All 2015 reviews - Shastrix Books

2015

All reviews

Leave it to Jennings

Leave it to Jennings

31st December 2015

Leave it to Jennings is the last new Jennings story I will ever read - having already read all the following stories when I was a child. It's taken me some time to get hold of a copy, as it seems it's the only book in the series that hasn't been republished any time recently and all the second hand copies are surprisingly expensive, so I suppose actually it's taken me the time to convince myself to pay for a copy, which I finally did earlier this year on a visit to Hay.

I've taken my time reading it, partly to savour it and partly because I didn't want to carry it around in my bag do have been taking it of the shelf just for a chapter or two at a time.

Overall, it's a pretty average Jennings story, depicting several episodes from his days at boarding school along with a throughrunning story of an inter-dorm competition and some prophecies received from a village fete fortune teller.

In general the plot is pretty tame and in places quite predictable, but maybe that's okay in a children's story. I couldn't see any particular reason that it would have been left out of any republishing, but maybe it's just because it didn't stand out in any way that it's never been picked.

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Brayan's Gold

Brayan's Gold

31st December 2015

The first of several short stories set in the world of The Demon Cycle sees us spending some time with Arlen, one of the series' main characters, as a young man in training to be a messenger. I read the short having already read the first three novels from the series, but it's set (I'm pretty sure) between the first and second and would make most sense to be read after book one.

The bulk of the plot is action, but it's action that shows the character of Arlen forming and building his character between how it originally appears and how he returns in book two. It shows some key elements evolving and I thought that was really interesting. It's a good short adventure that gives a taste of Brett's writing and is a nice dip into the world and character from this fantastic series without the commitment to an entire massive novel, but definitely isn't mandatory for readers of the main series.

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Set in Darkness

Set in Darkness

31st December 2015

The eleventh Inspector Rebus story from Ian Rankin took me a while to get into. Particularly early on I wasn't really sure where my focus was meant to be, and it seemed to have stepped back from where the previous novels had been with the character to being more focussed on the investigation in question and less on the characters.

Later on though I became much more interested in the story as things progressed, and it's actually got a lot more going on than I had initially realised. There are a lot of new characters or characters that are stepping onto centre stage in a way that they hadn't in earlier novels, and it feels like this is a major stepping stone on the way to developments to come in later novels (we shall see).

The plot is intricate, but feels more like a vehicle for the other things that are going on in Rankin's Edinburgh - it often felt like it was taking second place to the world building, although that could be because the various parts of it felt quite discrete.

So in retrospect actually quite a good Rebus novel and one important, it would seem, to the ongoing continuity - just needs the beginning to be got through first.

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The General

The General

31st December 2015

The tenth book in the best young adult series I've read sees its characters continuing to age realistically - James Adams is now a 17-year-old secret agent and on his way to retirement, while his younger sister is at her peak. This is an interesting twist on the series as it doesn't follow the traditional spy novel formula, instead mixing together a couple of plots to produce a meta-adventure.

The thing I enjoy most about this series is that it deals with real issues that are appropriate to the age of the characters and intended readers, without being patronising or trying to hide aspects of reality, and it manages to combine that with the fantastic world of secret agents and thrilling adventures. The characters are far from perfect and their actions aren't presented with any preachy moralising - the reader is left to come to their own conclusions.

There's also a balance in this novel of content which will appeal to different audiences - both in the simple male/female main character split but also in the balance of action and more cerebral content, with some elements particularly appealing to the more analytical part of the audience. It's funny, tense, and a fascinating look at some characters within this fictional world.

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High Five

High Five

29th December 2015

The fifth Stephanie Plum story - and I can't believe I've only read five - sees work drying up for the only-just-professional bounty hunter, and she tries her hand at helping out with some other business.

It's a bit of a mix as far as the plot goes, with about four or five different threads going on in parallel, but they are all quite straightforward to follow and work together to make the character's life into a rounded and believable one.

The soap opera aspects of the story come a little more to the forefront than previously, but that doesn't distract from the core investigation of the story and just adds colour and emotion. There's a lot more humour added to the mix with a new character, although that's balanced by the return of some jokes that are getting old.

A good, quick and light read that provides a happy distraction for a few hours.

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Whispers Underground

Whispers Underground

29th December 2015

The third book in the Peter Grant series follows the trainee wizard police officer as he investigates the murder of a student using some magic pottery. It's a great continuation of the ongoing storyline as well, and sees a different mix of characters making an interesting tale.

It's a good adventure and a believable take on a murder mystery story as well along the lines of a modern crime novel. The stories continue to explore some of the less familiar aspects of London, and though there are some similarities with other London-based fantasy come stories that I've read its distinctive enough for that not to bother me.

One of the elements of this book that appealed particularly is the change in the relationships between the characters, which provides for a slightly different dynamic and the exploration of some new ideas and some different humorous moments. Indeed the humour is one of the most satisfying elements of this series in its subtlety and delightfulness, twisting modern life with a touch of fantasy.

With this book I've come to the end of the initial trilogy which I bought in a box set, and I'm now going on the lookout for the rest of the series.

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Dangerous Women part two

Dangerous Women part two

&

29th December 2015

The second paperback collection of short stories - another subset of those that appeared in the original hardback collection - features a range of tales about women. It starts with Megan Lindholm's tale of an elderly lady whose interpretation of really differs from her children.

Overall none of the stories in this volume really stood out to me or led me to feel that I should pick up more by any of the authors, which was actually quite disappointing as I thought the first volume was an impressive collection's

This time I found it tough to get into any of the individual stories and it almost felt like a chore to get through them - I found myself finding any excuse not to read, including finding other things to do on the train to and from work which is usually reserved reading time.

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Shelter

Shelter

29th December 2015

In the final Myron Bolitar novel, Harlan Coben introduced his star character's nephew Mickey, and in Shelter this new teenage character takes centre stage in his own adventure when his girlfriend disappears.

It's clearly an experiment in writing for a young adult audience, but that's something that Coben pulls off really well, migrating his trademark mix of thriller and violence and soap opera into something suitable for the target demographic without watering things down to the level of parody (as John Grisham did when he wrote his young adult novels).

The story doesn't shy away from violence or from other adult themes such as drugs, and makes for interesting reading for an adult too. The characters are interesting and varied - a mix of social outcasts with differing talents and interests who come alive on the page rather than attempt to just be a vehicle to get the reader into the story.

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Dead Man's Grip

Dead Man's Grip

6th December 2015

The sixth book in Peter James' series of Brighton-based crimes investigated by Roy Grace brings us back to the detective shortly after the end of his last adventure, with a lot going on in his personal life. A tragic traffic incident leads to a murder investigation that snowballs beyond what might be expected, leading to a thrilling story.

I absolutely raced through this story, aided by the structure of many short chapters which mean it's easy to keep going right until the train arrives into the station rather than stop at a convenient point in expectation.

The story has an interesting set up and this leads too a fascinating range of characters to deal with and a series of events that I think did become a tad too fantastical. One of the things I liked best about this novel is how James is building up a world and a continuity between his books with multiple threads which you can imagine coming together at some point. He has a great talent for intrigue and dropping little hints that gradually grow as you put two and two together. It's really clever that a story that isn't really a mystery as the reader gets all the points of view can still end up surprising you.

So overall a really great addition to the series that's made me very excited to keep reading in the hope that various things will pay off in the books to come.

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Ten Second Staircase

Ten Second Staircase

4th December 2015

I was very tempted to give up on the Bryant and May series after reading book three and finding it dull and hard to follow. It was only because I already had more books in the series already waiting on my shelf that I decided to pick up Ten Second Staircase and give it a go. I'm very glad I did.

Set in the present day, our at least relatively close to it, this fourth book tells of an investigation by the Peculiar Crimes Unit into a mysterious death of a controversial public figure. The plot is much more similar I structure and detail to a typical detective story, and I finally got my head around who all the characters are and how the world fits together.

It's a really good mystery that fits the style of the series without distracting from the story, and serves really well to establish the world that these books are set in. I almost wish that this had been the first book I read as it is much more approachable and really gripped me all the way through and has made me much more excited about continuing reading about these characters.

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Strike Zone

Strike Zone

4th December 2015

Book five of the Next Generation tie-in novels sees us joining the Enterprise D crew early in the second season, dropping references all the way through to some of the new aspects of the show that have been introduced - Riker's beard, Crusher's absence, Pulaski's presence, and the arrival of Guinan and Ten Forward.

It's also the first Star Trek novel by now-veteran author Peter David, one of the most famous authors in all of geek literature, and I'm amazed at how much he was allowed to get away with even back in the eighties. This is probably the most hilarious piece of Trek fiction I've read in all seventeen years I've been reading it. Right from the start David is joking around with the characters, especially Riker, and this makes it into a very entertaining novel that survives the decades between publication and reading extremely well.

What sadly hasn't survived intact is some of the background that David supplies for his characters. There's a lot of backstory and exposition that is later massively contradicted by later episodes (especially relating to the Klingons) or that the TV writers had probably planned but never followed up on (Picard/Pulaski). Despite this being me out of the plot a little, it's good fun and interesting in itself to see what was going through the minds of the writers back this early in the series.

Finally, the plot of this specific novel is also good - both the A and B stories are interesting and serve to explore the world well and bring up a number of points that deserve reflection and thought. I was intrigued to see the introduction of one character from a species over read about before I later Trek books by other authors, and I didn't expect to see inter-novel connections like that from so early on. Bit disappointed though that he's consistently referred to as an elf through the story, as that feels a tad racist.

Overall a really good and enjoyable novel and one I'm glad that my re-read brought to my attention. I'm now looking forward to reading more of David's output as I continue the series.

