All 2018 reviews - Shastrix Books

2018

All reviews

Exile

Exile

15th December 2018

Marc Dane’s second adventure begins with the blacklisted ex-spy-support-staffer working in a European backwater, as an analyst on loan to a grumpy boss who has no interest in following up on any of the interesting leads he finds, despite the world-changing implications.

I really enjoyed Nomad, the first novel in this series, and the same is true of Exile (though perhaps not quite as much). The plot is a well-threaded web of characters whose paths cross in interesting places, the pace is high throughout and keeps the reader on the edge of their seat, and the action feels realistic and well-researched without turning into a boringly explosive techno-thriller like some I’ve read.

One of the things I appreciate about this series is that it feels like Swallow has put some effort into his baddies - they aren’t cardboard cut-out terrorist stereotypes - but instead have complex and relatable backstories and motivations, and are from a range of geographical, cultural and social backgrounds, which adds a level of humanity. This contrasts really well with a lot of thriller writers who only really care about the explosions and don’t put effort into painting a wider picture.

Probably the thrillers that I’m most motivated to read at the moment - I look forward to picking up the future books in the series.

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Poirot's Early Cases

Poirot's Early Cases

15th December 2018

As I approach the end of my decade-long read-through of the Hercule Poirot series, I come to this collection of short stories. The stories are all from early in Poirot’s career, before he was an internationally renowned detective, and were originally published relatively early in Christie’s career, although not collected like this until the end.

It’s a nice dip of the toe into the world of Poirot, but generally I found it frustrating that each of the stories was so short - they don’t contain the depth that I’ve come to expect from the mystery, and there’s not really any opportunity to work it out for yourself as a reader, given the very limited page count.

The beauty of Christie’s writing, to me, is in her ability to feed me clues at just the right pace that I can work it out at the perfect speed along with the narrative - and in these cases I don’t have the chance to do that.

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Early Riser

Early Riser

15th December 2018

Jasper Fforde’s new novel, seemingly a stand-alone tale, explores the question “What if humans hibernated?” through an exploration of a complex world from the point of view of a young novice who is enlisted to remain awake through the winter to help look after society during the frozen months.

There’s a lot of reminiscences of Fforde’s previous novels - the dystopia is milder than in Shades of Grey, and the fantasy milder than in the Dragonslayer series, but all have a common feel and this makes the narrative a comfortable one to slip into.

The characters are fascinating and compelling, with some very novel ideas added into the mix. The world is incredibly rich and I love how much thought Fforde has clearly put into exploring how a society might have evolved differently given a seemingly small change in its starting conditions.

Shades of Grey remains my favourite Fforde novel, but this makes its way into second place. I don’t know why everyone isn’t reading it.

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Snapshot

Snapshot

15th December 2018

This standalone novella from Brandon Sanderson has a similar feel to his Reckoners series, despite the content being very different. It’s an incredibly complex short tale, focussing on two police officers who investigate crimes in Snapshot - a way of seeing back in time, enabling them to investigate crimes before or as they are happening - with some caveats.

It’s a great idea, with some reminiscences of Philip K Dick, and the story is told well with intriguing main characters and a compelling set of twists, turns and reveals. Somewhat outside my preferred reading from Sanderson, which is his epic fantasies, but totally worth reading.

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A Foreign Country

A Foreign Country

15th December 2018

I’m not entirely sure where I picked up this, the first novel by Charles Cumming that I’ve read, but I’m very glad I did.

Thomas Kell is a recently excommunicated intelligence agent, struggling to find his place in the outside world, when the opportunity comes to find his way back in, when a case comes up that nobody on the inside can be trusted with.

I’ve got back into spy novels over the past few years, and I really loved this one. The character of Kell feels very real and relatable, and spending time with him was a pleasure. The plot is similarly enticing,

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Unlocked

Unlocked

15th December 2018

This is a fascinating work of fiction. Set in the world of Scalzi’s novel Locked In (and subsequent sequel Head On), this book gives a lot of the background to the illness which prompts the main plots.

It’s told from an in universe point of view as a journalistic work, based on interviews with dozens of characters, each of whom tells part of the story of how the illness began, spread, and affected the world.

It’s a really interesting take on a novel, and a great companion piece to the original - and i would definitely recommend reading the novel first.

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The Midnight Front

The Midnight Front

15th December 2018

David Mack is a prolific and well-regarded author of tie-in fiction, particularly in the Star Trek universe, which is where I have previously encountered him, so I was intrigued when I learned that he was writing an original novel.

The story begins in the early days of the Second World War, our main character a student at a top university. Following a failed evacuation attempt, he discovers he is a wizard and is dragged off to a castle in Scotland to be educated in magical ways.

It’s possible to pitch it so this novel sounds just like Harry Potter, but it really isn’t. Unfortunately for me the educational aspects of the plot are glossed over in favour of a swift move into action, and it never really managed to capture my attention. The characters failed to compel, the plot failed to attract.

I’m afraid to say I didn’t finish, and will most likely stick to reading Mack’s Star Trek works in future.

