Shastrix Books

Recently reviewed

A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea

Ursula K Le Guin

25th May 2020

As a child I received a book titled The Earths Quartet as part of a Christmas or Birthday present, but never found the time nor inclination to read it. Having no idea what happened to that copy, when as an adult I saw the same tales, now rather more mundanely titled “The First Four Books”, I picked it up and intended to actually read it. Cut to some time later… and in my lockdown-inspired reading order I picked it off the shelf, and began this, the first of the four stories.

In which we meet a young boy who accidentally reveals a talent for magic, and is brought to meet the appropriate authorities to be educated. Only he’s a tad too keen, and does something perhaps he oughtn’t… leading to a plot.

I did not particularly find this tale to be my cup of tea. It reminds me a little of John Grisham’s legal thrillers - in the sense that the narrative is very factual and event based. There’s a lot of descriptive language used about the world, but very little personality and focus on the character. I feel like my reading brain is much more in tune with something presented in the manner of Harry Potter - where I’m placed inside the character’s head and able to follow alone emotionally - than this, which felt much more movie-like and third-person.

The language feels dated and very formal, and I found this off-putting. My mind would very easily drift away, despite my eyes continuing to scan the page, and for a relatively short tale I found myself almost every chapter having to turn back pages to work out where I’d stopped absorbing the meaning of the words I was scanning.

I’m not sure that if I’d attempted reading this as a child I would even have got to the end of the first book without giving up, and as an adult I can’t say I’m particularly minded to continue on to the second adventure. I’m looking for stories to relax me and fill my days, and this was overall too hard going for the job I wanted it to do.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty StarEmpty Star
The Secret Seven

The Secret Seven

Enid Blyton

24th May 2020

Having completed my adult revisitation to Enid Blyton’s Five Find-Outers series, I turned next to the Secret Seven, which had been my second-favourite of the prolific author’s mystery series as a child.

This first book sets up the group, introduces the main characters and sets them off on their first adventure.

I was slightly surprised by how different it feels to the other series - this is clearly aimed at a younger audience, and uses simpler language, is shorter (barely 100 pages) and the plotting and mystery more straightforward (there is so much blatant foreshadowing that I don’t think anyone of any age wouldn’t spot the twist coming).

The gender roles feel very dated right from the start, and this is I suspect going to be a recurring feature as I make my way through the 15 stories, but I can always hope…

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Buy book: UK
The Unsettling Stars

The Unsettling Stars

Alan Dean Foster

24th May 2020

Eleven years after the 2009 Star Trek film, the first spin-off novel aimed at an adult audience has finally appeared (it was written back then, but then shelved by the publisher for a decade).

I’ll admit, it took me a little while to get into. I’m not usually a big Original Series reader, but thought that I’d have to give this a go given I’ve seen the three contemporary movies. For the most part, it feels like a good fit for the parallel universe characters we saw in their first film outing, although Scotty felt off, and there were some aspects of the inside of Kirk’s head that I wasn’t convinced gelled with the version of him in my head.

I think I struggled on two other related counts. Alan Dean Foster is a noted writer of numerous genres, including Science Fiction - and this felt a little bit too Science Fictiony for me. Almost a bit too old-Trek-novel too, and not quite fitting with the tone I feel I get from most modern Trek novels. He’s also a fan of describing aliens - and this also doesn’t connect with my imagination in the right way - I’m much more connected I feel to thought and emotion than physical, visual description, and I think Foster perhaps is wired the other way.

The plot is fairly solid, although perhaps a bit too simple in places. Perhaps this is by design, hoping to attract a new audience as did the 2009 film - but to me it felt like some events were too obvious coming, and some twists thus fell flat.

I’m interested to see what the second book from the same situation comes out like later in the year - that one is by David Mack, whose Trek novels on the whole I have personally found more targeted at my tastes.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Buy book: UKUSBuy ebook: UK
Research

Research

Philip Kerr

24th May 2020

This is the first novel by Philip Kerr that I’ve read, and I’m not entirely sure I remember where I found it or why, but it’s been staring at me from my bookshelf for multiple months and last week happened to be where I was looking when I wanted a new book to read.

