All 2017 reviews - Shastrix Books

2017

All reviews

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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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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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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Top books

  1. Want You Gone
  2. Assassin's Fate
  3. Chosen
  4. Resurrection Men
  5. Hearts and Minds
  6. Red Nemesis
  7. The Thirst