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Home

Home

31st July 2018

The latest Myron Bollitar adventure is, in some ways, a return to the relaxed but violent writing style of the earlier novels in the series. On the other hand though, it brings with it some new 21st Century attitudes and the additional characters introduced in its young adult spinoff trilogy.

It’s an enjoyable story, following the classic model of a family friend in need, and an attempt against the odds at a rescue mission. There are some new twists - first person narrative from an unexpected character included, which threw me a little at first.

It’s interesting to see that Coben’s characters are moving with the times as well, and he goes to an effort in several places to have characters reflect on places that their previous behaviour was, on reflection, not acceptable or appropriate behaviour in a number of fields, and the characters are depicted having a mature and grown-up reaction to their changed understanding. I feel like a lot of respect is due to Coben on this front - not defending his creations but giving them time to grow with the world.

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The Atrocity Archives

The Atrocity Archives

31st July 2018

This book, the first in the Laundry Files series, has been sitting on my shelf for some time, and I’ve been eyeing the series up in bookshops for even longer. I was attracted by the bright covers, interesting descriptions, and quotes on the covers from authors I like.

The book contains two separate stories - the first of which introduces Bob as he becomes a field agent for the Laundry - a secret part of the British establishment dealing with the occult issues brought to the fore by modern technology. It’s a really interesting idea, and the narratives of both stories really nicely blend the edges of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror.

I was offput a little at the start of the novel by the introduction describing it as a bit Lovecraftian. I haven’t had the best of experiences with Lovecraft (admittedly my introduction to his works was in an unusual medium). However, clearly the elements of Lovecraft that Stross has chosen to replicate aren’t the ones that I found offputting - and the narrative flows really cleanly around visitations by mysterious beings and their descriptions aren’t inconsiderately lacking in detail.

I wasn’t gripped as much as I had hoped to be, but I enjoyed it sufficiently that I’ll be looking out for the second book in the near future.

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S. N. U. F. F.

S. N. U. F. F.

31st July 2018

I picked up SNUFF cheap on the basis that the cover stood out a bit. I think I’ve seen it in shops before, but low cost books tend to lead to greater bravery. This time however it wasn’t a winner for me - I set it aside after 50 pages and didn’t feel any urge to go back.

The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where mass media controls everything, and our main character is a film-maker who goes around inciting wars. He tells the story in from an unapologetic first person point of view that really alienated me as a reader.

The choice of language didn’t help. I’m not sure whether the author deliberately decided to make it hard to read, or if this is a side effect of the translation process. I struggle to absorb narratives that don’t have a good natural flow to them, and this didn’t, which really slows down my reading speed and thus my enjoyment of the story, which becomes plodding, awkward and a slow.

So this was a failed attempt at reading something new for me. I’m sure it won’t put me off though.

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Fear Itself

Fear Itself

31st July 2018

The third novel set in the time of Star Trek: Discovery, the latest television series in the Trek universe. In this story James Swallow writes about Saru during his time serving on the USS Shenzhou patrolling the Tholian border.

It’s a fascinating exploration of Saru’s character that takes what we’ve learned about him in the TV programme and expands upon it - showing a step in his journey towards what the events of the show force him to become.

The plot feels like a fairly standard Star Trek novel, which of it had featured any other series’ characters might have been a little mundane. The addition of the Discovery characters though gives it the extra dimension it needs to tell an engaging story that makes the reader believe in and understand the characters in more depth.

Another enjoyable Disco novel. I hope that there are more on the way, perhaps continuing the trend of exploring a different character each time.

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Secret Army

Secret Army

29th July 2018

The third book in the Henderson’s Boys series (which itself served as a prequel to the author’s modern-day Cherub series), and the one where the story catches up to where I had expected it to start two books earlier. Having successfully escaped France with the aid of a group of children, Charles Henderson has set up a training camp to bring the children up to the level of full spies so that they can join the country’s efforts to win WW2.

The book starts brutally. I was actually shocked by the levels of violence depicted in the opening chapters - and I’ve read all the author’s previous novels so was aware he didn’t shy away from realism. I think this was particularly bad though because of the historical setting and the attitudes of the time, as well as because it was directed at children. I suspect that this may be tough reading for more than just me.

Once that’s over and done with however, the plot becomes much more what I’d expected. A group of plucky youngsters fighting to prove their worthiness against the odds and against the expectations of adults. It’s a fun, tense and exciting adventure with a healthy dose of real emotion and fully believable characters from a range of backgrounds. The 1940s setting is well used, and while using the real attitudes of the time manages to show them in a disparaging light and twist some more ‘enlightened’ viewpoints into the narrative to put it into perspective.

Possibly the best action series for teenage readers I’ve ever come across. I’m totally on course to read all the rest.

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The Furthest Station

The Furthest Station

29th July 2018

A novella in the Rivers of London series, this book follows pretty much the same pattern as the full-length novels, just in abbreviated form. I almost wonder if it was conceived as a possible idea for a full novel, but turned out to not quite have the legs. All for the best really if so, as it makes an excellent novella.