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Midnight Sun

Midnight Sun

4th December 2015

Midnight Sun is the second book in the loose new series by Jo Nesbo, the Norwegian author of the Harry Hole novels. It shares only a slim connection with its predecessor, Blood on Snow, and isn't really a sequel. The story is set in the seventies at the most northern tip of Norway, where twentieth century civilization has let to reach, and where Ulf is hiding out from folk who are out to get him.

It's an interesting short novel, with a straightforward yet captivating character-driven plot presented in the first person in a combination of recent narration and personal flashback. As we learn more and more about the main character, Nesbo plays with the reader's emotions and you're never quite sure what to think about Ulf and which way things are going to go next.

The characters are rich and varied - a real mix of different types who grow in depth and interest with each detail we learn about them, and Knit in particular I found to be an entertaining addition to the narrative.

Nesbo's style really lends itself well to this shorter format of story - I finished in just three sittings - and despite it not being the direct sequel I had half expected I found it an enjoyable read.

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Trapped

Trapped

2nd December 2015

The fifth book in the Iron Druid Chronicles surprised me by being set twelve years after the previous book - a twist that I certainly wasn't expecting and one that left me trying to puzzle out when the stories were actually set, as I'd assumed the earlier stories were contemporary and struggle to believe that Hearne would want to be trying to predict the near future.

However despite the potentially futuristic setting nothing major appears to have changed in the world - at least in the limited time we spend in the company of mortals rather then the many domains of fantastical gods and mythical creatures. I was left a bit disappointed that the stories didn't continue in the same vein, but clearly the author wanted to shift some things up a notch.

There are a few references to an adventure which I have discovered, since finishing the book, was depicted in one of a number of interstitial short stories that I hadn't even realised existed. Again that threw me off slightly and made me wonder whether I'd been reading the series in the wrong order.

Anyway, back to this book specifically, which follows the characters as they are drawn back out of hiding and become involved in a complex set of rivalries which I'm not convinced I could have followed even if I'd been taking notes as I went along. Similarly I have no idea quite why one event led to another, and was slightly baffled by some of the action scenes which I think I was to tired to follow accurately enough to appreciate.

I enjoyed some of the other new detail though - some fascinating world building expansion explaining how Druidism works in this world, and some character development that I was sceptical off at first but later bought into, and of course the returning fantastic humour built around Oberon.

So overall a book I enjoyed despite feeling I didn't take it all in, and one that I'm certainly looking forward to following up with the rest of the series and the shorter adventures which ochre missed so far.

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Career of Evil

Career of Evil

2nd December 2015

The third book in the Cormoran Strike series follows the private investigator and his sidekick Robin as their work is interrupted by the surprise delivery of a severed leg. It's another slightly gruesome tale, as you might guess from that description, but not so much as the second book in the series, The Silkworm.

As with many of the authors works, you fall in love with the characters all over again and feel as if you want to die into every aspect of their lives. It's a rich world filled with interesting minor characters who feel as much thought and effort has gone into their creation as the stars. What's nice though, and is different from other stories though is that the characters are not open books and there are aspect of them and their histories that are being slowly revealed as the series progresses.

The plot is convoluted and twists around a varied set of suspects as is typical of a novel if this genre, and keeps moving at a good pace. There's also a lot of good background stuff going on in the characters' lives to forma strong secondary plot which makes the whole thing deeper and more interesting. I'm looking forward tut seeing how some of the events depicted in this novel have repercussions in its sequels.

An enjoyable part three for Strike and Robin's adventures, though perhaps still not up there with the first four entertainment value.

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Rogue Lawyer

Rogue Lawyer

2nd December 2015

This year's big Grisham novel is an interesting twist, telling the story of a lawyer who is reviled for taking on the cases of those who juries can't wait to sentence - who have already been tried by the press or the police and where evidence is unlikely to sway anyone. As such the chap lives a difficult life and we get to see various as pieces of it.

Unlike the authors other novels, this one is presented in an episodic fashion, telling a number of stories of different cases with recurring characters, rather than the usual focus on one big story. This is great as it feels like your getting much more from the book.

It's great to see this focus on the character, and it doesn't do anything to diminish the courtroom drama of the piece, instead almost emphasising it as there's so much spread throughout. I also liked the way that Grisham gradually build the plot up from small beginnings, dropping things in which then snowball and build into a great story.

I'm a happy Grisham reader after this year's offering, and look forward to visiting his world again next year.

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Shadows of Self

Shadows of Self

1st December 2015

The fifth Mistborn novel, and the second in this 'Wild West' era off the world, revisits Wax and Wayne - a pair of amateur lawmen who use their powers to help or hinder the local police force as appropriate. I suspect that the setting is actually later than wild West equivalent, but as a Brit my knowledge of US historical eras is a little limited.

Similarly, my memories of the first Wax book are sketchy, and I had no idea as I read it which mentions of the characters' pasts I was meant to already know and which were new pieces of backstory and exposition that I was being given. That made it a little awkward to follow in places, and I'd recommend that other readers perhaps make sure they revisit the previous book before reading. In fact, I remembered the original trilogy much better and found the many dropped references to it one of the really great things about this book.

The plot this time is well constructed as we follow an investigation, and I thought that the new characters introduced lent the world a new layer of richness and variety. The thing I liked the most though was the way that Sanderson continues to build upon the world he created many books ago to keep it exciting and intriguing - with tons of new material here that really makes the reader think about how this culture has evolved.

Another great from Sanderson then - exactly what I had hoped for and expected. Long may they continue.

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The Aeronaut's Windlass

The Aeronaut's Windlass

1st December 2015

This is the first book in a new series by the author of The Dresden Files, set in a post-apocalyptic future where humanity has migrated to living in monumental 'spires' above the earth, separated by great distances of mist traversable only by great airship. We meet a group of youngsters preparing to do their bit for their home spire by signing up for the local Guard, as well as a veteran airship captain who spends his life flitting between the spires. And there are cats.

When I picked the book up I was expecting a sort of steampunk vibe, or at least some sort of fantasy, but if anything I'd classify it more as a proper science fiction novel, featuring some technology which to me is indistinguishable from magic. This made it unexpectedly delightful, and a new world which I enjoyed exploring along with the characters.

The variety of characters that Butcher has created are fantastic, creating a range of viewpoints from which to tell his story. There are some hilarious comic moments, some excellent intrigue and interesting revelations into which we barely scratch the surface, and a great plot for this opening story that creates a world that's begging to be explored. I'm really looking forward to continuing to read this series as it progresses.

And did I mention there are cats?

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Legion: Skin Deep

Legion: Skin Deep

5th October 2015

Looking back on my notes from the original Legion novella, I quite enjoyed it and its exploration of Stephen Leeds - a man whose various personality 'aspects' manifesto themselves as imaginary people who travel through life with him. Skin Deep continues the exploration of the character in a little more depth as he faces a new adventure.

I didn't re-read the original story before this one, and was struck by how much goes unexplained here, and wondered if I should have gone back first and read them back-to-back. However I've been told by someone who did this that it didn't help and that there are still references that don't mean anything to the reader.

The plot is an interesting idea, although really plays second fiddle to the situation of the character - often something I would praise in a Sanderson novel, but in this case something that's a little frustrating. I struggled in places to keep a track of which aspect was which and to understand the consistency of what they did in the character's imagination. Generally I didn't find it easy to read.

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Sight Unseen

Sight Unseen

5th October 2015

The latest novel in the Titan series follows the crew of the starship and Admiral Riker as he continues to get used to his new role. Dispatched to a new frontier, the crew receives a distress call from a friendly vessel and heads off to help.

The book starts like many Trek novels and also follows the recent convention of telling sequels to episodes of the TV series. The first half moves along at a reasonable pace but feels like it's lacking something and didn't grip me as much as I had hoped. There were moments where I phased out and had to take a step back a page to catch back up with myself.

The second half though was excellent. The pace ups and we get a strong blend of action, intrigue and a range of characters having interesting moments. I really like how Swallow takes some of the newer characters and gross them through the novel to the point where it feels like you've known them forever - a trick that would be beneficial to some of the other recent Trek tie-in novels.

That said, some of the other characters that we've been exposed to for a while seemed to get much less attention and two of the subplots felt shoehorned awkwardly in to reshuffle things in a way that didn't have much bearing on the plot of this book.

Overall though the second half really impressed and entertained me, and it was definitely worth reading the first half to get there. An excellent adventure and well used characters. I hope for many more books by Swallow in the years to come.

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Make Me

Make Me

28th September 2015

The twentieth novel in the Jack Reacher series sees the title character - a former military police officer - arrive in a small violists with an unusual name, which nobody will explain to him.

As always, it's an interesting plot that keeps getting deeper with every twist. However it's much slower than usual to find out what is going on, and unlike some of the earlier books it feels like some of the motivation is a little forced to keep the story moving rather than being organic.

I'm not sure whether it's just me, but I felt there has been a shift in the narrative, with action scenes seeming to switch into an incredibly detailed slow motion description, rather than being quick and blunt. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that - in places it meant I had to pause and step back to really take something in.

That said, Lee Child introduces some interesting new elements of the plot which may indicate an interesting new direction for the series, and may flow through into subsequent novels, which will certainly be interesting to see.

Another excellent thriller from a real master of the genre. A good balance of character, mystery and action.

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The Returned part three

The Returned part three

24th September 2015

The final part of this new New Frontier adventure follows up on everything we've seen in parts one and two. There are several vaguely interconnected threads that tie the characters together and demonstrate that Peter David still has what it takes to produce a solid, funny Trek adventure.

As always, the story is filled with imaginative twists, unexpected events (some very surprising!) and humorous moments that made the early New Frontier stories fantastic.

I'm pleased with how David has closed things in a little, focussing back on the original characters and enabling new readers to be drawn in (and old ones to remember). The trilogy as a whole has really impressed me - I'd been scared that it would be terrible, but actually really enjoyed it and hope that there will be more to come.

