The Word is Murder – Anthony Horowitz

The Word is MurderThe story…

Renowned fiction author Anthony Horowitz is approached by an old acquaintance, a jaded and disagreeable investigator, with an idea of a new, true crime novel. A particularly perplexing murder has just been committed, and Hawthorne is convinced the story could be a big hit, providing they can solve the case.

My thoughts…

This book has one of the most unique concepts of all the books I’ve ever read. Even now I’m still slightly baffled by it. Leaving aside the story for the moment, the idea of having Horowitz write himself as a character in his own novel is very odd. There are so many personal details in the book that must be autobiographical – for example, detailed descriptions about his own past as a scriptwriter for TV programme Foyles War. In addition to this, the fictional murder storyline is entwined into these real life details. At least, I assume that this storyline is fictional – even now I’m not quite sure.

Horowitz’s relationship with Hawthorne, the detective, and the issues that he comes up against while writing a true crime novel – such as the tendency to cut irrelevant details and airbrush Hawthorne’s character into one that would be more relatable for his readers – also form a key part of the narrative. It’s a perspective that takes some getting used to, and means that the book we get isn’t a crime novel, it’s a book about someone writing that crime novel.

The main plot of the novel focuses around the murder of Diana Cowper, which is made all the more unusual by the fact that she had visited a funeral parlour that very same day to plan for her own death. There’s a rich and varied cast of characters and suspects, each of whom is hiding something. There’s also a traumatic accident in Diana Cowper’s past, a self-obsessed Hollywood actor son and a disgruntled housekeeper – in short, everything that makes a good crime novel.

As Horowitz is writing this book after the events took place, he is an omnipresent narrator, and occasionally drops in little hints and reflections on events as the story progresses. This also makes him inherently unreliable, as he makes executive decisions on what details he should leave out or make more palatable to his audience. As readers, we’re playing catch up, attempting to read between the lines and decipher the truth about what happened before the big reveal at the end.

In conclusion…

Just as in his previous novel, Magpie Murders, the book is filled with hidden clues and elaborate red herrings. Overall, despite the unusual style, which I must admit that I did find a little distracting, I did enjoy this book. I failed at identifying the murderer and his motives, which I always think is a sign of a good detective novel.

Advertisements

Writing book reviews: how to get started

As book bloggers, writing book reviews is a core part of what we do. However, I’ve heard from lots of people who say that review writing is the most challenging or least fun part of blogging.

I’ve written posts in the past that set out some of the reasons that I personally find writing reviews difficult. There are a lot of times where I’ve gone to write a review but put it off – sometimes I can’t seem to get the thoughts in my head down on the page in a way that makes sense or think of the right phrasing, or sometimes just I draw a blank and can’t think of anything interesting to say.

Assuming that at least some other people out there also suffer from the same issues – I thought I’d share some of my experiences, processes and tips for writing book reviews.

I know that everyone writes their reviews differently and I’m by no means an expert! If you’ve been blogging for a while and already have your own style for review writing, this post might not be so useful for you!

However, if you are at all interested in hearing my thoughts and top tips for writing book reviews, please read on!

  1. Have some questions to fall back on:

Having a list of questions to consider when starting a review is so useful for teasing out content for a post, and I’ve found it can also really help with structuring a review and keeping my thoughts in order as well. There are a few questions that I always ask if I’m struggling to get started on a review, which I’ve included below in case they’re helpful!

  • Were the characters believable and did they develop over the course of the book?
  • Were there any plot points that I really enjoyed, or really didn’t enjoy?
  • Was the setting fully developed? Was too much or too little time spent on description rather than action?
  • Did the language flow and feel natural? Was there anything that jarred or didn’t work?
  • Were there any pacing issues? Did it feel like any parts of the book dragged or were interesting parts skipped over too quickly?
  1. Write about what you’re interested in:

Ultimately, when people are reading a book review they want to know what you thought of it – including why you liked it, why you didn’t and whether you’d recommend it. If you found a particular aspect of the book really unique, talk about it. If you hated it, tell people why. I’d always recommend trying to be balanced though and picking out arguments from both sides where you can.