I’m not entirely clear quite where it fits into the timeline of the stories - I’ve recently read the sixth book, but it felt like this story referred back much more to elements from one of the earlier novels. That said, there wasn’t anything that needed explaining too much to me, and I was along for the ride pretty quickly.

I very much enjoyed dipping my toe back into this world and watching Peter and his friends and colleagues investigating a little stand-alone mystery, with each chapter introducing some new colour. It’s a format I very much approve of for this series, and I hope that more novellas will follow.

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Fleshmarket Close

Fleshmarket Close

29th July 2018

It’s hard to believe I’m fifteen books into the Rebus series - however by this point he and his stories have become like old friends. It’s so easy to dip back in and continue to follow the lives of Rebus and his colleagues as they go about solving the crimes of Edinburgh.

In this book, a series of bodies are uncovered, and one of the key aims is to identify who they were. While the plot is compelling, it’s often other aspects of this series that I enjoy the most, and that’s true again.

In this novel, Rankin makes some quite bold moral statements - although the subject matter of detention centres for immigrants is likely striking a chord with me because of current events in the news, and because I’ve watched a related film in the same week. There’s a lot of stuff to make the reader think, and characters to represent multiple points of view appear through the narrative. To balance this, it also feels like one of the most humour-laden Rebus novels, and I think that certainly helps.

The most telling evidence that I was really enjoying reading this book was that I broke my habit of TV before bed for it - taking it to read outside my normal commuting reading hours. That, at the moment, is the sign of a good book.

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Forever and a Day

Forever and a Day

29th July 2018

I enjoyed Anthony Horiwitz’s first James Bond novel - and his Bond-esque Alex Rider series for younger readers - so was glad to see him back to write another. This time it’s a close prequel, dealing with Bond’s first mission as a 00 agent, with some elements taken from unpublished Ian Fleming story ideas.

Horowitz does an amazing job of replicating the Fleming writing style, presenting a narrative that’s so recognisable. The way he describes the clothes, the food, the characters, and especially the travelogue style of introducing locations expertly mirror that used by Fleming in the original novels, and it really makes these books feel like they are a real part of the Bond canon.

Bond’s attitude also replicates the 1950s approach of the original, and yet Horowitz subverts this by adding a stream of female characters who disprove these attitudes - each having unique personalities, opinions and abilities which in turn serve to shape Bond’s character and to counter his initial views.

The narrative also neatly includes references to the originals, as well as back to some of the Young Bond prequels that have been published in recent years. It’s clear that Bond is still being moulded into the character that Fleming portrays, and I was certainly amused to see the origins of several of his foibles coming through here.

A really good Bond novel - I’m glad they picked this author and I hope he’s able to continue writing novels like this in years to come.

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Especially Jennings

Especially Jennings

29th July 2018

The fifteenth Jennings story sees the foundation of the Jennings Membership Club - along with a variety of other mishaps that leave Jennings and his friends in various quantities of trouble with the school staff. It’s one of the stories that I read as a child but not one with a plot that particularly well stuck in my memory, so it was a delight to re-read.

As usual, many of the problems of Jennings’ young life and initiated through not thinking about long-term consequences, poor communication, or just unfortunate misunderstandings. The book portrays a delightful world of a boarding school from history, that is perhaps only half close to reality.

Some of the storylines do seem very familiar - the sort of thing that might have happened at my own school (vastly less posh that Linbury Court though it was) - and I’ve always enjoyed how this makes the antics of Jennings and Co very believable despite some of the more outlandish repercussions.

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Holding

Holding

29th July 2018

This is the first Graham Norton novel that I’ve read, after years of seeing him on the telly, and it was lent to me by a friend after she finished reading it.

The story is set in a typical Irish village, populated by a variety of seemingly ordinary characters (including, conveniently, a police officer) who are living their lives when one day a body is found while some building works are taking place. This of course has the usual effects - dragging more police to the village, casting suspicion on everyone, and dragging up ancient history.

It is ultimately a take on the classic whodunnit with perhaps a little more of a modern understanding and take on the world and particularly the emotional state of those involved, and the story reflects on the changes in attitude over the previous decades in Ireland.

I enjoyed reading it and finding out what would happen. The narrative is light and humorous and I certainly wouldn’t say no to reading more of Norton’s novels in future.

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Proven Guilty

Proven Guilty

25th July 2018

I find myself with an interesting relationship with the Dresden Files. I put off reading this one, concerned that as I wasn’t feeling excited at the prospect of picking it up that I’d gone off the series. But actually once I did lift it from the shelf and get stuck in I found myself really enjoying it.

The story begins with a cry for help from a family member of a friend, which in turn drags Dresden, Chicago’s only wizard PI, into an investigation into supernatural occurrences around the city and beyond.

There are a number of things about this book that I enjoyed. It’s a proper investigation, and I am a fan of detective stories. It reveals more about the characters, their backstories, and their relationships - and develops them in new directions as well. It builds more into the world and the mythology of the series. And it’s a good adventure.

