The SMB Book thread

The Chain by Adrian McKinty 10/10
More than lives up to the hype. Brilliant idea brilliantly executed. There aren't many thrillers around that, in the midst of all the action, allude to Borges. But first and foremost it's about plot, and that keeps the pages turning. I read it in two sittings.

Few years back I had a short story published in the US with the same name. Premise was about a man being blackmailed, who found in the end that as well as paying up, to free himself he had to carry out the blackmail the next person in the chain. Beat Ian Rankin and tied with Ed McBain in the readers' top ten of the year, and I thought, hmm, I like the idea, maybe I should work this up into a novel. Never did. Ah well. But then it is more about the execution...
 
Nutshell by Ian McEwan

A sinister murder plot as told from the viewpoint of an unborn child. McEwan is on top form here. Well paced and tremendously written. 9.3/10
It's on my shelf and I do like a McEwan so I'll bump it up the list.
You will love Middlemarch. Sags a bit in the middle but stick with it. I am currently heading through The Portrait of a Lady and wondering why on earth I've never read any Henry James before.


Well done on doing so well. My experience of creative writing courses at 3 British universities (one short course, one Postgrad diploma, one MFA) is that the student intakes are majority female, sometimes overwhelmingly so, which in turn is going to feed through into who enters these competitions as we're encouraged to use them as a means to break through. As for the entry fees, a lot of competitions couldn't run without them but some offer free entries for people who need this, which is good to see and should be more widely adopted.


Because 'the writing community' controls a large part of our culture, and women and other groups are under-represented in it, that's why. But I think you know this.

You say "It's only since I've begun to dabble in fiction that the gender thing has become an issue". It's interesting that you never took issue with gender of writers until you were put in a situation where, perhaps for the first time in your experience, the majority were women. I infer you never took issue when your writing world(s) was/were majority male. I think you need to get a bit 'woke', brother ;). Happy to accept I've inferred too much of course, and you've always worked and written in environments with a 50/50 gender split. Otherwise, welcome to our world. On my current course, the tutor was astonished at a straw poll of the students: 50% of the women said they would publish under a gender neutral name, just as JK Rowling had to do because her publishers feared that otherwise boys wouldn't read her. We know how the world still is for us.

@Monty Pigeon Here's some more stats for you, from our sibling art-form screenwriting. They are from a study that looked at the period 2005-2016
  • Only 16% of working film writers in the UK are women.
  • Only 15% of films had credited female writers, only 11% were predominantly female-written
  • On average, budgets for male-written films are higher than for female-written films
  • And yet women-written films tend to generate higher revenues
  • Only 28% of TV episodes over the ten year period were female-written
  • This dropped to 14% of prime time TV, 11% for comedy, and 9% for light entertainment.
https://writersguild.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Gender-Inequality-and-Screenwriters.pdf

So yes, this is why writing is at "the frontline of the gender war". Sorry if it's all a bit too 'woke' for you.
Middlemarch is in my top 10.

Have you read any Elizabeth Taylor? I read Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, it was very good. Picked another couple up at charity shops.
 
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taipeisafc

Winger
The Cut Out Girl - Bart van Es

Biography of a young Jewish girl in hiding in the Netherlands during World War 2, very interesting and moving and taught me a few things I didn't know about the Dutch during the war (the death rate as a percentage of population of Jews was higher in Holland than anywhere else - over 80% died). 9/10
 

Biffo The Bear

Winger
Lost Magpie
I recently called into Waterstones whilst rushing back to the car. Grabbed the first book that caught my attention to read whilst on site for 6 weeks.
It is Stalingrad by Vasily Grossman. As it is a rather challenging 900+ pages can i ask the literary minds here...… Am i going to be disappointed? (it was 20 quid so will be reading anyway).
 
I know that there are several Brookmyre fans on here and his most recent output can currently be obtained for 99p on Kindle.

Started this last Friday and finished it on Monday. It's very unusual for me to read a book in such few sittings unless I am holiday which is a positive indicator for the quality of this read. Whilst enjoying the book overall the subject matter was a little uncomfortable at times (without giving the plot away) but the major plus was how Brookmyre brought everything together at the end of the book which often is the let down with crime fiction. A solid 8/10 but I don't think that it was quite as good as 'Want You Gone'.
 

