All 2022 reviews - Shastrix Books

2022

All reviews

The Cliff House

The Cliff House

Christopher Brookmyre

3rd September 2022

Chris Brookmyre’s latest novel is a bit overwhelming at first - introducing a lot of characters very quickly, who make up the party going for a hen weekend on a remote Scottish island.

Once I’d got my head around the cast though the plot moves at a fantastic pace and the intrigue flows throughout the rest of the text, which I devoured very quickly.

The classic Brookmyre feel is here, though the structure is a bit different. Finding out the characters’ backstories is key, but that’s dripped throughout, rather than taking half the book to get through before the action kicks in.

I had so many thoughts and ideas of what the secrets might be, and am glad not to have been totally caught out by the end. A really great fun modern mystery.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled Star
Skyward Flight

Skyward Flight

Brandon Sanderson & Janci Patterson

3rd September 2022

Sunreach

A shorter step back into Brandon Sanderson's Skyward series with this first of three novellas co-authored by Janci Patterson, focussed on secondary characters who don't get focus time in the main novels.

This one follows FM, a pilot, as she goes about her daily business of flying battles and investigating slugs, roughly in parallel to the third main novel.

It took me a few chapters to get back into the swing of the universe, but once there I was just as, if not more, hooked by the narrative. There's a subtly different tone to the writing I think which makes it easier to read, less choppy perhaps, and I'm not sure whether this is because of the shared authorship or a deliberate stylistic choice because of the change of focus character.

It'll be really interesting to see how the subsequent two novellas compare.

ReDawn

The second of Patterson and Sanderson's novellas set in this universe, we follow the story from a new cultural point of view.

As well as providing a new insight into known characters and factions, this provides for a fascinating bonus piece of world-building as we see an alien culture up close with many differences from the humans we've otherwise spent time with.

The plot surprised me this time by feeling far more integral to the overall storyline of the series. I was expecting these novellas to just be supplementary, but this really feels like it's necessary reading, and that everything here is going to come to affect the final novel.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
The Final Strife

The Final Strife

Saara El-Arifi

3rd September 2022

This first book in a new trilogy, heavily marketed to me by the publisher, opens in the classic fantasy fashion of throwing a bunch of terminology at me without fully explaining it. While this can be a bad sign, in this case it was not, and I was soon absolutely hooked.

It’s a rich and fascinating world that El-Arifi has created, with layer upon layer of complexity which peeks through to the reader, sometimes more than to the characters, and hints of so much more to come.

There is a strong theme of equality running through, obviously being parallels to classism, racism, and slavery. But there’s also a lot of the world that in other ways is very tolerant and diverse - covering LGBTQ+ and disabilities, making sure that despite the focus of the man plot, there is broad representation in this world.

The book is rich in themes, and centres on friendship, family, and duty. I imagine that every reader will be able to pick out their own unique empathies within the text.

The marketing team did their job well matching me to this book, and I’m now waiting to get my hands on more by this author as soon as it’s available.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled Star
The Apollo Murders

The Apollo Murders

Chris Hadfield

3rd September 2022

I’ve had this book on my shelf for a while and been nervous to start it. I’m not usually a huge thriller reader any more, but the appeal of an actual astronaut author overruled that in this case.

This is the story of a militarised Apollo 18 mission, an eighth moon mission from Nasa. And it’s quite well done. There’s a good mix of fictional main characters with real people who worked on the space programme at the time, and the characters are well rounded and built out, and full of interesting things to learn.

The plot is outlandish but in no way unbelievable. There’s quite a lot to set up the action, but it’s not unlike many other novels in the genre.

I did feel much more engaged through the middle part of the novel. The structure reminds me of Star Trek IV (“the one with the whales”), in which the middle of the film was written by a different screenwriter from the ends. In is case the parts of the story which occur in space were gripping much more than those parts on earth, and I wonder if this is because of that connection to the real space experience of the author. It’s reminiscent of the Apollo 13 movie in some respects, particular that realism feeling around the interactions between astronauts and their mission control.

The one stylistic choice that I found took me out of the narrative is that at moments of high tension, it switches out of the fast paced action to spend paragraphs on really technical detail before concluding the action. I think this is meant to heighten the suspense, but for me it just feels like glorifying something unnecessary instead of keeping the focus on the story.

Overall though, really impressed, and would totally read another novel by Hadfield.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Wipeout

Wipeout

Franklin W Dixon

12th August 2022

The Hardy brothers head to the south of France (where it seems everybody speaks English in 1989) to help an old friend who is entering a windsurfing competition.

