All 2017 reviews - Shastrix Books

2017

All reviews

The Knot

The Knot

13th November 2017

A relatively light tale about a wedding photographer, telling the story of his life, loves and family. I say relatively light as I’d just escaped from a novel set in hell and as such this was vastly happier reading and I devoured it in the course of a single Saturday.

I read the author’s novel ‘Eleven’ some years ago, and have seen his stand-up performances a couple of times, and picked this up thinking it would be a barrel of laughs. It’s not, although it does have humorous moments - in fact it’s quite a deep and emotional tale about relationships between family members.

I imagine that it will divide readers, but personally I enjoyed reading it and it certainly made me think and go on a short emotional trip of my own.

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Happy Hour in Hell

Happy Hour in Hell

13th November 2017

Wow this book is grim. It’s some years since I read the first book in the trilogy, The Dirty Streets of Heaven, and I’d forgotten exactly how I’d felt after finishing it. In this, book two, Bobby Dollar, angel, heads to Hell to try to rescue his girlfriend.

The character’s travels through the many layers of Hell are covered in excruciating detail, far more than I could have thought possible, and it just becomes hard to read - there’s only so much that I can cope with in one train journey, and I often found myself stopping much earlier than usual just to escape.

The book took me a surprisingly long time to get through, given my usual reading speed, and this was brought home to me by the next two books I read being devoured in the course of two days, demonstrating the relief at getting away from how dark and depressing this book was.

I think it will be some time before I return for the conclusion of the trilogy.

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Carry on Jeeves

Carry on Jeeves

13th November 2017

A collection of short stories, mainly covering Bertie Wooster's time living in New York, including his first encounter with Jeeves, helping out a number of chums in matters of love and money, and in the final story seeing one experience from Jeeves' own point of view.

It's a nice little collection, if rather repetitive between some of the stories, and I wondered if perhaps they would be better read more spaced out. The writing didn't quite align with my memory of the Wodehouse style from reading some of his novels al few years ago, and I'm not sure whether it's my memory that's wrong or if theses are earlier works from a different part of the writer's career.

A pleasant diversion, but not one of Wodehouse's best in my opinion.

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Original Sin

Original Sin

22nd October 2017

David R. George III has become the main author of the ongoing Deep Space Nine adventures, and this is the next step in his juggling of the number of storylines needed for such a wide ranging series. This novel focusses on the Sisko family, as Captain Sisko's ship, the USS Robinson, heads off to explore further into the Gamma Quadrant.

I'm struggling to work out how to review this without making it too spoilery... let's say that there are two plotlines that run through the book featuring a number of parallels, which answer some of the questions those of us who have been reading for (technically now) decades have been asking.

George performs the masterful Star Trek trick of tying together real science fiction concepts and exploration of new worlds and cultures with metaphorical reflection on our own society, with only a little thought required on behalf of the reader to understand the analogies and the lessons intended for the audience.

While Ben Sisko isn't generally my favourite DS9 character, and its huge ensemble cast being one of the reasons its my favourite Trek series, this is a solid entry in the continuation and one that I'd happily recommend to anyone who is reasonably caught up - there are very few elements that require the reader to be fully up to date.

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Parsnips, Buttered

Parsnips, Buttered

22nd October 2017

This is a comedic book of advice, based on examples from the author's own life, of how to be silly about things. It reads very much in his voice, as when tells similar stories during his stand-up routines, and the sense of humour is very clear.

The book is constructed of a series of short chapters, which each tell a different anecdote, often featuring false identities that Lycett has created online to perpetuate his particular brand of mischief. This makes for an incredibly easy to read book that I devoured in two sittings, chuckling throughout.

If you enjoy his humour on television, then you will find this is very much in the same vein, and you should give it a try. The illustrations are excellent too.

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The Gunslinger

The Gunslinger

14th October 2017

​The first novel in Stephen King's Dark Tower epic introduces us to Roland, a gunslinger on a quest to pursue a dark wizard. It's been on my shelf for some time, and after enjoying the recent film based on his novel It, I thought it time to give it a go.