Lexingtongue

Striker
I recently called into Waterstones whilst rushing back to the car. Grabbed the first book that caught my attention to read whilst on site for 6 weeks.
It is Stalingrad by Vasily Grossman. As it is a rather challenging 900+ pages can i ask the literary minds here...… Am i going to be disappointed? (it was 20 quid so will be reading anyway).
Grossman is great. I read his other epic, the one that had to be smuggled out of Russia on microfilch, and really enjoyed it.
 

Quench

Winger
Read three music related biographies over the summer, Peter Hook's book about the Hacienda and Keth Richards and Anthony Kiedis books about themsleves (sp). All three came across as self centred tossers.

Just reading To Kill A Mocking Bird for the umpteenth time. Atticus Finch - True Hero, alhough it could easily be interpreted as a socialist training manual
 
Started this last Friday and finished it on Monday. It's very unusual for me to read a book in such few sittings unless I am holiday which is a positive indicator for the quality of this read. Whilst enjoying the book overall the subject matter was a little uncomfortable at times (without giving the plot away) but the major plus was how Brookmyre brought everything together at the end of the book which often is the let down with crime fiction. A solid 8/10 but I don't think that it was quite as good as 'Want You Gone'.
Weirdly, this was one of the two books I was going to post about on this thread. I thought the separate plot lines came together very well, it's something that Brookmyre is very good at doing. Also 8/10.

The second is "The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth" by William Boyd. It's a collection of short stories. Three of them are very good, the others a little slight (as can be the way with such things). The best are a story of a relationship unravelling told in reverse, the title story about a young woman who hasn't chosen her path in life and a Bond-esque tale about an actor taking what appears to be a simple job to earn some quick cash. 7.75/10
 

zwartekat

Striker
Read three music related biographies over the summer, Peter Hook's book about the Hacienda and Keth Richards and Anthony Kiedis books about themsleves (sp). All three came across as self centred tossers.

Just reading To Kill A Mocking Bird for the umpteenth time. Atticus Finch - True Hero, alhough it could easily be interpreted as a socialist training manual
In amongst skipping through the Discworld series (up to 12 so far - always thought it wouldn't be my thing but a bit surprised to find them both enjoyable and easy to read), I have also read a few music-based books recently.

The first was a biography of Nick Lowe by Will Birch. I'm not a great Nick Lowe fan so was open-minded but the author is a fan and verges on the hagiographical at times. NL comes across as an ok bloke who can be a bit of a knob at times. I thought, seeing as I just have limited knowledge of NL, that there might at least be some interesting snippets but there wasn't much more to add to my basic knowledge - NL was involved in the Pub Rock thing, has written a few familiar tunes (to people of a certain age), produced a few good albums for other artists, has been knocking about for bloody ages and got to diddle Carlene Carter at her most diddleable. One of the most interesting facts for me was that NL's dad crash-landed a plane on Ryhope Beach during WWII. There is a slightly bizarre Appendix which details the NL family tree in some detail and which was probably fun for the author to research but doesn't really add a great deal to the book itself. 6/10

I also read The Wichita Lineman by Dylan Jones which basically makes the assertion that said song is the greatest song of all time. Although I wouldn't agree, I thought it might make for something a bit different. However, it does come across as an idea stretched to breaking point. The author gets a few of his Groucho Club mates to say nice things about the song, there is plenty of stuff about Glen Campbell and songwriter Jimmy Webb and, as you might expect, lots of slightly random tangents to flesh the whole thing out a bit. It's not terrible but the author admits in the acknowledgements that when he told his family what he planned to write, most of them asked 'Why?' and I'd probably agree with them. Funnily enough, the bassist on the song was Carol Kaye who was a key member of the 'Wrecking Crew' group of session musicians who played on a multitude of hits in the 60s. As a woman in that environment it felt like her story might be a lot more interesting than the story of this song. 5/10

