All 2014 reviews - Shastrix Books

2014

All reviews

Mad Dogs

Mad Dogs

31st December 2014

The eighth book in the Cherub series hows some old character development as each of the main characters grow older and more or less wise. The setting of a gang war introduces the reader to a wider range of agents than in some of the earlier books, and gives more chance for the author's style of realistic, almost too authentic, portrayals of teenagers.

This book, along with the rest of the series, very clearly states on the cover that it's aimed at an older young audience, and this one in particular features a number of more adult themes, both romantic and violent, than earlier ones and so some parents may decide they want to vet this before giving it to their children.

One of the things that stood out here is the borders between black and white, and how easy it is to fall in between. Several characters have difficult choices to make and that's really interesting in a young adult book that it really engages the reader in a way that a lot of books don't.

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Rivers of London

Rivers of London

31st December 2014

The first book of a new series and new author for me, following a young police constable, fresh out of training and on the beat as part of the Metropolitan Police where he is rapidly seconded into an unusual unit that deals with investigating the odd. It didn't strike me as a particularly new idea - the urban fantasy setting is similar to several series that I've read before, and even tying that to the idea of an investigator is familiar (e.g.Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, Christopher Fowler's Bryant & May).

That said, this book did immediately capture my attention with its humour and character. Peter Grant, the main character and narrator, is an engaging chap and is believable as a character to align the audience with as he is introduced to the magical world - in a way very much like Harry Potter, where the reader learns with the character. Similarly, there's clearly a lot going on that we're not, as readers, let in on at this stage in the narrative and I'm looking forward to following the story on in the sequels.

The plot itself is interesting, although there were perhaps a few too many strands of narrative to pull together. There are some nice twists and turns and reveals along the way that really do well to keep the reader interested. That said, there are elements that I thought were obvious surprisingly early on but the characters didn't pick up on until later.

Genuinely one of the best comedic urban fantasies that I've read and one that's high up on my favourite books read in 2014.

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An Officer and a Spy

An Officer and a Spy

29th December 2014

I think I'm becoming more comfortable with not finishing a book. I read 150 pages of this novel before giving up - it's not that it did anything to put me off, more that it didn't do anything to keep me reading. The plot felt like it had barely moved, and yet time seemed t be whizzing past.

The characters did nothing to endear them to me at all - it was almost as if their historical nature meant that they had to be quite boring. Perhaps instead it was an artefact of the first-person presentation, as if the book were being written as a letter rather than a diary, by someone with all sense of imagination drummed out of them.

I admit, I probably could have persevered with this book, and perhaps if it hadn't been the Christmas holidays I may have ploughed on through my commutes over a week or so and got to the end, but there are so many more books to read and when I'm off work I'd rather be reading something riveting (like the next book I read, which had me hooked straight away).

So not a disappointment, just not something that captured my attention. It was worth a go though.

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Three to Get Deadly

Three to Get Deadly

21st December 2014

Book three - my favourite of the first three in the series - sees Stephanie Plum, bounty hunter, on the trail of much-loved local personality 'Uncle Mo', who has skipped bail on a minor charge. Typically she ends up mixed up in something slightly bigger and amusingly complex.

The structure of the story is strong, both from the perspective of the 'main' plot and the B story 'soap' plot that Plum and her co-cast of characters follow. I really enjoy the recurring gags and find the light-hearted approach to a crime story very compelling.

One disappointment of this particular novel was the blurb - one of the plot points mentioned didn't come to pass until relatively late and even then didn't turn out as momentous as the back cover had implied. If it hadn't been called out, I wouldn't have been watching for it all the time and distracted from what was actually happening.

I'm glad this was better than book two as I've got a shelf (well, technically a box at the moment) full of later books in this series and now can look forward eagerly to picking them up for a light escape every now and then.

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The Collectors

The Collectors

21st December 2014

Christopher L Bennett's third story about the Department of Temporal Investigations sees investigators Dulmer and Lucsley returning with an anachronistic artefact to the DTI's base on Eris, followed by a slight accident that reunites them with an old friend.

The novella format seems to have freed the author from some of the gravity of a traditional Trek novel and he takes the opportunity to add a very welcome pile of humour that makes the whole reading experience greatly entertaining. While I often don't get on well with the Star Trek stories that focus on non-TV character, this one was a delight to read.

Bennett's vision of the future is one of fantastic detail, and his writing style allows the reader to pick up on things slightly ahead of the characters, one of my favourite traits in fiction. Overall a really good quick (but actually I didn't think too quick) read that adds to the DTI's story and makes me hope that he's able to return to this series again in the future.

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Footprints Under the Window

Footprints Under the Window

, &

21st December 2014

Hardy Boys book twelve, as updated in 1965, sees the sibling detective teenagers rescue a man who has fallen overboard, and who gives them a cryptic warning about footprints before disappearing. It's a good adventure story that includes some international travel.

Parts of the story feel dated, and to an adult reader a little bit odd - as in one of the earlier stories, references to unfriendly countries are vague and don't feel a natural part of the narrative. On the other hand, they added a little grandeur to the story that some of the earlier books were lacking with an over reliance on a particular type of criminal.

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A Dance with Dragons (2: After the Feast)

A Dance with Dragons (2: After the Feast)

21st December 2014

The second half of the fifth book of A Song of Ice and Fire really does work as it's own book. Each chapter of the whole series really comes across as its own episode and they could easily be strung together in one long story or split between almost any one. Martin splits his novels at particularly shocking places though, and this follows that trend.

A reminder - this is the increasingly diverse story of a group of factions each trying to invade or defend a land mass from invasion, insurrection or supernatural attack. The characters who have survived this far are almost all ones that I enjoy spending time with, although because of the structure of the narrative at this point, there are some who go completely without mention.

One thing I did find with this volume though is that the chapters have become somewhat formulaic - or it's just that I've read enough now to recognise the formula. The chapter begins by updating us on a character's situation since the last 'episode' in which we saw them, then they make a plan for what to do next, attempt to execute it, and something goes horribly wrong. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with this structure, but the repetition meant that I started to expect it and try to predict the ending rather than just enjoy the ride.

Still a fantastic series though and I'm now desperately waiting for the next instalment - the first that I'll be able to read in hardback as soon as it's out, regardless of how long it is.

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While the Clock Ticked

While the Clock Ticked

, &

10th December 2014

Hardy Boys original number eleven (as revised in 1962) sees the teen detectives take on a new investigation when their father is unavailable. A range of coincidences come together as usual to tie several different mysteries together into a closed room mystery that the boys struggle to solve, including some of their biggest peril so far in the series.

While some elements of the series seem to be becoming quite repetitive - the number of criminal gangs in the same line of business in one little town is quite surprising - this is a good example of the Hardy Boys, and belies the claim the first ten books were the best, as this is certainly better than some of them.

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What Happened At Midnight

What Happened At Midnight

6th December 2014

So many things happened at midnight that it almost feels like this started life as a title looking for a plot (which is actually quite plausible given that my copy was of the rewritten 1967 text). The tenth book in the original (rewritten) Hardy Boys series finds the two characters given a mission by their father to break into a house and steal a new invention - this at least makes for an interesting twist as we end what are apparently considered the best of Hardy Boys fiction.

There are some nice moments in this story - particularly for Frank - which I enjoyed, and a trip to New York which added some colour and helps to stop the series becoming too samey. On the other hand though we revisit a number of tropes of the series already - boats, planes, cars, fights - all things that the series started without and has already picked up like bad habits.

This is an average story in the series and probably not one that stands out - I can't imagine the title will remind me of what happened in this one in a few days, let alone months or years like some of the other stories.

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Mr Dixon Disappears

Mr Dixon Disappears

6th December 2014

In book two of the Mobile Library series the reader rejoins Israel Armstrong - reluctant mobile librarian in a Northern Irish town who is surprised to be arrested on suspicion of robbery and kidnapping. I paid far too much for this novel for what it was worth, having accidentally given myself permission to go on a minor book-buying spree.

I had thought the first book was okay and commented at the time that I felt it ended too abruptly, so I was keen to find out what happened next. The chief problem with this book is that not a lot happens next, and what little does fails to really make sense. I wonder if this is meant to be part of the charm of this story - that we see everything from the point of view of the main character who isn't up to understanding what's going on around him - but I think that if that were the case it would be funnier if the reader could see him being a bit naive and understanding things better themselves. It actually comes across as the people of Northern Ireland being weird, which is probably a bit offensive.

Ultimately a disappointment, and after two chances I'm ready to give up on this series. The crime aspect of the story was weak, predictable, and straightforwardly implemented, and the character was weak and uninspiring. Oh well.

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Police

Police

6th December 2014

The tenth book in the Harry Hole series - surprising because it doesn't feel like I've read ten books or spent that long with the characters - picks up not long after the conclusion of Phantom and takes forward some of the plot threads that were left hanging. As can be expected for this series, there's a serial killer wandering Oslo - and all the police characters from the series to date come together in a massive investigation.

Nesbo crafts the story well, leading me into making assumptions, then leading me to doubt my assumptions - a great way to keep me interested and constantly mulling over the story in my mind between reading sessions. I really liked how this felt much more of an ensemble piece than some of the earlier works and we got to spend some quality point-of-view time with lots of the recurring characters - they now feel much more real to me than in previous books.

This is by far the most emotional of all the Hole stories - Nesbo really managed to hook me in to the plot and characters and make me feel truly scared for them. This was surprising in itself as I rarely become that involved with fictional characters, and I really liked how the author managed to get under my skin.

Quite possibly the best book in the series - though you probably have to have read the others to be into it as much as I was. I'm ambivalently hoping that this isn't the final book so that I can visit the characters again, and that this was the final book so that they (and I) aren't put through such gut-wrenching experiences again.

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Mitosis

Mitosis

2nd December 2014

This is a very short sequel to Brandon Sanderson's earlier novel Steelheart, and serves as part one and a half, leading up to the second full-length novel Firefight which is coming in 2015. It's very short. Very short. As long as you know that going in, you won't be disappointed.

The story re-introduces the characters from the first book, and serves to update the reader on what happened after the end of that story, setting the stage for the full sequel to come. I found it really enjoyable to dip into a Sanderson world again and revisit this story - even for something so short it tells a nicely rounded story that expands the world.

It is short, and this may put some people off the volume I read - the hardback. For many readers a 75 page hardback book might be something they haven't had since their age was in single digits, but I'm a Sanderson fan and love to have his books on paper.

Short. But great.

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Hammered

Hammered

2nd December 2014

The third volume in the Iron Druid chronicles is a direct sequel to the second, and rounds off a number of story threads serving as an end to the opening trilogy. There are a lot of battle scenes which actually I find a bit of a turn off compared to the more talky bits, and the humour seemed to be taken a little too far in places.

The plot also felt a little more absurd than the earlier novels, despite being perfectly in keeping with the world and style established. It felt a bit 'epic' in scale and I think that detracted from the simplicity of the set up that had charmed me earlier.

There is a nice opportunity to get to know some of the characters a bit better, which I really enjoyed. As that part of the book began I was concerned that it might turn out to be filler just to space out the action, but actually it was very interesting and probably my favourite sequence from the book.

Overall, a nice action/fantasy/comedy romp that I enjoyed - but perhaps not quite as much as Hexed or Hounded. I'm still looking forward to finding out where Hearne takes the story in the next few books which are sitting waiting on my shelf.

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Shoot to Kill

Shoot to Kill

2nd December 2014

A new Young Bond novel that I didn't even find out about until the day after publication - not sure if that's a black mark for the marketing department (not sure I'm target audience) or Amazon's recommendations (which should definitely know I'm a Bond fan).

