The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories – Christopher Booker

Seven Basic Plots cover

“Imagine we are about to be plunged into a story – any story in the world.”

Somewhere in this brick of a tome, there is a moderately good book on the ‘seven basic plots’: overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy, rebirth. If you fancy reading it, it’s helpfully at the beginning, as part 1. Then you can put the book down and not suffer the rest of it o.O

There are so many not-huge issues with this book, but added together it became an exercise in masochism and self-restraint at not throwing the book out of a window (it’s a library borrow; I probably shouldn’t!) at yet another not-quite-subtle undertone of sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, or just over-inflated self-importance. The message about stories is lost in repetitive waffle – and yet, there’s enough in there to be somewhat interesting, and to think that the author really might have something worth saying. Overall, though, I don’t think there’s enough, he misses a lot of point, and it’s definitely not worth the pain to get there.

My main problem – well, a couple. First, the only stories that the author accepts as ‘worth while’ are those that follow one of his seven archetypes. There is a LOT of whining through the middle sections about how stories went wrong, how awful things became from the 18thC onwards, etc etc.

Urm, just no. You cannot suggest that only the Odyssey or Shakespeare is any ‘good’ without sounding like the worst pompous… grr!

The tangent off into psychology (and movies and music) and how human civilisation changed at the same time as storytelling did promised to be hugely interesting, but it really doesn’t reach any conclusion. Except, perhaps, that society has gone to hell (except, perhaps, during the World Wars when men got to be manly men again…!) so of course stories are all ‘cardboard characters’ and ‘sentimentality’.

And there’s a good chunk of the hideous sexism. Stories ‘only work’ if they end with a man getting the girl – and yes, girl: a pure virgin ‘anima’, natch. Women are losing their way – in stories and reality – by abandoning their ‘proper feminine values’. Those ‘below the line’ (homosexuals, PoC, lower classes, etc etc) are daring to have thoughts and opinions of their own – how dare they spoil the perfect story, right? Oh, oh hell no!!!

If I missed the point, if the author’s over-use of apostrophising words and phrases was supposed to suggest he doesn’t actually think these things, then an overt statement to that effect was needed.

I am amazed I suffered through all of this, but sometimes wanting to rip a book to shreds makes me determined to finish despite the seething rage. I should learn.

But yeah. Seven archetypal plots. Interesting – and there to tear up. Because the author is wrong that stories should follow these paths, never trying to break the cliches, never allowing writers to show any of themselves without huge scorn and judgement. Some stories are just entertainment. There’s nothing wrong with that. And some ‘entertainment’ is more profound than a privileged white guy (looking at you, Hamlet) musing about the state of self.

Bleh.

Hardback: 728 pages / 34 chapters
First published: 2004
Series: none
Read from 27th July – 4th December 2019

My rating: 4/10 – all of those for the first section

The Art of Watercolor Lettering – Kelly Klapstein

art of watercolor lettering cover

“A Beginner’s Step-by-Step Guide to Painting Modern Calligraphy and Lettered Art”

Being more creative is one of my constant goals, but it can be intimidating for a beginner to get started. Calligraphy, for example, has a huge appeal to me, to the point where I’ve bought pens and inks and started practicing – and always been too disappointed to go on. And don’t get me started on watercolour – looks gorgeous, but not the easiest!

Combining the two forms intrigued me – surely it would just make for ‘difficult squared’?

This book starts off, as with most art books, with a list of equipment and some discussion about the various options – of brushes, papers, paints, and sundries. There’s a brief explanation of colour mixing theory, and then some simple warm up exercises to get you used to holding the brush and working with the paint.

As you can see, this is all very non-threatening, and perfect for total beginners as well as those who need a bit of a confidence boost!

The third chapter introduces the lettering, talking about the basic and some more complex styles. This is the ‘calligraphy’ part, if you like. Then we move on to the ‘watercolour’ part (yes, the whole book is that, but most intensely here!) and – oooh! The techniques (rainbows!) and hints (wet on wet effects) and use of colour is just making me want to go grab a paintbrush and start right now! I mean, look at this:

galaxy lettering example

Gorgeous!

The author also briefly covers other things like watercolour pencils and water-based brush markers, before suggesting how to use what you’ve learned to make ‘dreamy designs’.