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The Secret Adversary

The Secret Adversary

24th September 2015

I picked up this first novel in Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence series much earlier than I'd planned - partly inspired by the recent TV series (despite not having watched it), but mainly because we agreed for it to be the first book we read in our small new book club.

The story opens with quite formal language, which was a little surprising, as we meet the characters and they dive into some exposition to introduce themselves. Abruptly switching tack, they become the best of friends and set out on an adventure.

The writing style reminded me a lot of Wodehouse, and the narrative is particularly dialogue driven - much of the action being summed up in flashback from one character to another. There are a lot of light-hearted moments, and it was certainly an enjoyable tale.

Of the main characters, Tuppence is well defined from the start, but Tommy seemed quite bland and generic until about halfway through where he is described by another character - and from that moment on he seems to obtain that persona. The other characters are varied, and a few are explored well while others feel like wallpaper.

The adventure itself is as convoluted as one would expect from Christie, and while there is one big give away moment, the reader needs to carefully follow the twisting plot and drip-fed clues to work out what's really going on. All the necessary information is there - but still Christie managed to catch me out.

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Trigger Mortis

Trigger Mortis

22nd September 2015

After writing the Alex Rider series of young adult spy stories, clearly modelled on Bond, Anthony Horowitz has finally graduated to the main programme and been invited to write the novel he's been lining himself up for.

Set shortly after Goldfinger, Bond finds himself caught up in both the repercussions of that mission and a new one where he travels to Germany to thwart a Russian plot. A fair chunk of the early part of the story is based on an outline Ian Fleming produced for a potential Bond TV series, and it's fascinating to see how Horowotz has blended in this original material into his narrative and expanded it into a full and rich story.

While much of the novel is written in passable Fleming style, the separation into two halves - one European and one American - goes against the Fleming tradition of alternating book settings, and there is limited overlap between the two parts which feels a little disconnected. The first half seems far more memorable, but that may be because my copy reinforced that with the Fleming script as an appendix.

Despite Horowitz's excellent writing and a solid and entertaining plot, I don't think that this will be remembered as a classic of the continuation novels (actually I'm not sure there is such a thing). It doesn't take any risks with the material, and as such does nothing to make it stand out.

Still, one of the best of the recent bunch of one-off Bond authors and I would have no objection to Horowitz getting the gig for a few episodes - perhaps with the remaining unpublished Fleming texts as inspiration. His grasp of the originals is strong and he's clearly done his research without becoming an obsessive fanboy.

If you enjoy the originals, this is probably the one to read now.

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The Sinister Signpost

The Sinister Signpost

, &

22nd September 2015

The fifteenth book in the original Hardy Boys series, and the point where I ran out of steam in my massive re-read. My copy is the 1960s re-draft, and sees the Hardys brought I. To investigate the possible theft of a new design of engine.

It's not a book I remember from reading when I was younger, and I wonder whether the word 'sinister' in the title put me off it then? I know there are books in the Three Investigators series that I wouldn't re-read at the same age because they were too creepy. However it's not sinister at all. The 'suspicious' signpost might have been a more precise title for the book I read.

I did park the book for a few months at about chapter fifteen, so it clearly didn't grip me. It's surprisingly sci-fi in some respects, and didn't particularly fit with the other books earlier, which felt much more dated.

Nothing special here then, as the series goes, and not one I'd pick out as a must-read.

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The Girl in the Spider's Web

The Girl in the Spider's Web

22nd September 2015

I reluctantly purchased this book, feeling slightly dirty having read that Larsson didn't want anyone meddling with his characters and thinking that this was just a cash-grabbing attempt by the new copyright holders.

That said, I was left feeling ambivalent when I discovered I actually enjoyed reading it. The plot is solid, and reintroduces what are clearly the same characters and the same messages that the originals contained, following up on a number of hanging plot threads and moving things forward in new directions.

The writing style doesn't exactly match the originals. This is shorter and feels like it has a faster pace, there's slightly less introspection and less of what I previously termed 'product placement' (though there's still a little - as if it's a nod to Larsson's tendency to name drop brands). I would have liked something a little chunkier to get my teeth into, but despite that can't really find much to criticise.

So an enjoyable return to 'the Girl's' universe overall, and one that I hope to repeat in the future to find out what's going to happen next.

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The Shepherd's Crown

The Shepherd's Crown

22nd September 2015

The final Discworld novel takes us back to the Chalk and the world of recently graduated witch Tiffany Aching. There's a big change on the disc, and Tiffany will need to deal with the repercussions.

It's a satisfying if sad way to end the series. A number that of cameos allow us to say goodbye to various favourite characters, and the story in general acts as a metaphor for the way things are moving on in the real world following Pratchett's death.

There are places where it feels rough or slightly under-polished, but there are many moments where the author's comic genius shines through the narrative and you can't help but laugh.

Bittersweet at the end of the day, to know that there will be no more new literary trips to this fantastical world - but there's always the prospect of a full re-read of the entire series, and other adventures in other media that may be to come.

Thanks Pterry.

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Atonement

Atonement

12th September 2015

Voyager is back for the seventh story in Kirsten Beyer's re-relaunch of the series, and she must be doing something right because the publishers keep hiring her back. Sadly, I'm not so sure I would in their place - although there are some parts which remain fantastic, much of the book did little for me.

This is also the third part of a trilogy - and the combination of being books 3, 7 and 9 in a series leads to the many plot threads being a little confusing. Going in, there are at least three separate stories going on - one on Earth and several in the Delta Quadrant, featuring a range of characters both from the TV series and that have been introduced since.

My main issue with this book is that, despite having read all the books so far, I don't feel like I know the characters or where the plot has got to. One of the plots deals with TV show characters and some aliens which have come up at various points through the earlier novels, but I didn't feel that I'd ever been engaged with those plots sufficiently to feel concern for the characters and an urge for them to succeed. Another plot line followed new characters only, from one of the many ships that have joined Voyager's mission - and again I don't feel like I've had enough memorable exposure to the characters to make their plights engaging.

The one plot that did grip me was the one set on Earth - it featured a number of characters I'm familiar with, both from the TV show and from the wider novel series, where they've been well established and implanted into my memory by strong us by multiple authors. It had a strong plot which I was motivated to understand and follow and I was engaged in the idea that the characters solve the problems they face. This plot line as an entire novel would have really gripped me, but instead it's presented as the B-story. In all, this left me really looking forward to those chapters which followed the third of the story that interested me, and phasing out during the other scenes.

I really want to enjoy reading about Voyager and the characters that I've grown to know over many years, but I think it might be time that the focus was reviewed for the novel series - to tie it back to characters that the reader knows and is interested in, and to provide more standalone stories that don't assume an in-depth knowledge of the novels that have gone before.

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Fool's Quest

Fool's Quest

12th September 2015

The second book in Robin Hobb's fifth(isn) trilogy in the Realm of the Elderlings world is an excellent continuation of the tale of Fitz - a royal bastard hiding in plain sight. The story follows on directly from Fool's Assassin, and the characters must deal with the repercussions of the events at the end of that novel.

As usual, Hobb's world is a wonderful place to return to. The familiarity of the places and people which populate her stories bring each story a sense of returning home and greeting an old friend, and as a reader I'd be happy to sit in their company through narration of their daily life, even if there weren't exciting events afoot.

However Hobb also manages to write quite frustrating characters. It's finally dawned on me that Fitz, the main character, isn't particularly bright, and as well as being completely unable to spot details which are painfully obvious to the reader, he makes reckless decisions that lead him into more and more trouble. The age old fantasy trope of characters who don't talk to each other is present, and there are plot twists that the reader has seen coming for miles that the characters continue to fail to grasp.

Despite this, this is another addictive novel to read, and I would highly recommend Hobb's series as some of the best fantasy writing available - she builds a world which is completely believable and in which you want to stay despite its flaws. I look forward to the third book and finding out where she takes the story next, with only a little edge of sadness that it'll be the end of another trilogy.

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Small Wars

Small Wars

21st August 2015

This year's short story sees Jack Reacher back in his army days investigating a shooting. It's worth emphasising that the story is very short and I expect that many will not feel it worth the cover price - probably fair given other longer stories I've recently bought for less.

Despite the brevity, it's a solid character piece that fills in at least one of the blanks from Reacher's past and gives a new insight into who he is. I'm not sure that will be enough to satisfy many readers, but it also gives a taste of what a reader might expect from one of the full length stories as a sampler, and perhaps that's what it's really meant for.

I enjoyed it despite the length, and look forward to the character's next novel appearance in a few weeks' time.

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The Torso in the Town

The Torso in the Town

21st August 2015

Carole and Jude return to investigate a new murder, when a torso is found in the basement of a house in a nearby town. It really feels like Brett has got these two characters down to pat and we get to spend a decent amount of the plot aligned with each of them which only adds to the fun.

The plot is a good comfy murder mystery and the narrative is filled with clues and red herrings - some of the most obvious of which I missed completely, leaving me to feel a bit of a fool reflecting back!

The genius though is in the relationship between the two main character and how they think of each other and interact. Brett also manages to paint a full and rounded and memorable guest cast, so that at no point did I suffer from the classic Agatha-Christie-reader problem of not remember who was whom.

Really enjoyable, though a little gruesome in a couple of places. Would definitely recommend and could easily serve as an entry point to the series.

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The Returned part two

The Returned part two

21st August 2015

The second part of Peter David's new e-novella trilogy about Captain Calhoun and the crew of the Excalibur follows directly from the cliffhanger at the end of part one, as the ship investigates a pocket universe while attempting to recover missing friends.

I found the secondary plot more interesting though - focussed on events on New Thallon and flashbacks giving new insight into the background of the Thallonians who have played such a big part in the New Frontier series.

Overall though, although it was funny, action-packed and fun to be back with the core of characters, it does feel a lot like a middle, and this part doesn't seem like it stands alone as well as the first ebook. Strong setup though for part three, which is only a few weeks away.