The story takes place following the end of the series written by Charlie Higson (which covered Bond's time at Eton) but before he starts at his next school, Fettes - which allows the author to have some fun and take Bond away from home much in the style of many of the original Fleming novels.

Despite the setting in the earlier half of the twentieth century, Coles has managed to craft a really exciting story that doesn't feel dated to a (admittedly slightly old) reader in the twenty-first. It's full of the technology, peril, adventure, glamour and action that's expected of James Bond, and while there are tiny hints of things to come, it skips some of the aspects of the original character that might not work in a book aimed at younger readers.

An exciting, superbly paced, richly detailed story about one of my favourite characters that really hints, perhaps more so than Higson even, at the man Bond will become.

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Long Lost

Long Lost

2nd December 2014

The ninth Myron Bolitar adventure is the most serious and surprisingly dark of the series that I've read. Bolitar is summoned to Paris by an old flame and becomes embroiled in an investigation that spirals completely out of control.

The whole plot takes on a very serious angle that seems out of keeping with the comic style that marked out the earlier novels as being 'Hardy Boys for grown-ups'. There are moments where the banter between the characters remains, but it seems out of joint with the nature of the story which feels more like something from one of the author's straighter crime novels.

I wasn't that impressed actually - it's not what I was hoping for with another Bolitar adventure, which I associate with a bit of a lighter experience (though it's still modern crime rather than armchair detectives). I preferred the originals, and hope that the next (and to date final) book in the series is more in keeping.

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The Great Airport Mystery

The Great Airport Mystery

, &

19th November 2014

The ninth Hardy Boys adventure is the most violent so far in my re-read of the series, and this the updated 1965 edition that's meant to have removed less desirable content. As is typical, the boys are called in by their father to help out on a case, going undercover at a local factory to investigate platinum thefts, but things soon spiral into something much larger.

As plots go, this has been one of the least plausible of the series this far - the boys are constantly travelling both by plane and helicopter and it stretches my imagination when it fails to mention how this is funded. The boys seem to be brought in for something that the police could definitely have dealt with, and the combination of mysteries becomes overly coincidental.

Overall I felt a bit disappointed by this book, and if you're looking for a single book in the series (rather than being a completionist like me) then I'd suggest you give this one a miss.

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The Novice

The Novice

17th November 2014

The second book in the Black Magician trilogy continues the story of Sonea, a girl from the slums who has managed to break centuries of tradition by being accepted into the magical university. It's now effectively her first year of school, and I was worried that it might become derivative of other stories set in education establishments for the magically inclined - but it's not.

The school-based storyline is original and authentic - Sonea's actions and reactions are very believable and the twists throughout make for a fascinating tale. Similarly, the other strands of the plot following some of the more senior magicians are revealing, and in places I'm sure I've already picked up on hints of things to come in book three.

There are places in the narrative where the writing style still feels a little unpolished, as I said about the first book, but this doesn't detract from the tale, and even makes it feel a little more approachable. The plot really sucked me in, and it's one of the most addictive books I've read for a while.

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Lock In

Lock In

16th November 2014

John Scalzi is rapidly becoming one of my favourite science fiction authors. In this new novel he depicts a world after a massive flu epidemic, which leaves thousands of people with a type of locked-in syndrome. Industry quickly catches up, with mind-controlled robots becoming available for the locked-in to use to interact with the world. This is the story of a locked in FBI officer in his first week on the job.

The science fiction elements of the story are fascinating. It's a really clever idea to think about users of remote controlled avatars ad how their world would work, for example being able to rent a new body in a different place and jump straight there. There are aspects that really stand out, including the slang that's developed around the new situations. Scalzi also uses these elements of world building to feed the plot, rather than just to create somewhere for it to happen, and I really liked the complete integration of the whole story.

The characters are really interesting, although I didn't feel we explored them in as much depth as we could have. There area a good range of characters all of whom fit into the world that Scalzi has constructed and help to make the whole novel feel a single work of art. The story keeps you guessing, and fits the mould of a crime novel without compromise - making it one of the best pieces of cross-genre fiction I've read for some time.

An excellent novel that explores potentially real issues while remaining thoroughly entertaining. I'm really loving getting into John Scalzi's novels and will definitely be looking to fill out my collection of his back catalogue as I wait for the next one.

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The Mystery of Cabin Island

The Mystery of Cabin Island

, &

15th November 2014

The eighth book in the original Hardy Boys series (in my case the 1966 revised edition) sees the teenage investigators having a winter holiday as a reward following one of their earlier cases in an uncommon reference back to an earlier story (The Shore Road Mystery). As is emerging as a frequent occurrence as I re-read, there are two separate mysteries to challenge the boys.

This is an interesting entry in the series with a slightly different feel to hose that have gone before. There's less reliance on others to find a case, and it introduces some novel ideas around red herrings and some new local adversaries that seem to have potential to become recurring characters, making the boys feel more like real teenagers rather than the more adult characters that they tend to come across as.

Overall this is a good story and a strong mystery with a lot of twists to keep a young reader interested.

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Perfect People

Perfect People

8th November 2014

This is the first book by Peter James I've read outside of his Roy Grace series of detective novels, and I wasn't sure what to expect. It's the tale of a couple who find they are both carriers of a genetic disease, and their attempt to have a child that doesn't inherit those genes. It's an exploration of the concept of designer babies, and looks at some of the possible things that would arise.

It's one of the most interesting novels I've read in a while, despite really being more within the thriller genre that crime, and one of the few recently that I've found I wanted to keep reading when I got home in the evening rather than reserve just for my train journeys. The short chapters that James uses make for a very fast feeling plot and really keep the reader engaged.

There are some disturbing scenes - but I've come to expect that from a Peter James novel, and actually I'd predicted that something like that would be coming up, but it's still a bit shocking when it comes. I'm not really sure how the plot makes me feel over all, and I'm not sure either quite what moral the author was planning to put across, if indeed any - if the book was intended to change or challenge my own views on genetics though I'm afraid it didn't feel believable enough for that.

A very enjoyable, if dark, and interesting read throughout, which I'm glad I read. I'm still nervous though about picking up any more of Peter James' novels if they're going to be as intense as this.

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The Secret of the Caves

The Secret of the Caves

, &

8th November 2014

The seventh book in the original Hardy Boys series (actually, my copy is the Anglicised version of the 1964 rewrite) depicts the brother detectives helping their dad in another case and going hunting for treasure with their friend's new metal detector.

Although the plot feels quite coincidental in its structure, by this point the stories seem to be moulding themselves into more of a traditional detective story structure and the two boys are becoming more independent.

I enjoyed this mystery for the most part, although I thought it was very clear where some of the story had been dramatically updated for the 1960s version and probably didn't match the original.

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Disavowed

Disavowed

8th November 2014

Although labelled as a Section 31 novel, this isn't really part of the series of that name from some ten years ago, but rather a sequel to the recent 'The Fall' crossover series of novels, and follows Dr Bashir as he attempts to infiltrate the shadowy organisation that has been trying to recruit him since DS9's sixth season.

Like all the Star Trek novels I've read by David Mack, this is really good. He manages to write for the TV series characters perfectly and to continue to develop their characters in an authentic and believable manner, while bringing in new unfamiliar characters and building them up so that the reader has as much invested in them as the stars.

I was a bit nervous when I discovered that this book was taking a dive into the Mirror Universe, as I've always felt a bit of a disconnect from this and never read the MU series of novels and novellas from a few years ago, but having now read this I can report that I barely felt I'd missed out and Mack filled me in through the narrative on everything I needed to know about the setting and characters. I liked very much how he used the opportunity to use a range of familiar and new faces in the MU to add to its tapestry, and I'm almost inspired to go back and fill in some of the gaps in my past reading.

The plot is strong and solid, and a great adventure that I enjoyed taking alongside the characters. I can do little but look forward to more in the promised follow-up novel. Great once again, and could even provide a good entry point into the series for readers who've not kept up with the many strands of the post-Nemesis novel series.

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Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

2nd November 2014

This book has been tempting me for a good few years - I remember the mass poster campaigns across Britain's railway stations in its early days that always made me wonder whether it would be something for me - and yet it took a personal recommendation from a friend for me to actually pick it up. It's the story of Britain's only two magicians in the era of the Napoleonic war as they rediscover lost magical arts from the country's history.

The book is big. It's 1000 pages but feels as you read it to be so much longer. The language is old fashioned, presented in a first-person narrative that comes across almost as a parody of late-nineteenth century writing styles, and this makes it harder to read than the smooth flowing narrative of modern writing - it took me a week to get to page 200, and another week to get to 500. At that point I stopped.

I'd been told that things didn't pick up until a couple of hundred page in, so I persevered for as long as I could, but the book wasn't gripping me, and the opportunity cost of other books I could be reading was too great for me to continue. I found that every time I started reading that I could go for about 20 minutes before falling asleep - even on trains where I normally read forever. I had nothing but my time invested and there was no feeling that I needed to find out what happened to the characters, none of whom I found I particularly liked.

Overall - abandoned halfway with no interest in continuing, so I can't recommend it at all.

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On the Last Day of Christmas

On the Last Day of Christmas

1st November 2014

Jack Parlabane, famed investigative journalist with unorthodox methodoly and star of many of Brookmyre's earlier novels returns after several years' absence in this short novella with unclear title (the ebook's title begins with the word 'On', but this word is absent on the cover image). In this tale we find the character down on his luck, working the news factory for a daily paper in London, when coincidence lands a promisingly juicy story in his lap.

While it is short - parts of two train journeys was enough to get through it - it's typical of the classic Brookmyre style, with witty narrative, amusing situations and a fantastically entertaining choice of language throughout. Yet it also makes you think, and has a really solid core of plot and character behind it.

I'm very much looking forward now to the new novel in January (2015) and hoping that this short shows the way of things to come. Excellent if you already love the Brookmyre comedic novels, and probably quite a good introduction for the first timer.

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Gray Mountain

Gray Mountain

1st November 2014

Gray Mountain is the first John Grisham book that I've read on publication, having caught up after some five years of reading through his back catalogue in publication order. I was wary going in because the title used 'Gray' in the UK edition rather than being translated into 'Grey', but it turns out it's a proper noun, so okay.

The story follows a young lawyer who loses her job at the typical big New York firm in the 2008 financial collapse. She's told to do some voluntary work for a bit, and heads off into the mountains to help out at a clinic providing legal services for those who can't afford them.

As a story, it comes across as a little preachy around the ideas of big business and particularly the coal mining industry, but I suppose that's part of setting the scene. The plot is solid and multi-stranded rather than having the single focus of some of Grisham's books, but ultimately it does nothing new - nothing that makes this stand out from the array of previous legal thrillers that I've read, and ultimately it ends without giving a satisfying feeling that you've seen the tale through.

Mixed feelings overall about this book. I certainly enjoyed reading it, but it doesn't stand out from the Grisham canon as anything special.

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Fated

Fated

1st November 2014

The first book in the Alex Verus series, this book introduces the character and his world well through a first-person tale which finds the mage stuck between two magical factions who both want to get their hands on a recently discovered artefact.

It's no secret that Jacka was inspired by Jim Butcher's Dresden Files novels, and the style does feel incredibly similar - yet the London setting makes some things feel more authentic to me (knowing that city far better than I know Chicago). The tone does however seem a little too cocky in places and I felt that it might have been good to have a narrator that felt younger and a little less confident.

The plot is solid and contains a good exploration of the character's backstory that's developed throughout. I thought that in places it was over laboured though and it felt we covered too much in one go and that it would have been nice to have a bit more left mysterious to tempt me into the rest of the series.

I'm not sure that the book is quite my cup of tea, but enjoyed it enough that I plan to pick up the second novel in the series at some point in the future.

