All 2017 reviews - Shastrix Books

2017

All reviews

Headlong Flight

Headlong Flight

18th March 2017

After the second half of 2016 focussed on blockbuster trilogies to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, it was nice to get back to a simple, stand-alone adventure for the crew of the Enterprise. Or not that simple in-fact, because in this novel (as the cover strongly implies) there are two Enterprises.

This book is very much a stand-alone, and it felt a bit weird returning to that headspace after such grand adventures. I kept expecting something earth-shattering to occur to change the direction of the whole series, and felt a little bit let down by the story that perhaps didn’t have quite that resonance.

On the other hand, being a stand-alone meant that Ward was able to do some fascinating things with the characters, and show us some of the things that might have happened on the Enterprise-D. It was good to spend some time with some other familiar characters and to see the effect that the two crews had on each other.

Overall, this story read like a good episode of the TV series. And what more can you ask. It’s was contained, entertaining, and showed some interesting variety. A happy diversion to read.

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Resurrection Men

Resurrection Men

18th March 2017

Ian Rankin's thirteenth Rebus novel sees the maverick Inspector sent back to the police training college after taking one step of rebellion too far with a conveniently located cup of tea. He ends up in a class of similarly reprobate police officers from around Scotland, set a cold case to investigate.

I think the reason I love the Rebus stories is the balance that Rankin inserts of plot specific to the case in question, and plot that reflects the ongoing life of his characters. The number of returning secondary characters who populate the world and make it feel more real than just featuring random guest characters, all of whose lives move on from one story to the next, who grow and change and evolve alongside Rebus.

The specific plot of this story was interesting if perhaps overly complicated. I’m still not entirely sure I know exactly what was going on, but this may have been Rankin's intention - to focus on the characters and some specific plot points while leaving others shrouded in mystery - perhaps for a future novel, though I suspect not.

I enjoyed this adventure - it took us away slightly from the regular pattern of crime novels, and showed us some realism, mixed in with the fiction, that tells a story in an amazingly rich way.

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Wolf's Brother

Wolf's Brother

18th March 2017

The second half of this duology continues the story of Tillu, a healer who has recently joined with a tribe of reindeer-herders in their migration across the plains. It's a deep world with only a light touch of fantasy and mysticism, that tells a fascinating story of romance, parenthood, recovery and redemption.

While not my normal cup of tea, I enjoyed the story and the strong close focus on the characters. Although only a few short chapters come from the points of view of secondary characters, they add a seam of depth and another perspective to the world that helps to make the story more gripping.

The plot feels quite passive though. It seems like the events are happening to and around our character. As much as she is portrayed as a competent healer, a lot of the time she's not actively influencing events in this book, just reacting to them and being led by the other characters. I think that's what I found frustrating about the story.

Overall, the two books make for a reasonably enjoyable read, but not near as good as the author's Farseer novels.

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The Whistler

The Whistler

18th March 2017

The latest John Grisham legal thriller focuses on some lawyers who are acting as investigators, looking into allegations against corrupt judges in California. Unsurprisingly, the story opens with an allegation that a judge is corrupt, but so corrupt that the allegations are wrapped up in a complex web of secrecy that much of the narrative deals with unpicking.

This has to be one of the blandest Grisham novels I've read. And I've read all of them. The writing style is dry and factual. Even the interpersonal relationships feel bereft of emotion and read as if they are being described by an alien who has no understanding of human life. The narrative is just a list of back to back facts, many without involving the characters at all, with no regard for the classic storytelling rule of 'show, don't tell'.

The plot is a strong one regardless, there's a mystery, there's threat, there's shock. But the presentation dilutes it all the point of dullness, not allowing the reader to get drawn in or to become emotionally involved or hooked on the story. There's no chance to get invested, and so even when there are moments of success it's like reading about events from centuries ago in a history textbook.

I can't recommend this book. If you're looking for a Grisham story to pick up you'd be better served choosing one of his earlier works.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

18th March 2017

This is the screenplay (i.e. the script) to the 2016 film of the same name - written by J K Rowling and taking place some 60 years before the first Harry Potter novel.

In the script we meet Newt Scamander, magizoologost, as he arrives in New York and becomes embroiled accidentally in a surprisingly major set of events.

The text serves well, having seen the film, of reminding me what I saw and helping to solidify some of the moments that might otherwise have drifted out of my mind. It didn't take long to read through, but then the film is only a couple of hours long and I read faster than actors speak.

The illustrations are also beautiful, representing many of the magical creatures that appear through a simple art form that I don't have the words to accurately describe. They really leap off the page and make an impression every time they appear.

A happy bonus to my bookcase, and a quick reminder of ever I want it of an enjoyable evening with friends at the cinema. I'm sure I will read it again as the rest of the series appears in film, as a convenient reminder of the story so far.

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Night School

Night School

18th March 2017

In this latest Jack Reacher adventure, we revisit the character's earlier years as a military police officer. Off the back of a successful mission, Reacher is sent to a secret 'training establishment' to liaise with other agencies and, in a surprise escalation of the series, save the world.

While the plot was sound, and the character presented as usual, this book didn't quite feel like it had the same experience as earlier novels in the series. Perhaps because of the military scenario and the absence of much of the independence of area her as a character.

There were also several plot points that felt uncomfortably unrealistic - one involving a relationship between two characters that didn't seem natural, and the other involving a plot twist that felt like a step to far for my suspension of disbelief to take, and felt a little akin to jumping the shark.

It was still an entertaining novel nonetheless, and I raced through it, as I expect to with every future story in the series.

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The Hall of Heroes

The Hall of Heroes

28th February 2017

The third and final book in this trilogy celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek wraps up the Next Generation era of a complex war inspired by a radical Klingon business administrator come politician.

It's a good adventure with a lot of threads that tie up well - but it does suffer a little from that feeling of being a final episode where the toys need to be put back in the box. There were a few surprises, and some things surprised me by not coming to pass, but overall it could have been a little more radical.

Okay, so I've left it too long since finishing the book to write this properly. I've become complacent with my reviews over the past year or so and not kept up like I used to. Must do better.

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Top books

  1. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  2. The Hall of Heroes
  3. Resurrection Men
  4. Headlong Flight
  5. Wolf's Brother
  6. Night School
  7. The Whistler