So overall I’m left feeling much more engaged with the series, and I hope I can keep that feeling forefront in my mind when I’m choosing what to read in the future and my gaze drifts to the shelves for B.

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Elephants Can Remember

Elephants Can Remember

25th July 2018

Nearing the end of the Poirot canon, this story follows the elderly detective as he’s asked to investigate a very cold case - as the mother-in-law-to-be of a young woman digs to find out what really happened to her parents.

It’s a complicated case, and leads to the usual approach of interviewing a rich variety of witnesses, gathering seemingly random pieces of information before putting together a startling conclusion.

In this case, I felt that some aspects were a little too obvious. And yet other things that really stood out to me turned out to be red herrings, and I think almost too much so - it felt more like the truth was hidden behind distractions rather than assembled from little jigsaw pieces.

Overall though a good story, and one that does the series justice as the final ‘regular’ episode.

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Off the Rails

Off the Rails

7th July 2018

Bryant & May’s eighth adventure takes an interesting twist on the series, being the first novel that is a direct sequel to the preceding one. The continuing case of The Fox, who having escaped custody appears to have begun a new killing spree, and the detectives are once again given an absurdly short deadline to complete the case or be shut down.

While it’s a good mystery story, I felt that this one had lost a little of what earlier novels had. The crimes aren’t particularly peculiar in their nature - they are fairly ordinary as crimes go - and the character developments that have been at the forefront of previous stories seem to have been back-burnered in favour of plot.

The narrative is however quite amusing, in a relaxed way. There are a few in jokes, at the author and characters’ expense, as well as a number of moments of humour and particularly strong and witty dialogue. This I think was what held the book together and made me race through the pages, rather than anything with the plot itself.

A good mystery overall, with some interesting twists and turns, and a satisfying resolution.

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Restless

Restless

7th July 2018

Restless is my third William Boyd novel, and continues the trend of being a period spy story - this time with two parallel storylines set some 40 years apart, one the daughter in the 1970s, the other her mother in the 1930s and ‘40s. In a surprise revelation, the mother announces she isn’t who her daughter always thought, and piece by piece explains her true backstory.

I really enjoyed the story, though the writing fees denser than much of my usual fare, and thus it felt like I was able to read less per session. The setting is painted in realistic colours of the era, and it’s really easy to get into the heads of the two protagonists.

Boyd’s approach to the storytelling is excellent - I really liked he way he drip feeds information to the reader in a way that feels like it’s part of the plot, rather than feeling like the author is artificially withholding details. I was also impressed by the narration - which despite being written in the third person felt like it was being told by the characters from a first-person perspective, to the extent that I would be surprised on starting a new chapter to find it in third person again.

An excellent story, excellently told. I’m glad I picked up more of Boyd’s novels and expect I will slowly continue my way through his works.

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Head On

Head On

7th July 2018

The sequel to Lock In, this novel continues the adventures of FBI agent Chris, a ‘Hayden’, who is one of many people with locked in syndrome who carry out their daily lives by controlling Android-like avatars over the Internet.

Scalzi has built-out the world in a new and interesting direction by looking to the arena of sport. This makes for a fascinating bit of world-building and suggests an author who puts a fair amount of thought into the repercussions of his storytelling choices.

One of the key elements of interest in the first novel was that Chris’ gender remains unrivalled throughout. This continues in this sequel, but unlike the first book, I aware of it in advance. I’m not sure how much difference it makes to my experience of reading - I’d hope little, but I’m not sure if that’s because my brain is just defaulting to male regardless, or if I truly am thinking of the character with no regard for gender.

It’s a really enjoyable story, and I’m glad there is a sequel. I hope that Scalzi chooses to write more of these stories and can continue to build out this world and see what other changes his fictional disease might cause in the global culture.

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Macbeth

Macbeth

26th May 2018

I bought this book under the false belief that it was a new story in the Harry Hole series. It certainly is not. Having discovered that it is actually a relatively-modern retelling of the Shakespeare classic, I thought that sounded interesting, and proceeded to read.

The setting is vaguely defined as somewhere in Scotland, sometime in the recent past - in a slightly lawless city with little contact with the outside world, ruled over by rival drug gangs, the police and mayor pretty interchangeably. Macbeth himself is cast as a senior police officer with an ambitious lady friend and a dubious array of acquaintances.

It just didn’t work for me. I couldn’t get into the characters - they felt two dimensional and false, and the setting’s darkness and vagueness didn’t draw me in. It was weird vaguely knowing what was coming (because of course I am familiar with the original) - and I imagine the enjoyment is intended to come from learning how Nesbo has re-imagined it, but I didn’t experience this.

I’m afraid to say I gave up halfway - it wasn’t inspiring me, and I was choosing not to read at allover reading it.

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Architects of Infinity

Architects of Infinity

26th May 2018

The latest in Kirsten Beyer’s continuation novels for Star Trek: Voyager is a little more of a stand-alone story, as the crews of the Full Circle fleet discover a new planet, and a new element, and decide to take some shore leave. As is typical with Starfleet shore leave, it’s not as relaxing as might have been hoped.