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The Shore Road Mystery

The Shore Road Mystery

, &

1st November 2014

The sixth book in the Hardy Boys series, in my case the revised edition from 1964, sees the Hardys investigating a spate of car thefts from along the Shore Road in their hometown. It's the first time I've felt that the pair have really tackled a crime in a methodical manner suited to real detectives.

The plot moves at a good pace, carries humorous moments successfully, and as a mystery works really well. Probably one of the best stories up to this point in the series.

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Acts of Contrition

Acts of Contrition

18th October 2014

The latest novel in the Voyager continuation series follows immediately on from the previous story, 'Protectors'. The 'Full Circle' fleet, including Voyager, are continuing diplomatic relations with a new culture, but far more interesting are the side plots about the characters we know from the TV show.

This is the sixth book in the series that Kirsten Beyer has written, and I'm afraid to say I think it's all got a bit too convoluted to follow properly. I find that I can't remember what's happened well enough to understand the story properly, and it takes me most of the book to set in my mind who each of the new characters are. I think that at some point I'll have to do a full re-read to catch up. It's a shame as this happened before with New Frontier and the first DS9 relaunch, and I'd hoped that the editors might have improved things this time around.

This book is the middle of a three-book story arc, and continues a number of plot lines set up in earlier novels. I found (as always), Beyer's strongest storytelling is in the parts that deal closely with the characters, their families, and their interpersonal relationships. Her action pieces and even the science fiction don't entice me as much. In this novel, the story lines around Tom Paris, Seven of Nine, and The Doctor were particularly interesting, and I wished that far more had been made of these - the 'main' plot felt much more about positioning the pieces ready for the final act in the next book.

I didn't find this book as engaging as I would have liked, and I certainly didn't have an urge to constantly keep reading, but the plot is sound and I have enjoyed revisiting some familiar characters who continue to be written really well. I think that the next book should bring this sequence to a close though and allow for a good new entry point following that, to give new readers a chance to drop in without having to go through the back catalogue.

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Not a Drill

Not a Drill

18th October 2014

This year's Jack Reacher short story sees the character heading to the Canadian border and meeting up with some hikers, who encounter a mystery.

It's very short, and doesn't give the insight into the character that previous short stories have, instead being more about the plot, which is ultimately fairly straightforward. There's plenty of potential there for this to have become a longer tale, but it's not picked up on and actually feels a bit of a disappointment.

Although I knew it was short, I was saddened by how brief it was and felt that overall it didn't live up to the promise of the last couple of shorter stories in the Reacher series.

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Q Are Cordialy Uninvited

Q Are Cordialy Uninvited

18th October 2014

Another excellent novella in the Star Trek ebook-only line, this time giving the story behind one of the events that occurred between earlier novels - Captain Picard's wedding.

The story is a succinctly told adventure featuring a number of returning guest characters that Joseph writes perfectly. I very much enjoyed reading it and hope the author is able to contribute further to the Trek novel line.

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Hunting for Hidden Gold

Hunting for Hidden Gold

, &

18th October 2014

Book five of the original Hardy Boys series of adventure novels for children (originally teens) sees the pair of brothers head out into the wilds of America to help out their injured father on a case he's investigating. My copy is the UK 'translation' of the 1963 revised text.

This is the first book which is set completely away from the Hardy's hometown of Bayport, and it's a nice change of pace to not get the same cast of characters to help them out. There are a range of good guest characters, although I found I lost track of who some of them were meant to be. The change of pace with the rural setting does make the book feel more dated than the more city-style stories.

Overall another good adventure, through there have been better earlier books in the series.

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More Fool Me

More Fool Me

18th October 2014

The third volume of Stephen Fry's memoir covers the period of his younger adult life, as he progressed into the famous TV actor and comedian that made him famous. It could easily be titled "Stephen Fry: The Cocaine Years".

Fry tells his story in a plain and straightforward manner - almost apologetic in places lest he appear boastful or misremembers. Most of the book is told as a reflective memoir of his life, but a good chunk of the second half is his diary from the period in question, which supplies a nice countertone to the way he writes now for public consumption. Having said that, this makes the end feel abrupt and a bit flat, where both the previous instalments have seemed to end at a solid turning point in Fry's life.

I found it to be an interesting and entertaining read and would definitely recommend the three books to anyone who considers themselves a Fry fan. This volume however I think may be the weakest of the three.

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The Missing Chums

The Missing Chums

4th October 2014

I was surprised when I looked through the list of Hardy Boys books I'd not read to find one with what seemed such a ridiculous title. Further research showed that the original UK edition had even had the title 'translated' into British English as The Missing Friends. Despite this, the fourth book of the original series is better than the three that precede it.

My copy is a modern printing of the 1962 version of this title with the US English text. Once again the Hardys get involved in a local crime investigation, and two of their chums disappear.

This book is action packed and has a lot going on all the way through, keeping the reader engrossed - there's a good mystery to pick through, working out the motives and joining up the dots. Most of the regular elements seem to now be in place, and this makes good use of the established characters to add some peril that previous books in the series lacked.

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The Secret of the Old Mill

The Secret of the Old Mill

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28th September 2014

My copy of this, the third book in the original Hardy Boys series, is the updated (1962) and Britishified edition. The first two books I re-read recently both have a feeling of being the start of the series, but for the most part this one seems like it's written to be just a regular episode - although later on there are some new recurring elements introduced.

The plot this time feels patchy, and doesn't quite hold together properly - the Hardys are drawn into a hunt for some counterfeiters, but the line between their case and their father's becomes sketchy, and its not really clear through much of the story what is actually being investigated. What I can only assume is the 'update' introduces the idea of 'secret space missiles' which feel out of place and not very secret as everyone in the town knows about them.

The side characters again feel like they have more definition here than the stars - we know the Hardys' friend Chet Morton better than any other character by this point in the series whereas the Hardy Boys themselves still seem to have little to distinguish them from each other. This doesn't quite tally with some of my memories of reading the books twenty years ago when I recall one being more reserved and one more impulsive. Another aspect I hadn't remembered was the characters' reliance on motorbikes at this point in their history.

I think this is probably the weakest of the first three stories - the plot is unclear and the investigation seems to follow the right path without any real planning going into it. There are times when coincidence pushes the story too much and there's never a real sense of peril as there certainly was in the previous book.

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The House on the Cliff

The House on the Cliff

23rd September 2014

The second book of the original Hardy Boys series feels much more of an adventure than the first. Called in to help out on a case by their father, the two teen detectives set out to investigate a local smuggler.

My copy is the classic-style reissue of the re-written 1950s version, and reminds me quite strongly of an adventure that Enid Blyton might have given the Famous Five, with smugglers, tunnels, deserted houses and boats playing large parts. There are flashes of violence that Blyton would have avoided, but nothing that would surprise or outrage a modern-day reader.

This book brings in many of the classic Hardy a boys elements, and they feel much more involved in the plot - though there remain a number of coincidences that add up to an adventure rather than any real sleuthing. Overall though I thought it was a stronger novel and it was really enjoyable to read my first 'new' Hardy Boys adventure in twenty years.

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The Tower Treasure

The Tower Treasure

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21st September 2014

I recently discovered that the UK publisher's order numbering on the Hardy Boys novels that I read voraciously as a child was completely fictional compared to the order they were originally published in. The Tower Treasure had been labelled '31', but is in fact the first book in the series, and reading it again today (some twenty years later), it definitely comes across as being an introduction to the characters, their world, and indeed being their first adventure.

I'm still reading a UK paperback edition from the 1970s, and I'm aware this isn't the original text - most of the books being 'updated' in the 1950s, and this one being adapted for the British reader from the original US English. It's not just the spellings that seem to have been changed, but the language used too - I'm suspicious of 'Welsh Rarebit' for example (though haven't got a copy of the 'original' text to compare).

It introduces the characters with broad strokes - there's not a lot dropped in to differentiate Frank and Joe after the first chapter, where one is shown as being slightly more reserved than the other, but I was surprised by how many of the recurring characters make appearances in this first story.

The adventure itself is quite simplistic, and there are places where it felt that the author had tried to keep things a little too realistic, with the Hardy Boys themselves not being present for a big part of the action - they, and we the readers, only hear about it second-hand. It didn't quite go how I vaguely remembered, with there being at least one scene which looked like it was setting something up that later turned out just to be there to add a coincidence that helped the plot along.

Overall though I felt it still held up as an adventure story, perhaps nowadays for a younger audience than originally intended, and it was an interesting diversion to revisit the brothers for an hour or so.

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The Painted Man

The Painted Man

21st September 2014

Peter V Brett's first Demon Cycle book sets up the world impressively, introducing the demons that emerge from the ground at night, and a variety of characters whose lives we follow.

At first, the characters feel a little similar, but soon one seems to become the main focus and the others shift into supporting roles until the climax. I felt that this balance could have been managed a little better throughout - either sticking to the pattern from the start of long segments with each, or alternating more frequently throughout.

The narrative is a little simple in places, and often big moments of change for the characters occur during brief moments of introspection rather than feeling entirely natural.

Overall though I found this really enjoyable and am looking forward to catching up with the rest of the series.

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The Monogram Murders

The Monogram Murders

21st September 2014

Sophie Hannah has been given the privilege and the responsibility of bringing back Hercule Poirot in his first 'official' continuation novel. A mystery triple death at a London hotel lands on Poirot's doorstep as he's living with our narrator, conveniently a local police detective.

While it was certainly interesting and entertaining to read, I don't think that Hannah's quite got a grasp on Christie's style, has overcomplicated the plot, and the books feels in places more of a parody than Christie's own writing does. The mystery itself is complex to the point that the number of false endings left be baffled as to what the actual conclusion was, and it felt like there were still loose ends which Poirot had not tied off.

The first-person narration seems to shift in time, in some places portraying itself as being written shortly after the events depicted, and in other place long after. The narrating character, a new one that Hannah introduces, has an irritating habit of insinuating things about his own sexuality over and over again, which while an interesting aside at first, becomes too blatant after much repetition and just feels awkward.

The words 'little grey cells', while often used by Christie, are over used here which just ends up being distracting from the plot. In conclusion, the story works fairly well for the most part, and there are hints of Christie's style, but overall it's just not up to a standard that respects Poirot's original creator, and I think it would probably have been better to let the Belgian detective stay resting.

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The Water Room

The Water Room

21st September 2014

It's been almost two years since I read the first Bryant and May novel, and it was with some trepidation that I picked up book two, with the first having mostly slipped from my memory and not being recalled as one I'd absolutely loved. The second book follows the peculiar crime sunlit in the modern day as it investigates some unusual deaths and a man who won't tell his wife what he's up to.

I didn't find the book particularly easy to read, and I'm not sure I can put my finger exactly on why. It's long and the narrative feels stodgy, like wading through treacle. Ultimately I think it's because I don't find the characters particularly engaging - they have foibles, but they don't leap off the page as characters whose heads I can get into.

The plot sounds interesting, but ultimately I find it disappointing that nothing more interesting comes of it - I'd thought that peculiar crimes was going to have a slightly more fantastical bent to it, but really the series seems to be about finding run of the mill criminal explanations for events that seem supernatural, and I'm not sure that's as much fun in fiction.

Overall I'm still not quite sold on this series - I've already got book three, so I expect I will read it at some point, but it may not be for another couple of years.

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Lust's Latinum Lost (and Found)

Lust's Latinum Lost (and Found)

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8th September 2014

This first foray into fiction by two of Trek's fantastic non-fiction authors makes for a brilliant short read. The story follows Quark as he goes on a little business adventure, and the short format has the exact same feel as one of the Ferengi-focused episodes of the TV series.

The pace is good, and I although I got through the story in just two sittings I felt this trip back to a world populated by some of my favourite characters was worth the low price.