It’s quite in the style of a classic whodunnit, with a house full of guests, lots of suspects, and lots of motives. The boys even go a bit Poirot setting up schemes to help unmask the villain.

Not a bad adventure at all.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Danger on the Air

Danger on the Air

Franklin W Dixon

12th August 2022

The Hardy brothers take part in an explosive TV show in their 95th adventure.

The series feels like it’s back on an educational journey in the late 80s, with plots seemed designed to teach readers, in his case about how TV is made and the various technologies involved.

The plot is complex, with a good range of characters, suspects, and motives, but I’m not sure is given quite enough information up front to make it meet the true criteria of a mystery story.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Breakdown in Axeblade

Breakdown in Axeblade

Franklin W Dixon

12th August 2022

The Hardy brothers head off to Wyoming in their van, which promptly breaks down, abandoning them in the weird town of Axeblade.

The novel feels weirdly like a proto-Lee Child/Jack Reacher thriller, as the boys meet the locals who are varying levels of unfriendly, and work out the mystery of the town.

It’s an odd entry in the series, but not terrible.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
The Serpent's Tooth Mystery

The Serpent's Tooth Mystery

Franklin W Dixon

12th August 2022

The Hardy Boys are drawn into another case when their friend Phil is accused of snake theft.

It’s an interesting setup that provides a bunch of interesting snake information, but the investigation is a bit simplistic and chaotic.

I’m not much liking the trend in these late 80s novels of aggression against the boys and their friends, nor that Chief Collig seems to have changed his attitude towards the boys with the introduction of Con Riley as the sympathetic cop.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
The Shadow Killers

The Shadow Killers

Franklin W Dixon

12th August 2022

When Frank’s karate instructor is attacked, he and Joe start an investigation which puts themselves against one of the world’s biggest criminal operations.

The plot in some respects is unrealistically big for the two brothers, and that made it feel unlikely.

There’s a good set of guest characters though, including a teenage girl who is possibly the most authentic female character to have appeared in the 92 novels so far. But this does feel like it’s at the expense of Chet, who in recent novels seems to have been sidelined and has lost both his place as comic entertainment and as useful hobbyist.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Shield of Fear

Shield of Fear

Franklin W Dixon

12th August 2022

The Hardy brothers become police cadets in this investigation into why another cadet is being bullied.

It’s an interesting entry in the series. Seems a little more mundane than those immediately preceding it, more like some of the older novels. Nothing special about it though really.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Danger on the Diamond

Danger on the Diamond

Franklin W Dixon

12th August 2022

The Hardy Boys face their 90th mystery when spending their summer at a baseball camp where things are going wrong. I vaguely remember reading this one, I think from the local library, as a child.

The mystery is a bit dull, but the action has been turned up to eleven with fights and car chases and all sorts of danger all around.

The characterisation of some of the boys friends seems a bit off though. Biff Hooper seems to have turned really aggressive with no real reason, which was a bit of a turn off after so many years of all the kids being perfect.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty StarEmpty Star
The Sky Blue Frame

The Sky Blue Frame

Franklin W Dixon

1st August 2022

In what I remember as one of my favourite Hardy Boys adventures, the brothers are hired to run a mystery weekend at a nearby hotel, only to find themselves investigating a real crime too.

It’s a relatively simple story, told over just 16 chapters and in surprisingly large type in my copy. But simple is good, and it remains a very enjoyable and different adventure, with almost none of the problematic elements that were still evident in the novels of this era.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Buy book: UK
The Burning Man

The Burning Man

Christopher Fowler

1st August 2022

I never know quite what I’m going to get from a Christopher Fowler novel. There’s a sense in my mind that he can write really good horror and really good comedy - and that the Bryant & May series moves around both those spaces.

This feels one of the darker B&M novels, with some brutal scenes throughout as the protagonist works through their scheme and our heroes attempt to work out what’s happening.

The character moments also feel emotionally down in this novel, with age clearly catching up with them, and expectations of the world not aligning with their wants.

It is another good mystery, but I think the overall tone is a bit bleaker than I prefer, and I hope that the subsequent novels might resume that slightly more jolly feel.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Threadneedle

Threadneedle

Cari Thomas

1st August 2022

Cari Thomas debut novel about a young witch growing up in London under the slightly too careful watch of her aunt provides everything necessary in a modern fantasy novel - world building, character, mystery, and adventure.

The world is slowly revealed to us layer by layer, without needing to paint all the detail but with hints that there is plenty more to discover. The characters are rich and varied and fascinating to find out more about, and particularly to see the main children evolve and grow their own understandings of the world they inhabit.