Finally, there was Defying Gravity - Jordan's Story by the punk icon(?) herself (with help from Cathi Unsworth). There is no doubt she was in the thick of things as punk took off and you get her take on things, many of which will be familiar but a few that haven't always had much mention. It's interesting to see the juxtaposition of her ordinariness alongside her flamboyance. She comes across as generally level-headed although there are still a few examples of the old 'I'm a real individual, me' thing. If you've read a few of the punk 'histories' such as Jon Savage's England's Dreaming, etc. then quite a bit will be familiar. As would be expected, it's fairly parochial around the PIstols / McLaren / Westwood axis and the artier side of punk so there are numerous bit-part players get rolled out / quoted (often including some quote about how fabulous and unique Jordan is / was). I'm probably making it sound a bit more flimsy than it actually is and it's easy enough reading with the odd genuine insight although I was disappointed that, yet again, the Nazi armband thing is given some weedy excuse rather than someone just admitting it was a stupid, shite idea. Oh, and wait for the price to come down. 6/10
 
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riffraff

Striker
Read three music related biographies over the summer, Peter Hook's book about the Hacienda and Keth Richards and Anthony Kiedis books about themsleves (sp). All three came across as self centred tossers.

Just reading To Kill A Mocking Bird for the umpteenth time. Atticus Finch - True Hero, alhough it could easily be interpreted as a socialist training manual
I’ve just read Chris Diffords, Christie Hyndes and Brix Smiths. Very similar reaction tbh. Robert Forster from The Gobetweens is a decent read for fans of the band but there’s nowt there for anyone else tbh.
In amongst skipping through the Discworld series (up to 12 so far - always thought it wouldn't be my thing but a bit surprised to find them both enjoyable and easy to read), I have also read a few music-based books recently.

The first was a biography of Nick Lowe by Will Birch. I'm not a great Nick Lowe fan so was open-minded but the author is a fan and verges on the hagiographical at times. NL comes across as an ok bloke who can be a bit of a knob at times. I thought, seeing as I just have limited knowledge of NL, that there might at least be some interesting snippets but there wasn't much more to add to my basic knowledge - NL was involved in the Pub Rock thing, has written a few familiar tunes (to people of a certain age), produced a few good albums for other artists, has been knocking about for bloody ages and got to diddle Carlene Carter at her most diddleable. One of the most interesting facts for me was that NL's dad crash-landed a plane on Ryhope Beach during WWII. There is a slightly bizarre Appendix which details the NL family tree in some detail and which was probably fun for the author to research but doesn't really add a great deal to the book itself. 6/10

I also read The Wichita Lineman by Dylan Jones which basically makes the assertion that said song is the greatest song of all time. Although I wouldn't agree, I thought it might make for something a bit different. However, it does come across as an idea stretched to breaking point. The author gets a few of his Groucho Club mates to say nice things about the song, there is plenty of stuff about Glen Campbell and songwriter Jimmy Webb and, as you might expect, lots of slightly random tangents to flesh the whole thing out a bit. It's not terrible but the author admits in the acknowledgements that when he told his family what he planned to write, most of them asked 'Why?' and I'd probably agree with them. Funnily enough, the bassist on the song was Carol Kaye who was a key member of the 'Wrecking Crew' group of session musicians who played on a multitude of hits in the 60s. As a woman in that environment it felt like her story might be a lot more interesting than the story of this song. 5/10

Finally, there was Defying Gravity - Jordan's Story by the punk icon(?) herself (with help from Cathi Unsworth). There is no doubt she was in the thick of things as punk took off and you get her take on things, many of which will be familiar but a few that haven't always had much mention. It's interesting to see the juxtaposition of her ordinariness alongside her flamboyance. She comes across as generally level-headed although there are still a few examples of the old 'I'm a real individual, me' thing. If you've read a few of the punk 'histories' such as Jon Savage's England's Dreaming, etc. then quite a bit will be familiar. As would be expected, it's fairly parochial around the PIstols / McLaren / Westwood axis and the artier side of punk so there numerous bit-part players get rolled out / quoted (often including some quote about how fabulous and unique Jordan is / was). I'm probably making it sound a bit more flimsy than it actually is and it's easy enough reading with the odd genuine insight although I was disappointed that, yet again, the Nazi armband thing is given some weedy excuse rather than someone just admitting it was a stupid, shite idea. 6/10
Does Lowe waking up hungover and wishing he was dead then opening his mail to find a £250k cheque for What’s so funny about peace love and understanding from the bodyguard album feature?
 
