Three Reasons Why Books Don’t Get Remakes

Well, the day that I wrote this article, I ended up thinking about the subject of remakes after seeing a trailer for the then-upcoming remake of a classic 1990s horror videogame called “Resident Evil 2”. Although the game itself looked far too modern to actually run on the computer I was using, even just seeing footage of it evoked lots of nostalgia… and made me think about the subject of remakes.

But, since I’m going through more of a reading than a gaming phase at the moment, I started to wonder why books don’t really get remakes. After all, there are plenty of compelling vintage classics which could probably be spruced up with more readable and/or fast-paced modern narration etc… So, why doesn’t this happen? Here are a few of the reasons.

1) There’s no need: As I sort of mentioned a couple of days ago, the “technology” behind literature is pretty much the same as it has been for quite a few years.

In other words, most English-language books use 26 letters and standard systems of spelling, grammar and punctuation. None of this has really changed too much during at least the past century or two.

In purely technical terms, old books are still as readable as new books. Unlike with film or games, where the technology is still constantly changing and growing, the written word has pretty much been perfected these days. As such, a new remake of an old book would still look like… well… a book. It would still contain 26 letters and the usual spelling, grammar and punctuation.

In other words, remakes of films and games allow people to add modern graphics, special effects etc.. to older works. With books, there’s less of a need for this. Sure, you could update the wording or the settings slightly, but the original would still be pretty much the same thing as the remake.

2) Authorship: Unlike films and games, which are large collaborative projects, books usually have just one author. As such, books will often have more personality and uniqueness to them than films or games do.

Yes, you should always view a novel on it’s own merits, but there’s no denying that part of what makes a good novel so compelling is the unique way that the author describes, sees, thinks about etc.. the story they are telling and the world they are describing.

And, without getting into questions of copyright, moral rights etc…., this is a major practical reason why slightly older books don’t usually get remakes in the same way that films or games do. After all, the author is an integral part of what makes a novel so interesting. By changing the author, you change the story itself in a fairly major way.

In other words, another author’s remake of a classic novel wouldn’t be a remake… it would be a different novel altogether. After all, novels aren’t usually collaborative projects in the way that films and games are.

3) They get adapted instead: Sad as it is to say, books are no longer a popular entertainment medium in the way that they apparently were a few decades ago.

As such, if there’s a really compelling older story that someone wants to bring up to date so that modern audiences can really enjoy it, then they’re probably not going to reach a large audience with a rewritten book.

As such, instead of remakes, interesting older novels usually tend to get adapted to more popular mediums like film and television instead. Yes, these adaptations will sometimes do all of the things that a remake would do (eg: updating the settings etc..) – but they will still be adaptations rather than remakes.

So, yes, because the largest popular audience is more likely to be found in front of a screen than a book these days, interesting older books usually tend to get adapted rather than remade.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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Writing: Creativity Via Limitations – A Ramble

Although I’d planned to write a different article for today, I saw something shortly before writing this article [Edit: Which was several months before I got a vaguely modern refurbished computer] which made me think about creativity and the limitations of the written word.

It was a trailer for an upcoming computer game (called “Cyberpunk 2077”), of all things. For a few seconds, I really wanted to play the game until I suddenly realised “The system requirements will be sky-high. It would melt my vintage computer if I even tried.” This then morphed into the forlorn thought “If this was a novel instead of a game, I could actually enjoy it“.

After all, in English at least, writers only have 26 letters that they can use. Pretty much everyone is trained to read from a young age. Books don’t really have system requirements. And, whilst this means that we can do things like read books from literally over a century ago, it also has a lot of limitations too. After all, there are only 26 letters to work with.

Yet, these limitations are one of the main things that makes prose fiction such a creative thing. After all, writers can’t rely on fancy new computer graphics or anything like that in order to impress their readers. They have 26 letters and a pre-made system of grammar to work with. As such, writers have to get creative in order to make something astonishing within these old limitations.

And this produces some truly spectacular results. For example, when I was watching the modern game trailer I mentioned earlier, one of my first thoughts was “Oooh! A cyberpunk city during the daytime. This reminds me of Neal Stephenson’s ‘Snow Crash“. Now, for comparison, “Snow Crash” was published in 1992. On the other hand, the best computer game graphics from 1992 looked a bit like this:

This is a screenshot from “Alone In The Dark” (1992).