The plot is not overly complex, but felt a bit unbalanced in terms of how much of it came right at the end of the novel, and I think my brain is still digesting all the things that happened there.

I’ve already bought the follow up novella, and recommended this book to friends. So I look forward to reading more from Thomas in the future.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility

Jane Austen

3rd July 2022

Over 200 years late to the party and I’m finally inspired to try out Jane Austen. I chose Sense & Sensibility primarily because there was already a copy of my bookcase which had appeared for some random relative at some time or another.

My first reaction is that it’s much longer than I had anticipated, some 50 very densely packed chapters, and so reading it took a lot more effort than I had been expecting.

The language is for the most part very formal. Austen’s characters don’t use one word where a page of speech without paragraph breaks would do. The punctuation is wild, breaking up epic sentences which span line after line in tiny three word chunks, leaving very little opportunity to breathe while reading aloud, and often meaning I struggled to follow the flow of the thought being conveyed.

It took me some time to get my head around the characters. The mixture of surnames and forenames to refer to the same people was part of this, plus the duplicity of people with the same title-surname combinations. There were places, especially early on, where I was unable to follow who was speaking. In fact there is one exchange which felt deliberately vague about who was participating.

I often found myself wondering as I read about Elinor and Marianne’s romantic endeavours, what their younger sister Margaret was up to, for she gets barely a mention for most of the narrative. I would recall Richmal Crompton’s William stories, in which the youngest of three siblings would have fantastic adventures while the older two pursued various romances. I like to think that Margaret was having great adventures in the countryside while Austen wasn’t watching.

While it probably was finding out what all the fuss was about, I don’t come away with any intent to spend my time reading Austen’s other novels. This was enough.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty StarEmpty Star
Murder Before Evensong

Murder Before Evensong

Richard Coles

3rd July 2022

Rev Richard Coles adds mystery novelist to his annoyingly long list of talents with this tale of a crime solving rector in a village church in the late 1980s.

The world building is rich and really fun - setting up the village with the classic set of characters, getting fascinating insights into the life of a CofE rector, and seeing all the little conflicts that arise.

However for the actual plot I felt that the book suffered from having too many characters. There were a lot of suspects and I found it quite hard to keep track of who each one was, how they related to all the others, and thus couldn’t follow the mystery as well as I would have liked.

This of course will in no way prevent me from reading book two next year.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
The Sanctuary

The Sanctuary

Andrew Hunter Murray

3rd July 2022

Andrew Hunter Murray’s second novel explores a very different post-apocalyptic future to the first, but still one inspired by the damage caused to society and the planet by climate change and billionaires.

It’s the tale of one man’s quest to reconnect with his fiancée, but turns into much more of a discovery of what’s really going on in the world and it’s future.

I found the pace a bit slow going in places. And yet in others hard to keep across how much time was passing in the story. The attitudes of the main character felt like they changed on a pinhead, and I felt a bit alienated by the lack of focus.

Ultimately I’m not sure what to think. It’s a good idea, but didn’t really grip me enough in the detail.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Victory Disc

Victory Disc

Andrew Cartmel

3rd July 2022

The Vinyl Detective’s third adventure is triggered by the discovery of an ancient record from WW2, and the appearance of the daughter of a band member, who hires him to find more.

It’s another really strong tale, hilarious throughout, but especially the opening chapter, which I unusually read aloud and couldn’t get through without giggling.

The plot is a bit complex but keeps moving at a good pace, bringing together familiar characters and new and developing the investigation in a great fun way. I can’t believe nobody’s done a TV version of this series yet as it would work really well.

Love it. Looking forward to more, as I bought books three, four, and five together.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled Star
With A Mind to Kill

With A Mind to Kill

Anthony Horowitz

26th June 2022

Anthony Horowitz returns to the world of James Bond for a third and final time, on this outing giving us a view of Bond late career, following the last of Fleming’s original novels.

As before, the author is able to successfully emulate Fleming’s style - though I suspect that this might mean the tale doesn’t appeal too well to readers more used to modern thrillers, as this style is quite slow and cerebral compared to later tastes for fast paced action.

However unlike before, I’m janitor convinced that Horowitz has managed to quite balance the Fleming with a more modern viewpoint, with some aspects of story and character coming across as a bit too Fleming in their attitudes towards women.