It's slow. The plot plods along with little clear direction. Pretty much the entire book is about slowly building the world, and it feels like painfully little detail stretched over several long sections. The most interesting parts are the flashbacks to Roland's childhood, and they do the most to build him up and give an insight into his character.

The scenes in the present however are dull and dreary. Very little happens, and it feels like King's idea of epic just means long and unmoving. The scenes make little sense - with not a lot following logically from what's gone before, and the narrative does little to explain what's meant to be real and what illusion. And ultimately they do little to entertain or inform the reader.

So I was unimpressed and am uninspired to pick up more of the series. The language used seemed pretentious and unnecessary, and the narrative did little to make me care about what happens to the character. I have the mildest of temptation to see if it changes as the series progresses, but don't really think I will bother - instead using my time to read more deserving books.

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Buy book: UK
Desperate Hours

Desperate Hours

14th October 2017

​David Mack has the honour and challenge of being the first tie-in author to dip his feet into the world of Star Trek: Discovery - the seventh TV series in the franchise. As a novel released the day after the first episode is broadcast, it's hard not to take anything it says with a pinch of salt (remember Data's backstory from the novelisation of Encounter at Farpoint - later completely changed by the TV series), but it seems Mack has had full access to the writers and scripts from the TV production team and the series is being written as one whole rather than discrete episodes, so maybe this will stand the test of time.

This story is set a year before the opening episode of the TV series, and sees Burnham as a newly minted first officer facing a distress call from a rebel colony. It also features a guest appearance by a familiar ship and crew member and goes some way to dealing with some of the questions that long term audiences might have. That said, I do wonder if these aspects are being explored only in the novels what the point was/is of having set the story up in quite this way for TV.

It's a fairly average Trek novel actually. A bit reminiscent of the early TNG novels in terms of the plot. The pre-TV setting is good as it means Mack is free to play around with the characters and not be bound by putting them back in the box. He does a fair bit to give background to both Burnham and Saru which goes beyond what we've learnt from TV, and this to me is what makes the book most compelling.

Conclusion: if you like Star Trek novels, or want to like Star Trek novels, then go for it. If you're new and curious, up to you. If you only watch TV, then carry on watching TV.

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A Legacy of Spies

A Legacy of Spies

10th October 2017

A surprise return to the world of Smiley and colleagues, some 27 years after the last novel and 56 since the series began. It's many years later, and one of the Circus’s operations has come under scrutiny from the modern-day powers-that-be. Specifically that depicted in the 1963 novel The Spy Who Came In From The Cold - and in some ways this serves as both prequel and sequel.

We see the story through the eyes of Peter Guilliam, as he is called in for a debriefing, and returns to the contemporary version of the service he worked for during the Cold War. This presents a slightly complex narrative, mixing between modern day in his point of view to his consumption of reports from the time he was an agent - from his own point of view and other characters', in various forms of prose. While this adds variety, it's not as clear as it could be, particularly some of the transcripts and some places where I lost track of which character was which.

The bulk of the story is incredibly compelling and I got really into it. I've read a few le Carré novels in recent years and enjoyed them thoroughly, which I think demonstrates a change in my tastes since my teenage years, when I struggled with his writings. However as I approached the end of this novel I started to feel concerned that there were insufficient pages remaining for a satisfactory conclusion. And I was right.

I feel I would likely have benefited from better familiarity with the earlier novel - it's a long time since I read it and so I struggled to notice the crossovers, and I feel that I may have appreciated some of the nuances more having it in my mind.

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Patterns of Interference

Patterns of Interference

9th October 2017

Another Enterprise novel continuing the adventures of the crew, who have long since gone their separate ways. It’s a bit of a strange standalone novel that really does need he background knowledge from reading earlier stories to follow.

A number of storylines seem to battle for attention, and it feels a bit like Bennett is struggling to find things for all the characters to do - one of them in particular, while having an interesting science fiction experience, has a fairly tenuous thematic link to the rest, and I felt was a little underplayed what message it was intended to be sending.

