All 2009 reviews - Shastrix Books

2009

All reviews

The World of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time

The World of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time

&

31st December 2009

I'm sorry, but I found this book rather a poor excuse for 'bonus materiel' for the Wheel of Time series. I'm enjoying the main series again - it's picked up a bit again in book seven, which is where I am - and as that's where the series was when this companion was published I decided to take a break from the narrative to see what it added.

The beginning of the book was interesting - it detailed the history of the world, explaining things which had only been hinted at in the novels and developing the backstory. It explains how the baddies came to be, and about previous battles with the 'Dark One'... interesting, I thought.

But then it gets to the present, and turns into a book of endless lists. A list of different types of animal found in Seanchan... a list of all the countries of the part of the world which for some reason doesn't have a name, and what types of clothes the people there wear. It just seemed to get bogged down in what ultimately read more like a guide to someone wanting to expand the universe (or make a film, for example) rather than adding value to the whole series for a reader.

So is it worth reading? I suppose so... if you are really into the series - at least for the history of the world part... I can't imagine getting anything from the second half unless I were some die-hard WoT fan... which I'm not... probably because I've only just arrived at the series as it is almost finished. Perhaps if I had read the first seven novels as they were published this would serve as an interesting reminder... but having read them all this year it's just repetitive.

The worst thing about this book however are the irritating little asides that refer to the main characters of the series, and explains a bit about them and what they are currently up to in the narrative. This is meant to be an in universe guide book of some kind... so how does it's author have access to these people, especially when they are portrayed as not wanting to talk about their circumstances to anyone (Perrin?). Grrrr. I really wish they had just kept it as a history and not mentioned the novels' characters at all.

read more

Buy book: UK
The Murder on the Links

The Murder on the Links

19th December 2009

In my opinion, a good mystery novel is one where you spend the entire narrative scratching your head, only to suddenly realise 'Of course!' as soon as the final revelation is made. That's not the reaction I had to this book. Although I did a lot of head scratching, there was no way I could have followed Poirot's deductions this time, particularly with the circuitous route of revealing the guilty party.

Captain Hastings' narration can be a little grating at times - he seems surprisingly incompetent and completely ignores Poirot's hints. I would imagine that if I were in his place I would have the time to think about the comments I were fed - although as I read through the novels in a couple of days I generally don't take the time out to think objectively about the case.

An interesting facet of this novel is that it is set in France. Strangely though all of the characters still speak the same language, and nowhere is it mentioned whether all French people speak perfect English, or the English perfect French. I found that an odd omission from a writer who pays such careful attention to the details of crafting her plots. The characters however are exactly the same as they would be in a Christie novel set in England, with the possible exception of Poirot's rival - a French detective who tries to solve the case in a more modern manner than the Belgian's.

I'm hoping that the problems that I had with this novel are because it's one of the earliest of Christie's writings, and that with time her style will mature into something I find a more satisfying read.

read more

Buy book: UK
The Romulan War

The Romulan War

11th December 2009

To me, this is not an Enterprise novel. Yes, it's set in the continuing Enterprise timeline, has scenes set on the Enterprise, and features the crew of the Enterprise - but not in starring roles. I would class this in the category of 'Star Trek Political Thriller' - like Articles of the Federation and A Singular Destiny - with a much wider focus than just one ship.

The plot continues from Kobayashi Maru, although is confusingly set before the Enterprise era elements of the Destiny trilogy, focusing on (surprise, surprise) the war with the Romulans - from a military, civilian, press and diplomatic viewpoint. There's also a fair amount from the Romulans' viewpoint as well which mixes things up. In a way I found the lack of focus a little distracting, but the second half of the book seemed to pick up a little.

This is Martin's first Star Trek novel without regular writing partner Andy Mangels, and personally I think it suffers from his absence. It's not easy to know exactly what each author contributes to their partnership, but I felt that this lacked something that their previous two novels in this series had. I also found the format - a trade paperback - really annoying, and personally don't think there was any good reason that this could not have been released as a standard paperback. The font size is very large, and the width of the page made it feel hard to read, having to skip my eyes back and forth wildly across the page rather than flowing down it. The large format also makes the book a pain to read while standing on a train, and it's very floppy.

So three stars - it continues the storyline well, although I'm not sure you could pick it up without having read the two previous novels. It's a very wide ranging book and time doesn't seem to flow in an easily followable manner - although each chapter starts with the date I have never found this to be a good way of showing the progress of time in a novel. There were a few annoying things were the reader could see things coming long before they were revealed to the characters, and there seemed to be a bit too much talking and too little action.

What really irritates me is that Pocket have announced no plans for the next book in the series... and this one certainly doesn't resolve any plotlines at the end!

read more

Buy book: UKUSBuy ebook: UK
The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

3rd December 2009

The very first novel in Christe's Poirot series serves as an excellent introduction to the Belgian detective and his extraordinary investigative skills. A suspicious death occurs in the family with whom narrator Captain Hastings is staying, and by happy coincidence his old detective friend is also staying in the village and able to investigate.

Like usual, coincidence plays a big part in the set up - getting the detective in place, but the rest of the story unfolds with genius. Poirot carefully peels back the layers of mystery, remarkably leading Hastings and the reader through every step. Each discovery that Poirot makes the reader think Aha! but still Christie leaves you unable to work it ot until the very end.

It does however follow the traditional Christe formula of upper class toffery, set mainly in the family mansion, with an over abundance of characters, any of whom could be the killer. But when Poirot finally explains all, it is clear that he is correct - all of the clues have been there to see all along.

My one major gripe with this novel is that in one case the red herrings went too far, to the point where the reader is absolutely convinced that one suspect is guilty, only to have it all turned on its head - I found this a little annoying, and would have preferred to have been left with an open mind.

read more

Buy book: UK
The Wrecker

The Wrecker

&

2nd December 2009

The Wrecker is the second Isaac Bell book from Cussler, this time with a co-writer, as is now usual. I had really enjoyed the first Ball book - The Chase - which was the first book Cussler had written alone for some time, but at the time I had understood it to be a one off, rather than the beginning of yet another series. This series however is not a spin off from the others, and is set almost a hundred years in the past, giving it a new and interesting angle.

This novel has a similar setting as the previous - Isaac Bell and the Van Dorn Detective Agency are hired to catch 'The Wrecker' - who is sabotaging the US's fledgeling rail network for unknown reasons. In keeping with the first book, that means there are a lot of trains featured (which makes an interesting change from boats).

The problem with this book is that it's too similar to its predecessor. Bell solves the crimes using the railway, the baddie is a master criminal by night and someone that no-one would suspect by day, and there is a lot of travelling on trains. It's full of history, a lot of which is probably true, but it's American history, and specifically railway history, which is not of any great interest to the average UK reader. I also have no knowledge of trains, and find it much harder to pick up anything about the trains in the novel than normally with modern day boats. What's a "Johnson Bar" for example?

My other main gripe with this book is that, for the reader, the mystery is finished halfway through - we find out really early who the Wrecker is, and then follow Bell who is somehow completely blind to it, despite all the evidence. I would have much preferred a story where we are kept guessing until the end too.

Is it a good read? Yes, I suppose so - it has a good range of characters and its historical setting is believable. I don't think it lives up to the prequel though, and definitely not to the good old days of Cussler's writing.

read more

Buy book: UK
Synthesis

Synthesis

25th November 2009

Synthesis is an interesting Star Trek novel in several ways. It's main topic is very Trek, focussing on the definition of life itself, and complicated ethical questions surrounding the answer. However the story gets too caught up in the mystery and the action and seems to lose focus on the part of the storyline that should have been explored.

The central ideas are nothing new: a race of sentient machines; a war whose cause nobody remembers; political disagreement and the emergence of sentience in a starship computer. When I first realised the last of these points my thought was along the lines of 'oh no not again,' despite my love of Swallow's previous trek novel in the Terok Nor trilogy. This idea has been done to death, most recently in the New Frontier series, which explores many of the same gags and conundrums. If this book had explored some more of the ethics, made this part of the plot deeper, then it would have been an interesting read in the true spirit of science fiction. Instead though it is glossed over in favour of the war storyline, and tiny glimpses into the personal lives of the other characters.

This seems to be much more of an ensemble piece than recent Titan novels, which focussed on developing particular characters and I felt that detracted from the experience and ended up with too much focus on the aliens.