It’s actually one of my favourite of the Voyager novels of the past few years. I think I like that it’s an enclosed story with little of the continuing narrative, which I struggle to remember well enough when episodes are months or years apart. I also appreciated the spread of characters, ranging across those we know from the TV series (which finished, somehow, 17 years ago) and the new characters introduced in the novels.

As with much of Beyer’s writing, this story has a strong family element. When she started writing the Voyager continuation series this used to annoy me - I found it a bit ‘soppy’ and not what I was expecting. But as I’ve matured and grown older, I’ve come to appreciate it more, and find myself feeling much more sympathetic to this part of the characters’ lives.

A good Voyager novel, and one that keeps me encouraged to continue reading, despite the reduced publication speed while Beyer is busy making other Star Trek.

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The Core

The Core

26th May 2018

The grand finale of the Demon Cycle brings us back to a world infested by demons who rise from the ground each night to terrorise the human population.

We’ve gradually been introduced to a lot of characters over the course of this series, and I must admit I struggled a little to remember each of their backgrounds as they play their part in this story.

What struck me the most as I read further and further through was how close I was getting to the end of the book, and yet there was little sign of a resolution to the story in sight. And yet of course, as I knew, this is the last book of the series (excepting spin-offs) and the resolution did arrive. And yet despite this the conclusion did not feel rushed - it was perfectly paced and wrapped up the story of these characters in a satisfying manner.

I’ve really enjoyed this series, and hope that Brett goes on to create more worlds and more characters for me to read in the future.

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The Hanging in the Hotel

The Hanging in the Hotel

26th May 2018

The fifth Fethering Mystery finds amateur sleuths Carole and Jude embroiled in a hotel-based death during an ego-trip event by a group of local do-gooders.

Compared to the previous novels, it’s very much in the same vein. There’s perhaps a little less of the dynamic between the two main characters than I’d have liked, but each of them gets amusing moments as they proceeded with their meddlesome investigation.

It’s a satisfying mystery with a range of dodgy suspects, although one in particular was an uncomfortable one to read about. Overall an enjoyable diversion.

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Found

Found

26th May 2018

The third (and so far final) novel in the Mickey Bollitar series continues the adventures of the young nephew of the author’s adult thriller star Myron. Like with the previous novel, a lot of what’s going on is a continuation of the ongoing story, but there is a self-contained element to the narrative as well.

It’s a strange trilogy, clearly targeted at a much younger audience than the main series of novels - with a reduction in the graphic violence certainly - but also feels like a little side adventure that this book wraps up. I’m not sure how I feel about this, having not (as far as I can recall) read such a spinoff before.

While the book is fine as an adventure, it really only works with the context of the earlier two and doesn’t stand alone. The language used, as well as the plot, seem a little simplistic, and the characters have lost some of what made them compelling at the start - they’ve become somehow blander and the elements that made them most interesting have been stripped back.

I’m kind of glad it’s over, and the next book by Coben I’m going to read will return to the adult series - and it will be interesting to find out what repercussions of this aside there are there.

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Holy Cow

Holy Cow

29th April 2018

David Duchovny, best known for acting in a 90s sci-fi TV series, tells the tale of a cow who discovers the truth about her existence, and sets out to decide her own fate.

The narrative is a lark, and necessitates total suspension of disbelief. In this way it’s good fun. The story is also a parable, indeed almost a lecture, from Duchovny on the way that animals are treated in food production, and in this way it comes across a bit too preachy.

The weirdest moment for me was early in the book. I had just finished reading ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’, by Neil Gaiman, which similarly is presented in the first person. As such, my head started reading in the wrong voice - the voice of a middle aged man - and I was then befuddled by the sudden occurrence of a milking.

It’s a bit of fun, which I probably wouldn’t have picked up were it not for the famous author, and which I don’t think I’ll read again.

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

29th April 2018

This is the fourth Neil Gaiman novel I’m read, and I’m slightly surprised that I bothered after struggling to get into two of the earlier ones. This novel tells the tale of a recollected childhood incident stepping into a fantasy world.

It’s a kind of fantasy horror that’s appropriate for younger readers, and yet still slightly unsettling and creepy to adult audiences. Not really my kind of book, and although the story is well structured, and the characters well formed, it didn’t entertain me as much as I had hoped.

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Russian Roulette

Russian Roulette

29th April 2018

The ‘final’ novel in the Alex Rider series (because it turns out that another book has now been published) is one I’ve been looking for for some time. It’s an interesting twist on the series, which typically focuses on the titular teenager recruited into MI6 - instead this novel telling the surprisingly parallel story of his arch nemesis, a freelance assassin.

It’s actually a really compelling story, and was a real surprise as I hadn’t appreciated the difference from the rest of the series before starting reading. That said, it does make for a slightly disappointing finale, because it doesn’t wrap up our main character’s storyline, but instead fills in some of the gaps across the series as a whole.

Ultimately it’s just another boy spy, and they’ve become fairly commonplace in literature, but the opposing viewpoint makes it an interesting approach that’s worth reading if you are into the series.