Meanwhile the ‘main’ plot showed some interesting parallels with issues in the current news, but felt a bit patchy in construction and rushed in places it might not have been.

Overall, I think it’s a weaker novel that spreads a bit too thinly quite a lot of different storylines rather than picking one to do really well. It does however have one of the best sneaky little jokes in the narrative that I’ve seen for quite some time!

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The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye

23rd September 2017

This second alternative author sequel to the Millennium trilogy follows one which I begrudgingly read and then was surprised to enjoy. On that basis, I was happy to buy this. But it doesn't live up to the reputation of the series and has put me off wanting to continue.

The plot, while on the surface similar to previous stories, didn't have any of the depth or complexity, and Salander in particular feels like she’s just floating along rather than being an active participant in her own fate. Ultimately the plot is just a weak rehash of earlier novels with some new fighting. The author introduces some new character but ultimately their presence just detracts from what made me want to come back.

Most importantly, I don’t think this book gets what the point is meant to be. The theme of violence against women is continued, but not in a way that makes the women feel real, but instead almost turns on its head and portrays them as victims throughout the story, instead of being actual protagonists in their own right. Instead it feels like the male characters become much more the focus.

I'm afraid that overall this book comes across as what I'd feared the previous one would be - an attempt by Larsson's heirs to milk the cash cow rather than to extend his legacy.

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The Mystery of the Laughing Shadow

The Mystery of the Laughing Shadow

23rd September 2017

The twelfth adventure of the Three Investigators, and the second by William Arden, finds the trip well into their stride and tells a tale in what I remember as the classic style of the series. When two of the boys accidentally hear a call for help and intercept a coded message, they're drawn into a complex and fascinating investigation.

While it must be said that some of the narrative hasn't aged well and some of the choice of language would be unlikely to be published today, the mystery itself is strong, the peril real, and the adventure interesting.

I felt is was a good quick read and am happy I decided to revisit the series.

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Buy book: UK
A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

7th September 2017

This collection features the three novellas also known as the 'Tales of Dunc and Egg' - 'The Hedge Knight', 'The Sworn Sword' and 'The Mystery Knight', all previously published in various anthologies, but in this edition illustrated throughout.

Thy are a good and very readable collection. It's nice to dip my toe into a good story or three based in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire. The setting is some 200 years prior to the main series, which means there's nothing here to spoil the main storyline, and so they can be read at any point. In fact, this collection would serve as an excellent place to start and see if you would enjoy reading the vastly longer novels.

While the illustrations are in themselves impressive and give a good view of the characters and the action, I found that quite often what was depicted didn't quite match the action described in the prose, which was a bit disappointing - for example in one place Dunc is shown with sword drawn while in the text he explicitly doesn't draw it.

Overall though a really enjoyable set of tales and I'd love to read more adventures of this pairing if any more appear in the future.

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On the Loose

On the Loose

7th September 2017

The seventh novel about the Peculiar Crimes Unit opens with the interesting twist of the unit being disbanded and its staff sent on their merry way. This is of course followed by the discovery of a peculiar crime, and the investigation is off.

Like many of the previous novels, the interesting content is not so much the plot or investigation, but the details that it uncovers about London, specifically in this case Kings Cross, and its history, as well as the interaction between the characters, which has both a comedic and a slightly dark edge.

I'm still not entirely sure I've got a grip on what the series is meant to be about. But I don't think it really matter as it keeps me entertained and wanting to pick up the next book.

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The Skull Throne

The Skull Throne

7th September 2017

The fourth novel in the Demon Cycle sees us rejoin the characters of the first three stories (and indeed the novellas) as they deal with the events that concluded the third novel, and the absence of two of their number.

It's... different. It's a while since I read the other books, but while they spent a lot of time world building from different cultures and different points of view, that almost felt like a secondary aspect here - touching only briefly on the backgrounds of new characters, and in one part featuring an extended (but shorter than usual) flashback recalling life so far.