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zwartekat

Striker
Does Lowe waking up hungover and wishing he was dead then opening his mail to find a £250k cheque for What’s so funny about peace love and understanding from the bodyguard album feature?
Don't recall it being that specific although it does mention that the royalties from The Bodyguard soundtrack kept him comfortably solvent for a good few years despite the song only featuring in the film for about 6 seconds or summat like that (never seen the film). Must be a hell of a bonus for some songwriters when their slightly obscure song suddenly features in a hit film.
 

riffraff

Striker
Don't recall it being that specific although it does mention that the royalties from The Bodyguard soundtrack kept him comfortably solvent for a good few years despite the song only featuring in the film for about 6 seconds or summat like that (never seen the film). Must be a hell of a bonus for some songwriters when their slightly obscure song suddenly features in a hit film.
I read it in an interview which I only read because I used to see him all the time on Chiswick high road. He said it was the best hangover cure ever. An amazing head of hair on him back then. Probably still has.
 
The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, Robert Fisk - 10/10

This might be the best book I've read, but it took me about 3 months to finish as it is a gruelling 1,300 pages long (with relatively small print). Robert Fisk has basically lived most of his life in Beirut using it as a hub to travel throughout the middle east since the 70's as a correspondent for The Times and subsequently the Independent. He's interviewed osama bin Laden twice and pretty much been to every "hot spot" in the ME during all the major conflicts since the 70's. The book is extremely well written and intertwines history with his own personal experiences - and the US, the UK and Israel do not come out of it very well. It paints a pretty grim picture of the absolute clusterfuck the major powers have made of the ME in the century since the Ottoman Empire began to crumble, and in the 14 years since he published this book, things have only gotten worse (and entirely as he expected).

I had to take breaks trhoughout and switch to other books for a couple of reasons, not just the overall length: 1) the chapters themselves are huge, at least for an average-slow reader like me and I hate commiting to a chapter unless I think I have a good chance of finishing it that day. Some of them took a good couple of hours to get through. 2) it's brutal and depressing. The shit human beings do to other human beings never ceases to astound and utterly disgust me, and Fisk rightly covers it all as a point of principle - we should see the pictures, hear the stories, read the awful details as ultimately we vote for the people who contribute to all this shit happening. But then sometimes you need to take a step away and have a breather before you lose all hope for humanity.

I've read a lot on the Middle East, but this is definitely the best and I would recommend it as a starting point for anyone wanting to know why the whole region is such a mess.

 
The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, Robert Fisk - 10/10

This might be the best book I've read, but it took me about 3 months to finish as it is a gruelling 1,300 pages long (with relatively small print). Robert Fisk has basically lived most of his life in Beirut using it as a hub to travel throughout the middle east since the 70's as a correspondent for The Times and subsequently the Independent. He's interviewed osama bin Laden twice and pretty much been to every "hot spot" in the ME during all the major conflicts since the 70's. The book is extremely well written and intertwines history with his own personal experiences - and the US, the UK and Israel do not come out of it very well. It paints a pretty grim picture of the absolute clusterfuck the major powers have made of the ME in the century since the Ottoman Empire began to crumble, and in the 14 years since he published this book, things have only gotten worse (and entirely as he expected).

I had to take breaks trhoughout and switch to other books for a couple of reasons, not just the overall length: 1) the chapters themselves are huge, at least for an average-slow reader like me and I hate commiting to a chapter unless I think I have a good chance of finishing it that day. Some of them took a good couple of hours to get through. 2) it's brutal and depressing. The shit human beings do to other human beings never ceases to astound and utterly disgust me, and Fisk rightly covers it all as a point of principle - we should see the pictures, hear the stories, read the awful details as ultimately we vote for the people who contribute to all this shit happening. But then sometimes you need to take a step away and have a breather before you lose all hope for humanity.

I've read a lot on the Middle East, but this is definitely the best and I would recommend it as a starting point for anyone wanting to know why the whole region is such a mess.

Bought from amazon for buttons on your recommendation. Looks interesting.
 

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