The authors clearly have a strong grip on all things DS9 and drop in plenty of references back to the series. Their companion for the TV series is probably my favourite non-fiction work about Star Trek and this move proves they can be as good at writing their own stories - I hope they have the opportunity to pen some more.

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Personal

Personal

8th September 2014

Jack Reacher is back in London, which proves awkward reading for someone familiar with the UK as the author (through his character’s first-person narration) goes out of the way to explain local idiom to the American audience.

That aside, it's another fast-paced adventure that sees Reacher working with the military once again. This seems to have become something of a theme over the most recent books and it's a bit of a departure from the format I've enjoyed - I'm not sure Reacher quite works as a government official as his motivation doesn't seem as strong.

The plot felt a little weak to me this time out. Maybe I've just become used to the style, but a lot of the twists I felt could been coming a long way ahead and the knowledge didn't really aid my enjoyment of the story.

So overall an average story from the Jack Reacher series - probably not the first one I'd point a new reader to, but one that did the job for me.

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Sycamore Row

Sycamore Row

8th September 2014

Marketed as the sequel to Grisham's first novel 'A Time to Kill', Sycamore Row joins the same lawyer from the earlier book three years later. Beyond the reappearance of the same characters and some themes though the plot is entirely distinct and could easily have been told about another young lawyer in a southern town in the late 1980s.

The main issue with this story to me is that it's the 1980s and about racism. It feels like this is a subject that Grisham has now covered as nauseum - perhaps I'm not meant to have read his entire output, but it feels like he's covering the same ground again. The 1980s also feel far to recent to me, admittedly a British reader born in that decade, and I find it hard to believe the racism presented was really still around at that point (although from recent news coverage perhaps it still is). In my head, the setting kept getting pushed back 20 years to the sixties, which felt a more natural fit for the story, regardless of what the actual situation may have been.

It was good however to get another courtroom-based drama from Grisham, as that tends to be where he's at his best. The structure was good and brings the plot along well, and the book doesn't suffer from some of the tropes that have appeared in several of the author's earlier works. Despite the realism, there is one aspect of the conclusion that I found irritating and unsatisfying, but I'm nervous of mentioning it specifically for fear of it being deemed a spoiler.

Generally enjoyable, and nice to be able to relax with a solid courtroom drama that I could digest at a nice pace. I've now read all Grisham's output to date and can look forward to reading the next book on release.

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It's Only a Movie

It's Only a Movie

8th September 2014

I’ve been listening to Mark Kermode’s podcast for several years, and had three of his books sitting on my shelf for some time, but this is the first time I’ve picked one up to read. It’s a really engaging look at a few highlights of the life of the UK’s most famous film critic, told in a way that it honestly admits to being ‘based on real events’.

It's full of the jokes I've come to expect from listening to the radio programme, and it offers an insight into the character of Kermode and his backstory through the medium of the witty anecdote. There were some places where I felt that if I were more of a film buff I'd appreciate it more, particularly when movie industry figures appear who I've not heard of.

Overall a good autobiography that doesn't take itself seriously and has a voice that you can recognise as that of the author. An enjoyable read.

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Fool's Assassin

Fool's Assassin

1st September 2014

Fitz is back for his seventh book, and overall the fourteenth full length fantasy novel set in Robin Hobb's Realm of the Elderlings. It’s a fantastic start to a new series within the series, following Fitz some years after the end of his last adventure as he lives the perfect life he’s always wanted.

I really love Hobb's writing and it's always fantastic to return to her world which is incredibly immersive and which I am always disappointed to have to put down. The character of Fitz continues to be appealing and I always enjoy time spent in his company.

Having said that, there were aspects of this novel that felt less thought-through than in the previous novels - the foreshadowing was overly obvious throughout much of the novel which made some of the reveals less surprising than they might have been. It seemed to be done to the point that the characters seemed stupid for not being able to see it, but I suppose it could be argued that this was presented deliberately in this way to fit the first-person narrative.

The plot is quite episodic, particularly through the first half or more, with us joining the narrative for a particular incident or two before jumping forward in time, sometimes years, and I think I found this frustrating because I love spending time with the characters and felt I was missing out. However there are also larger shifts in plot which make quite dramatic changes which felt forced, as if they could have been done with a more subtle and smoother transition.

Despite this, I absolutely loved this book and can't wait for the next one. I enjoy every single moment that a Fitz story is in my hands and can imagine myself wanting to pick one up again before next year.

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A Delicate Truth

A Delicate Truth

25th August 2014

It’s taken me a while to get round to reading A Delicate Truth - I’m still slightly intimidated by John le Carré, having the idea that as he’s such a well known author that his books will be too literary and hard to get into. This is of course not at all the case, and as with his previous novel I was hooked straight away.

The story follows a couple of characters who were involved (tangentially) in a minor undercover operation as they try to piece together what actually happened. It’s a captivating plot that feels very engaging, though on reflection manages to do surprisingly well at suspending the reader’s disbelief and makes the events feel completely plausible.

It’s easy to sympathise with both main characters - probably too easy, as a bit more depth and shade would have made them and their motivations more interesting. In fact, they are probably too similar - there’s not a massive amount beyond age to differentiate them.

One aspect I really enjoyed was the structure of the novel. It’s split into just seven chapters, alternating in point of view between the two characters, and staying with them for many pages. This helps the pace to keep flowing and builds tension as we’re away from each of them for considerable amounts of time.

I really enjoyed reading this novel, and must learn not to think of le Carré as intimidating. It’s a very approachable ‘spy’ novel and one I’d definitely recommend.

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Gardens of the Moon

Gardens of the Moon

24th August 2014

The first book in what looks to be a vast series of novels by two authors, Gardens of the Moon’s introduction suggests that it’s not a book for everyone, and that many people drop out at the start. The author’s position is that he has thrown the reader straight in without introduction, and that in doing so some readers are alienated. If you get to page 250, he says, you’ll be hooked forever.

Sadly, I’m one of the group who didn’t reach page 250. I got just past page 200 before deciding, reluctantly, that I didn’t have enough motivation to continue reading, and realising that the dread of this specific novel was putting me off reading in general.

I disagree however with the author’s suggestion that being thrown into the deep end of the plot was the problem. I didn’t feel that this novel threw plot straight at me any more than any other I’ve read. What I felt was missing was any sort of connection with the characters. The characters that seemed there to develop into starring roles came across as blank - empty of personality and just there for the plot to happen to. I thought that the story entered at the right point - it didn’t explain a load of background (but what novel does?) - instead allowing the reader to pick things up as the characters encountered them.

I can’t say it’s a bad book - clearly it’s a popular series and the story is well built, but I didn’t engage with the characters and couldn’t bring myself to continue reading something I wasn’t enjoying at the expense of time with other books. As such, it’s really hard to attribute a star rating to the book.

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XO

XO

10th August 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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How to Build a Girl

How to Build a Girl

10th August 2014

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

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

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

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

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Promise Me

Promise Me

10th August 2014

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

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

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

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Deadly Intent

Deadly Intent

10th August 2014

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

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

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Terra's World

Terra's World

10th August 2014

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

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

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

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Elantris

Elantris

20th July 2014

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

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

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

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

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Close Call

Close Call

9th July 2014

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

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

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

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

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The Light Fantastic

The Light Fantastic

8th July 2014

Jeffrey Lang returns to Trek to follow up on the events of the Cold Equations trilogy, which in turn followed from Lang's own Immortal Coil. I've not read Immortal Coil, so I can't really say how much is referenced back to that book, but one thing this book does do is refer back to almost every android that's ever appeared in Star Trek.

Despite the serious subject matter, the narrative is quite light and the characters in particular are presented in a similar manner to some of the more jokey episodes of The Next Generation. In fact the main characters of this story are probably the best part, each having real depth and growing through the novel.

The plot is quite fun too, a cross between a heist and Sherlock Holmes, and is entertaining throughout despite posing some good moral questions in the Trek style. I really enjoyed the non-linear nature of the narrative, continue happy jumping around the characters' timelines to gradually reveal more to the reader.

I can't really pick out anything to criticise - although I thought I spotted one or two continuity glitches (but I might be the one misremembering). A great fun read, and one that I hope Lang is able to follow up on.

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The Mystery of the Silver Spider

The Mystery of the Silver Spider

4th July 2014

The Silver Spider is the eighth adventure for the Three Investigators, and sees the teenage detectives called to a small European country to visit the local prince, who has a case for them.

Despite the slightly unbelievable setup, the author manages to pull it off well, and the reader is carried along well - I don't recall from reading as a child that there was ever a question in my mind about whether this would ever really happen (or about the language barrier).

My one real criticism would be that it's very much an adventure - there's not really a lot of mystery going on - but all the classic three investigators ingredients are there, baddies, allies, secret tunnels, capture, escape etc.

Another good entertaining tale in a series that I can still enjoy today almost as much as I did as a youngster, aided by my only remembering one (albeit key) plot point.

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The Long Mars

The Long Mars

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4th July 2014

The third entry in Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's 'Long' series is pretty similar to the first two - the narrative is split into quite distinct chapters leaping around between a group of main characters each on an unrelated adventure.

I felt though that the story didn't really live up to my expectations. There was a significant conclusion to the previous book that I had felt would become the focus this time, but although it sticks in the background, it felt like the repercussions had mostly been brushed aside in favour of a more 'sci-fi' plot that felt less engaging to me, and a little more like an ethical manifesto. There are two other areas of the story that felt a lot like repetition of a theme that's used throughout the first two books.

Having said that, once I had got through the first few chapters, I was surprised by how easily readable I found the book and was disappointed each day when the end of my commute meant I had to put the book away. Having glanced back now at my reviews of the previous books in the series I realise that I may have been misremembering as I seem to have felt similarly then.

Ultimately though it's a book about the plot, exploring scientific concepts of parallel worlds and some moral and ethical questions, and it felt it suffered from not making the characters more engaging. I also felt that the wittiness had dropped off in this book, making it a more serious read despite the continuation of classic movie references.

So overall, it's worth reading if you enjoyed the first two books, but I don't think it serves as a particularly enticing entry point to the series. It feels like it might be the final book, and if not I'd probably think twice a about whether I want to continue.

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The Silkworm

The Silkworm

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28th June 2014

The second book in the Cormoran Strike series follows the private detective as he investigates a case that bears more than a passing resemblance to that covered in the previous novel. He’s hired to find a woman’s missing husband, and author who’s just delivered a surprisingly inflammatory novel.

It’s always interesting when authors write about the book world, as they can give an insight into their industry, but also tend to exaggerate and use the opportunity to make fun of themselves - to an extent, that is the case here, as the characters are larger than life and each have some extreme quirks, though those all play important parts in the plot too.

Like the first novel, Strike’s assistant Robin feel like she’s sidelined and I would have much preferred for her to serve as the main character - although clearly a strong character when she is in the action spotlight, there’s more a focus here on her personal life rather than work, and I felt she could have been utilised better to advance the central plot line.

There’s a quantity of gore and explicitness that matches the author’s previous adults works - it feels less now that it’s done just because it’s now permitted after years of writing for children, and more that it really is the author’s preferred style. There are reminders of the children’s novels though - the relationships between the characters feel familiar and are presented in a similar way to those in the Harry Potter series.

Overall though I found it an enjoyable read, despite the occasional graphic scenes, lighter than a lot of crime series while remaining serious, and I see no reason to think I won’t continue reading about these characters for a lot more books.

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The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince

The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince

27th June 2014

This novella is a prequel to Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings series, an epic fantasy made up of four trilogies (although one had four books), though this is most reminiscent of the first of these. The story has two main characters, mentioned in the title, and tells the story of their lives from the point of view of a common member of the court. It’s a really interesting way to tell the story that makes a lot of in-universe sense and really draws the reader in to the range of characters presented.

