All 2013 reviews - Shastrix Books

2013

All reviews

The Secret of Skeleton Island

The Secret of Skeleton Island

31st December 2013

In a change from their adventures up to this point, the Three Investigators are sent away to investigate who is stealing things from a movie location at the seaside. The location gives a sense of scale that the regular novels have lacked, but it also means that we miss out on the usual trappings of the series - the Rolls Royce car, the secret base and its many entrances, and the regular guest cast.

There's a little casual racism that feels out of place for a modern reader, but it is challenged within the narrative and actually feels quite forward-thinking compared to some books aimed at an adult readership written in the 1960s.

This entry in the series feels shorter than some of the others, and the investigation doesn't seem to flow as well, though the story does work and the reader is able to follow and work out what's going on along with the characters, which is always the mark of a good mystery story.

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Calico Joe

Calico Joe

31st December 2013

John Grisham's third sports-related character study is a really interesting read, telling the story of two baseball players from the point of view of the son of one. The style of the narration is Grisham's usual, clipped sentences that work as well, if not better, to explain a sporting story as they do his regular legal thrillers.

My UK edition kicks off with an incredibly useful guide to Baseball and its terminology, without which I would have been left completely baffled throughout - it's definitely required reading before starting the story, and it's well written and meant that there was nothing that I didn't understand. I feel that Playing Pizza could have benefitted from a similar guide to American Football.

The story is gripping throughout, and the main character comes through really strongly - it's incredibly believable and there are moments when I found myself slipping into thinking it was an actual autobiography rather than fiction - not something that happens often.

Grisham's books puzzle me a little in how they swing from passable to fantastic, and I'd certainly advise readers not to form a judgement of him from just one novel - the style can be similar and yet the stories dramatically different. I very much enjoyed this one and hope he pens more like it in future.

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Death on the Downs

Death on the Downs

31st December 2013

The second Fethering book develops the characters a little further and continues to set things up for future novels. Carole accidentally stumbles across another body, and finds herself wrapped up in another complex murder investigation.

I found myself a little frustrated that this book wasn't as much of a double-header as the first. We're aligned with Carole throughout both books, but her interaction with Jude was one of the most interesting aspects of the first book, and here it seems to come second to some repetitive scenes.

The plot felt awkward as well - everything is there, suspects, clues, twists - but it didn't quite flow together into a narrative and I didn't feel compelled to keep reading. The slightly different setting to the first book felt forced, as if the author was trying to avoid the classic mystery novel conundrum of many murders in one town, but actually it just seemed like all the effort of setting the scene in the first book was wasted.

Although I've criticised the book quite a bit, it certainly wasn't bad, and I have no plans to discontinue reading the series. I just hope that this was a single dud.

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The Poisoned Chalice

The Poisoned Chalice

12th December 2013

Book four in the 'The Fall' mini-series follows for the most part the USS Titan's crew as they react to the events of recent novels and find their routine altered dramatically by orders from Starfleet. A number of Deep Space Nine characters also show up, and I really enjoyed those appearances from my favourite Trek series.

The story doesn't really fit with the typical Titan formula - it's really more similar to a spy thriller, something that's becoming a frequent genre in the 24th Century Star Trek novels, but no complaints from me as I really enjoy them. The plot is really gripping throughout and Swallow achieved a great mix of action with authentic character moments, taking the familiar faces out of their comfort zones allowing them to grow.

There are some big plot points here too that further the ongoing narrative. It's definitely feeling like things are moving toward the conclusion that we're expecting in book five, but there are plenty of threads still dangling and I suspect a number of red herrings thrown in for good measure. A lot of the plot has some rather obvious parallels to real-world events, something that Trek has always done well, and it's interesting to see Swallow's take on how the characters would deal with these.

A great thriller that works really well in the Trek line. Swallow's certainly shown he can do interesting things with any Trek character and it seems like he was the perfect choice to tell this chapter. I look forward to more from him, as well of course to this mini-series' grand finale next month.

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The Wide Window

The Wide Window

12th December 2013

The third book in the series maintains the quality of the second, better than book one. In The Wide Window, the trio of unlucky siblings are sent to live with a distant relative in a house overlooking a lake, and to hide from the ever-present Count Olaf, who is out to steal their fortune.

A quick read that took just three sittings, and was reasonably enjoyable. It seems the perfect tone of narrative for reading aloud to a child, but the content is more appropriate for a slightly older child who can read for themselves - it's a narrow target between those two age-ranges that I'm not sure the book quite hits.

The series has become repetitive, predictable, and a little annoying by this point, and I have no real desire to keep reading - but I can see that for some people this may be just what you're looking for.

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Dead Man's Footsteps

Dead Man's Footsteps

12th December 2013

Book four in the series is just an engaging as the first three. While more of a procedural novel than a mystery, there are puzzling aspects and it's more a question of seeing how the jigsaw comes together.

This book sees detective Roy Grace investigating the death of a body found in a storm drain, while simultaneously dealing with a new colleague who seems to be out to get him. The author manages to cleverly weave together two plot strands several years apart to create a narrative that flows really well.

The first third of the book is quite focused on the main character and serves to re-establish and deepen his backstory a little. There's certainly a feeling throughout the series so far that it's building up to something and it's almost painful having to wait to find out what it will be. Obviously as I write, there are another five books already available in the series, but they are quite chunky and I generally dislike reading consecutive books back-to-back.

After that the book moves much more solidly into this plot and some of the character stuff seems to get forgotten about. This didn't interfere with the flow as I read, but looking back felt a bit weird. Overall an enjoyable and interesting read from a series I'm certainly planning to continue with.

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Scorpius

Scorpius

8th December 2013

Scorpius is an interesting take on the James Bond novel. There are aspects that feel Fleming-esque, but on the whole it feels neither like something crafted by the character's creator, nor like the previous novels written by John Gardner. It's lost a lot of the more eighties aspects, and feels quite trimmed back and without extravagance.

The book is more of a secret-agent procedural novel, with a little bit of character towards the end that doesn't get followed up properly in this novel - but perhaps Gardner is taking a leaf from Fleming's book and leaving the repercussions to the next book in the series.

The plot itself feels filled with coincidence - Bond just tumbles into events by accident rather than actually going on a mission, and seems a fairly useless agent for a lot of the time. Overall, the whole novel feels like it could have been about any secret agent - it's missing the ingredient that means it could only be about James Bond.

I remember having this book as a teenager - I don't know whether I didn't read it or just completely forgot the plot, but I suspect that if you ask me again in another ten years I will have forgotten again.

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Darkest Fear

Darkest Fear

4th December 2013

The seventh Myron Bollitar novel is particularly strong, but also one of the darkest of the series. The character is becoming much deeper and the story is more emotional and far more about him rather than about the plot than in some of the early books in the series.

In this story a personal revelation from an old friend leads Bollitar into what seems like a straightforward investigation that becomes messier throughout. The plot is surprisingly strong and worthy of a serious crime novel, despite the book retaining the light-hearted irreverent tone of narration and dialogue.

The complexity of the plot does go a bit far, however, and there comes a point where the reader has been given too much information to process and although it should be possible to work out some plot points along with the characters, it's not possible to keep a handle on all the facts.

Overall though it's an enjoyable and amusing thriller, with some fantastic dialogue which I think is probably the best feature of Coben's writing. Much less comic-like than the early books and can really be taken seriously.

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The Mayan Secrets

The Mayan Secrets

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30th November 2013

The Fargos return for an adventure in South America, where an accidental discovery sets them at odds with a mysterious collector. As recent Clive Cussler novels go, it's not a bad little adventure, although there are holes when you look too closely.

The story itself is quite plausible and fits the traditional Cussler setup, which was a good early indication that it was going to be a good adventure. The characters are slightly more realistic than they've been before in this series, being cardboard cutouts.

Where the book falls down is in the detail - the motivation of the baddies is thin and their backgrounds are vague. There are places where problems could be easily solved with the application of modern technology, and one scene in the UK makes an error that a tiny bit of research would have spotted. It's disappointing that a mistake in something that I do know about makes me doubt what the book tells me about subjects, such as the Mayans, that I don't know a lot about.

Overall I've rather enjoyed this adventure, and think it's probably the best in the Fargo series so far.

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Raising Steam

Raising Steam

30th November 2013

Terry Pratchett's fortieth Discworld novel sees the world take a dramatic new turn in its industrial revolution, led in this instance by the reappearing Moist von Lipwig.

The author has clearly done a lot of research, which makes this feel an incredibly realistic story, and it's almost as if the quality of the humour is back to the standard that I very much enjoyed in his earlier novels. I was constantly tittering to myself as I read, and really enjoyed reading slowly and taking everything in - not something I often do with new books.

The plot is extensive and complicated, and although the flow of time in the story isn't always perfectly clear - it takes place over what seems a much longer period than most Discworld novels - it moves the plot on at a good pace. Pratchett's mastery of foreshadowing means that developments feel natural throughout yet remain surprising.

Truly a classic novel from the master of meaningful comic fantasy, that doubtlessly explores far more than just one reading can take in. I loved the previous two Moist stories and this is up there with those. Very much enjoyed.

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Blood of Dragons

Blood of Dragons

30th November 2013

The final novel in the Rain Wilds Chronicles, and thirteenth full length story to take place in the Realm of the Elderlings, Blood of Dragons follows on immediately where the previous novel left off, and wraps things up - possibly a little too quickly.

The world building aspects of this series have been the most entertaining thing, as the characters explore themselves and the new world that they find themselves in. It's a tale of discovery, and yet also of several individuals, whose arcs come to an end.

The story itself seems to be just a framework for Hobb to write about the characters and world - this isn't a bad thing in itself, but does mean that the plot is quite slow to develop and the little action that occurs is brushed over quite quickly. The climax of the novel felt particularly rushed and I was disappointed that things wrapped up quite quickly.

Overall though I've really enjoyed this more domestic look at Robin Hobb's world and spending time in the company of a variety of different characters to those in the previous trilogies. I'll certainly miss not having a fifth book to follow their development further, and look forward to Hobb revisiting the world again in the future.

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Snakehead

Snakehead

24th November 2013

Alex Rider returns in a direct continuation from the previous novel, which sees him team up with the Australian Secret Service to try to crack a people smuggling operation. It's another thrilling and fast-moving action novel, although seems to be borrowing more and more from the format of the James Bond films.

The novel introduces some interesting new characters and motivations, and is clearly trying to enrich the world that the stories inhabit. There's also some threat that's unexpectedly strong for an entry in this series, though it's written very much with the target audience in mind, and the reader isn't exposed to anything too traumatic, just the idea.

One thing that's emphasised heavily in this book is the short amount of time that has passed since Alex Rider's first adventure. Presumably this is to make him seem the right age still for the target audience, but for me had the effect of breaking the flow of the narrative and making the overarching story seem less plausible - this is the seventh book after all.

Overall though it makes for a good adventure that explores a much wider setting than before, delves into the past, and builds up the overall plot that's been developing throughout the series.

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A Ceremony of Losses

A Ceremony of Losses

24th November 2013

The Fall book three is about Doctor Bashir and the situation with the Andorians that's been going on for so many books now I've lost track. If you've been reading then you can guess the key points of the setup, if not I won't spoil it.

