Shastrix Books

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XO

XO

10th August 2014

This is the fourth Jeffrey Deaver novel I've read, and is the third in his Kathryn Dance series, about a California Bureau of Investigation agent with a speciality in reading body language. I was quite dubious going in, and held off buying the book for a long time after publication, as I wasn't a particular fan of the earlier novels in the series.

I'm pleased to say that the things that niggled me about the previous novels seem to have been improved. The characters are generally more rounded, I'm able to suspend my disbelief without problem, the narration is much smoother and less (though not fully) impartial, and everything adds to the plot.

I was particularly impressed by Deaver's ability to create the universe of the story, with a focus on folk music, that includes writing an entire albums-worth of song lyrics that are presented as an appendix. Having that available throughout actually helped me engage with the story and made the world feel much more authentic.

I was frustrated though by what seems to be Deaver's thing of continual twists to the point of irritation, particularly in the latter half of the book - I don't think it's a spoiler to say that every time you think something's been wrapped up nicely then he throws in a new spanner. I just found it a little absurd how many times this can happen, and it leaves me with less and less faith each time that at the very end they got anything right.

Overall though, I enjoyed reading this much more than I expected, and hope that Deaver is able to extend the Kathryn Dance series further - I certainly won't be as reticent about picking up the next book.

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Buy book: UK
How to Build a Girl

How to Build a Girl

10th August 2014

Over the past few years I've seen a lot of references to Caitlin Moran on the social media feeds of some friends, and when I saw she had a novel out I was intrigued. Would this be a feminist manifesto that would improve my understanding of how my friends see the world? Well no - it's not a manifesto, but it's certainly an interesting look at the life of a teenage girl that does nothing to gloss over reality.

The narrative is reminiscent of Adrian Mole in many ways - although not a diary, the narrative is presented in the first person and presents an unfiltered view of a naive teenager, and the dynamic of the family around her. It feels honest, authentic, and although in some places uncomfortably graphic it doesn't seem like it is setting out to shock. There is one image in particular though that I worry will stay with me for some time.

I'll admit that I found the first few chapters quite hard-going, and had to really force myself to focus to get through them - I'm not really sure why, and it may have been my misplaced perception going in which was making me think I really needed to ensure I took everything in. Once I got past the early chapters though I fell completely into the rhythm of the story and flowed through the rest of the book.

What I loved the most was the subtle humour that the narration was able to add at the expense of her younger self. There's one running joke that had me giggling throughout which I really appreciated.

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Promise Me

Promise Me

10th August 2014

In Promise Me, Harlan Coben returns to his recurring character Myron Bollitar for an eighth adventure. A considerable number of years have passed since the last novel, and it's interesting to see how Coben has changed the universe to make this clear. The narrative is also different - this is far more similar to some of Coben's more serious works than the light-hearted 'grown-up Hardy Boys' of the early Bollitar novels.

The themes of this book are similar to many of Coben's novels - focussing this time on a promise that Bollitar made to protect someone and whether he is able to deliver on this. It uses the character well in a serious way, building on several of the earlier plots to build the character in a new direction that fits well with the relaunch of the series.

The plot is strong and sufficiently complicated to make for an interesting mystery that Coben continues to spin out when you think things are wrapping up - unlike other authors, he makes the twists feel natural and they flow into one another rather than leaping into your face unexpectedly. I really enjoyed returning to the Bollitar world, and look forward to reading the later books.

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Buy book: UK
Deadly Intent

Deadly Intent

10th August 2014

Anna Travis returns for a fourth adventure, in which a surprisingly high body count emerges following a shooting at a drug squat. The case is incredibly complex, and after so many different theories that the characters go over throughout the novel I’m left baffled about what actually happened, and indeed who did it.

The secondary aspect of the story though, that of Anna's personal life, is presented much better in this novel than the previous entries in the series, and feels like a fully natural part of the plot rather than dominating and seeming in the way of the actual detective work.

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Buy book: UK
Terra's World

Terra's World

10th August 2014

Terra, the delightful title-character of Mitch Benn's first novel, which I absolutely adored, returns for a second outing in this novel, where someone is out to get her. While the narrative retains a lot of the humour, food for thought, and science fiction of the first story, it didn't quite manage to grip me in the same way.

This book introduces a lot of new characters, and I felt one of its drawbacks was that we didn't focus on any specific one, but that the attention was shared so that we got some of each character rather than an in depth look at one or two. This may however have been necessary to deliver the plot, which is quite a good science fiction adventure, and introduces some interesting and unexpected twists.

I really liked how the story grows out of the events of the first novel, and doesn't feel like it had been done purely for the sake of a sequel. As a whole, the book makes for a good strong sequel, though I didn't think it had quite the magic of the first book.

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Elantris

Elantris

20th July 2014

Elantis is the first published novel by Brandon Sanderson, who later became famous for being invited to finish the Wheel of Time series, and also for his own later works, including the Mistborn trilogy. I've been reading his works out of publication order, so to me Elantris felt very reminiscent of Mistborn - they share a pattern of female lead character, stratified society, revolution and change.

Sanderson's writing has many strengths, even this early, particularly in world building. Very quickly, he establishes the basis of a fantasy world for his characters to inhabit, and then gradually reveals more and more about it, and in particular its unique magic systems, while leaving plenty of hints that there could be far more to uncover if there were ever a sequel.

The narrative moves at a good pace, keeping things changing throughout, although towards the end the pace is upped quite a bit, and the conclusion almost feels rushed, with a lot happening in the space of a few chapters. The ending also seemed quite abrupt - there's clearly a lot of space to explore further in this world, and it felt like at least a little of that could be done within the novel.

I very much enjoyed returning to something early from Sanderson's canon, and its made me realise again how much I enjoy his writing, and encouraged me to continue catching up with his novels that I've missed so far.

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Buy book: UK
Close Call

Close Call

9th July 2014

I'm surprised to find this is the eighth Liz Carlyle novel by real life MI5 head Stella Rimington, who lends a strong sense of reality to proceedings that other authors miss in an attempt to write a thrilling story. I thought this was a really good book that tells a strong, authentic tale, and is probably the best in the series.

The characters in the series clearly grow from book to book, rather than stay the same throughout the series as is the case with some long-running characters, and this adds a sense of realism to their lives. The main character does come across a little too perfect though - everyone seems to love her and there’s not a hint that she’s anything but perfect. There are some good character moments in the book however and it takes things places I really wasn’t expecting, which was good.

As usual, the plot isn’t incredibly action heavy and is quite tied to the concept of a procedural security service story. There’s a lot going on though, and we follow the characters as they learn more about a terrorist threat - unlike some books, we’re not presented with the enemy’s point of view, so we get the surprise as we travel through the narrative alongside. It’s a really interesting look at how terrorism is countered, probably far more than we realise, and there’s nothing here that I can’t honestly believe possible in the real world.

I read the book in just two days (aided by some long train journeys) and it’s kept me really entertained throughout. Definitely one of the strongest in a good series, and I hope I can look forward to more to come.

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