Although short (I read it in two days, and was deliberately taking it slow to make it last), the book is a riot of emotions and Hobb manages to flit between tragic and lighter moments with ease. The tale is really well-crafted and flows at exactly the right pace. Unlike some of her previous shorter works, I felt this was the perfect length, reminiscent of her original Farseer trilogy without retreading material, and providing a little bit of insight into something that was hinted at in the original novels.

I absolutely loved this brief visit back to the Six Duchies, but I think a big part of that is because I’ve read the original trilogy - I don’t think it would be as appealing to someone who hadn’t.

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Ghost Ship

Ghost Ship

22nd June 2014

Ghost Ship is the unoriginal title for the latest in the Kurt Austin / Numa Files series from the Clive Cussler canon, and the fourth penned by Graham Brown. Brown returns the series to the level of his first two, reinvigorating the franchise a little by making the plot more personal, and less contrived-feeling that some of the entries in the set.

We meet Austin as he’s recovering after a failed rescue mission, with a blow to the head having left him confused about what actually happened, and leading him to start digging into a variety of conspiracy theories. It’s a really good setup for the story, and one that piqued my interest from the start. Generally, I found the plot to be a good one - again it’s more of a solo mission though rather than the ensemble piece that the Numa Files series originally seemed intended to be.

There are however a number of criticisms I have of the book - not least the production values that seem to have gone into it. There were multiple spelling mistakes, including the same word being misspelt twice on successive pages, and in one chapter a whole sequence of narrative was repeated in different wording, as if part of an early draft had been left in. The story itself also has issues - the foreshadowing is poor throughout, there are parachronistic memos littering a character’s desk rather than emails - which makes the reader doubt other technological references, one character’s age fluctuates throughout (although I admit one of the references was me misreading, and assuming for much of the book that the character was 15, leading to much confusion), and in one slightly weird passage, characters communicating in morse code choose to be overly verbose, rather than save plot-vital time.

So at the end, I’m in two minds about this book - I liked the story, I liked the characters, but I didn’t think much of the narration or production values.

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A Dance with Dragons (1: Dreams and Dust)

A Dance with Dragons (1: Dreams and Dust)

22nd June 2014

I’m reading the paperback editions of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and so book five is split into two parts - as with the third book, I’ve decided to read each half separately to spread the load.

The series depicts a fantasy world - focussing on the island of Westeros - where a war has broken out amongst various houses over who should rule, distracting the people from necessary preparations for the coming winter. In this way, it provides an interesting allegory for a world where political point scoring is seen as more urgent than responding to legitimate threats to climate.

It’s hard to be specific about the plot and characters of this particular volume without plot-spoilers. This volume in particular focusses on this characters in the northern half of Westeros and overseas - the previous novel having focussed on what was happening simultaneously in the southern part of the continent. This makes for an interesting situation where we know more than the characters do, and so can read with a knowing grin as we predict where certain plot elements are leading. In a way though it’s frustrating - there was a lot happened in the fourth novel and very little has yet been followed up on.

Probably the best thing about Martin’s writing is the characters - there are such a wide range and each have truly believable traits. He’s a master of switching his readers feelings around, so that characters I was completely unsympathetic with early in the series have become some of my favourites, who elicit a groan of disappointment as their chapters come to an end. In fact I feel with this volume Martin has reached a peak, with there being no character I haven’t wanted to spent more time with.

Martin’s narrative is also brilliantly crafted. The structure of long chapters, each from a single point of view, rotating around the world, gives a really strong viewpoint in each scene. It allows each scene to show one important event, or character moment, and skip the narrative over sometimes quite long periods between scenes without the reader feeling anything has been missed.

Still a really great series that I’m thoroughly enjoying reading. I’m really looking forward to reading the second part of book five, even though I know I’ll then have to wait, possibly years, for anything to be resolved.

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Dead Man's Folly

Dead Man's Folly

14th June 2014

A special invite from a recurring character pulls Poirot to another country mansion to help perpetrate a murder (murder mystery party, that is). The reader will never guess what happens next (hint: Poirot).

It's an interesting setup, and Christie proves herself again the master of creating interesting scenarios and complex character relationships to fill out what at heart is the same plot.

I thought some of the characters we're let off lightly in this one, not seeing enough of the detective digging into their lives as expected, but overall the conclusion was brilliantly drawn and once revealed, the pieces all fit together to perfection.

Another lovely mystery which I enjoyed failing to solve.

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The Children of Hamlin

The Children of Hamlin

9th June 2014

The third numbered book in the Star Trek: The Next Generation novel series sees the crew on a pair of missions - transporting a group of agricultural colonists to a new home and answering a distress call from another Federation vessel.

The focus seems to be mostly on the guest characters rather than the regulars - in fact, it meets the Original Series cliché of having a visiting Starfleet dignitary take over in a useless manner. I liked some of the aspects of the colonists' culture, which was presented in a way that enabled the reader to learn without feeling like exposition was being poured down your throat. By contrast however, some aspects of that culture feel tired and overused.

The plot was interesting, and generally fit the series well, although there are aspects that are totally predictable far in advance, which rather than seeming like good foreshadowing make the main characters feel stupid for not seeing what's happening.

Most of the story seems to fit well the TNG season one mould, although a couple of aspects were jarring - the relationship between Picard and Crusher wasn't quite how it was realised on TV, and there's an early mention of Romulans which is contradicted by the end of the first season.

Overall, I didn't feel that the book was anything special, but it's not lacking in quality as I feared when starting my re-read of the series.

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The Mystery of the Invisible Thief

The Mystery of the Invisible Thief

29th May 2014

The halfway point in the Five Find-Outers and dog series - apparently aimed at a younger audience than Enid Blyton's other numbered mystery series, but to me still the best.

The title says it all really - there's a thief in town who is never seen, and the Find-Outers once again find themselves mixed up in events. It's another of the excellent mysteries that Blyton's style developed into, with clues everywhere and plenty of opportunities for the reader/listener to guess who the thief is.

One of the best in the set - a good mystery with good characters, although some of the names have aged a little.

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Phantom

Phantom

29th May 2014

The ninth Harry Hole mystery is the first one I've managed to read in the right order - I finally have the full backstory of the previous eight books, and felt that it was definitely a useful background for this plot.

The book is set three years after the previous entry, during which time Harry has been absent - now he returns to Norway on a personal mission. The character is really well written and (I know I've said this before) this is probably the best book in the series.

The plot is intricate and keeps you guessing, and as a reader you have a real emotional attachment to the action that some of the previous books have lacked. I have to admit though that having reached the end, I'm still not entirely clear what the resolution was. Maybe I'll find out when I get to the next book!

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Apocalypse Cow

Apocalypse Cow

29th May 2014

I’d been meaning to read this for a few years since it was announced as co-winner of the inaugural Terry Pratchett award, and I’ve finally got round to it. I was in no way disappointed by this book.

It’s pretty clear what’s going on - there’s an outbreak of zombie cows near Glasgow, and we follow the standard set of random people in a plot that resembles the standard zombie apocalypse movie. The writing is witty, clever, and engaging - the violence graphic yet entertaining, and the author manages to balance the darkness of the story with light and humorous moments and amusing commentary from the various characters with whom we’re aligned.

The plot moves at a good speed and twists in both expected and unexpected ways - I never knew turning the page whether I would get what I was expecting or a new surprise. A really enjoyable and satisfying read right up to the final page.

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The Fall

The Fall

29th May 2014

Cherub book seven is an interesting departure from the formulaic nature of some of the previous books in the series. While teenager siblings James and Lauren remain secret agents working undercover for the British government, the story sees them spend a lot of time at their base and deals with their wider lives rather than focusing on a specific mission.

The book reflects the ageing of the characters, and with James now fifteen, continues the series’ tradition for realism by depicting the sort of thing a real fifteen year old is likely to get up to - parents would probably not consider this appropriate reading for younger children (though I’m not really in favour of censorship). There’s also slightly more violence than before, and it’s a tad more graphic.

Overall though I think this is a fantastic series for teenage readers, and this another good entry. The realism of the characters lives fits well with the action-oriented adventure plots that make for a thrilling yet relatable read.

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Old Man's War

Old Man's War

29th May 2014

This is the second book by John Scalzi I've read, after Redshirts (a space opera parody), and the first in his series. It's the first 'hard' science fiction novel that I can safely say I've really enjoyed reading - those I've read recently have either read like pulp paperbacks from several decades ago or were impenetrably dense and lacking in plot or character.

This is the story of a widower of 75, who signs up for the military (as is the custom), and ships out from Earth to defend its colonies in whatever manner is necessary. It's a fascinating universe with an almost endless amount of questions to explore. Scalzi raises an array of moral questions in the grand tradition of science fiction, and allows his characters to explore some of them.

The character is strong and easily relatable, and the first-person narrative gives a really good view on the events and thought processes, unlike some pulp characters who feel more like cartoons than real people. The plot moves at a good pace, with an episodic nature that manages not to feel like it’s breaking the flow.

Overall a really enjoyable story that really made me think. I loved it, and will definitely be returning to the universe to try out the sequels.

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The Case of the Missing Books

The Case of the Missing Books

17th May 2014

This is the first book in the Mobile Library series, in which Israel Armstrong moves to Northern Ireland to become a librarian, and finds his library closed and all the books missing. I picked up the book in a library sale because it sounded interesting from the cover.

I found it took some time to get into the book. The narrative is dialogue heavy throughout and I find this style quite hard to read - I suppose I'm more used to reading novels with heavy introspection and where action speaks louder than words, but eventually I got used to it.

The main character also takes some time to get into - he comes across quite whiny and dull for a lot of the book, and as we're aligned with him some of the events don't really seem to make any sense to the reader. However I also got used to this by the end of the story, and was slightly disappointed by how abruptly it ends and was hoping for a little more.

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Hexed

Hexed

14th May 2014

Book two of the Iron Druid Chronicles picks up pretty much right where the first book left off, following up on some of the hanging threads and rushing into new plots. A group of evil witches is coming to town, and they aren't the only threats that the last Druid will need to deal with.

I though that the first book in the series was fantastic, and so the second had a lot to live up to. Overall I don't think it quite makes it, feeling rushed and having too many elements to make a consistent narrative.

There were interesting developments and more was revealed about some of the characters, but it feels more of an action thriller with scene after scene of fight interspersed with witty banter. There's also something of a middle book feel, with the impression that it's working more to set things up for the third book than to have a single plot of its own.

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Black and Blue

Black and Blue

14th May 2014

The eighth Inspector Rebus novel sees the detective investigating rather a mix of crimes, some of which aren't really assigned to him. One of the biggest is based on the true story of murderer Bible John, when similar murders begins to occur again across Scotland.

I really enjoyed reading this book - Rankin somehow manages to write a character that is super-human yet flawed in a way that seems like it should be such a cliché yet actually ends up making Rebus the most identifiable detective in fiction.

Despite the complexity of the plot, I found it easy to follow everything that was going on, to keep a grasp on all the different characters, and to stay entertained. I also felt that the character of Rebus has started developing into a richer personality in this book, and Rankin's writing has bit a new high.

A series that keeps getting better and one I'm defiantly loving slowly catching up through. As always, I'm looking forward to reading the next one.

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Grave Peril

Grave Peril

3rd May 2014

I was quite confused when I started reading this, the third novel in the Dresden Files series, as it reads like its a sequel to a book you haven't read. Set some 12 months after the previous book, there are a lot of references back to an adventure that Chicago wizard Harry Dresden went on in the interim, and a character, who it feels like we should know, who went on this adventure too.

Once I got past the feeling of having missed out though the pace seemed to pick up and I got really into this book. The plot twists with satisfying regularity and Dresden feels like he's in actual peril throughout.