A staple writer of the current Trek novelling generation, David Mack once again produces an action packed novel with far-reaching consequences for the franchise as a whole. With a close focus on a single plot it nevertheless weaves in a number of other strands that continue the ongoing narrative.

Mack shows a strong grasps of key characters and really shows off well what makes them tick. As well as the main plot, he gives a number of background characters good quality arcs within the novel and they certainly don't feel like bit parts to give context to the central storyline.

A good episode in The Fall, and one that nicely focusses on small events rather than some of the grander occasions in the first two books of the series, while allowing the big stuff to go on in the background. Another great 24th Century novel from David Mack.

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After the Funeral

After the Funeral

7th November 2013

After the Funeral has some novel twists that turn it into a much more interesting Poirot investigation than I had been expecting, and it's one that I felt could benefit from being re-read to pick up on just how masterfully it has been crafted.

The mystery begins with the seemingly natural death of Uncle Richard, but at his funeral one of the mourners casts suspicion that he may have been murdered, and the deceased's lawyer turns to Poirot to find out the truth.

Like several of the series, Poirot is introduced quite late to proceedings and another character plays the part of protagonist for the opening chapters. This still feels slightly uncomfortable when the point of view shifts, but it enables Christie to write a narrative that seems more realistic and which reveals more to the reader than even to her detective, yet still leaves the reader grasping at straws and not seeing the coming conclusion.

The usual comedic asides, particularly around Poirot's affront at not being recognised, seem to go a step too far in this book, and break the flow of the narrative a little more than usual. Overall though it's a good strong mystery and one which I completely failed to solve despite spotting all of the major clues.

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The Red Dahlia

The Red Dahlia

31st October 2013

The second appearance of detective Anna Travis is much more polished than the first. When a mutilated body is found in a situation resembling an unsolved case from the 1930s, Travis is reunited with her old boss to track down the murderer.

The character of Anna Travis feels much more solid in this book, more consistent and showing a fair amount of development from where we meet her at the beginning. The rest of the cast are still only lightly covered, but are more filled out than in the first book and give the resemblance of depth behind that's waiting for later books to peek through.

The plot is a little too similar to that of the first book, although actually I thought it was less graphic in the telling despite the crime being worse - this felt an improvement, that the author didn't feel the need to shock the reader to get across a feeling of revulsion at what was happening. It's much more of a procedural story rather than a whodunnit, but it works as a story until the end, where the final few chapters became predictable.

The writing remained a little rough, feeling like it could use some more polish - the dialogue in particular didn't feel natural, seeming to avoid contractions, which kept breaking me out of the narrative. Overall though a story I enjoyed reading, and I'm glad there are plenty more in the series to look forward to.

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Divine Madness

Divine Madness

28th October 2013

In his fifth adventure, James Adams, a teenage secret agent, and several of his colleagues are sent to infiltrate a religious cult believed to have terrorist links.

As usual Robert Muchamore has crafted a thrilling and action-packed read which will easily hold the attention of teenagers of any age. He expands the cast again, and really uses secondary characters well, making them feel fully developed and far more than guest characters. It's really nice to see what's happening from so many different teenage points of view.

The plot is well constructed and presents a really detailed look at how cults form and recruit. It seems clear that Muchamore has done a lot of research, and as such the book has an educational element hidden within the narrative, which is an interesting and effective way to warn readers about the dangers of indoctrination.

The Cherub series is one of the most entertaining things I've read in recent years and really deserves to top bestseller lists and achieve the notoriety of other high profile series aimed at a similar age group.

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Two for the Dough

Two for the Dough

28th October 2013

The second novel in the Stephanie Plum series sees the bounty hunter in her second case - trying to catch an elusive bail skipper. The story feels instantly forgettable (I can't recall what happened in the first book either), and seemed to be missing an opening chapter that would have reintroduced the characters and set up the plot.

The story took a while to get going and a long time for me to get into it. The chapters seemed too long and were, particularly at the beginning of the book, very repetitive, which didn't help grip me. The plot really felt that it wasn't going anywhere, and at the end I was left feeling cheated out of anything much happening, and that the characters hadn't been on any sort of journey.

The main character is quite annoying, and the rest of the cast are equally frustrating to read about. The comedic elements felt very forced and slapstick and the male characters are entirely one-dimensional.

Looking back, I enjoyed the first book in the series, and commented on how well-constructed the characters and plot were. This sequel then was a terrible disappointment. I hope it's just a blip and that the remainder of the series will turn out stronger when I read them.

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Diamond Solitaire

Diamond Solitaire

28th October 2013

The second Peter Diamond mystery is quite different to the first. Diamond is working as a security guard in a page shop when he tumbles into a mystery surrounding a found child.

The first book had a classic crime-novel plot but was written in an interestingly different style. This one has an interestingly different plot, but reads more like a traditional novel. There were key moments though where the plot became unbelievable, and I found it hard to stay engaged, particularly through one large deus ex machina which makes the rest of the plot work.

Having said that, it's where this plot device kicks in that the plot starts to pick up the pace and get interesting - it starts very slowly, and I wondered for a while whether the slow pace was going to continue throughout. There are some interesting character moments in the first half, but it doesn't make up for the unequal distribution of action.

This novel really didn't grip me as well as the first, and I'm not sure at this point whether I'm going to continue reading the series.

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News from the Squares

News from the Squares

28th October 2013

The sequel to Llewellyn's News from Gardenia follows Gavin Meckler's attempt to get home, which leaves him in yet another strange version of the world which he struggles to understand. The style is very reminiscent of the first book, though it explores some different ideas that I found even more interesting.

Like the previous book, it's very much about exploring the possible future that Llewellyn has imagined rather than about the characters or plot, though both feel stronger in this. The plot in particular is much grander and Gavin is a slightly more active character in what's happening, rather than just observing and learning.

While it's not a thrilling adventure, it certainly gives the reader plenty to think about and shows a quantity of character growth that was absent from the first book. It does however repeat the slightly rough feeling, as if it's not been edited or proof-read as thoroughly as it could have been.

An interesting read that's left me looking forward to the next book in the series. The texture of the hardback cover though was horrible on my fingertips, and I found it hard to hold onto the book for any length of time - I doubt this will bother most people though.

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Steelheart

Steelheart

8th October 2013

In Steelheart, fantasy author extraordinaire Brandon Sanderson tells the tale of David - a young man from Chicago whose father was killed by a human with superpowers, and David is out for revenge.

As usual, Sanderson has created a rich and detailed world, and a magic system to live within it. Unlike most of his stories though, this one doesn't really tell us much about how the magic system works, focussing more on the characters and action.

David is a compelling lead, who we follow on an interesting journey through the novel. Some of the other characters feel rather flat though - the first-person narration not fleshing them out as well at it has in some of the author's other works.

The plot is what really makes this book sing, moving nimbly between action and introspection in a way that compelled me to keep reading. There were plot devices that I could see coming, but also some that took me completely by surprise, and I found the whole tale very enjoyable to read.

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Solo

Solo

2nd October 2013

William Boyd's entry in the James Bond series is likely to appeal to two groups - fans of Ian Fleming's original literary works about the British secret agent, and fans of the cinematic escapades based on the same character. My immediate feeling was that neither would be satisfied, but actually I found it to be a good Fleming-esque read.

The story is set in 1969, following the original Bond canon and disregarding the many novels written by other 'continuation' authors since then. This felt a much better decision than that of Jeffrey Deaver, the last author to tackle Bond, who rebooted the series into the 21st Century.

Bond, a character quite recognisable to a reader of the Fleming originals, is sent by M to an African country to stop its civil war, and from there things spiral in a complex and unpredictable manner. The plot felt, particularly in the first half, like it was following well the Fleming style, but then Boyd pours on layers of complexity - probably too many - which makes the end of the novel awkward and anticlimactic.

For the most part though I think that Boyd has managed to capture the James Bond spirit without turning it into parody. A Bond novel that I think can appeal to both fans of the literature and cinema adventures.

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The Crimson Shadow

The Crimson Shadow

27th September 2013

The second book in The Fall, the latest 24th Century Star Trek mini-series, runs for the most part concurrently with the first book, 'Revelation and Dust'. It follows Garak, Cardassian ambassador to the Federation, as he heads back to his home planet for the ceremonial signing of a treaty.

This is a very different story from the previous novel, much more about the politics and intrigue on Cardassia, and diplomacy between the various powers, whereas the the first book was much more action oriented. I found it interesting and enjoyable that the style differs so much between the two books, something that I've noticed a lot more recently in Star Trek novels than when I first started reading them in the late 90s - a welcome addition.

McCormack's novel reflects events in the real world masterfully, and has made me think more than anything else I've read for a long time, and yet as well as this she fills the tale with humour and 'easter eggs', many of which I expect I missed.

I found reading this that I wanted to pause between chapters to digest what I'd read, rather than rush ahead, although this plan went out the window as I got to the second half and couldn't stop reading. Her handle on Garak and other Cardassians is as strong as always and I've really enjoyed what she's done with them and their culture in this story.

An excellent novel, and a great continuation of the series - I look forward to the rest keeping this standard up.

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Zero Hour

Zero Hour

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26th September 2013

The eleventh book, and the NUMA Files are feeling a little tired. This one tells the tale of Kurt Austin's adventure down under, and seems to miss the original idea of this series being about the four-piece ensemble group - having just one main character makes it fairly indistinguishable from the original Dirk Pitt series that it span off from.

The book starts well, with a thrilling opening followed by a mediocre first half in which the characters drift and try to explain a rather fantastic plot device which seems like something from a 90s Bond film (along with some of the characters). The second half turns into more of a run-of-the-mill thriller and actually picks up.

I felt there was a missed opportunity in this to take the characters deeper, as they were in some of the recent books in this series. I felt like it wanted to just be a mindless thriller, and not something that would fit in with the Clive Cussler tradition of exploring technology and telling the reader something about the world.

Overall, I felt disappointed. I've been a devoted Cussler reader for many years and the recent novels have been of varying quality. While this one had its moments of excitement, it doesn't make up for the trip into pseudoscience-fiction.

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

21st September 2013

That third Harry Potter novel is one that I must have read a dozen times, and until now, rereading it with the Pottermore website alongside, I've considered it one of my least favourite entries in the series.

The story covers Harry's third year at Hogwarts, which is overshadowed by the escape of Sirius Black from the wizard prison, and attempts to keep the school, and particularly Harry, safe. It's probably the first entry in the series that works to set things up properly for later books, introducing a number of vital characters and plot devices.

The plot of this entry works well, and is significantly different from the first two books, which is probably what put me off a little when I first read it. There's a lot to learn and the characters actually start to develop. My memory was of quite a slow plot and an overly long last few chapters, but that's not what I found in this reading, with the climax actually taking up a much smaller page count than expected.

So on this reading, punctuated by Pottermore moments between each chapter, I've enjoyed it more than previously, but it's still not my favourite book in the series.