  1. Mix it up a bit:

Don’t think that you have to stick to the same formula all the time. If you’re struggling to write a review, adapt your structure or approach. I read a lot of blogs who break up their reviews up with pictures, quotes, headings, gifs or page dividers, which not only makes reviews interesting to read but also helps to add a bit of visual interest to something that otherwise could be quite word heavy.

  1. Don’t always start at the beginning:

Focus on what interested you and work backwards from there. I always find the beginning of a review the hardest to write, so a lot of the time I start in the middle by writing down my thoughts on a specific plot point, character or niggling issue, and then I go back to the introduction when I’ve had some time to think through my arguments logically.

  1. Take a break:

If you’re struggling for inspiration, don’t stress about it. Take a break and come back to it another time. If it feels like pulling teeth to write a review, the chances are that it’s going to read like that too.

How do you write book reviews? Do you have a process for writing them? 

Are posts like this helpful and is there anything else you’d like me to focus on more specifically in another post? 

 

 

July wrap up

Books read: 7
In July I finally got around to reading A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson – which might just be my favourite read so far this year. I don’t know why I waited so long to read it, but it definitely lived up to expectations. I also really enjoyed The Heart Goes Last. I wasn’t at all sure about The Butcher’s Hook though.

  • A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson
  • The Owl Always Hunts at Night, Samuel Bjork
  • The Butchers Hook, Janet Ellis
  • Frostblood, Elly Blake
  • The Heart Goes Last, Margaret Atwood
  • The Good Daughter, Karin Slaughter
  • The Diabolic, S. J. Kincaid


Books acquired: 24
This month I made the mistake of looking through the Kindle books selection on Amazon, and there far too many deals on books that I wanted to read. I also received a number of ARCs that I’m looking forward to reading this summer and took some out of the library – which given how many books I’ve acquired this month wasn’t a very sensible idea!

  • The Ninth Rain, Jen Williams
  • The Word is Murder, Anthony Horowitz
  • Red Sister, Mark Lawrence
  • Artemis, Andy Weir
  • The Readymade Thief, Augustus Rose
  • Wilde Lake, Laura Lippman
  • The Hating Game, Sally Thorne
  • Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer
  • The North Water, Ian McGuire
  • The Wonder, Emma Donoghue
  • The Magicians, Lev Grossman
  • The French Promise, Fiona McIntosh
  • Frostblood, Elly Blake
  • Walking the Lights, Deborah Andrews
  • Not Working, Lisa Owens
  • All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Becky Chambers
  • Death is a Welcome Guest, Louise Welsh
  • Dark Matter, Blake Crouch
  • New World Rising, Jennifer Wilson
  • The Diabolic, S. J. Kincaid
  • Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien
  • Days Without End, Sebastian Barry
  • The Good Daughter, Karin Slaughter


Blog posts published: 7
I posted more reviews than anything else this month. The most popular posts were my review of Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders and my round up of the books I’m most looking forward to reading this summer. I also had some really great feedback on my discussion topic last week – which was about focusing on a particular genre for a book blog.


TBR for August:
This month I only managed to read three of the seven books I was hoping to get to. In August, I want to finish all of the books I’d planned to read in July, plus a couple of others. I’m really looking forward to The Word is Murder, as I really enjoyed Horowitz’s recent mystery, Magpie Murders. I also can’t wait to read Red Sister, as I’ve loved other books by the author.

  • Darien, C. F. Iggulden
  • Behold the Dreamers, Imbolob Mbue
  • The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy
  • Three Days and a Life, Pierre Lemaitre
  • The Word is Murder, Anthony Horowitz
  • Red Sister, Mark Lawrence


Challenge progress:

Goodreads Challenge: My Goodreads reading goal is to read 50 books this year, which I’ve now met! This was a conservative goal which I was always confident I’d achieve, but this challenge was mainly about tracking how many books I’m reading, as I’ve never kept count before. Everything from here on out is a bonus. (50/50)

Beat the Backlist Challenge: The Beat the Backlist challenge is all about knocking off titles that have been on your TBR for a while. Books need to have been published prior to 2017, and I’m only including books that I actually bought before 2017 and that have been sitting around waiting for me to read them – so no new purchases or library reads. This month, two of my reads qualified, so my total is now five books towards a goal of twelve. (5/12)


How was your July? What was your favourite read? What do you have planned for August?