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The Hanging Tree

The Hanging Tree

25th March 2018

The sixth Rivers of London novel continues the adventures of magical policeman Peter Grant, investigating slightly paranormal crimes in contemporary London. This time when a teenager dies of an apparent overdose, he’s summoned by his girlfriend’s sister to keep her daughter out of the investigation, which as can be expected doesn’t turn out to be straightforward.

I don’t know if it’s too long since I read the previous book, but I got the impression that I’d missed something, as the characters kept referring back to events that I couldn’t remember, or whether this is intended by the author to hint that some time has passed and that other cases have come and gone in the meantime. I also struggled a little with some aspects of the ongoing plot that runs through the series, as some of the events are a bit hazy in my memory. It’s possible this is the type of series that benefits from occasional re-read-throughs to defamiliarise the reader.

I really love this series, and reading this book has kicked me back into a bit of a reading binge. The only annoyance is that I’ve caught up now with the publication of the Peter Grant books (apart from a novella which I’ll soon devour, probably in one sitting).

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Drastic Measures

Drastic Measures

25th March 2018

The second novel based on the new Star Trek television series, Discovery, is set some ten years before the series and gives an insight into the backstory of two of the secondary character - Philippa Georgiou and Gabriel Lorca. Serving in Starfleet as Commander and Lt. Commander respectively, the two officers’ paths cross when a (later infamous) famine breaks out on a distant colony world after crops are infected by a deadly fungus.

I think this is a really good story, better than the previous novel, using these side characters really well to tell a tale that provides extra context, but not interfere with the direction that the television series is taking. It also of course provides an opportunity to tie elements of Discovery in with events mentioned in other series.

It’s hard to say a lot about the plot itself without dropping in spoilers for this novel or the first season of the television series (the book is intended to be read after season one, I think, through after episode 12 should be fine). My memory of some of the elements referenced was a little rusty, which I think helped build some tension as I couldn’t remember what had been established in canon, though also distracted as there were elements I had mis-remembered.

A good novel to tide me over until there’s some more Discovery on TV.

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The Midnight Line

The Midnight Line

25th March 2018

The twenty-second novel in the Jack Reacher series continues the loosely flowing narrative of the last few ‘modern day’ novels, though only briefly, around a new plot triggered when Reacher happens upon a West Point ring in a pawn shop.

The story follows the standard pattern of Reacher getting mixed up in something random, interfering a bit, and meeting a variety of new people along the way. This one feels a bit more chaotic than usual in how the different strands come together and does feel like a little more suspension of disbelief than some.

One f the things that comes across in the series, but particularly in this novel, is how big the US actually is, and how far apart people can be - the plot wouldn’t work in the UK because there would be witnesses to everything, but in the states it’s believable that things could just be the way they are described.

Not one of the best Reacher stories, I didn’t think, but good enough to keep my interest and keep me looking out for the next book later in the year.

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The Rooster Bar

The Rooster Bar

23rd March 2018

Somehow, John Grisham has come up with a new twist on the Legal Thriller - following a friend's suicide, three law students decide to give up college and just practice without licences. And then their adventures really begins.

It's interesting to have a novel from Grisham where his main characters suffer a major trauma at the start, but it still feels like he hasn’t quite got a grip on communicating emotion, as they still come across quite robotic even while suffering grief.

I'm actually getting a little irritated by the cleanness of Grisham's writing style, it's very perfunctory and action based rather than worrying too much about emotion or character. It's almost dry enough to be a formal report of events that occurred.

Ultimately this book was a bit disappointing. The ideas were novel and intriguing, but the execution almost felt like some sort of weird morality tale rather than entertainment.

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Places in the Darkness

Places in the Darkness

23rd March 2018

Christopher Brookmyre, known for earlier comedic and latterly serious crime novels takes a second step into science fiction with this tale of a future space station, its new head of law enforcement and a local cop who knows the place like the back of her hand.

Brookmyre presents a future which is a rounded blend of positive and negative. The people of his world are socially liberal but fiscally conservative, which isn’t quite what their government want them to be. Things really kick off when there's a brutal murder aboard the space station, and some people really want to cover it up.

While the graphic storytelling, humour, characters and society are reminiscent of Brookmyre's usual output, the narrative felt like it had quite a different structure. It's told in the present tense (which as always takes me a while to get used to) but this also means the narrative is pretty much chronological, whereas a lot of Brookmyre's books tell a large part of the plot in flashback.

While not unenjoyable, I didn't feel the book sparked for me as much as his earlier works.

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The Rogue

The Rogue

23rd March 2018

The second book in the second trilogy set around the Magician's Guild continues the adventures of Sonea, hunting a rogue magician in the streets of her city, and her son, a pseudo-prisoner in a far off land.

I feel quite ambivalent about this book. While the plot is entertaining, it feels a little slow and somehow simplistic. The main characters in particular don’t feel as though they have as much depth to them as some of the secondaries, and I'm not sure if that is a deliberate attempt to allow the reader to project themselves into the narrative or just a flaw.

It comes across clearly as a second-book-of-a-trilogy, with that feeling of wanting to move the narrative from point A to point B rather than having a self-contained plot of its own, though some of the threads do seem to run end-to-end in this volume.

I don't feel excited enough to rush out and buy the final book of the series, but just enough to keep an eye out in case it pops up.

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Brigands M.C.

Brigands M.C.

28th January 2018

Book 11 in the Cherub series kicks off with an introduction to a new character, Dante Scott, who we meet as a young child when his family are murdered by a gang of bikers. This sentence should be sufficient to make it clear this book is intended to be read by an audience who are capable of processing this sort of scene.

I was very pleased by how Muchamore structured this novel - the introduction giving little away as to where the book would go later on, and I was very impressed by one particular narrative device which occurred surprisingly far into the story.

It’s another good adventure for the Cherubs, painting a fairly realistic picture of the world and inserting teenage secret agents into the mix. There are strong indications that the series is preparing to wrap up, and one thing I did find disappointing about this story was its conclusion, which didn’t quite satisfy what I wanted from the end of the plot.

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Guards! Guards!

Guards! Guards!

21st January 2018

The first of the City Watch stories in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series introduces readers to Ankh-Morpork's police force led by Captain Vimes. This is the first time that I've re-read a Discworld novel, and so I wasn’t sure how I'd feel. My memories of the early Watch stories are patchy, mainly because of when in my life I first read them, so I couldn't remember in any great detail what was going to happen.

The plot focusses on an obscure cult that's arisen in the city, with a number of motivations, who are plotting to overthrow the Patrician with a fairly complex plan that relies on tradition, magic and a fair amount of obfuscation. Meanwhile Carrot, a human raised by dwarves, has arrived in the city to join what he thinks of as the honourable profession of watchman.

As with all Discworld novels, it's full of cultural references and humorous moments that poke fun, but it definitively has the feeling of one of the earlier Discworld novels - a lot of the lore that later books rely on has yet to be in place, and some of the characterisations don't quite match with what we see in the later watch novels. The humour relies a lot on a satirical approach to the genre rather than being in the storytelling, and feels much more likely to elicit a knowing nod than a laugh out loud.

I enjoyed re-reading this and certainly expect to remember more of the plot in another ten years than I did this time, but I suspect I will enjoy the later Watch novels more when I return to re-read those.

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Fortune of War

Fortune of War

20th January 2018

After a two year gap, this new stand-alone Star Trek: Titan novel follows the crew as they investigate some recently discovered Husnock technology which is in great demand from a number of different civilisations in the alpha quadrant.

It's a great little story that has a lot of twists and turns, as the plot rolls onward in an episodic fashion and we move from one hurdle in the plans of both the Starfleet crew and their antagonists. Mack has constructed quite an elaborate narrative that keeps the reader surprised and entertained.

A good stand-alone adventure by one of the best Star Trek authors.

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The Essential Drucker

The Essential Drucker

20th January 2018

The Essential Drucker is a heavily edited version of the highlights from all of Drucker's works. Peter Drucker is described in the opening 'appreciation' as the inventor of management, and seems to have spent a career ranging from the 1920s to the 1990s studying management and providing advice. This book was created by editing together all his books into one central repository of all his best output - first by a Japanese editor into three volumes, then again by an American editor into a single volume.

The book is structured in three major sections - management as a concept, the individual as a manager, and society.

There is a wealth of good advice contained within these pages which I feel could be beneficially applied by managers today in the late 2010s. Drucker begins by attempting to define business and management, and the roles of management. He advises that the top focus of senior management should be to define 'what should our business be' and to set objectives in a number of areas of the business, none of which should mention profit, in order to give clear direction to everyone working in that business.

He talks about making it clear what roles have what responsibilities - the division of power between CEO and board - and wanders into talking about the role of business in society, a theme which runs through the book. Then from chapter six the advice becomes increasingly practical.

People need to understand the organisation structure, it needs to be clear who makes decisions, and that nobody should have two masters, which would create a conflict of interest. Managers need good information, particularly to understand the costs of what they are doing end-to-end through their entire supply chain, which means data from outside the direct business as well.

Drucker advises again about how important objectives are, and that management by 'drives' or 'crises' is bad. He proposes a methodology for creating objectives and ensuring they are understood between senior and junior managers, and advises self-control and the importance of ensuring managers have the data they need to self-manage.

He gives advice about recruitment and building a team, particularly about knowing when a role is wrong rather than the people being put in it. He talks about innovation and entrepreneurship, and suggests some approaches to ensuring innovation is continuous. And then he gives advice on how to set up a new venture, and to ensure you are focussing clearly on the market, rather than your own preconceptions of your product.

For the individual manager, he gives advice about how to be effective, which he views as the key element to management, and spends a number of chapters teaching how to approach this. The first key is to know oneself, focussing on one's strengths and forgetting about improving other areas, understanding how one works best and structuring your work to maximise that methodology, and ensuring one works somewhere with values compatible with one's own.

He spends a long time talking about time management, and gives some fairly brutal advice on how to best do this. First by understanding how you currently use your time, then by brutally attacking it. Grouping common tasks to avoid context switching, not rushing 1:1s, and not bothering to do anything that wouldn't be missed. He advises turning recurring crises into routine, argues that spending more than 10% of your time on staffing means you have too many staff, recommends no more than 25% of time in meetings (meetings mean you are trying to gain consensus, which implies responsibility is too diffuse and should be consolidated down), and speedier access to information.

The big recommendation he makes is to consolidate discretionary time - so pushing everything that takes you away from your desk together so you can have solid long blocks of time to focus.

He explains his approach to decision making and how to communicate. And then he advises about life, and what to do with the second half of your life, which is fascinating as it's something I'd been thinking about. He says to plan ahead earlier with what you want to do next, likely outside of your main career.

The final society section seems limited in it's advice and feels more like rumination about history and the future.

However, along with all the good advice, Drucker really falls down in his presentation in a number of ways.

The book opens with an 'appreciation' - it's a gushing hero-worshiping opening which does nothing to make me like the author, and coupled with the introduction begins the thread of capitalism, small government-loving, sexist, racist, America-Centric, closed-minded and old-fashioned writing which runs through the entire book.

It feel so unnecessary to make a book about advising managers so political, taking every opportunity to denounce unions, Marxism, Liberal Arts, the left-wing, Ralph Nader, jazz, the working class, non-white people, the welfare state and socialism.

There are some very strange choices of language as well, invoking the Christian god in some places that seemed incredibly out of place, and strangely idiomatic for a book that claims to have been translated into Japanese and back.

Every chapter seems to drip with sexism - referring to managers as 'he, and increasingly she', mentioning housewives, and talking about meetings which are 'three men and a secretary'. There are a number of praising case studies around the Girl Scouts of America, but against the backdrop of sexism it feels like these have been chosen out of surprise that an organisation run by women on a voluntary basis can actually be a positive example of good business practice. Some of the sexism doesn't even seem like it's a product of the time the book was written, but just dropped in with no justification at all.

The peak has to be in chapter 22, when Drucker actually compares feminists to Hitler. It's not a good chapter and attempts to set up the 'intellectual' as the nemesis of the manager. It's written from a very manager-centric viewpoint despite claims it wants balance, and contains a massive explicit assumption that the ways of Western-society are best and will dominate forever.

So overall, the book contains good advice, but bad language and a bad world-view. I can't in good conscience recommend reading it - it was hard work, took up too much of my time, and in places made me angry.

Given another edit to bring it up to date, remove many of the unnecessary word/phrase choices, and to add more recent case studies, I could see it being a useful read.

In the meantime I suggest finding a summary of the good advice and just following that.

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A Question of Blood

A Question of Blood

20th January 2018

Deep into the Rebus series, we see the eponymous detective face a novel crime - two schoolboys murdered and another wounded - which hits close to home when he discovers one of the victims is a long lost relative.

It's quite a complex plot with a lot of different strands weaving through, and writing this a few weeks after reading it, I'm not entirely clear in the end quite how it was all wrapped up. Some of the threads are serial ones though rather than specific to this book, and I think it's fascinating how this series has evolved into something that can have continuing plot lines mixed in with the crime of the week.

The Rebus stories are currently my favourite in the crime genre, with characters that are surprisingly likeable and plots that suggest a great understanding of the realities of police work, without feeling like they’ve been particularly livened up for the purposes of telling a story, like some of the more thriller-esque crime novels that I’ve been reading.

A solid novel in a solid series that I really enjoy reading.

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I, The Constable

I, The Constable

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2nd January 2018

A third e-novella from veteran Trek experts Block & Erdmann, continuing the Ferengi theme, as Quark returns to Ferenginar following the news that his uncle has died - but when he fails to return Odo follows to investigate.

It’s a fun little story, with the interesting setup that Odo has been reading 20th century crime novels, and the book follows that structure, with Odo dropping in the odd reference now and then.

A good fun little story that I enjoyed reading. I hope the publishers can continue this e-novella mini-series going as they are beautiful little tales that really show the depth of the authors’ knowledge of and love for the series.

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The Way of Kings (part two)

The Way of Kings (part two)

2nd January 2018

The second half of The Way of Kings, the opening book of Brandon Sanderson’s epic series, feels very much like the second half of a book (which of course it is). This means that it's fast-paced, with a lot going on, and next to no introduction. It's like getting to the unputdownable part of a book from page one.

It continues the stories of three main characters, interwoven as their civilisation takes part in a massive war. One is the warlord, another a slave, and the third a con artist, but none of them quite fit into the roles that life has cast them in.

The book over both volumes is split into five sections, and different sections focus on different selections of the main characters. This is a tad frustrating in places because the reader is left for a considerable number of chapters to find out what’s happening to one of your favourites. But that’s hardly a terrible thing.

I absolutely adored this half of the book and am desperate to pick up the next one in the series.

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