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The Daylight War

The Daylight War

21st August 2015

The third book in Peter V Brett's Demon Cycle feels like the biggest of the lot - it just goes on and on, and it felt like it took much liger to read than other epic fantasy novels I've read recently.

The story continues from the end of book two, intermixed with flashbacks to earlier scenes from the life of Inevera, mirroring the introductions to other characters in the earlier stories and providing a fascinating second viewpoint on a number of scenes that the reader has already witnessed. In fact, I would have appreciated even more of this, as some of those parts felt a little glossed over where I would have enjoyed more detail.

Back in the 'present' we follow the characters as they prepare for 'The Daylight War', building to a surprise climax that I didn't see coming - partly because it didn't arrive until quite late and felt very quick and abrupt. Like in some other books, I struggled a little with the fighting / battle scenes - I think that my limited visualisation when reading doesn't help, but some authors still seem to come over better than others.

It's a great continuation of a good series and I'm particularly pleased with the way we keep getting new viewpoints added and are gradually dropped more information about the world in who b the stories are set. Looking forward to reading more.4

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Armada

Armada

21st August 2015

Armada - the latest computer game that obsessed the youth of the nation, particularly teenager Zack Lightman - the sixth highest ranked player in the global leaderboards. Until he sees one of the game's alien spacecraft for real from his classroom window, and a web of global conspiracies starts to unfold.

There are a lot of elements here that remind me of Terry Pratchett's 'Only You Can Save Mankind' (though it's a long time since I read it and I dot recall the details), and for a while that resemblance made me slightly dubious of this novel, but once thugs got moving and I got into the story I was hooked.

Cline's mastery of popular culture goes a long way to selling the story, tying in major science fiction films, classic (80s) music and computer gaming since it was invented to produce a story of surprising magnitude.

There are area though where the plot feels a little unpolished - some of the plot twists are clear from a mile off, and there isn't quite the emotional depth that I expected in a teenager from some of the scenarios presented. I had trouble following the passage of time correctly in places, and some of the more action-driven scenes were hard for me to follow (though I think this may be because I don't generally visualise what I'm reading).

A good fun read though and I'm very tempted to explore the author's previous novel and keep an eye out for more in future. There's definitely opening here for a sequel which I think could be fascinating and go into some really deep questions.

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The Paying Guests

The Paying Guests

21st August 2015

I'm not sure whether I bought this book because of the aggressive marketing campaign or because I misread the blurb. I picked it up under the impression that this was a crime novel with a bit of historical setting and romance - it turned out to be the other way round.

I really enjoyed reading the first third of the book, where the historical aspects are at the fore, and we the readers learn about the characters whose lives we are spying upon, and what their daily lives incur in the between-wars years.

After that though the plot shifted up a gear and toward the end really took over in a way that I found made things quite dull, with just scene after scene of uninspiring action. I almost felt that I would have preferred a book in which the first part continued into just a look at typical life rather than anything 'interesting' happen to the characters.

I'm not saying it was bad - it was an interesting story and it left me thinking about a number of things, particularly pondering some of the motivations of the characters outside the one with whom we are aligned. I'm probably just strange for being more inspired by the setting than the plot.

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Blind Fury

Blind Fury

21st August 2015

I'm surprised to find myself at the end of the sixth Anna Travis book - it doesn't seem like she's had that many adventures, and I can't decide whether that's a good reflection on the series or not.

When a dead body is found beside a motorway, Travis is drafted into the team investigating and proceeds to dig up more and more crimes.

The character really shows some growth in this story - having reached a new level of confidence and developed in her approach to her career. Unfortunately some of the soap opera elements of this story - and this time it really is soapish - damage that again as she is forced by the author into making surprise out-of-character decisions that really jarred and didn't feel to me like they really added to the story.

Similarly, there's one decision that the author made that gives something significant away about the plot far too early, and I felt that this ruined part of the story because it could be seen coming much earlier than felt appropriate.

Ultimately mixed feelings about this one. The problem was good and the investigation sound and interesting, but the character's personal life (often one of the elements that helps make a crime book more than just a procedural) lets it down. I've still bought the next two books though and am interested to see where Travis gets taken next.

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The Mystery of the Moaning Cave

The Mystery of the Moaning Cave

21st August 2015

The Mystery of the Moaning Cave sees the Three Investigators travel out to the desert to stay with a friend of one of their fathers. They encounter an unusual cave which makes strange noises in a way that doesn't appear random, and set out to investigate.

The story follows the typically slightly creepy bent of the series, going places that in some cases I recall being creeped out by when I originally read them as a child. There's a lot that goes on which would be slightly uncomfortable from a modern health and safety viewpoint, but the book does well to represent the real peril that the hats era often find themselves in.

This is actually one of the more plausible plots for the series and this really helps to engross the reader and suck them into the plot. There are a few twists that don't seem to fit properly, some convenient coincidences and the oft played but scarcely plausible call to the local police chief.

Overall a good entry in the series and one that encourages me to continue re-reading the series.

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Death Masks

Death Masks

26th July 2015

Death Masks is the fifth book in the Dresden Files series, which tells the story of Chicago’s only Wizard Private Investigator. This time he’s hired by a priest visiting the city from the Vatican to help recover a stolen artefact, which leads to an intriguing and rather complicated plot which I’m not sure I completely followed.

There is the usual mix of apical action and witty banter, and a stronger emotional undercurrent than perhaps we’ve seen before in the series, as events from previous books are followed up and some plot threads are seemingly tied up. At the same time, this book introduces a number of new threads, which look like they are going to spread through the series to come.

While I enjoyed reading this, possibly the most of the books so far, I did feel that it was leaning towards the more implausible end of the urban fantasy spectrum, particularly in some of the detail around the scenario in this book. Additionally, the introduction of a range of new enemies made for a lot of new information to absorb, and I don’t think I managed to digest everything that it had to offer.

Unlike the first few books, which could be described along the lines of ‘Dresden does Vampires’, ‘Dresden does Wereworlves’, etc., this story defies such classification, and I think that’s a good thing - it shows a little maturity of the series that it can start to do its own thing, and begin to build up some of the ongoing plot threads that I hope build into something fantastic int he books I have yet to read.

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The Returned part one

The Returned part one

26th July 2015

It's been a few years since the last outing of the USS Excalibur as part of the novel-only Star Trek: New Frontier series, and I had thought that the series had run its course. I’ve been reading the stories since they began in the late 1990s, and although I found the first couple of tranches very enjoyable, felt it had lost its way toward the later end of its life.

So I was surprised when 'The Returned' was announced - a set of three ebooks continuing the adventures of Captain Calhoun and his crew. And, despite having little recollection of where the most recent books had left the characters, I found it easy to pick up and get back into this world.

Peter David gradually reintroduces the key characters, and it feels a bit like he's going around getting the band back together. This first part of the story is very much focussed on laying the land - getting the characters into place, getting the reader up to speed, and introducing some of the elements, both new and old, that will come into play (presumably) in the following two volumes.

A very satisfactory short story and introduction to this trilogy, and one that I felt served well as a reintroduction. I’m definitely going to continue reading with the remaining two ebooks over the coming months, and hope that they are just as good.

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The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding

26th July 2015

Almost certainly the most unusually titled entry in the Poirot series, The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding put me in mind of episodes of the Postman Pat and Vicar of Dibley TV series, in which each of the title characters have to eat too much at Christmas. However that’s not the case here, where in fact this is just one of a collection of short stories released under this banner.

The first two stories are fantastic, and depict Poirot at the height of his abilities, and Christie presents both in a way that leaves the reader wanting more. Both carry the rich array of characters and intrigue that make the series so strong, and the mystery is pleasantly and enjoyably resolved.

The three later Poirot stories in this collection didn’t quite grip me with the same intensity - while they are all good mysteries, they didn’t feel quite as substantial and indeed in two of them I felt it was rather too obvious what was going on.

The final story provides an interesting twist, as I was thrown back into the world of Miss Marple - a character who I thought I had read everything about, and it was very nice to experience a story again from that perspective, even though it suffered similarly to the two earlier books in being rather obvious what was going on.

All in all, a nice little collection, with a couple of chunky substantial stories and some other short diversions.

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The Concrete Blonde

The Concrete Blonde

10th July 2015

I have conflicted feelings about this book, and I'm not sure whether that's through any fault of its own.

bought a cheap box set of the first ten Harry Bosch books, having read online that Connelly's work resembled John Grisham in the legal thriller stakes. Interestingly this is the first one that actually is a legal thriller, but it failed to grip me.

Partly, I suspect that this was because I had just finished an amazingly awesome book when I picked this up, and so anything would have felt like a let down after that. But I wasn't fantastically enamoured with the previous books in the series and when the opening chapters here didn't grip me - and had a feeling of just another generic cop story - I felt unmotivated to read it and eventually swapped it for something else.

I may come back to this book - or this may be where my readership of Connelly's works end. It was certainly worth a try but ultimately I think if rather spend my time with books in going to actively enjoy reading.1

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The Mystery of the Strange Bundle

The Mystery of the Strange Bundle

10th July 2015

This time out the Five Find-Outers have all been ill in the holidays and it seems they'll be back to school without a mystery to solve, when one suddenly appears just two houses away.

I'm starting to feel that the series has started to lose its way by this point - with some of the lighter elements moving toward absurdity and distancing themselves from the realism that I enjoyed about the earlier books.

There is also a scene that actually shocked me - I had no memory of this book from when I was younger, so I imagine it wasn't one that I regularly re-read, and I'm not surprised if a scene like that can happen - it's the sort of thing that would definitely have major repercussions if it happened today but was kind of ignored here.

Overall, nothing special as far as the series goes, even a bit disappointing really.