So, yes, novels have been using spectacular “graphics” for much longer than computer games have. Using just 26 letters.

This limitation has spurred writers to do things like find their own unique “style”, to think of interesting locations, to come up with brilliant characters, to tell new types of stories, to use things like grammar and chapter length to achieve particular effects (eg: short sentences and short chapters in a fast-paced thriller novel) etc….

In other words, it has forced writers to be creative. After all, every other writer will be using the same letters, words etc… so, what matters is how a writer uses them.

Interestingly, there is a little bit of a parallel with computer games here. After all, there’s a lot of nostalgia for games from the 1990s – and with good reason! Back then, computer technology was a lot more limited. So, like writers, game designers had to be creative within these limitations. Since they couldn’t rely on flashy photo-realistic graphics, they had to set their games apart from the crowd through the use of things like imagination, clever design, innovative ideas etc…

But, I digress. The point of all of this is that if you want to see a perfect example of how limitations can actually make people more creative, then pick up a book.

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope it was interesting 🙂

Storytelling In Books vs Storytelling On TV – A Ramble

One of the most surprising things I’ve noticed since I got back into reading regularly a few months ago was how differently I started thinking about the stories of the few TV shows I still occasionally find time to watch. More importantly, I also started to think about why TV and novels tell stories in such vastly different ways.

A few days before I wrote this article, I noticed that a gloriously silly TV show from the late 1990s/early 2000s called “Relic Hunter” was being repeated on TV. So, I set up the DVR and rationed myself to one episode per day. Yet, my reaction to seeing it again was totally different to when I first discovered a few episodes of this show on DVD in 2014.

Compared to the novels I’d been reading, the storylines in “Relic Hunter” seemed even sillier than before. Things often seemed to happen totally randomly, there were lots of fortunate coincidences etc… Yet, it was still really fun to watch.

This reminded me of something that I’d also noticed in the few episodes of a US detective show called “NCIS” I’ve seen over the past few months. Whilst a detective novel might devote hundreds of pages to the careful, logical investigation of a mystery – “NCIS” will often have the clues fall into place quickly, neatly and easily. Yet, it’s still really fun to watch.

But why is this kind of compressed, contrived storytelling so much fun to watch? I mean, books offer much deeper, richer and fuller stories. So, why are TV show stories still so incredibly fun to watch?

In short, TV show storylines are a bit like watching someone speedrun a videogame – you get to see an expert player going through a series of complex, dramatic, challenging events in an impressively quick time. It’s a demonstration of skill. This sort of thing is extremely compelling to watch.

TV show storylines are also a little bit like listening to a heavy metal song called “Bridges Will Burn” by Iron Fire. The lyrics of this fast-paced song tell an epic fantasy story in an impressively concise and fast way. For example, a a single verse might cover events that take tens or hundreds of pages to describe in a novel.

Yes, the novel would probably be deeper, more atmospheric and a much fuller experience. Yet, Iron Fire’s song feels a lot more impressive and spectacular because it expertly runs through all of this stuff in a ridiculously short time. It’s like these epic events are an ordinary, mundane routine to the narrator.

In other words, it expertly gives the impression of a story rather than telling a full, proper story. Television often does something similar to this, and it’s compelling because it not only makes the characters look like experts, but because the audience feels like they’ve absorbed a full story in a short amount of time (which makes them feel like expert audience members). So, storytelling in TV shows is more about evoking the feeling of expertise.

On the other hand, storytelling in novels actually requires expertise from both the reader and the writer. It also rewards this expertise too. This makes, say, grappling with a complex, long novel feel really satisfying. It also makes blazing your way through a fast-paced thriller novel at light speed feel satisfying too. Reading fiction requires you to reconstruct characters, locations etc.. using your imagination and to keep track of more complex stories, themes etc.. too. In other words, it is a skill and you get to show it off to yourself when you read a novel 🙂

In short, the difference between storytelling in novels and TV is that one makes the viewer feel like an expert, and the other makes the reader feel like an expert. It’s a subtle difference, but a really important one. It’s like the difference between watching a video of someone speedrunning a videogame and actually playing the videogame yourself.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Ways That Writers Make Stories Faster Or Slower To Read

Well, for today, I thought that I’d take a beginner-level look at the topic of pacing. In particular, I’ll be looking at some of the ways that writers make sure that a story is read quickly or slowly.