Overall, yes I was a little disappointed. While it does work as a story it doesn't seem to move the characters on at all, just dropping them back into the toy box at the end of the day. I had expected something more based on Swallow's previous work, but would still not dismiss this as un-entertaining.

read more

Buy book: UKUSBuy ebook: UK
A Crown of Swords

A Crown of Swords

15th November 2009

Book seven in this saga is an interesting one. I thought six had gone downhill and that the story was beginning to drag it's feet, and so waited a few months before continuing with the series. The first half of Crown of Swords followed on immediately from book six in terms of both plot and style.

Jordan seems to have made a bad plan for the storyline at this part of his tale, as it appears to call for Rand, his main character, to sit around doing nothing, and some plot elements seem forced just to give an opportunity for Rand to make an appearance.

I did enjoy some of the appearances by other characters in this one though. I liked that Mat had a lot if the attention, and a nice chunky storyline like Perrin had back in book four, although Perrin almost disappears again like he did back in book five.

The second half of this volume is where things start to pick up again, with the action focussing on Mat, Elayne & Nynave as they search an unusual city for a lost artefact. It's really nice to see the characters moved a little out of their comfort zones and their expectations challenged. The presence of some action actually happening for once rather than lots of talk and a tiny battle scene is excellent.

Overall, I am still glad I had a little break before returning to the Wheel of Time, but once the dull first half was fought through this book turned out to be a good read. The fantasy world is beginning to get a little too detailed to remember everything now though so I'm glad that the next book in the set is a 'reference guide'.

read more

Buy book: UK
And Another Thing

And Another Thing

23rd October 2009

I had been looking forward to this book. Its imminent publication had prompted me to reread all five of Douglas Adams' original Hitchhiker novels and so I was truly psyched up for it, and the story so far was fresh in my mind. But now having finished reading, I'm strangely ambivalent about Colfer's attempt.

The characters were all present, well not all, but sufficient (Marvin didn't even get a name check) and were fairly accurately portrayed to their original selves. What I found disconcerting was the amount of word-time dedicated to each. The previous novels were very definitely focussed on Arthur, where actually he probably gets the least attention in this one.

The plot had a surprisingly strong basis - still wacky but much more thought out and whole than the previous episodes. While the novel did kick off where Mostly Harmless concluded it moved off in a new direction that was all its own. Colfer introduces a range of new characters with fascinating names such as Hillman Hunter and Constant Mown who on the most part enrich the H2G2 universe and make the alien species much more three dimensional.

The story itself starts out quite slowly I found, and it took quite a while for me to get the voice in my head. The narration of the previous books was really easy to hear in the voices of both the original narrator from the radio series and Stephen Fry, whereas the language of this one didn't seem to flow as naturally. Once the plotline gets going, we seem to lose the main characters for the middle third of the book as Colfer spends time introducing and building up his own additions to the cast. In a classic Adams, Colfer brings Thor into things as a god who has lost his self-confidence, paralleling his appearances in Adams' Dirk Gently series.

The final third of this book was the best part in my opinion. The voice of the book was feeling comfortable, the central and new characters had their roles and the ending was classic

My main criticism of the book is that in places it tried too hard. There are a lot of references back to asides from the original novels, which seem over the top in places and almost forced. However there are also an overly large number of new asides with a few too many crazy unpronounceable alien names with too many Xs and Zs and not enough vowels. Colfer also introduces 'Guide Notes' - little asides in italics purporting to be extracts from the guide explaining references from the main text. I thought these were a really good idea to get some more appearances of the guide in, as the titular device has made surprisingly few appearances as a guidebook throughout the whole series.

Overall I found the first two thirds quite slow and hard going, but the final third made up for it with an upping of pace, character, action and excitement. Although a few days ago I thought I would be writing a disappointed review, I now find that I'm sorry it's over and wishing for a book 7.

read more

Buy book: UK
Unworthy

Unworthy

17th October 2009

Just like Beyer's previous novel in this series, Unworthy is absolutely fantastic. She has really got a grip on the characters the she is writing and their personalities and emotions and makes them far more real than any other Star Trek author.

This novel continues the story from where Full Circle left off, with Voyager and most of her crew returning as part of a fleet to the Delta Quadrant to explore and make friends. Tom is planning to resign and join his wife and daughter in hiding, while Seven has suffered a severe breakdown following the destruction of the Borg.

Beyer's new characters are as rounded and real as those we've known for years and fit in perfectly with the existing team - every one has good reason to be there, and the novel spends a good amount of time focussing on each of the characters rather than smothering us with one to the detriment of the others.

The plot is full of interesting and unexpected turns, and although one of the later twists was fairly obvious to me from early on it had its own unique sub-twist that hit me from out of the blue. The book feels like it has a good resolution even though there are a number of plot strands left hanging, and I'm really hoping that Beyer will continue to author this series.

read more

Buy book: UK
Mostly Harmless

Mostly Harmless

13th October 2009

The final book of Douglas Adams' H2G2 series follows the random style of the fourth, with no particular overriding plot to tie together what's happening. It's execution however is much improved. While the book doesn't seem to have any particular story to tell, it hides the fact so well that unless you think about it too much, you wouldn't notice.

This is the longest book in the series (so far) and yet it's length seems perfect - neither too much nor too little happens to round off the series. Adams' writing style seems to have matured since the earlier books, and the characters seem more real, as do the bizarre situations that they find themselves in. There is a lot less use of random events to get the characters out of peril, which is something I have complained of previously, which helps the plot to flow better.

Personally I'm glad that Zaphod declines to make an appearance. The characters of Arthur, Ford and Trillian each get a nice chunky bit of action and their own plots up to a point, which is nice as up until now I've felt that there was far too much focus on Arthur.

Overall I think this may well be my favourite Hitchhiker book. It's the smoothest, most satisfying of the lot, and I'm only left looking forward to, although slightly dreading, what Eoin Colfer is going to do with the story next.

read more

Buy book: UK
Unseen Academicals

Unseen Academicals

12th October 2009

Another fantastic outing from Pratchett as he draws his readers into a new set of characters in a familiar setting. The main cast of this book are a small group who work 'under the stairs' in the Unseen University, while the regulars take a back seat. The Archchancellor and Patrician team up to introduce organised foot-the-ball to Ankh-Morpork and replace the violent street version of the game.

I love the new characters and the ease with which Pratchett introduces them into his world as if they have always been there. The comedy is as on the ball as always; crazy ideas, catch-phrases and misinterpretations rule throughout, and the mirror held up to the real world shows a spot-on reflection of the real world of racism and sport.

There's absolutely nothing in this novel that requires prior knowledge of the series and so it would make an excellent drop in point for the new reader - there are some references that you won't even notice but the Discworld aficionado will giggle themselves silly at.

Pratchett has lost none of his genius, and that this is the thirty-seventh Discworld novel proves that he truly is a masterful writer. I look forward to many more.

read more

Buy book: UK
The House That Jack Built

The House That Jack Built

5th October 2009

Not bad for a Torchwood novel. Makes good use of all the main characters, although there is a Mary Sue guest character that seems quite out-of-place and fairly purposeless. The team investigate when a house that used to belong to Jack suddenly finds itself haunted by all its other previous occupants.

While the characters are used, none except for Jack get any decent storyline, mainly being there to hold up the plot and keep the dialogue full of witty one-liners. Jack has some emotion, and has a nice little sub-plot down memory lane, but its a shame the others were just there for decoration. The ghosts themselves are well written, although the explanation for their presence is a little weak and could certainly have done with a little more exploration and hinting throughout the earlier parts of the novel.

What I really love about this book is its in universe references. Adams has cleverly snuck in organic references to a number of previous books in the series which while standing out enough to make the reader smile don't feel uncomfortable or forced. This makes it much more believable than the usual 'put-the-toys-back-in-the-box' sci-fi tv-tie-in novel.

Overall I did enjoy reading this one, even if it only lasted a couple of days - it would have fitted in nicely as an episode of the tv series. The descriptions of the ghosts were spot on and the creepy old house really well portrayed.

read more

Buy book: UK
So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

4th October 2009

I'm actually a bit at a loss as to what I think about this one... and indeed what it was meant to be about. The fourth entry in the series is like nothing that has gone before. The first two were the classic random style and the third pretty much a standard novel - this seem to have slipped sideways out of its genre and ended up as a sort of romantic farce.

Of the main characters, only two make a significant appearance, and one of those seemingly for no reason other than to enable a reasonless plot point to occur. Yes, this book does start with Arthur Dent in one place and end with him in a completely different one, but the journey seems to be without purpose and nothing seems to have been achieved.

It does pick up on a few of the asides from previous books, and still contains a few random asides of its own, but the scenes which make up the plot are only loosely connected and don't seem to add to anything.