Overall, I really like this book. It combines two art forms I hadn’t really thought to try together, and is presented in clear, easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions that will get just about anyone started and on their way to a fun, pretty hobby with all sorts of uses.

NetGalley eARC: 146 pages / 7 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read November 2019

My rating: 9/10

Creative Journaling – Renee Day

creative journaling cover

“A guide to over 100 techniques and ideas”

It’s been a few years since I stumbled across the concept of Bullet Journaling, and it grabbed me from the start: a mix of organisation and creativity sounds absolutely my thing! However, I’ve fallen into a bit of a rut with my ‘spreads’ (page designs) over the past year, never really got as creative with it all as I wanted, and am actually taking a bit of a break right now. My intention is to start a new journal with new enthusiasm for the new year.

So, when I spotted this book on NetGalley, it felt like a bit of a sign! 😉

Renee Day is behind the instagram account @theDIYday, and if you’re familiar with it you might know what to expect from this book. It covers four different kinds of journalling – dot grid (what I’d call bullet journaling), junk (aka altered book), mixed media, and travel. There are also section at the start and end on choosing materials and supplies, types of lettering, and making your own ‘extras’.

The first section was of most interest to me. If you’re a long-time ‘BuJo’er’ then you might find this a bit basic, or like me you might be glad of the different ideas – all fairly simple and ‘doable’, thank goodness! In fact, the idea of a reusable layout page struck me as genius! There are different styles, different techniques or embellishments, all presented in a step-by-step form with added hints and tips.

The ideas do get progressively more complex, so as a beginner you could follow each in turn and build your confidence – and your craft stash, if you want to try them all! I’d never thought about using my card-making kit (stamps, punches, etc) for my journal, but what a great way to try stuff out.

Up to this point, Ms Day is on the side of stamps and tapes rather than a lot of artistic skill, which is something of a relief. She gets a bit more crafty with the ‘junk journaling’, something new to me but which is quite intriguing, and more again with the mixed media. This feels aspirational for me right now – maybe after some confidence building with my bujo I’ll feel more capable of creating a ‘hot glue layout’, or something this pretty:

stitched galaxy layout from book

After the fairly self-explanatory travel journalling section, I really loved the section on ‘DIY accessories’ – make your own tabs looks fab, and I would never have thought of making my own washi tape or decorated paperclips.

Overall, this is a lovely book full of ideas for beginners and more experienced journallers alike. The step-by-step instructions makes it a lot more accessible than the equivalent blog/social-media offering, too. Recommended – and might just spark a good New Year’s Resolution for me 😉

NetGalley eARC: 211 pages
First published: 14th January 2020
Series: none
Read November 2019

My rating: 8/10

21 Bridges (2019)

21 bridges poster

When a robbery goes wrong and several cops are left dead, who else would be called in but the cop that kills cop killers? Fresh from an Internal Affairs review board, Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) is left in no doubt what is expected of him in this case. Given just a matter of hours to catch the killers, before those ’21 Bridges’ in and out of the island of Manhattan must be reopened, the race is on and tension levels are skyrocketing.

Meanwhile, the robbers are doubting the job they’ve just pulled, or the stumbling blocks to their escape. Davis, too, is questioning if things are quite what they seem.

Mark Kermode described this as a “B-movie with an A-list cast”, and quite frankly I can’t top that. 21 Bridges is a pretty straightforward crime thriller, with even the ‘twist’ signposted practically from the beginning. And yet, it’s well made with an excellent cast, and manages to be perfectly watchable and indeed, quite enjoyable.

Still, there’s nothing too novel here. Production values aside, this could have been made at pretty much any point from the 1970s onward. Grab some popcorn, sit back and enjoy the action – brain not particularly required.

Released: 22nd November 2019
Viewed: 22nd November 2019
Running time: 99 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 6.5/10

Bookmarked for Murder – VM Burns

Bookmarked for Murder cover

“‘Samantha Marie Washington!'”

Returning from a trip with several of her grandmother’s retirement village residents, bookshop owner and amateur sleuth, Samantha Washington, is once again caught up in mystery and murder. But given the enclosed space of the bus, that means… gulp!… one of the retirees is a murderer?!