Whilst reading speed does depend on the skill of the reader, there are a lot of sneaky ways that writers can speed up or slow down the story that they are telling.

So, here are three of the more basic techniques.

1) Language and sentence length:
Simply put, longer sentences with more complex/formal language (and punctuation) slow a story down. Short, simple sentences speed it up.

To give you an example, here’s a single sentence from a slower-paced historical novel (“Bring Up The Bodies” by Hilary Mantel) that I’m reading at the moment: ‘You know there will not be many more days like these; so let us stand, the horseboys of Wolf Hall swarming around us, Wiltshire and the western counties stretching into a haze of blue; let us stand, the king’s hand on his shoulder, Henry’s face earnest as he talks his way back through the landscape of the day, the green copses and rushing streams, the alders by the water’s edge, the early haze that lifted by nine; the brief shower, the small wind that died and settled; the afternoon heat.’

Whew! That’s a long sentence! Although Mantel uses a few subtle techniques (eg: lists, repetition, using the present tense, breaking the sentence up into smaller chunks with semicolons etc..) to speed up the pace of this sentence a little bit, this is still a reasonably slow-paced segment of the book thanks to the formal language, the complex punctuation and the sheer length of this sentence.

Now, compare it to this paragraph from Ashley McConnell’s fast-paced novelisation of the first episode of “Stargate SG-1”: ‘O’ Neill shook his head. He thought about saying more and decided not to. That wound wasn’t healed. He didn’t deserve to have it heal.

As you can see, this paragraph contains four sentences and it’s still shorter than the longer sentence from Mantel’s “Bring Up The Bodies”. Likewise, the language is kept fairly simple, informal and “matter of fact”. Each sentence also contains very little punctuation too. It’ll take you less time to read this group of four sentences than it will take you to read the one sentence from “Bring Up The Bodies”.

Of course, most novels (including the two I’ve quoted from) will contain a mixture of longer, shorter, complex and simple sentences. Changing these things will change how fast each sentence will be read. And, overall, a novel with more long, complex sentences will be “slower” than a novel with more short, simple sentences will be.

2) Descriptions vs. Actions: Descriptions of scenery, people or objects will usually be slower to read than descriptions of actions will be. When a segment of a novel is devoted to actions, the reader is more likely to read quickly because they want to know what happens next. However, when a segment of a novel describes something, the reader has to take the time to picture what the writer is describing.

So, descriptions are more slow-paced than actions are. A story’s pacing depends on how the two are balanced. This is why, for example, a fast-paced thriller novel might occasionally include a few paragraphs of slow-paced descriptions in order to give their readers a short break from all of the fast-paced actions in the rest of the story. Whereas, a slower-paced novel will often make sure that descriptions appear frequently and consistently throughout the story.

Likewise, dialogue is often quicker to read than descriptions are. Although dialogue isn’t quite as fast-paced as actions, the rhythm of a back-and-forth conversation between two characters will often mean that these parts of the story will move slightly more quickly.

3) Curiosity and chapters:
Curiosity is the thing that makes people read stories. The more curious a reader feels, the faster they will plough through a story to find answers. As such, faster-paced stories will often include lots of mini-cliffhangers at the end of each chapter (eg: “John opened the door. He couldn’t believe what he saw…”).

Fast-paced stories will often keep their chapters reasonably short too, so that the reader feels like they’re progressing through the story faster than they actually are. And, of course, shorter chapters also mean more space for mini-cliffhangers too.

These mini-cliffhangers will often be resolved 2-3 chapters after they happen (usually by having 2-3 story threads/sub-plots), so that the reader is forced to plough through an extra chapter or two (with their own mini-cliffhangers) to get there. All of this adds up to a very fast-paced and gripping story.

