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Well Done, Secret Seven

Well Done, Secret Seven

Enid Blyton

24th July 2020

The third Secret Seven novel felt exceptionally weak to me.

It’s clearly aimed at a younger audience than the Five Find-Outers novels that I’ve read more recently, but this story in particular seemed to spend all of its focus on setting, and very little on plot.

The characters barely do any detective work, and almost everything just happens around them, or happens by mechanism of talking to parents. The story doesn’t live up to that in the previous two stories.

It feels slightly less dated though - there’s still some sexism and classism, but the sexism is at least partly challenged.

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The Collapsing Empire

The Collapsing Empire

John Scalzi

24th July 2020

Oh wow. Recently I’ve been a bit slower at reading - the mindless drudgery of lockdown having sapped my enthusiasm and attention span - but this book was very different.

I’ve read Scalzi before, but this was me dipping my toe into what I worried might be a bit harder sci-fi and thus outside my comfort zone. I was wrong though.

This is a novel about people - realistic and believable people - living in a space empire that’s clearly allegorical, and yet living lives that are compelling and which made me, for possibly the first time in the over ten years I’ve been tracking my reading, want to immediately read the next book in the series and find out what’s going to happen to them next.

I loved many things about this novel - the characters, the worldbuilding, the plot, the allegory, the details that are crafted so as to give the reader flexibility in interpretation. Superb.

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The Ghost at Skeleton Rock

The Ghost at Skeleton Rock

Franklin W Dixon, James D Lawrence & Priscilla Baker-Carr

24th July 2020

Deep into the original run of the Hardy Boys novels, Skeleton Rock starts well - with a classic new hobby for Chet, a hometown mystery, and a collection of surprising family-owned vehicles.

But later on it falls down a bit, as the brothers head off someone remote, and get involved with yet another group of indiginous people to represent in a stereotypical and offensive way.

A mediocre entry in the series.

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The Constant Rabbit

The Constant Rabbit

Jasper Fforde

24th July 2020

I am a big fan of Jasper Fforde’s work, and so have been looking forward to this ever since I heard the intriguing title. It’s a coincidentally well timed novel being released in 2020, but clearly inspired by some of the real world events and politics of the past few years.

Anthropomorphic rabbits have, through means comedically unexplained, come to live in the UK alongside the human population. The rabbits seem quite happy about this, but a number of the humans don’t really think they should be in their village.

Fforde uses the vehicle of comedy to tell a story that shines a quite blatant light on some of the absurdities of modern society. There’s not a lot of subtlety going on with the allegory - although the humour has some.

I really enjoyed reading this. The world-building is weaved cleverly in as usual - I think of Fforde’s world’s as just the smallest nudge away from our own, and this one’s nudge clearly starts “What if rabbits…” and ends up putting a big mirror in front of our society. But despite the seriousness of the subject matter, the tone is often light, the humour omnipresent, and the things that go unsaid are also perfect.

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The Girl Who Could Move Shit With Her Mind

The Girl Who Could Move Shit With Her Mind

Jackson Ford

24th July 2020

I’ll admit that a great deal of what attracted me to this book when I saw it for sale was the title. Typically novels can only get away with titles like this if the publisher really believes in the author, and so it felt like a strong bet.

The idea seems straightforward - there’s a woman who has psychokinetic abilities, she works for the US government doing secret missions. But it all becomes more complex as we discover some more of the backstory, and things of course start to go wrong, because otherwise this wouldn’t be a novel.

I found the first half of the story fairly slow going. It’s slightly odd in that the chapters felt cliffhangery in their endings, and yet my instinct at the end of each chapter was to put the book down and do something else. To be fair to this book, it’s not the only one thats had that effect, so it’s possibly more to do with lockdown than the content.

The second half however I raced through, eyes wide in slight horror as I learnt more and more. There are definitely some uncomfortable moments as the plot develops which I felt awkward reading.

Overall, it was okay - good enough that I’ll look out for the sequel when I’m next able to wander around bookshops.

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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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