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Pulling Up Stakes (part 2)

Pulling Up Stakes (part 2)

21st September 2013

The second half of Pulling Up Stakes continues the story from part one, in which Vince, the vampire hunter who is himself a vampire, is drawn into an unexpectedly complicated situation that he's desperate to get out of.

It's taken me some time to read this ebook, reading it in chunks over the past nine months when the opportunity has arisen and I've not had any dead-tree books to occupy myself with. I was surprised to find though that this didn't impede my enjoyment of the story, and my memories of the story so far hadn't faded as much as I thought they might.

The novel is an interesting take on the vampire meme and Peter David certainly shows that he's able to think outside the box with his storylines. From what sounds like a simple premise he's created a rich world inhabited by deep and varied characters with a complex set of storylines.

Probably the best vampire story I've read, and definitely a world with plenty of possibilities for more stories to come.

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The Leopard

The Leopard

21st September 2013

Harry Hole's eighth adventure sees the reluctant detective dragged back to work to investigate an apparent serial killer (again). It's odd how rare they are said to be and yet how frequently they turn up. The book feels very long, and the way that the plot develops becomes annoyingly repetitive.

The opening is surprisingly graphic - I always forget between readings that Jo Nesbo's novels are so violent, and yet this isn't kept up through the rest of the novel, which I found quite reliving as the first chapter almost put me off the book (and indeed, I went and read something else before coming back to continue). Otherwise it starts well, re-introducing the characters and the ongoing repercussions from the previous novel.

The story started to drag around the halfway mark, and I found I wasn't motivated to continue at the end of each chapter - again I had to take a break to read something else before returning. The end picked up, and I found myself enjoying the story again, and was left, as usual with Nesbo, ready to pick up the next novel in the series.

This book sees a selection of new supporting characters being introduced, and I wasn't particularly impressed by them. Several seem to be repeats of characters from earlier in the series, and I found it odd that having written those roles out, Nesbo felt the need to bring them back in a new body. The main character, Harry Hole, develops well in this outing though, and gets to go on quite an emotional rollercoaster. His journey is actually what I found to be the most interesting part of the story, and he grows beyond the meme of the alcoholic work-obsessed police inspector.

Overall, the book definitely has its ups and downs, but on reflection I think it stands as a good entry in the series, and it's not put me off looking out for the episodes I've not yet read.

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Revelation and Dust

Revelation and Dust

7th September 2013

Book one of The Fall, this year's 24th Century Star Trek novel extravaganza is also a celebration of 20 years since Deep Space Nine first aired, and that's where the series starts, picking up after the dramatic events of David R George III's previous three DS9 novels.

And the drama keeps on coming as we follow two main threads of story and are given tiny glimpses of storylines being lined up for the future. George gives away pretty quickly that something big is coming, and from then every chapter in that thread is written with glorious tension that this could be it. I loved this.

George gets a lot of stick for being overly wordy, but I've never found this a problem with his writing, and like a chunky Trek book that's richer than just action. There was one point in a long section near the beginning of the book where I wondered where the narrative was going, but it became clear in the end.

The characters are marvellous, and I'm surprised by how many the author managed to get to. He has their voices - particularly the Ferengi - down perfectly and I could really hear the actors in my head, something that few Trek books actually manage to achieve.

I loved this book, and am really looking forward to the remaining four parts of The Fall. If they're as full of character, action and emotion as this one then they'll continue TrekLit's fantastic current run.

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Never Go Back

Never Go Back

5th September 2013

Lee Child has been building his Jack Reacher series up to this story for several years, it following on from events in two of the last three novels, and it certainly doesn't disappoint. Reacher has been making his way back to his former army posting, to meet the woman who currently holds his old position in the military police, but instead finds someone else, and a surprising number of complications.

The story really does make for addictive reading - I was hooked right from the start and read through the book in just a couple of days. Child's style seems to have matured slightly and the short, clipped sentences of the older books have, in places, stretched out to slightly more filling prose, but without losing any of the action, excitement and suspense that the series typically brings.

The plot is filled with puzzles and twists and the usual Reacher-style violence and problem solving, and for once he's presented with a strong emotional storyline to accompany this. As usual, Reacher is joined by a new supporting cast of characters, but some of these feel stronger and better defined than before, and this really helps build up the belief in the plot and wonder at where Child is taking the reader.

The best book in the series? Probably, yes.

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Ghost Ship

Ghost Ship

2nd September 2013

In the first regular novel based on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Diane Carey presents a story that successfully bridges the gap between the TV series' pilot episode and the remainder of season one by rounding off some of the changed premises. For a book that was likely written before the pilot was even transmitted, she does well to capture the locations and the characters from the series.

The story is not focussed on a specific character, but is spread fairly evenly between about five, with decent appearances by the rest of the regulars. It's a strong sci-fi tale that draws on the characters' emotions to present a really enjoyable and interesting read that, unlike many tie-in books, presents characters learning and changing based on their experiences.

The style of the book is slightly awkward though, with the narrative slipping into paragraphs of introspection from a number of characters' points of view, which tend to slow the story down and distract from what's really happening. This was particularly noticeable in the passages tied to Riker's viewpoint. Carey also seems in places to be making a dig at various aspects of the series, and it almost feels as if she's using the characters' thoughts to criticise some of the series' creators' decisions.

The best thing though was the moral dilemma that the author poses to the Enterprise's crew. It's a really strong question that survives the test of time and remains authentic and challenging to the reader today, some 25 years after the novel was written. This more than makes up for the eighties references, particularly near the beginning, and also the attempts to tie the book into the previous Original Series novels with details that would later be contradicted by future TV show.

Overall, much better than I had been expecting from the age of the story, and I can only hope that this is representative of the series at this point, rather than them choosing the best to carry the number one label, as I continue reading.

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Mortal Causes

Mortal Causes

27th August 2013

Book six of Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus series is set during the Edinburgh Festival, where, as you might expect from a book of this genre, a body is found. It's an interesting tale, but the plot felt a bit muddy in places and I wasn't entirely sure how the various threads wove together.

I didn't feel that this novel had quite the same grasp on the characters as I've seen in earlier novels. Rebus felt flatter - he'd lost some of the interests, some of the depth of previous incarnations, and his personal life seemed to have gained a touch of black comedy. The supporting cast seemed almost forgotten - existing just to add a few lines here and there - and replaced by newcomers, the torrent of whom was slightly overwhelming. Of course having said that, the same was true of an earlier novel set in London, but it felt more out of place here.

The plot did come together in the end, and looking back makes a fairly clear picture, but it still feels like it was a point looking for a story that drove this novel, rather than the story being central. There are so many facets and the narrative (and indeed the character) jump between them so often it became hard to keep track of who was where, what they were investigating, and why it was even relevant.

Overall though I did enjoy reading it, and one book that feels slightly out of place in the series certainly won't put me off carrying on reading them. I was also slightly baffled by the cover of my copy, which from a distance looks like simplistic line art of a horse's head, but when examined closely with knowledge from the story is much more sinister.

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Redshirts

Redshirts

19th August 2013

An avid Star Trek fan, Redshirts is the first of John Scalzi's novels that I've read, and il have very much enjoyed it. The story follows Ensign Andrew Dahl as he's assigned to the fleet flagship and notices a worrying trend with the junior ranks in away missions.

The story was as much fun as I had imagined from what I had heard of it in advance, although the plot went down a route that I wasn't expecting. The humour is shiny and shows off a deep knowledge of Trek-like shows which are lampooned in a cosy and loving manner.

I found the ending a little weird, with the main body of the text coming to a halt much earlier than I had expected, and three fairly chunky codas following. However I thought the codas interesting and a good way to round the plot off with a nice satisfying conclusion that didn't feel forced or lacking.

Overall a very enjoyable one-day read that's encouraged me to look out for more of Scalzi's novels when I'm next on a book-buying spree.

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Legion

Legion

19th August 2013

A fairly short novella that I read through in a couple of sittings, Legion is the first-person tale of a young man whose many hallucinations are characters in their own right. It's hard to explain, but makes perfect sense as you read it.

The narrative style reminds me a lot of Sanderson's earlier Alcatraz stories, though this seems targeted at a slinky more mature audience and doesn't have quite the same irreverent tone.

While it lacks some of the more detailed world building that's common in a lot of Brandon Sanderson's works, the character and his situation are explored well, and the plot seems somewhat secondary to this. I found it a fascinating tale and hope that there's more to come from such an interesting idea.

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Ordinary Thunderstorms

Ordinary Thunderstorms

17th August 2013

I spotted this and picked it up cheaply after hearing that William Boyd would be the author of the next James Bond novel, and despite concern that it would be too literary for my tastes actually enjoyed it.

The story follows Adam, who accidentally stumbles across a murder scene and finds himself cast into the role of prime suspect. It's a captivating story that fits the metaphor of the book's title well.

The world Boyd paints is that of London with an excellent and contrasting portrayal of different aspects of life in the city. The characters are varied and rich, and although I most enjoyed the chapters spent with Adam, the other points of view were well fleshed out and really thrust the reader into their world.

One thing that didn't quite flow for me was the passage of time. Whether it's an effect of my reading style or the writing I'm not sure, but the book felt more like a narrative happening over a couple of days, whereas it's clearly meant to be months long.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this book, and am now looking forward to Boyd taking on Bond - the opening of this book especially reminded me of Ian Fleming's writing and I think Boyd has been an excellent choice. I'm sure I'll pick up more of his novels in the future too.

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High Heat

High Heat

15th August 2013

Another short story about the young Jack Reacher, this tale focuses in on the character as a sixteen year old visiting New York and typically getting mixed up in something.

It's a good short tale that reveals a little about Reacher's background, and kept me entertained on a 45-minute train journey. The action is just like that in any entry of the main series, though the pace much higher to suit the format.

Ultimately though I didn't feel it was as strong as the pre joys young-Reacher adventure and it felt more like a quick prequel than a proper character piece.

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The Mystery of the Hidden House

The Mystery of the Hidden House

15th August 2013

Enid Blyton's mysteries follow the Five Find-Outers, in this book joined by Ern, the nephew of their nemesis PC Goon. Ern takes a leading role in the story, along with Fatty, to the detriment of the other characters who almost blend into the background and lose their individuality.

It's an interesting adventure packed with action, but as a mystery it's not one of the stronger entries in the series, with the plot seeming to come together by accident rather than any real detective work.

I still love the series, and think its a great introduction for younger readers into the vast array of detective novels available.

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Storm Front

Storm Front

15th August 2013

Storm Front is the first book of the Dresden Files, about a wizard turned investigator in Chicago. The narrative is presented in the first person, and while the text feels a little rough at the edges it's a good first novel with a fair amount of promise.

The main character is an interesting chap with unsubtle hints of a troubled past that's clearly being set up for later exploration. The others though seem rather superficial and at least one seems to lack motivation for her actions.

Plotwise, I found the tale only mildly entertaining and it never really made me feel desperate to continue reading. The world isn't given a solid grounding at the beginning and new elements are thrown in all the time without a framework - this makes them feel like deus ex machina, even if they aren't, and it would have felt more natural with some stronger set up of each plot device.

I wasn't convinced while reading this book that I was going to continue on to the sequels, but having finished it I think I'll give the next entry a go.