On the other hand, a slower-paced novel will often control the pacing by keeping the chapters slightly longer and ensuring that the reader’s curiosity is about larger background things rather than smaller immediate events. This is usually achieved by focusing on other things like atmosphere, characterisation and intriguing ideas. Yes, slow-paced stories will usually include something that makes the reader feel curious, but it isn’t the central attraction in the way it usually is in faster-paced stories.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Reasons Why Novels Are More Punk Than You Might Think

A while before I wrote this article, I happened to watch a rather interesting Youtube video about punk videogames. Not only was this video absolutely fascinating, but it was also fairly thought-provoking too. In addition to reminding me why I love the original “Doom” so much, it also made me think about books too.

The more I thought about it, the more… punk… books seemed to be. And, yes, even the most “mainstream” novels are still more punk than things like mainstream films, mainstream games etc…

But, why? Here are a few reasons why novels are more punk than you might think.

1) Much less censorship: This was the reason I used to read so much when I was a teenager. Books were rebellious. Unlike films, books don’t have to pass a censor before they are published. They didn’t carry patronising age restrictions, they didn’t have scenes excised by tutting people in London or any of that sort of nonsense. And, to my teenage self, this was the coolest thing in the world.

So, when I was a teenager, I read a lot. In addition to general fiction, I also read old second-hand splatterpunk horror novels I found in charity shops, I read “edgy” high-brow fiction (eg: Ballard, Burroughs, Burgess, Thompson, Kerouac etc..), I read dystopian fiction etc… This got me interested in writing, it improved my imagination and it widened my perspective on the world. And it was because books were the only uncensored storytelling medium available to me 🙂

Whether it was the result of the landmark “Lady Chatterley” trial here in the UK, or the American first amendment, books are one of the most free forms of creative expression available to us. And, with the possible exception of theatre, no other creative medium can even come close in this regard. And, if this isn’t punk, then I don’t know what is.

2) No system requirements: [Note: This part of the article was originally prepared when I still used a slightly older mid-2000s computer, rather than a vaguely modern refurbished one. Even so, the point probably still stands] A few hours before I wrote this article, I was losing interest in reading again. I was getting nostalgic about the days, not that long ago, when I played retro/indie computer games and watched DVD boxsets instead of reading books. So, out of nostalgia, I went back to one of my favourite game sites with the possible idea of looking through the “sale” page and getting a cheap copy of a game I hadn’t played before.

With all of the gaming-based videos I’d found myself watching on Youtube over the past week, I was excited about the idea of getting back into playing/reviewing more than just the occasional fan-made “Doom II” level every month. Plus, there were lots of interesting-looking indie games on the site too. Then… I looked at the system requirements for these games. And I remembered why I read books these days.

Unlike computer games, which will often require you to have a modern computer just for the privilege of playing them, all that books require is literacy. If you can read, then you can read books published last week, you can read books published decades ago, you can read pretty much anything. You can read cheap second-hand paperbacks and expensive new hardbacks.

There’s much less of a barrier to entry. If you can read, then you can read. You don’t need to splash out on expensive technology just to keep up with the latest books. Again, is there anything more punk than this?

3) Individuality and humanity: Even the most mainstream of mainstream novels are usually written by just one person. Everything inside a novel is shaped by the imagination and sensibilities of one author. This might sound obvious, but it doesn’t really apply to some other popular mediums.

After all, films are large, expensive, collaborative projects. Games even more so. There’s a lot less room for individuality, a lot less room for personal expression or anything human like that. Plus, with more people involved, more money tends to get involved too. And this usually means that there’s someone pushing for things to conform to whatever they think will sell the most copies and please the shareholders.

Books, on the other hand, have slightly less of this. Sure, there are still editors and publishers in print publishing. But, because most books rely on one person to tell the story in their own way, books often tend to have a lot more individuality and humanity than most other mediums. And, even with the blandest of mainstream novels, this is still pretty punk when you think about it.

4) It’s easier to start writing one:
All you need to write fiction is a pen and paper. Even the most primitive word-processing program on the most low-end computer will also do the job too.