This is certainly the lowest that the series has come so far, simply because the book is lacking in any sort of real plot.

read more

Buy book: UK
A Time to Die

A Time to Die

2nd October 2009

In the second book of this nine volume series, the first of the five stories is concluded. After breaking Picard out of jail, Wesley and the crew return undercover to the site of their disgrace to solve the myriad mysteries of the former battle site.

After the first novel was focussed on Picard, I had assumed that the cover image would indicate which of the NextGen crew each book would be about. By my reckoning that made this a Data book - but it isn't. This is definitely a Wesley book, reuniting him with his former crew and wrapping up his storyline which began in the previous novel. Many readers may be offended by this, as Wesley is traditionally not the best loved member of the crew, and Vornholt makes a tongue-in-cheek reference to this. I however am still a fan of Wesley, particularly as he was by far the closest character I could relate to while growing up watching the show (I too was a child genius who often saved the ship). This book shows Wesley as a young, insecure adult with little idea of what direction to take in life, and explores him pushing the boundaries of his abilities to stave off the destruction he has foreseen.

This novel is an interesting mix; part adventure, part mystery, part homecoming and part love story. Star Trek isn't known for its love stories, and with good reason. Te romance seems terribly sudden, forced, and a little amateur. One of the characters involved spends the first part of the novel lying to the other, before abducting her. It felt uncomfortably forced, and I am left feeling that it was done merely to leave a door to putting the toys back in the box at the end.

I was also disappointed in one particular passage towards the end, where the narration continues as normal for several pages before revealing that what it describes is just a character's imagination running away, and then replaying the scenes properly. Overall it was an okay book, although the solution was quite obvious from early on.

read more

Buy book: UK
Life, The Universe and Everything

Life, The Universe and Everything

29th September 2009

The third and (presumably) originally final book in the H2G2 trilogy has a shift in style from the previous two instalments. Whereas before the novels seemed to be a loosely connected sequence of scenes containing the same characters, this one has an overarching plot that runs through the entire novel.

This novel has a much more constructed feel to it, rather than the bodged together feel of its predecessors - probably because it was created as a novel rather than a radio series. This actually has lead to a much better novel as there's an interest in where it's going, rather than just being along for a rollercoaster ride. I really love that Adams has continued inserting random asides (although sadly not so many towards the end of the novel where things get more serious) and that some of them, while seemingly innocuous at the time, turn out to have major repercussions later on.

I don't think there's anything that I can really criticise in this book - Adams has certainly improved on his resolutions to perilous situations as none of them seem forced. In an improvement over many writers whose novels I've commented on here Adams manages to plant the seeds of his resolutions earlier in the novel without them sticking out like sore thumbs. Again though his characters are fairly flat and only Arthur seems to get a significant amount of time spent on him. Admittedly he is the main character but none of the others seem to be more than one personality trait. In some places I got the impression that Adams' entire inspiration for the novel had been from odd things that interested him, such as the theory of space-time based on Italian restaurants and some very odd plot points around Cricket - but this doesn't detract, instead adding to the wacky nature of the H2G2 universe.

Overall I actually think this is the best novel so far in the series, although the first is still the best book.

read more

Buy book: UK
A Time to be Born

A Time to be Born

28th September 2009

I've read this book once before, but never continued onto the rest of the series. Now I have them all lined up ready I thought I would give them another chance, especially given how much they are referenced in the later continuation novels.

The first instalment sees the Enterprise assigned to a starship graveyard filled with unidentified anomalies, alien scavengers, and ships destroyed in the Dominion War. When things go catalytically wrong the crew head back to earth for court martial.

The point of this series is to bridge the gap leading up to the film Nemesis, and Vornholt sets several of the unexplained plot points in motion, particularly for Crusher, Data, and Wesley, who for me at least makes a welcome return. He also makes good use of a number of guest characters from the TV series.

The plot is fairly straight forward, although there are some parts where events are a little tricky to follow, particularly when set around the spatial anomalies. The second half turns a little towards the legal drama genre, which is quite irritating as the characters we're aligned with are kept in the dark.

The novel has a disappointing lack of conclusions, which I suppose is justifiable as half of a duology, but it would have been nice to have some points settled rather than everything hanging over. Overall a pretty standard trek novel.

read more

Buy book: UK
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

26th September 2009

The second book in the series continues in a similar vein to the first, although the flippant sense of surrealism seems more forced. The book is very much divided into a series of acts - possibly as a result of being based on the radio series which was presented as a set of discrete episodes. A lot of what happens in this book I remembered as being later in the series, which is quite exciting in a way as it means there's lots still to come that I've forgotten!

It's nice that some of the minor characters get bigger roles in this one - the plot moving away from a focus on Arthur and in fact on the most part it seems onto Zaphod and his investigations into who runs the universe. Trillian still gets a very poor showing however and the book probably suffers from a lack of female character action.

I find that Adams' writing seems to have slipped into a pattern of peril, escape, peril, escape etc. and the presence of the Infinite Improbability Drive acts a bit of a deus ex machina providing escape from peril that can be anti-climatic and has a lazy feel to it.

This book has not only some very funny ideas, but ideas which when thought about pose some very interesting questions that still have relevance on this planet... for example food which wants to be eaten, and shipping off a useless third of the population.

Overall, another good quick read that deserves going over several times to catch everything missed at first - but not quite as fantastic as the original.

read more

Buy book: UK
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

23rd September 2009

This is probably only the third time I have read this modern classic, but somehow I still know the plot of the first book by heart. There are all the usual things to say of Adams' work. It's insightful, thought provoking, worryingly realistic and amazingly witty.

The characters are very simple, and yet in H2G2 this seems incredibly natural, where in any other book it would probably be boring and childlike. Some places don't rub well, Zaphod and Ford are possibly a little too similar, and Trillian is distressingly under-used as the only female character.

Adams' style doesn't tend to include a great deal of description of locations, which is almost a relief after all the Wheel of Time epics I've been reading recently, and I like to think this is a side-effect of the story's origins in radio. The radio experience has also rubbed off really well on the dialogue, which I can hear the characters speaking in my head. This lends a great deal to the comedy, especially the interplay between Eddie the computer, the talking doors, and of course Marvin.

My two criticisms are related. Firstly that there seems to be something missing from the plot - thinking back over the plot I keep feeling there's something I must have missed to pad out the middle. The second is that the ending is incredibly abrupt and resolves absolutely nothing - although I suppose that could be part of the beauty.

Overall I've enjoyed reading it again and am looking forward to going back over the whole series in preparation for the release of book 6 next month.

read more

Buy book: UK
Lord of Chaos

Lord of Chaos

21st September 2009

So, book 6, finally halfway through the main series of Wheel of Time, and I'm starting to get a bit tired of the series now, especially as this one had a really slow first half. It's not that nothing was happening, but unusually for the fantasy genre, no one was travelling anywhere.

I'm a little concerned that this series doesn't have anything to help new readers to catch up if they drop in mid-series. Admittedly this can often be grating if you have already read the previous volumes but surely leaving it out is limiting your potential sales to an already captured audience?

In the second half of this book the pace picked up again with a lot of big scenes, but again they didn't seem to be going anywhere. Overall I don't feel that the plot was advanced much in this book. It just seems like it is just a tool to set up some plot points and alter some characters opinions to get them into their places for the rest of the series.

I'm not sure any more whether I'm looking forward to reading the next volume. Hopefully it will be more exciting, but I am half tempted to take a break before continuing.

read more

Buy book: UK
Bay of the Dead

Bay of the Dead

9th September 2009

The second novel in the latest Torchwood trilogy is a fairly straightforward zombie horror book with just a tiny bit of Torchwood thrown in so that it matches the cover.

The book reads like any other zombie novel, with a multitude of random characters popping up only to be attacked and eaten or to escape and hang around for the rest of the story to serve as a distraction to the team. The conclusion seems for the most part to be a separate bolt on, with very little of what's gone before serving to set it up.

The one redeeming feature is the characterization. Gwen is well portrayed, and although Jack and Ianto are a little two dimensional in their flirty gung-ho attitudes, Andy and Rhys are fully fleshed out and were probably the most real of the cast, which made a nice change for the supporting characters.

Overall I'm afraid there just didn't seem to be a good reason that this should be a Torchwood book other than to increase sales. Any other characters could have easily slotted in, if not saved the day.

read more

Buy book: UK
World Without End

World Without End

7th September 2009

The sequel to Follet's earlier work, Pillars of the Earth, is another tale of the builders and monks in the city of Kingsbridge, set two hundred years after the original, in the mid 14th Century. Despite being a sequel there is absolutely no need to have read the original, as the plots are completely separate.

If I was publishing this book, I would have titled it something more along the lines of 'The Randy 14th Century' - particularly for the first third, where there seems to feature more sex than speech. Freud would have a field day analysing this. Other than that it's a complicated mix of storylines that, while seemingly unconnected, cross in interesting and sometimes overly convoluted ways.

The good characters are highly loveable - and that makes the middle third less bearable, as one of them does not feature for some time and others go off on a pointless side story that seems to lead no-where. The bad characters on the other hand are utterly detestable, to the extent that some seem comically unbelievable. It is interesting that the monks in this novel seem to generally be the bad characters, whereas in the original novel they were at worst neutral.

Despite being set around a cathedral, the book has a distinctly anti-religious feel to it, with the religious characters being shown as selfish, greedy, power-hungry and hypocritical, while the characters who choose to challenge or disbelieve are generally the more likeable. I'm glad, as the other way round would have been tedious - though it possibly goes a little too far in making some of the monks seem incredibly annoying.

I wouldn't call this the best book ever, but it's certainly a nicely lengthed novel and it doesn't leave you wanting any more by the end - although another sequel set a couple of hundred years later again wouldn't go amiss.

read more

Buy book: UK
The Soul Key

The Soul Key

29th August 2009

The latest novel in the continuation series to DS9 follows on immediately from where the previous one left off... which is it's first mistake. It's been two years since the previous novel was released, and this one makes no effort to remind the reader of what had been happening, instead diving straight into a very complicated and confusing plotline.

I must confess that I wasn't holding out much hope for this one as I found the previous novel, Fearful Symmetry, also by Woods, to be below par as well. This one does have its moments - there are a few scenes towards the end that stood out - but there are others (for example space battles which last half a page) which are deeply unsatisfying.

The books is rather arbitrarily split into six parts, but even within those the narrative jumps around between times and places - and when you have three characters who are almost the same person it can get quite confusing. The storyline seems to rely too much on jumping backwards and revealing things which happened earlier that we didn't see at the time - and it feels really forced, as if they are just there to switch the course that the series was set on in the previous novel.

I'm disappointed, because I thought the first few DS9 relaunch books were really good, and now they are just letting the series down. My advice is that if you are a fan then go ahead and read it, but re-read at least Fearful Symmetry (if not more of the previous novels) first to get your head back around the storyline!

read more

Buy book: UK
The Fires of Heaven

The Fires of Heaven

29th August 2009

In the fifth novel in this series Rand is forced to step up his plans to start invading the rest of the world, while the two groups of girls try to find their way to a safe haven.

This book doesn't have the extremely slow start of the previous episode, although there is a bit of an odd jump between the events of the two. This is particularly noticeable in the Nynave and Elayne storyline which seems to have skipped a rather important escape scene.

There were a lot of unexpected twists in this one, including learning some of the things which were kept secret from us in the previous novel... even though they were fairly obvious to see coming. I was disappointed that one of the characters was completely ignored in this book, especially after his major storyline in the last one, which I really enjoyed.

Overall this was another good book, but I probably wouldn't go as far as saying that it was as good as book four.

read more

Buy book: UK
Into the Silence

Into the Silence

16th August 2009

Into the Silence is the first book in the latest trio accompanying the BBC TV series, and is set between series two and three. The three remaining main characters are joined by a disgraced police office with previous Torchwood experience to investigate a number of brutal murders of singers across Cardiff.

While the idea is sound and the plot moves along at an interesting pace, not a lot is learnt about the main characters, with most of the characterization focussing on guests - presumably so as not to tread on the toes of the TV writers. The alien itself is satisfyingly creepy, but it's physical description makes it a tad too similar to every other torchwood bad guy.

While the plot does flow fairly well, there's a lot of backstory peppered throughout the novel that exists purely to set up the ending and which never interacts with the main plot on the way. As much as I often complains about confidences drawing people together in novels, this set up meant the ending was fairly predictable from quite early on.

Overall I found this to be a satisfying quick read, and I definitely think that the Torchwood novels are improving as the series progresses.

read more

Buy book: UK
Losing the Peace

Losing the Peace

14th August 2009

The latest novel in the Next Generation continuation series is a lot calmer than the preceding destiny trilogy and Borg based novels beforehand. It's a welcome change of pace to a more diplomatic and political theme rather than war, war and more war.

Captain Picard and his crew's new mission is to assist in the rebuilding efforts as a roving troubleshooter, while Dr Crusher heads up her own team visiting a refugee camp on a water world.

Although it is the second in the political line in a row it still feels more like a traditional next gen novel, though fans of action and giant space battles will be disappointed as we've definitely moved beyond that for a while. The new crew seems to come together in this one for the first time, although it's not entirely clear which of the new characters are going to be main characters and which just supporting.

All in all I enjoyed it as a quick read but it has nothing of the impact of the destiny series. I don't even know when we'll be returning to the next gen or where they are planning to go next.

read more

Buy book: UKUSBuy ebook: UK
The Shadow Rising

The Shadow Rising

10th August 2009

This fourth book in the series is the best so far. It's a mix of romance and war as the characters grow closer and begin to pair off in a slow start to the book - the first half seems to pass very slowly before suddenly speeding up as the second half kicks in.

Once the group has split into three directions, it's a refreshing change that they don't spend the rest of the novel being drawn back together, as the girls chase the Black Ajar, Perrin returns to the Two Rivers to defend his homeland, and Rand leads everyone else off to only he knows where.

It makes for a good mix, almost presented as three separate novels as it focusses on each group for a long period in turn, not returning to the pattern of mixing quickly between scenes until the climax nears - and what a climax there is. For once I didn't feel let down by the ending, there's plenty going on for all three groups and lots of satisfactory battles that mean the conclusion isn't rushed.

Overall I'm very impressed - the characters seem deeper and more emotionally mature, and the bad guys are more fleshed out and understandable. I'm really looking forward to reading more.

read more

Buy book: UK
Medusa

Medusa

&

5th August 2009

A good read again at last from the Cussler series. Medusa focusses a lot more on Kurt & Joe and less on Paul and Gamay, which is a little dissapointing, but it brings back a feel of the classic duo novels in Cussler's canon.

It's quite a timely plot as the manufactured virus that forms the greatest threat in this novel is remarkably similar in scope to the ideas about swine flu that were circulating in the real world at the time of its release, which adds to the believability of the story. There's also nothing too outlandish like there has been in a few of the more recent Cusslers, and no religious twists at the end like Corsair had.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this one, and am hoping this is the way they continue. The next two are 'The Wrecker', a sequel to 'The Chase', which should be interesting as that seemed more realistic given its historical setting, and 'Spartan Gold', a new series, and I'm looking forward to both.

read more

Buy book: UK
Harbinger

Harbinger

26th July 2009

I don't really know what to say about this one. I don't even really know why I picked it up and read it in the first place - I usually ignore original series based novels, and have learned to ignore book-only spin-off series after disliking the Challenger, Stargazer and Gorkon series.

This one was a bit different. The characters are easy to pick up, but the question is really how long they will stay with me and whether I will still know them if I try to read book two. In contrast to the previous spin-off series this one is written by multiple authors, so perhaps it will be more open?

The cast are a mix of a starfleet crew (represented by the station's gruff commander), the JAG office, diplomats, spies and civilians, with the Enterprise crew from the second pilot guesting. The civilian population is probably the most interesting, particularly a journalist and a collection of criminal gangs, who it's hard to believe are able to operate on a starfleet base.

Overall it's a good start to the series, killing a good number of characters off before you get to know them and focussing on a good core. The plot itself though seems a bit hard to follow - there's some secret reason that the base has been built and it's a bit of a let down not really understanding it at the end. I'm not sure whether any further books in this series will make their way onto my reading list.

read more

Buy book: UK
Miss Marple's Final Cases

Miss Marple's Final Cases

11th July 2009

Although they are titled as the final cases of Miss Marple, there is nothing to really distinguish them as being late in her career, although she clearly has a reputation and as neccessitated by the short-story format a lot of the situations are described to the detective and reader rather than being played out narratively.

The Marple stories included inthis anthology are very interesting and traditional murder mysteries. They are well executed in this medium and can be read through quite quickly.

There are however two stories included in this collection that do not feature Miss Marple. In fact, they couldn't even be described to sit within the crime genre. They should really have both been classified as horror and really didn't fit in with the rest of the book - I would have prefered they had been left out as they had no sensible conclusion and it feels that they were a waste of time reading.

read more

Buy book: UK
The Dragon Reborn

The Dragon Reborn

11th July 2009

The third book in the series is the best so far for the most part. The ensemble of characters get the majority of the focus, and this makes the plotlines more interesting.

The characters are reduced slightly down to the original core plus a few new hangers on, and this makes the reader feel more like par of the team. Like the earlier books however thus was structured in a split up, travel, coincidently end up back together structure.

My continuing criticism of the series is that the endive are rather abrupt. This one in particular had an anti-climatic feel after the final battle when there was a conference and very little in the way of cliffhanger to draw me back in when I come to book four.

read more

Buy book: UK
A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet

23rd June 2009

I read this one as an e-book on my phone. It seemed quite short, but without a physical copy it's hard to tell whether it actually is or if the effect was caused by the medium.

It's the introduction to Sherlock Holmes, as always written (mostly) from the point of view of Dr Watson, as they investigate a vengeful murder in nineteenth century London.

I'm not yet convinced about Doyle's writing style. The second person narrative works really well, as we're aligned with someone on our level looking up at Holmes with us, however halfway through this book switches to a third person section, detailing the personal history of the murderer over several chapters. This appeared very suddenly and with no warning. It felt like a completely new story had begun, and there was nothing to connect it to the original plot. I was half convinced it was a new story and that Doyle had not bothered to explain the conclusion of the first.

Another niggle is that Holmes doesn't explain anything until the end. We're not offered any of his thoughts or clues until the very end, which makes it impossible for the reader to even think about working out the solution, which I find quite frustrating. One of my favourite parts of reading Agatha Christie's works is trying to identify the murdered before Miss Marple.

Overall, it was okay... I'll give the next one a go too, and some of the short stories perhaps, before settling on my opinion of the Holmes series.

read more

Buy book: UK
Treason

Treason

22nd June 2009

Though a quick read, the latest novel in the New Frontier series has brought it back from the brink. A definite improvement on recent falls.

Several factions are out to kidnap the son of Robin Lefler and the late Si Cwan, some with more obvious intentions than others. They will stoop as low as controlling the minds of crew members to achieve their goals, but the ghost of Si Cwan has similar powers.

My main complaint about recent New Frontier novels is that the crew have become too spread out, and that there are too many main characters to focus on, however this time, David has pulled the focus back to the Excalibur, and while the other characters still appear, it's only in a supporting role.

There's an interesting juxtaposition, whereby the new aliens wanting to take control of bodies is bad, while Si Cwan's ghost taking control of Kalinda's body is somehow right, though none of the cast seem to realise this. The beginning also feels disconnected from the rest of the plot, as the original gang of kidnappers, while still suspected for a short while, are soon forgotten about.

Overall, I'd say it's an improvement, and has left the story with a few loose ends left to tie up. It still needs to lift a little further to equal the earlier days though.

read more

Buy book: UK
The Chamber

The Chamber

18th June 2009

Probably the worst Grisham I've read yet. There were moments of interest but no real surprises, no plot twists and a dismal ending.

In this one, a young lawyer finds his long-lost grandfather on death row and goes to help him escape the gas chamber... with just twenty-eight days to go. Sadly, the text on the cover about a twenty-year secret is a bit of a misnomer, as the only secret is that Adam is Sam's grandson, and that comes out very quickly at the beginning.

The characters are all very two dimensional. The young genius lawyer, his evil lawyer employers, his unrepentant client, the alchoholic aunt, the sister who only turns up once, the rich uncle who wants nothing to do with it, the ex-mility prison director, and the real murderer who makes threats but in the end is underused.

And finally the end of the book comes, and it's dry and dull and there's no excitement. And once it's climaxed it dribbles through the last few pages with nothing happening. Overall, this book just seemed like a bit of a racist rant at the start and an anti-death penalty rant towards the end.

read more

Buy book: UK
Sleeping Murder

Sleeping Murder

14th June 2009

I've been very lapse and am not reviewing this one until a week after I finished reading it. Tut tut. It's a fairly good novel, once again more in keeping with the later Marples (of which it is one) in that the plot is more complicated than the early formula of 1. Murder, 2. Marple, 3. Murder, 4. Solution.

There are a number of elements that don't really add up. First off is the coincidence that magically bring the main character back to the location of the crime twenty years later. Then of course the familiar fortune that they happen to know Miss Marple. There is also a slight issue of no ones attention being drawn to where the body is hidden.

The ending itself however is quite interesting. I thought that I had worked it out, and it as someone that none of the characters had even considered. Then just as the conclusion was drawing up, the protagonist suddenly decided the same as I had been thinking for some time, only to be proved hideously wrong - it was the one person that it had never crossed my mind to consider.

All in all, certainly not one of the worst Marples, but probably not the best either. Well, that's the end, pretty much, of my Miss Marple reading - just a collection of short stories to go.

read more

Buy book: UK
The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt

5th June 2009

Well, that's book 2 down. This one was similar to the first in terms of the writing style, but my criticisms are slightly different.

The plotline is much more straightforward in this novel, there being one main story that runs through the novel - again it is a journey, but that seems, from my limited experience, to be a running theme in the fantasy genre. There's several other branches to the plot, but they are smaller than in the first novel, and one of them only joins back for a moment at the end.

Speaking of the ending, this volume has a very abrupt conclusion, it seems very hurried, and there isn't much of an 'epilogue' after the final climax. To an extent I suppose that is designed to encourage moving on to the third book, but at the time of publication that wouldn't have been available and it would have been nice to wrap things up a little more roundedly.

There are still some mysteries hanging over, although I'm still not sure how he is going to drag the rest of the story over the remaining books, or exactly what the characters' plan is.

read more

Buy book: UK
Star Trek

Star Trek

28th May 2009

What a disappointing book to read, especially after the brilliance that is the film upon which it is based. Sadly Foster's novelization isn't up to the task, and presents us with little more than a prose version of the script.

I would have prefered to visit more of the characters' heads and seen their thought patterns, but instead, like the film, we stick with Kirk, seeing things from his narrow perspective and getting very little extra information about what's going on inside.

The only redeeming feature to this were the scenes that were deleted from the film... an excellent scene where Kirk as a child is cleaning his step-father's car, and a useful one where Spock is born, which would have been an excellent place to introduce the traditional Vulcan finger rubbing, which could then replace the most out of place scene later on.

Foster completely ruins all the jokes. It's almost as if he's gone through, found them all, and altered them just a tiny bit so they don't work. The most obvious example is when Kirk and McCoy first meet, and McCoy states that all that he has is his skeleton... instead of the correct 'bones'.

Overall, not good, but hopefully everyone who reads it will have already seen the film, which is fantastic, and not be put off by this poor showing.

read more

Buy book: UK
The Client

The Client

23rd May 2009

An interesting idea, but the characters in Grisham's novels still strike me as somewhat too two-dimensional. There's the boy, who one minute is a super-human and the next a blubbering child; the lawyer, ditto; the judge, kind and friendly; the evil lawyer, evil, evil and evil.

I've noticed that the characters in this one tend to have back stories, and we find out everything about them when we first meet them. To an extent that takes the surprise and suspense out of the tale. What's the point in going through a courtroom scene to see what the judge decides when we've just established his entire past record of similar cases? I'd much prefer to be aligned with the one central character and find out about people as he does. Admittedly, Grisham does do this with his (much) later novel Playing for Pizza.

Having been mean about it however, it was an interesting book. There's less of an insight into the American judical system now though, and the novels are leaning more towards Thriller-with-a-lawyer-or-three rather than what I would term Legal-Thriller.

Overall, it's not unmissable. There's definitely a Grisham flavour to the writing style which is uniquely his. I'm going to pay more attention to the next one to try and put it into words.

read more

Buy book: UK
Nemesis

Nemesis

18th May 2009

In some ways, not the greatest of Christie's Marple novels, but in other ways it is. The plot idea is novel, unlike the early Marples which are quite formally structured. In Nemesis Miss Marple is lead through a series of clues before she even finds out what murder she is investigating.

This certainly has the feel of a final novel, and it was the last Marple book Christie wrote (although Sleeping Murder was deliberately published later). It is set out as Marple's greatest ever challenge, and mentions things from a number of the previous books in the series. It also leaves Miss Marple to a happy retirement at the end.

Bonus points to me, because this was the first time that I've managed to solve the mystery before Miss Marple, even though I was put off at one point when the character made a mistake. I would hope that's down to an improvement in my skills rather than a loss in Christie's writing.

Overall, I enjoyed it, and that's what mattered. I'm glad I'm nearly finished with the series though.

read more

Buy book: UK
The Eye of the World

The Eye of the World

13th May 2009

I've read this, the first book in a series of 15 (maybe...!), under pressure. I'm not normally a fan of tolkien-esque fantasy - in fact, I rather quickly gave up on Lord of the Rings on the basis that it was awful. I would have given it 1 star if I was rating it for this website!

However this novel wasn't as bad. Yes, it was fairly slow in places, and sometimes it was hard to see where things were going. There were a couple of things that popped up halfway that I wondered why they couldn't have been told it earlier.

The storyline is complete by the end of the novel, however there are clearly a number of places to go later on, and a number of unresolved plotlines to follow up on. The characters are all very different people, each with their own skills, quirks and personalities, although some seem (so far) to be unnecessary to the storyline.

Overall, I'm not convinced that it deserves the raving that I've been surrounded by, but I suspect I will read the second book.

read more

Buy book: UK
Full Circle

Full Circle

30th April 2009

A really good continuation novel, the more than does justice to most of the crew of Voyager (Kes and Neelix do not appear). This novel covers much more than the description above, filling the gap from the end of Spirit Walk right up to the Destiny trilogy and beyond, talking account of everything that's happened in between.

Beyer has proved herself to be a fantastic character author, with all the main characters having an arc of their own with some pretty strong emotions flowing.

This actually seems very much like two novels in one, but having now finished I can see that it definitely needed to be one, as the second half probably would offend people if it was published stand-alone, being the more emotionally centred part.

The first half focussed on rounding off the plot threads left hanging from the end of Spirit Walk, and the second half those from Destiny, and setting up the next novel in the series. the next novel is also by Beyer, and I'm looking forward to it already.

read more

Buy book: UKUSBuy ebook: UK
The Pelican Brief

The Pelican Brief

29th April 2009

An interesting read which I've left for too long before getting round to writing a review of. Once again I enjoyed it, although it was a little dated and American, but its' focus was less on the complex machinations of the us legal machine and focussed more on government, which is something I know a little more about.

The plot seemed a little too extraordinary at the start, especially as the main character was the only person to realise what was happening. It seemed a little odd that no-one else would twig, especially after the word Pelican was brought into it.

The cast weren't particularly diverse - in fact the main character seemed a bit of a rehash of one of the characters from 'A Time To Kill', who had appeared out of place there but slotted into this role perfectly.

Overall I would say this was a good book and worth reading, but Grisham's plots seem to be getting a little too similar - almost all of them involve someone running away, there being a big change in their character throughout the book, and then at the very end running away again.

read more

Buy book: UK
At Bertram's Hotel

At Bertram's Hotel

20th April 2009

An interestingly fresh take from Christie in this one. While Marple is present, and deducts a little, it's a completely different type of tale from what I have come to expect.

Unlike the previous novel which I found somewhat tedious, this one didn't follow the usual formula. The murder itself didn't take place until right at the end, and while there is one twist which is the same as in one of the earlier novels, the murder is for once not the main aspect of the plot.

Generally, I'd say the mystery is weak - a lot of what is happening seemed fairly obvious, although that might be because I have vague memories of seeing a televised version (though I remember additional murders in that!). Marple's involvement is limited and seems a little odd that the police are so interested in her views given they haven't got experience with her.

Overall, I enjoyed this one. It had a little more of a thriller feeling to it, and an interesting and slightly more modern group of characters and an excellent setting. Definitely not a major Marple one but a nice one nonetheless.

read more

Buy book: UK
Corsair

Corsair

&

17th April 2009

Okay, I'm only giving this one two stars just for the final page, which has just really annoyed me. I'm going to go into spoilerific details.

As a sub-plot which seems more suited to be a main plot of a NUMA files novel, the cast go after the 'Jewel of Jerusalem', which turns out to contain a drop of Jesus' blood. At the end of the novel, the doctor analyses the blood, and concludes that it is the correct age (within a 130 year buffer), and further, that it only contains female DNA.

Remarkably however, this doesn't mean that it's the DNA of a female, because the chromosomes say otherwise... interesting. Even I know that chromosomes in general can't be male ones and yet be only female DNA.

And then, just to make it worse, the doctor claims that it's all mitochondrial DNA, even outside the mitochondria! Have they even thought about this at all? An organism that has only mitochondrial DNA would be a mitochondria! Not a human without a father.

This is the worst piece of Christian propaganda I have ever seen. Even worse when it's in a novel meant to be promoting peace between Islam and the West. Well, having said that, the bad guys are always Muslims.

Anyway, rant over - now the rest of the book. It's not as well done as some of the early Oregon Files novels, where they are a crack team who plan well and implement their plans exactingly. Now they just seem to go along with the flow, much like in the main Dirk Pitt series.

Maybe I'll come back when I've got over the end to write something nicer.

read more

Buy book: UK
Over A Torrent Sea

Over A Torrent Sea

10th April 2009

Back to normal for the Titan series. Out of touch with starfleet exploring a brand new world with a unique twist. An individual member of the crew finds her calling and is tempted to stay behind permenantly. I've heard this a little before in the Titan series.

Like Bennett's previous Titan novel, this one seemed slow to get started, especially waiting for some of the content revealled in the blurb on the back cover to come along in the plot.

The elements that Bennett was forced to include in the novel from the continuing arc were a bit awkward, and the story he had introduced to get these out of the way seemed very forced and didn't particularly fit.

Overall, it was an okay read, but nothing has yet happened to hook me to the Titan series. I've got a fair while until the next one though. Looking forward to the next TNG book.

read more

Buy book: UKUSBuy ebook: UK
A Time to Kill

A Time to Kill

7th April 2009

Another gripping read from Grisham (although it's his first so perhaps it shouldn't be 'another'). Its an interesting tale with a good insight into the wacky way the American legal system works - which seems rather convoluted.

The setting and the characters seem somewhat dated now, but I suppose that's fair as it was written in the 80s, but some of the characters' opinions do rather grate - even those of the characters who you are supposed to identify with. The cast of the novel don't seem to have been thought through from the start, as some seem to drop in for a few chapters and then get forgotten about, while others are mentioned, vanish, and then reappear once you've forgotten who they are.

It's definitely got the feeling of a first novel, but it's a substantial size and the story keeps progressing, even when you can't see how it can possibly fill the rest of the book. I would like to have had a little more detail at the end - it all seems rather rushed, and there is a key scene that I would like to have seen played out rather than just heard about second hand at the end.

All in all, a good idea, but a little rough around the edges. Not unmissable this time, but certainly paving the way.

read more

Buy book: UK
A Caribbean Mystery

A Caribbean Mystery

26th March 2009

A fairly tame Marple novel, although with a refreshing change of scenery. Gone are the quiet villages and large family mansions of previous novels, and in is a row of bungalows on a Barbados beach.

The story though lacks any real sense of intrigue. All the characters have hidden secrets - none are quiet who they seem, and all of them are after something. It's almost like too much effort has gone into providing red herrings.

In part, my dislike may have been caused by reading most of it in two sittings, whilst on a train. Perhaps taking it in smaller chunks may have allowed me to digest it better and to form interim conclusions about who the murderer could be.

As it is, I'm not convinced the clues were there, and this just seemed like a failed attempt to branch out into a new location, and hope to sell on that.

read more

Buy book: UK
A Singular Destiny

A Singular Destiny

24th March 2009

An interesting, and unusual take on the Trek franchise, but not as gripping as the trilogy whose effects this begins to tidy up. It's a good choice of idea to follow it up though as it deals with the future of the galaxy from multiple points of view, and sets the stage for the continuation novels of the next few years.

The main character, if there is one, is Sonek Pran, a rather dubious mix of Vulcan, Human, Betazoid and Bajoran (wouldn't have thought there were Bajorans around long enough ago). By day, he's a history lecturer on Mars, but by night an advisor and para-diplomat for the Federation President who runs around the galaxy sorting out problems. A possible opening for future novels I feel, although the character developed quite a bit in this one.

Also of note is the continued use of the USS Aventine, under Captain Dax, and introducing some more of her crew. Another opening one expects for a new line of novels!

All round, an important read, but not until after the Destiny trilogy, and definitely before any of the future continuations (and the next Titan book is on order from Amazon already!).

read more

Buy book: UKUSBuy ebook: UK
The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side

The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side

19th March 2009

This one has the return to Miss Marple's home of St Mary Mead that I've been desperately craving. The contrived ways she has become involved in some of her cases was getting on my nerves, and I'd much rather the murders came to her! Marple is now fairly housebound, and so a lot of the action is seem from the other characters' points of view, with them reporting in every so often.