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Flesh Wounds

Flesh Wounds

15th August 2013

The third book in Christopher Broomyre's serious crime series following private investigator Jasmine Sharp and her police counterpart Catherine McLeod delves more into the characters' pasts as a familiar character is arrested.

Although the plot was solid throughout and the characters interesting, it felt too much like just another crime novel and didn't have the Brookmyre spark that I've come to look forward to.

A large proportion of the story is presented in flashback, as is often the case in Brookmyre's writing, but in this case I found it surprising that there was so much still to learn about characters we've already spent two books with. It felt quite like it was wrapping things up, and that everything we haven't yet learnt was being thrown at the reader rather than drip-fed, and as such seemed like it might be the final entry in the series.

Overall, it was okay, and there were some places that the humorous violence of Brookmyre's earlier work pokes its head through, but I didn't connect with it in quite the same way.

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A Storm of Swords (2: Blood and Gold)

A Storm of Swords (2: Blood and Gold)

30th July 2013

Book three and a half of A Song of Ice and Fire is really the second half of the third book, but I've read it a few months after finishing the first half, and thought it worked well on its own, being a length that felt more manageable to read in one go.

This is a really action packed episode in the story, full of unexpected twists and events that really shake up the ongoing storyline. I love how unpredictable the plot can be and how Martin can play with my perceptions of each character throughout.

I found my criticisms of earlier novels in the series swept away - the pacing was perfect, the points of view more at good intervals, and there was never a moment that I didn't want to dive straight into the next chapter.

This is probably my favourite entry in the series so far - it brings a lot of character and plot, and if the following novels are this good, I'm really looking forward to reading them.

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Laughing Gas

Laughing Gas

27th July 2013

I thought when I started reading that this would be another run of the mill Wodehouse novel (perhaps that's unfair, but the last few I've read have seemed to be approaching formulaic). Not far in though, there is an interesting turn of events that was definitely not what I expected from this author. This change of circumstances throws the rest of the story into a new perspective and made it a really enjoyable tale.

My reading of Wodehouse has however been slightly spoilt by recently watching the latest BBC TV adaptation of Blandings, where the characters seem to become slapstick idiots - not what I recognised from my own readings where the author's wit was dominant. Now I find my mind forcing the dialogue into voices similar to the TV series, which detracts from my former appreciation. I can only hope this goes away soon.

That said, I enjoyed this trip into a different type of adventure, and the remaining 'traditional' Wodehouse elements are made fresh once again.

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Terra

Terra

27th July 2013

Mitch Benn's first novel is as delightful as its main character - a young Ymn (human) girl brought up by a good natured alien scientist. It's an interesting set of observations that combine to create an enthralling narrative that I just couldn't stop reading.

I knew of Benn's work on Radio 4, and so was expecting humour. The book maintains an edge of lightness throughout, although I felt that the humour expressed in the opening chapters, reminiscent of Douglas Adams, lessened throughout as the story became more dramatic. It's a great hook, but something I felt wasn't maintained throughout.

The alien society that Benn has created is fantastic - alien enough to be convincingly different yet still easy to identify with. It feels like something to aspire to, and throughout the book the narrative peels back layer upon layer to reveal more about this world.

My favourite thing though has to be a character whose personal storyline has little to do with the main plot but adds little touches of lightness all the time. I really enjoyed seeing that character's story weave through and hope to see more of them in the promised sequel.

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The Accused

The Accused

21st July 2013

The third adventure for Theodore Boone surprised me by being much better than the first two. Boone, a rather goody-two-shoes middle class American child, son of two lawyers, finds himself the number-one suspect in a burglary.

The plot is really strong - more so than some of Grisham's books for adults even. Although the slightly pompous and unappealing life situation of the character is still there, it's lessened compared to the previous books, and feels less like a lecture on how children should behave.

There's action and mystery on top of the legal focus, which makes this much more entertaining than its predecessors. I hope Grisham keeps it up for the series going onward.

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The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure

The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure

21st July 2013

Book five, and the Three Investigators are not only witness to a jewel theft, but sent a mystery by Alfred Hitchcock - to investigate gnome sightings in California.

I remember the cover image from reading this book in my school library, but the plot as I re-read it as an adult didn't ring any bells, and it was great to read a story in the series again without knowing where it was going.

The action is plausible, and the plot believable, which I always think is a bonus in a children's book - it shows that mysteries can be solved with the application of a little brain power and that the supernatural normally has an explanation (in fact, this one reminded me a little of Scooby Doo in that respect).

An excellent mystery which I've really enjoyed.

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The Cuckoo's Calling

The Cuckoo's Calling

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21st July 2013

Once the truth about the book's author was revealed I got my hands on a copy as soon as I could, and it doesn't disappoint. Robin's latest temping assignment is her dream job, working for Cormoran Strike, a private detective hired to prove a suicide was in fact murder.

The style of writing is familiar and relaxing, though I doubt I would have been able to guess the secret identity of the author. The whole cast of characters is one of the best I've read about for a long time, with every single one seeming to be thoroughly defined and individual, and each are given sufficient page-time to shine.

The use of two main characters is an interesting twist - at the start I thought it would be more like the tradition of Sherlock Homes or Hercule Poirot stories, where the narrative is from a secondary point of view, but the focus quickly shifts to the detective himself. I was a little disappointed that Robin didn't feature even more, as she seemed like a strong enough character to have been able to carry more of the narrative.

The plot is strong, and reminded me of Christopher Brookmyre's writing for some reason, though it's not particularly similar. There's not a lot that's new for the genre, but unlike a lot of 'serious' crime novels the writing seemed approachable and less formal - the book could appeal to anyone, not just fans of crime novels.

Overall though it didn't quite stand out enough for me to give five stars. I didn't get the feeling of unputdownableness that sometimes strike me in a book, and it didn't excite me as much as others have done recently. I did enjoy it though and hope that this is the beginning of a series that I can enjoy for years to come.

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The Body on the Beach

The Body on the Beach

21st July 2013

The first of the Fethering mysteries is a pleasant and interesting novel that I've been intending to read for some time, having heard some of Simon Brett's work on the radio. When Carole finds a body on the beach, it soon disappears, and the police refuse to believe her.

The setting is classic, a small seaside town where everyone knows each other, and the story has the feeling of the golden era despite taking place more recently. The characters however are what make it so good - they are well formed and given plenty of depth even when not immediately necessary to this story.

It reads like a series is in the planning (which of course it was) and that all the characters have been thought through to use in multiple stories. It reminded me a bit of Postman Pat in that respect, which is a bit of an odd comparison to make.

A good, solid mystery with great character and plenty more to explore in the sequels. I've already got several of them lined up on my shelf and am looking forward to diving into them.

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The Amber Spyglass

The Amber Spyglass

19th July 2013

The third and thankfully final book in the His Dark Materials trilogy completely failed to grip me, to the point where I had to give myself a reward of reading a chapter of another book after each chapter of this one. The Amber Spyglass sees Lyra and Will separated, as Will and the other diverse array of characters travel their separate routes towards a rather lackluster conclusion.

The writing style is awkward, with language that feels much more dated than I thought appropriate, and nothing that gave me an urge to continue. Similarly the plot seemed lost and wandering in circles for much of the book and it didn't feel like a self-contained narrative at all.

What I did enjoy was the world-building that Pullman does to create a world of diamond-shaped creatures, and particularly the society of the Mulefa. I previously found the worldbuilding to be the best elements of the first book in the series, and when creating another world here he is at his best.

Overall though I found it dry and tedious. My decision not to read the trilogy when it was originally popular was clearly the correct one, and I'm glad it's now over.

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Not Dead Enough

Not Dead Enough

11th July 2013

The third Roy Grace novel sees the detective baffled by a mystery that the audience is let in on at once when the chief murder suspect seems to have a cast iron alibi.

Grace is really growing on me as a character who is evolving from book to book, and the text certainly gives l the impression that the author has a long term plan. There's an ongoing storyline set around the individual entries in the series and I'm enjoying learning more with each book on top of the individual stand alone storylines.

The style is clever - by allowing the reader to see events from a variety of well-written and distinct points of view the author gives an edge of realism and believability to a plot that might otherwise seem implausible. Elements are successfully built one upon another to lead up to an exciting conclusion.

A good read which had me hooked despite the number of dead insects that a previous reader had filled my copy with!

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No Deals, Mr Bond

No Deals, Mr Bond

11th July 2013

No Deals, Mr Bond has to rate as one of the worst titles in the series, which is a shame as it's one of Gardner's better novels. I've found the first five to be variable in quality, but by his sixth Bond story, Gardner seems to have got a plot that works and a grip in the character he wants Bond to be.

Two former undercover agents have been killed and M asks Bond to protect the remaining three members of the team. It's a basic and believable story with little reliance on ultramodern (for the eighties) technology or gadgetry, skips over the aspects Gardner's vision of Bond dug into in the previous novels, and is much more like something Fleming would have penned.

Bond still lacks some of the depth of character that Fleming gave him, but at least doesn't seem to contradict the original character. There are moments where Bond's apparent age flickers between his thirties and sixties, but it's hidden well and easy to suspend disbelief of this minor aspect.

A good adventure, and if the rest of Gardner's novels follow the style of this one then I'll be very pleased.

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Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures

Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures

6th July 2013

Christopher L Bennett kicks off the re-relaunch of Star Trek: Enterprise following on from the novels by Michael A Martin, and manages to do a much more entertaining job

Rise of the Federation follows the adventures of the former Enterprise crew, and guest cast, some fifteen years after the TV series was set and shortly after the foundation of the Federation. Admiral Archer is one of the new combined Starfleet's top brass and the others are littered throughout the fleet.

The plot, while spread over quite a period of time, feels unified in a way that previous Enterprise novels have not, and certainly shows that Pocket have chosen the right author to shepherd these characters on. I think I've engaged more with this set of characters here than possibly ever before.

As is typical of Bennett's writing, there is a vast array of references back to various previous episodes in the series and some surprising appearances from the future. His love and detailed knowledge of the series shine through, and this attention to detail go along with his well-paced plot to make this an excellent new adventure.

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The Long War

The Long War

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6th July 2013

The sequel to the authors' The Long Earth sees the same group of characters set out on a variety of quests throughout a landscape of parallel worlds as various factions emerge.

My memories of reading the previous novel only twelve months ago are a little patchy, but I found this didn't matter and this sequel could probably be read on its own. The basic premise is explained quickly and straightforwardly, although some of the character relationships might not be so obvious.

It's much solider science fiction than usually emerges from the pen (or dictation software) of Terry Pratchett, but the typical style of wit and amusing references from his other works is clearly present. It's not the toughest of science fiction to read and would be very approachable for a reader who does not frequent the genre.

The beginning and end made for addictive reading and, despite a slow middle section that reminded me of the dragging sections in the first book, I really enjoyed it.

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The Norm Chronicles

The Norm Chronicles

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6th July 2013

The Norm Chronicles is a fascinating look into the study of risk, comparing the purely statistical view with how real people think. Blastland and Spiegelhalter create a compelling set of characters to place into risky and often humorous situations, and follow this up with a discussion of how risk is calculated and perceived.

