Review: The Portrait of a Lady

The Portrait of a Lady
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve never been a massive Henry James fan, but I thought I’d give him another go. Portrait is generally considered to be one of the greats.

It took me three goes, in that I broke off at least three times to read other (more “urgent”) novels. His language is wonderful… in small doses. I love the style, and it feels rather like indulging in a very rich Italian pasta, full of cream and other animal products. I’ve no doubt that there’s goodness in there, but I’m not sure how much I can digest at one sitting.

I have to admit, I started to skim. Paragraphs that ran longer than a page were an invitation to dip in and out and to feel that (rightly or wrongly) I could get the gist of character and plot at speed. To a certain extent it worked, and to a certain extent I know I missed a great deal. I do know I missed a crucial plot point (even going back I couldn’t find where one character proposed marriage to another!!)

Then, a little after half way, the book took off. I’m not saying it wasn’t alive before. The characters, settings and situations are real and powerfully described from the start, but there was a dramatic gear shift. The last third is genuinely moving.

I’m not saying I’d cut any that came before, because I’ve no doubt it’s great literature. One day, if I live long enough, I’ll go back and re-read. But the ending has enormous power.

I’d recommend anyone who hadn’t read the book, to set aside the time. It is certainly one of the greats. But don’t feel guilty if you wish to skim the first 300 or so pages. Sometimes less is indeed better than more. Better to do that than to miss the chance of reading it altogether.

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Review: Making a Good Script Great

Making a Good Script Great
Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the classic texts on editing and redrafting. It’s excellent on subplots with some interesting breakdowns of the structures of Tootsie and Witness.

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Review: Joe Bob Goes To the Drive-In

Joe Bob Goes To the Drive-In
Joe Bob Goes To the Drive-In by Joe Bob Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fun, energetic, and reminds you what you loved about the movies. Joe Bob and his friends take no prisoners. Films are rated by body count, flesh visible and extras such as a snake camera (you have to read it to understand). Cahiers du Cinema it ain’t.

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Sugar – an apology from Charles Harris Enterprises


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We at Charles Harris Enterprises wish to apologise unreservedly for suggesting in the past that sugar might not be bad for your health and that cutting it out of your diet might not help you lose weight, counter obesity, avoid heart disease, evade diabetes and save your teeth.

Scientist holding carrots which are not sugar

Man with carrots

If we ever said that nutritional experts were “sandal-wearing, bearded Guardian-reading kill-joys who want to stop poor people eating the one thing they can afford and that brings fun and excitement to their lives” it must have been an unfortunate slip of the pen, caused by excitement at all the money we were making adding cheap sugar to convenience foods to add to our profits.

The Sugars

It is possible that we once suggested that sugar was not in any way implicated in causing disease and the fact that in the Caribbean diabetes is called “the sugars” is merely an urban myth. If so, we were momentarily distracted by self-interest.

Paying newspaper columnists to write things such as “sugar is good for you”, “you need sugar in your diet” and “life is hard enough without adding sweetness” happened while we were asleep, or slumped in a sugar-coma, or counting our cash.

We want it to be clear that from now on, sugar is the work of the devil, and that we fully intend to stop making money from fooling people into thinking cheap stale food doesn’t taste like chemical mush.

Sugar-free diet

Instead we are going to make money telling people how to stop eating sugar, how difficult it is to stop eating sugar, how difficult it is to write recipes and diet programmes to help people stop eating sugar and to run expensive courses to help people deal with this disgusting sugar-eating habit.

And we will concentrate, as before, on injecting and feeding cattle with antibiotics, covering fruit and vegetables with pesticides, killing weeds with high-dosage chemicals and altering the DNA of everything that moves or grows.

Because anyone who says they’re bad for you is a sandal-wearing, bearded Guardian-reading kill-joy who wants to stop poor people eating the one thing they can afford, that brings fun and excitement to their lives.

We trust this is now totally clear.

A stocking filler for the criminal in your life


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At last, what you’ve been waiting for – something to fill the Christmas stocking of your favourite expert in crime – my Police Slang book.Police Slang

An arresting glimpse behind the scenes at your local cop shop, this popular gift tells you what the police are really saying.

Would you know what to do with an SQJ? Or why they’re calling your friend an IC2? It’s all here.*

Criminal Minds

In the middle of researching a police-based novel, I realised that I’d hit a rich seam of humour. Police slang also uncovers the reality about how they see us, the criminals they deal with, and the world at large.

It’s not too late to order your copy now, astound your friends, create your own realistic dialogue and impress your crime-reading (or crime-creating) circle.

UK: Order your copy of Police Slang at £2.50 (including free delivery in the UK)

International: Order your copy of Police Slang at £2.50 (plus £1.95 airmail post and packing to anywhere in the world)

* If your friend is an IC2, he or she looks Mediterranean or Hispanic. And SQJ stands for Stupid Question Jacket – because as soon as you put one on, someone comes and asks you one… so now you know.

Buy your copy now, while stocks last!