Not only are the tools needed to write fiction very cheap and easily accessible, but the basic skills of writing are usually taught to everyone at school too. Yes, you’ll still need to practice and read a lot to become good at writing fiction, but anyone can get started with it fairly easily.

Now compare this to something like film or computer games. To make these things even vaguely well, you often need a lot of expensive equipment and a team of people. In other words, the barrier to entry is much higher. Whereas, writing doesn’t have any of these problems. Again, this is really punk when you think about it.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Thoughts About Novelisations And Spin-Off Novels

One of the things that I’ve noticed recently is that, due to things like hot weather, time stress and stuff like that, I’ve found myself reading a lot more books based on videogames, films, TV shows etc.. over the past few days. Although this is mostly because they’re easy and quick to read, it has also made me think a bit more about this somewhat overlooked genre of fiction too.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few thoughts about novelisations and TV show/movie/videogame spin-off novels.

1) They’re more about the journey than the destination:
Simply put, if someone is reading a novel that is either directly based on or a spin-off from a familiar TV show, film, game etc.. then they’re probably going to know what to expect. This familiarity is one of the things that makes novelisations/spin-off novels so relaxing and reassuring to read. However, it can make things like suspense and drama a little bit more difficult to achieve.

Good spin-off/novelisation writers will usually get around this problem by focusing more on the journey than the destination. For example, this “Aliens” spin-off novel I read a few days ago really doesn’t contain much in the way of new stuff when it comes to the plot. The basic premise is similar to another “Aliens” spin-off novel and the basic “dystopian villain vs. plucky rebels” storyline is a classic sci-fi/fantasy staple. Yet, this novel was extremely enjoyable to read. But, why?

Simply put, the novel is written in a rather thrilling and atmospheric way. There are lots of mini-cliffhangers, enough characterisation to make you care about the characters, some dramatic locations etc… In other words, although the story itself is reasonably familiar, everything along the way is still dramatic and interesting enough to be worth reading.

A better example is probably S.D. Perry’s “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy“. Even though I’ve read this novel before and played the videogame it was based on, it was still gripping enough for me to re-read it in a single day. This was all because of the writing, characters and structure. In other words, this novel is written in a reasonably atmospheric way, it is structured like a good thriller novel and there’s lots of extra characterisation when compared to the source material.

So, yes, these types of novels are more about the journey than the destination.

2) They age far better: Another awesome thing about novelisations and spin-offs are how timeless they are. After all, film and television have only been around for approximately a century or so and computer/video games have only been around for a few decades. The written word, on the other hand, has been around for millennia.

What this means is that novelisations of slightly older things can still seem fresh, new and interesting when compared to their original forms. After all, the written word has had much longer to refine and develop itself – so an old novel can easily be more spectacular than an old film or videogame. After all, it doesn’t have to worry about things like special effects, the state of computer graphics at the time etc…

3) Spin-off novels are like new episodes: This one is more about spin-off novels than traditional novelisations, but it’s really interesting nonetheless. Back in 2011-13, I went through a phase of reading “Star Trek: The Next Generation / Deep Space Nine/ Voyager” spin-off novels.

One of the cool things about these novels is that very few of them were directly based on episodes of these TV shows, with most of them telling new and original stories featuring familiar characters. And, since I’d already watched most episodes of these shows, the idea that there was a giant wealth of hundreds of extra “episodes” out there was really cool.

So, finding spin-off novels based on TV shows can almost be like finding entire new seasons of a TV show, new feature-length episodes and all sorts of cool things like that. Plus, since spin-off novels usually tend to be written in a slightly more informal and “readable” way, they’re often as relaxing as watching a TV show but with all of the added depth and sophistication that can only come from the written word 🙂

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Joy Of….”Middle Brow” Fiction

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about one of my favourite types of fiction – “middle brow” fiction. This is the type of fiction that includes all of the thrills, creativity and cool stuff you’ll find in “low brow” fiction, but with the level of characterisation, linguistic skill, thematic complexity, descriptive depth etc.. that you’ll find in more “high brow” fiction.

It is quite literally the best of both worlds and it is utterly awesome. Yet, it is annoyingly difficult to define. Ok, I could probably list examples of it that I’ve read (like “Box Nine” by Jack O’Connell, “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson or, the novel I’m reading at the moment, “Weaveworld” by Clive Barker), but it’s really difficult to spot it at a glance.