Most of the narrative then is taking up with fighting. Indeed, apart from a brief pause in the middle of the book for some politics, almost the entire 750 pages is taken up with some sort of fight. I found this tiresome - action sequences in books rarely work for me as my imagination isn't amazingly visual, and slowing down to try to absorb what was happening blow by blow interrupts what for me is the enjoyable part of storytelling.

So overall a bit disappointed in part four. It feels a little like it's just shuffling pieces into place ready for the finale, and I hope that when it comes in a few months' time it's able to bring the series back up to its original high standard.

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No Middle Name

No Middle Name

7th September 2017

Twelve novellas or short stories from the world of Jack Reacher - only one is completely new, and many of them I’ve read previously in ebook form. That said, I still feel this was a good purchase, and I enjoyed reading through the short adventures either again or for the first time. My thoughts on the 12 stories can be summarised as:

A short, sweet new story. An interesting incident (felt targeted at an older audience than on first reading). A bit of a rollercoaster. A good simple story (liked it better than last time). Really good little investigation. Slightly weird and disturbing, much like the earlier novels in style, not sure I like it. Very short, very nice. Short quick read that feels like a failed novel idea. Filler. Interesting. Possibly the most pointless short story ever. Quick and dirty.

So a bit of a mix, but overall a nice diversion.

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Enigma Tales

Enigma Tales

26th July 2017

Una McCormack, probably my favourite of the current crop of Star Trek authors, returns to Cardassia for this excellent and deliciously Cardassian tale.

Doctor Pulaski is visiting Cardassia to receive an award, but events start to unfold in interesting ways as Garak moves toward retribution for the crimes his people committed during the occupation of Bajor, and new details about those crimes start to come to light.

I can hardly believe how complex this story is, weaving in threads from across DS9 and earlier novels with the richness of Cardassian society. Both drawing on previous adventures and doing some worldbuilding of her own, McCormack paints an amazing picture of a world growing form its past. I love some of the clever symbolism that weaves in around flowers, art and literature, particularly the focus on the enigma tales, and how these reflect back into the plot. I also loved the setting in a Cardassian university, clearly something the author is well aware of herself, and this really comes across as something there's a deep understanding and appreciation of.

The presentation is good too. The chapters are long, and interspersed with letters written by Garak, which serve to develop both character and, subtly, plot. The tone is quite casual in places (especially the start) which gives another feeling of Cardassia, as it's reminiscent of Garak's storytelling in the TV series.

In case it's not clear, I think this book is great, and I hope for many many more from McCormack. I would strongly recommend reading David Mack's novel 'Control' first though, as one of the plot strands here follows on directly from that novel.

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Nomad

Nomad

26th July 2017

I've read several of James Swallow's tie-in books for Star Trek and Doctor Who before this, and have enjoyed all of them. This is the first stand-alone novel of his that I've read, and again I enjoyed it very much.

The story follows an MI6 computer geek - part of the support group for a small tactical assault group - who accidentally escapes a situation he wasn't meant to, and goes on the run in an attempt to prove his innocence and get revenge.

It's a good thriller, with all the key elements. The characterisation is what you'd expect - there but not too deep, and the plot contains sufficient twists to keep the pages turning.

There were moments where I felt the pacing was off, where my thoughts drifted and I had to jump back and read bits again, but these were mostly in the first half and stopped once I'd got more into it. The only other thing that felt a little off was the way it cut between scenes mid-chapter, which while totally acceptable and normal seemed to give quite abrupt jumps.

Overall, a good thriller, and I'll certainly be picking up the sequel soon.

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Hearts and Minds

Hearts and Minds

19th July 2017

A new entry in the Next Generation continuation series, this follows a long line of novels taking the story of the Enterprise and her crew forward several years from the last time we saw them on screen. Despite that, this does serve as a pretty stand-alone story in the classic style.

