All 2019 reviews - Shastrix Books

2019

All reviews

The Fourth Man

The Fourth Man

Lee Child

1st September 2019

This short novella in the Jack Reacher universe sees the character pay a trip to Australia after his photo turns up on a hit list.

While it is brief, it kept me entertained for the length of a train journey where the lights weren’t working (preventing me from reading a paper novel) and reminded me of how enjoyable the Reacher novels are.

The plot possibly could have sustained something longer, but actually worked well as a brief bit of light reading, and could serve as a neat introduction to the series if someone wanted to dip their toe into the water.

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Grey Wolves

Grey Wolves

Robert Muchamore

1st September 2019

Grey Wolves is the fourth novel in the Cherus prequel series ‘Henderson’s Boys’, set in the early days of the youthful secret agent service during World War Two. This time, Henderson has taken a group of his young operatives to occupied France.

As usual, Muchamore’s sense of realism prevails - his are some of the most authentic books aimed at teens that I’ve read, and the historical setting provides an opportunity to describe the realities of day to day living under the Nazis that is brutal and honest.

While the main plot is pretty solid, it lacks some of the finesse of Muchamore’s earlier modern-day works, and seems a little more straightforward. The constant presence of Henderson as a main character doesn’t help, as it makes the story feel less focussed on the children. The secondary plots are far more interesting, dealing with the character interactions and the setting - although some remain fairly adult in focus.

A good book, but not one that particularly stands out within the series.

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The Rapture of the Nerds

The Rapture of the Nerds

Cory Doctorow & Charles Stross

1st September 2019

I picked this book up in a charity shop based on the title, and having read a book by one of the authors previously. It’s the tale of a neo-luddite Welshman in a technological future, who travels to attempt to put a stop to modern technology, but ends up on a complex roller-coaster ride.

I must confess to not finishing this book - I reached around halfway and realised that I didn’t find the character, the setting, or the plot interesting enough to hold my attention, and that I’d much rather move on to something else.

The narrative is aligned completely with the main character, and I didn’t engage with him - his motivation seemed unwarranted, and his focus led to a lack of explanation of the world he lived in which frustrated me. It was particularly unhelpful when he was thrown into part of the world he didn’t know either, which just left me even more lost.

I can’t recommend this.

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The Mystery of the Melted Coins

The Mystery of the Melted Coins

Franklin W Dixon, Leslie McFarlane & Andrew E Svenson

29th July 2019

This mystery is a classic of the Hardy Boys - seeing the brothers investigating several different mysteries which come along at the same time - a man with a missing memory, some counterfeit coins, and hidden treasure - but the greatest mystery might be the secret that Aunt Gertrude is keeping.

It contains all the key elements, cliffhangers, captures, Chet - that make the Hardy Boys books a pleasure to read - though a great deal of this is likely nostalgia value from reading them when I was younger.

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Knife

Knife

Jo Nesbo

29th July 2019

Book one-too-many in the Harry Hole series sees the crime hit a bit too close to home, and… well actually, I didn’t finish it.

The Hole novels have always been on the dark end of the popular crime spectrum, featuring quite graphic scenes, and a generally depressing alcoholic detective. But this one really goes too far for me.

I don’t know if it’s me, and I’ve aged or become more sensitive - or whether it’s the book and Nesbo has got darker over time - but this was definitely too far for me, and I found myself hating reading it, and unable to consume more than about three pages in a sitting. So I decided to abandon book and find something the I’d actually enjoy.

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The Mystery of the Missing Man

The Mystery of the Missing Man

Enid Blyton

29th July 2019

Book thirteen of the Five Find-Outers (and dog) was an interesting one in that I had very little memory of the plot from when I read it (probably multiple times) as a child.

The case is slightly unusual, in that it’s issued by the police, rather than being randomly uncovered by the children. The story is also unusual in introducing some quite prominent new characters into the lives of the children (who I again had no memory of) and having a lot going on that served as comic relief.

While the solution seemed obvious to me, I am most certainly not the target audience (any more) - and I think a child reading or being read the story would work it out before the reveal, which is the ideal timing for a mystery (although on second thoughts, some of the clues might be too dated for a modern youngster to get).

Probably one of the best in the series actually.

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The Real Town Murders

The Real Town Murders

Adam Roberts

29th July 2019

An unusual book - the first of Roberts’ that I’ve read - set in a future where most people live virtual lives, and only a few bother to inhabit the real world.

It’s a plausible imagining of a bureaucratic future, where the main character is first invited to investigate a suspicious death by one government department, before another asks her to stop.

While it wasn’t bad, I didn’t fall in love with it. There were hints of Jasper Fforde (who I absolutely adore) but the narrative didn’t capture my attention in the same way, and I didn’t find myself coming to care for and invest emotionally in the characters.

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The Traitor Queen

The Traitor Queen

Trudi Canavan

29th July 2019

The final novel in the series (after two trilogies and a standalone in between) wraps up the tale of Sonea and her magician friends, as they fight against a rogue, a country of slavers, and a drug problem.

I thought this was the worst book in the series. The narrative really drags, and I found it hard to keep going - my motivation at the end was purely to get to the end because it would be disappointing not to finish after seven books. I lost interest in the characters and really didn’t give a monkeys what happened to them.

I’m struggling to remember the details of the plot because I found it so un-engaging. I’ll admit I didn’t think the earlier novels were perfect, but this one was really disappointing.

It’s put me off trying more of Canavan’s novels, even though I already have another trilogy sitting on my shelf.

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A Colder War

A Colder War

Charles Cumming

29th July 2019

The second Thomas Kell novel sees the exiled former spy called back into action when his former boss suspects one of their colleagues of being a mole, leaking intelligence to Russia.

As with the first book, it really quickly grabbed my attention and was a compulsive read. There’s a lot going on, and yet the author manages to put it together in a way that’s easily readable and fun to roll along with.

I’ve really got back into spy novels recently and Cumming’s have been a big enabler of that. It’s the classic mix of exotic locations, mixing work and pleasure, and that impression of a secret world just below the surface that you can almost see out of the corner of your eye.

Another excellent story, and a series and author I will return to soon.

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The Flickering Torch Mystery

The Flickering Torch Mystery

Franklin W Dixon

22nd July 2019

The twenty-second of the original Hardy Boys series is one that I never read as a child. The brothers head off for some work experience at a local science farm, while investigating a mystery of some stolen butterflies at the place next door.

One thing that came up that surprised me was that they meant a torch in the US sense - for years I’ve been seeing the title on the list of novels and assumed it was what I would call a torch - what in the US is referred to as a flashlight. Not only disconcerting, but somewhat old fashioned I felt, given that I’ve never actually seen anyone wielding this sort of torch, whereas the other sort I could read out and grab from where I’m sat typing this.

As Hardy Boys novels go, this one was simple but classic. It contains all the top elements, along with a huge dose of coincidence. I enjoyed this quick adventure.

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The October Man

The October Man

Ben Aaronovitch

22nd July 2019

A fascinating spin-off from the Rivers of London series, this novella is set in Germany, with the German equivalent of Peter Grant starring as a trainee magical police officer, investigating crimes with mystical involvement.

It contains a number of familiar elements that clearly place it in the same universe, and the odd tip of the hat to readers of the main series - yet could easily serve as a short introduction, as there’s no prior knowledge necessary to enjoy the story, which features an investigation into a mysterious death.

What I loved the most was in the narrative. It’s written in first person, and clearly depicted as having been translated from the original German - and this comes across wonderfully in the use of German idioms. This level of attention to detail made me chuckle and enjoy the book even more.

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The Man From Barbarossa

The Man From Barbarossa

John Gardner

6th July 2019

An early nineties-based James Bond novel from continuation author John Gardner, this novel follows on from the collapse of the Soviet Union, with Bond being sent to Russia as a friend to help investigate a mysterious new terrorist group.

It’s a slightly odd product of its time. The narrative spends a fair amount of time predicting the future (though to be fair it could have been written a little after the fact) of how the political situation will unfold, which at first seems prescient but later feels sledgehammered in.

I’m not sure that Gardner really quite gets the character of Bond - the character wears a denim jacket for much of the story and I found this really hard to merge with my mental model of 007.

The plot is interesting, but falls down now for being a story that I’ve read a few times in other thrillers, and not really adding much to the basics. It doesn’t quite seem on a large enough scale for Bond until right at the end, and even then the last few chapters feel like they’ve been scribbled down in a great rush to wrap the plot up without going over a fixed word count.

So not terrible, but not one of the best.

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The Crimes of Grindlewald

The Crimes of Grindlewald

J K Rowling

23rd June 2019

This is the script of the film - which I got a while before actually seeing the movie and kept on the shelf until I’d seen it.

I actually found the script to be a better way to consume this story than the film. Somehow the plot comes out more and the spectacle in my imagination fits to that, rather than distracting from it and taking over.

The characters come across really well, and Rowling’s notes lend a little more of the original Harry Potter flavour to the writing.

Scripts aren’t to everyone’s taste, but I certainly enjoyed consuming the story in this format and fully intend to continue with the rest of the series in this medium.

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Hotel Alpha

Hotel Alpha

Mark Watson

23rd June 2019

I devoured a couple of Mark Watson’s novels before, and this one was no different. It’s the story of a hotel, but primarily of two of the regular fixtures - one the concierge who joins as a young man, and lives his life through the hotel, and the other the blind son of the hotel owner, whose education is provided by visitors to the hotel.

It’s a really interesting long-term tale of two closely related lives, with twists and side-plots and a complex inter-weaving of real-world events that help to ground the tale in reality, sometimes in a quite shocking way.

Overall very enjoyable, if a bit sad - and certainly a novel that makes the reader think quite deeply about what’s going on. Seeing the world from only two points of view means that there’s a certain amount that’s hinted at which we don’t see - and a revelation in the author’s afterword which I won’t spoil makes this even more interesting.

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The Undefeated

The Undefeated

Una McCormack

23rd June 2019

I am a big fan of Una McCormack’s tie-in novels, and so when I saw that she had written an original work I made sure to pick it up and read it immediately.

The novella tells the story of a journalist in a universe where a galactic colonial power seems to be in its end days, and through the story of her life we also see the story of the civilisation.

McCormack’s world building is excellent, with a slow reveal of more about the civilisation through an elongated flashback, and character interaction, and leaves me feeling like there are plenty of other potential opportunities to explore this world - though I didn’t feel they were lacking from this story.

Very much recommended.

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Fallen Angel

Fallen Angel

Christopher Brookmyre

23rd June 2019

Chris Brookmyre’s latest stand-alone novel is a surprisingly dark exploration of a family’s secrets, which gradually emerge over the course of a holiday in Portugal following the death of the patriarch.

The narrative is incredibly compelling, and Brookmyre has produced a text that’s so filled with mystery and intrigue that it was hard to put down. However it’s also got some pretty horrific moments, which are spread throughout, and make for quite difficult reading when you realise what’s being said.

There are multiple twists throughout, including one which had me throw down the book in delighted exasperation that it had managed to keep me going for so long.

I really enjoyed reading this and would totally recommend it, although it should probably come with appropriate trigger warnings.

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Available Light

Available Light

Dayton Ward

23rd June 2019

The latest Star Trek: The Next Generation continuation novel successfully balances two plots - one covering the ongoing events from previous novels that have rocked the Federation and a second being a stand-alone mission that the Enterprise is on.

I really enjoyed both aspects of the story. I’m a big fan of the Star Trek novels that have dealt with Federation politics, and spent time with the various presidents, and so happy to see some more of this. Ward has also crafted a lovely stand-alone story that feels like an episode of the television series, but uses the opportunity of a novel to tell a story that wouldn’t have been possible with the television technology of the 80s and 90s.

The grasp of the characters is excellent, both for those that we’ve known for decades and the newer characters who have been introduced in the novels and who get to play a large part here. They now feel as much of the family as Picard and Worf.

A great continuation novel - but probably one that requires a decent knowledge of the novels that have proceeded it going quite far back. There’s at least one more on the way for this TNG universe, and I’ll be sad if that’s the end - because the existence of a new Picard TV series may mean that this version of the Trek future is overwritten, and it’s been a fun journey.

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Suspicious Minds

Suspicious Minds

Gwenda Bond

22nd June 2019

The first novel set in the world of Netflix series Stranger Things (also the first novel I’ve ever seen where the copyright statement says “Netflix assets the right…” etc.) - this is a prequel telling the tale of a group of university students on the cusp of the Vietnam war who respond to a mysterious ad for participants in a research study.

The novel is quite spoilerific for at least the first season of the show, if not the second too - so I’d definitely recommend watching before reading.

It’s not always an easy read - some of the experiences the characters go through make for uncomfortable reading. In places the plot is quite repetitive and slow, and there were a number of times I was like ‘just get on with it’.

While it adds a little to the world of Stranger Things, I think the restriction of being a prequel and being set around an ongoing TV series is too tight to allow for a really compelling novel. I wouldn’t recommend it, and think I’m unlikely to pick up either of the subsequent novels based on the series now.

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The Truth

The Truth

Terry Pratchett

22nd June 2019

My first read through of the Discworld series was in strict publication order. Now that I’m revisiting them I’m just dipping in wherever I’m inspired, and this time I picked up The Truth after hearing Brandon Sanderson (another of my favourite authors) talking about it on a podcast.

The Truth is the tale of William de Worde, a young Lordling who has moved to the city after falling out with his father, who makes a living by writing letters to update other country gentry about what’s happening in town. That is, until a printing press forces its way into his life and he becomes the Disc’s first newspaper editor.

This to me is Pratchett’s peak era - the comedy and the parody are rich, deep and constant, and he continues to make references to the real world, while also providing a compelling and complete story. It’s entertaining on so many layers and draws the reader to keep on consuming.

Absolutely fantastic to revisit, and I’m glad I did.

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Words of Radiance

Words of Radiance

Brandon Sanderson

22nd June 2019

Book two of Sanderson’s mega epic The Starlight Archives is individually epic in itself - I’ve got the full hardback edition and carrying it around on my commute every day made for one rather full rucksack.

The story follows the lives of several ordinary citizens of a fantasy world with a rich cultural memory of past magical wars, and a rich present of military wars and political infighting - but those characters seem to be gradually drawn out and together by events, and discover that they seem to have interesting and useful abilities.

Sanderson’s ability to create cultures and worlds is amazing. I have not found a better author for creating such a multitude of compelling settings and stories to tell in them. Other authors will have a balance of compelling characters and characters whose viewpoints you just want to get over and done with, but Sanderson manages to make every character feel like you could spend an eternity seeing the world from their perspective.

This is great. I can’t wait to read book three, Oathbringer, but don’t want to rush myself as then I’ll have a long wait until book four.

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The Carpet People

The Carpet People

Terry Pratchett

22nd June 2019

One of Terry Pratchett’s earliest novels, which has lived on my shelf for many years before I’ve got around to reading it. It’s the tale of a tiny world of peoples who inhabit a carpet, and much fun is had describing the various aspects of their landscape.

While I didn’t think it had the full richness of Pratchett at his peak, its an entertaining read containing some of his usual wit and observation, and some excellent world building that leaves the reader wanting to know just a little bit more.

The plot follows a group of characters as they attempt to escape from a natural disaster that’s terrifying the populace, and they travel the carpet visiting other unusual civilisations.

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Gone for Good

Gone for Good

Harlan Coben

22nd June 2019

An early Harlan Coben novel, Gone for Good is the story of a man who has some interesting and complicated relationships, particularly following the disappearance of his brother years before.

I found it very reminiscent of the author’s Myron Bolivar novels - there are many similarities in the characters, the situations and the plot - and so reading it felt familiar and comfortable (although that’s not necessarily what I was looking for).

It’s a good story with a complex plot that keeps the reader guessing, and the characters are (mostly) likeable and have interesting lives that feed the plot. It’s not particularly believable, but that’s certainly not what I’m looking for in Coben’s work, which I’ve previously described as Hardy Boys for Grown-Ups.

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The Secret of the Crooked Cat

The Secret of the Crooked Cat

William Arden

19th May 2019

One of the classic Three Investigators stories that I remember well from reading as a child. The team set out to locate five stuffed cats, after one is stolen from them at a travelling fair.

It contains all the elements that make up the best of this series. A guest child that needs help, a bunch of creepy adults with their own agendas, and a mystery that’s just scary enough.

It’s a great tale, if a little dated now, and a thrilling adventure for the characters.

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Altered Carbon

Altered Carbon

Richard Morgan

19th May 2019

Recent TV series Altered Carbon is based on this book - though I’ve entered the world from a book-first approach, so can’t compare the two.

The story find us in a world where consciousness can be removed from one body, stored electronically, and downloaded into another - possibly on another planet. We are aligned with a character with a mixed past, who has been forced into helping to investigate an unusual crime back on Earth.

It’s a fascinating idea, and a solid science fiction novel that explores the repercussions of an interesting and just-plausible future technology. But I didn’t find the narrative compelling enough to hook me as much as I needed it to. I wanted to feel like I couldn’t put the book down, and to be excited to pick it up on my commute each day, but it didn’t manage it - and eventually felt like I was only reading to get it over with quicker.

So overall I don’t think I’ll be continuing to read the series, and I’m not inspired to start watching the TV version either.

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Worlds Turned Upside Down

Worlds Turned Upside Down

Gina McIntyre

19th May 2019

This behind-the-scenes book about Stranger Things caught my eye in the bookshop because of its artificially battered cover and attempt to look very 80s. As a teenager, I devoured works about the creation of films and TV series, from Star Trek and James Bond to Dad’s Army and Captain Scarlet. I knew pretty much immediately that I had to have it.

It’s a great telling of the story of the series, from the Duffer brothers’ upbringing, their inspirations, how they created the world, and then how it was fleshed out through both seasons (to date) by actors, designers, and all the other production creatives who work on the show.

The book is packed with photography and tiny details that make it incredibly compelling and enjoyable to read. I had to pace myself to ensure I didn’t devour it in a single sitting - allowing myself just a few pages each night alongside another book.

An excellent companion to the series and one I’m really happy to have stumbled across.

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The Memory of Blood

The Memory of Blood

Christopher Fowler

19th May 2019

Book nine for Bryant and May takes a different route than the one I had expected. The previous two novels having formed a mini-series, I was expecting this to form part three of the trilogy, but I was wrong and it stands alone.

The crime seems rather more brutal than those of previous novels, and somewhat more of the classic locked room mystery, just with the usual peculiar crime aspects bundled in - such as the apparent only suspect being a puppet of Mr Punch.

Somewhat confusingly, this isn’t the only paranormal crime novel set in London featuring Mr Punch that I’ve read this year, and I did find I needed to remind myself every so often which bits of plot belonged to which book.

It’s a good mystery though, and continues to explore the characters who work with the Peculiar Crimes Unit, and I look forward to continuing adventuring with them.

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Curtain

Curtain

Agatha Christie

19th May 2019

The final Poirot novel returns us to where his adventures began in the very first novel, and to Captain Hastings, who returns to help bookend the series. Poirot slowly reveals that there is a murderer about, and that he requires Hastings’ agility to investigate and feed him information.

It’s a compelling and classic mystery, with the typical Christie wit and classic unexpected plot twists throughout. The reveals are perhaps more frequent than usual, and it’s as if Christie has been trying to produce a definitive masterpiece for her finale publication.

It makes for sad reading, not only because of the story itself, but also as it is the end of my own adventures with Poirot, who I’ve been accompanying for the last decade. It is however a fitting end, and one that does its job of surprising me well.

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Madness is Better than Defeat

Madness is Better than Defeat

Ned Beauman

28th April 2019

I picked this book up very cheaply based on little more than the cover catching my eye. It has an interesting premise, but not one that really kept me engrossed.

It feels like it almost wants to be a Wodehousian romantic comedy, set in an era of exploration, where several well-to-do people who either know or are aware of each other are thrown into an unusual situation and have to interact while all maintaining their own agendas.

Despite a promising start, it slowed down rapidly in the middle portion of the book, to the point where I found myself not wanting to pick it up. So I put it down about halfway, and haven’t paid it another though since.

So not something I can recommend, I’m afraid.

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The Clue of the Broken Blade

The Clue of the Broken Blade

Franklin W Dixon, John Button & Richard Deming

28th April 2019

Another original (well, in the case of my copy, updated original) Hardy Boys story, which sees the brothers become involved in a particularly complicated case focussed on a story of inheritance.

There are the usual twists and turns, though some elements did seem rather too much of a coincidence, and others obvious from fairly early on.

So not one of the best, but still a nice quick relaxing revisit.

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Lies Sleeping

Lies Sleeping

Ben Aaronovitch

28th April 2019

Somehow the seventh novel in the Peter Grant / Rivers of London series, this story sees some of the ongoing plot come to a head.

As with some of the other stories, there’s a vague sense as I read it of having missed something, which makes me feel like I’ve forgotten a previous story but I think is just a reference to things that are happening ‘off camera’ in the space between the novels.

I continue to love this series, and find it hard to put the books down. The characters are compelling, bearing a rich and textured backstory that we’re still only gradually picking apart, and evolving social lives, which paint them into a wider world of magic and the mystical, while still allowing the presence of a solid plot to progress.

A series I totally recommend reading.

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The Way to the Stars

The Way to the Stars

Una McCormack

28th April 2019

The fourth novel based on the latest Star Trek series, Discovery, is the first written by a woman, and I’m slightly surprised that sums wasn’t asked to write one sooner, both because the show has made a point of focusing on its female characters and creators, and because Una is probably the best Star Trek novelist currently writing.

This book tells some backstory for the character Tilly, a cadet when we first meet her on TV, but here a high schooler. It draws on a number of character moments dropped into the series, particularly Tilly’s relationship with her mother, and creates an excellent story intertwining coming-of-age, boarding school, space adventure and much more.

My favourite of the Discovery novels so far - not the same sort of adventure as the earlier three - but much more fitting for Tilly and in keeping with McCormack’s usual trick of telling a character story that’s incredibly engrossing. A must read for anyone who loves Discovery and Tilly, and recommended for everyone else too.

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The Witness at the Wedding

The Witness at the Wedding

Simon Brett

23rd January 2019

After what feels like a couple of years I finally found this, the next book in the Fethering series - and dived back into the comfortable lives of Carole and Jude. Carole’s son is getting married - injecting a fun element of soap opera to the plot - but there are murderous goings-on amongst his future in-laws which Carole feels compelled to get to the bottom of.

Comfortable is definitely the right word for this book. Its familiarity makes for a relaxing read, and Brett manages to find new ways to take the classic murder mystery and make it really fun.

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Skyward

Skyward

Brandon Sanderson

23rd January 2019

I honestly don’t know how Brandon Sanderson can create so many amazing different worlds. This one is a new series - a science fiction tale that’s marketed as Young Adult but is frankly as suitable for any adult as any of his other works. It’s the tale of a colony defending itself against alien attack, and a teenager who wants to be a pilot in defiance of those around her.

It took me a couple of chapters to get into the swing of the novel - but from then I was completely hooked. There’s so much going on with all the distinct and complex characters - who are gradually unpicked throughout - the intrigue and mystery of the various threads of the plot, the action and adventure, the science fiction principles and world building, and the odd little teases that there’s something else going on under the surface.

It’s like a cross between Sanderson’s Rithmatist (another excellent tale about a child at a school they aren’t wanted at) and Ernest Cline’s Armada, and I absolutely loved it and am so glad that there are going to be three more books in the series.

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Masks

Masks

John Vornholt

23rd January 2019

A Star Trek: The Next Generation novel from (probably) the late 80s - set during the second season of the TV show (as evidenced by the presence of Dr Pulaski) and seeing Picard and several of his crew marooned on a planet where an old Earth colony has evolved into something resembling mediaeval Europe.

The plot is interesting and keeps moving at a good pace - there’s multiple threads going on and lots of the characters get to play. However it also feels a bit odd - there’s a visiting Ambassador who is typically troublesome, and this feels like it’s a bit of an over-used Trek trope.

John Vornholt has, following this novel, written quite a few Trek novels, several of which I’ve read - but it’s quite clear in this one that he’s in his early days of familiarity with the TNG crew. There are some elements which are clearly just things that the series hasn’t addressed yet, so they weren’t contradictions at the time of writing - but others (such as using the letters JG in ‘Lieutenant JG Worf’ as if they are the character’s initials rather than part of his rank) that wouldn’t slip through the net today.

So, not a perfect novel, and one that feels slightly dated having seen what the whole of TNG is like (well, to date) - but still an entertaining one that’s worth reading even if you aren’t a completionist.

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Shadow Wave

Shadow Wave

Robert Muchamore

23rd January 2019

The final novel in Robert Muchamore’s original Cherub series is a bit different (this seems to be a trend in this sort of young adult series actually). James, now 17, has a little more agency and decides to refuse a mission on moral grounds - and creates a mission of his own instead.

It’s a great twist actually, and wraps James’ story up quite nicely in a way that concludes the long arc that we’ve followed as readers since he was much younger. The book retains some of the key elements from earlier stories, revisits a lot of the important characters, and is full of the usual action, and realism, that I’ve come to expect.

I really enjoyed this adventure and am quite disappointed that this main series has come to an end - despite the knowledge that there are already two spin-off series, one of which I’ve already begun reading.

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Five Children and It

Five Children and It

E Nesbit

23rd January 2019

I first read this book many years ago, and recall vaguely a television series based on it. I was inspired to pick it back off the shelf after I’d been discussing it with some colleagues. It’s the tale of a family of children, who with their mother and servants, retire to stay in a somewhat dilapidated house in the countryside, near a disused quarry.

There are a number of what I think of as nods to the adults that I suspect the author believes to be reading to the intended youthful audience, but much of the backstory that might interest an adult is skipped over in favour of the adventure. There’s certainly a dated element to it - I suspect a lot would not be identify-with-able for today’s young audience without having to set some of the historical context (but I could be wrong) - and this is true of the narration as well as the content.

I’m not entirely sure what the point of the book is - it’s clearly not strictly educational, but I’m also not convinced there’s much of a morality tale to it beyond explaining the law of unintended consequences. Perhaps it is indeed just a fun adventure - which it still is, just about.

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Past Tense

Past Tense

Lee Child

23rd January 2019

The latest in the long series of Jack Reacher novels sees the ex-Army nomad wandering America when he spots the hometown of his father - and in an uncharacteristic bout of nostalgia he decides to have a look around. Turns out that things aren’t as they seem.

The book seems to have two parallel storylines that only really interact by virtue of being in the same place at the same time, and both involving the same character. Okay, this description makes them sound quite connected, but thematically they don’t seem linked and the two plots don’t seem to tie together particularly well - it’s almost like two shorter stories glued together.

However it’s not a bad adventure, and I quite enjoyed the mystery aspects and trying to guess what was going on. I think I worked out one of the major reveals quite early on, but I certainly missed some of the clues and didn’t get everything right.

A perfectly serviceable entry in the series despite the slight disjointedness.

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Rin, Tongue and Dorner

Rin, Tongue and Dorner

Rich Shapero

23rd January 2019

A weird book that I was leant by a friend. It follows the life of an engineer in a post-apocalyptic society, where people live on islands under domed habitats kept warm in a snowball earth scenario by massive, temperamental generators. It’s a fascinating setting and has the potential to make for a really interesting story - but unfortunately this isn’t that story.

The narrative focusses on the engineer Dorner as he falls in love with Rin and is affected by a voice in his head called Tongue. After a quantity of sex and weirdness, the narrative descends into a chaotic mess of fire that I struggled to follow or maintain any interest in.

I’m afraid I don’t think I got it - I wasn’t entertained, and only really made myself keep reading to the end so that I could provide adequate feedback to my friend. Not recommended.

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The Reckoning

The Reckoning

John Grisham

23rd January 2019

2018’s John Grisham novel is an interesting blend of his earlier and later styles. We start out with the traditional courtroom drama setup - we find out what happened, who’s who, what the lawyers are up to, and end up in court. But this book also gives us something else - a lot more back story than I was expecting, and a lot more forestory (if that can be a thing).

It’s fascinating to see a bit more of the story than just the court case - and to dig in and try to understand things in a bit more detail. That said, there’s a large chunk of the novel that feels a bit like ‘John Grisham was learning recently about this historical event and now wants to tell you about it’, and it’s very dark and very grim - possibly the hardest thing to read that he’s written, which is quite a thing for an author whose previous works have included executions.

In the end, I don’t think I really liked this story - it’s too unpleasant in the choice of subject matter to be entertaining, and turned into more of a history lesson than a story. I don’t think I can bring myself to recommend it because of this.

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The Naming of the Dead

The Naming of the Dead

Ian Rankin

23rd January 2019

Book sixteen of Rebus, and this time he’s investigating a crime that nobody else seems to care about, because the victim was a criminal himself.

I found the setting of this book really interesting - it’s set around the G8 summit at Gleneagles in 2005, and so the plot of the novel is weaved around real-life events taking place there, with guest appearances by world leaders and the characters lives being shown to be influenced by the events happening both there and elsewhere in the country that week.

The way that Rankin manages to add touches like this to his stories that make each one unique in some way adds to the whole experience for me, and I often feel compelled to pick up his novels when I’m wondering what to read next.

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Tao Zero

Tao Zero

Poul Anderson

13th January 2019

I’m not usually a big reader of hard science fiction, and so felt slightly nervous about picking this off the shelf. It’s the story of a deep space colony ship - sent out to try to find a new planet and home for a post-nuclear humanity - a ship that will travel so fast it will experience time dilation to the extent that there is no going back.

Anderson (who I had for some reason incorrectly thought was a woman) has put together a rich world for his characters to leave behind - with some fascinating titbits dropped into the backstory before the plot moves out into space. Really, the story is about the collective group of people aboard his spacecraft, and how they interact and cope with the situations that the universe throws at them.

However it very much seems like it’s about the collective and not the individuals - which made the book feel dated. More recent stories seem to focus more on individual characters, their feelings and thoughts, whereas the community feels more important in this now-older novel.

I don’t think I can go as far as to say I enjoyed reading it. It was interesting, and the mechanics and details of the story were well plotted out, but it felt academic and distant.

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The Moscow Sleepers

The Moscow Sleepers

Stella Rimington

13th January 2019

The tenth Liz Carlyle novel sees the increasingly senior MI5 officer back in contact with a Russian source, who points her in the direction of a complex plot against the UK and its allies. There’s quite a lot going on across multiple countries and it’s interesting to see how the author balances these in a way that doesn’t affect the flow of the narrative.

I enjoyed seeing some more of the relationships between the recurring characters - it’s been quite fun seeing how they’ve grown since the early novels, and unlike some authors they haven’t been left as recurring stereotypes in each episode.

One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about this series, which continues here, is the realism - there’s no sense of the overly dramatic - instead the tension is applied through the subtle believability and the authentic way that the author portrays the goings on in the shadows - there’s no sense in reading it that the events couldn’t actually have happened.

Another solid entry in the series, and I look forward to more to come.

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Lies of the Beholder

Lies of the Beholder

Brandon Sanderson

13th January 2019

The third and final novella in the Legion series sees our main character beset by problems when one of his aspects - hallucinations that represent part of his own mental faculties - goes missing, and he’s forced to face another absent person from his history.

It’s been quite a while since I read the first two books in the trilogy, so my memory of the story so far was patchy, but I was soon back into the swing of things and gripped to what ends up being quite a complex narrative, which must have required an extensive set of notes to keep track of while writing, despite the short length.

I’m not sure though that it entirely works - I think the first book was the best in the series, and it feels a little bit like the latter pair were follow-ups that exist for closure rather than because there was a story waiting to be told. Regardless, it’s incredibly impressive how dedicated and disciplined Sanderson must be to keep up the levels of output he does, and I’m very grateful for all I get to read - one day I might even catch up!

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Barren

Barren

Peter V Brett

13th January 2019

The fourth short story from the world of the Demon Cycle - this time focussing on relationships between some of the minor characters from the series, and showing how their world and culture has evolved over time, neatly paralleling changes in the real world.

It was a nice chance to revisit this series after I read the conclusion of the main narrative earlier in 2018. My memory of the characters that appear here was a little sketchy, but that didn’t stop my enjoyment.

I hope that this is a sign that there will be some more trips into this world, but failing that I remain excited to see what Brett’s mind brings us readers next.

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Lethal White

Lethal White

Robert Galbraith

13th January 2019

The fourth book in the Cormoran Strike series returns us to the office of the London private detective and his partner Robin. The plot is so complex that it’s hard to find a sentence to describe it - there are so many interconnected threads of the possible crime that Strike is asked to investigate, and simultaneously we follow the private lives of the two detectives as they also increase in complexity.

I think the mystery is excellent, and frequently I had to pause and review what I’d learnt from the text and revise my mental model of what was going on and who I suspected. The lives of the main characters however seem to suffer from the trope of not talking to one another - and being a bit more open and communicative might have shaved a few chapters of angst off the book.

I really love this series and am glad of this new book - hopefully it won’t be too many years until these characters can return and I can find out what happens next.

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Darius the Great is Not Okay

Darius the Great is Not Okay

Adib Khorram

13th January 2019

I was lent this book by a friend, sold to me on the interesting premise of a young Trekkie who is visiting Iran for the first time. Naturally it is actually vastly more complex and interesting than that.

Darius is a young Iranian-American kid who has never visited his maternal grandparents, but now the time has come as his family are off on a daunting trip to Iran. The story is a great way to share another culture with the reading audience who can go along with Darius as he learns new things and experiences a culture he has only really heard about in the past.

But the book is far deeper than that - the author has managed to pack in so many different life experiences into one relatively short novel that it’s hard to tell if I even noticed all the overlapping layers that are going on in Darius’ life. I really enjoyed reading it and learning, I feel, quite a lot about a number of possible experiences.

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