The new characters and aspects of the universe are all interesting and we learn some more of the main character's backstory, though it remains sufficiently shrouded in mystery to make me want to dive back into the next book (and the ten plus that follow that).

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The Racketeer

The Racketeer

3rd May 2014

I feel ambivalent about this Grisham novel - I enjoyed reading it, and tore through it with a rapidity that surprised me (aided by a long train journey admittedly), and yet felt that it was quite a mechanical plot, lacking character and texture.

The story follows a lawyer named Malcolm, the narrator, as he tells the tale of his life in prison, and then turns into a complex plot that doesn't really become entirely clear until right at the end, though the first-person perspective lends an easy element of frustrating obfuscation to the narrative even then. It's hard to say more about the setup without giving anything away.

The story is almost that of a classic heist movie, and in a way reads like a film script, with characters performing a sequence of actions through which you have to interpret their character, rather than seeing their emotional state represented on the page as in most novels. The characters therefore come across as having a lack of depth - and some particularly key characters seem to barely have an existence other than to allow events to occur simultaneously, they aren't even given a sufficient backstory or believable motivation for taking part.

Looking back, I certainly enjoyed the novel despite its drawbacks, and think it's actually one of the best and most original of Grisham's lawyer stories. I'm just still not quite clear what happened.

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Don't Touch Anything

Don't Touch Anything

3rd May 2014

I don't remember what prompted me to get this book - it's been hanging around on my shelf for quite a while but I'd dug far enough down my reading list to get to it and found it quite entertaining. It seems targeted at a male audience of around 12 years, and tells the tale of Jules - a fairly ordinary schoolboy living in an ordinary town that could easily be interpreted as anywhere - who suddenly meets Theodore, a time traveller from several centuries in the future.

The characters are surprisingly strong for a book aimed at this age group - they all have a solid backstory and are emotionally rounded, particularly Jules, with whom the reader is aligned for the majority of the narrative. The humour is really what sells the book to me though, and the author has clearly put a lot of effort into building a future with enough differences from the present that there are plenty of opportunities for misunderstandings between the characters (although the reader can generally work out what's going on).

It's the first book of a trilogy, and leaves a lot of things unclear for follow up in the later books. I'm not sure whether I'll bother following it up though, particularly as I can't see the third book for sale in the UK.

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Tower of Babel

Tower of Babel

3rd May 2014

The second book in Christopher L Bennett's ongoing Star Trek Enterprise follow-up series is much more of a standalone than the first, which contained a lot of setup of where the characters had got to following the previous novels in the series. Having said that, there's a lot in this book that recurs from the previous and I felt it would probably have been useful had I re-read A Choice of Futures before reading Towel of Babel.

The focus of the story is the potential for Rigel to join the 'fledgling' Federation, and Bennett has built his plot around pulling together the slightly absurdly varied and potentially contradictory facts we've learnt about Rigellians through the Star Trek tv series, movies, novels and comics to date - which as always he does very well, clearly demonstrating that a lot of effort goes into his research process.

I found the plot slightly complex to follow though - there were almost too many things going on, with Bennett trying to give page time to all the main characters. This also had the effect of giving each character only time to show one aspect of their person and some of them felt like they were there just as a nod of the head. A lot of the characters do grow, but I'd have liked a novel which picked one out for a bit of a meatier storyline. I felt Archer's story could in particular have done with a bit more exploration at one point, where he could have gone through a lot more turmoil than he got away with.

Overall I enjoyed this return to the Enterprise universe, but didn't think it was as strong as the first novel in the series, which I absolutely loved. That's not in any way going to stop me from reading the next two that Bennett and the publisher have already announced - these Enterprise novels really do well to put the series on a strong footing.

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The Mystery of the Fiery Eye

The Mystery of the Fiery Eye

15th April 2014

This is one of the Three Investigators mysteries that I remember in most detail from when I originally read it (possibly many times) as a child. Re-reading it now I found many aspects familiar, but some things didn't quite go how I expected.

The three teens, exhibiting slightly less personality than before this point in the series, are called in by Alfred Hitchcock to help a young English boy locate his mystery inheritance. The plot has some interesting and at times educational twists, but I felt it moved slowly and didn't keep me gripped. The ending in particular felt rushed and unsatisfying.

Overall I was disappointed that this wasn't the great adventure that I remembered - it now seems one of the weakest in the series up to this point in my re-reading.

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The Eye of Zoltar

The Eye of Zoltar

15th April 2014

The third and now penultimate book in The Last Dragonslayer series sees the return of Shandar - the greatest wizard that ever lived - which triggers Jenny and a ragtag collection of companions to head off on what is definitely not a quest if anyone's asking.

It's a fun fantasy adventure, with Fforde's usual eye for detail and sense of humour, references flying everywhere, many of which I probably missed on my first reading. It's longer than either of the first two books, but didn't feel overly so - the plot moves rapidly and it keeps the reader's attention throughout.

The book lacks an emotional core though - the peril doesn't feel real (perhaps because of the light-hearted fantasy tone) and the characters' responses generally seem too relaxed. One character I found particularly interesting grew a lot in the book, but rather than being something gradual and building it seemed to come as a rapid shift which I felt detracted from the setup.

While the conclusion is well executed, it didn't feel like a satisfactory resolution and left me frustrated that I couldn't turn the page again, rather than in the desired state of anticipation for the next book. Still very enjoyable, but not quite at the top of Fforde's output.

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Dead Tomorrow

Dead Tomorrow

14th April 2014

Fifth in the series and absolutely huge in hardback, I couldn't put it down. The balance of Roy Grace's home and work life is perfect as he investigates a body dredged up from the channel as well as entering a new phase in his life.

I really love how every set up manages to keep the reader guessing - there's no point that the plot becomes obvious, there are always multiple routes that it can go, and I really enjoy it when it seems that things are going to go a certain way and James throws in a twist that takes things a different route.

The ongoing story of Grace's personal life continues strongly - this is one of the best crime series I read in this respect. One of the guest characters in this book is fantastic - Lynn - who, without giving away too much, really grows through what she experiences in a way that is touchingly authentic.

The plot is original, believable, shocking as always, and the narrative contains just enough gruesomeness to stay interesting without putting the reader off. I very much enjoy the series and look forward to visiting the characters again.

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The Dirty Streets of Heaven

The Dirty Streets of Heaven

14th April 2014

Tad Williams' latest series kicks off with this story about an angelic lawyer on earth, arguing against hell's representative to get souls into the right afterlife. It feels much grittier than his longer fantasy and science fiction that've read before: it's contemporary, urban and feels like a private detective's mystery with some fantasy elements.

The character is almost a walking archetype of the cynical investigator, with a mysterious background that's hinted at occasionally but not explored in massive detail. Similarly the relationships feel similar from other novels of similar setting. The situation is what makes this book unique, and even then I felt it was underdone and actually detracted from by the plot, which quickly separated itself from some of the most interesting elements.

I felt the plot dragged, particularly in the centre of the book where one subplot got out of hand for a couple of chapters that I was almost embarrassed to read on the train, and during the repetetive action sequences where I found my mind wandering away from the book.

Overall, I didn't find this a particularly captivating book, and I'm in two minds over whether to bother with the sequel.

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The Activist

The Activist

31st March 2014

I've finally got around to reading the fourth Theodore Boone story, and many of my criticisms of the earlier books still stand, though Grisham has clearly made some effort to address them. This time Boone gets tied up in a political disagreement between those for and opposing a new bypass. This alone sounds enough to put off most teenagers, and so the back cover blurb ignores it almost entirely and picks up on one tiny plot point.

Theodore Boone is a 1950s child, living with 1950s parents in a 1950s town in 2010s America - he has access to modern technology, but his character, and those of everyone around him, are stuck in some sort of time warp. However Theo is at least no longer the goody-two-shoes perfect child that he was in the first three books - now he doesn't brush his teeth!

The plot is slow to get going and takes several substantial detours from what seems to be the main plot, before heading back to it and rushing through the climax. This is similar in a way to Grisham's novels for adults, where I often feel the last few chapters weaken the whole.

It's clear throughout that the author is trying to present the political aspects of the narrative in an unbiased way where characters of both opinions are shown, but this pretty quickly descends into something of an us vs them situation where one side is shown to be morally superior than the other. There are also, bizarrely, a couple of places where. Grisham's usual dispassionate narration trips over and ends up giving a biased opinion that even the characters depicted in that scene don't subscribe to.

Overall, the characters and world are better in this book - a step more believable and up to date, but the plot is weak. It may hold the attention of a studious young reader (maybe aged 11 or 12) but it does nothing to appeal to the masses.

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The Bootlegger

The Bootlegger

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31st March 2014

Back to Isaac Bell's 'present' of 1930s prohibition-era America, as the private detective is drawn into investigating some smugglers which turn tangentially into a barely explained and somewhat difficult to follow plot to take over the world.

The attitudes of some of the characters feel quite anachronistic, particularly in relation to prohibition, though I freely admit to knowing very little about the period of American history. This makes the novel feel slightly silly in its approach, as the characters' morals seem to change from scene to scene. Some of the minor characters that are introduced seem really interesting at first but then are followed up weakly - the book could easily have benefited by exploring them more.

The plot starts well, dealing with issues of the time and feeling like the events a detective agency would be involved in, but then I think it goes over the top and starts to move beyond believability. I know it's listed as a thriller and that's what Cussler is known for, but the whole setup seems to beg more for a mystery story. As it is, the audience are aligned with the baddies far too much and so there's little in the way of tension as we know pretty much how things are going down ahead of time.

One exception was the climax, where the book seemed to be setting up one form of showdown but then gave something that I felt was rushed and weaker. Overall, I could say it was a little disappointing, but actually it's more of a surprise now when I really enjoy a Cussler novel, so I suppose this is now just standard.

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The Magicians' Guild

The Magicians' Guild

31st March 2014

Although the commonly accepted wisdom is that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, the design and imagery certainly play a role in advertising a book, and the works of Trudy Canavan have been screaming at me from the bookshop shelves for a few years. I finally gave in to them and bought this, her first novel and the first part of a trilogy.

The plot is not too complex and it does feel like a first book, as it tells the tale of a girl from the slums who accidentally discovers she has magical abilities, in defiance of the perceived wisdom that only 'the families' can produce magical children, and is then hunted by the local magicians' guild.

There are similarities to Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy and the all-pervasive Harry Potter series, but actually the book takes its own path well, not following the direct narrative route I was expecting and taking time to explore the world that Canavan has created. The world seems well crafted and there's clearly a lot more there than we get to see in this novel, and I hope that in the sequels we get to see more of it.

Although it didn't quite have that spark that makes a book stand out as extra special, there's nothing really to criticise and I enjoyed it very much and will pick up the rest of the trilogy very soon.

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Only Superhuman

Only Superhuman

31st March 2014

I've read a number of Christopher L Bennett's Star Trek tie-in novels, and have been reading online for a long time about this book, an original work looking at the 22nd Century life of a group of genetically-engineered superheroes.

I found the book really interesting, although in places hard going. The narrative gets a bit bogged down with technical details, then flips into fast-paced action scenes. These were actually what interested me least, and several times I found my attention drifting and had to turn back a page or two to work out what was going on.

The plot gets quite complex, and does well to keep the reader guessing all the way to the end, although it gets to the point of ridiculousness in trying to tie your thinking up in knots. The main character is strong, and I really liked the way that the backstory was given interspersed throughout the narrative in 'origin story' chapters. In fact, I found these sequences the best in the novel.

The book does have a similar overall feel to it as Bennett's Trek novels, though I didn't find it had quite the power to grip me. Certainly an interesting novel, but a little too much toward hard science fiction for my tastes.