The Enterprise is exploring and comes across a planet that nobody’s made contact with before, but then strange orders arrive from Starfleet Command, and Picard is left to investigate without really understanding.

It’s a great mystery thriller, with a new premise that harkens back to some of the classic tropes of the series. It’s also the third entry in the author’s pseudo-trilogy featuring callbacks to the 20th & 21st Centuries - though having not read the first two (they are Original Series novels which I generally don’t read) I can’t comment on how it fits into that.

An enjoyable adventure, and one that mostly stands alone. But if you are reading everything, I’d recommend this is read after David Mack’s ‘Control’, as there are some references.

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The Way of Kings (part one)

The Way of Kings (part one)

19th July 2017

After many years of waiting on my bookcase, I have finally picked up this first book in the Stormlight Archive series, by one of my favourite authors. I’ve only been putting it off while I read through pretty much the entire rest of his output, as this series is one that is ongoing and I didn’t want to feel I would have too long to wait for additional entries.

My paperback copies of The Way of Kings are split into two volumes, and as with previous novels where this has been the case, I’ve chosen only to read the first half, then take a break and read some other things before returning to part two.

I found the story a little harder than expected to get into - it feels a little more formal and grandiose than some of Sanderson’s other work, and I’m not sure if this is a deliberate style choice (likely, as he does like to plan these things) or a side effect of this being his masterpiece and him subconsciously changing the style). The reader is dropped in quite quickly to several different characters and understanding and becoming used to them takes a while.

Once in though, this is another great book. The characters are rich, deep and rewarding. Their backgrounds and personalities varied and fascinating, with hints of more to be revealed, and it doesn’t take long to fall in love with them and want to follow their stories forever.

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Buy book: UK
Camino Island

Camino Island

16th July 2017

Another of Grisham’s novels that fall outside the legal genre, and while not quite literary, fall much closer to it. This one tells the story of an audacious heist, and a woman who finds herself thrown into the investigation quite unexpectedly.

The plot is almost secondary in this work to the character, setting, relationships, and occasional set piece. The story is divided into clear acts, although these are more obvious near the start. It’s a strong opening, but it sets a pace that isn’t really reflected in the rest of the narrative and may give misleading expectations.

I think my favourite aspect of this novel is that it’s set around a background of books. The characters include author and a bookseller, and this is clearly an industry that Grisham has something of an insight into, and so it paints a vivid and amusing picture of how the literary world works, with sufficient tongue in cheek to remind me of Agatha Christie’s self-parody in the character of Ariadne Oliver

Overall, a happy diversion. An enjoyable story, told in the classic Grisham manner of straight laced facts.

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The Thirst

The Thirst

16th July 2017

Jo Nesbo returns to his regular character, former detective Harry Hole, in this eleventh adventure. When a new and shocking series of murders hits Oslo, Harry struggles not to be drawn back into his old life.

And they really are quite surprisingly brutal murders in this one, more so than I’d come to expect from this series. Otherwise though, and especially once the plot gets moving, it’s very similar to what’s come before it, being a mix of criminal investigation story and dive into the psychology of the main character.

I think ultimately I was a bit disappointed - I’m not sure there needed to be another Harry Hole novel, and I don’t feel like it added much to the series that the earlier books didn’t have. I didn’t appreciate the more brutal violence (maybe I’m getting old) and while it’s not a bad book, it just feels like retreading old ground.

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Red Nemesis

Red Nemesis

18th June 2017

The fourth (and apparently final) novel in Steve Cole's set of Young Bond novels follows the teenager as he learns more about the accident which killed his parents. A chance discovery leads to him joining forces with an MI6 agent to attempt to uncover a Soviet plot.

It's an entertaining if slightly unbelievable adventure, which very much puts it into the Bond world. Cole has done a good job of moving Bond from the character that was left at the end of Higson's original Young Bond series towards where he needs to be pointed to turn him into the post-war character of the Ian Fleming novels. Each book makes clear steps toward this, and this one feels like the ti[[ing point. It seems appropriate that this is the last novel, as going back to the mundanity of school doesn't really feel like the next step in Bond's life.