Overall though a satisfying end to the Horowitz trilogy, and one that gives a deeper sense of character to Bond at least than I think I’ve seen in along time. I’m intrigued next to see what the next author, Kim Sherwood, will bring to the series.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Tricky Business

Tricky Business

Franklin W Dixon

26th June 2022

Another story in the mid-80s revamp of the Hardy Boys sees the brothers investigating a pyramid scheme exploiting teenagers in Bayport.

The plot is quite an interesting one, with a lot going on and lots to investigate.

The increased richness of the world continues, with lots of the incidental characters gaining more of their own social lives. This does however lead to a slightly suspect aspect of the story which is that loads of the familiar characters the boys might turn to for help are on holiday at the moment.

One of the biggest changes though is that when Chet is fat-shamed by another character, it’s portrayed as a really bad thing to do - totally reversing the attitude of the books from now long earlier.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Programme for Destruction

Programme for Destruction

Franklin W Dixon

26th June 2022

A surprisingly interesting mid-80s Hardy Boys adventure.

The brothers are hired to investigate sabotage at a company making computerised cars, with some surprisingly prescient examples of voice interfaces.

It’s a bit wild for the time period, but holds up pretty well and probably could be translated to a modern setting with minimal tweaks.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Buy book: UK
The Mystery of the Silver Star

The Mystery of the Silver Star

Franklin W Dixon

4th June 2022

The third book of this mid-eighties new era of Hardy Boys feels like it’s toned things back down a bit. The techno aspects are still there, but supplement the plot rather than steal focus.

There’s still an increased focus on violence, especially a lot of guns, which is uncomfortable.

However there are positive changes too. There are a lot more female characters, including making more of the established women and bringing in women as functional guest characters where previously there would have been just another man. There’s a really notable shift in the narration’s attitude towards Chet too, moving away from body-shaming language entirely.

I also like the relaxed dialogue we’re seeing. The characters feel more like real people in their interactions, and for the first time we see a hint that Fenton and Laura’s relationship is more than just worrying about their children.

The plot of this one is fairly good I think, though not really a solvable mystery, just more of an interesting adventure.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Buy book: UK
The Skyfire Puzzle

The Skyfire Puzzle

Franklin W Dixon

4th June 2022

This 1985 Hardy Boys novel continues in the new style established in the previous novel. It has become something more akin to a techno thriller, properly introducing the boys’ “Super Van”, kitted out with more gadgets than a James Bond car. Not the only thing that this novel seems to use in homage to Bond.

The violence feels a bit over the top, and I hope they are able to find the way back to something a bit less about guns as the authors get used to this new style.

Meanwhile the plot feels like it’s been recycled from an earlier novel - perhaps indicating that the publishers were in a hurry to get some books out in this new style and so didn’t worry about originality.

However the realism of the plot totally drops off here, and almost feels like a Shark Jumping climax. Then the author needs to add a final chapter just to explain the plot to the audience, which feels like a weak way to end.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty StarEmpty Star
Revenge of the Desert Phantom

Revenge of the Desert Phantom

Franklin W Dixon

4th June 2022

This is a remarkably different Hardy Boys book. Dropping from 20 to 15 chapters, and with a real shift in tone, it feels like the 80s have really hit.

The characters are much less bland, and feel more realistic. But the adventure is much bigger, with guns everywhere, although this is at least balanced with a lot of new introspection from Frank about them having ended up in a bad situation.

This story also takes a decent step toward better representation, not only marking the first time the boys’ client has been black, but also having a couple of significant female characters. Iola Morton stands out in particular as finally having character, motivation, frustrations, and is an active character.

Overall, I found it a bit jarring. It feels like it’s probably a pilot for the Casefiles series, but we shall see if the next few books retain this style or revert to something more traditional.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
The Swamp Monster

The Swamp Monster

Franklin W Dixon

4th June 2022

The Hardys and co head to Texas for this mystery with a giant crocodile.

It’s a complex plot that wasn’t very clear, and felt again like a cheap repeated idea or two but in a different state.

There’s a touch of approaching a more modern take, with female guest characters showing a little bit of feminism, but mostly being there still for decoration and to provide food.

The brothers take part in a civil war reenactment, which certainly feels like a misstep now, looking back in retrospect, and something that I’m certain would have been avoided had the authors had a bit more awareness.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty StarEmpty Star
The Blackwing Puzzle

The Blackwing Puzzle

Franklin W Dixon

2nd June 2022

Finally a Bayport-based mystery again, and that allows us to see the whole of the Hardy Boys gang, including the random decision in this novel to relabel their aunt as “Gertie”.

It’s 1984, and the fascinations of the era continue to dominate - technology and ghosts in this case.