It's an entertaining if numbers-heavy read, though the authors do well to put the statistics into context and break through some of the obfuscation that often stops the simple comparison of risks. As a reader with a mathematical background, I found it straightforward to follow, but I'm not entirely convinced it would be as clear to someone with less of an affinity for numbers.

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The Never-Ending Sacrifice

The Never-Ending Sacrifice

21st June 2013

Following on from the second-season Deep Space Nine episode 'Cardassians', Una McCormack's tale follows the life of Rugal, a Cardassian teenager brought up by Bajorans but sent back to live with his biological father. It's a different take on a civilization that was not explored in as much detail as it could have been on television, and gives an interesting alternative perspective on the events of the TV series.

The narrative moves at an excellent pace, easily keeping things in line with the main DS9 storyline throughout, and presents an interesting study of the character and how he grows. McCormack has an excellent grip on her ward and the various other well known characters that appear. Her Cardassia deserves to be the definitive one and she adds layers of texture to the culture that enrich it beyond anything I've read elsewhere.

There are parallels with twenty-first century Earth in the narrative, as well as moments of humour that had me tittering as I read on my commute. It's a perfect example of what Star Trek should be, and I've really enjoyed reading it - why I've waited so long since it was published I don't know.

It's surprising, shocking, tender and revealing. A must read for DS9 fans.

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The Reptile Room

The Reptile Room

21st June 2013

I found myself reluctant to pick up book two in this series after having mixed feelings about the first, however I thought that the story and style has improved making for a much more enjoyable tale.

Three orphans, fresh from the disasters of the first book, are sent on to be fostered by a distant relation who keeps reptiles, but its all downhill from there. As the cover suggest, nothing really goes right for this family.

Where the first book was depressing, I thought this one was more humorous and entertaining, and although it deals with death and misfortune, it's not in a way that comes across as scary. The humour is certainly the emphasis.

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The Final Detail

The Final Detail

21st June 2013

The sixth book in the Myron Bollitar series follows closely on from the fifth, as the character deals with the repercussions of his actions. As such, it feels deeper and more emotionally real than the previous novels, while retaining the disconnect from reality that gives the series its entertainment value.

The main plot follows Myron as he tries to help his business partner, who has been arrested on suspicion of murder. It's much more of a classic whodunnit than the series to date, and the plot is more realistic, lacking some of the more unbelievable types of scenes and action that the earlier books were littered with.

The narration retains its informal style - sometime too informal I felt as there are occasions where it breaks the fourth wall, which feels uncomfortable, particularly as it's not all the time. The characters also all seem to be becoming more rounded - it almost feels like the author has become bored of the simplistic nature of some of the earlier books and he's trying to turn the series in a new, more series, direction.

Coben's work is pure escapism and I enjoyed reading it - it's a nice contrast with a lot of crime stories that are written to be realistic and can get hard going after a few in a row.

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City of Dragons

City of Dragons

15th June 2013

The third book in the Rain Wilds Chronicles and twelfth overall in Robin Hobb's Realm of the Elderlings series feels shorter and much more character focussed than most of the earlier books.

Rather than following a quest, as many of the other books in the series have, this book follows the daily lives of the characters from the previous two novels as they continue from the point these books brought them. It makes some interesting points about prejudice, society and childrearing, and the ensemble cast makes the drama feel more real and rounded than ever before.

The plot feels simple despite the array of threads that run through the book, and for the most part each is split into its own chapters, although there are some where the narratives are intertwined, which is a nice variation. I really love the asides between chapters that Hobb uses to expand the world in which her stories are set, and they provide a humorous and interesting companion to the main story.

While it felt a calmer story, I was really hooked by this book and can't believe how quickly I read it compared to some of Hobb's other books. I really enjoy spending time with these characters and hope that Hobb will find more stories to pen once this one is complete.

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Ark Angel

Ark Angel

7th June 2013

Following directly on from the end of the previous novel, Alex Rider accidentally interrupts a kidnapping attempt and is once again drawn into the world of secret agents that he longs to escape. It's a great thriller and one of the best in the series, which has improved as it's gone on.

This entry in particular feels a lot like a James Bond movie, almost straying into parody in places, and is a little more brutal and graphic than the earlier books in the series. The action depicts some violence and a considerable amount of threat, that may not be considered suitable for the youngest readers.

Horowitz does well to keep the plot grounded and believable, and even when it seems like the story is going to jump the shark his writing keeps it feeling just authentic enough. It's clear a lot of research has gone into the book and I found it one of his most enjoyable stories.

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Mrs McGinty's Dead

Mrs McGinty's Dead

6th June 2013

It's been quite a while since I last read an Agatha Christie novel and I'm pleased by what I got on my return to the world of Hercule Poirot and Ariadne Oliver. When the police arrest a man they believe to be innocent, yet to whom all the evidence points, they call on an elderly Poirot to find the truth.

It's a classically complex tale of a rich tapestry of suspects and clues which could point various directions, and which had me fairly baffled almost throughout. At one point I did suspect the truth but only fleetingly amongst a number of other possibilities that I was bombarded with.

This is one of the examples of a novel that Christie has filled with humour, often making herself the butt of the joke, and the amusement it gave nicely balances parts that could come across as brutal (although perhaps not compared to crime novels of the modern day). The comedy absolutely makes the book, and I really loved this aspect, which is often forgotten, of her writing.

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The Trophy Taker

The Trophy Taker

5th June 2013

The first book in the Johnnie Mann series was passed on to me by my mother-in-law, and I was unimpressed. The story is based in Hong Kong, and follows police officer Mann and a variety of other characters, as he investigates several murders. It's a fairly graphic narrative that didn't draw me in.

The writing style is bland and hard going - the first half of the book moves incredibly slowly, with time passing sporadically and the plot failing to advance. The second half sees the speed ramped up to the max, skipping over detail and charging through the action. The narrative is awkward and the dialogue seems forced and unnatural, particularly where placed into the mouths of certain characters who we are presumably meant to look down on.

The characters are dull and in many cases implausible and/or incompetent. The work of the police force feels unrealistic and incredibly amateurish and Mann himself comes across as something of a super-human. His character is almost too complex, with several aspects that feel thrown into the mix with no real thought, and his lack of growth is frustrating.

I was not impressed nor entertained by this book, and found myself finding other things to do rather than continue reading. If Lee Weeks is the female James Patterson, as the cover claims, then I'm glad I've not bothered to read any of his works.

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The Rithmatist

The Rithmatist

30th May 2013

Brandon Sanderson has done it again. In The Rithmatist he creates yet another rich and detailed fantasy world, in which a segment of society has the power to do battle by drawing chalk patterns around them. Joel is not one of them, but wishes he was. Instead he finds himself drawn into an investigation after a Rithmatist disappears.

The author's skills in world building really shine in this novel - simple enough for any reader to understand everything they need to, but complex enough to be believable and to tease the reader with more detail in every chapter.

The characters are strong and varied, as usual in Sanderson's stories, although one feels very similar to a character from his earlier Alcatraz series. If one were so inclined there could be parallels drawn with the Harry Potter books (although that could be said of any fantasy book set in a school), though the slight similarities fade throughout.

Sanderson's skills continue to enthral me, and this is a book that could appeal to a reader of any age. The illustrations offset the story nicely, and help explain some of the concepts more easily than the words. Absolutely great.

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Above Suspicion

Above Suspicion

30th May 2013

The first Anna Travis story sees the young detective sergeant assigned to her first murder case, investigating a series of seemingly connected crimes. The novel is gripping though quite graphic in places, and there's perhaps too much flipflopping.

The characters are interesting, although a large quantity of the supporting cast go unexplored, with the focus being on just three characters. While these three are well developed, the reader spends the majority of the story aligned with Anna Travis, whose emotions seem to flicker around from one thing to another with much greater frequency than seems plausible.

The narrative follows an interesting course, and it's certainly not in the form of a whodunnit, being much more psychological. The opening and ending surprised me by being quite graphic compared to the rest of the story, but not too much to put me off.

This was the first of Lynda La Plante's novels that I've read, and while I thought the style was fairly rough I'm certainly planning to return for more.

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Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness

22nd May 2013

Alan Dean Foster's invitation to pen the novelization of JJ Abrams' second Star Trek film came as something of a surprise to me, as I was very disappointed with his version of the previous film. This book lives up to my recollections of its predecessor.

The novel follows the plot of the film almost exactly (a film which I enjoyed almost as much as the last one), and is a faithful description of what happens, but it is significantly lacking in detail, particularly in the action scenes. The pacing is poor and the writing doesn't grip anywhere near as well as the source material.

It seems as if the publishers have given Foster too much leeway - they've thrown the usual Star Trek novel styleguide out the window and replaced it with narration that feels patronising in how much it wants to explain. There are parts where it's as if it's writing for a small child. Rather than the usual style of aligning the third party narrative with one character at a time and following events from their perspective, we're given a more god-like overview with occasional glances inside the characters' heads. Altogether this makes for a lightweight presentation that removes a lot of the suspense and the relationship with the characters.

There are places where Foster has added missing detail to the plot that helps explain some of the things that puzzled me about the film, but not even to the extent of the scenes he retained/added in the previous book, and this doesn't make up for the book's faults.

There are other established Star Trek and novelization writers that could have added more to what feels like a rushed clone of the script. The book only managed to hold my attention by reminding me of what I saw in the cinema.

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One for the Money

One for the Money

19th May 2013

I was a little nervous about picking up the first novel in the Stephanie Plum series, it's lurid pink cover hinting that the contents might be somewhat more girly that my usual taste in fiction, but I was pleasantly surprised. The characters are well-rounded and believable, and the action is well paced and depicted well.

Plum is single, short of cash, and willing to take on almost any job, when she's offered a shot at being a bounty hunter - a local police officer turned murderer has skipped bail, and there's ten grand in it for her if she can get him back. It turns out to be a fascinating look into the world of bounty hunting, and a great story full of twists and turns.

The characters are great, and reminded me of Lee Child's Jack Reacher series. Plum is independent and strong, yet retains femininity and enough weaknesses to keep the story believable, and she's surrounded by a cast that brings humour as well as plot devices.

An excellent start to a series that could easily appeal to a reader of any gender - I certainly plan to continue reading.

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Our Kind of Traitor

Our Kind of Traitor

12th May 2013

This is the first John le Carré novel I have read since childhood, and it certainly exceeded my expectations based on vague memories of half-read books and from the 1980s or earlier, and the recent film adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

The story follows a young British couple whose make-up or break-up holiday in Antigua is interrupted by a demand to play tennis from a suspicious Russian with a mysterious family. The couple are the main focus of the narrative and much is told from their perspective, although there is a random third point of view that appears halfway.

The style is interesting, as a lot of the story is depicted in the present tense, with sections told in past tense as some of the characters relate their adventures to others. This helps build up the tension throughout the opening chapters and introduces the reader into the story in a compelling way.

Towards the latter stages though I felt that the plot lost some of its tension and urgency and it drifts slowly towards the conclusion without sense of direction. Though the plot still felt plausible, it seemed to lose the attachment to the characters and their development had come to an end too early.