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Warbreaker

Warbreaker

10th July 2015

I'm surprised how nervous I get about picking up a Brandon Sanderson book that's not from a series I'm already familiar with (this is, so far, a standalone). I should have learnt by now that all his books are fantastic, and by the end of them I'm always desperate to pick up another as soon as possible.

Warbreaker is no exception. A story about two princesses in a world of magic, who both visit a neighbouring country in a reversal of their previous roles. Sanderson's exploration of these two characters (and a couple of others) really makes this book, and I really enjoyed seeing them explore who they were and find their places in the world.

The world itself is another marvel of Sanderson's imagination - he's constructed yet another of his detailed magic systems and a pair of counterbalanced cultures that have real depth and layers that keep on peeling to reveal more and more. I find it hard to fathom how he has become so great at creating these places and the stories to go with them.

Once again a great read and one that I can easily imagine me returning to re-read in the future. Easily the best thing I've read for ages - to the extent that the books I picked up afterwards felt bland and lifeless by comparison.

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Sacraments of Fire

Sacraments of Fire

10th July 2015

The Star Trek litverse returns to Deep Space Nine in a book that runs parallel to the events of the 'The Fall' mini series, as well as some of the stories that followed it. It also begins to fill in the major DS9 continuity gap that was left between the original relaunch novels and the Destiny trilogy.

It's difficult to describe the plot without spilling spoilers all over the shop - but it's a great ride that catches up with a number of characters from the series and truly does them justice. George's writing captures the spirit of DS9 and weaves a fantastic tale from the various threads.

One of the things I like most about George's novels is that they don't make an assumption that you remember everything that has gone before. He's got the balance just right to fill you in with what you need to know without it feeling like a full recap. There are also subtle hints at things from other stories that make you smile if you spot them but don't break your flow if not.

Another great DS9 novel and I hope for many more to come, not least the immediate follow up which is due in the winter.

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The Long Utopia

The Long Utopia

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27th June 2015

The fourth (and possibly final) book in Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's Long Earth series gripped me in a way that the first four failed to. In fact, I'd almost given up on reading the series after the third book, but given recent events wanted to grab the final pages of Pratchett, and was pleasantly surprised.

The story follows the main characters from previous books as they are aging and (in some cases) settling down after a life of adventure, until they discover something uncomfortably wrong with one of the worlds.

There's plenty to follow up from events of previous books, and I particularly enjoyed the different take on one aspect. The plot actually felt linear and fairly self contained, which I appreciated, although I thought that there was a lot of set up first before getting to the most engaging chapters.

There are touches of humour that I hadn't noticed as much in previous novels - places where (what I assume is) Pratchett's wit shines through the cracks - especially in the dialogue between characters, and this I particularly enjoyed.

I felt that this book rounded things off well (though I have read on one website that there is a fifth book coming - but this may have been an error), and left things in a fit state to leave the series. It's been a mixed bag throughout, but I definitely enjoyed this epic conclusion.

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Dead Souls

Dead Souls

27th June 2015

The tenth novel is the Rebus series is surprisingly dark, and features a number of intertwining plots that I'm still not quite sure I followed all the way to their conclusions.

The 'main' thread, if you can call it that, sees Rebus assigned to keeping an eye on a recently released murderer who has returned to Edinburgh from the US, and the journalist that he's palled up with.

As with many of this series, the focus I think is really on the character himself, and we get to explore an element from his backstory here that fills us in a bit on some of his motivations, as well as exploring alternative routes his life could have taken - something which I think almost everyone engages in from time to time.

I enjoyed reading this book, and think the complexity of the story really grounds it in a level of realism that I appreciate. I always look forward to reading another novel from this series, and am happy that there are plenty more for me to get to.

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Moon Over Soho

Moon Over Soho

27th June 2015

The second book in the Peter Grant series, about a trainee wizard policeman in London, is just as good as, if not better than, the first.

There are two cases on the cards for the young constable, one involving the inexplicable death of a jazz musician, and the other a rather brutal attack on a gentleman's parts by some sort of magical creature.

On top of a compelling and fast-moving plot, the repercussions from the first book surround Grant, and I really enjoyed these character moments which really aid the idea that events in this story will have consequences for the characters.

There's also more effort in fleshing out the world, which is something I always enjoy discovering as I read a series of books, and the author gradually feeds the reader parts of a wider backstory that feel like they will continue building towards events to come.

Definitely enjoyable, and definitely a series I will continue to read.

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The Sleepwalker

The Sleepwalker

27th June 2015

A surprisingly graphic and violence-filled entry in this series which is definitely not aimed at children of parents who want to wrap them in cotton wool and not let them know that there's a real world outside their windows. Muchamore doesn't do anything to get away from realism - if real life would see a fight, there's a fight, and similarly with death, disaster and sex.

This book is a slight departure from earlier ones, in that we focus on Lauren rather than James, as she goes on an undercover mission. Meanwhile James gets caught up in the more domestic aspects of being at the older end of childhood.

It's a good adventure story filled with typical teenage drama, as well as the typical fodder of a spy novel. The plot is fast paced as usual and moves through scenarios that keep the reader utterly gripped.

The character development is surprisingly good quality - some series try to keep things static to retain their audience who want more of the same, but it's clear that Muchamore's characters are aging and maturing and changing through the series.

A really really good entry in a really really good series which is just the thing for young readers - just not precious snowflakes who might mind some guts and destruction.

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Cursed

Cursed

27th June 2015

The second Alex Verus novel sees the London-based mage investigate the death of a magical creature, as well as attempt to protect a beautiful women who arrives through his window one night.

While I enjoyed the book, I do find it to be derivative of some of the US urban fantasy I've been reading (in some cases this is even acknowledged) such as Jim Butcher's Dresden Files and Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid Chronicles - although it does have new elements that make it stand apart. Perhaps it's just that I'm reading too much from this genre at the moment.

I felt that this book was an improvement over the first, with less backstory to rely on and more focus on the events as they occur. The magic system is interesting, but I do wonder whether the main character's powers are too great and often found myself wondering whether everything had been adequately thought through.

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Armageddon's Arrow

Armageddon's Arrow

20th June 2015

The Enterprise E returns to regular missions after the novel continuity's recent upsets, and this does feel a lot like some of the older novels - much like an episode of the series rather than part of the ongoing story, and that's really great.

While investigating a potential first contact, the Enterprise comes across a drifting spaceship with a mysterious provenance, and the crew have to deal with the repercussions of this discovery on the local planets.

It's great to spend some time exploring something new, and Ward has created a fascinating scenario that allows him to plant a number of references to various of the TV series, follow up on a few of the new and old characters, and provides some real tension and intrigue.

As much as I love the ongoing arcs that flow through these books, it is nice to have one that's mostly stand-alone, and I'm glad that Ward had the chance to deliver this one. It's good to see one of my favourite crews back on the road again and I enjoyed travelling with them.

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News From the Clouds

News From the Clouds

20th June 2015

The third and final book in Robert Llewelyn's trilogy exploring possible futures. Following his two trips to different future utopias, this time Gavin lands in a distopian vision where the world is barely habitable.

As well as presenting a third view of things, this book spends some time wrapping things up and providing a nice bookend to the series which, while unexpected, was welcome, and certainly left me with a few things to think about.

Llewelyn manages to leave the reader wanting more - I was a little disappointed we didn't get to see more of the world of the 'clouds' (but then I'm a sucker for good world building) - and this is a good decision, not overburdening the reader but giving them, and the character, enough to be drawn in.

A really interesting trilogy overall which I'm glad I took the time to read. The writing style and the story itself may not be right to appeal to a mass audience, but I certainly found it fascinating and will keep an eye on the author's future projects.

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The Fugitive

The Fugitive

10th June 2015

After something of a break, legendary author of legal fiction John Grisham returns to his young adult series about a thirteen year old boy who thinks he's a lawyer.

This book is very much a sequel to one of the earlier novels in the series, and after an educational trip full of cliches and embarrassing moments of social commentary that you'd not get from a British author, feels like it retreads the story of that earlier novel without a good reason.

Theodore is shown to be growing up and gradually mellowing from the I realistically goody-two-shoes attitude he displayed in the first few books, but he still comes across as time displaced and out of touch with the modern era. He's certainly not presented in a way that will make him appealing to anything but the most cerebral young reader.

Overall, disappointing that Grisham couldn't do something a bit more original, and a little follicular based on coincidence rather than the action of the characters. The idea behind the series is a really interesting one, but it feels like the author is so far removed from modern youth that it just isn't quite believable.

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Four to Score

Four to Score

10th June 2015

The fourth book in the Stephanie Plum series follows the bounty hunter chasing down a woman who has skipped bail, but whose case seems to be far more muddled than it should.

Evanovich really seems to have got into her stride with this book, and the character is well-defined, very funny, and develops through the story into a deeper person than she has been, while losing none of her charming haphazzardry.

The guest cast and recurring characters are increasingly well fleshed out and provide a rich background for the story, which I felt was the best in the series so far. The plot moves at a good pace, ties the characters in knots and yet avoids confusing the reader.

I really enjoyed revisiting this world, despite being far from what I suspect is the target audience.

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Tricked

Tricked

10th June 2015

The fourth book in the Iron Druid Chronicles sees a slight change in the circumstances of the characters as they relocate, and follow up on some of the debts leftover from the previous books.

While the plot is a little thin and repetitive, the humour of the narrative remains fantastic and is the chief selling point for the series. The dialogue between Atticus and his dog, Oberon, is actually laugh-out-loud funny and kept me entertained throughout. It's a pleasure to read and must have been just as fun to write.

In some places, I struggled to remember events from previous books that were referenced - slightly oddly I felt they were explained where they weren't really relevant to the new plot, but left vague where they were. This left me in a scenario where I was irritated by a particular character without really understanding how they fitted in. On the other hand, I did like that it made reference back to earlier books, and their events continued to have repercussions for the characters, rather than everything starting again from a blank slate.