The locations, the twists, and the characters are all very Bondian. It's a well-crafted narrative that follows a recognisable Bond structure. But there are moments where I had to put in effort to pay attention and follow exactly what was happening without my eyes skipping down the page, and I kind of missed some of the asepcts of the earlier novels in this series that are now missing.

A good finale, but I still feel like there's some more stories to be told to fill the gap between this story and Casino Royale in the character's life.

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Dark Sun

Dark Sun

17th June 2017

A novella in the Cherub series, with two small, simple plots following two of the secondary characters from the main series. Rat is on a mission, and Lauren back at headquarters getting in trouble.

It's straightforward but covers two of the most interesting and exciting aspects of the Cherub books - the training that the child agents go through, and their missions in progress.

It's a great quick read and could serve as an easy introduction to the series if someone was considering diving in to the whole thing.

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Bond on Bond

Bond on Bond

17th June 2017

This book is a fascinating insight into the Bond movies from someone on the inside - Roger Moore, the third actor to play tha main character in the Eon Productions series of films. I was given the book as a present a few years ago, and inspired to read it by the recent death of the author.

It's interesting that this is a book documenting the whole of the Bond film series, including those not part of the Eon cannon, and so covers the full history from the 1950s up to 2012's Skyfall. It's by a bond actor but the twist is that he's writing about the whole thing, not just his own involvement.

The tone of the prose is something I have mixed feelings about. It is written in a casual manner, as if Moroe were telling anecdotes to you rather than documenting something in seriousness. He is happy to make jokes, but there's a fine line between taking the mickey out of oneself and coming across as egotistical, and in some places it feels like he's falling on the wrong side of this line.

Moore's personal insights, memories and anecdotes make this a pleasure to read. Most of the details I already knew from watching the films many times and reading other tomes, but this presentation certainly made for an entertaining weekend's read.

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Buy book: UK
World War Moo

World War Moo

17th June 2017

A sequel to the enjoyable and satisfying 'Apocalypse Cow', this book follows some of the same characters as they come to terms with a new life, as well as new characters learning to live in new ways. When Geldof Peters gets some surprising news though, he sets off on a slightly bizarre mission.

Unfortunately, it's nothing like as good as the first one. The humour isn't as funny, the situation more bleak, the characters less engaging, and the plot goes beyond silly into nonsensical.

There are some clever ideas, but it doesn't pull together, and I felt like it would have been better to have left this world after the first book and for Logan to have told a new story instead.

Overall, a bit of a disapointment - just go back and read 'Apocalypse Cow' again instead.

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The Disappearing Floor

The Disappearing Floor

, &

28th May 2017

The nineteenth original Hardy Boys book (or at least my UK edition of the 1964 re-write) sees the brothers investigating a series of jewellery thefts, as well as a strange house which appears to be haunted, and not just one but several instances of floors that disappear.

The narrative is the usual, simplistic but engaging - perhaps more so than some of its predecessors, as I read though in just a couple of sittings (maybe just over an hour in total). However the plot is messy - in places not making much sense, and feeling more like a string of coincidences than an actual investigation.

I suspect that this book was heavily butchered in the re-writing process, as its focus is one on technology I think the original plot has been radically ‘updated’ and in the process some of the sense has been lost, leading to a slightly unsatisfying story that doesn’t hold up to too much thinking about.

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Assassin's Fate

Assassin's Fate

28th May 2017

The third and final entry in the Fitz and the Fool trilogy serves not just as a conclusion to this three book arc, but also is a continuation of the ongoing storylines that cross the nine Fitz novels as well as the seven Liveships/Rain Wilds novels that exist in the same fictional universe. As such, I'd strongly recommend reading the whole of the rest of the series before tackling this novel, as it serves as a satisfactory sequel to everything that's gone before, and some aspect are massive spoilers for the earlier stories, and/or won't make sense to readers not familiar with them.

