other groups. There are people who would find this offensive, but, as I saw written on a post the other day “Every book you’ve ever read is just a different combination of 26 letters.” (Courtesy of Grammarly.com) Aren’t swear words also just a combination of letters?

Don’t get me wrong. I realise that I am simplifying the effect of swear words and that people use swear words for emphasis and to give a derogatory effect to whatever it is that they are saying. By their very nature, they are often used to be deliberately offensive. I do wonder, though, would I be any more offended if someone called me a “cow” or whether they called me a “f**king cow”. I genuinely don’t think I would be. I would absolutely be upset that someone thought I was a “cow” but the swear word in front of it only represents that person’s strength of feeling on the matter.

Ghost in the Machine is a gritty detective novel set in Edinburgh, and like it or not, as with most inner city areas, swearing is fairly commonplace. To remove all swearing from this book would be like adding mobile phone use to Pride and Prejudice – it just wouldn’t be authentic. In the edition that I read, there didn’t seem to be too much swearing. The amount of swearing may have been cut down from the original edition of the book, but unless every other word was a swear word, I would be surprised if it could be perceived as overly excessive. I can’t believe that a group of detectives investigating a series of brutal murders wouldn’t swear a fair amount, as they dredge through disturbing images and come across the vilest individuals; as they get increasingly frustrated by a lack of leads and the amount of red tape needed to be cut through in order to be able to obtain vital information for their investigation.

I’m not saying that the people who complained about the amount of swearing didn’t have a right to be offended, or that those who were put off by the use of dialect were wrong, but I also do not think that the author was wrong to include these types of dialogue either. Swearing is quite commonplace in areas of Edinburgh and Scottish people do tend to have a strong dialect which can, on occasion, be difficult to understand. (I actually think it is easier to decipher written down than it is when it is spoken, but that may just be me!) By not including these common features, in my opinion, it lacks authenticity. James didn’t completely remove any trace of dialect, but chose to adopt an accented English style. There were also a number of Scottish phrases, for example, “back of the hour”. Therefore, he managed to retain authenticity but I would have preferred a few more “didnae’s” and “wasnae’s”, perhaps not with every character but at least with some. However, I understand why James decided to cut out the dialect given the response of those who didn’t like it. Yet there are 931 four and five-star reviews on Amazon (one of which is mine) who like James’s novel and 59 one and two star reviews who weren’t keen, not to mention the 104 at three stars who seem to have found good qualities in Ghost in the Machine. Also, there will also be readers who just don’t connect with a particular novel. Reading is an extremely subjective past-time and it is impossible for every reader to be fan, no matter how well written the novel.  However, when you consider that the 1-3 star reviews only counts for just over 15% of the reviews posted, Ed James has had a very successful first novel.

However, this post is not meant to be another review of Ghost in the Machine but a discussion of the use of dialect and swearing in novels. My own thoughts are that, in order to extend the readership of a novel, it may be prudent to keep swearing and dialect to a minimum. As my novel would be aimed at mid-teens, and because the plot wouldn’t particularly require it, there will probably not be any reason to insert any swearing in anywhere, and if there was, it would only be mild. However, if it did, I would use it if it meant that my novel would lack authenticity without it. If it was set in a prison, for example, I would absolutely put swearing in it, because, in my opinion, it would be necessary to provide the reader with authentic dialogue, and I’m fairly confident that swear words would be used often in that environment. My own concern is with the dialect and, although I’m putting dialect in for now, I will be sure to do some market research before I commit to using it throughout.

Matt Johnson’s thoughts on the matter were that:

Dialect – better to show than tell, but only in small measure. Try writing dialogue that includes a very strong accent and/or local words and many people may not understand you. For example, if I said ‘cwtch’ would you know that was a welsh expression for a hug or cuddle, and it has other meanings as well. Swearing , also something that can be used for authenticity but if too frequent starts to get offensive, in my opinion. And I hate it when people write sex scenes in books and use awful language to try and make it gritty. I always skim it!

On the whole, I agree with him, although I suspect my threshold for swearing may be slightly higher than his (there is one particular swear word that I absolutely detest, but as I said earlier, I don’t generally get offended by swearing). I agree with his comments about dialect, which is why I have only made the less frequent characters Scottish, and I am still not completely decided on the use of dialect yet. I also agree with his comments on sex scenes but that’s a topic for another post. I’m also very grateful that he responded to my request for thoughts on the subject!