So mixed feelings overall - not convinced it's the best story in the series, though it remains funny, and I'm going to keep reading.

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Brokenclaw

Brokenclaw

25th May 2015

Bond returns in this novel from around 1990, in which continuation author John Gardner pits 007 against 'Brokenclaw' - a stereotypical Bond villain with unclear long-term plans, but quite traditional short-term plans (stolen ones he's selling to China).

There seems to be a lot that's derivative of Fleming's original stories here - so much that it almost starts to come off as parody - however it's not quite right, and there are places where Gardner's attempts to emulate Fleming feel unnaturally awkward, and in one place even seem to contradict what Fleming originally told us about the character. Fleming was basing the character on himself, so could write strongly held opinions about the mundanities of food and clothing, but Gardner clearly doesn't have the same basis for writing Bond's views, and so they come off as trite.

The plot follows the standard pattern, and it feels like Gardner is becoming disenfranchised by this point. I remember when I first read most of the Bond novels as a teenager feeling disappointed by some of them, and this one in particular stands out as one that I got from the local library then and didn't finish. There are some irritating loose threads left at the end that I can't imagine will ever be picked up on, and it just feels like a lazy novel.

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Dangerous Women part one

Dangerous Women part one

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25th May 2015

This collection of shortish stories is the first part of the longer collection that was published in hardback having been separated into three paperback volumes (and apparently completely re-ordered).

It kicks off with George R R Martin's own 35,000 word mini-epic telling part of the history of Westeros, the land featured in his 'A Song of Ice and Fire' series. The cover quote describes it as being like an outline for the prequel that never was - and that's true. Sadly in being outline-like it misses out on all the best bits of Martin's writing - the rich and complex characters and the entertaining dialogue. Instead. it just reads like a dry list of events from a history textbook.

Things then pick up with Carrie Vaughn's tale of a Russian fighter pilot from the Second World War, which is an interesting historical insight into something I've never thought of before - and only a tiny bit Bigglesy.

Nancy Kress contributes a story from a post-apocalyptic America where humans have formed packs and subjected women. I'm not really sure how I felt about this story - it was very readable and yet I found it an uncomfortable world to spend time imagining.

Story number four, by Lawrence Block, I found slightly annoying in how it twisted and turned. Initially it feels like a Lee Child story. but then morphs into something that again left an uncomfortable taste.

The theme of discomfort continues with Megan Abbott's story about a missing child, which feels like it bears a tad too much similarity to real life events that have been much covered in the news.

One of the most interesting stories, which on reflection felt like the deepest of the collection, is Joe R Lansdale's story about an old wrestler and his obsessions. It showed the affect that memories can have on our day to day lives and the hold they can have without us realising.

The book is rounded off by Brandon Sanderson's story, which follows a bounty hunter in a world populated by deadly shades. While the concept of the world reminded me of Peter V Brett's Demon Cycle, the writing is unmistakably Sanderson and fantastically absorbing, and I found myself wanting more from this world.

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Live Wire

Live Wire

25th May 2015

The final Myron Bollitar novel sees the fictional detective turn sports agent turned non-specific agent turned troubleshooter hunting for one of his clients, who has gone missing after seeing a suspicious post on a popular social media site.

It's interestingly different to some of the earlier books, in that Coben no longer seems to be writing stand-alines in this world and each book does have repercussions on the next, the lives of the characters are changing and they are growing - they've escaped what I originally described when reading the first book as 'Hardy Boys for grown-ups'.

That said, this story does seem to be more of a vehicle for setting the world up in a particular way for the future, rather than being mainly about its own plot - for while that's interesting to an extent and leads to a thrilling ride, it doesn't really add up and I'm still not entirely sure what was going on, who was the eventual bad guy, and how things were adequately resolved.

I've strangely enjoyed the entire Myron Bollitar series - it's a bit of escapism that doesn't take itself too seriously (most of the time) yet still manages to deliver strong character- and mystery-driven stories, and it's evolved throughout rather than retreading the same steps over and over.

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The High Lord

The High Lord

25th May 2015

The final book in the Black Magician trilogy continues the adventures of Sonea, a commoner who's defied expectations to become a novice at the magicians' guild. Canavan manages to twist the reader's expectations in fascinatingly natural new ways to produce an amazing tale which concludes the story spectacularly.

I was a little disappointed by some of the character development in this one, where some of what Sonea gets up to does seem to be a bit abrupt a change and doesn't feel like the same strong character that I'd read in the previous two books. However this is balanced by some of the other characters who are developed, though perhaps not as far as I would have liked.

It's interesting how this story pulls together threads from both of the first two books, and produces such a big finale. I did continue to think though that the writing is a little unpolished and that some of the other fantasy authors I read would have extended the world building and characters just that little bit more, which would have given me more enjoyment.

Overall I've really enjoyed this series and am certainly planning to pick up some of the authors other books, which include a prequel and sequel trilogy to this one.

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Look Who's Back

Look Who's Back

25th May 2015

I've been tempted by this book for some time since first seeing the cover in a little bookshop, and finally got a copy. I was not disappointed.

The story is that of Adolf Hitler, having woken up in the early 21st Century one day with no memory of the intervening period. He tells the story in the first person in the form of a memoir, as he makes contact with modern-day Berliners and learns about how the world has changed.

This is a comedic novel, and much of the humour comes from misunderstandings - both those of Hitler, who takes a lot of things at face value and makes bold assumptions, and of those around him, who believe him to be a very committed method actor/comedian.

I really enjoyed the book, and even felt I learnt a lot from it about Hitler's life and things that happened in Germany in the mid-20th Century. So long as you've got a reasonable sense of humour and won't be offended too much, I would definitely recommend it.

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The Ghost Brigades

The Ghost Brigades

25th May 2015

The sequel to 'Old Man's War', and therefore the second book in the series, while not continuing directly from the story of the first, expands the world in which elderly humans from Earth are recruited into the space military to defend human colonies from other species across the galaxy.

The novel begins with quite episodic chapters and it takes a while to get an idea where the story is taking you. Once is does though this becomes a very good book. It's nice to see a different take on the world these stories inhabit, and I hope that's something that the series continues with.

The characters are interesting, showing a variety of different perspectives and places for them in the world, and the story gradually reveals more about what's going on and really tempts the reader to continue to discover more. There is a little overlap with some of the characters and messages from other books I've read by John Scalzi from outside the series, but that doesn't detract.

Really enjoyable, and as I thought of 'Old Man's War', some of the best science fiction I've read. I'm very much looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

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Blood on Snow

Blood on Snow

25th May 2015

Blood on Snow is something new from Jo Nesbo, famous for the Harry Hole series of Oslo-based crime novels (and touted as 'the next Steig Larsson' though I don't see the similarity). It's a first-person tale, which I found surprisingly engaging, telling the story of a contract assassin in a modern-day city.

The point of view character is used really well to tell an interesting quick read - and it is quick; a much smaller novel than I was expecting in terms of page count, and with particularly large text. That shouldn't put you off though, because it's a really good story.

And as a bonus, there's a sequel coming in just a few months that I hope will continue the style and experience of this book, even though it's hard to guess where the story could go next.

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Uncertain Logic

Uncertain Logic

25th May 2015

I didn't fall in love with this, the third of Christopher L Bennett's 'Rise of the Federation' novels - a series of sequels to the TV series 'Star Trek: Enterprise'. There are several plot threads running through that don't really seem to tie together - leaving it feeling like a middle part in a longer story. Archer and T'Pol are drawn into the mystery of a missing Vulcan artefact, Reed, Tucker and Mayweather chase some aliens who like abducting people, and some other character lose me in the intricacies of their plotting.

The mystery at the heart of one of the plot lines didn't really feel like it was being investigated properly, more that random events and accidents led to a conclusion, all the plots suffered (for me) by being too reliant on things that occurred in previous novels or episodes. Usually in Bennett's books the references back are bonuses which reward the loyal reader/viewer, but in this instance it felt like I was missing out by not remembering all the detail.

The best bits of the book are the character moments, particularly around Hoshi Sato's character, which is really being developed well in the novel series. I also enjoyed the experiences of Archer, whose ultimate destination I do already remember from previous 'episodes', but is fun (though sometimes slightly awkward) to watch him moving toward.

Ultimately though this feels like a fairly run-of-the-mill episode for Enterprise, and I didn't find it as enjoyable as the previous two books in the series.

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The Hidden Harbour Mystery

The Hidden Harbour Mystery

25th May 2015

The fourteenth book in the original Hardy Boys series is the first one that I've actually read the original text of, rather than the re-written edition from the 1960s.

It's surprising how different the book feels to the first thirteen which I've recently re-read in their re-written form. The text is less polished, the action more violent, and the language not acceptable any more - it's unsurprising they had to be re-written. There's an undercurrent of racism that perhaps accurately reflects the US in the 1930s but today feels completely out of place, particularly to a reader in the UK.

Despite more time having passed since the 1960s re-writes (to now) than did between the 30s and 60s, the re-writes don't feel anything like as dated - clearly the mid-20th Century was a big change in attitudes in the US.

The plot of this one is quite straightforward without any real complexity, and that makes it bland and forgettable compared to the changes to the series which really stand out. I wouldn't be surprised to find that the re-write were completely different.

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The Desert Spear

The Desert Spear

11th April 2015

If anything, the second book in Peter V Brett's The Demon Cycle is even better than the first. It took me a little while to get back into the swing of the story, particularly as this doesn't pick up from where the first left off, instead using a good chunk to dive into another part of the world and expand the story into new characters and new points of view, before starting to pull the threads together again.

Brett's ability to take the reader on a journey into a parallel culture in only the second book of the series shows he has confidence, and he does it really well. I found myself bouncing around in how I felt about the characters, and my shifting views helped keep me solidly attached to the pages. I love good fantasy world building, and this is some of the best - there are elements that reflect the real world, there's plenty of variation and diversity, and yet there's an internal consistency that hints of deeper things to come.