Overall though a refreshing and appealing revisit to le Carré's works that has encouraged me to seek out more of his recent output and delve back into his back catalogue.

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The Last Detective

The Last Detective

6th May 2013

When a body is found in a lake late one night, Superintendent Diamond is called in to lead the investigation, despite a pending review of his handling of a previous case. The first of Peter Lovesey's novels I've read, this is a really interesting way to present a crime novel.

The plot is well paced and makes for addictive reading. Lovesey's style is unique, in that while most of the narrative is told in the third person aligned with his detective, two significant chunks of witness statement are presented in the first-person, which really shows off a talent for capturing the characters' individual voices.

As an investigation it is far from clear cut and the twists and turns keep coming. I had a slight suspicion of how it might end and actually was not incredibly satisfied by the final conclusion. Similarly there was one twist that I didn't see coming and that seemed a little forced, throwing the narrative into a bit of a time warp throughout the later stages of the story.

Overall I was impressed by this novel despite some trepidation I had felt before about starting on another crime series. I'll definitely be following up by reading the sequel in the near future.

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Encounter at Farpoint

Encounter at Farpoint

2nd May 2013

The novelization of the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation reveals a fascinating insight into some of the early plans for the characters, and adds a little to the story as seen on TV.

For the most part, it is an accurate representation of what happened on screen, though several segments are different from those shown, presumably because Gerrold was working from an earlier draft of the script. Riker's first encounter with Data is different and sheds a different light on their relationship that never gets explored in quite the same way, and there are hints of things for other characters do come to pass despite being missing from the finished episode.

Some of the characters' backgrounds are given in more detail than the show, and it's interesting where these diverge from the TV series - whether by Gerrold adding colour or the series 'bible' be rewritten later by the series' writing staff. Data's origin stands out, along with aspects of Picard's history that go unexplored on TV.

A good read, and for the most part a faithful representation of the original episode, although having to rely on the script for the structure does make some elements feel a little clunky.

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Judgement Day

Judgement Day

, &

26th April 2013

'Science of Discworld' continues to be a slightly misleading name for this series, which is actually about real science using the Discworld as a framework and a metaphor. This fourth book is set around a Discworld court case, in which the Omnian religion is suing the Unseen University for ownership of the Roundworld.

This is one of the best science books I've read. It deals with some of the more controversial topics - the origins of the universe in particular - but in way that doesn't lecture and doesn't condescend. The writers also take the time to examine the current leading theories in a critical manner, unlike most books which can present the flavour of the month as hard and fast fact with only a small nod to future research. Here Cohen and Stewart don't shy away from acknowledging holes in our knowledge, and that only helps to emphasise one of their core messages: that science is all about doubting and testing your ideas.

Like the previous books, the chapters alternate between fiction and fact, and the Discworld story contained the usual wit and charm, although the individual chapters and the story as a whole are all too short. In contrast, the science chapters in several places are too long, and I found my attention drifting.

In combination, a welcome taste of the Discworld universe between the main novels, and an in-depth and fascinating insight into the real world of science and where it might be heading in the next few decades. I thoroughly recommend this as a great read which both educated and entertained.

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The Mystery of the Missing Necklace

The Mystery of the Missing Necklace

14th April 2013

The find-outers' fifth mystery sees them occupy the end of the summer holidays trying to crack the investigation that PC Goon is clearly chasing.

Unlike some of the earlier stories, this book felt less dated, although I did notice that my copy had been 'updated' so the characters use decimalised currency. I wonder if later copies have taken inflation into account as well?

A good mystery for children with a number of opportunities for the reader to try to work things out before the characters. A lot of comedic moments throughout make this a light and enjoyable read.

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Guilty Pleasures

Guilty Pleasures

14th April 2013

The first book in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, series introduces the reader to the first-person perspective of the title character - a fairly ordinary young woman with a slightly unusual job - as she's hired by an unlikely client to solve a string of murders.

Its an interesting world that Hamilton has created, in which the paranormal is just normal and accepted as part of society, which serves in part as a metaphor for discrimination. Mostly though it's a bit of a romp, though without the campness that some vampire-themed series evoke.

The plot is complex enough to stay interesting while really not doing very much. As a mystery story it's not really got the weight that I like and the investigation seems to be pushed more by the various supporting characters than the investigator. As a paranormal romance - which it clearly claims not to be - I think it would be quite acceptable. There's enough kissing and romance-related commentary from Anita that this aspect over dominates the narrative and weakens the overall effect, though it doesn't go anywhere near the extremes of some more recent vamp-romance novels.

While it certainly wasn't a bad book, I don't think that I'm the target audience and I'm not enthused by it enough to immediately consider buying the sequels.

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The Field Guide

The Field Guide

&

11th April 2013

A fun but all too short story of three children in difficult circumstances who find something interesting sharing their new home.

The authors create a varied and interesting set of characters and a great location that will fill readers' imaginations

There seems like plenty of room to explore in later stories, and that is my one criticism - the book goes to quickly and feels more like it's written to set up a series rather than as a story in its own right.

Interesting and entertaining for the younger reader, but probably not something I'll follow up on.

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The Snowman

The Snowman

11th April 2013

The seventh Harry Hole mystery is finally his chance to shine on home turf, as it seems a serial killer is going after women in the Oslo area, and leaving snowmen as calling cards. The story is full of twists and overall this is probably the bet book in the series so far.

My main criticism would be that there are too many characters to get your head round, particularly in the police. I'm sure this isn't helped by their having Norwegian names that I'm unfamiliar with (but that's fair), but also because so many of the names seem to begin with the letters G and H.

The twists are what make this book, although there are several that could be seen coming from a long way off. The volume of clues and red herrings is surprising and shows that a lot of thought has gone into constructing the plot.

I think the series has been growing upto this point and Nesbo is certainly into his stride with The Snowman. I look forward to reading more.

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The Litigators

The Litigators

11th April 2013

John Grisham's best book for years. The Litigators follows young lawyer David Zinc, who leaves his high-paid lawyerly career to become a street lawyer and dabble in mass tort.

Okay, so the plot could be a number of his previous works bolted together, but this time it works. The set of characters Grisham has created are believable, and more importantly all relatable. The plot is honest and straight-forward and works perfectly. Even the classic Grisham rubbish ending is missing, making the novel almost perfect.

In fact I'm finding it hard to find something to be critical of. The plot meanders a little, but this could easily be described as twists to make it more engaging. It includes odd little comic moments and some stylistic quirks which sometimes feel brilliant but sometimes out of place, but it is generally a good book, which did catch me by surprise.

An excellent read that I rushed through in little over a day. Grisham at his best again at last, and hopefully this will continue.

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The Stuff of Dreams

The Stuff of Dreams

31st March 2013

The Stuff of Dreams, while just five chapters long, provides another solid tale in the ongoing drama of the post-Next Generation era of Star Trek. Picard and the Enterprise are sent to rendezvous with the USS Newton which is investigating the Nexus - a spacial anomaly that featured heavily in the mid-nineties movie Generations.

The novella serves as something of a sequel to the film, focussing on Picard, his relationship with the Nexus and how the character has evolved since he encountered it thirteen years' previously. It's a lovely character piece that has. Bit of action and works really well as a short read.

While brief overall, the story didn't feel rushed and each chapter seemed quite chunky. I've very much enjoyed spending a few hours in the TNG universe in this gap between the main novel releases and hope the publishers continue with this format.

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The Black Book

The Black Book

29th March 2013

The fifth Rebus novel admits in its introduction that the author has realised that this is now a series, and its clear from the narrative as an array of characters return from previous novels, and the regular cast is rounded out with a number of new allies and antagonists. If anything, it almost reaches the point where there are too many characters to keep an eye on, and several times I found myself struggling to remember who one was.

The plot is remarkably simple when you wrap your head around it, as Rebus's team maintain a stakeout with Trading Standards and investigate a random stabbing. There are a lot of elements and twists which blend together well to create a satisfying mystery.

The story of Rebus personal life also continues and is actually one of the most fun aspects of this book, as he develops relationships with a surprising set of cohabitants. Rebus is a great character and I really enjoy reading about his thoughts and escapades.

A great book from almost all corners which I've really enjoyed reading. I'm glad that there's plenty more in the series to look forward to.

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The Striker

The Striker

&

29th March 2013

A prequel to the Isaac Bell series, this book shows the private investigator tackle one of his earliest cases, investigating sabotage in America's coal mines in the early twentieth century.

The style is slightly more similar to the first book of the series, though overall the book doesn't live up to that predecessor and is far from the best from the Cussler brand. The book continues the Bell series' slightly political commentary, with Bell himself seemingly possessing modern sensibilities and liberal-leaning beliefs that feel out of place in the era the stories are set.

The plot feels bitty as Bell and the other characters dart around from city to city. The scenes don't seem to flow together particularly well and a lot of the action seems disconnected and it feels almost like random luck that an overall storyline emerges at all.

I didn't find this one to be a captivating book, and generally think it reflects badly on the series that a book can be written with no believable peril or thrill.

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Hot Water

Hot Water

21st March 2013

While Hot Water contains all the classic hallmarks of a Wodehouse novel, it didn't strike me as one of the best, though among the works of such an author that is hardly a criticism. This novel is set predominantly in a small coastal French town and focusses on a group of predominantly American visitors to the country as they variously dabble in theft, blackmail and love.

The language is as gentle on the ear as I've come to expect from Wodehouse, though the voices from the recent television adaptation of Blandings did seem to creep into my imagination which rather ruined how some lines came across.

The plot is a good mix of characters and their misunderstandings, but I am concerned that the plots of the recent Wodehouse novels I've read have been too similar. I hope that is because they had been bundled together as a set of matching novels rather than a theme that might run through much of his works and that once I move on to more the recurrence will pass.

Overall, a good entertaining read, but lacking the brilliance that some of the novels exhibit.

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News From Gardenia

News From Gardenia

21st March 2013

News from Gardenia is a delightful book that looks at a possible future for the world. Gavin Meckler sets out for a short flight in his electric plane, only to discover when he lands that two hundred years have past, and he's now living in an idyllic and slightly creepy utopian future.

I found the world Robert Llewelyn has envisioned to be a fascinating and almost entirely plausible future for Britain and the rest of the world, and the concept of his novel refreshingly different.

The plot however felt like it was only the supporting act - there to give a way to show off the imagined future rather than being of any particular interest in itself. Gavin is a surprisingly bland character (although there are hints this might be by design) and doesn't generate much sympathy in the reader.

I wasn't sure quite what to expect from a story of a positive future, but it works well and made for an interesting read. I look forward to finding out what happens in the sequel and whether we can learn a little more about what's going on and whether there is something more to the plot.

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A Storm of Swords (1: Steel and Snow)

A Storm of Swords (1: Steel and Snow)

14th March 2013

The third book in George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series has been split into two volumes for the paperback release, and this is the first of those. I decided having finished it that a break might be in order before picking up the second half, so these are just my thoughts on this part, 'Steel and Snow'.