Discussion post: Focusing on a particular genre

Focusing on a genre

Today I’m going to talk about something I’ve been thinking about for a while – whether not focusing a specific genre for a book blog is a positive or a negative, or whether it can be both.

I read a lot of different genres depending on my mood and what I’m feeling like at the time – and my blog has evolved naturally as a result of this. I quite often have a few different books on the go at once. For example at the moment I’m listening to a crime/thriller audiobook while I’m out and about, reading the latest fiction release as an eBook while on my commute and reading an epic fantasy in paperback at home.

I’m enjoying each of these equally, and sooner or later they’ll all pop up as reviews on this site. However, I’m conscious that for some people, they might be primarily interested in just one of these genres.

I have lots of wonderful followers who are kind enough to read and comment on my posts, no matter what the subject matter. However, I’ve often wondered if my blog would do better if I focused more on one particular genre or topic.

A lot of the blogs I personally follow have a clear identity and have carved out a real niche for themselves in the blogosphere – and this is something that I see as a real positive. For example, I follow a lot of blogs that are mainly focused on YA, on crime or on fantasy or sci fi. I love that there are bloggers that I can come back to time and time again and know that the books they’re reviewing are ones that I know I’ll be interested in.

On the other hand, I also think that not having a specific genre can help to attract a wider audience. I also follow a number of blogs where not all of the reviews are necessarily of books I’d read, but I know that when there’s a book review I’m not personally interested in, I can always skip down and read a discussion post, Q&A or review that does interest me.

Plus, sometimes reviews of books I would never have thought I’d be interested in pop up on my WordPress Reader that sound great, so I’ll add them to my TBR and potentially discover something new.

I’m really interested to hear what you guys think about this one – so please do comment and let me know!

Do you have a primary genre for your blog? Is this because you’ve made a conscious decision that this is the area you’re going to focus on for blogging, or simply because it’s the genre you’re most interested in as a reader?

Do you prefer to read blogs that are mainly about a specific genre, or are you happy to skip past the reviews that aren’t for you if there’s other interesting, non-genre specific posts for you to read?

Discussion post: Overused expressions in book reviews

Overused phrases in reviews

We all know that sometimes reviewing books can be hard (I’ve written a post on this here), and that finding the right words to express yourself clearly and coherently is sometimes a struggle!

I’ve recently noticed that I tend to fall back on many of the same words and phrasing in many of my reviews because I know they work and help me to get from one part of a review to another more easily. At the risk of all of my reviews sounding the same, I have to actively try and not use these phrases when I’m writing.

Looking back over my posts from the last three years, these five expressions have popped up more times that I can count and stand out as being some of my most overused fall-back phrases…

  1. ‘It soon becomes clear’ – This is the perfect way to round off a plot summary with a bang and get onto the actual analysis of what I thought about a book, and I seem to be able to use it while talking about literally every book!
  2. ‘That said’ or ‘having said that’ – If I’m trying to write a balanced review that looks at both positives and negatives, this is a quick way to get from one to the other. I write it in every review and then have to force myself to go back and rewrite!
  3. ‘I wasn’t overly keen on…’ – Usually to be read as ‘I didn’t like this at all but I’m trying to be polite’.
  4. ‘Kept me gripped’ – If I’m scrambling to explain exactly why I was so absorbed in a book, this phrase inevitably pops up. It says nothing but hopefully conveys there was a certain something that kept me reading!
  5. ‘Ultimately though…’ – I sometimes struggle with ending a review. You can’t just stop, you need a way to round it all off nicely. This is my go-to last sentence starter.

Not using these phrases is harder than you’d think. My fingers type them automatically out of habit. As writing is literally what I do for a living (not the exciting creative writing kind though unfortunately), I feel like I should be better at finding alternative ways to express my opinions about books.

How do you write book reviews? Are there certain words you come back to time and time again? What are your most overused expressions?