Having said this, I did feel that some of the characters, particularly those that featured heavily in the first book, weren't as well represented in these pages. The new characters were rounded and we saw them from many points of view, but those we returned to seemed to be seen much more from the outside, and I missed being aligned with them in the same way I was for considerable quantities of the previous episode.

Overall it's a really good novel in an excellent fantasy world that I'm desparate to return to and explore in even more depth. Fortunately the next two books are already out and I don't have too long to wait until I'll allow myself to pick them up and race through.

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Dead Like You

Dead Like You

5th April 2015

The sixth Roy Grace novel returns us to Brighton, where the characters personal life continues to move on in a nice bit of added realism. There's some new colleagues making his work life easier too, and the only problem is the rapist that seems to have reappeared after a fourteen year absence, who Grace is tasked with tracking down.

As crimes go, it's as good as any from earlier in the series and has a perfect balance of viewpoints, character interaction and growth, and enough of a mystery to keep the reader guessing along with the characters, which makes it a more enjoyable read than some of the earlier novels. I really liked seeing into the minds of the various suspects while still not knowing which of them was the guilty party, and finding out about each of their backstories and what possible motivations they might have.

James is a master of the thrilling crime novel at the top of his game. The short chapters that have irritated me in the past were perfectly formed this time and didn't bother me one bit. A really good read with parts that I hope continue to foreshadow things to come in later novels.

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Seventy-Seven Clocks

Seventy-Seven Clocks

5th April 2015

The third book in the Bryant & May series of slightly unusual crime investigations spins back to the 1970s and an investigation by the newly formed unit lead by the two detectives. The non-linear ordering of the stories in this series confused me slightly, and I get lost sometimes about which character is which and what I'm meant to know about them.

This time there have been a number of murders and the team are trying to track down the reason and the connection between the deaths in order to prevent more before their boss decides to shut them down. It's actually an interesting story and I found one of the guest characters particularly compelling to read, but there were several aspects which I found slow and repetitive and frustrated me slightly as I read.

Overall I'm a bit unsure of how I feel about the novel. My memory now (several weeks later as I write this) is one of enjoying the book, but I also have a memory of thinking at the time that I wasn't enjoying it and wondering whether I should abandon the series. On balance I'll continue, and see how I feel about book four.

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Survivors

Survivors

5th April 2015

Survivors is novel number four in the original Star Trek: The Next Generation line, and is set somewhere in the middle of the first season, between 'The Arsenal of Freedom' (which it references) and before 'Skin of Evil' (which is also referenced and foreshadowed). The author having had the benefit of knowing what happens in 'Skin of Evil' has made this into a fantastic character exploration and backstory reveal for one of the least served main characters of TNG - Tasha Yar.

In fact it also deals with Data very well too - getting his character much more accurately representing the one in the first season than some of the earlier books, which would have been drafted before the series aired. This makes the novel feel an authentic part of TNG storyline rather than a side tale in a parallel universe and I really enjoyed getting to read it.

The plot is also a strong one, though one that since has become something of a template for science fiction and Star Trek's prime directive stories. It makes good use of the characters to inform the story though, and uses quality science fiction fare to create a tale to put the characters in. The story flows well, and although its clear what some of the twists are going to be, it's so obvious as to be clear that you're meant to be expecting it and so doesn't feel like bad foreshadowing.

A really great early novel that's pleasantly surprised me again - when I started this re-read I was expecting the early novels to be dire and I have been proved wrong again and again. This should be one for any fan of the early years of TNG, and Tasha Yar in particular, to read.

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Shaman's Crossing

Shaman's Crossing

5th April 2015

I've enjoyed everything I've read by Robin Hobb (including some short works under her alternative name - Megan Lindholm), and so when a friend said that she'd found the Soldier Son trilogy hard going I was unconvinced. However after giving up a fair chunk of time to it I'm afraid I've had to (at least temporarily) admit defeat after only a couple of hundred pages.

The story focussed on a young boy - the second son of a newly created noble, and therefore destined to become a soldier. We follow his life through some key formative experiences and as he travels off to begin his military training. It sounds lil there's promise, and a little similar to Fitz in the author's other trilogies, but I was unable to become gripped by character or narrative and it felt bland and shallow in comparison to Hobb's other work.

Often I found that I was unable to focus on the words on the page and my mind would drift even while my eyes continued to scan the page and my hands continued to turn them, such that when it came back into focus I would have to turn back several pages to find out what was happening. Ultimately this was why I felt the need to stop reading and move on to another book - my reading time is precious (especially so for the first few months of this year) and I've decided to be quite brutal about dropping books that don't grip me sufficiently.

I will try to go back and have another go at this series later, but for now I've set it aside.

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Hatchet Job

Hatchet Job

5th April 2015

This is the second of Mark Kermode's books I've read (though I am a regular listener to his podcast), which is unusual for me as I usually try to read them in order (but my copy of 'The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex' is off in a box somewhere so I skipped ahead). The first book was autobiographical, and I understand the second is about the current state of cinema - this time Kermode writes about film criticism itself.

While the book gave ample opportunity for some of the author's frequent anecdotage, I found it had to pick out a real theme for the book and to understand what the journey was that it was trying to take me on. There didn't seem to be an overriding message to the manuscript and I found myself several times getting lost and having to back up a few pages to understand what point was trying to be made.

Going in, I had expected something a bit more ranty - much of the focus of the comment I heard/read after the book was published was about sockpuppettery (posting of fake reviews - positive for one's own product or negative for a competitor's), however this was only a small fraction of the book.

The book didn't really generate enough of an emotion in me to commit to a final statement - perhaps just that it was a bit bland?

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A Most Wanted Man

A Most Wanted Man

5th April 2015

Continuing my slightly unusual new habit of reading John Le Carré's novels in reverse publication order, I've come to this story about an immigrant arriving in Germany to claim an inheritance. It has recently been made into a film (which I haven't seen), which surprised me slightly as I didn't feel it was as compelling as some of the other le Carré books I've recently read.

The most interesting story, to me, was the point of view of Annabel, and if this had been a John Grisham novel then she would have been the star. As it is, the focus is split between multiple characters, none of the rest of whom I found really compelling, and I wasn't able to generate a real interest in whether they succeeded in their goals.

Of particular note were a group of characters that I felt were added to the mix fairly late on. There were a lot of them, and I found it hard to distinguish between them, or understand their motives or goals. Perhaps this was part of a deliberate obfuscation, but I found it an irritant.

I've always been slightly dubious about reading le Carré, I think from a disappointing experience with an early novel when I was a teenager, but I'd been buoyed by recently reading 'Our Kind of Traitor' and 'A Delicate Truth', both of which were much more enjoyable than this.

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Silent Scream

Silent Scream

5th April 2015

The fifth Anna Travis book sees the character become part of a new team investigating the death of a young film star. It's nice to see the progression of the main character in both her career and personal life, though there are many elements that continue to be a part of the series following on from earlier books, and I wondered whether much of it would make as much sense without reading the earlier novels.

The mystery is good, with a range of suspects to dig into, and more information is revealed at every step, keeping the plot from stalling. Like other books in the series though, some of the more personal and career aspects of Travis' life feel slightly unbelievable and presented in an over the top manner. In places I couldn't keep my disbelief suspended as she's surrounded by a cast who are so unlikeable that Travis shines through like an angel - perhaps this is only because we're presented the story from her point of view.

Overall I enjoyed the story and am glad there's a good few left in the series to continue, though I hope there are some changes to come otherwise some elements are going to become overly repetitive.

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Takedown

Takedown

5th April 2015

Seriously. This is epic. If ever there was the Star Trek novel that cried out to be a film this is it. When Will Riker commandeers Ezri Dax's ship, the Aventine, and sets out on some unusual missions, Captain Picard is obviously the man to send after him.

The thriller kept me gripped solidly throughout and every page - from character moments with our friends, to exploring new relationships, to mega space battles - was fantastically crafted to provide a great reading experience. The story is very engaging and inescapable as a reader. I loved every single moment.

The author has a fantastic grip on the wide range of characters that make appearances, although I must admit the size of the cast meant that there were a number of them who didn't get as much page time as I would have liked. The new characters he introduces, particularly the Romulans, have a lot of depth and aren't the run of the mill bad-guy-of-the-week characters that sometimes appear.

The best Star Trek adventure novel for a long time - absolutely loved it and have all my fingers crossed that Miller will be invited back to contribute more to the canon.

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Cat Among the Pigeons

Cat Among the Pigeons

11th February 2015

As I reach the final stretch in my trawl through the Poirot back catalogue, I reached Cat Among the Pigeons, a fantastically different type of mystery set in a girls' boarding school yet with a fascinating series of exotic twists.

Like a couple of earlier books, Poirot himself doesn't appear until some way through the narrative, yet in this instance that's not a disappointment at all. The new characters are all compelling and Christie paints a wonderful picture of the settings and lives that build towards an excellent conclusion. If anything I'd say (perhaps with some cynicism) that Poirot could have just been added to get his name on the cover, as the story could have worked just as well without him.

A great mystery from an absolutely fantastic author. Certainly one of her best.

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The Mystery of the Screaming Clock

The Mystery of the Screaming Clock

11th February 2015

I had abandoned my Three Investigators re-read over a year ago when relocating, and in the interim started re-reading my original Hardy Boys series, so it was a pleasant treat to dive back into this world of hidden junkyard bases and unusual props - this time of course in the form of a screaming clock that carries an initial clue.

What I like about T3I is that they really do investigate and solve mysteries with more than the power of coincidence. There are real clues which they solve with real legwork and a strong set of supporting characters.

Although I have read this before, I had completely forgotten the entire plot and so very much enjoyed revisiting it. There was even one complete surprise that I hope turns into something in the future of the series.