A famous journalist writing an exposĂ© of an even more famous historical figure is a set up for quite the mystery. But when one of the gang is almost killed, too, keeping her grandmother and friends safe is enough to overcome Sam’s reluctance to get involved.

This is the fifth outing for Sam and her ‘silver sleuths’, in a series that started with The Plot is Murder. As such, there’s a lot of familiarity with the set up, characters, and of course, the addition of repeat visits to Sam’s own novel-in-progress.

My view of the series remains unchanged. It’s a nice, easy, cosy read, and I thoroughly enjoy the change of pace once in a while. I’m also growing quite fond of the cast of characters, even if the in-book writing is still a tad annoying (the woman never EDITS! argh!!). But, while the mystery was intriguing, I felt a little let down by the sudden revelation of the murderer in slight too-quick fashion. ymmv.

NetGalley eARC: 256 pages / 21 chapters
First published: 20th November 2019
Series: Mystery Bookshop book 5
Read from 18th-21st November 2019

My rating: 6/10

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow – Jessica Townsend

wundersmith cover

“Morrigan Crow leapt from the Brolly Rail, teeth chattering, hands frozen around the end of her oilskin umbrella.”

(As per usual, vague spoilers for events in book 1 just by mention of how the second starts, and with what characters – read on at your peril!)

Following from the events in The Trials of Morrigan Crow, our titular heroine is settling into life in the wonderful land of Nevermoor. We ended book 1 with her acceptance into the Wundrous Society, so now her education begins. But, the residents of Nevermoor have been taught to fear Wundersmiths, and Morrigan’s teachers are determined to school her in the evils committed by her predecessors. Can Morrigan prove that she belongs in WunSoc? Will her secret get out – and make her former life as a ‘cursed’ child seem pleasant in comparison?

And in the wider community, are a series of mysterious disappearances linked? The new WunSoc class are discovering new marvels of their town, twisty lanes and secret railroads. But they also have to face dark myths, creatures made out of old bones, and a horrible market that wouldn’t hesitate to sell sentient ‘wunimals’, or a person’s ‘knack’…!

Although aimed at a younger audience (than me ;)) I absolutely loved the first book in this series. The mix of magic and wonder and a healthy dollop of danger makes for a great adventure. Book 2 picks that up excellently, growing the story organically and still making Nevermoor feel very much like a place I’d like to visit.

Bring on book 3 – and 4, 5, and oh so many more?! Fingers crossed 🙂

Library Paperback: 404 pages / 29 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Nevermoor book 2
Read from 9th-16th November 2019

My rating: 8/10

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man – Tamora Pierce

woman who rides like a man cover

“Alanna of Trebond, the sole woman knight in the realm of Tortall, splashed happily in the waters of an oasis, enjoying her first bath in three days.”

Back in my childhood, I read and loved Alanna, never realising/getting my hands on any sequels. Aiming to rectify that recently, I found book 2 was a bit too much of a change of tone for me to wholly appreciate. Thankfully, book 3 doesn’t stray any further, and was easier to enjoy as a light-ish, easy read.

Following the events of In the Hand of the Goddess, Alanna is hoping to finally live up to her dream of being knight and having adventures. However, she’s soon caught up in the lives of a desert tribe. First accused of witchcraft and unnatural behaviour (for a woman), can she win them over? And what of her romance with a certain ‘friend’ – where might that be heading? Back in the city, there are plots of magic and thieves, which to be honest maybe should have made up more of the story, rather than leading into another volume.

I’m so-so on this book. On the one hand I enjoyed reading it well enough, but something about the tone still doesn’t sit quite right. In style it feels still quite ‘younger reader’, but the amount of sex would suggest otherwise. The message of having to fight for any shred of ‘girl power’ is still very sadly relevant, but I’m not sure the use of existing cultures as a basis for this fantasy is altogether as ok as I’d like. Mostly it’s not too bad, and let’s face it: the entire world of Tortall seems against equality, so meh.

I’ll press on with the final book, and I have other work by the author on my TBR. But certainly nothing so far has impressed me or rekindled the joy I had from the first book.

Kindle: 151 pages / 10 chapters
First published: 1986
Series: Song of the Lioness quartet book 3
Read from 9th-13th November 2019

My rating: 6/10