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The Black Echo

The Black Echo

23rd March 2014

I picked up the first book in the Harry Bosch series following a recommendation that his writing was similar to that of John Grisham. Having finally got around to reading it, I've concluded that this recommendation was nonsense (in fact, having just done some research, I find this recommendation referred to a later spin-off series). Connelly's style is more verbose, the reader's relationship with the character much more personal, and the characters themselves much more varied and multi-layered.

The plot follows a Hollywood detective who's drawn into investigating an ever-more complicated mystery that's a little too personal. Particularly in the first half, it feels like it's plodding along, even though the plot is moving. I really liked the gradual reveal of more and more detail about the main character's background, although as the series has more than 15 books now, I'm not sure if this is a feature that the author will be able to keep up.

The mystery is good and keeps the reader on their toes. There are plenty of twists to keep things interesting and the conclusion is satisfying - another point where it diverges from John Grisham's novels. There are still a few questions remaining, particularly around the motivation of some of the secondary characters, and I'm glad that this leaves some hanging threads to be picked up in the sequels that I plan to read over the next few years.

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Crocodile Tears

Crocodile Tears

16th March 2014

Alex Rider manages to fit in another adventure before reaching the age of fifteen, and as usual it resembles a James Bond film in many aspects. This story sees Rider caught up in an adventure by accident, but the coincidence rate in this series is starting to get suspicious.

The first thing you notice is that this book is much chunkier than the earlier episodes - my copy is a 400-page hardback, and at the pace that it races, with a draining amount of action and endless peril, it feels like a long read.

That peril feels deeper than before - the descriptions are more believable, the danger more real and the graphicness of some of the action make it seem aimed at an older audience than before. This could be a good thing for fans as the books were published who don't find the stories becoming childish, but to a younger reader coming to the stories for the first time now it might go a step too far.

Overall, I think it's one if the best in the series (although there's one plot point that bothered me at the end) and I really liked the author's efforts to bring some of the recurring characters to life a little more and display, or at least question, some of their motivations.

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Win, Lose or Die

Win, Lose or Die

16th March 2014

Gardner's eighth Bond novel feels a bit like the point where he's taken things too far. Despite this, the plot is fairly strong and develops from a well formed foundation, however there's a lot that combines to spoil it.

The first problem was that the back-cover copy of my edition gives away one of the major events from the novel that really shouldn't be spoilt. I would have much preferred to have read it without this knowledge in advance.

Bond falling for a girl has become a cliché, despite the narrative's insistence that it's a rarity, but in many ways Gardner's Bond has lost much that Fleming provided the character. The narrative is punctuated by frequent asides and even a footnote which I felt broke the flow of the story and didn't fit with the character the reader is aligned with at all.

Finally there's a really weak climax that I won't spoil. Overall, a book with potential that was let down. I'd love to have read it written differently.

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The Truth

The Truth

16th March 2014

I've seen a lot of Palin's TV and film work, and read one volume of his autobiography, but this is the first time I've read his fiction. I was surprised to find it a serious novel and not a comedy, as it follows a journalist commissioned to write a biography of a recluse.

Palin's own travels have clearly informed a large portion of the narrative, and you can easily imagine that many of the events and character are based on his own experiences, particularly in the middle section of the book. Having said that I found the middle the least engaging - possibly as it's the part where the main character has less agency and is just flowing with events rather than influencing them.

A good tale overall, but it didn't really stand out as something special.

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Tell No One

Tell No One

16th March 2014

I found reading this book quite interesting, as it's one of the few times I've seen the film first. As such, when I started reading, I found I could visualise the action much more clearly than usual.

This is the eighth of Harlan Coben's books I've read, and the first outside his Myron Bollitar series. Like the series, the narrative is slightly more relaxed than many novels, and the first person narrative helps make this feel more natural.

The story is a mystery, focusing in on the baffled man who's caught up in it, and it develops at a smooth speed keeping the reader hooked throughout. There are places where things feel slightly too good to be true, but the pacing and action keep them from breaking the flow.

Probably the best of Coben's works that I've read. Really good.

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Absent Enemies

Absent Enemies

9th March 2014

I'm sad to say that this Star Trek Titan novella was something of a disappointment. Unlike other recent novellas from the Trek line, it's not a character-focused story but is heavily plot and action driven (like a weaker TNG episode) and doesn't really add anything to the overall Trek universe.

The plot follows Riker and his crewmates as they are randomly dispatched on a repair mission. There's a bit of a mystery to solve but by necessity the solution is hinted at so heavily that it's hardly a surprise when you reach the reveal. Some of the characters come across as having forgotten everything that's happened to them in recent stories, and that's a little frustrating.

Because of the action orientation of the plot, the story seemed to pass much more quickly than a character-driven tale of similar length, making it seem much shorter than other similarly-lengthed novellas, which was disappointing given the price. I'm not really an ebook person and so on the odd occasion that I'm forced into reading one so I don't feel I've missed out on something, I really want to feel it was worth it at the end - in this case I didn't.

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The Inheritance

The Inheritance

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2nd March 2014

This is the first time I've read anything by the author's Megan Lindholm persona, and I've found the shorts here varied and interesting. Brief comments on each follow.

A Touch of Lavendar - A bittersweet story about a family in slightly sci-fi world. Beautifully written and much more moving than anything I think I've read from the Hobb persona.

Silver Lady - A modern day fantasy love story that while pleasant I'm not sure I really got.

Cut - An unsubtle look at uncomfortable issues that doesn't seem afraid to go places that a lot of mainstream fiction wouldn't. Actually poses real philosophical mind benders.

The Fifth Squashed Cat - For reasons I can't fathom, this one reminded me of John Grisham. Perhaps it's the style of the first-person narrative. It's weird, but it makes you think.

Strays - Quite a sad coming-of-age story as a girl learns more about the world, with a really interesting character and relationships.

Finis - Short, almost sweet story that I really enjoyed reading.

Drum Machine - One interesting issue that arose was not knowing the gender of the first person narrator - it happened in several stories but this was the one where I felt most established in the woman I was envisioning when suddenly she became a man. Maybe this was intentional. Again, this poses some interesting ethical questions in a dystopian setting, and worked really well to tie that in with a revealing narrative.

The rest are 'Hobb' stories, set in the author's 'Realm of the Elderlings' world.

Homecoming - A prequel to the Live Ships trilogy, which fills in a chunk of backstory. Really good and felt like it could easily have been expanded to a full novel (although there are a number of similarities to the Rain Wilds series), but the journal style compressed it down nicely and allowed for some amusing asides.

The Inheritance - A nice short tale which again feels like a Live Ships prequel, but one that's really about a new character rather than telling us anything about the world.

Cat's Meat - The final short story is a standalone set in the Six Duchies before the events of the original Farseer trilogy. Another character story that explores the magic of the world in a new way, and one in which it's interesting to get a new and different perspective on this part of Hobb's creation. Reminiscent in part of the Tawny Man trilogy.

I've really enjoyed exploring other parts of Hobb's world and experiencing Lindholm writings for the first time. I'll certainly be looking for the longer Lindholm works once I've finished working my way through the author's other works.

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No Time Like The Past

No Time Like The Past

27th February 2014

I'm not normally a reader of novels from The Original Series line, but seeing as this is a crossover with Voyager I made an exception, and wasn't disappointed. The story sees Seven of Nine thrown back in time where she meets up with Captain Kirk, and together they have to save the timeline from damage.

The first thing I noticed was that the style adopted by Cox is quite different from that used in the 24th Century novels. It's more relaxed, more casual - almost jokey. This fits well with the original series setting and characters, and there are a number of in-jokes that I spotted, and doubtlessly more that I missed.

The plot is a fulfilling thriller as the characters encounter a lot of obstacles, and in doing so Cox makes reference to several episodes I recognised from the TV series, and some earlier novels, some of which I was barely familiar with, but for which there was enough background given for me to get the gist.

So the book is really just a vehicle to get two characters together, and unlike the TNG-era novels I've been reading recently adds little to Trek as a whole, but it's good fun and I've really enjoyed reading it.

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Hickory Dickory Dock

Hickory Dickory Dock

26th February 2014

Hickory Dickory Dock is a fairly average Poirot novel, in which the famous detective, bored, goes to investigate a small mystery bewitching his secretary's sister, which soon escalates into murder.

The cast is so huge that I almost decided to go back to the beginning after a few chapters and write out a diagram of the relationships between them so that I could keep up. There's more diversity than usual, with suspects from around the world. This creates a slightly odd balance in the narrative between what reads like unchallenged casual racism of the time, and what appears to be a strong criticism of racist views. Overall this comes across as more of a focus than the actual plot, but without any real focus of moral at the end.

Unlike most of Christie's novels, I didn't feel when I got to the end that I'd been given sufficient information throughout to solve the mystery myself, it was more a case of being presented with solutions wholesale at the end. There was one point too that I couldn't even see how it fitted in with the plot.

Overall, I didn't feel it was one of the great Christie works, and it was rather disappointing. Perhaps one best left just for the completionists.

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Protectors

Protectors

26th February 2014

It's book four of Kirsten Beyer's re-relaunch of Star Trek Voyager following the events of the series finale, the first relaunch and the complicated inter-twined novels around the Destiny trilogy. Although the authors say that each book can be read alone, there are a lot of references here to previous novels and I think they would be frustrating and baffling to a reader who hadn't been keeping up.

The story feels reminiscent of the author's earlier book Full Circle, with two parallel plot lines following different characters - one more action packed and one more emotional and character driven. The latter was the one that I found most engaging. It's hard to say much about it without dropping spoilers.

The 'main' plot, on Voyager itself, sees the ship investigating a distress signal. There are some interesting science fiction concepts roaming around, but I didn't really feel they were explained in a way that I could really visualise what was happening. The technobabble throughout, but particularly near the beginning, actually distracted me from the plot and felt like it had been picked at random rather than even trying to sound like it was making sense.

The book is meant to be the first part in a trilogy, but as a stand alone I felt there was something missing - it almost subscribes to what I've described before as 'middle-book syndrome', where everything that happens seems to just be reshuffling characters into the place they are wanted for the following book.

Overall though it was enjoyable to visit these characters again and see where they are going next. There's a lot clearly been set up for the future, and if you want to keep reading, then this is a vital book in the series.

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Clean Cut

Clean Cut

26th February 2014

The third Anna Travis book has an interesting structure, with the main central crime story bookended by two soap opera sections - more character-driven emotional parts of the story. The plot itself is quite complex and ties together a number of threads in a way that seems rather implausible.

The soapy parts of the story are actually interesting, and Travis certainly gets a lot more character action than your typical alcoholic divorcee detective (which she isn't). She has a surprisingly authentic relationship and manages to balance it well with her career in a way that makes her a perfectly believable character.

The main plot is complicated, and at times I found myself getting confused by the wide array of characters and trying to understand the relationships between them. I've recently begun to wonder whether there's worth in mapping out the characters and relationships in books I read so that I don't get lost, and this is certainly one that might have benefited. To an extent I think this confusion is a plot device to make the reader sympathise more with the central character.

I did enjoy reading this book, although I felt it was a little long and things were dragged out more than was necessary. The balance of personal life and career was good, but I felt they could have been mixed together a little more. The next book is on my shelf and waiting.

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Man vs Beast

Man vs Beast

26th February 2014

Young secret agents James and Lauren Adams are thrust once again into an undercover mission, this time to infiltrate animal rights protesters in order to be close to a terrorist group.

With such a controversial subject forming part of the plot, I was really surprised by how well Muchamore balances each side of the arguments and provided a range of characters with differing viewpoints to make a book that won't offend any reader.

Like in previous books in the series, this one doesn't shy away from presenting a realistic view of teenage life in the twenty-first century, and while I appreciate this honesty in a book aimed at younger readers, some parents might consider its portrayals as too frank for their children.