I think that the key to these devices is authenticity. Unless the use of swearing and dialect is being used to make the dialogue more authentic, it should be used sparingly. However, if the dialogue requires it, then it should be used. Swearing, in particular, doesn’t seem to cause the same offence generally these days, as it is used more often in general conversation (rightly or wrongly). Whilst there will always be people offended by swearing, sex scenes etc. it is impossible to please all the people all the time, so surely it is better to be true to the characters that are being developed and for those that are offended, they are not being forced to continue reading. When you look at the numbers of bad reviews compared to the number of good reviews that Ed James received on Amazon for Ghost in the Machine, that tells its own story. If the use of these devices can be justified, that’s good enough for me. Whether I will continue to use dialect, the jury’s still out…

Swearing

The Age of Sequels

Sequels are commonplace these days in books and films, more so than they ever have been, it seems. Obviously, there is a massive financial advantage to sequels, particularly in the film industry, but I wonder what attracts the viewer/reader to invest in these films/books and why are we so disappointed if the follow-up to an original hit turns out to be less than we hoped for. For me, I feel different about film sequels than I do about book sequels. I tend to be wary about film sequels, yet I love book sequels.

The news that has triggered this train of thought was that I heard today that there is a sequel in production for the film Independence Day. First of all, the original film was so good, I am struggling to imagine that they can better the original and secondly, it was the casting of Will Smith that made the first film so good in my opinion and he isn’t involved this time round, so I’m really not sure that they will be able to offer a worthy sequel, even with the return of Bill Pullman. I think that perhaps I have already made my mind up about whether I am going to like this film or not, although I am sure I will watch to see if I can be otherwise convinced.

Yet I am very excited about the return of Carl Logan in Rob Sinclair’s sequel to Dance with the Enemy in his second novel Rise with the Enemy. I have it pre-ordered to download on the 30th April and I can’t wait! I have previously waxed lyrical about Dance with the Enemy and I am positive that I will be writing a glowing review of its sequel. Watch this space!

In truth, I have only ever been disappointed in one book sequel and that was the third book in the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth, Allegiant, a trilogy that I had read under sufferance having been mithered by my 15-year-old daughter. To be fair, I enjoyed most of the book, I just wasn’t keen on the ending. I felt that I had invested so much in Tris’s journey that the ending left me feeling short-changed. I’m sure that there was a “bigger picture” positive message to be found but personally, I wanted a nice happy ending. Three books with a character leaves me with an emotional connection with that character; I imagine them as a close friend and I feel that I have a vested interest in their future. So when the book ends and the character doesn’t quite have the ending I would have liked, I feel a distinct lack of closure. With one book, it is bad enough, but when I have followed a character for three books, as she overcomes challenges and cheats death, I want her to reap the benefits of her trials and tribulations.

Just before I read the Divergent trilogy, I read The Hunger Games, again at the behest of my daughter. I absolutely loved this trilogy. I have read it again since at least twice. The book, while similar in the near-death experiences stakes, gave me closure for Katniss Everdeen and it was the same with the Harry Potter… books. By the end, all was right with the world. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all books should have a happy ending but personally, I’d at least like the main protagonist to be at peace, whilst living some semblance of a happy life, especially when they have been through a series of harrowing experiences as part of their story. I’m not keen on the film remakes of these books either. For me, they just don’t live up to the books.

Perhaps I don’t invest in a film in the same way that I do with a book. Certainly the time taken to watch a film is considerably shorter than reading a book, even when it is read from cover to cover in one session, as I have been known to do on regular occasions! Perhaps my love of reading clouds my judgement. I am certainly an advocate of preferring books to the film remakes. Like a lot of people, when I read a book, I imagine the characters and the location settings and I do often have a habit of “casting” any potential film remakes. For example, I had Channing Tatum in mind for 50 Shades of Grey and I was a bit disappointed with the casting of Jamie Dornan (although I have to say, the clips that I have seen of him in the film, he does seem to have convinced me a little – the DVD comes out on my birthday so I’m looking forward to finding out). For my favourite series of books, the Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum novels, I had my mental casting couch out again and I had Sandra Bullock in mind for hapless bounty hunter Stephanie, Hugh Jackman for Italian Stallion cop Joe Morelli and Dwayne Johnson for mercenary cum bounty hunter extraordinaire, Ranger in the film remake of One for the Money. Having read up to the seventeenth Stephanie Plum novel at this stage, I was particularly invested in these characters and was devastated that the film didn’t come close to living up to my expectations. I got this film on DVD for my birthday too so this may not bode well for 50 Shades of Grey!

So, it seems that I do not look forward to sequels of films as much as look forward to sequels of books. Thinking about the sequels of films that I have watched and enjoyed, there are only a few. Bad Boys 2, Bridget Jones Diary: The Edge of Reason and Sex and the City 2. (Yes, I was the one fan that the film had!) I’m sat here trying to think of others and I’m drawing a blank. So if I can only think of one sequel to a book that I haven’t enjoyed (and it was only the last couple of chapters that I objected to) then I can only come to one conclusion; book sequels are infinitely better than film sequels. At least, they are to me! If you can think of any more films that have great sequels or any more books that have bad sequels, please comment and let me know.