The book follows a large collection of characters in and around the land of Westeros, following a large battle that took place at the end of book two, and dealing with the fallout. Each chapter is presented aligned with a different character's point of view, and as such I found it hard to get excited about starting a new chapter knowing that any cliffhangers wouldn't be resolved for some time. On the other hand it was nice to see the name of the character at the beginning of the next chapter and be glad the story was coming back to them. I enjoyed spending time with almost all the characters this time, which is more than I've said in previous instalments.

It's difficult to comment on the overall plot having read only half of the real book, and no overarching plot has really emerged so far, but the individual instalments have all been captivating and have continued to make me love the characters I loved from the first two books and even enjoy more spending time with some of the others. The beginning perhaps felt a bit slow, and I had some difficulty remembering everything that had happened in book two, which I read only seven months ago, but the second half reignited my interest and I raced through it.

Although I've decided to leave a gap before reading the second volume, I'm looking forward to picking it up a lot and reuniting with some of the awesome characters Martin has managed to create.

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Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief

1st March 2013

The first book in the Percy Jackson series hast often been likened to Harry Potter, but although there are clear similarities (fantasy world, magic powers, summer camp/boarding school etc) I felt it was sufficiently different to stand on its own as a story and beginning of a series.

The story is told in the first-person, which allows the language to be modern, relaxed and appropriate and the reader to learn about the world with the characters. After Percy is attacked by his Maths teacher, he is sent away to a special summer camp, where he learns about his past and is sent on a quest. In style, it feels more like a cross between Brandon Sanderson's Alcatraz and Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series.

I did feel that the chapters were quite short and felt rushed in places, and there wasn't as much focus on character as there could have been. I felt it lacked some realism in emotion and Percy in particular didn't react in a realistic manner in several situations. The many references to Ancient Greece were well written and showed a lot of research by the author, but sometimes did feel a bit like a lecture.

An enjoyable read, though probably not enough to convince me to keep reading the rest of the series.

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Looking Good Dead

Looking Good Dead

1st March 2013

The second Roy Grace novel by Peter James is a big improvement. The prose feels much smoother, the story tighter and the structure more relaxed. Detective Superintendent Grace is called in to investigate when a mutilated torso is discovered in a field, and there's one accidental witness who doesn't know whether to come forward.

Unlike the first novel, the scene is set quickly and we dive into the action of the case. The short chapters provide neat chunks to read without getting bogged down, and the large cast makes for a realistic investigation and help the reader identify more with the characters' world.

The plot is sufficiently dark to make this feel a believable story, and moves forward at a good pace, introducing further peril in good doses throughout. The characters are well-rounded without the text feeling like an extended profile, and the balance of their personal and professional lives was explored in an interesting way and felt important to them rather than just window dressing.

My only criticism would be the number of red herrings given to the reader - for the most part the plot is fairly open to the audience and it is not like reading a whodunit, but in some places there are hints that the detectives don't even find out about that feel a bit like padding. Overall though, a good book that's renewed my interest in reading more-serious crime fiction.

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Bedlam

Bedlam

26th February 2013

Bedlam sees the return of the Christopher Brookmyre name after a couple of serious crime novels under the abbreviation Chris, and I'd expected that would mean a return to the excellent humour of his earlier novels. Instead I was surprised by what turned out to be a slightly matrix-esque science fiction adventure that still raised a laugh.

Ross volunteers as a guinea pig for an experimental new type of brain scan, but when he wakes up finds he's not in Stirling any more - he's in Starfire, a nineties computer game. As a concept it's fantastic and executed very well, with a good mix of games I'd heard of to add realism and a believable world. Ross is an engaging character who makes a brilliant protagonist and develops well throughout the story.

My one criticism would be that the second half of the story seemed to pass very quickly compared to the first half - but this has been true of some of previous novels and might just be an indication of my being able to read that part of the story more quickly. It did seem that it lost some of the texture later on, and that there was plenty more to explore in the world that Brookmyre had created.

A successful venture into yet another genre for Brookmyre which kept me entertained, though like his 'serious' crime novels not quite up there with the best of his earlier humorous work.

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The Mystery of the Green Ghost

The Mystery of the Green Ghost

19th February 2013

The fourth adventure for the Three Investigators, young teenage detectives in 1960s California, is the creepiest of the series so far, introducing one of the themes more solidly that will run throughout the series.

When Pete and Bob witness the appearance of a green ghost in an old house, it sets the trio off on their most wide-ranging adventure yet. In fact this was a little surprising, as until now the team has been portrayed as rather a low-cost outfit, but they now are hired to fly off on their own as part of the plot, which seemed a little implausible.

The creepiness, particularly of the opening chapters, and the threat levels later on may scare some younger readers, and some of the dated stereotypes might not be what some parents want their children to read today. On the whole though its a good mystery and adventure that feels much more like the formula I remember settling into place.

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Nobody Lives Forever

Nobody Lives Forever

19th February 2013

John Gardner's fifth James Bond novel is the best of the series up to that point, much more reminiscent of the adventures written by Ian Fleming, in which Bond, holidaying in Europe, discovers that almost every assassin around is after him.

The character of Bond is much more to the fore in this novel, though not as much as in the originals, but the structure feels more familiar. The other characters are stronger than they have been, though it lacked the iconic enemies that Fleming was surprisingly good at making plausible.

In terms of the plot, there were a few moments where I thought it didn't work, with one particularly obvious twist visible right from the start, but otherwise it was strong enough to keep my attention throughout.

A good continuation story, and Gardner's best up to this point. I'm looking forward to continuing the series under his helmsmanship in the hope that things are on the up.

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The Subtle Knife

The Subtle Knife

10th February 2013

After finding the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy an interesting read, I was keen to follow the rest of the story, as I felt book one was somewhat incomplete. Book two disapointed, lacking the characterisation, solid plot and detailed worldbuilding that I enjoyed in Northern Lights.

In The Subtle Knife, we meet Will, a child of the real world who is on the run, and finds his way through a portal into another world. I was hoping that we'd spend the book aligned with Will as he went on a quest, as we had with Lyra in the first book, but that wasn't to be, and the narrative instead flits about between points of view with little consistency, making the events hard to follow in places.

The ideas behind the book are excellent - the overall plot (though this does suffer from being a middle book which doesn't really advance much), the characters, the metaphors, the fantasy - but Pullman's execution does nothing for me. The writing feels a mix of patronisingly over-explaining things to the language of old-fashioned childrens' books like those by John Masefield, which now feels like the sort of thing a school curriculum would force on children as an example of literature. It's not a style that I found appealing or seemed like it would be approachable to young readers.

I found that I really had to push myself to finish this book, and after waiting several months to read it after the first volume I felt quite let down. I hope the final book picks the pace back up and concludes the story in a satisfactory manner.

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One False Move

One False Move

10th February 2013

In his fifth adventure, so-called sports agent Myron Bollitar is asked to protect a potential new client from unspecific threats following the disappearance of her father. As usual, this leads to a riot of violence, flippant comments and poking his nose around New England's elite.

I didn't really engage with this entry in the series as much as some of the earlier ones. The plot seems quite vague through much of the novel, and there's not a lot to do as a reader except follow on the ride. The ongoing story around Myron and his friends feels sidelined, although it is present in small doses, and some of the minor characters become a means to an end rather than standing by their own right.

It remains entertaining in a corny way - slightly less Hardy Boys for adults than the first few books but still written very much with the author's tongue in his cheek. It's a good series for light, mindless reading that doesn't insult your intelligence by being too implausible.

Overall, not the best in the series, but not a bad read. I got through it quite quickly without feeling like I was forcing myself to keep reading - it was not hard to read.

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Scorpia

Scorpia

6th February 2013

While the fifth Alex Rider book contains the usual exciting scenes and vital mission to save the world, it seems quite bitty and lacks the strength of the first two books. Following the revelation at the end of the last book, Alex heads to Italy to attempt to find Scorpia, and learn about his father.

The story is full of peril, action, twists and turns and a group of characters who really could have been plucked from a James Bond story. In fact it's almost too Bond-like, becoming almost a parody.

Alex comes across as rather a weak character, and there's little to make the reader too fond of him. He doesn't seem to act like a real boy a lot of the time, and it feels unbelievable where other authors writing about teenage spies manage to make the events more realistic.

It's not the worst book in the series though and does well to make the plot more relevant to the character and less of a random stand-alone adventure. It will be interesting to see where things progress in the later novels.

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Taken at the Flood

Taken at the Flood

5th February 2013

An interesting if slightly unfulfilling mystery for Hercule Poirot as he is called on to investigate something different to the usual - this time, he's asked to prove someone is alive. It's a complex plot involving a lot of family relationships and quite a large backstory.

The first half of the book focuses on setting up the mystery - who the characters are and how they have found themselves in their situations. This felt like it dragged a bit and made me wonder quite when Poirot was going to make an appearance. He finally turns up about halfway through and sets about his investigations, which then seem quite rushed and disappointing.

The characters - particularly the female ones - are generally well developed and show strong personalities that are probably the most interesting feature of the story. The plot has sufficient complications to baffle the reader, although I did manage to unpuzzle at least some of the clues.

Overall, a middling novel in the series I think - neither the best or worst of the bunch. It starts well, but the actual meat of the story is in the set-up rather than the remainder.

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Coots in the North and other stories

Coots in the North and other stories

3rd February 2013

The beginnings of the thirteenth Swallows and Amazons novel is collected along with a few other short or incomplete works by Arthur Ransome, which makes this much more than just some disconnected scenes from a work in progress.

Coots in the North would have seen the Death & Glories travel from the Norfolk Broads to the Lake District, and the text contains the opening of this story, which though unpolished shows the usual Ransome style and really pulls the reader into the story, which makes it more of a shame that it then stops, with the remaining portions of narrative only adding a few extra scenes. It's an interesting insight into the author's writing process, while also a disappointment that there is no more.

The other stories are equally interesting, though having not read Ransome's work outside his most famous series I may not appreciate all of it fully. The tone is very familiar, and I found the sections that open this collection the most interesting - the opening chapters of a potential book about a fisherman's life, and a later chapter from the same presented in the first person. Both stand alone quite well as short stories, and have encouraged me that now I've finished re-reading the Ransome books I've kept since a child to look out for some of his other stories.

I think I've appreciated this book much more as an adult than I did when I read it as a child, and perhaps the grown reader is the best audience for it. It evokes memories of reading about the lakes as a child, and of wanting to become a writer myself in order to complete the story!

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Dragon Haven

Dragon Haven

3rd February 2013

The second book in the Rain Wilds Chronicles is more the second half of the first book than a separate novel. It follows the journey of the dragons, their keepers and the rest of the party as they travel up the Rain Wilds river to find the legendary city of Kelsingra.

It's not really an exciting tale of adventure though, rather more looking at the characters and how they, and the relationships between them, develop over time. As such, while it's interesting to follow their lives, the narrative isn't really gripping and I didn't find I was as hooked as I have been with earlier Robin Hobb novels.

The characters are good, varied, and perhaps deeper than ever before. Really I suppose this is a love story, a little reminiscent of the film Love Actually, as it follows the budding romances between pairs of characters, and the collapse of others. In this, it's really good, and there's one particular relationship that I found fascinating to follow.