I have no complaints - the Cherub series is a great modern take on the child spy thriller and should lead the genre for a couple of decades.

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The Emperor's Soul

The Emperor's Soul

25th February 2014

I was slightly dubious going into this Brandon Sanderson short story. I'm not entirely sure why as I've never been disappointed by anything he's written, but often it's the epics and series that really hook me, and perhaps I was afraid that I'd get too invested and be disappointed by something that was so short.

As I read the first couple of chapters I thought that my fears had been realised, but then I got completely hooked. It's the tale of a Forger - someone skilled in manipulating reality to change something into something else that it could have been. It's a fascinating new magic system again that builds another world for Sanderson to play in, showing off what is probably his greatest skill.

Although there is a close focus on one main character, the others that fill the world are enriched with depth that the reader is allowed glances into, particularly through the way that we learn about them from a single insightful point of view.

As always with Sanderson's work, I was left wanting more, and felt that this short story was certainly worth reading.

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Cockroaches

Cockroaches

25th February 2014

The second Harry Hole mystery has finally been published in the UK which means that the whole series can now be read in English translation. I can see why the first two books were left until last to translate, as they're set outside Norway and don't fall into the trilogy that follows. I said in my review of Redbreast (book three) that it felt something was missing without the context that the first two books would provide, but now having read them I found that they don't provide that background material that was needed.

This book sees Harry sent to Thailand when the Norwegian ambassador is murdered, and follows the detective as he struggles with his alcoholism and the many obstacles in the way of his investigation. It's a complex plot that I'm not sure comes across fully as it unfolds, and that feels more like a man stumbling around rather than pursuing an investigation with any direction.

Apart from Hole, few of the characters have real depth to them, despite detailed description and plenty of appearances we only very occasionally get to see behind the mask. Hole himself does follow an interesting character path, but it does seem very familiar compared to those he takes in the other books in the series, and I don't think that this story adds to him in the way that the previous and following books do.

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The Peacekeepers

The Peacekeepers

9th February 2014

The second regular novel based on Star Trek: The Next Generation has surprised me, reading it 25+ years after publication, by being really good. I started re-reading the series in order, with the feeling that I was going to be disappointed by everything in the early numbered stories, but both book one and this are really good.

It's a story mostly about Geordi, a surprisingly under-served character really, when he and Data are mysteriously transported away while investigating a drifting derelict. The characters, certainly in the first half of the novel, are very recognisable from the portrayal in the early episodes of the TV show, and it feels like the author has got a really good grip on how they were envisioned at that time.

As a sci-fi plot, it's strong - there's mystery, suspense, twists, a deep back-story that might not be all it seems, and the narrative flows well throughout, focussing on Geordi and Data but giving a good outing to many of the other main characters (though Wesley Crusher is curiously unmentioned).

I actually really enjoyed reading this, and am looking forward to reading DeWeese's later TNG novels.

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The Mystery of the Pantomime Cat

The Mystery of the Pantomime Cat

5th February 2014

By the seventh mystery for the Five Find-Outers and Dog, Fatty has come to centre stage and Blyton uses him as the point-of-view character for almost the entire narrative. Approaching halfway through the series, it's finally reached the point where all the key elements are in place - clues, disguises, alibis - and it almost feels like the author has been building elements of the mystery story up one by one in the earlier books, taking the reader on a journey into the world of crime novels.

It's a great plot, and Blyton seems to feel comfortable enough with the format to introduce twists away from the norm to keep things interesting. The mystery itself is well written, and there are plenty of opportunities for a young reader (or listener) to spot clues before the characters.

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The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets

The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets

5th February 2014

Simon Singh's book on Fermat's Last Theorem was one of the triggers when I was a teenager that led me to studying mathematics at university. With this book he returns to the world of maths, explaining various principles, ideas and theorems using events from episodes of TV series The Simpsons as launching points.

It's very different from his Fermat book, and from The Code Book, in that there isn't a narrative the flows through the book, each chapter can be read alone and covers a separate idea. As a mathematician, there was little new, although it was interesting to read the mini-biographies of the writers behind the Simpsons (and Futurama) and there were some fascinating things that I'd not read about before.

The book is well written for an audience that doesn't have a background in maths, and uses The Simpsons well to explain a variety of mathematical ideas in an easy to understand manner - there's nothing here that you'd need more than a basic knowledge of numbers to follow at least the principles of, and I think it will easily pique the interest of younger readers just as his earlier book did for me.

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Let it Bleed

Let it Bleed

5th February 2014

The seventh Rebus mystery sees the Edinburgh detective investigating several suicides that seem disconnected, but which he has a hunch aren't as coincidental as his colleagues think. It unravels from there into a wide ranging and complex plot that feels a little too reminiscent of earlier books in the series.

It's almost certainly the story with the most different threads for Rebus to tie together, and this leads to a fascinating plot that keeps moving at a good pace - there wasn't time to pause and reflect almost before more scenes threw more clues my way. My copy has reading group discussion questions listed in the back, but I didn't feel like I'd been left an opportunity to even think about some of points they brought up as the plot rolled on.

The 'soap' aspects - ongoing character development - of the story felt rather more believable in this novel - perhaps because Rebus' relationships seemed more natural, unforced and his home life more in keeping with his character traits (and to be honest the traditions of the alcoholic single detective). I've come to quite enjoy seeing where his life will lead next in the same way I've enjoyed finding out how Adrian Mole's life has changed as new editions of his diary are published.

One of the best in the series up to this point, and certainly one that's encouraged me to hurry towards reading book eight.

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Hounded

Hounded

5th February 2014

The first book in Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid Chronicles was recommended to me on the basis of similarities to Jim Butcher's Dresden Files novels which I've recently started reading. I would argue that it's not only similar but better.

The book introduces Atticus O'Sullivan, a druid living in the modern-day USA, where he's hiding from a God with a chip on its shoulder. A variety of fantasy tropes come into play in a surprisingly rich and well-constructed world. The plot flows neatly throughout and the action is kept to a strong pace with plenty of chapter-ending cliffhangers.

Hearne's first-person narrative really helps move the story along, and unlike the aforementioned Dresden Files books it doesn't feel awkward or jolt the reader from the narrative. The book is filled with humorous lines that somehow feel natural and unforced, and I found myself almost giggling out load on the train as I read.

Great plot, great characters, great world-building, and I've already bought the next book in the series.

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Mirage

Mirage

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1st February 2014

I was pleasantly surprised by this Oregon Files novel, which opens with a thrilling rescue that leads on to a series of following adventures. Over recent years I've become less satisfied with the Cussler 'brand' but this, some three years since the last book in this series, was really enjoyable to read.

The Oregon Files started out as much more of an ensemble piece in the earliest novels, but now focus much more on the main character, Juan Cabrillo. While this can sometimes feel unrealistic it adds a lot more of a sense of adventure than the very procedural nature of the first few books.

The plot here is fantastic. There's the usual slight sci-fi edge to the threat, but the baddie is surprisingly authentic and not the almost-parody Bond-villain that sometimes features in Cussler novels. The story shows the Oregon's day-to-day as well as a big adventure, which adds realism to the story and a much more interesting look at the characters. It also helps to slow the main plot line which flits around the world quite quickly in scene after scene of action.

The best Cussler for years, in my opinion, and one I find it difficult to find much fault with. Much more of this please.

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Fool Moon

Fool Moon

29th January 2014

The second book in the Dresden Files follows Chicago's only wizard detective as he investigates some suspicious wolf-like attacks. Like the first book, the narrative is quite informal first-person, which I find takes a while to get used to compared to the more formal tone taken by most novels.

The plot is strong and builds tension throughout, although I often found my mind had wandered slightly and events had overtaken me - I had to turn back a page to get back on track. The narrative is enriched by occasional hints of things to come and backstory which is drop-fed without much explanation, teasing future books in the series.

I felt as I read though that I couldn't detect much in the way of direction to the story and was just going along for the ride rather than being guided through events. Other than Dresden himself, the characters are more bluntly mysterious than ever deep, and I found that sightly frustrating, though it may be designed as an artefact of seeing the world through the wizard's eyes.

Over all, I feel the same about this book as I did the first entry - I'm still not convinced that the series is going to keep my attention throughout, but I'm also not ready to abandon it by any means. I look forward to reading more and hope it starts to really grip me in the next book.

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The Girl in Blue

The Girl in Blue

27th January 2014

A classic Wodehouse work following the brief adventures of Jerry West and various family members, who suffer the typical problems in the arenas of money and love.

My main issue with the Wodehouse novels I've read over the past few years is how similar they are, but that might be an artefact of my buying them as a set. However they make for pleasant light reading and remain an enjoyable and relaxing read.

With this particular novel, I felt that the ending was rather abrupter than I'd expected, with plenty of plot points going unresolved, which left me a little frustrated. Overall though a happily spent few hours with some of the lovely turns of phrase that Wodehouse scatters throughout his work.

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An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

27th January 2014

Chris Hadfield's biography - despite the title, that's how the book reads - tells the story of the astronaut's life from childhood up to returning to Earth after his stint commanding the International Space Station. It's a fascinating look into a profession that most of us can only dream about, and Hadfield manages to tell his story in an incredibly humble way.

As per the title, Hadfield frames his narrative around explaining various life lessons that he's based his own character on, and shows how these have benefited his personal life and career. He's quite candid about various aspects of both, and doesn't shirk away from telling in detail how the intricacies of space-station life work.

The most interesting things though are some of the anecdotes Hadfield tells about himself, particularly where things seem to be going wrong. He shows a real talent for building the narrative tension despite the reader knowing how things turn out.

The book shows Commander Hadfield as a real person rather than the internet celebrity that he's become, and it's a really interesting insight into his life and the workings of the world's space agencies. An awesome book that I'm really glad I read.

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Peaceable Kingdoms

Peaceable Kingdoms

18th January 2014

The final book of The Fall - the 'event' mini-series that's rounded off the 2013 catalogue of Star Trek continuation novels - wraps up everything that's been building over the past few novels. The book follows two of the regulars in particular: Doctor Crusher as she's sent undercover to meet a Cardassian under mysterious circumstances, and Captain Picard as he's left on the Enterprise.

As a single story, it felt surprisingly small compared to the scale of the previous books in the series. The narrow focus on Crusher was interesting as she's an underserved character, but I missed some of the other characters and was expecting more of an ensemble piece to round out the series.

The author uses a lot of flashback to fill in what happened in previous novels, and to add backstory that we've not been aware of so far, and throughout the novel this feels very awkwardly presented and disrupts the flow of the narrative.

The political thriller feel of previous novels in the series lent a lot of depth and this felt more like a military thriller - you knew these things were happening elsewhere but it felt like they were unimportant and secondary. I understand that the publisher's plans for the future of the series are to depart from the more connected political universe of recent years' Star Trek novels, and I for one will be disappointed if this is the case.

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A Feast for Crows

A Feast for Crows

18th January 2014

The fourth book of A Song of Ice and Fire is set almost entirely in the south of Westeros, with the promise that the fifth book will cover simultaneous events in the rest of the series' world. This meant that it's focus is mainly on characters that were far from my favourites from the first three novels, and certainly at first and into the middle of the book I found this detracted from my enjoyment.

The plot is less action-packed and seems to focus more on distinct scenes that develop the characters and politics, as those who have power make attempts to solidify their grip on the people and lands they rule. After the first half I stopped reading for about two weeks, and was surprised when I picked the book back up that I'd started to fall for some of the characters I hadn't loved before.

The usual twists and turns fill Martin's narrative, and he manages to surprise and entertain easily with a world that's remarkably deep and realistic. It's really interesting to read a series that is truly based around an ensemble cast and not the typical chosen-one on a quest trope that appears again and again in fantasy novels.

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