Mount! Review

Mount!Mount! by Jilly Cooper
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Contains spoilers!
If anyone ever tells you the difference between self-published books and traditionally published book is editing – refer them to the new Jilly Cooper novel.

My sisters and I all read the Jilly Cooper books when we were teenagers – Imogen, Prudence, Bella et al. We loved Riders, Rivals, Polo and The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous.

Then, every few years more of the big bonkbusters came out – Wicked, Apassionata and more. Each book got progressively worse, but we kept reading them in the hope the old Cooper magic would come back.

As I got older, I started to find the politics in the books disturbing. Racial stereotypes abounded, and people who were left-wing or concerned about the environment were always portrayed as baddies – paedophiles in one book. A woman’s first loyalty was always to a man, never to her friends or even her children.

I bought Mount! to read while on holiday at the end of last year. It’s the kind of book that would never get you a book deal if you didn’t have the name and following already. Anyone giving feedback would say there are far too many characters – Jilly’s list of animals in the book goes on for several pages, for example.

It’s a cute Jilly thing to include mention of just about every character she’s ever created, but that obviously increases with every book you write. Mount is bursting at the seams with too many characters, and plot lines for so many of them.

Why didn’t an editor tell her to trim the numbers back?

I don’t mind silly plots, but a whole lot of them together makes a very bad book. I don’t mind an infidelity plotline either, but this isn’t the place for it. Cooper’s books are aimed at a mainly female audience, so why create an unsympathetic main female character who sleeps with her good friend’s husband?

There is a lot of detail about horse breeding and racing – too much. When you have detail instead of a plot, a book doesn’t work. Cooper’s acknowledgement at the end of the book is the longest thank-you note I’ve ever read. Clearly, she felt duty-bound to write about everything she discovered. A good writer or editor should make ruthless decisions about what to ditch.

Cooper always kept Rupert Campbell-Black, her hero of Riders and Rivals, faithful to his wife, Taggie. Given that he was such a playboy, that often felt unrealistic to me, but she was consistent with it. In Mount, RCB is unfaithful to Taggie – a mistake, I believe. Why change that now? It doesn’t feel like a thought-out plot line, more something thrown in randomly to add excitement.

Mount seems like a book that wasn’t read by beta readers, never mind an editor. It feels like a cynical publishing exercise – put out a book by a big name because it will sell regardless. Did anyone at Curtis Brown or Transworld Publishers do anything to this book, apart from proof-reading it?

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If You Love It, Review It

No doubt about it, we live in a review-driven world nowadays. Any small business owner will tell you how crucial reviews are. Once upon a time, they used to be about the testimonials you got customers to write for you. These were then displayed on your walls (pre-internet, kids!) or in your annual report.

Now? Who buys anything before reading the reviews first? From TripAdvisor to Yelp, Amazon to eBay, reviews help customers decide what they will spend their precious pennies on.

Recently, I wrote a piece we hope to include in a new Comely Bank Publishing (CBP) book. As there might be a spare page or two, CBP’s founder Gordon Lawrie and I thought, “waste not, want not. Let’s use the space to beg for reviews”. Here’s the piece…

Did you like this book? Why not review it?

Reviews are important for books, especially books published by small, independent publishers such as Comely Bank Publishing. Why? They help our books get found.

How do you choose a book to read? You might choose it because it’s prominently displayed, you’ve seen an advertisement for it, you know the author’s work or you’ve read a good review.

Small, independent publishers do not have the same market for budgeting as traditional publishing houses do. We can’t afford posters in railway stations or pages in magazines and we don’t get access to the same number of book stores.

However, sites such as Amazon, Kobo and GoodReads can level the playing field for independently-published novels. Book reviews act as “word of mouth” for shoppers online. They provide social proof that something is good – well, at least if your reviews are positive!

The more reviews a book has, the further up the rankings it moves. A book with a lot of reviews will come up quickly if a reader types in ‘Scottish novels’ or whatever genre to the search engine.

You don’t need to write a long or detailed review – just a couple of sentences will do.

Thank you!

 

The Source – A Review

The SourceThe Source by James A. Michener
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Set aside plenty of time for this read – it’s a lengthy tome. But you’ll be glad you did put in the effort.

