Shastrix Books

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Oh Dear Silvia

Oh Dear Silvia

Dawn French

27th June 2020

I have no idea why I owned a Dawn French novel, or where or when I got it - but it was on the shelf in amongst the other F authors when I was scanning for what to read next, and so I picked it out with trepidation.

It’s actually genius storytelling - what seems like a rather odd setup, the main character is in a coma and each chapter is from the point of view of one of her hospital visitors, turns into an intriguing developing narrative that’s amusing, captivating, and weirdly heartwarming.

I felt slightly uncomfortable with some of the way the narrative was presented. Two of the characters had their accents rendered into the text, which in one case was used for almost slapstick comic effect and in the other I found hard to read, breaking the flow of the reading experience.

Overall though surprisingly great, and I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up her other novels and read them now too.

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Raven's Gate

Raven's Gate

Anthony Horowitz

27th June 2020

I’ve read most of Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series, and both his James Bond novels, so when I saw the first book of the Power of Five series on the shelf I thought I’d give it a go, and I was right to. Matt is the classic chosen one - an orphan with suspicions he has powers, living an oppressive home life that he wishes to escape from - and as always adventure ensues.

It’s a great introduction to the series, gradually revealing more about the world and the character and taking the reader to a place where they are keen to find out more from the rest of the series.

The plot moves at a good pace, with nicely proportioned chapters. It’s darker than Horowitz’s previous novels that I’ve read, with a focus on elements of horror that feel a bit like a contemporary Lovecraft, if Lovecraft wrote in a tone that was approachable and readable.

Certainly worth a read if you can cope with the horror elements, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for the rest of the series once I get back to book shops.

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The Secret of Pirates' Hill

The Secret of Pirates' Hill

Franklin W Dixon, John Almquist & Priscilla Baker-Carr

27th June 2020

The Secret of Pirates Hill feels like one of those novels where they kept the title, but in the 1960s rewrite replaced the bulk of the plot - because the hill itself feels far from the primary focus.

It’s a classic mystery for the Hardy Boys in some respects - a puzzle is brought to them by a random, they investigate around town, get roughed up a bit, learn a tiny bit about an entirely random topic, get a bit racist, and save the day.

I’ll admit that I don’t think I followed entirely some of the plot - there seemed to be some leaps in deduction that I missed, and some of the guest characters failed to be sufficiently distinct for me to work out which was which from chapter to chapter.

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Buy book: UK
The Galaxy Game

The Galaxy Game

Karen Lord

27th June 2020

I picked this book up at a discount outlet purely on the basis of the cover - I’d not heard of it nor the author before, but the blurb sounded fascinating.

Sadly I didn’t manage to get anywhere with the story. The novel opens with no sense of introduction to the universe it’s set in - throwing the reader headlong into told exposition, which felt a bit like a lecture and thus not a way that I’m good at learning things. Each chapter then repeated the same from a different character in a different setting, until the point that I gave up - unable to follow or take an interest.

I felt that I would have appreciated a softer introduction - the typical introduction to the world through a character who is learning about it for the first time, which the great worldbuilding authors do, seems to work really well for me.

So after about fifty pages, I returned the book to my shelf and moved on to find something I could better engage with and would bring me more enjoyment from reading.

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The Invisible Library

The Invisible Library

Genevieve Cogman

27th June 2020

This first novel in the Invisible Library series caught my attention in the book shop, and was on my wish list for a while until it was purchased for me as a birthday present. The book follows an adventuring librarian - a bit like an Indiana Jones of her profession, sent out into parallel worlds to retrieve books of interdimensional interest.

It’s a really fun story, with a strong point of view character, and a range of secondary characters who are intriguing as well as useful.

The plot is exceptionally paced to keep the reader’s attention - almost feeling like a game of Dungeons and Dragons in some respects - I was not surprised to learn that the author also writes adventures for role-playing games, as that’s very much how the world building, and the twists and turns of the plot, develop.

An enjoyable read, and I suspect I will at some point pick up the second book in the series too and see how things develop.

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Secret Seven Adventure

Secret Seven Adventure

Enid Blyton

27th June 2020

The second book in the Secret Seven series - a story I must have read several times as a child. Fairly safe I thought - a homely familiar tale of seven children from the 1950s (who in my head live in my grandparents’ house, despite in the narrative living on a farm).

Nope - dated in new and interesting ways - less sexism than I had expected based on the first novel. Now however into racism, playing at “Red Indians” and describing circus performers as scary when in their everyday clothes.

The datedness continued with visits to an animal-based circus, which while possibly still the norm at the time of writing felt very uncomfortable to read about today. And yet then suddenly my copy had the children using decimal currency - clearly someone has somehow decided that children won’t be able to cope with old money, despite all the other elements that have been now (or at least should be, especially in a children’s story) relegated to history.

I don’t know whether it’s worth commenting on the fact that Blyton, writing in the 1950s, has her characters walking around with badges with ‘SS’ marked on them.

The basic plot isn’t bad - it’s a solid mystery that the children get involved in and solve using their ingenuity, and there are the usual elements of tension between the children around their secret password. So it’s a shame that this is let down by the other elements of the story.

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Buy book: UK
Camino Winds

Camino Winds

John Grisham

27th June 2020

An unusual sequel from John Grisham sends us back to the world of his somewhat more-literary group of fictional authors and their bookseller patriarch, on Camino Island, Florida, as a hurricane makes its way dramatically towards them.

I was unsure how this was going to work - was there scope for a second story here? And the answer is yes, there is - and it’s sufficiently different not be a rehash of what went before, and to actually develop the characters, as well as drop in references back to the original novel and make it clear those events have not been forgotten and indeed do contribute to this story.

However I did find the book a little hard going - it felt slower paced than I was ready for, and I felt like I was forcing my way through it faster than felt natural, because I was looking forward to finding something more exciting afterward. Ideal perhaps for someone with a shorter attention span who is looking just to dip in for ten minutes every now and then, maybe while on holiday (though perhaps not to a hurricane destination).

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The Girl Who Could Move Shit With Her Mind

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