The cover describes it as a thriller, and I suppose I agree - the story follows a former ghost writer, who’s former employer is the chief suspect in the case of the murder of his wife… and the plot is fairly convoluted in several ways.

Novels about writers are often fun, and that’s true of this one - with a lot made of the group of authors that appear and their various foibles. It almost feels a little bit Inceptiony as the characters discuss the plots of their own stories.

The highlight for me is the occasional choice of phrase that Kerr drops in - a random observation or way of describing something that comes totally out of the blue, and is surprisingly delightful - it’s almost Terry Pratchetteque, although here only maybe six times through the novel rather than every second paragraph.

Overall though, I don’t think I was quite impressed enough to add Kerr to my list of authors I seek out - I’m not a massive thriller reader, and I found the developing story slightly frustrating. Don’t get me wrong, it’s far from the levels of frustration I feel when reading Jeffrey Deaver, but it’s a tiny step along the same irritation spectrum.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
The Hooded Hawk Mystery

The Hooded Hawk Mystery

Franklin W Dixon, Charles Strong & Priscilla Baker-Carr

24th May 2020

I’ve been rapidly making my way through the Hardy Boys original series during lockdown, and this one seemed like a solid entry.

The boys are mysteriously gifted a Peregrine Falcon, and of course find a way to make use of it to solve a mystery. It’s interesting that its them that gets a new hobby, as that has traditionally been the role of Chet through the series so far.

It’s much more of the classic vein, and partly that’s probably true in my head because it’s one that I read as a child - but it’s based in Bayport, involves lots of the common elements, and feels slightly educational too.

There are a couple of aspects that are a bit dated and likely wouldn’t be included in a novel aimed at the same target audience today, particularly around animals and hunting. There’s also some dated language that today would be correctly interpreted as racism - if not for the fact that the terms in question have died out and so many readers wouldn’t even understand what they meant.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Meddling Kids

Meddling Kids

Edgar Cantero

23rd May 2020

I saw this book in the shops and was immediately intrigued by the concept. I was a massive reader of the sort of fiction it is pastiching as a kid - consuming the Hardy Boys, Three Investigators, all the Enid Blyton groups of child mystery-solvers, and more - and have been revisiting some of them as an adult. So how could I resist this, the story of what happens when the child detectives grow up and return to the scene of their childhood investigations.

It makes an excellent start - introducing the reader to a cast of characters who feel instantly familiar, and dropping joking references to Nancy Drew, the Famous Five, and I’m sure many I didn’t pick up on all over the place. There’s some deep reflection on what effect that sort of childhood might have had on them, and this leads into the plot…

Which is not quite what I was expecting, as it moves into something that has much more of a horror movie vibe than I was expecting. Perhaps drawing more on Scooby Doo than some of the tales I was familiar with. And I think that’s where it started to lose my attention, as there became less of a mystery to solve and more of a problem to escape from.

The narrative contains some odd choices of phrase which had me stumped - I can’t tell whether these are expressions of the author’s creation, or weird side-effects of his bilingual authorship and they are commonly known phrases that just don’t exist in my first language.

Overall - not quite what I was expecting all the way though, though still an interesting concept.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Oathbringer

Oathbringer

Brandon Sanderson

23rd May 2020

The third epic novel in the epic series to end all epic series. I’ve been averaging a book every two to three days this year, sometimes faster during lockdown. This however took me five weeks - it’s 1200 pages long and handily divided into five parts, after each of which I needed a break of three shorter books just to let my arms recover enough to keep holding it up.

Beyond the length and weight, there is nothing I can find to criticise in this. As with many of Sanderson’s works, it features a rich mix of characters, some old, some new, some mysterious, some well known, and a world that keeps peeling back layer after layer to discover more and more of the tapestry he has crafted with words.

The are some vague hints of the Wheel of Time - with the theme of history repeating itself - but only vague, and the story is a constant delight and surprise.

I’m amazed by Sanderson’s mind and how he manages to construct these epics, and looking keenly forward to the fourth volume later this year.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled Star
Show more

Reading now

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Reading soon

  1. White Sand volume two
  2. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes