All 2010 reviews - Shastrix Books

2010

All reviews

Echo Burning

Echo Burning

31st December 2010

Lee Child's fifth Jack Reacher novel is set in Texas, with Reacher back on the road in the style of the first two novels, where he comes across a 'damsel-in-distress' in the form of Carmen Greer, who wants Reacher to kill her abusive husband.

It's nice to have a novel back in the original style, where Reacher is unattached at the beginning and we see the whole of the events from his perspective. There are a couple of references to the events of previous novels, but only in passing, and these at least enhance the believability of the character.

The other characters that Child introduces are a good range of well defined personalities, including slipping in a Grisham-esqe young lawyer along the way. The Texan locals are possibly a touch too stereotyped in their red-neck-edness, but for all I know this could actually be true - though to a modern Brit this seems a little unbelievable.

The plot actually starts out quite slowly, and it was only about halfway through that I realised it was meant to be a mystery story. Once that dawned however working it out was relatively simple, although Reacher's investigation seemed to move at a good pace and didn't lead to reader frustration at the inability of the protagonist to see the obvious.

My only remaining criticism is of Child's repeated description of Texas' weather as hot. Yes, it is probably accurate and serves to set the scene but comes to seem like a cliché given the number of times it is mentioned. Overall, a good entry in the Reacher canon and getting back towards the strength of the first two novels.

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Casino Royale

Casino Royale

28th December 2010

Having not read this for about fifteen years I thought it was worth having another go to see how it comes across to the adult reader. In the first of Fleming's Bond adventures, 007 is sent to beat Le Chiffre, treasurer of an influential soviet trade union, at cards, and win from him the remains of the union's funds.

The book surprised me with how well it is written. The descriptions are amongst the most vivid that I have ever read and easily managed to conjure up the scenes in my mind's eye, something which very few novelists succeed at.

The plot, while fairly tame compared to those of the films based on Fleming's books, is well constructed and incredibly believable, and has stood the test of time well. The first half moves at a good pace with action, exposition and what could have been a rather dull explanation of a card game entertaining the reader. Nearer the end though the action seems to fade and the book becomes more of a character piece. It almost seems like it could be a prequel written to explain how Bond becomes the man he is in later episodes.

Overall, Casino Royale beat my expectations, remaining a well told story about a life-like character. Every aspect is explained in such a way that the reader learns everything they need, and yet those knowledgeable |in the subjects referenced will not become bored. This works to cross the span of time and help the modern reader interpret a story which is now getting on for sixty years old.

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Our Friend Jennings

Our Friend Jennings

23rd December 2010

When Jennings and Darbishire send off for a false moustache and some 'free' stamps, there's no foreseeing the trouble it will cause with the cross-country run, the trip to the cinema, and the end of term show.

This is an average book in the Jennings series, certainly not a bad book but far from the best of the set. My copy had been updated for the 1980s, however while the currency references were decimalised, other aspects such as the cinema trip were more reminiscent of the period the book was originally set.

While the set-ups were the usual quality of humorous misunderstandings, in places they were taken a little too far, and became (to me as an adult at least) tediously predictable. On the other hand, one of the mini-conclusions was particularly disappointing because it came out of the blue and relied on nothing previously set up.

Overall I would say it would still be entertaining to a younger reader/listener, but doesn't touch some of the funnier of Buckeridge's books.

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Death in the Clouds

Death in the Clouds

22nd December 2010

This Poirot novel, set in 1935, has an interestingly different tone. Poirot is on the plane with the murderer, and so the case is something of a closed box in that all the suspects are known immediately, much like Orient Express.

There is no-one to play the Watson role in the absence of Captain Hastings and so the narrative flicks around the characters with surprising ease, depicting each scene in turn from a different point of view, minimising our time in Poirot's head so as not to give the reader too many clues. The internal dialogues of the characters play a large part in this which gives it a different flavour which seems unusual at first but soon slots into place.

The story is a good one, in keeping with the traditional ideal of presenting all the clues to the reader so that they can try to guess. I didn't succeed in solving the crime, Despite several of the clues and red herrings being rather obvious. The insertion of an author of detective stories as one of the suspects is a stroke of comic genius on Christie's part, which she uses to gently poke fun at her own chosen genre.

Overall, an enjoyable light read and certainly one f the better mysteries Poirot has solved.

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The Brethren

The Brethren

19th December 2010

Once again Grisham writes about but fails to confront prejudice in this somewhat lack-luster novel about a trio of imprisoned judges whose scam blackmails rich gay Americans. Meanwhile, the CIA are doing the best they can to force a Republican candidate of their choosing into the White House.

While the pace of the narrative is reasonable and the plot is interesting enough to keep the reader going, it's too outlandish to be believable. Grisham's early novels focussed on small lawyers taking on believable corruption, racism etc., but by this point he seems to be trying to 'do a Clancy' and move on to bigger and bolder settings - with this novel involving a presidential candidate.

The characters are all two-dimensional, with Lake proving the only exception, and him really being a bystander to the main events. The prison is full of stereotypical prisoners, the lawyers are boring and repetitive, and the CIA are cardboard cut-outs of which only one seems to have any character. They seem little more than automatons going through the motions of inevitability as the plot rolls along, heavily aided by coincidence and gullibility.

Overall, I have to admit that the book is very readable, but not worth it for the limited entertainment value.

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Seize the Fire

Seize the Fire

15th December 2010

The second book in the Typhon Pact mini-series, which is also the second Trek book that Michael Martin has written solo, is a fairly run of the mill adventure. When a natural disaster destroys a Gorn breeding planet, two factions set out to find a replacement. The discovery of an ancient terraforming technology looks promising, but Will Riker and the crew of the USS Titan are afraid it could also be used as a weapon.

This novel occurs roughly simultaneously with the first Typhon Pact novel, but other than a few mentions it could have occurred anywhere in the Trek canon. It's a fairly standard story of alien technology, prime directive problems and arguments with the Gorn which seems to have almost no bearing on the continuing storyline. This is a little disappointing as I was hoping for something that would continue developing the plot.

The plot itself seems quite slow moving, and made hard to read by the Gorn speech being rendered in a 'Gorn phonetic dialect' which seems unnecessary given that they wouldn't be speaking English anyway. The action tends to stay in one place, and the different factions and number of named Gorn become a little confusing.

In terms of style it is very similar to the Bashir book which precedes it - both focus on one of the Typhon Pact's member races, showing them to be more than just a warmongers, and dealing with aspects of racism that pervade in the characters. It's more similar though to the earlier Titan novels, but it's far from the best of the bunch. I personally feel that Martin's writing has lost something since he stopped collaborating with long time writing partner Andy Mangels.

Overall I was a little disappointed. I was expecting something a little more grand and focussed on the Typhon Pact plot rather than a day in the life of the Titan. Hopefully the remaining two books in the mini-series will get things back on track.

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Assassin's Apprentice

Assassin's Apprentice

7th December 2010

Having enjoyed Robert Jordan's epic Wheel of Time series I decided to dive into some other recent popular fantasy series, starting with Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy. The first book tells the story of Fitz, illegitimate son of a prince, who finds himself returned to his grandfather's castle and be trained for a life of service to the King.

This story covers Fitz's life for about ten years from the age of six upward. It is presented as an autobiography by the character, who claims he is meant to be writing a history of the kingdom but ends up just telling his own tale.

As such, the pace of the story varies wildly, with some days being described in full detail and other years flying past. The book doesn't really pick up a plot of it's own until fairly late on, and if I didn't know that it was only the first third of the story it would disappoint me that it doesn't have obvious threads that run all the way through. It's a lot of build up for not much actual action.

The details and subtlety are what make this book. Fitz and the other characters are distinct and believable, and the fantasy elements are kept at a bare minimum to the point where the reader could almost think it in the real world. Some readers of course will find this means the world Hobb has constructed is lacking, but to me it showed a sensible restraint from alienating the audience.

Despite there being a shortage of plot, the life of Fitz makes for fascinating reading and I will certainly be continuing on to the rest of the trilogy.

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The Sacred Art of Stealing

The Sacred Art of Stealing

5th December 2010

Brookmyre's seventh novel is a sequel to 'A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away', although the focus is now on police officer Angelique de Xavier, who was only the lead supporting character in the earlier novel. She's suffering with the consequences of her actions, but is still the person called in when an unusual bank robbery kicks off.

The first thing that should be noted is the liberal spread of strong language, however the use of Scots dialect has been dialled down which makes the prose easier to read than in some of his previous novels.

The plot is captivating and surprisingly believable, with the appealing angle that you end up rooting for someone who is ultimately a baddie. The scale of the plot is certainly on the level of films like 'The Thomas Crowne Affair' with an ingeniously complicated plan by the criminals that doesn't become completely clear until the very end.

There are a couple of chapters which have a strikingly different style, one the very first, which after reading I was a little concerned that I would not enjoy reading the book - fortunately I read on though and got to the good parts which make up by far the majority of the text.

The key to this book though is the relationships between the characters, which are developed exceptionally well and provide the impetus to turn what could have been a run of the mill cops and robbers story into a brilliant read.

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The Visitor

The Visitor

1st December 2010

In his fourth Jack Reacher novel, Lee Child makes up for some of the shortcomings of its predecessor, and returns to a style of story more akin to the first two. When a pair of female acquaintances from Reacher's past are found dead, his name is the top of the FBI's list of suspects. Not only does he have to clear himself, but find out who the real murderer is.

This is a return to form for Child, with Reacher once again being the oppressed loner of the earlier books, suspected of a crime he didn't commit. The story flows at a good pace, the reader learning more as Reacher does, and his amusing tactics make it a fun read.

The plot however is a little too transparent - it's too easy for the reader to understand what's happening and to predict what's coming up. This is the book's main drawback. Child doesn't seem to realise that the thrill of a mystery story is in trying to work it out, such that the investigator and reader figure it out together, whereas with this I ended up tearing my hair out at Reacher for not working it out sooner.

The other slight downside is the slightly out of character moping that Reacher does in the soap opera style part of the plot. This is necessary however for Child to dig himself out of the hole the last book left his character in, so can't' be criticised too much.

Overall, an enjoyable, quick and easy read - I just wish it wasn't so predictable.

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The Fry Chronicles

The Fry Chronicles

30th November 2010

The second volume of Stephen Fry's autobiography covers the next eight years of his life from when he started at Cambridge University through his early years in television comedy. There's a quick recap for those who missed Moab is my Washpot, and so prior reading is not required.

While it is an interesting insight into Fry's personality, it's not as much as the first volume. This one seems to focus much more on events that happened, rather than the formative occurrences of his younger years. As such there are a lot more mentions of his friends, using their real names now as it's too obvious from the context who they are, which on some occasions feels a bit like name dropping.

I enjoyed finding out a lot more about Fry's early work. I've always wondered how he fell into the love-him/loathe-him national treasure status that he occupies today and this book takes the reader through the first steps in reaching that, exploring his experiences in writing and acting, both serious and comedy, on stage and screen.

Despite the relatively short period the book covers, it does not feel as if the material is padding. Where appropriate, he dives into the future to explain a point, but some sections are stories that were told in the first book, which seemed a little out of place repeated. Overall, an insightful must-read for the Fry fan.

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Eleven

Eleven

28th November 2010

Although I've seen Mark Watson on TV many and on stage several times this is the first of his novels that I've read. It's a comic-tragedy or a tragic-comedy, written mostly in the present tense.

The story follows the life of Xavier Ireland, a late night radio DJ, as he tries to avoid helping people, find a girlfriend, and save his friend Murray's feelings. Ultimately though, it's a book about unintended consequences and the principle of six-degrees of separation. The story continues the narratives of the people Xavier meets and we find out how his actions affect their lives in ways he will never know.

Once I got used to the present tense of the narrative it was a nice easy read, although I couldn't hear it in the author's voice. There are parts of the story which are quite sad, which I wasn't really prepared for, but I hope my note above that this is also a tragedy has forewarned you.

I enjoyed reading this, it was an interesting concept presented in a very original style, and I think it will lead me to read more of Watson's novels in the future.

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The Delta Anomaly

The Delta Anomaly

25th November 2010

I decided to read this book because it is the first novel to be set in the parallel world created in the recent Star Trek movie, and despite its billing as a 'Young Adult' novel. It is set at the Academy while Kirk, Uhura and Bones are cadets, and sees them dealing with their studies, relationships and an alien invader who is stealing human organs.

Unlike other 'young adult' books I've read recently, this one takes it to the extreme. The writing style is that I would expect in a book aimed at a child of around ten, while some of the content I would like to think would be more suitable for someone in their mid-teens. As an adult reading, it comes across as very fast paced and lacking in detail. Chapters tend to end mid-scene with me wanting to find out what happened next, only for the next to jump forward several hours.

The plot is reasonable. It's a good mix of student life with adventure, and the two storylines intermingle well and feed off each other. Perhaps the non-academic aspects of studenthood are simplified and juvenilised a touch, but that may be a result of either the young target audience or it being based on the American eduction system. The plot will have a little more value to longer term Star Trek fans, who will get some of the implied references, but actually this kind of irritated me, as I wish the author had been a little more original.

The characters are by far the best thing about this book. Kirk and Uhura are portrayed exactly as in the recent film, and Bones and Spock make good back-ups to the pair, however Spock does feel a little shoehorned in. There is also some confused continuity regarding how far through their studies each of the characters is, with some disagreement with implications from the film.

Will I continue to read this series? I'm not yet sure. At first I thought that the writing was too young for me, but now I don't know if that will stop me. I might try the second one to see if this is how it will settle down.

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Crescent Dawn

Crescent Dawn

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23rd November 2010

While better than the recent Dirk Pitt spin-off novels this is certainly nothing compared to the earlier entries in the Cussler canon. Pitt and his two children are each working on completely unrelated projects which become coincidently intertwined, including a hunt for 'the Manifest' and a race to stop a terrorist attack on Istanbul.

The plot is particularly messy in this book, with an attempt to focus on two loosely related stories, one being archaeological and more in the spirit of the series, and the other being fighting terrorists, and more in line with the recent direction of Cussler's novels. I'm disappointed that the original uniqueness of the series has been eroded away and Pitt has just turned into another super-hero who stops World War Three.

On top of the multiple plots is a wide cast of characters, including Pitt's usual gang of hangers-on, and a volume of bad guys that is unprecedented, to the extent that I found it hard to keep track of which baddie went with which plot and what their motives and goals were. This book really needed to be simplified down to one storyline and stuck to that, and personally I think the archaeology one would be the one to go for.

Like Corsair, the Oregon Files novel that I was particular critical of two years ago, this book decides to deal with religion, something that I wish it would leave alone. I believe that Cussler should have stuck to writing about the sea, where he was comfortable, and had not ventured into terrorist territory.

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Zero Sum Game

Zero Sum Game

17th November 2010

Having really enjoyed David Mack's Destiny trilogy I was looking forward to finding out what he would do next to the Star Trek universe in the first of four Typhon Pact novels. I have to admit I was a little disappointed by it though.

The story follows Julian Bashir and Serena Douglas as they attempt to infiltrate a Breen shipyard to retrieve some stolen plans. The Breen as a culture are explored in much more detail than ever before and Mack makes them seem very real. Sadly the same can't be said of the two Starfleet characters, whose genetic enhancements are played up, come across as superheroes whose power is a touch too awesome to empathise with.

The story starts in a style that I found quite similar to a television episode, with a lot of short scenes running back to back, setting up the plot, before settling down to the main part of the story. I find it quite irritating that a large period of Deep Space 9's story has been missed out between last year's The Soul Key and the Destiny books, which means a number of changes have occurred that are sprung upon the reader. I only wish that they had filled this gap with story rather than trying to gloss it over.

This book makes a traditional slightly dodgy attempt to do romance, which Star Trek has always been particularly bad at. Unfortunately it comes across quite cheaply, and doesn't really seem all that necessary to the plot, though it does serve as some motivation to the characters. Perhaps it is something that will be explored further in the rest of the series.

Although it was not what I would describe as an excellent read, it was better than a lot of Trek books and I'm still looking forward to reading the next three.

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Towers of Midnight

Towers of Midnight

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11th November 2010

It's hard to digest Brandon Sanderson's second entry in the Wheel of Time series after just one fairly quick reading, but my initial impression is that he continues the story well, while restoring the passion that some of Robert Jordan's later novels lost.

Much of the focus of this book is on Perrin, and it serves as a vehicle for him to find his place in the world, much as the previous book did for Mat and Rand. Some characters are left with little coverage, however they are generally those who featured more in the previous episode and so the idea that these are just two parts of one overarching final novel comes across. Here, the final pieces are moved into place ready for next year's grand finale.

Sanderson's grasp of the characters is stunningly good, and the way he successfully emulates Jordan's style makes the book believable as a continuation. There are a few places where the language has become, what seems to me, more Americanised than that which Jordan used, which feels out of place breaking the flow of the narrative.

There is much more action in this than possibly any of the earlier novels, and despite its length this makes the story feel faster, and it seems like it has covered a lot more ground than on reflection it has. I was confused in some places as the way that Sanderson has split the plot leads to scenes being narrated out of chronological order, with much of some characters' storylines occurring simultaneously with other characters' events from the previous novel. This is of course nothing new for the series, and it makes sense that the stories were split this way, but means that at one time the same character was in two places at once. There are subtle attempts to make this clear in the narration but it is rarely made explicit and easy to forget.

The biggest frustration is that the books ends, which leaves me to wait for an entire year before I am able to read the conclusion. Sanderson has an irritatingly genius way of leaving the reader wanting more, and as I am a late comer to the Wheel of Time this will be my longest wait between instalments.

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The Last Dragonslayer

The Last Dragonslayer

4th November 2010

Jasper Fforde's latest novel tells the story of Jennifer Strange, fifteen-year-old acting manager of a wizard employment agency, which is suffering due to lack of magic. When the death of the last of the dragons is predicted, it is to her that people come looking for ways to profit.

Fforde's writing style is easily recognisable and easy to fall back into reading. It's a comfortable and friendly read that reminds me of the pleasure I've received from his previous works. His writing gets better and better, this and Shades of Grey demonstrating a master at work.

While it is technically a children's novel, this book has none of the patronising and simplistic nature of many examples of the genre. The world Fforde constructs is just as detailed, if a little less complex, than in his other novels, with a rich range of characters, animals and alternative history. The book will appeal just as much to adults as to children - especially with the dragonhide texture of the dust jacket!

I actually find that I have no criticism to make. The story does contain morals, the classic hallmark of the children's book, but Fforde has no qualms in bending them when necessary to make his fantastical setting seem real. I'm very glad that there is plenty of opening for a sequel to be very different.

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Three Act Tragedy

Three Act Tragedy

3rd November 2010

Three Act Tragedy is an interesting and refreshingly different Christie novel. Poirot himself only appears as a minor character until the end and much of the legwork is done by a team of enthusiastic amateurs who were witnesses to the first crime.

The act structure seems a little out of place in a novel and somewhat forced perhaps to fit the title, the first two acts being mostly taken up with the setting up of the plot. The final act is almost the entire second half of the novel, and it is here that I found the story picking up.

The cast of characters is nicely varied, and the setting more loose than many of Christie's mysteries, with the investigators travelling to meet each of the well rounded but equally implausible suspects. I did get a slight inkling of who the perpetrator might be but was by no means certain once the time came for the big reveal. My one complaint would be that the killer's motive jars rather with some of their other activity in the novel, making it seem slightly less plausible.

Overall I enjoyed this book, which was presented with a much less formal style than some others, possibly due to the new choice of protagonist being somewhat different to Poirot's usual companions (I have since read that he has actually appeared in a number of other Christie stories without Poirot). Christie also manages to weave in a quite plausible love story to keep the characters distinct and alive.

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The Testament

The Testament

29th October 2010

Grisham stretches his wings slightly with this novel, in which a rich old man writes an unusual will and leaves his lawyers to sort its execution. This leads alcoholic lawyer on a life changing mission to the South American jungles as Grisham attempts to write something more thriller than legal.

Overall, I'd say it was a success. I found the early chapters which established the characters and plot a little slow going, particularly with the large cast that was introduced before we even got to the main protagonist. Once the opening formalities were over though things really took off, with jungle adventures taking up the middle third and finally the typical legal wranglings. Grisham proves here that he can write other material, and it's no surprise that his first non-legal fiction follows soon after.

The plot certainly picked up in the later parts of the book, and though I found some of the religion grating at times, it is a product of the American religious climate and it was treated truly to the characters. Although I have little first hand experience the alcoholism was well portrayed and I found Nate to be one of the most rounded characters Grisham has created.

Although at the start I had my doubts this is actually a good, believable and well written novel, and I hope Grisham continues to get more realism and adventure into his later novels.

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A Big Boy Did it and Ran Away

A Big Boy Did it and Ran Away

24th October 2010

Brookmyre's sixth book tells the story of Ray Ash and Simon Darcourt, two former university friends who find themselves on either side of the law when Ash discovers that Darcourt is now the world's most wanted terrorist.

The first thing to notice is that Brookmyre's style involves a lot of use of the Scots dialect. This didn't pose much of a problem to me but to those less familiar with it may lead to some confusion. Ash is a gamer, and several of his sections of the narrative are presented in style and comparison to computer games like Quake, which is a nice touch.

The style continues that which I have noticed in Brookmyre's previous novels, of using the majority of the book to establish the characters by way of flashback. While the characters are interesting and there are key reveals from their past left until fairly late on, and in places does feel a little frustrating as the actual plot doesn't move forward very fast.

At almost five hundred pages though, this book is about a hundred pages too long. At that point my attention started to drift away from the plot, especially as the flashbacks continued. Otherwise it was a fairly entertaining read, although the violence somewhat overwhelms the comedy.

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Tripwire

Tripwire

20th October 2010

This third entry in Child's Jack Reacher series starts well. The character is the same one we know from the earlier novels, and his situation is familiar. From there however, it takes a different path to the past, and provides Reacher with some character development which he has lacked before.

While the story is as violent and restrainedly sexual as before, the plot itself seems less well defined, and the motivation of the characters is quite vague throughout, which means the story is less gripping than previously. After a detective sent to locate him dies, Reacher sets out to complete the final mission of his mentor - to find out what happened to a soldier lost in Vietnam.

I'm in two minds about this. From one perspective it's nice that Reacher has grown and he is now more than the two dimensional super-man that he has been before, however the direction seems a little out of character, and it doesn't feel like the changes are anything that is going to stick into the next book, which just makes them feel like window dressing for an ill-defined plot.

Overall though, it was an entertaining read. I wouldn't describe it as a page-turner though, mostly because I didn't find the characters believable and the events that interesting.a

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Daedalus's Children

Daedalus's Children

15th October 2010

Daedalus's Children is a very similar book to its predecessor. It continues the story of Enterprise's crew trapped in a parallel universe where they are allergic to the food, in the middle of a civil war that they feel partially responsible for.

Unlike the first book, this one doesn't just focus on Trip, adding in Captain Archer as a second character to align the reader to. Neither character comes across particularly well though - Tucker feels less stereotypically southern but otherwise both are a sort of bland superhuman without any real emotion. The other main characters from the series are just given rather cursory bit parts, with the possible exception of Travis who at least gets a little bit of action before his limelight is stolen away again.

Stern's grasp of science continues to be lacking, which is rather unfortunate for what is at root a science fiction novel. His interpretation of parallel universes leaves a lot to be desired and one particular statement renders the most important plot point contradictory. It's almost as if he had half heard of several concepts and rammed them together and tried to make up the rest without any research.

I found it hard to get going with this. My motivation was particularly sapped by the direness of the previous novel, and so I wasn't too disappointed that this book lived up to those expectations. I wouldn't recommend you bother win either half of the duology - they add nothing to the Star Trek experience.

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Anansi Boys

Anansi Boys

10th October 2010

I picked this up before I had read American Gods (or anything else of Gaiman's sole work) on the strength of Good Omens, and then put off reading it for over two years. I'm kind of glad that I did as I appreciated it more now than I think I would have when I read American Gods.

The story is an odd blend of comic-fantasy-crime-coming-of-age, where Fat Charlie must fight old enemies of his father to stop his brother destroying his life.

I must admit that I had my doubts, but the beginning of this book contained a nice amount of humour and the tone of the narrator (when it has one) is similar to Terry Pratchett's. The second quarter of the book though felt like it dragged a little, focussing more on the fantastical elements that it took me some time to get my head around. The second half though the plot picked up, and the range of characters increased to add more to the comedy and action, reminding me of the style of Christopher Brookmyre.

Gaiman's blended world of physical and meta-physical comes across very well in the end and the interspersion of Anansi stories helps to set the scene and build up some of the characters.

My edition contains a number of 'Extra' features at the end, including a deleted scene (interesting), Gaiman's notebook from when he started writing (fascinating) and some suggested questions for reading groups (to me, boring - trying to read deeper into novels is something I left behind me in school English lessons).

At the end of the book, I have enjoyed reading most of it, but remain unconvinced that Gaiman is an author to add to my regulars list.

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According to Jennings

According to Jennings

6th October 2010

The sixth Jennings novel depicts a summer term, presumably in Jennings' and Darbishire's second year in the perpetual Form Three at Linbury Court, although they seem to have moved dormitories.

As usual, confusion reigns supreme, from buying a leaving present to painting the swimming pool and attending a cricket match. This is one of the most believable of the series - even as an adult there is little here which is implausible, and the writing style of Buckeridge has grown to the point where the consequences are less and less predictable - or maybe my memories from reading as a child are just too faded to remember what happens.

Buckeridge seems to have become more confident in using a wider range of characters, with Bromwich, Pettigrew and Martin-Jones joining Venables, Temple and Attkinson in the supporting cast. This makes the school feel much more realistic.

My only quibble is that once again my copy is the version that has been updated by the author for the market of the early nineties, and personally I would have preferred the original. Overall, a good reread for an adult Nd a good book to read to a child, who I'd like to imagine would be in fits of laughter at the reader's attempts to replicate the spaceship sound effects as well as the characters do.

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Up Till Now

Up Till Now

4th October 2010

William Shatner's latest autobiography has a vey quirky feel to it, and focuses mainly on his acting career. Born in Canada, young Bill decided he wanted to act, against his father's wishes, and as soon as possible headed to Broadway under the promise that he would become a star.

The first third of the book covers the years before Star Trek, and Shatner describes in a very informal manner his formative years and his early acting life. He details a surprising number of stage and television performances. If you are looking for anecdotes about Shatner's time on Star Trek though you will be disappointed. These have already been covered in Shatner's previous works 'Memories' and 'Movie Memories'.

The middle section of the book I found hardest going. These were really the post-Trek years of the seventies. The final part picks up again. Shatner covers his tragic relationship with his third wife Nerine, and then demonstrates a real passion for his most recent role as Denny Crane in Boston Legal.

The one thing that irritated me was the feeling that the book was just an advertisement for Shatner's work, rather than a memoir about doing it. There is a running joke whereby Shatner tells the reader that things are available to buy from his website, but after being repeated in every chapter it gets a bit sickeningly shameless.

Overall it is an interesting read. The impression I get is mostly of honesty from Shatner and a sense that he is quite amazed by how well he has done out of his career. If you are a Shatner fan then it will probably be a must-read, but if you dislike him then you will probably find it a cheap sales pitch.

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Roadside Crosses

Roadside Crosses

29th September 2010

I bought this book after hearing that Jeffery Deaver was to write the next James Bond novel, to find out what his writing is like. I'm a little disappointed.

While it was a fairly enjoyable read, there are a lot of little niggles which irritated me as I read. This started right at the beginning. Throughout the book, Deaver has the habit of building up red herrings to absurd levels. Unfortunately it's blatantly obvious what's happening, and so rather than tempt me into reading on it leaves me wanting to sigh wearily.

The characters mostly come across as two dimensional. Apart from the main one, Kathryn Dance, they tend to be simply defined as a personality type and left at that. A few improve towards the end but not enough to make a difference.

The novel involves murders that are linked to a particular blog, social network and online game. This leads to a lot of jargon, and the way this is explained comes across as horribly patronising and inaccurate. My biggest quibble here is the use of l33tspeak, which is portrayed as commonplace on the web rather than being used by a small minority. Deaver's depiction of his made up MMORPG and social network as the biggest of their kind pushed my suspension of disbelief too far and really got in the way of the plot for me.

Finally, the characters are bad detectives. They jump to erroneous conclusions again and again with no consideration that they might be wrong. They only manage to make any progress through coincidence and being in the right place at the right time. It annoyed me that there was never a real sense of mystery nor an impression that this was a whodunnit style of novel.

Well, rant over. I still feel that I enjoyed reading it, even though not as much as other books of the genre. I'm still in two minds over whether to explore further into Deaver's canon, so will wait and see how the mood takes me in future. I'll still be buying the James Bond book though.

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Moab is my Washpot

Moab is my Washpot

23rd September 2010

Stephen Fry's autobiography (volume one...) covers the years from his first day of prep school to the day he seeks employment in one at age 20. He writes candidly about his emotions and experiences in an informal and somewhat rambling manner.

The casual writing style makes Fry feel very approachable and his asides make the book far more interesting a read than most in this genre. Although it's loosely chronological he flits around time every so often to fill in blanks and tell stories that would otherwise be missed, and to refer to his research while writing.

Fry's depiction of life at boarding school is much more vivid and detailed than most and he is very open about the sexual activities that occur - something that most literature fails to mention. A sense of realism pervades, and Fry goes out of his way to paint himself as an evil child - a mastermind of theft and lies - and yet in doing so still manages to endear himself to the reader.

I have really enjoyed this read and am looking forward to the new sequel and it's depictions of Fry's adult life and work.

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The Inimitable Jeeves

The Inimitable Jeeves

23rd September 2010

While some might see the carefree and idle lifestyle of Bertie Wooster as a bygone age it is surprising how familiar Wodehouse manages to put it over even almost ninety years on. The book seems a connected collection of short stories focussing on Bertie's troubles with his Aunt Agatha and an old school friend who is constantly falling in love.

Wodehouse's writing is easy to read and he manages to present Wooster in such a way that the reader can believe the character is something of an imbecile while the genius of the author still shines through.

The language is simple and avoids the trappings of modern comedy whole remaining amusing, though a little predictable in one or two places. There is no real over-arching plot and most tales are only a chapter or two long. In some places, the way that things from earlier episodes are re-capped makes it feel like each should be presented as a separate story as part of a series, whereas in others things that you would expect a reminder of are left unremarked upon.

Overall, it was an enjoyable quick read and escape, but I suspect reading too many of the Jeeves books in quick succession might soon get a little repetitive.

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Sandstorm

Sandstorm

18th September 2010

I bought this book on the basis of Amazon's recommendations - presumably based on my previous purchase of Clive Cussler novels - and have put off reading it for some time. I'm afraid I have to report that I found it ungripping to the extent that I gave up.

After only a few chapters there's little I feel I can say, other than two observe that my two main frustrations were the seemingly fantastical opening, and the author's bad attempts to write in a British English style, which soon falls down with the use of American words and expressions.

I'm afraid this is a failure on behalf of the recommendation system, but it possibly also suffered with my interests moving away from the 'adventure' novel and more toward the crime genre.

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Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express

18th September 2010

This is probably the most famous of Agatha Christe's Poirot novels, and yet I found it somewhat lacking. The story is set on the Orient Express, trapped in heavy snow, where one of the passengers is found murdered. It is left to Poirot to solve the case.

While this has all the hallmarks of a Christie novel - full of upper class characters who all have something to hide - I honestly don't think it deserves it's mantel. The plot is very formulaic, and the book is even divided into three sections: the set up, interviewing the suspects, and solving the case.

There are too many characters to easily take in, and Christie seems to realise this by continually reminding the reader of who is who. In the interview stage this is particularly tedious and quickly becomes repetitive. The nature of the book - limited to one location - seems almost better suited to the stage than the page.

Finally, I was dissatisfied with the conclusion. Not wanting to give it away I won't say any more than that I honestly did not see how the reader could be possibly able to call it right.

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The Street Lawyer

The Street Lawyer

14th September 2010

Grisham has returned to his standard pattern of story. Young lawyer becomes dissatisfied with his job at big firm. Leaves, sues them. Even the ending fits the normal plot.

Michael's life is changed when a homeless man storms his office and takes him hostage, and decides to switch his focus from earning money to helping people on the streets. The other characters seem to have been plucked from the Grisham plot of stock characters.

This book is a bit of a slow burner, with little in the way of action (of the courtroom variety) until the very end. It takes a long time setting up the character and situation before he starts to get moving. Even then, the plot chugs slowly on and doesn't pick up until the final couple of chapters.

What makes this book more interesting than previous Grisham novels though is that there is very little in the way of law involved. It's a lot more about people and highlighting the plight of the homeless. This is does very well, with various scenes and locations intricately described to give the reader an idea of what Michael is seeing.

I enjoyed reading this one, despite its speed and the conclusion being over a little quickly. The tidying up of loose ends at the end also left me a little unsatisfied.

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Boiling a Frog

Boiling a Frog

14th September 2010

Brookmyre's fifth novel sees the return of investigative journalist Jack Parlebane, thrown in jail for breaking and entering. It retains the same Scots dialect, black comedy and gory scenes as the previous novels, but the plot does not come across so well.

Most of the book is told out of chronological order - the main narrative being with Jack in jail, but interspersed with chapters detailing how this came to be and introducing the other elements of the plot. About two-thirds of the way through the whole thing switches back to 'real time' and from there the story flows much better.

The ideas behind the plot are as ludicrously believable and gloriously violent as usual, and the characters who populate Brookmyre's Scotland are well presented and varied. There are reappearances of a number of characters from earlier novels, some expanded in interesting directions and others seemingly there only as deus ex machina.

Overall, I can't say it was up to the usual standard, though certainly things picked up towards the end. I wouldn't recommend it over the other four I've read.

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Die Trying

Die Trying

13th September 2010

The second Jack Reacher novel is every bit as good as the first. This time Reacher is an innocent by-stander caught up in the action when an attractive FBI agent is kidnapped by a crazy militia.

The start is a little shocking, with a switch from the first person narrative of the previous book in the series to third for this one. I soon got used to it though and having finished can understand that this story would not have been possible to tell otherwise. The style of prose remains the same though - very informal, quite factual and intricately detailed.

Reacher has grown since the first book and developed weaknesses, which is good as before I thought he was a little bit of a super-man. The other characters are all well fleshed out and with few exceptions feel very realistic. I was a little dubious when the FBI and senior figures in the American government were brought in, but ultimately it was handled very well and didn't turn into another military book like Clancy et al.

I've enjoyed this book and am now prepared to label myself a fan of Lee Child and prepared to go out and keep buying. Looking forward to more already.

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I Shall Wear Midnight

I Shall Wear Midnight

6th September 2010

Terry Pratchett's latest Discworld novel for 'younger readers' lives up to his usual high standards. Tiffany Aching is now 16 and technically a fully qualified witch who has returned to her steading on the chalk. Unfortunately, something much wore than she has dealt with before is chasing her, and she's also lost her boyfriend.

This book serves to round off Tiffany's coming of age. It draws a fair amount on the events of the previous two novels and to a point the plot is fairly similar. Not too similar though, and in fact, what is nominally the main plot is just a vehicle for the rest of the story.

The plot does seem quite slow to get going, but from around halfway it picks up the pace and switches into unputdownable mode. A number of familiar characters make cameo appearances, including one who has not been seen for some time, and there are a few tantalising hints about where the next Discworld novel might be going.

In all, another excellent tale that gives Tiffany a nice send off. I do fear a little though that it means this is the last of the witches stories, as the so-called 'adult' series has recently been a lot more Ankh-Morpork focussed.

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Lord Edgware Dies

Lord Edgware Dies

3rd September 2010

This is one of my favourites of the Christie novels I've read so far. It's fairly traditional in its set up but keeps the reader guessing.

Poirot is hired by Lady Edgware to obtain a divorce for her, but even after the Lord grants his consent, she is still witnessed to murder him, despite also having a watertight alibi at a dinner party.

The reason I loved this book was because I found it very easy to come up with my own theory, and to adapt it as each piece of evidence came to light - ultimately resulting in my correctly identifying the murderer. Admittedly, in one or two places this made some elements feel a little to obvious for the characters to miss, but then it is written from Captain Hastings viewpoint and so Poirot's thought processes can remain a mystery.

I enjoyed it and can only hope that this signifies something of a return to form for the Poirot novels, which I am working my way through in publication order.

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Mystery Man

Mystery Man

1st September 2010

Mystery man is an interesting book. It starts promisingly with a good set up but then falls into a bit of a pit as more detail about the main character (whose name we never learn) and his neurotic nature are revealed.

The character is the owner of a specialist crime bookshop in Belfast who takes on an investigative role when the private detective next door vanishes.

But then the character gradually reveals himself to be a repressed, almost autistic, child of neglecting parents with an absurd number of foibles that start off mild and believable but become more and more extreme as we go. Ultimately it is over the top and detracts from the focus of the novel as a crime story.

It's first person and it is well written. Some of the characters do come across as a bit stereotypical but that might just be because we are seeing through the eyes of the nameless lead. I just found that the pace of character building was slow and over-dominant.

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The Lost Symbol

The Lost Symbol

1st September 2010

The final book in the Robert Langdon trilogy (one can only hope) tries to jump the shark even more than before. This time Brown ventures too far into the realms of fantasy for my liking in what should be a mystery thriller.

Langdon is caught up in a bizarre and intricate plot to uncover the deepest secrets of the Freemasons, which apparently include ancient mysteries of telekinesis.

Unfortunately, Brown seems only able to replicate what he's done before. Racing around Washington DC is just reminiscent of racing around Paris and Rome in the previous novels, and the bad guy is a merger of the earlier albino monk and camerlengo.

My biggest problem though was the focus on pseudoscience and religion. The scientific claims made about mind control are clearly ludicrous, and Brown's idea of the scientific process seems lacking in awareness of key aspects such as collaboration and peer review. His views on religion are condescending and most likely offensive to the relevant believers as well as to me.

Overall, the writing style has improved a little, though the chapters are all about four pages long, which means that as soon as something interesting happens in a scene we cut away. There is also a really annoying tendency to describe a big reveal to one of the characters and leave the reader hanging, unaware of what it is. Once would be okay, but Brown does it again and again.

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Daedalus

Daedalus

27th August 2010

I've had this book for several years, probably since it was published, but until now had not got around to reading it. I soon found out why.

The book focuses on Trip Tucker, as Enterprise and its crew are captured by an alien dictator who seemingly appears out of nowhere while they are investigating a spatial anomaly. Trip manages to evade capture only to find himself being drawn into the local war.

The style of writing is horrendous in its simplicity. I found it really hard to focus on the words and found I was only skim reading the entire novel, something I've never known to happen before. It's writing in a very casual manner, almost like a first draft where the author is just bashing out whatever comes to mind rather than caring about how it comes across.

I found the absence of the other main characters annoying. I like ensemble pieces from my star trek novels, and even Hoshi (who is misnamed throughout as Ensign Hoshi rather than Ensign Sato) who seems to be tagging along for the ride is soon conveniently written out. The romance sub-plot feels unnecessary and in there only to pad out the length, and the main plot itself is filled with thinly veiled coincidences. Its most redeeming feature is the end, which gives a nice 'ah-ha moment' and a lot of earlier things start to click into place. It almost makes up for some of the really bad science from earlier.

Overall I have to say I was disappointed. I'm not sure how I'm going to bring myself to read part two. This came over as a badly thought through and badly written implementation of what could have been a nice idea.

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The Gathering Storm

The Gathering Storm

&

23rd August 2010

Book 12, which is not now the final episode, is the first Wheel of Time novel since Robert Jordan's death in 2007, and Brandon Sanderson proves himself a worthy successor.

The style is somewhat different, the chapters shorter, the viewpoint switching more frequently and the action certainly speeding up - but then it has to to fit so much in. While I would hesitate to say that this style was better, it certainly wasn't worse. The action grips the reader unlike recent books in the series - you are reading because it's exciting rather than to find out what happens.

Sanderson's use of the characters is masterful as well, continuing their storylines naturally and bringing some to their concussion quickly and easily while giving others more of a challenge. The pieces are boldly moving now towards the end game, and the tension is ramping up.

It's clear from reading that there is no way this could have fitted into a third of a book - it fits so well into this format, bringing both Rand and Egwene's plot-lines to a dramatic point for a break. The only let-down is the lack of action from Perrin, and the total absence of Elayne.

I'm glad that I've read this now rather than when released, as waiting twelve months for the next instalment would have been torturous. Easily worth five stars.

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Jennings' Diary

Jennings' Diary

18th August 2010

I barely remember any of this Jennings book from when I was younger, which made it a good read today. The tale of Jennings' diary ties together four major events this term from the missing cufflink to the form three museum.

My copy was, disappointingly, the 1980s 'updated' text, which puts the coinage into metric and makes another part of the story seem less likely. However I don't imagine much else has changed, and perhaps with a goal of modern children reading for themselves it is not too bad a change to make.

I found this to be the best flowing of the Jennings books I've reread so far as an adult. The overall concept of the diary is used very well to tie what would otherwise be separate strands together. This is one of the things that makes me love Jennings far more than Just William books, which are mostly just a stream of disconnected short stories.

I think it would be fair to say this is one of the best novels in the set, although if I couldn't remember it, maybe there is better to come.

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Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years

Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years

16th August 2010

I've been intending to read this for some time but was intimidated by its size, however I now forced myself to give it a go and found it to be quite enjoyable.

As it says on the cover, this edition covers the period roughly from the days when Monty Python was the first inkling of an idea up until just after the release of Life of Brian. The format is literally Palin's daily diary entries, and most of the time they appear to be unedited. Footnotes abound however to explain brief bits of background or to explain who various people are.

It's a really interesting insight not only into Palin but the whole python team, especially having be written at the time rather than from hazy, rose-tinted hindsight. There is also a lot of coverage of his other activities which has prompted me to consider looking them up on DVD.

There's no way of escaping the fact though that it is a very long book, and not something that can be quickly read. My usual problem with reading diaries is that I skip over the subheadings that are the entry dates, and this is again the case here, which in places leads me to lose track of the passage of time.

A lot of the entries make mention of food. Palin takes great pains to mention what he has eaten, where and with whom. Fairly typical content for a diary I suppose but it becomes a bit like a joke to me as I read about more and more meals

A good read and well deserving of four stars. I will probably read the sequel, though this volume does end at a convenient point, but most likely not for a while, as I have lots of other books to read too.

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Peril at End House

Peril at End House

9th August 2010

This is a fairly standard Poirot novel featuring Captain Hastings as the narrator. Poirot decides to intervene when a young lady is shot at within spitting distance of his holiday accommodation.

I'm afraid that I was not particularly impressed by this one. There were probably too many characters and it seemed a lot of effort for both the reader and Poirot to keep track. Indeed, the detective had to resort to writing down lists of the suspects several times to keep track.

While by the end of the novel everything does finally add up, it seems that the clues were rather lacking, and there was nothing there for the reader to get their teeth into to try to solve the mystery themselves. I think Christies has possibly gone a little too far with trying to out fox her audience.

Overall though its not bad for a quick read. Certainly more entertaining than a lot of what's available.

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Seven Ancient Wonders

Seven Ancient Wonders

9th August 2010

I have attempted to read Matthew Reilly's 'Scarecrow' in the past but had to give up fifty pages in, but decided to give him another chance.

I'm afraid to say it didn't last more than four pages. I just couldn't cope with the writing style at all. It's very bitty. With lots of short sentences that are hard to read and refuse to flow. The jilted feel just seems to be trying to force you to slow your reading down and to me its wrong to do that to your audience.

So I'm afraid that's the definitive end to my patronage of Reilly's works. I also note that this series, which initially appeared to be planned for a full seven novels, has been pulled back to just three. I like to think this shows that it's not just me who cannot stand it.

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The Partner

The Partner

8th August 2010

This is the most disappointingly irritating John Grisham novel I have read so far. The writing is Grisham's usual - no complaints over style - but the plot is awful.

Patrick is a criminal who faked his own death and stole $90 million from his employer, yet he is the star of the show and we are meant to sympathise, despite learning relatively little about how or why he did it until fairly late on. He's now been caught, and the book tells the story of his attempts to get away with it.

Forget what I said earlier. The style is awful. Almost the entire plot is played out as dialogue. Between Patrick and his lawyer, Patrick and his judge, the FBI and the victims etc. As such there is no action at all beyond the first chapter. Everything is people talking about events in the past.

And finally, the end, while set up to be the traditional Grisham conclusion, suddenly departs from that track at the last second leaving the reader feeling unfulfilled. There's no hint whatsoever that this is what's coming.

So overall this gets three stars from me. It's entertaining from the point of view that you keep reading because you want to know all the details, but infuriating because of the points above.

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The Greatest Show on Earth

The Greatest Show on Earth

31st July 2010

I started reading this reluctantly, not because I disagree with its sentiment but because in previous books by Dawkins that I've read he has come across as a little too aloof and over the top. This book did contain a little too much overt criticism of what Dawkins describes as 'history deniers' - especially as these are exactly the people he claims to be writing this book for.

I got over my religious phase several years ago, and while I have returned to accepting evolution as scientific fact, this book is just what I, as a non-biologist, needed to explain the evidence it has left behind. Dawkins fills the book with examples from nature and the details of relevant studies and its hard not to want to know more. He knows exactly how much detail to go into though and stops before going to far. The level of science in the book is suitable for anyone regardless of their background.

What I think many readers will not like though is Dawkins choice of language. Not only is he very harsh to those who do not agree with evolution, but the language he uses comes across as written in a quite snooty tone. He uses lots of long words where shorter synonyms would do.

Each chapter deals with a separate aspect of the evidence, from fossils to molecular clocks and deals with each to a sufficient degree that the lay reader can understand the point.

I don't think that anti-evolutionists will be persuaded though. Dawkins is a fantastic teacher but only to those who already want to learn. I think those of sufficient religious inclination will find enough to put them off. Those who, like me, want to understand though will find this an excellent read. Great book - probably Dawkins best.

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Jennings and Darbishire

Jennings and Darbishire

25th July 2010

The fourth book in the Jennings series seems to lose its way slightly compared to its predecessors. The plot focusses on the chaos that ensues after Jennings receives a printing kit for his birthday and starts his own newspaper. The fact that it has been titled 'Jennings and Derbyshire' rather than 'Jennings' Newspaper' already suggests how weakly the plot will hold together.

My copy was, once again, a 1980s updated version, with decimalised currency replacing the original, but strangely leaving a little casual racism.

The first section, while once again involving fish (which I'm not very keen on) was funny, with twists that I didn't spot coming even though I've read the book before. The middle section was less so, being almost awkward in places but still believable. The final section though seemed out of place in the storyline and a little bit forced.

Don't get me wrong, I still think that the Jennings books make fantastic reading, but this certainly wasn't the best in the series.

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One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night

One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night

23rd July 2010

The fourth comedy thriller from Christopher Brookmyre tells the story of an ill-fated school-reunion, where old friends reacquaint themselves until some unexpected guests show up - with guns.

The book is addictive reader, and possible Brookmyre's most captivating novel by far. There are a large number of characters, but they are a very believable bunch, all with their own quirks and motivations for attending. The first half of the novel deals with a selection of the attendees, establishing the people they were at school and are now - in fact, this to me was the more interesting half of the book.

The best feature of this book is the timing. Over and over again things suddenly became clear in my mind - I would fall in almost exactly half a page before the characters realised the same thing. This to me makes for perfect plotting - I find it really frustrating when something is so incredibly obvious but the characters are oblivious, and almost as bad when the characters can think something up that wasn't just as clear to the reader. This book however is perfect in this way.

My only criticism is that the second half was not quite as interesting as the first. This was where the action kicked off. I also found the presence of retired police office MacGregor a little strange, as a lot of his scenes seemed as padding just to justify his appearance.

Overall though I really enjoyed this one and am once again looking forward to reading the next Brookmyre. A fantastic read.

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In Your Dreams

In Your Dreams

21st July 2010

This book is remarkably similar to its predecessor. Paul Carpenter is baffled by his job and falling madly in love with the new girl in the office. Magical things are going on around him and he's dragged into the action in a comic battle between good and evil.

I was surprised by how quickly this book resets things, with Paul's girlfriend, who he spent the entire previous book wooing, exiting the narrative almost immediately as if the author couldn't bear to write about his character in a relationship.

I still feel ambivalent about this series. The books start really slowly and I don't get into them until halfway through. I can't identify with the character who seems to have no motivation or interest in anything. The plots are confusing and random - with most novels you get to the end and get an 'of course' moment, where everything slots together, but with this one that never happened. Despite this there are also parts which are obvious right from the start. And yet I still think I should be enjoying reading it.

So only three stars. I think I enjoyed it, but I can't think of why - I can only come up with negative things to say.

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Alex's Adventures in Numberland

Alex's Adventures in Numberland

13th July 2010

Despite its rather cheesy title, this is a good primer on the basics of modern mathematics. It covers aspects from the invention of number right up to hyperbolic surfaces, mixing the maths with its history to tell the story.

The text is very accessible and the reader needs only the most basic prior knowledge of maths to comprehend. The only complicated parts are held back into the appendices and could be skipped by those not inclined to want to know more. Unfortunately I have more than a passing acquaintance with mathematics, and so for me some of the material covers was quite basic. For me it was too simplistic and focussed too much on things I already knew, but for someone without a mathsy background I think it would serve as an excellent entry point.

The author has approached maths with the methodology of a journalist, and so a lot of the book describes his meeting and interviewing some of the top mathematicians of the current era, humanising what could have been a rather dry subject. He is also adept at painting pictures with his words of the places and people he sees.

There are a couple of niggles though. The centre of the book contains a full colour glossy photograph section illustrating his travels, but the text never refers to them so the whole section feels disjointed. Also, the book ends very abruptly, the final chapter flowing into a couple of summary paragraphs without q real conclusion. I believe the book could have explored further - it barely touched calculus and only gently nudged university level material. I feel that having laid the foundations as he had the author could easily have continued a little further to at least mention some of where maths is now and looks to be going.

So, in summary, a good basis in mathematics, but more for the non-mathematician than someone with a real interest.

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Killing Floor

Killing Floor

8th July 2010

This book introduces Jack Reacher, a former military policeman who is enjoying his freedom, wandering around America, when he is unexpectedly arrested for a murder he didn't commit. Reacher joins the investigation as things get personal.

Child sets the tone well at the start of the book, introducing Reacher and his background in a way that feels completely natural. The reader immediately gets a grasp of who Reacher is and how he works. The other characters are also well described and distinctive, and the location is set up to give the reader an excellent picture of how things lie.

There are some things that frustrated me though. At least three of the fairly major plot points I could see coming a mile off - and as the entire narrative is in the first person it seems implausible that the protagonist would not think the same. There were other things though that I didn't see coming, and on reflection realised that the clues had been there, although I think there are a few red herrings too.

Overall, the book is a little on the violent side, although it's described fairly quickly and doesn't go into too many gory details. One or two parts are a little too extreme though. It's a good read which starts well, droops a little, and then picks up again towards the end. I may just pick up the sequel.

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Black Coffee

Black Coffee

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2nd July 2010

This is an interesting read - a novelization of a Christie play where Poirot is called to investigate a potential case of espionage but which turns quickly to a murder situation. Osborne makes a good job of emulating Christie's style, and the personalities of Poirot and Hastings are spot on.

It does however read like an adaptation, Osborne has taken no liberties at all it seems, so almost the entire book takes place in one room. The actions are described just like in a script, obviously necessary for the reader to see the clues, but it could have been better disguised.

It's very short as a novel, even for a Christie, and I read through it in a couple of hours at most. As such, it doesn't give the reader a lot of time to consider what has happened and try to solve the mystery themselves. I imagine on the stage it has an interval which serves this purpose. There are several rather distracting references to Poirot's other cases - presumably a stage tactic to sell books - which seem out of place, especially as one of them (afaik) had not been published when this play was written, and so I have not yet read it.

Overall, it was an okay read, but nothing special. I could easily visualise it on the stage, however, and think it was probably better suited to its original medium.

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Knife of Dreams

Knife of Dreams

1st July 2010

Book eleven is, in my opinion, one of the best in the series. It's nice to know that Jordan went out on a high, as this is the final instalment that he completed before his death. Mat tries to escape the Seanchan tracking him, Perrin fights to regain his wife from the Shaido, Elayne fights for her crown and Egwene adapts to life as a prisoner of the Tower.

Its a good book because the plot advances at a reasonable pace. It's far from fast, but that's not what you want from an epic on this scale. Plenty of time is taken over the characters and their environments, but stuff continues to happen.

It is clear now that Jordan is getting things ready for the end of the series. Several key storylines that have twisted through the past few volumes are wrapping up, but a few surprises appear. The different groups of characters are beginning to move back together again, and I'm hoping this means an end is in sight to the lack of communication that has interfered with so many of their plans so far.

My earlier criticisms of plot-lines existing purely to keep characters occupied now seems unfounded, as each has grown, presumably in a way that will bear fruit come the last battle. Despite this, the same appears to occur now to Aviendha, who is quickly shunted out of the way. Rand himself suffers again from a fairly limited amount of page time as well which would have been frustrating if the others had not been so interesting. The only other fault in this vein was hat Egwene's story did not continue into the latter half of the book.

As I said, a good farewell to an excellent author. I can only hope that Brandon Sanderson can finish the story off just as well.

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Jennings' Little Hut

Jennings' Little Hut

26th June 2010

I was quite excited by the prospect of Jennings' Little Hut - the first Jennings book that's new to me (though not itself new) for about 18 years. Why this was not in the released set I bought as a child, I really don't know. I was not disappointed.

My first assumption had been that the little hut in question would be a garden shed type of affair, but instead it turned out to be a homebuild made with reeds. I found this fairly hard to picture, and thought the book would have been improved by some good illustrations. My eighties versions at least had cover pictures which would have depicted the hut.

The plot covers about three storylets - about typical for this series - though each revolve around the hut in some way. The first I found quite difficult to read, but only because its focus is a goldfish, of which I have a minor phobia.

Another thing I was a little displeased by was hat the text in my copy was the updated 1980s text, which jars a little with the setting. There are a couple of places where he changes are obvious (recurrences to dates and currency) but beyond that I don't know where the differences lie.

Apart from these things I really enjoyed having some 'new' Jennings material to read, the jokes were still fantastic, the misunderstandings classic and the writing genius. It does away with an issue I experienced in the past as it explicitly explains what class Jennings is in and how long he has been at the school, which is something I had previously felt lacking.

I'm really glad that I've started rereading these and finding the books I missed. I would recommend these to anyone as the best of children's fiction.

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Articles of the Federation

Articles of the Federation

23rd June 2010

This is the first official political thriller from the Star Trek universe, and covers the events of the first year of Nan Bacco's tenure as Federation President, dealing with the Klingons and Romulans, first contacts, unruly councillors and the repercussions of the events of A Time for War, a Time for Peace.

I found it a difficult book to get into. There was no particular overarching plot, but rather a series of threads that weaved throughout the story. It is divided up into chunks with gaps of several weeks or months between, focussing on key periods, but also breaking up the narrative's flow.

On the other hand, there's a really good feature where the reader is taken out from the main characters into the company of a random Federation citizen watching a TV political discussion. It helps to fill in the gaps between the sections and to give an alternative set of viewpoints on the events of the plot. The segments do seem a little implausibly short for a TV show though, which I wonder whether is a symptom of decreasing attention spans in the 24th century, or poetic licence on behalf of the author.

The characters are mostly likeable and the main ones easy to get a grip on. Some of the more minor characters I found a little hard to follow though, especially as there were quite a lot of them that were dropping in and out. Overall, I enjoy this different style of Trek novel though, and this is a good way to round off the 'A Time To' series and set up the next set of novels.

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The Spy

The Spy

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18th June 2010

Isaac Bell's investigation into a weapons designer's death turns into an early attempt at US counter-espionage as he battles with the agent known as 'the Spy'. It's a disappointing twist which takes what was a promising series of historical detection into something more akin to a modern day thriller.

The previous Isaac Bell novels have focussed on investigating murder and sabotage - this is the first time the crime has become one of international warfare. Bell's character is more and more anachronistic, and seems to be written as a modern thinker in a backward world. The story goes out of it's way to include anti-Semitism that Bell is quick to refute, but it is entirely unnecessary to the plot. In several of the action scenes Bell seemed to almost become Juan Cabrillo, the main character in Cussler's Oregon Files series, to the extent that at some points I was confused by his lack of false leg.

Unlike the previous two novels, which were very much train and car based, this one stars boats. While this is more the traditional Cussler arena, it felt out of place. The characters have become less well defined. Bell is no longer an ace investigator hunting his prey, but more bumbling along making very little progress until 'the spy' reveals himself. Marion has become a famous film director (which seems implausible for a woman of that era), and although conveyed for the most part as a strong modern female suddenly goes soppy at the end.

The title character is irritating in the way he is played. Throughout he is referred to just as 'the spy', as if to justify the book's title, even when we know who he is (although as we later find it is to keep his alter ego from us), which is really grating. The book continues the idea of having an epilogue set years later, which before has served to wrap up loose ends, but this time it's completely redundant to the plot. Another chapter dealing with the immediate aftermath would have been more satisfying.

Overall then it's a fall from the lofty heights of 'The Chase' - the first Isaac Bell novel - and I'm saddened that such a wonderful character has been allowed to be treated this way. I think Cussler may be spreading himself too thinly with these books and it is leading the writing to suffer.

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The Runaway Jury

The Runaway Jury

14th June 2010

This is another very good legal thriller. Grisham explores the courtroom from the point of view of the jury this time, and the opposing groups of lawyers as they attempt to influence the jury in their favour. The twist is that someone on the jury wants to influence the lawyers. It's addictive reading and a really interesting plot that I've enjoyed reading.

I read the first half twice, which is something I've never tried before. I lost my copy when I was halfway through, and when I finally bought a replacement, six weeks later, decided to reread from the start so I didn't miss anything. I was really surprised by how easy it was to read again. The first time through I was quite confused about what was going on, but on the second go every fell into place and I understood straight away what the characters were up to.

Grisham keeps the plot developing at a good pace, especially amid events that could quickly become repetitive - given that each day has an identical structure for a lot of the characters. There are however a lot of unnecessary references that are not followed up on, some aspects that are never really explained, and some repetition.

My main criticism is that it ends like every other Grisham novel. It does have a nice little unexpected twist, but ultimately it comes down to the same thing. Is that what Grisham is planning once his writing career has earned him enough money? It's just a little awkward when you know every time how it's going to end.

Overall though the plot is genius, and he manages to keep you guessing on exactly how things are going to turn out right until the end. The whole story does come across a little like an epistle against tobacco, which didn't bug me but to those with differing views it may grate.

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At Home

At Home

13th June 2010

While this is an interesting read, I'm not entirely convinced that it does what it says on the tin. From Reading the blurb and product descriptions on websites, the impression I got was that it was literally a history of his house. Okay so that doesn't sound like too attractive a proposition, but I expected a little more focus on the house.

Instead, it's a social history of the last 150 years, using the house as just a structure for telling the anecdotes and factoids that Bryson has selected. The focus of the history is an odd mix, jumping back and forth between the UK and US. Despite that, I still found it an accessible read without having to know too much American history. I'm not sure whether the same would be true for an American reader.

As the content goes, it's presented in a manner that reminds me of schoolbooks for young children. Details are presented a fact with little or no discussion of how much evidence there is or dissenting views. I think it might just be that wikipedia has tuned me into thinking differently - and after every factoid I was thinking 'and what's your source for that?' Particularly as a lot of the claims seemed implausible, such as Thomas Jefferson being the inventor of the french fry.

Overall it was an entertaining light read, but I can't honestly say I took away anything I would call knowledge. I was disappointed that the history if the actual house was sidelined, and some areas were gone into in too much detail. I'm not sure I would actually recommend it.

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The Mystery of the Blue Train

The Mystery of the Blue Train

6th June 2010

In this adventure, Poirot investigates a murder that takes place on the 'Blue Train' - en route to the south of France. A surprising number of people who knew the victim are also aboard, and it's down to Poirot to work out who dunit.

This novel starts off a little differently to a lot of Poirot stories, with the focus on a diverse group of other characters and the great detective himself not putting in an appearance until fairly late. Almost the entire story is told from the points of view of the guest characters, with Poirot flitting in and out of their daily lives throughout. I thought it became obvious quite early in the story who the murderer was, but maybe that's just me getting better at this sort of thing.

The mystery was fairly standard fare. Poirot didn't seem to be particularly bothered about solving it, which was awkward. There was an interesting tie-in with the world of Miss Marple, and quite a collection of comic moments, particularly with a young female laughing at the outdated ideas of the elderly. Really it's a bit frustrating though as there is not a lot of action and the events don't really seem to advance the plot.

Most irritating of all is the blurb on the back of my copy, which as good as gives away the ending, and refers to a rather minor event as if it's the entire plot. Overall, it was an okay read, but nothing special, and still not nearing the best of Christie's work that I've read.

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Consequences

Consequences

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5th June 2010

This book made a refreshing change from the usual style of Torchwood books. Rather than one story, this contains five loosely connected short-stories, ranging from early 20th century Torchwood hunting baby snatchers to post-series two Torchwood battling drug-dealers, and the strange case of Nina Rogers.

Each of the stories is the perfect length - taking me around 20 minutes to read, just right for my daily commute. The spread through time is good too, as it means each tale can focus on different characters and the reader does not bore. The subtle way in which the stories are tied together is pleasing, and as you realise reading through, elements of these have been seeded in the earlier Torchwood novels.

The second story had a disappointing ending. I was hoping when I read it that that meant it was leaving issues to be resolved later on, but it didn't, rather just serving to tie into the next story. The structure of the fifth story was also a little strange, but once the end was reached it mostly made sense. One of the problems with the short format is that there is not much space for explanation. The origins of certain elements are not gone into in much depth, which does leave the reader wondering in places.

Overall though a pleasant change. It does seem as if this might be the last Torchwood novel, at least until series four (if it ever emerges), and it's a good way to round off the set on a high.

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The Silent Sea

The Silent Sea

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1st June 2010

I was pleasantly surprised by the latest entry in Clive Cussler's Oregon Files series. Cabrillo and his crew uncover a rather complicated plot involving missing scientists, a crashed rocket, a treasure pit, an Argentine invasion and a Chinese junk.

Although aspects of the plot were somewhat akin to a Dirk Pitt story, the characters deal with them in a very different manner. Despite the complexity, the plot is more believable than a lot of the recent Cusslers, although the continued presence of the same bad guy stretches the imagination a little. The action moves at a good pace and shifts from location to location rapidly throughout.

The guest character is once again the standard love interest, although it is mixed up a little as she is connected to a different character. Juan ends up as the star, which while understandable does go against what I though was one of the key elements of the Oregon series: that it's an ensemble piece. Max and Linda (imo the author's favourite character) do get their share of page time, but the others have a much smaller role than I think they deserved.

Another criticism I have is that there were several continuity errors. For example, two of the soldiers' ranks seemed to shuffle about throughout. There were also some parts that I felt were unnecessary, particularly the digs about the UN being useless and the new President being weak on international affairs. This is meant to be entertainment, not political commentary. Overall though an encouraging read, although there's still some way to go to match the past glories of the author.

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The Antipope

The Antipope

28th May 2010

This book made me feel like a child again - and not in the good way. I felt as if I was reading something that was way above my head. Something that seemed like it was good, but something that I wasn't quite there intellectually to appreciate. The last time I remember feeling like this was aged 11 reading an Iain Banks.

The plot has a very episodic feel to it. Some self-contained events happen, then there is a gap of a few weeks, then some more events happen to the same characters in the same place. The characters themselves are hard to get a grip on. I found it hard to distinguish between them. They all seemed to be found drinking in every scene, and using forty words when one would do. In fact, the trend to using overly-flowery language is the main thing that makes this book difficult to read - it doesn't flow and it pulls the focus away from the story.

A lot of the elements early on in the book seem unnecessary and have little to no bearing on the main and later events. And other characters and storylines are present purely as a transparent set up for the end. I would have preferred something that blended better.

Overall, I found the plot was slow-moving, the characters irritating, and the language over-the-top. However, there were also moments where I actually laughed out loud, which is something that I can't say about many books. So that's pulled it back. I don't want to say it was bad because there's part of me that thinks it's probably very good but it's slightly beyond me to 'get it'. There were times though when I had to force myself to read it, so I'm afraid I don't expect to be continuing with the series int he near future.

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Not the End of the World

Not the End of the World

25th May 2010

This is quite a strange novel. Mostly in terms of it's structure. The story focuses on Luther St John, a Christian fundamentalist who predicts his god will send a destructive tidal wave to destroy LA. He then goes out of his way to ensure he's right. Meanwhile Scottish photographer Steff falls head over heels with the model he is shooting. It's an odd blend of comedy crime romance that succeeds in pulling off all three.

The structure is weird because about half of the narrative consists of flashbacks explaining the history of each character in turn. Annoyingly with the exception of Larry, the police sergeant, who hints at elements of history throughout but never goes into much detail, and Steff - together the two main characters. As a character building exercise it's very interesting, but it slows down the action and in some places (particularly St John's history) is too distracting from the main focus.

The plot is surprisingly believable, despite the extreme nature of the fundamentalists, and their background is fleshed out enough to give a satisfactory insight into how they got where they are. The story starts with quite a large number of disparate plots which tie together nicely by the end.

There are a few subtle hints that this is the same world as Brookmyre's previous novels, but done well enough that if you have not read them you won't spot them, unlike some books I have read which seem to plug earlier stories by the same author. Other than the fundamentalists being very annoying in places (but that's realism!) it's been a good read, despite some places having to force myself through to get back to the story.

The presentation was a little disappointing. The chapter headings in my copy match the previous (blue) cover, rather than the new (green) cover that my book has, and I felt the publisher could at least have tried for a consistent design.

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New Spring

New Spring

20th May 2010

This has actually surprised me by how good it is, and is probably my favourite book in the whole series (so far). It's a refreshing change to the ongoing storyline that we're plodding through in the main series, but is still a part of the same story which gives an excellent insight into the backstory.

This book tells the story of Moiraine, and how she and Siuan begin on their mission to find the Dragon Reborn. It covers some of their time as Accepted in the White Tower - a situation we have not seen much of in the main series. It also delves a little into Lan's backstory, and how he and Moiraine meet.

The characters are excellently portrayed - they are visibly the same characters that we've come to know twenty years later in the books so far, but with an element of youth which allows the reader a much better view into the workings of their minds. The only one I think was not particularly well depicted is Lan. His story is short and fragmented and shown through his thoughts rather than his actions, which a lot of the time mean there is not enough detail to understand what has happened.

The world itself is slightly different from the one we have come to know and it's fascinating to see how it has changed in the following decades. There are also a few little hints that the reader will pick up upon, and characters mentioned in passing that we know will return in the future.

It's a short book, at least on the Wheel of Time scale, but that certainly does not detract from it's value. I very much enjoyed it, and hope that this will continue in Jordan's last book in the series, Knife of Dreams.

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Jennings Follows a Clue

Jennings Follows a Clue

16th May 2010

By the second book in the Jennings series he has settled in at Linbury Court and while still slightly an outsider from the gang he's certainly no longer being treated like the "new boy". After Mr Carter reads him a Sherlock Holmes story, Jennings decides to form the Linbury Court Detective Agency, and sets out to investigate the mysteries of the stolen sports cup and the light in the sanatorium.

This edition has stuck to the original text, rather than others I've read which have (for example) converted money into decimal coinage. I don't think it detracts from the story in any way and for a young reader would be a good opportunity to learn about how things used to be. It's a funny read. A lot of the humour comes from the misunderstandings that occur as Jennings tries to explain things, particularly to Darbishire, and the way the characters tend to take everything very literally, something that children will still appreciate now.

The choice of language is also very much of the time, and in some places feels a little over the top - too much 'whizzo' does start to get on the reader's nerves. Although a child of a later era, I don't think we ever used that much slang to interject our speech. There are also a surprising number of more complicated words - whether they have just fallen out of fashion, or whether they are included in an attempt to aid the growth of the young reader's vocabulary I am unsure, but they may require explanation to a reader who has not encountered them before.

The plot in this book is actually rather better constructed than I remembered, with a lot of the earlier elements coming back to tie in towards the end. This surprised me as from having just re-read the first book (Jennings Goes To School) I was expecting a few loosely connected incidents rather than a solid story running through.

Overall I have enjoyed reading this one again - I certainly remember it less well than the first novel which added to my appreciation. I'm now looking forward now to 'Jennings' Little Hut', as it is one that I never read as a child.

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The Big Four

The Big Four

14th May 2010

This is a departure from the Poirot norm for Christie, which I don't think really worked. Rather than a whodunit, it's more of a thriller akin to James Bond (though they came later) complete with megalomanic baddies and a secret mountain hideaway.

Poirot is on the trail of 'The Big Four' a master criminal gang intent on taking over the world. Through a number of individual encounters Poirot tracks the four down and plots their downfall, assisted by the inept narrator, Captain Hastings.

The plot is structured almost as a series of short-stories, each building slightly upon the last and gradually leading towards the conclussion. As such it doesn't really fit together as a novel, and unlike the usual Poirot books there is no mystery for the reader to attempt to solve along with Poirot - we are just left to follow Hastings as he bumbles along, oblivious to Poirot's plans. This makes it quite a frustrating read as sometimes you are deliberately left in the dark, and at others it's so obvious what's going on that you want to kick Hastings for not falling in.

So overall it's only a mildly entertaining read, and certainly not one that demands a great deal of brain power. I hope this was a one off and we get back to the Christie cliché of 'murder at the manor'.

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A Time for War, A Time for Peace

A Time for War, A Time for Peace

13th May 2010

The final book in the 'A Time To' series has surpassed my expectations, much as the previous two. I felt the series started rather weakly, but towards the it's conclusion it has grown into something stronger.

While there is not really a central adventure to this novel, it's story is still captivating, as it focusses on not only the Enterprise crew as they prepare to separate, but also an inspection of their vessel, a hunt for a missing emperor, and a presidential election. In fact, I think this is better described as the first of the Star Trek political thrillers, as it's focus on the election and Worf's diplomacy take up a significant proportion of the narrative.

The main aim of this novel of course is to wrap up the series and to move the playing pieces into position for the film Nemesis, and it does this excellently. Previously this has seemed rather forced but DeCandido makes everything flow naturally and sets up even minor details in a believable manner.

I was pleased with the use of characters, though the focus away from the Enterprise meant some had less 'screen-time' than they perhaps deserved, particularly Crusher and Troi. Scotty's presence also seemed a little bit surplus to requirement, and I think a different character could have played his role equally well.

There was some rather unnecessary wrangling at the end that doesn't quite seem to fit in with how the later books progress, but as it was written first I don't suppose I can criticise on that basis.

I very much enjoyed this book and am looking forward to rounding the series off with its one-off sequel 'Articles of the Federation' which is the true first of the political novels.

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The Rapture

The Rapture

11th May 2010

I can't find much to say about this novel, mostly because I didn't get anywhere near finishing it. I read a grand total of two chapters, and by then I knew that it wasn't doing anything for me. So I can't really say it's a good or bad book -just that it isn't my style.

The story is centred on Gabrielle Fox, psychologist and recent victim of a car crash which killed her partner and left her in a wheelchair. She returns to work to treat a patient with delusions that they are able to foresee the coming apocalypse - or is it real? I don't know because I didn't get that far.

The first thing I found grating was the writing style. First person, present tense is a combination I, for some reason, find really hard. Coupled with overly descriptive prose and self-analysis it just couldn't hook my attention. I found myself finding excuses not to read on the train during my daily commute. Unheard of.

I've read about the rapture before, in the overtly Christian 'end-times' series 'Left Behind', but at least that brought a sense of action and adventure. This story wasn't overtly Christian so far, but some of the events seemed a little implausible in that way, and it contained very little in terms of action - focussing almost entirely on the character's mental state.

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The Portable Door

The Portable Door

5th May 2010

I was actually attracted to Tom Holt's novels when Amazon recommended me 'May Contain Traces of Magic', but as that appears to be the latest novel in a series, I decided to start here with the first novel.

'The Portable Door' is the tale of Paul Carpenter, who has given up hope of ever finding a job or a girlfriend, when suddenly the opportunity for both come along at once. It's just a shame that his new employer has forgotten to tell him exactly what they do - and that he has to try very hard to ignore all the strange goings-on in the workplace - not least the question of where the long stapler has gone now.

I wouldn't say that this novel is 'laugh-out-loud funny', but it does have it's moments, and I'm not particularly prone to laughing at novels. It takes a little while to get going - in fact it didn't really grab my attention properly until about halfway through, and was only gripping in the final quarter. The characters started off rather unlikable - there was nothing in Paul that I could really identify with, particularly as he didn't seem to have any sense of curiosity at all.

When it did pick up though was where things finally began to make sense. Until that point Holt had expertly crafted the confusion - dropping in all the different elements in a seemingly natural way without making it obvious to the reader what those pieces would make when put together. In a way it's similar to the Dirk Gently novels of Douglas Adams. Then at the conclusion everything is pulled together and tied up nicely, before you are thrown into confusion again.

I had my doubts initially (particularly as the story I found myself reading bore only a superficial resemblance to the blurb on the back) but it picked up, and I'm definitely in the market for the sequel.

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Shades of Grey

Shades of Grey

3rd May 2010

I honestly can't think what to say about Shades of Grey. It's a fantastic book - deeper and much more cerebral than I had been expecting. I had thought it would be something more of a comedy romp, a little more like Fforde's previous Thursday Next and Nursery Crime series. Instead it's a modern masterpiece that I really hope becomes this half-century's equivalent to 1984.

The story is set in a post-apocalyptic world some 700 years in the future, so long after the 'Something that Happened' that no one can remember what made the world this way. Your social status is decided by colour - not of your skin, but how much, and which colour you can see. The Purples at the top of the pile down to the Reds at the bottom, and the Grey slave class that sit below the lot. Lives are lived by a set of arcane rules that no one understand, but everyone follows religiously. Until Eddie Russet has an idea to improve the efficiency of the lunch queue and his life changes beyond recognition.

It's quite frustrating in a way, as we see the world through Eddie's eyes (red) and so only learn things which he sees it fit to tell us. Usually that is not stuff about the world, as it is written 'in universe', so the narration assumes you know how the world is. As such there are lots of things you don't discover until it becomes relevant to the plot. On the other hand though this is a genius method for making want to keep turning pages to find out more, and it enables surprise to follow surprise. There are things that seem so obvious now that it seems unbelievable that I didn't see them coming.

Fforde has definitely surpassed his previous work with this one. Deep and meaningful while full of satire and humour, it's the most thought provoking novel I've read for a long time if ever. I can only hope that its sequels live up to its legacy.

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Jennings Goes to School

Jennings Goes to School

28th April 2010

A short while ago I discovered that the series of 18 Jennings novels that I read as a child in the early nineties were not, in fact, the entire story, and there were 6 novels missing from my collection. So I've dug out the books from the loft and have set to re-reading them all, in the original publication order.

JCT Jennings is the standard for any boarding school literature. Set in the 1950s, but easily mistakable for more recent times (unless my 1980s edition has been doctored), this book charts Jennings' and his new friend Darbishire's first term boarding at Linbury Court.

My only complaint is that my copy has been edited into 1980s - prices are quoted in decimalised pence, rather than shillings as would befit the original era. I felt rather let down by this as a bit of history would not have gone amiss in a children's book.

The characters and school were instantly familiar as I read this, as were the storylines in this first book. In fact reading it again prompted the image of the school and it's layout exactly as I used to imagine it to pop right out, probably assisted by it's similarity in my mind to my own primary school.

One thing that I do not remember noticing before is that the tone of the narration is aimed at adults as much as children. The impression I get is that Buckeridge wanted to some extent to demystify the idea of boarding school for potential future pupils, and so the narration goes out of it's way to explain aspects of school life. An example would be explaining that although the school meals are referred to as 'muck', everyone still goes for second helpings. Reading again as an adult it seems cleared that this is aimed more to reassure parents than entertain/inform children.

My only other criticism is one that I think I had spotted before, which is that although Jennings is a new starter, aged only ten, he is straight away in Form 3 and taking classes with students who have been there much longer than him. Perhaps this is how boarding schools worked but it seemed a little out of place to me.

All in all though it was a good reread. As funny as I remember, although it lost a little because it still felt very familiar - I'm hoping the rest of the series will be less well remembered so I can enjoy them more.

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Spartan Gold

Spartan Gold

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23rd April 2010

Okay, I'll admit I was fairly sceptical about this one going in. Cussler's novels have, excluding The Chase, been heading downhill for a while now, and starting yet another new series, with yet another 'co-author' (I assume this is like Clancy, where the big name comes up with an idea and the little name does the hard work of actually writing it).

The beginning backed up my idea - the main characters, Mr & Mrs Fargo, are conveniently and unbelievably rich in order to fund their treasure hunting lifestyle, and have a set up not all that unlike the Corporation in Cussler's Oregon Files series - a team of computer whizzes to back them up, training in black ops and the old friend in the CIA.

It started a little cringe worthy - the characters are two dimensional and have very little that I can identify with (except that they own iPhones, and more on that later), and just don't feel natural - they are very much like film characters - there's nothing going on inside their heads, and it's all action and no emotion. There's a dynamic between them, as always with the double-header Cusslers (Pitt/Giordino, Austin/Zavala. Dirk/Summer), and that they are married makes it a little more personal, but in places gets too annoying. One of the running gags involves Sam saying 'aren't I always' and Remi replying 'except that time when' - once is cute but it happens again and again.

In a similar vein, everywhere the characters travel they greet a local in the local language and ask them if they can speak English - exactly the same exchange just in a different language - and every time the person can speak it perfectly. Really irritating. Another irritating repetition is that every settlement is referred to as 'home to x number of souls', which to me seems an utterly bizarre way to give population data.

The novel spends a lot of time dealing with history, which is informative and possibly vital to the plot but there is too much of it - it's like every little section starts with a mini-essay on the background of the part of the world, and it's just too educational. There are also technological errors - one moment they talk on their iPhones, the next they have to navigate by 'dead reckoning' as they have no GPS, then the next they explicitly mention that their iPhones have GPS. As an iPhone user that really grated.

However, towards the end of the novel things begin to get better. The history begins to tail off and the action too after a point, leaving the plot more gripping - however the whole thing seems to speed up as well. The Fargos spend a good part of the novel working out the solutions to the first few clues, but then it takes barely any time at all to race through the last couple (and the earlier plot point about the clues not being in sequence is forgotten), which seems like the author hasn't planned these parts as well.

There's a second Fargo book coming later this year, but I'm not yet convinced that they live up to the Cussler mantle - I don't know if his novels have gone downhill or I'm just growing out of them, but since Atlantis Found things seem less believable. I'll wait and see how I feel before ordering the next book.

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The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest

14th April 2010

The final book in the 'Millennium' trilogy has to be my favourite. Following on directly from book two, Salander is hospitalized and charged with attempted murder. Meanwhile Blomqvist turns his attention to the dark forces that have interfered throughout her life.

The book is slow to get going, like it's predecessors, but once page 170 hits it becomes a thrilling roller-coaster of surprising revelations in a plot so complicated that it is utterly believable. There are a couple of character building sub-plots that seem to have little relevance though and feel a little like padding. I'd like to think they were part of Larsson's set up for the rest of the series that he had planned. Fortunately these plans for an ongoing story don't interfere with this one and it rounds the trilogy off nicely. I do wonder if the last few chapters are added on specifically for rounding-it-off purposes though.

One of my issues with the writing style of the previous novels was the over indulgence in 'product placement' and I was quite glad to see that this had been toned down a lot.

This is an excellent take on a mystery, conspiracy, legal, character based thriller and I only wish that there was more to come. I can honestly say I don't understand why people want to slate these novels. They are an excellent example of modern day storytelling.

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The Undertaker's Gift

The Undertaker's Gift

4th April 2010

The Undertaker's Gift follows the current pattern of Torchwood novels. It's plot is similar - there seems to be an over dependence on zombies - and slow to get going. There's a lot more going on in this one than there needs to be, and until the very end it doesn't really fit together, and even then seems a little bit of a cop out.

This book does however nicely stay focussed on the three main characters, although apart from Jack they still seem a little 2D compared to the TV series. Jack is used well and we get to see a lot of what is going on inside his mind and we are played with by the author as he cleverly foreshadows some of the elements we know are coming in series three of the television series.

The very end of this book is disappointing though. Similarly to the previous book it seems very much as if there was no time left to end it properly and so it's been done badly. This time with a giant reset button, and previously with a random cliffhanger that will never be resolved.

So yes, I believe these novels have gone downhill a touch with the latest batch. I'm even thinking it might be time to give up on the series. They just feel that it's not worth waiting for a better book the two days they take to read.

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Country of the Blind

Country of the Blind

2nd April 2010

While I did find this novel to be an entertaining read, it seemed a particularly odd one. As a sequel, it made the mandatory references to the previous novel but without going into more detail than was necessary (well, perhaps a little). A nice number of characters had returned, although some had a bigger and some a smaller role than I had expected, and the lives of some had moved off in directions I was not expecting.

This book is less macabre than the previous one, although it has its fair share of violence and killing, just without quite so much disgust induced. The new characters are well introduced and the plot itself sounds worryingly plausible.

The story does seem a little slow to get started though - we see maybe the first third of the book through a sequence of eyes, before jumping into those of the 'suspects' for much of the second third, and it is they who explain the back story, and it is only then that the reader begins to understand what has been happening. It's a little awkward to read because for quite a long time you are left in the dark and confused, until all is revealed to you, long before the characters themselves twig.

The book picks up towards the end, I found, with the action ramping up, the plot making sense, and the characters actually doing something pro-active. It's a good read though, and although I had some early doubts I'll definitely be returned to Brookmyre's world.

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Crossroads of Twilight

Crossroads of Twilight

26th March 2010

I've heard bad things about this book, and because of this I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't anything like as bad as has been made out. Okay, so not a great deal happens in terms of advancing the plot, but it's not an awful book. This is however from the perspective of a reader who could, if so inclined, pick up the next volume immediately - perhaps I would think differently if I knew I had to wait several years for the next instalment.

This book mostly focusses on what I think of as the second rank of characters - Rand is the first rank - dedicating each of Perrin, Mat, Elayne and Egwene a sizable chunk each, taking their storylines from slightly before the end of the previous book and advancing them a little. I quite like that each character has their own chunk, rather than being interspersed with the others, as it helps me not to lose track.

The majority of the action comes in the last few chapters though, when we flick around the characters a little, and events begin to occur a lot more quickly. Mostly however this book does feel like a bit of a gap filler - but that doesn't make it bad from my perspective. It's still just as well written, the characters are almost truer in this book than in a number of others, and so I'm happy. Yes, it's a pain that not a lot has happened and now I've got the prequel to read before getting back to the main story, but I actually don't mind.

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The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

7th March 2010

Classic Christie with some special twists that make it clear why this is one of the most popular of Hercule Poirot's adventures. When Roger Acroyd is murdered the help of Poirot is quickly enlisted to find out which of his friends/family was the culprit.

It's interesting that Poirot's usual assistant, Captain Hastings, has been written out 'to the Argentine' and the narrator's spot is taken by one of the characters close to the victim - the local doctor. This provides a good point of view as it's someone who knows and can explain the characters' backgrounds, and who doesn't understand Poirot - whereas Hastings would have come to expect things. Unlike some of the Marple novels which have this structure, it doesn't feel as if the detective has been shoehorned in, but is there as a natural extension of his own ongoing narrative.

The Christie clichés are still present - the large country house full of suspects, all of whom have motive, opportunity and secrets (but then that's integral to the mystery). It's amazing that I can read these still without seeing through the clues. I need to remember in future that nothing is mentioned by Christie without being relevant, even tiny things - it was not until about two pages before the reveal that I fell in, and everything that had been mentioned clicked. Christie really was a genius.

So yes, it's a good book and it certainly had me fooled, although a couple of bits were a little 'meta' - with the doctor writing the narrative forming a part of the narrative, and even lending his manuscript to Poirot. A satisfying mystery.

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A Time to Heal

A Time to Heal

5th March 2010

A Time to Heal is another good David Mack contribution to the star trek line, although I didn't find it as interesting as the previous novel in the series. This one seemed more predictable, with the culmination of the plot fairly obvious on the basis of knowing later events from seeing the film set later than it. This stripped Riker's incarceration of all its weight and made Doctor Crusher's ridiculously slow decision making tortuous.

The story itself has surprising and interesting parallels with the Iraq war - here the Federation is fighting rebels on a planet it has invaded (but not 'occupied'), where the local leader has gone into hiding, and it was the Federation that had supplied the planet with weapons in the first place. Troi's temptations to torture a captive general were really well written - although possibly a little implausible - as her actions in my book certainly add up to psychological torture and I'm very surprised that the Starfleet regulations permit her to get away with it.

Mack writes the minor characters aboard the Enterprise just as well as the regulars, particularly focusing on Vale and Peart in security and Kell Perim - the way he dealt with these characters was really surprising and refreshing. Mack has also made a good bash at getting some romance into his novel - in one case I felt it really worked but in the other I found it unsatisfying, going the way of most trek romance in seeming very out of character.

Overall, I've enjoyed Mack's two novels in this series, and am glad that the final episode is by another of the best trek authors of the current generation, as going back to some of the recent dross after this would be a let down.

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The Girl Who Played With Fire

The Girl Who Played With Fire

3rd March 2010

This book is weird. Like its predecessor there is a mystery that the journalist is setting out to solve, but this time Salander has become the suspect rather than the investigator, and the reader is stuck in an awkward position of not knowing the truth. Unlike a traditional mystery, the actual clues are nowhere to be seen, and the actual conclusions rely on insider knowledge that is unavailable to the reader - rendering it lacking in a sense of interactivity.

The beginning is again a slow starter, taking quite a while to get into the actual meat of the plot. The way that the first book ended forces certain events at the start which seem unrealistic, although prove to be vital to a couple of later story points. The beginning also follows the first volumes habit of product placement, which while adding a Swedish focus still distracts from the narrative. Fortunately the author seems to get bored of this style fairly quickly and the brand names become slightly thinner on the ground. Another strange aspect of Larsson's style is an over-reliance on long lists.

The main focus of the novel, once we finally get to it, is actually Salander's backstory. Despite this, the narrative is aligned with many more points of view than in the first novel, including both friend and foe, which makes for a richer understanding of what's going on, particularly where a strange sense of suspense requires one character to disappear from the reader for significant portion of the book. There are some elements though which make you wonder 'why was this not mentioned before?'

Is it a good book. Yes, I enjoyed it, but I don't think it's as good as the original. It's quite a different concept plot-wise, being much more a character piece than a mystery, but still worth a read. The ending of this one is at polar opposites to the first, which made an effort to tidy up the lose ends and let you know how the characters got on. This one is abrupt and almost disappointing, and clearly leaves things hanging for book three.

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A Time to Kill

A Time to Kill

28th February 2010

David Mack has produced what is easily the best book in the A Time To... series so far with this one. While the storyline is still a little slow paced, Mack manages to successfully distract the reader by providing a host of alternative viewpoints, adding local residents, federation politicians, and Worf to his character list. This makes the plot feel much more rounded and enables a lot more background detail to be filled in without sounding like exposition.

The book is still clearly working toward getting all the pieces in place ready for the film Nemesis, but unlike it's predecessors manages to do so (for Worf) in a way that actually feels natural rather than forced, and in character. In previous volumes a lot of the characters have seemed a little over emotional and self-centredly obsessive over small things regarding their future - but Mack doesn't write this way, giving more focus to the plot than to his 'main' cast. This is not really a drawback, as Trek is not particularly good at dealing with characters' emotions, and the plot is still rounded enough not to feel like solid action.

I actually now feel that deciding to eventually read this series has been worth it, if only because it meant I got the chance to read this one volume. Hopefully though Mack's second part and Keith R A DeCandido's finale will round the set off in style.

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Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years

Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years

22nd February 2010

Almost 40, Adrian is living with his second wife, next to his parents in a converted pigsty. The diary is another interesting insight into his life, and I think being older has helped me to appreciate more of the subtleties of Adrian's behaviour.

It's well written, jumping into the plot several years down the line from the end of the previous diary, and yet managing to successfully introduce all the necessary characters without destroying the flow of the diary style entries. The characters are still very much the same, while continuing to expand in new and interesting ways.

The book starts off brilliantly, having me laughing by page two, but the comedy seems to fall off a little as the plot descends. Adrian seems a little more obsessive and neurotic than I remember, although I'm not sure if that's just because I can see more of what is happening reading with older eyes. The book deals excellently with Adrian's prostate trouble, giving enough detail for me to emphasise and understand what he is going through (although I speak as someone with my own similar experience), while remaining detached and delicate enough that it doesn't become uncomfortable to read.

Townsend introduces a range of new characters whose motivations and actions completely baffle Adrian, which in one case does become a little over the top in one particular instance. I found it to be a fun book overall - a little romp, although possibly darker than the previous books in the series.

The ending however seems a little abrupt - some of the stories end satisfactorily but a number of threads seem to be cut off rather sharply or just left hanging. The very end is dissatisfying as well, almost as if the final paragraph has been left out. Still a good book, and I would love to read more. I might even go back and re-read the previous novels.

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Scarecrow

Scarecrow

18th February 2010

A one-star review - which means a book that I failed to finish. The first for a long time. I'll admit, I should have been tipped off by only having paid £1 in the discount book shop, and that it's by an author with a seemingly substantial output and yet of whom I had never heard. I was also put off by the title 'Scarecrow' - a name that really doesn't fit a good character in a story.

The book feels like it was written as a film script and then very roughly chopped around to make it into a novel. The action is described in short sharp sentences that sound like instructions from a screenplay, and the characters back-stories seem to be chopped from a profile and dropped in the middle of the narrative, breaking the flow completely. The writing style is very casual, although inconsistently varies from page to page, which is quite distracting. It feels like it is meant to be a fast, action-packed thriller, but it just doesn't work.

I was also unimpressed by the plot - it's almost like a failed Tom Clancy. The characters are military, but there's nothing about them at the start of the novel to make them likeable - they are almost 2D cut-outs of the 'American Hero'. The characters all have silly nicknames: Scarecrow, Book II, and worst of all Bull. Every time the characters address him ("Bull!") it sounds in my head like they are using the expression which accuses someone of telling falsehoods.

Another big put off is the amount of jargon - the number of military terms and acronyms really put me off the flow. I'm no expert, and I really don't care what exact model of gun a character is using, just that it's a hand gun would be sufficient to fuel my imagination. Yes, Clancy does the same, but (as I recall, it being a few years since I've read a Clancy) his style explains the terminology and technology outside the flow of the narrative, which makes everything flow together much simpler.

So yes, this is a book I could not bring myself to continue with. I'm afraid I can't review most of the plot, because I've not found out where it is going to go, but it didn't excite me.

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Risk Assessment

Risk Assessment

18th February 2010

This is a strange Torchwood novel which I feel ambiguous about. It's quite entertaining, with a rapidly moving plot and lots of inescapable threat. There are plenty of comic moments and cheesy jokes which fit the Torchwood characters perfectly. In fact, Goss manages to portray the regulars incredibly faithfully.

But ultimately this book doesn't fit. It feels like a Mary Sue with the appearance of Agnes Havisham, who detracts from the main characters by stealing some of their screen time. Her back-story is sketchy, and a lot is provided in the format of flashbacks, which break uncomfortably into the story. Yes, by the end her presence feels justified but at first she seems out of place.

The plot is good for Torchwood - it's original, and while being full of surprising turns they do seem to make sense at the end. The aliens are plausible, though the Vam comes across as rather camp as a destroyer of worlds. There are a few minor plot holes but actually the resolution is well executed and doesn't feel implausible - refreshing for Torchwood.

My only other problem with this novel is how it fits into the wider Torchwood series. Clearly it is set between series two and three of the television programme, but there are elements of the continuity which feel out of place. Particularly the ending, unless it's designed to flow straight into the next book?

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Winter's Heart

Winter's Heart

16th February 2010

By book nine, the rumour mill had seriously hinted to me, the Wheel of Time becomes slow, stale and boring as it plods tediously on getting nowhere nearer its conclusion. I disagree. I thought this book was a refreshing upping of pace on the last few books. Each of the characters has a defined goal again and works to achieve it, and each of them has a storyline (except Egwene) which actually interested me.

Everything I remember hanging over from the previous novel is picked up in this one, and several of the loose ends from earlier in the series are picked up and are starting to be tied off ready to build up to the end of the story. The characters finally start to talk to one another again which is a genius move on their part as their lack of communication and co-operation has really been getting on my nerves.

The only confusing element in this novel was the bad-guys. They seem to chop and change names and bodies so often that it's hard to keep track - this is true of a lot of the minor characters, and there are a lot of them. It makes some aspects quite hard to follow when you don't know who is who and where you've met them before. In this way the glossaries at the end of each novel could certainly be improved - in my opinion they should have existed to remind the reader of who people are and what events earlier in the story were.

Overall though I did think this novel was an improvement in terms of story and structure. It's left sufficient hanging over ready for book ten without leaving you feeling like it has held back. The ending is rather sudden, but not yet knowing where the story is going I can't tell if that's for a good reason. I am actually looking forward to picking up the next book as soon as possible.

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The View From the Bridge

The View From the Bridge

9th February 2010

This is very definitely a memoir - don't expect it to provide more than the bare minimum of autobiographical facts, emotion, or colour. It is, purely and simply, and account of Nicholas Meyer's career, with particular focus on his work with Star Trek and the period immediately before.

The book is simply divided into three sections, pre-trek, trek and post-trek, although the last of these, covering the last twenty years or so, is particularly short. It is a very basic division and makes it very clear that this is a book aimed at a star trek audience, despite having little in it that isn't already known and not being particularly passionate about the subject matter. In fact, Meyer's writing seems quite detached through most of the book - there's a slight sense of anger or bewilderment in places but elsewhere it is lacking in emotion.

Meyer doesn't deal with his writing process - most of the tale is made up of very factual and sometimes dry anecdotes about his time working on Trek - don't get me wrong, it is interesting, but it's not very deep, and not very informative about the person, more about the industry. There are nuggets of gold but really this is just a light-hearted quick read which (the cynical part of my mind says) almost seems like it is just jumping on the Star Trek bandwagon.

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A Time to Hate

A Time to Hate

7th February 2010

This is the lowest in Star Trek noveldom I've visited in a long time. Very little happens until the final few chapters, and even then it's nothing that could not have been guessed from the previous novel. In fact, several of the major plot points have so blatantly been coming that it's a surprise there wasn't some sort of twist at the end. Admittedly it is lining up characters for their places in Nemesis but it's getting a bit silly when the entire plot seems to be just for the sake of one tiny set up.

For this is the book in which Riker and Troi finally decide to get engaged... and the author's attempts to explore this relationship by separating the two characters are sadly quite dire. Star Trek just cannot do romance. It's a well established fact, and this book proves it with both Riker and Troi and the going nowhere feelings between Picard and Crusher. It's just tiresome because the reader already knows where it is going.

The plot itself is next to non-existent. We follow characters who do next to nothing, and even the interesting interplay from the first half between Riker and Seer is missed out of this - Riker is paired with his sulky father, leading to little by way of conversation or interesting exploration of the alien races (one of which hilariously comes from Dorset!). There are holes in the plot (no combadge should mean no universal translator) and continuity problems (someone leaves but then is still there) which just make the novels seem badly written and edited. I'm not surprised that this pair are the only two of the nine out of print - they just aren't up to scratch.

In fact, the end is where it gets interesting - we finally get the proposal, Crusher comes out of her stupor and makes a decision and some interesting hints are let lose about what is to come in the next few novels. At least it's David Mack next - that should make for a more entertaining read.

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

6th February 2010

This is a weird book. For a start it uses some weird language, but then it is translated from Swedish so many idioms may not translate naturally. The characters are weird too - some less than others - in fact the character who is meant to be the weirdest seems to actually be the least so by the end, as everyone else has become weirder still. The weirdness is magnified in their sexual practices - either Sweden is very liberal or this author is a bit mad.

The plot has a very good idea behind it, though at points it becomes extreme, and is the main positive point about the novel - the drive to continue reading is from wanting to find out how the plot continues. The characters are mostly surprisingly likeable, despite their odd natures, but seem to be a little two dimensional in places - while in others they seem to act contrary to their established nature.

The strangest thing about this book is that it is full of what appears to be product placement. In one section the author spends half a page extolling the virtues of a particular model of laptop, and in others recommends software, authors etc. This seemed really out of place in a novel and was quite distracting form the serious nature of the plot when you are suddenly confronted with a list of technical specifications.

It's not well written - well, not in English anyway - but is compelling, and is certainly better than anything Dan Brown has produced. It is very definitely mainstream fiction, as its sales figures would suggest. It's just a bit of a romp really with some rather extreme practices thrown in. I'll certainly read the sequel, but I'm not sure it's one I'd recommend to my friends, and certainly not to my mum.

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The Final Chapter

The Final Chapter

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3rd February 2010

This second book is just as good as the first, although that is partly because the first half of this volume is the text of the first book, just without the scripts. The second half is brand new and covers the time from the end of the first book to the end of Russell T Davies' tenure at Doctor Who in the form of an e-mail exchange between Davies and journalist Ben Cook.

For someone dropping into this without having read the first part there are a few places where the first half doesn't make sense. In the original, scripts in progress were included at the points where Davies sent them to Cook, but to save space these have been removed from this volume. The text still makes reference to these extracts though, and no notes have been added to explain where they were meant to be.

Honestly, I didn't find the second half to be as enjoyable as the first. The two authors seem to be more comfortable with each other and Ben is less 'invisible' than before. The discussion tends to be less about writing Doctor Who and more of a biography of Davies - both his history and day-to-day life. The e-mails become longer and longer throughout, which isn't a bad thing but loses some of the informality of the original book.

Overall though it's still a good book. It's absolutely huge, and addictive reading - it almost makes you feel like you are part of the conversation and actually know the participants. I'm just hoping that the story doesn't stop here, and that Ben can continue to correspond with Davies though his next projects, or with Steven Moffat who has taken over Doctor Who.

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A Time to Love

A Time to Love

31st January 2010

Book five in this series is an odd fish. I'm not quite sure how to characterize it. The set up seems to be a bit of a murder mystery story on an alien planet known for being the one place where two enemy species are able to live in peace.

The problem arises when the mystery fails to generate any clues. The story merely follows the characters travelling around doing very little while the situation worsens. A true mystery story would have been littered with hints as to what Kyle Riker was up to, but there are absolutely none. It just leaves me feeling uninspired as a reader.

The alien creations themselves are far from novel - two races who hate each other living on one planet is an idea that I feel Trek has done to death and it's a bit cheap not to come up with something more. The main characters seem awkward too and slightly unreal - only Crusher seems to have any real depth to her in this one, where to my mind this should be a Riker book. Maybe this will improve in book two though.

I'm torn between whether the use of Riker's father is a cute tying up of an old story or whether it's simply another coincidence too far, but I suppose I will have to wait until the second part before deciding once I actually know what the plot is.

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Poirot Investigates

Poirot Investigates

28th January 2010

This is an odd collection. There doesn't appear to be anything in particular to tie the stories together other than that they contain Hastings and Poirot - the settings are diverse and there doesn't appear to be any sort of chronological flow between them - in some the pair are living together and in others not. I'm not convinced that it works as a collection.

Each story therefore is stand alone and this makes for easy reading, as beginning, middle and end can be devoured in one sitting... although the middle parts of each story seem to be the parts that have been removed to make them short stories. Each tale is characterized by 1. Someone reports a mystery to Poirot; 2. Poirot sits down and thinks about it; 3. Poirot announces the solution. To me this seemed a little bland - the speed doesn't give the reader much chance to think about the mystery before revealing the solution - but then this covers up the fact that many of them are unsolvable, or at least have many possible solutions, with the evidence available.

What is nice is that not all the mysteries are murders. There's a nice range of puzzles for Poirot to solve, which almost makes up for the grating way the characters stay the same and have the same arguments all the time. But only almost.

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Quite Ugly One Morning

Quite Ugly One Morning

24th January 2010

Jack Parlabane is something of a para-journalist... whose skills seem more akin to a burglar or spy, and who does very little journalism throughout. When his new neighbour's corpse is found in rather unusual circumstances he teams up with the ex-wife of the deceased and a local police officer to investigate.

The story is fast moving, with new discoveries coming thick and fast, and unlike the majority of detective novels the reader is let in on who the baddies are and some of their plans fairly early on - and although in other books this has been a quite torturous approach as the investigation stumbles around, here it works. The scenes jump from character to character very quickly in a style very different from what I am used to reading, which causes a little confusion as you get re-oriented at the beginning of each chapter. Indeed, it was some time before I fell in to who was going to be the main character.

The book is a little crude. Okay, very crude. Not in terms of the writing but in terms of the amount of blood, excrement and otherwise detailed descriptions of comedy gore. It's certainly not horror, but black humour might be a better choice of label. It's generally not laugh out loud funny, but it's certainly not subtle - it is his first novel that I have read though, so it will be interesting to see how it develops.

It was in all an enjoyable quick read, though the characters are not incredibly deep and the whole romp is slightly less than believable - particularly some of the misfortune that befalls the bad guys. I'll stick with Brookmyre for book two.

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The Path of Daggers

The Path of Daggers

22nd January 2010

A seventy day gap between the previous novel and this one seems to have been a little too long as I have lost track of who several characters are and what others are up to. In a way I pity those readers who have been reading these books as they were published - they do suffer from a lack of catch up at the beginning, instead assuming that you have put one book down the same moment that you pick up the next.

This book starts well, then ducks down a little toward the end, before jumping back up again at it's conclusion. For the most part the storyline comes in chunks, with a section the length of any normal paperback focussing on just one character's story before moving on to the next, which makes the book feel more structured than one that flits around. Toward the end though it switches back to flitting for a while as the various threads are tied up, which while necessary feels a little awkward.

The main focus of this novel is back to Rand I felt, but with equal parts dedicated to Elayne and Egwene in the first half and to a lesser extent Perrin. Several coincidences occur that are just about believable as the characters pretty much continue with what they were doing before, with the added bonus of a Seanchan attack. I still think of Rand as the main character despite the rather large ensemble cast and so was glad to be back in his head for significant portions of this book.

I am disappointed with the characterization of Nynaeve in this one though - despite only a day having passed from the previous novel she has undergone something of a paradigm shift overnight and barely says a word. Mat is also completely absent again which is irritating as we're left completely in suspense. There were only a few passages that irritated me. One big reveal was made far to easily, then another. The aforementioned coincidence was deal with well, but there was an occurrence near the end where the reader was left to infer what had happened in the narrative, but the glossary at the end gave it away completely. I recommend not reading the glossaries - they contain spoilers but none of the information you need about what has happened in the earlier books.

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The Rainmaker

The Rainmaker

11th January 2010

This Grisham is a good read - it's certainly picked my interest in his novels back up again after the disappointing read that was 'The Chamber'. Baylor is, as per the Grisham cliché, a fresh out of law school lawyer, thrust into the evil scheming world of American court cases. In this case, he has to sue an Insurance company, and really it's far too easy for him.

There are some problems with this book. It flip-flaps around. The narrator (it's first person) starts off lucky for a few chapters, then gets really unlucky, then flips back to lucky, before suddenly diving back into unluckiness... and the ending is exactly the same as the end to every other Grisham legal thriller I've read. It's unbelievable. Also, Grisham is sadly deficient when it comes to writing romance - the characters meet, then nothing happens, then suddenly they are instantly in love having barely said a word to each other. I hope this is one area in which he improves, or drops.

But this book is good fun. After the somewhat slow start in which we're tempted with three different plots - and if I hadn't read the back cover blurb I wouldn't know which would be the one to take off - it turns into a bit of a romp, as the young lawyer makes fools of his enemies. It's entertaining and the story flies by. Sadly though only two of the plots are resolved, and then only one decently... it almost seems like Grisham started writing without knowing how big one of the plotlines would get, then wrote one out halfway and tried, failingly, to back out of the other.

But I want to end on a happy note, because I did enjoy this book, and it's got me back into a Grisham reading mood. I'm ready to meet the next fresh-faced newly graduated lawyer, and find out what evils he is fighting.

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A Time to Harvest

A Time to Harvest

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7th January 2010

The second half of this duology is a slight improvement on the first, containing more action and a plot that moves more quickly. It's also easier to follow as we are aligned with both parties this time from the outset and can understand what's going on from both points of view.

One thing I've noticed and am ambivalent about is that the authors like to drop in references to a lot of prior events in the Star Trek continuity, but then take up a couple of paragraphs explaining it in a little too much detail. In one or two places this is justified where it is essential to the plot (or, I suppose, filling in the reader on events of the first book - although why would you read the second part without reading the first, and both were published simultaneously so it's not like you could have forgotten...) but in others it seems a bit of overkill - why not just leave the references as an added bonus for those that will get them and let everyone else gloss over them? Instead I have a couple of paragraphs that I end up skipping over because I know what they are telling me.

The main thing that I dislike about this book though is the way it seems to be forced to build in the direction of the film Nemesis. Yes, I know that the entire point of this series is to fill the gap between Insurrection and Nemesis, but there are really irritating parts, particularly having to explain how Data lost his emotion chip, that I really wish these novels could have done without.

I'm hoping that the rest of this series will have slightly less introspective characters. Picard, La Forge, Crusher all seem to have been fairly grumpy in this one, which gets a bit over the top when it happens over and over again. Having said all the above, I still enjoyed reading this.

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The Gun Seller

The Gun Seller

6th January 2010

This is a strange book about a former Army officer who is tricked through a bizarre series of events into becoming an arms dealer. It starts off as a bit of a comedic romp, but then twists back on itself to become more of a thriller with a bit of psychology thrown in. One thing's for certain - it will keep you guessing all the way.

The first half of the story is confusing - Laurie has made it deliberately hard to follow what's happening in places, aided by the first person point of view which enables thoughts of the narrator to occur without giving a full explanation. The first half is also the funnier half - full of witty asides and occasionally worryingly deep observations. At the start I could clearly hear Hugh Laurie's voice behind the words, and see him in the starring role, but that soon faded as I got drawn into the plot.

The second half of the book seems to lose the comedy aspect however. While the plot continues to writhe around in unexpected directions (ably aided by the narrator withholding his plans until they happen), it becomes more serious - and less predictable as you wonder which way the character is going to decide to go. The comedy seems to mostly disappear in the second half, emerging only briefly to break up the more action oriented parts.

Originally I thought it was quite like Stephen Fry's writing style, but having finished I'm not so sure... it's certainly got the unpredictability of a Fry, but not so much of the weirdness, and more realism I suppose. A good book that I enjoyed reading.

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A Time to Sow

A Time to Sow

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4th January 2010

The third 'A Time To...' book, while not a direct sequel in the truest sense to the second, is very definitely a follow on, in which Picard and the Enterprise are suffering from the damage inflicted on their reputation previously.

Unlike normal Trek novels, this series seems to have escape from the pattern where each book has to be focussed on an individual character, and it is more of an ensemble tome. Despite this, it gives an appearance of being biased slightly towards Geordi - but it's difficult to say whether this is real or just an appearance because he normally gets little more than a couple of scenes.

My only issue with this book is that it is a bit slow to get going. It starts well, but while interesting things are happening, the actual plot doesn't make an appearance until fairly near the end of this volume (the first half of a duology). This is followed by irritatingly little being revealed about the bad guy's identity before we reach the cliffhanger ending, or most of the detail of his motivation.

Overall I think this is in the upper half of the trek book ranking - it's certainly not bored me as I read it in an afternoon - though it has yet to make a mark as a really special adventure.

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Present Danger

Present Danger

3rd January 2010

In Dame Stella's fifth Liz Carlyle adventure, the MI5 agent is dispatched to take over in Northern Ireland, where a confused gang of American, French and Spanish criminals, pretending to be Irish Republicans, kidnap one of her agents.

I've enjoyed reading this novel more than the last couple in the series - the writing style seems to have improved a lot, although there are one or two moments that grate (two characters have wives named Moira just a few pages away from one another). The character of Liz is very realistic, but the other characters don't seem to have been given quite enough depth, including the baddies whose characterisation doesn't quite seem true to their motives.

The book moves at a good pace, and I absolutely love the level of detail that the writing goes into at some points. My favourite parts of these books are where the A4 teams tail suspects - it's so believable (presumably helped by Dame Stella knowing exactly how it's really done!) and her descriptions are some of very few that manage to translate themselves into images in my head. These A4 scenes are ones that I could really see in a cinematic form.

Overall, better than what I've been reading recently, and I am definitely looking forward to the next.

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