In this book we rejoin Fitz and Fool as they set off on a mission of vengeance against Clerres - home of the White Prophets, the Fool's origin point, and the killers of Fitz's daughter Bee. It truly feels like an epic - 850 pages of quest - and is a surprisingly emotional adventure that explores the world and exposes more and more detail about a realm that I've enjoyed visiting so many times over the past seven years.

The characters remain compelling - two narrators with their own voices whose foibles show through, with whom it's easy to sympathise, and yet who both remain frustrating in their own ways, with their own drawbacks familiar enough that they come across as almost humorous in that the reader knows that the characters aren't going to get their own way.

As with the earlier books in this trilogy, some of the foreshadowing felt a bit more obvious than in the earlier books - whether this is because of the way prophecies are presented, my own familiarity with the style, or a deliberate choice of the author - yet this time that's less frustrating, and more vital. I felt that the foreshadowing this time served well to set up things that came later on and to put the reader into the correct emotional state to embrace the narrative as it unfolded.

Another great adventure, strong, emotional and epic. An excellent conclusion to this trilogy and extension of the series as a whole.

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Want You Gone

Want You Gone

25th May 2017

After a few quite hard crime novels, it feels like Chris Brookmyre has relaxed a little back towards his earlier more comedic style with this book. While it's still a solid crime type novel, it is slightly lighter in tone and focussed on a less horrific type of crime.

This time out, disgraced journalist Jack Parlabane has a new gig, and is telling fascinating stories about hackers, when one of his sources decides it's time to cash in a favour. And it's a complicated one.

The issues dealt with in the story are really contemporary, and I loved how a room YRS has used elements he's slowly been introducing to pull together a story that takes current affairs from a number of different perspectives, and weaves them into a story that is not only action-packed, but also character-driven and that makes you think.

Another really great story that distracted me well from goings-on in the real world and got me back into reading much more regularly than I have recently.

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Control

Control

6th May 2017

Control is possibly the darkest Star Trek novel I've ever read, and I've read quite a lot of them. It continues Doctor Bashir's quest to destroy Section Thirty-One, and also lays out a lot of new information about the organisation, its origins, and the mysterious 'Control', who runs it.

It paints a very different and revealing picture of the Trek universe, spanning the life of the Federation from the pre-Enterprise era and dropping in hints of arcane bits of Trek lore and how they tie in. One that continues the mission of mirroring the 21st Century in which we as readers live.

But as well as that it's a thrilling adventure that pits Bashir and his allies, a cast pulled from both DS9 and TNG, against their nemesis across known space as they try to stay one step ahead of their omnipresent oppressor.

So, dark, revelatory, and fascinating in how it retells some of the familiar Trek story while remaining and entertaining adventure. Slightly scary though.

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Dead Man's Time

Dead Man's Time

4th May 2017

The most disturbing opening chapters to a book I've read for a long time. Everything seems to be going wrong and the world feels a pretty grim place, especially as we see into the minds of villains setting out crazy schemes. Part of it is that there are so many plot threads, and all of them are dark ones.

Fortunately the book moves past that as what is ostensibly the main plot gets moving. An elderly lady has been robbed, and beaten. And it's up to our protagonist, Det Supt Grace, to solve the crime.

However that plot doesn't really feel like it's the main focus of the effort in this novel. Instead it seems like it's just there as a structure to hang the secondary plots, and there are at least four, around - moving characters into the right places for those to unfold. And this novel does make some pretty big changes to those soap-opera sub-plots that have been running through the series.

Overall, an entertaining read once the depressing start has been passed, but not quite on the level of the earlier books in terms of the actual mystery itself.

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Chosen

Chosen

4th May 2017

The fourth book in the Alex Verus series feels like a turning point from the first three books, which established the characters and their world, and what I suspect might become the major arc of the following novels.

As a magical thriller, it's really good, focusing on the chase and the battle between Alex and someone he has wronged in the past. It contains a lot of introspection and a lot of action, and shows a lot of thought that's gone into the backstory of the character, fleshing the world out in new ways and overall feeling like a more cohesive whole.