I mean, it’s easy enough to see whether a novel is a fun “low brow” thriller/horror/detective/sci-fi novel or a prestigious, intellectual and realistic “literary” novel just by looking at the cover. One has excitingly dramatic cover art and the other usually has trendily boring cover art that is filled with adoring critic quotes. But, things that fall in between these categories are usually a little bit more difficult to spot at a glance.

But, I guess that this is part of the charm of “middle brow” fiction – that brilliant sense of surprise when you sit down to read what you think will be an ordinary thriller, horror, sci-fi or detective novel only to find that it’s a lot more atmospheric, deep, intelligent, unique or vivid than you had expected 🙂 Or, when you think “I should read something intellectual“, only to find that the book you’ve pushed yourself to read is a lot more gripping than you’d expected 🙂

Yet, this type of fiction is really difficult to define. Is it genre fiction with extra depth and complexity? Is it literary fiction with an actual plot, some imagination and a proper narrative drive? Is it both of these things?

Surprisingly, it’s actually easier to think of non-book metaphors for it. It’s kind of like the equivalent of a more prestigious popular TV show like “Game Of Thrones”, “Twin Peaks” or “Boardwalk Empire” – which contains enough depth and complexity to be more than mindless Hollywood entertainment, whilst also still being entertaining enough to make you want to binge-watch entire seasons of it.

Another interesting thing about “middle brow” fiction is that it also reminds us of what popular fiction used to be like. Yes, there’s a lot to be said for more fast-paced, informal and “matter of fact” modern narration – it keeps the story wonderfully gripping and it also means that modern books can compete with smartphones, the internet, videogames etc.. for people’s attentions. But, at the same time, it can also lack a certain depth and atmosphere that even the most “low brow” of older novels often used to have.

To give you an example, take a look at “Erebus” by Shaun Hutson (1984). This is a fast-paced, ultra-gruesome horror novel about zombie vampires that I first discovered when I was a young teenager during the early-mid 2000s. It just seemed like a really cool, fun and rebellious novel back then. But, when I re-read it as an adult, I was surprised by how complex the writing sometimes was when compared to some of the more contemporary novels I’d read in the meantime.

Here’s a quote from “Erebus” to show you what I mean: “Elsewhere in the office things were at various stages of organized pandemonium as other reporters rushed to complete their assignments, hampered by the fact that their typewriting dexterity had not yet extended to more than one finger“.

This was “low brow” popular entertainment in 1984! A mere 35 years ago, a novel containing complex sentences like this was seen as a mindless “everyday” way to pass the time (like videogames, Facebook or Youtube would be these days). Just think about that for a second.

Another cool thing about reading “middle brow” fiction is that it’s kind of like a reward for having to read more dull “high brow” fiction in the past (eg: the set texts at school/college/university). Thanks to your prior experience, not only can you read it with relative ease – which feels like playing a videogame you’re really good at- but you also actually have fun at the same time. It’ll make you see the wisdom of having to slog through the works of writers like Shakespeare, Bronte, Dickens, Austen, Fowles, Woolf etc.. when you were younger.

Of course, as a side note, one amusing irony is that Shakespeare and Dickens were, at the time they were originally writing, “low brow” popular entertainment. I mean, just do some research into 16th century theatre audiences (eg: wild, rowdy, chaotic etc..) or into how many of Dickens’ novels were originally published (eg: popular serials in newspapers/magazines).

Anyway, “middle brow” fiction shows you that reading all of those boring books means that you can breeze through much more interesting books with a sense of ease and skill that may very well catch you by surprise and make you feel like some kind of expert or intellectual.

In short, “middle brow” fiction is totally and utterly amazing. Yes, it was probably more popular in the past than it is now (I mean, all of the examples I listed earlier in the article come from the 1980s/90s) but – in a landscape where popular modern novels often seem to be sharply divided between grim detective thrillers/ Fifty Shades Of Twilight and pretentious plot-less “literary” novels, there has never been more of a need for intelligent, well-written novels with a good gripping plot 🙂

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