I love this book. I use the present tense because I’ve just read it for the third time and I anticipate I’ll read it again and again. My first reading was when my grandmother bought it for me not long after I returned from a stint on a kibbutz. The second time was when someone bought the book for me after I lost the original – I gave it to someone and they never gave it back, don’t you just hate that?. And now I’ve re-read it for the third time.

The Source is a hugely ambitious novel, taking in the history of civilisation and religion. It starts with a fictional archaeological dig and it takes the form of a series of short stories related to each layer of the dig interspersed with what is going on in the present day. Primarily, it’s about Judaism, but it also includes the birth of Christianity and Islam (and all the schisms in between).

If you love history and you find religion fascinating, you’ll love this book. I’m an atheist, but the explanations at the beginning for why a group of people might have started to believe in some kind of greater being were wonderful. All through the book, you see the various religious, political, cultural and societal issues emerge, and their contribution to what happens next.

It’s also darn good story-telling. Each of the short stories that take place years apart (in some cases thousands of years) is actually quite a long short story, but I found myself wanting to read on every time, even though I knew what was going to happen because I was reading the book for the third time.

At times, the archaeological dig pieces feel a little heavy-handed, two of the main characters basically serve as mouthpieces for two different peoples. But the extended end piece pulls everything together terrifically. The book was published in the mid-1960s, and there are several predictions in it about what will happen in the future. See if you agree with what Michener’s characters predict…

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The Outcast, by Sadie Jones

The OutcastThe Outcast by Sadie Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought this was an astonishing book – a debut novel too, no less. I found it in my local library, put off reading it for a while, took it up one evening and then couldn’t put the book down. I read it in one night.

The book tells the story of Lewis Aldridge, starting with his release from prison in 1957 at the age of 27. It then backtracks to the end of the Second World War when Lewis’s father returns from the war, interrupting the cosy life he and his mother have made together without him. Tragedy strikes and father and son are unable to help each other through it.

Lewis is a deeply flawed protagonist, but the author deals sympathetically with him at all times – and with most of the other characters who surround him. You feel as if the author really wanted to explain why people act in certain ways and why they are unable to rectify situations.

The portrayal of 1940s and 1950s English life seems very vivid and realistic and it’s an interesting exploration of social mores and how they constricted people’s lives. The writing is beautiful and the ending satisfying.

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The Beauty Myth – Review

The Beauty MythThe Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been aware of this book for a long time, but I’ve only just got round to reading it and I wish I’d read it years ago.

Wolf puts across many thoughtful and considerate arguments for why the beauty myth exists and its use to control women in society. Beauty, she argues, has taken the place of what religion used to do and it’s an insidious and powerful tool of oppression. Without the enforced obsession with the appearance (and the projected image is impossible for most women to achieve, and certainly to continue to achieve), how much more would women do, Wolf argues, how powerful would they be?

If you’re not convinced by the arguments that dieting doesn’t work (it almost always results in disordered eating and it ruins the metabolism), then be convinced by Wolf’s political arguments against dieting –

“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”

And definitely be convinced by her arguments against the cosmetic surgery industry.

“Whatever is deeply, essentially female – the life in a woman’s expression, the feel of her flesh, the shape of her breasts, the transformations after childbirth of her skin – is being reclassified as ugly, and ugliness as disease. These qualities are about an intensification of female power, which explains why they are being recast as a diminution of power. At least a third of a woman’s life is marked with aging; about a third of her body is made of fat. Both symbols are being transformed into operable condition so that women will only feel healthy if we are two thirds of the women we could be. How can an ‘ideal’ be about women if it is defined as how much of a female sexual characteristic does not exist on the woman’s body, and how much of a female life does not show on her face?”

The book was published in 1990 and I found it rather depressing that many of situations she describes and ruminates on have worsened. Facilitated by the internet, for example, the preoccupation with appearance and looks is worse than ever in my opinion while the growth in the cosmetic surgery industry continues at a frightening rate. It’s completely debilitating for women everywhere.

Having said that, the book is really worth your while reading. The majority of women will recognise the situations Wolf describes. The text is easy to read and absorb, and the book allows you to equip yourself with knowledge. I felt as I had known a lot of what Wolf describes, but her elaboration made it clearer and brighter, and knowing what is behind the beauty myth makes it a lot less powerful for me, which can only be a good thing.

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