It's nice to see Marple aging as the series progresses, even though she has always been elderly. I'm quite surprised that she manages to hang on for the remaining four novels!

This one again had the murder occur at a large mansion, but this time the extended family were not involved. Well... in a sense they were, but not in the same way as the recent novels. The murder has the exciting twist of not even knowing who is the victim, as well as the perpetrator, which added to the mystery.

The ending however did leave a few more questions than answers, and in that sense was a little disappointing. The murdered was someone I had never suspected - but my lack of a certain piece of historical medical knowledge meant that there was no way I could have picked up on the clues.

All in all, it showed some promise, but the conclusion was a little too convoluted.

read more

Buy book: UK
4.50 From Paddington

4.50 From Paddington

15th March 2009

Back on form a little for Christie - the police aren't around to make bumbling fools of themselves until fairly late on in the game - Miss Marple has a valid, non-coincidental reason for being involved, and this time she has a trusty sidekick!

Yes, there are some of the issues that have blighted the recent previous books in the set, including the mansion house location, and the large, confusing family set up - but perhaps no-one in the time it is set would have cared about some random farm hands being murdered?

This one had an interestingly different set-up, and confirmation that we were on the right track (as it were) didn't come until late on. The red-herrings were very convincing, although they were very easy to spot - and I figured out the red herring solution early in the game.

The revelation at the end seemed a bit of a cheat, as there didn't seem to be any way to have seen it coming, and Miss Marple's own deductions are never explained, which is a little disapointing.

read more

Buy book: UK
The Firm

The Firm

15th March 2009

This book was a bit of a gamble for me. I've never read a 'legal thriller' before - I've read one of Grisham's non-legal novels though (Playing for Pizza - about American football in Italy), and so decided to have a bash at his most famous book.

I've actually found it to be oddly addictive reading - I've not been able to put it down over the weekend, and read the second half on Saturday alone. That should give an indication of how good it is.

It's somewhere in the middle of the group of books I've read by Clancy, Cussler and Ludlum. Less detailed than Clancy, who likes to explain the minutiae, Grisham never delves into complicated legal language or explanations, instead focusing on the characters. Unlike Ludlum, the plot moves fast and stays gripping - it doesn't feel like wading through a bog, and it's more believable than some of the Bond-esque moments in Cussler's novels.

The plot was a little confusing in places - there were a couple of things which were never followed up on, but there were also a few things that came back along just as I wasn't expecting them. There were some sentences that didn't quite seem to flow, or make sense, and in some places the language seemed a little colloquial.

I think I would have benefited from a slower read this time, as the character arc through the second half seemed to move very quickly. This read has persuaded me however to keep an eye out for Grisham's other novels.

read more

Buy book: UK
Lost Souls

Lost Souls

11th March 2009

A fantastic end to a fantastic trilogy. I had my misgivings at the start for a series that focused on the whole of the star trek universe in the post-TNG era, but it was in good hands with Mack, and this final episode especially was hard to put down.

Mack cleverly reintroduces a plot element that was hanging over from the first book but had almost been forgotten having not been mentioned in the second. This draws the three parts of the trilogy and the multiple arcs within it together to lead to a satisfyingly rounded climax.

The solution gradually became clear throughout, but at no point was there a feeling of knowing exactly where things were going, and although you know the good guys have to win in the end, Mack at least makes it entertaining to find out how they get there.

My one criticism is the low use of the Voyager characters once again - this time they are only mentioned in passing: other than Seven they don't even get any 'screen-time' in this novel.

Finally, it has a good ending, not too drawn out, but still satisfyingly tying up each of the characters' arcs, but still in a way that leaves the reader wanting more... and there's plenty more to come according to the ads on the inside back cover.

read more

Buy book: UK
A Pocket Full of Rye

A Pocket Full of Rye

5th March 2009

Another standard murder mystery for Miss Marple, with a fortunate coincidence which involves her to assist the befuddled policeman. Perhaps by this point in her career, Christie's opinion of the police had dropped.

The setting was quite similar to the previous novel: large country house, complicated family, all with adequate motives, several not who they say they are. This one was better done, with plenty of red herrings mixed in with the real clues.

The inclusion of the titular cereal and its follow-ups seems unnecessary - yes, perhaps nursey rhymes were Christie's inspirations for some of her novels but I doubt many authors continue it into the narrative when it isn't important to the plot.

Overall, a good quick read - I wasn't certain at the end but the suspicions were certainly there. There's plenty more Marple books on my shelf so I hope the thrill levels pick up!

read more

Buy book: UK
Mere Mortals

Mere Mortals

3rd March 2009

The second novel served as a good continuation of the story - although it still had a little of the second novel in a trilogy feel to it.

The action has focused more on two of the four crews that featured in the first novel, and on one character in particular, and starts to join together the different plotlines into one.

I don't have a lot to say about this novel - it was good, kept up the pace and kept me attached. The mixture of flashback and present day scenes was well done, each in turn revealling just the right amount to keep the reader interested.

My only criticism of the series so far is its' fleeting use of the starship Voyager in both novels, which seems to be there just as a tip of the hat. There's plenty of oportunity for some emotional focus on those characters here but they only appear for a couple of scenes - hardly enough to warrent their inclusion - unless it's building up to something bigger int he finale.

read more

Buy book: UK
They Do It With Mirrors

They Do It With Mirrors

25th February 2009

Agatha Christie constantly surprises by the differing styles of narration in her novels. Previously I've read tales told completely in the third person and first person from the point of a random character - but this one starts off in third-person limited, fixed with Miss Marple's point of view. This is another change from recent novels, with Marple playing a large part right from the start.

This is a short novel, and didn't grip me very much, perhaps because of it. There's not as much of the investigation as I have come to expect, and the vast majority of the narrative was the police interviewing the witnesses over and over again.

The set up was perhaps overly complicated, with many characters introduced in one go, which led me to confusion about who was who. The solution too was the first one that I thought of, which was unsatisfying, and later deaths seemed unnecessary.

"They Do It With Mirrors" was too much of an obvious title, and fairly gave the game away. Previous novels seem to focus on the nature of the murder, rather than the solution, and I hope they return to the more traditional formula.

read more

Buy book: UK
Gods of Night

Gods of Night

24th February 2009

An excellent start to this series, quite unexpectedly. I don't remember being too enamoured about David Mack's DS9 continuation novel, Warpath, and I wasn't looking forward to more novels focussing on the borg - to be honest, they've been done to death in Voyager.

But this was different. The Borg, while being the enemy, aren't the main focus of this volume - they are a threat but they are very much in the background, popping up every now and then. I suppose in part that is because Mack has deftly intertwined the tales of four separate starships and crews, and only one has been directly interacting with the borg.

One psuedo-criticism is the absence of any explanation of how Dax has got from DS9 (where we left her in the most recent DS9 novel) to captaining the Aventine - but I suppose a gap is reasonable given that the novel timeline for DS9 has moved fairly slowly since the series ended. Also, this leaves plenty of freedom for the DS9 authors to write what they want to while they catch up.

A major issue I had was with the time dilation effect, which I thought the author had got completely wrong. However, having looked it up on the internet, and done the calculations myself, it seems that while non-intuitive, it is correct. This is why I've given an apologetic extra half star to make it up to five.

In conclusion, some parts were a little predictable, but then I suppose that if everything that happened was unexpected, one would have cause to doubt the logic of the storyline. So it's a good start, and I hope it can only get better!

read more

Buy book: UKUSBuy ebook: UK
A Murder Is Announced

A Murder Is Announced

15th February 2009

Another excellent book in the Marple Canon, this one adds to the mystery throughout, throwing out a variety of clues hither and thither, some of which I spotted, and others not. I think I'm improving, and my feeling is that the third-person narrative helps to get more of an overview of the case than the first-person perspective in the previous novel.

Miss Marple is introduced reasonably early in the proceedings, albeit via a rather convoluted route of coincidence, once again seemingly dropped in solely for the purpose of solving the mystery. On the other hand, to have every murder happen in the same village (as in Midsomer), would perhaps lead to doubt about the solutions of each case, and indeed shed a light of suspicion on Miss Marple herself.

There are plenty of suspects who could have easily had a motive to commit the murder - if anything, there are too many. Despite getting close at times, I still failed to spot the clues that pointed to the real killer.

read more

Buy book: UK
Sword of Damocles

Sword of Damocles

12th February 2009

Finally, a Titan novel I actually enjoyed! This one was very different from the previous three novels in the series - there's very little direct contact with aliens, and it's closer to the new characters, focusing on one or two of them in particular.