It takes a lot of what's happened before and brings it to a crescendo. In a way it reminds me of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which was the fourth book in its series and built up to a dramatic conclusion that changed the direction of the stories dramatically.

I seem to say this a lot as I read series of novels, but I really do think this was the best yet and am looking forward to continuing.

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Hallowe'en Party

Hallowe'en Party

4th May 2017

I've lost count of what number this is in Agatha Christie's epic series of Poirot stories, but it's certainly one of the later ones, and yet retains the charm, comedy and mastery of mystery that she wrote throughout.

Although a seemingly simple tale from the outset, it becomes increasingly more complex. I'm not sure whether I was distracted, but the resolution had me baffled right up to the end, and honestly it felt like it may have been a bit over complex towards the conclusion.

Perhaps not one of the best in the series, or one that I would recommend, but definitely a worthy entry in the canon and an entertaining read.

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The Long Mirage

The Long Mirage

4th May 2017

Another episode in the ongoing continuation of Deep Space Nine, my favourite of the Star Trek television series, The Long Mirage tells three parallel stories focussing on some of the most interesting characters. Kira Nerys, returning after an interesting trip, and discovering her religion in schism. Ro Laren, exploring relationships and joining the hunt for a missing person. And Nog, trapped in a holosuite (but not quite in the usual cliched way).

It's a fun novel, which is a good thing to fit into the Trek release schedule amid the long trilogies of 2016 and the somewhat darker other publications in the 2017 schedule. It's good to see some of the characters who make the TV series entertaining, as well as some who are new or were secondary before.

The trio of stories helps to make the novel feel like it's moving well, and it's nicely paced to bounce between them at the right intervals. It does feel for the most part though a little as if there are three novellas just intercut, but I don't think that's a problem as it does mirror quite nicely the way some of the episodes are structured.

Another excellent DS9 story from David R George III, and one that continues to keep me waiting desperately for the next book to learn how the adventures continue.

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Licence to Kill

Licence to Kill

4th May 2017

By far the worst of the Bond novels I've read. This is John Gardner's attempt to novelise the film Licence to Kill, and, for some reason, to reconcile its events with those from early books from which the film takes some of its elements. This does not work as a novel.

The fundamental problem I think is that Licence to Kill was written specifically to be a film, and the whole plot, every scene and every action are designed for that medium, and they don't translate. There are plot elements that while glossed over in the film feel completely out of place and unrealistic in the book, and the progression of scenes comes across as false and episodic in written narrative.

The biggest problem though is that the visuals don't translate. The film is designed to be seen, and this becomes endless description that doesn't benefit the plot, or action - which is hard enough to follow in written form at the best of time, not least when it's not even been intended to be presented in this way.

This is one of the last of Gardner's output that I have read, and I was probably right the first time I read through them to give this a miss. Just watch the film instead - much better and much quicker.

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The Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage

The Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage

4th May 2017

The eleventh mystery about the Five Find-Outers is probably one of the best and most representative of the series.

The language, of course, is incredibly dated, and an attempt to read aloud the opening pages led to much hilarity, but reading silently that can easily be mentally pushed aside and the beauty of the simple mystery story can show through.

This is overall an excellent story, and a great introduction to the world of mystery fiction, which I've enjoyed ever since first reading this story years ago.

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Foxglove Summer

Foxglove Summer

4th May 2017

The fifth Peter Grant novel continues the adventures of a twenty-first century trainee wizard police officer. For the first time, he's left the south-east, London area, and ventured slightly northward into the countryside to take a quick look-in on a missing persons case that might have a tiny suspicion of magical involvement.

As with the whole of the series, it's a great story that follows a compelling character. Aaranovitch paints a picture of a well-fleshed out world viewed through the eyes of someone who is still learning about it, and his slightly-humbling improvised policing and magic techniques make for an excellent balance between comedy and crime.

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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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