It's quite different to the author's usual tales, and I quite liked the variety, but didn't find it as engaging. It's a little slow and is very much the middle and end of the story started in The Dragon Keeper.

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Pulling Up Stakes (part 1)

Pulling Up Stakes (part 1)

30th January 2013

The first half of Peter David's Pulling Up Stakes introduces us to Vince, a vampire hunter with a deadly secret - he is a vampire himself.

David builds a surprisingly rich world in a short space of time, giving his characters round edges and creating a tale that is easily believable. It's an interesting concept to set up what appears to be a straightforward story, but becomes increasingly complicated throughout.

The author's usual sense of humour shines through, filling the first-person narrative with real-world references that amuse at the expense of other popular vampire franchises.

It was great to have something short yet memorable to read through over a weekend and I've already downloaded part two to continue reading when I next have an odd e-book moment.

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Race of Scorpions

Race of Scorpions

30th January 2013

James Goes crafts an e-novella about a historical assassin, hired by an elderly noble, but who ends up instead serving as detective as her client dies.

I read this in a piecemeal fashion over a period of two months, which means I haven't really absorbed it as well as if I had read it in a quick few sittings, but still I found it entertained me in the few moments I could give it.

The mystery works well, and the range of characters are interesting and could clearly have been taken further. The writing is serious but with a good quantity of humour sprinkled in that makes this a beautiful quick read.

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Bad Science

Bad Science

30th January 2013

Ben Goldacre, a junior doctor, writes about his many criticisms of dodgy science, and particularly the journalists who wrote about it and spread misinformation.

While it's well researched, true, educational and a good presentation of the science and lack of it behind various claims, the aggressive tone grates against the reader and the attempt to make me feel anger just turns into frustration at the book.

Goldacre's writing can Ben come across as egotistic in places, and he certainly doesn't write in a way that's likely to endear him to those who disagree with his views. It seems that he is preaching to the choir. A more relaxed style, even in alternating chapters, might have made the book easier to read, but as it is the continued stress of reading builds up to the point where I just couldn't wait for the final few chapters to finish so I could relax.

I do feel I've learnt a little from this book, particularly from the early sections on clinical trials, but I'm not convinced its the best way to communicate science.

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The Killing

The Killing

27th January 2013

In the fourth Cherub novel, Robert Muchamore's writing returns to the power of the first two books, as teenage secret agent James Adams is sent in to help find the source of a minor criminal's sudden windfall.

Muchamore's writing is perfect for modern children, focusing on realism and believability, and creating characters that his readers can relate to and sympathise with.

Packed with excitement, every reader will want to be a part of Cherub and live the thrilling lives of James and Lauren Adams.

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Where Do Comedians Go When They Die

Where Do Comedians Go When They Die

27th January 2013

Comedian Milton Jones is famous for his one-liners on TV programmes such as Mock The Week, but in this novel he presents a good mix or humour and plot as he tells the tale of not-unfamiliar comedian Jerome Stevens through ten years of his life.

I really like the style of the narrative, alternating between the character reflecting on his immediate past during his journeys between and after various gigs and his situation at the end of the ten-year time span. It's an interesting way to tell a story that is essentially the characters inner monologue without it reading like continual exposition.

The humour is perhaps a little lighter than I was expecting, and a lot of it plays in ironically as Stevens considers ideas for his routines, but overall I enjoyed reading it and would probably read more from Jones if he chooses to write a follow-up novel.

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The Abduction

The Abduction

18th January 2013

Theodore Boone returns for a second adventure, with all the flaws of the first, plus a weaker plot and far less going on. This time, Theo's friend April had vanished in the middle of the night, and the police are desperate to find her.

The story is quick, dull and devoid of excitement. There's nothing here to interest a young reader. Theo is slightly less perfect than in book one, worried about disobeying his parents in places and attempting to get out of school (weakly), but he still remains a flawless child that any 1950s parent would be content with.

The problem is that it feels like it was written for a child of the past. The language is not modern, the character's activities are not typically relatable, an it's an incredibly classist and sexist book. Theo's family are posh enough to eat at restaurants every day, and the narration constantly berates lower class people and describes areas of the town where more people rent than own as undesirable. This comes across as a disgusting prejudice throughout the book and really turns me off as a reader.

Grisham may sometimes be able to pen gems as a writer of legal thrillers, but he seems to have no understanding of children, and really should stay away from this market.

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The Body Electric

The Body Electric

18th January 2013

Book three of the Cold Equations trilogy by David Mack, author of the amazing Destiny trilogy and two brilliant novels already this time, is something of a disappointment. A grave threat to the galaxy and beyond is discovered by Wesley Crusher, and the Enterprise is the only ship that could possibly save the day. Meanwhile one former crew member is hunting for the one man who can bring his daughter back to life.

The parallel plots (neither seem to be more prominent than the other) work well in parallel, but the situation the Enterprise is thrust into is reminiscent of some of the old Trek novels of the nineties and doesn't seem in keeping with the more recent, and more realistic, approached to cross-series continuity in the novels. The level of danger is so extreme that it becomes impossible to expect anything but success for the characters, removing any tension from this side of the story. It's like a game of peril one-upmanship gone too far.

The other half is stronger in premise but feels weakened by a lack of attention and limited action. As a work of science fiction it has a good basis, and there are lots of new characters who explore the available possibility space in a number of interesting ways, but as characters they aren't explored in any real depth and the situation in which we find them doesn't seem consistent with how they are presented.

Until the final quarter, the narrative progresses slowly and I did not feel compelled to read on in any great rush, even taking several days in the middle to read something else. Overall I thought this was a weak conclusion for a Mack book which are usually some of the best in the series.

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A Memory of Light

A Memory of Light

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12th January 2013

The final book in The Wheel of Time, completed by Brandon Sanderson following the death of Robert Jordan, but including passages and an epilogue written by the original series creator. Rand al'Thor, the Dragon Reborn, must make the Light's final stand against the Dark One, as the Last Battle begins across the whole world.

This book has been worth the wait. The last battle is truly worthy of the name and shows Sanderson to be a fantastic author, planning the intricate detail of so many complex scenes and weaving them together in a way that not only flows but makes things clear to the reader despite the huge potential for confusion.

It's a book about war, and so was never going to be the lightest book in the series. Battles are a major focus right from the start, and there are sad moments throughout, but Sanderson mixes in humour in a subtle way that doesn't feel out of place in the context - much of it not even being a joke in the story, but which references the real world in ways to make the reader smile.

As an ending, it works well to wrap things up, although there are a few things that left me slightly confused and will probably require a re-reading of at least the end, if not the entire series, for me to understand fully. It is addictive reading, and at one point I decided to just read one more chapter before breaking, only to discover it was 190 pages long.

It is a worthy ending to the series, although I am slightly sad that this means there will be no more - I've only started four years ago and yet the characters have become very familiar, and the prospect of never reading more about them is a slightly odd feeling.

It is an ending that does justice to everything that has come before.

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The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters

The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters

12th January 2013

Finally in book four of the five find-outers series the team get a proper mystery to solve. The children are home for the school holidays when Pip and Bets maid (so it's a bit out-dated) receives a horrible letter and runs away. The children set out to find who wrote it before Constable Goon.

Filled with the usual humour, mystery, disguise, and the Blyton mix of easy language with some unexpected challenging words thrown in, this is probably one of the best of the whole series.

For the first time, the mystery that the team have to solve requires proper detection work, and is much more like an Agatha Christie mystery. Fatty even seems a little like Christie's Poirot in his dramatic style and detective skills.

An excellent book and a puzzle that the reader can solve along with the characters.

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The Tombs

The Tombs

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8th January 2013

The fourth book in the Fargo series, featuring millionaire treasure-hunters Sam and Remi Fargo, sees the adventurous couple on the trail of Attila the Hun, chasing around the world following a variety of clues, with unscrupulous opponents on their heels. A new co-author joins Cussler, which I had hoped would make a change to some of the earlier books' shortfalls, but that's not really the case.

The fundamental idea for the story is a good one, though there are some details which seem to be glossed over as if the reader is not expected to notice - plausible character motivation being one, but the execution is poor. The style of the narrative is very basic and doesn't lend any depth to the characters - there's no thought or emotion from them, and in several points it feels like a cold description of events or even a children's novel in the way it depicts what's happening.

There are some pretty fundamental plot-holes, and I found this quite distracting, chief among them an issue with the timeline of events which suggests that historical characters knew their own futures. A lot seemed rushed, with problems being solved instantly and searches that in reality would take months being completed in an afternoon.

The most annoying thing about this book though was the characters - two multi-millionaires just don't work as main characters, as money seems to solve too many of their problems, chartering planes, replacing equipment etc. One new character also has the amazing ability to do absolutely anything at the drop of a hat despite being just a random they picked up on the journey. None of the main characters had any flaws or weaknesses and this just made for a dull and ultimately predictable adventure.

Overall, although I found it entertaining and at least didn't feel bogged down at any point, the Fargo series still disappoints. It's definitely the weakest of the Cussler brands and the new author couldn't pull it up to the standard of Cussler's original novels.

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The Redeemer

The Redeemer

8th January 2013

Harry Hole's sixth adventure sees the alcoholic detective, fresh from the ongoing storyline of the previous three novels, investigating the assassination of a Salvation Army official in the middle of an Oslo Christmas concert. As usual, things aren't quite that simple.

In common with a number of Nesbo's books that I've read, this one has an awkward beginning. The opening chapters didn't grip me and seemed overly graphic and unrelated to some of what came later. The plot, once it picks up, is actually the best part of this book, with a satisfying number of twists, turns and double-bluffs. The mystery is very strong despite the time spent aligned with characters from all sides and the urge to find out more is what really drove me to read quickly.

The characters however aren't so enthralling and in many cases feel underdeveloped. Where they are given backstory it tends to be in the form of a massive chunk of life history which distracts from what's happening in the story rather than naturally filling in the reader.

Overall, a very similar book to others in the series, with a good story and some particularly enjoyable scenes. I'm still not convinced that Nesbo is one of the best crime writers around, but his books are certainly popular.

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Night of the Living Trekkies

Night of the Living Trekkies

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4th January 2013

A surprisingly awesome book in which a Star Trek convention in a Houston hotel is overrun by zombies, and we follow unwilling hotel staffer Jim Pike as he tries to rescue his sister.

This is a book for Trekkies more than anyone, and is filled with more Star Trek references than an official Trek reference book. There are also tips of the hat to a variety of other science fiction franchises, which makes this more rounded than just a fanboyish novel might sound. Even the things that seem not to be Trek related are, such as a lot of the characters' names.

I'm not usually a reader of horror novels - I bought this based on the title alone - but to me it stood up as a story with a lot more depth than I was expecting. The characters are rounded and believable, and the action is entirely plausible. We're aligned with one character pretty much throughout as the plot flows naturally and at a perfect speed.

I wasn't expecting anything this good when I picked this book up and am very pleased I've read it - it was hard to put down and is probably one of the most fun books I've read for some time. Absolutely fantastic - I hope the authors have more to come.

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