Death By Hollywood by Steven Bocho

th-1“The story I want to tell you involves, among other things, a screenwriter whose career is fading out more than it’s fading in, a billionaire’s wife, and a murder . . .”

Death by Hollywood is a shallow attempt to expose and lampoon all the shady, unscrupulous, ego-driven sociopaths who run the American film industry. 

In PopcornBen Elton approached a similar subject (albeit from a different angle), but whereas he ripped into his subject with cutting insights and still maintained a moral epicentre to the book — a depth of character and plot — this book fails to reach the intelligence or enjoyment of that satire. In contrast, Death by Hollywood is all style with zero substance, no different from the bimbo dilettantes it tries to send up: alluring on the surface, but not much going on upstairs. 

The plot concerns a borderline alcoholic writer who chances upon seeing a murder, and then manipulates the proceeding events so he can write the truth from the inside out, even going so far as to hang out with the lead detective in the homicide. It’s a straightforward story with a few obvious twists, and reads like a guy at a bar telling a humorous and extended story to his friends about a couple murders; something they won’t remember the next morning, but which is nonetheless hilarious and engrossing on the night. Also, at times, the story is a little too clever for its own good: with all the inside jokes and secondhand industry stories, etc.

However, in spite of the flaws, it’s still a fairly entertaining read with a humorous, engaging voice. It won’t be one you recommend to all your friends, but it’s worth reading over the space of a Sunday afternoon when you’re bored and have nothing better to do. 


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Write Good Or Die by Scott Nicholson

th-1“Each writer only knows one set of truths, and those things are only true for that particular writer . . .”

Write Good Or Die is a collection of writing articles from a selection of published and unknown authors. The advice and subjects vary, as does their relevance. There’s no structure to the book: no unifying themes or thoughts or overarching point. It’s merely a mass of articles — some good, some bad — much like Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies but without the consistency, intelligence and wit of that book.

Much of the advice is obvious or clichéd, and most aspiring authors will have already read or learned it elsewhere. However, a few pieces of gold can be found amongst all the rubble. Plus it’s free and a quick read, so it’s worth checking out. Just don’t expect for it to change your outlook on writing, or unlock a secret key to success.

Download it, skim it, then delete it and move on to something better.


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Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark

imgresThis book invites you to imagine the act of writing less as a special talent and more as a purposeful craft . . .”

I’ve read numerous writing manuals and how-to guides over the years and this is one of the most comprehensive I’ve come across. Many books of this ilk promise to delve into a wide variety of issues but tend to scrimp on information in order to examine a few main areas, such as plot, or characterisation or the mechanics of writing — whereas Writing Tools covers almost everything in equal depth.

Broken up into fifty sections, each chapter focuses on a different aspect of writing: from structure to procrastination to internal cliff-hangers — using, for the most part, examples from previously published works (primarily other journalists, but also novelists and poets) to solidify, explain or elaborate on the initial point. At first it appears as if the book’s aimed solely towards journalistic writing rather than novels or scripts, but there’s a clear overlap of ideas and techniques, which can be beneficial for both authors and journalists alike. And although the chapters are quite short — probably about seven or eight pages each — the book never feels stingy on information, and Roy Peter Clark dives into each subject thoroughly and with an apparent wealth of knowledge and personal experience.

This isn’t merely a quick how-to guide; it’s more like a long, informative, insightful lesson, with an engaging, clear-minded teacher.

Whether you’re a journalist, a short story writer, a novelist, or a screenwriter, I highly recommend this book. It has a little something for everybody.


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250 Things You Should Know About Writing by Chuck Wendig

th-1“The Internet is 55% porn, and 45% writers. You are not alone, and that’s a thing both good and bad . . .” 

Chuck Wendig, author of The Blue Blazes (and other novels that I’ve never heard of), dishes out 250 tips/opinions about writing. Each piece of advice (or rant, or comment) is written in a concise, humorous paragraph or two, and is littered with swear words. The advice, for the most part, is good, but there’s a chance some people will lose it amongst the rubble of Chuck’s twisted (and entertaining) sense of humour.

Also, due to the length of each section, Chuck rarely elaborates on his points, which works for someone who already understands the mechanics of writing but might be annoying or frustrating to amateurs hoping to learn the fundamentals.

In essence, it’s a refresher guide: a quick, funny reminder of all the writing techniques and tips you probably already know. If you’re a beginner, however, it might not be the best teaching tool — but it’s worth a read anyway.

Unless you’re easily offended.

Then — stay away. Stay far, far away.


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Body Language by James Borg

imgres“Every day we constantly have to interpret what another person’s body language is telling us . . .” 

A lot of misinformed people think they know everything about body language. They’ve watched a brief TV segment on mirroring, or they’ve read an article in a magazine about negative posture or defensive gesturing, and suddenly they’re experts and can decipher every action a person makes. But the truth is, most people, especially the faux experts, don’t know nearly as much as they think they do. 

This book tries to bridge that gap — to discredit the fallacies, fill in the holes of knowledge and to explain that not everything can be deduced from a simple arm-cross or shoulder shrug, although they may be significant; if the action doesn’t mean anything specifically by itself, clustered with another piece of body language, it can reveal a lot. 

The book does well at explaining the complexity of pattern observation and clusters. And as well as its breakdown of negative and positive body language, and how we can manipulate our own body language, or that of other people, to suit our needs, it also delves into the area of lying and how we can tell if somebody isn’t being truthful with us. Again, like body language as a whole, it’s not as simple as “he touched his nose, he’s lying” — it’s more complicated than that, and the book conveys this message in a straightforward and simplistic manner without losing credibility.

By no means a comprehensive guide, it still contains enough hints, tips and insight to warrant a purchase. If you want to master your own body language, or that of a friend or lover, then I’d suggest taking a look at this book, and then maybe do some follow-up research.

That’s it.

Now stop crossing your arms — it’s defensive.


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11.22.63 by Stephen King

63lg“Even people capable of living in the past don’t really know what the future holds.” 

11.22.63 is the story of Jake Epping (also known, later in the book, as George Amberson) and his attempts through time travel to save former president John F. Kennedy from assassination. He believes if he does this the world will become a better place. But it’s not as simple as going back in time, popping one in Lee Harvey Oswald’s head, then returning to the 21st century to bask in a renewed and beautiful present-day America. He needs to be certain Lee was a lone shooter. He needs to be certain there aren’t any loopholes that can come back to bite his plan in the ass. And without any definitive proof either way, he chooses the safe option: to investigate and follow the infamous Oswald from afar.

During this time, he falls in love with a librarian called Sadie — who’s harbouring a dark secret that’s intent on catching up with her — and pretty soon the past begins throwing roadblocks up to stop Jake Epping/George Amberson from toying with the world’s only known reality. And as the story rockets along through a twisting road of romance and suspense, the tension soon intensifies and elevates, leading to a powerful climax.

In short: if you like your stories with scope, brains, humour and horror all mixed into one, then this is the perfect book for that.

This is Stephen King on form.

This is the master at his best. 

And if you’re a not fan of King already, this might just convert you.


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