Thorne has pulled the series in a new direction, looking more at the 'humanity' of the characters, and it seems more in the style of Deep Space 9... and I don't mean just because it focuses on a Bajoran, but because it deals with issues of faith, destiny and sacrifice.

It's more emotionally charged, not least because everyone thinks everyone else is dead. And this leads to characters making decisions that they wouldn't normally, and yet they feel completely rational.

The focus on the new characters is good this time round, with the established and human characters mostly being relegated to sub-plot. I'm enjoying the interactions between the younger members of the crew, particularly the Cardassian cadet.

A good book, but not all of my favourite toys make it back to the box. The description above, taken from a certain shopping website, is rather inaccurate.

read more

Buy book: UKUSBuy ebook: UK
Artemis Fowl

Artemis Fowl

7th February 2009

I picked up this one in a charity shop because Eoin Colfer (who I had always thought was called Coifer) has been announced as authoring the new H2G2 novel, 'And Another Thing...', and I was interested to see what he was like.

Overall, Colfer's writing ability does show through, but this particular novel did little to excite me. Yes, it is aimed a childrens' market, but so were Charlie Higsons' Young Bond books, and J K Rowling's Harry Potter series, both of which I found engaging and entertaining.

Artemis Fowl however seems to live in a rather two dimensional world. The fairy world isn't explained in enough detail for me, and doesn't seem very real. We're aligned with Fowl, his Butler, and two of the fairies for different parts of the narrative, and I felt that this took away some of the suspense and mystery that could have been generated by being aligned with one character.

In terms of the plot, it was fairly straight-forward, with nothing unexpected, and nothing very deep. So all in all, I think Colfer should be a good author to continue H2G2, as long as he knows that he's targeting an older audience. I don't think I'll be picking up any further books in this series though.

read more

Buy book: UK
The Moving Finger

The Moving Finger

30th January 2009

This is the third Miss Marple novel penned by Christie, and it almost seems like it has been tweaked deliberately to include her.

The narrator is a former pilot who is sent to the country to recover after a crash, and is thrown into the middle of the mysterious events, and, this being a Christie novel, the murder.

Miss Marple doesn't arrive until fairly close to the end, and it seems as if she's been dropped in to solve the crime... as if Christie has suddenly decided that none of her characters are bright enough to figure it out. I would have rathered the narrator was able to solve it, as he is by far the real main character of the story.

Overall, this is another good novel - not an extra special one, and if it hadn't been labeled Marple on the spine I probably wouldn't have bought it. None of Miss Marple's thought processes are shown, and it is lacking for that.

read more

Buy book: UK
Orion's Hounds

Orion's Hounds

29th January 2009

An improvement on the previous book in the series, I feel, although still fairly average on the scale of Star Trek novels. Many of the aliens encountered are ones that have been met before on the TV series - in fact that's a major part of the plot - and this helps me to picture the events.

Obviously, the Titan series is aiming to be more of a 'back to exploring the galaxy' themed set, but it feels like all the books I've read recently have been of the 'out of touch with starfleet in an area of space completely different to anything we know' style. This can get a little repetative.

Although this one seemed to start slowly, it fitted the traditional three act structure, with the sudden reversal in the second act. My only complaint would be that it took a while to get going, and it wasn't until we got into Act 2 that it started to grip me.

The ending was well thought out and not rushed, and felt real and satisfactory, unlike some trek novels which are wrapped up a little two quickly and neatly. I grew to like some of the new characters during this novel, who seemed better fleshed out and easier to relate to than in the previous two.

Overall, enjoyable, but still backing up my original decision not to read this series, which was scuppered when they became pre-requisits for the Destiny trilogy, which I plan to read shortly.

read more

Buy book: UKUSBuy ebook: UK
Missing in Action

Missing in Action

23rd January 2009

Nothing special. I've been going off New Frontier over the past few books, and this one I didn't even buy until it was in paperback and it's taken probably a couple of years to get around to reading it. Part of that was because I was re-reading the series to remind myself what had happened, but still...

Even when I got this far, I wasn't keen. The previous book in the series, 'After the Fall', didn't impress me, and finding the entire New Frontier universe mangled with in the three year storyline gap preceding 'Fall' with no real explanation led to some confusion.

And another thing... the previous novel in the series ended on a cliff-hanger, with the Starship Excalibur being pulled through a vortex into another realm... so I suspected that this may be irritatingly similar to the previous book I read 'Titan: The Red King'.

In fact, it wasn't as bad as I had imagined, and was a fairly enjoyable romp, although I feel the central part of the New Frontier series - Captain Calhoun and the USS Excalibur = has been watered down too much by spreading the cast around three ships, a starbase and a planet.

Once again, Peter David's knack for failure to put the toys back in the box has presented itself, which is refreshing compared to many Star Trek stories where the tension is somewhat lost by the knowledge that everyone has to survive.

I was disappointed by the ending of this one though. Everything was wrapped up a little too quickly and cleanly at the end, almost as if the author had given up on the story and quickly put together a conclusion.

read more

Buy book: UK
The Writer's Tale

The Writer's Tale

&

20th January 2009

This is not the least good book in the entire space-time continuum. I have really, really, really, enjoyed this one.

'The Untold Story of the BBC series' is what the cover says this book is, but I don't think that quite does it justice. This contains the daily thoughts and feelings of Russell T Davies, the genius behind the new Doctor Who. This is the story of a year in the life of Davies, a man with the craziest life livable, and it's actually truly comforting to know that he's a real person after all - and not some sort of alien genius writer sent to earth to lull us into some sort of TV slavery.

But I digress. Reading this is like seeing the whole of Series Four evolve from the roughest ideas into the finished product. And although you know it will all be okay in the end, the correspondence still generates an urgency and building tension as Russel's deadlines get closer and closer before he has started writing.

In my head, Doctor Who's production was perfect. All the stories were planned out way in advance, the scripts written long before filming commenced. But now I know the truth of it is far more exciting than that - and no one knows how it is going to end until the last possible minute!

My only quibble with this tome is the length of some of the script extracts. These are first drafts of four of Russell's scripts reproduced, bit by bit as they were written. In hindsight though they are vital to the plot - to see how the ideas changed from the beginning to the finished product on our screens.

I can only hope that Russell and Ben continue to communicate, and that they feel it appropriate to publish again! Also, the hints of Who to come are tantalizing... and annoying knowing it's still another year before series five.

read more

Buy book: UK
The Red King

The Red King

&

15th January 2009

An interesting second book in the series by M+M. As well as a sequel to the first Titan book it serves as a sequel to their previous novel in the Lost Era series based on Sulu's Excelsior... which I vaguely remember reading about 5 years ago. Sadly, my memory isn't good enough to recall it that well (in fact, the Lost Era series didn't grip me that much at all... to the extent that I don't think I finished reading them). So, the opening chapters threw me a little until I, along with the crew of the Titan who didn't serve with Sulu, was brought up to date.

Once the little recap was past, an enjoyable romp ensued, however I'm still having trouble getting to grips with the new characters... for the books based on the series they are easy to imagine, and some others, like New Frontier and the DS9 relaunch seem to have easily introduced new characters, but in both the Stargazer and Titan novels I'm not picking this up. Partly I think this is because the authors are making an effort to be more serious in their SF - going for more extreme forms of life rather than stock humans in prosthetics. And I've never really been able to get my head around those.

Did the novel advance the ongoing story arc? Well, that depends on what's going to happen in the next novel... I don't know if this arc will continue, but there were deaths, and the relationships between some of the characters changed... most of those that look important in a negative way, I must admit. So I suppose I really will have to wait and see if the author that picks up the series in the next novel will chose to pick up on those, or whether they will fly off in a new and different direction.

read more

Buy book: UKUSBuy ebook: UK
Kobayashi Maru

Kobayashi Maru

&

10th January 2009

Another gripping tale of the post-tv series Enterprise crew as they move towards the historical war referred to in TOS. It is a follow-up to The Good That Men Do, which is required reading to understand this tale.

Although looking back on it there doesn't seem to have been a great amount happening, this is probably only because it's a middle book in a series, and it's taking the crew from one place to another, with no particular plot to resolve at the end.

It is a gripping read, as are all of M&M's Trek novels, and there's always a lot happening. As can be told from the title, the story of the original Kobayashi Maru no-win-scenario is a major feature, along with some surprising deaths and an unprecedented gay Klingon.

read more

Buy book: UKUSBuy ebook: UK

Top books

  1. The Firm
  2. The Writer's Tale
  3. Unworthy
  4. Full Circle
  5. Lost Souls
  6. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
  7. Gods of Night