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Scorpia Rising

Scorpia Rising

11th February 2015

The 'final' book in the Alex Rider series is quite an explosive finale. It seems like everyone whose plans he's ever destroyed has come back for one big surprise revenge party

It feels like the writing style has come on in the ten years between the first book and this, and that while the character has only aged an implausibly small amount, the target audience has aged and the level of violence has upped.

It is a thrilling story, and reads much less like a James Bond parody than ever before. The bad guys plan is actually plausible and really well thought out, there are some really nice moments with some familiar characters, and at no point was I sure how the drama was going to unfold.

Actually a really good, shocking, final bow for the series that I really enjoyed. However I notice that there is now another book in the series, and I'm concerned that it will spoil the great ending here.

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The Missing

The Missing

11th February 2015

Finally! A new DS9 novel! But is it? We're well into the second DS9 relaunch by now, and there's a big continuity gap sitting in the wings waiting to be filled in between the two. This story really focuses on three known characters, all of them based in or around DS9, but really Ro, Crusher and Pulaski are all Next Generation characters.

The story is about separation from family, a theme which fits really nicely with the selection of characters that McCormack has pulled together, and the numerous plot strands that weave together here. It's also about strong female characters, though I only realised that a few days after is finished reading it. I'm not sure if that says more about the author's subtlety or my own blindness to such factors, and if the latter whether that's a positive thing or a negative.

So I must admit that I was a little disappointed that it wasn't a bit more DS9 focused, and that the plot was really a gathering of multiple parallel strands rather than a single main narrative. However Isis enjoy the visit to the station and find McCormack to be one of the best writers of real character in Trek.

I look forward to more from the series, from the author, and more Cardassians please!

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Summer Knight

Summer Knight

11th February 2015

Book four: Faeries. Jim Butcher's series about. Chicago-based wizard detective Harry Dresden feels by this point to be cycling through the list of available magical creatures to put the protagonist against.

It's an enjoyable trip into this world again and it's nice to see that the characters are living with the repercussions of the previous story rather than being like toys taken back out of the box for a new day.

A good chunk of back story is also revealed for the main character, although I couldn't tell if all of it was a sudden surprise revelation or something that I'd read before in the earlier books.

There were elements though that didn't grip me as much. I'm not sure if it's just that the genre doesn't quite excite me enough, or whether it was that there are a few similarities to other books that I've read from other series. I think that the naming of some of the characters didn't help - there are a set of six new characters here that all seemed to have similar names and I kept getting lost as to which the narrator was talking about.

Overall, I thought that this was okay. I'm not sure I've got enough invested in the series to make it really gripping, and perhaps I need to ensure I don't leave such a long gap between episodes in future.

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Dead Girl Walking

Dead Girl Walking

11th February 2015

Following on from 2014's ebook short, investigative reporter Jack Parlabane is finally back on the page and in the centre of a new story. Down on his luck after the real life events that have affected the British press, he's invited to take on a unique secret investigation by an old friend.

The events of the short story ([On] The Last Day of Christmas) are surprisingly important backstory for some of the events here and I certainly felt that if I hadn't read it first I'd be at least a little confused, if not frustrated, by the constant references back to it.

This book is actually surprisingly serious is tone and content. The days of the early Parlabane comedies, and the following eras of satire and even fantasy and gone and replaced with the more hard crime focus of Brookmyre's other recent novels. Despite this, it remains a thoroughly engaging read and has moments of levity throughout.

One common aspect of the author's other books does remain however - a good chunk of the story is told in flashback, this time through the journal of one of the new characters, which alternates through the chapters with Parlabane's viewpoint. This distribution makes for a plot that moves at a good pace and reveals things to the reader with perfect timing, and avoids the issue that some of his earlier books have with a sudden change of pace and focus halfway through.

I really liked this book and once again will recommend it widely. I especially loved a moment about two thirds through where the opening line of a chapter really surprised and indeed delighted me. As always I look forward to many more adventures for the author and his characters.

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The Black Ice

The Black Ice

11th February 2015

The second book in the Harry Bosch series follows the detective as he investigates several crimes that he's not really meant to - including the death of one of his colleagues.

It's an interesting plot that keep moving at a good pace and hid the twists from me up to the minute, yet once they arrived they seemed obvious. However I didn't find the narrative gripping, and the character felt somewhat bland compared to some of the detectives in other ongoing series I read.

I felt quite disengaged from the setting. Perhaps it's because of my UK background but the cultural aspects of being a cop in the US just come across as unbelievable. Time and time again I found myself thinking 'but that wouldn't happen in the real world', and that's not something you want interrupting a novel, especially one that is supposed to be in the real world.

Overall, a little disappointed, though I'll keep at the series as it's still quite young at this point and there are a lot of books for it to grow into itself (which I got cheap in bulk).

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The Mark on the Door

The Mark on the Door

4th February 2015

In book thirteen, The Mark on the Door, (or at least my copy of the 1967 rewrite) the Hardy Boys investigate a rather implausible submarine sighting as part of an even more ludicrous plot that sees them use the most forms of transport the author could think of. This is the first time I've read this book, as it wasn't one of those I had as a youngster.

It also features a trip to Mexico, which seems an unlikely thing for a group of teenagers to be taking part in, and gives the opportunity for some of the casual racism that the rewrites were meant to remove (though to be fair, far less than there could have been).

The plot is passable, but nothing special. The guest characters barely warrant mentioning. Overall, not really that impressive a book in the series, and one that I suspect I will quickly forget.

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The Mystery of the Vanished Prince

The Mystery of the Vanished Prince

4th February 2015

Book nine of the series sees the group of young detectives take on an interesting mystery that once again is solved mostly by coincidence rather than real detective work. One of the things I've noticed re-reading this series as an adult is that it's not as rich a set of stories as I remembered, and the quality of the plots isn't really high enough.

There are some old character moments, but it tends to be the guest characters and only two of the regulars that are made the most of - it's almost as if Blyton has by this point given up on her original creations and needs to bring in outsiders to construct a story.

The worst problem though is that the book hasn't stood the test of time, and features what will nowadays be interpreted as racist stereotyping and not really appropriate reading material for youngsters. Not a massive loss I feel in this book which is hardly as exciting an interesting as some of the earlier stories.

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Firefight

Firefight

11th January 2015

Book two (if you ignore a novella set in between) of Brandon Sanderson's Reckoners series continues the adventures of David Charleston in his fight against the Epics - humans who have gained superpowers which turn them evil. David and his friends head for New York this time, to confront a gathering team of Epics who threaten to wipe out the city.

Sanderson has managed to amaze me yet again. Despite finding the start a bit slow, by the time I was about a third of the way through I was absolutely hooked and raced through the back half. The way the author manages to take what could have been a self-contained story and expand the world in a completely natural way to a wider view is fantastic. There's so much here to learn about the characters and the magic systems in play and the main character's enthusiasm for learning about it is really contagious.

Although this is being marketed in some places as a young adult series, there's nothing here that wouldn't appeal to any reader. The tone is slightly humorous, particularly with one of the quirks of David making for a frequent recurring gag, but this doesn't distract from what is actually quite a serious story. I really love all the plot twists and everything that's revealed in this volume - there's so much to take in that I think a re-read might be in order before the third (and possibly final) book comes along in fourteen months time.

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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

11th January 2015

I suspect this was around my eighth reading of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I began re-reading the series again as J K Rowling began to release additional content on the Pottermore website - however this time I've been quite late getting there for the content for this book.

While I, of course, enjoyed revisiting Harry's world again and spending time in the company of him and his friends at Hogwarts, this is, I feel, still one of the weaker half of the series. Personally I think it picks up a lot from book five, though many seem to disagree. This book does feel overly long, and there is a lot to happen before anything really meaty comes along.

That said, I also noticed this time around that there's a lot of foreshadowing going on that I've not spotted before. Partiularly in the early chapters, Rowling gives a lot of hints of things to come, and even at the end there are little hints that I've not spotted before, such as references to characters we don't really know about until the next book. This sort of thing is one of the reasons I find the Harry Potter series so magical and enjoy returning again and again.

A vital turning point for the series, and one that I have enjoyed, particularly the second half. If anyone hasn't yet read Harry Potter then I certainly recommend it.

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The Hanging Garden

The Hanging Garden

11th January 2015

Ian Rankin's series about Inspector Rebus continues to grow better and better. In this, the ninth book, things become personal (again) for the detective as his daughter becomes part of a case (again) and he becomes embroiled in a gang war (again?).

It's been eight months since I read the previous book, which may have been a little long as I felt a little trepidations going in to this one. Although I remembered really loving Black and Blue, the first few chapters of this book didn't suck me in, and in fact confused me quite a lot that I then had to go back and re-read some of them a little later to try to work out what had happened - even after that, I was halfway through before the narrative finally started to make sense. Once I was back to my normal commute after the Christmas break through I found I got really into this book and once again found it absolutely fantastic.

I think what I love the most about the world that Rankin creates is the detail of the texture. It's not just about a policeman investigating a case - so much of what's happened before is still hanging over the character and influencing things. There are recurring characters that don't exist just to set the scene but novel after novel continue to have real effect on character and events. I look forward to this continuing and being built upon further in later novels.

The one thing that I did find niggled is Rankin's tendency to have a gimmick in his stories. This time, Rebus has developed a fixation on song titles, and keeps likening events and things people say to them. To me (and perhaps because I'm the wrong generation to know the music) this felt awkward and weird and distracted from the story rather than enhance it.

Overall though another great book in the series, and one I would definitely recommend. Having said that though I suspect it wouldn't have been so great if I hadn't read the previous books and already grown to enjoy and know the character.

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Top books

  1. Look Who's Back
  2. Takedown
  3. Cat Among the Pigeons
  4. Firefight
  5. Survivors
  6. The Desert Spear
  7. Fool's Quest