It’s a fairly solid mystery, but there’s almost too much going on, with at my count five different strands which don’t entirely flow together.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Buy book: UK
The Demon's Den

The Demon's Den

Franklin W Dixon

2nd June 2022

In this slightly weirdly anti-GM, religious persecutionist Hardy Boys novel, the brothers are once again on their summer holidays, this time in Vermont, when they join in a hunt for a missing child.

The plot is all over the place, with absolutely no reason for a bunch of elements to fit together. It feels like a child describing back the plot of a film they’ve seen, then someone sticking together the elements remembered and turning them into a mystery.

I did however appreciate the chapter which is essentially a giant reference to the James Bond story Goldfinger, including one of the most famous lines from the film, coupled with the equivalent scene from the book.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty StarEmpty Star
The Roaring River Mystery

The Roaring River Mystery

Franklin W Dixon

1st June 2022

In this first 1984 Hardy Boys story, the brothers go white water rafting in Maine, with a flimsy excuse of a mystery to back up their adventure.

It really does feel like a low effort plot put together to give them a reason to take part in the activity, almost like it was product placement.

The mystery is badly put together and doesn’t make a lot of sense. One aspect that they puzzle over for half the story made no sense, and a lot of the conclusion doesn’t add up. I will say though that there was one pretty good clue that I totally missed.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty StarEmpty Star
Sky Sabotage

Sky Sabotage

Franklin W Dixon

1st June 2022

It’s 1983 and the Hardy brothers are off on their travels again, this time to Florida to do the Space Centre and Theme Parks. Oh and solve crimes.

I’m not sure there’s a huge amount of mystery solving going on, mostly the plot seems to involve following people around, then waiting for them to give themselves away. I’m not even sure the plot actually makes sense.

The body shaming of their friend Chet continues, although it seems like the authors have become less imaginative, just using the same word over and over to describe him. This novel does however see a more meaningful role for a female character than I remember up to this point, which is a small amount of progress, but only small.

What really stands out though is that there’s a step up in brutality. The baddies have a lot of murderous intent towards the Hardys, but also the Hardys themselves are almost joyful in torturing two of their own prisoners, which doesn’t sit well as a modern reader.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty StarEmpty Star
Buy book: UK
A Second Chance

A Second Chance

Jodi Taylor

1st June 2022

The third Chronicle of St Mary’s sees our favourite time travelling historian planning for her final mission, to see the great wooden horse at Troy.

It continues the series in the same fashion - feeling very flow of consciousnessy, as if it were written linearly with not a lot of planning, and almost like any foreshadowing is a lucky coincidence. There is some stuff which doesn’t pay off though, and I can’t tell whether that’s an abandoned idea or an intentional red herring.

It’s a good fun read, which is exactly what I was looking for, and takes the series in an interesting new direction that I’m keen to see develop in later books.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Standing in Another Man's Grave

Standing in Another Man's Grave

Ian Rankin

1st June 2022

I really like how easy it is to slip back into the Rebus novels. Rankin has definitely got the right balance of realistic crime novel down for me - we are always aligned with the investigator, so there’s no sense of glorifying the crime, and there’s no sensationalist over emphasis on gore or graphic description.

It feels clear that this is a reactionary return after previously ending the Rebus series. Malcolm Fox, who had his own two novels before this, appears too but seems to have been deliberately turned into an antagonist, generally unlikable and unwanted, compared to Rebus who we as readers are glad to have back in the saddle.

The story is a good one, marred only maybe by the number of car journeys that need to be described. The characters are enjoyable to return to, and there is almost a soap operatic element to how the lives of the various long running characters fit together that I really like.

I’m glad Rankin returned to Rebus, and look forward to continuing to read about his adventures.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Body Work

Body Work

Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel, Lee Sullivan & Luis Guerrero

1st June 2022

I’m not typically one for graphic novels - but after reading the latest Rivers of London novel I finally decided that I was missing out on story by not consuming this format too, and so started here at the beginning.

This is the tale of an investigating into haunted cars.

The format remains I think not my favourite. I struggle to recognise the illustrator’s depictions of the characters from the visions I had formed in my head, particularly Nightingale and Molly. And I find that my eyes only really want to focus on the words. There was one place where the experience felt really disjointed, which I think might have been a transition where the issues where split when this was published as comics, and it didn’t really give any explanation of the transition or repetition of some scenes.

However the story itself was good, and I enjoyed filling in some of the gaps in the characters’ lives. I found it interesting that there seems to be more time spent away from Peter, when not tied exclusively to his first person narrative, and seeing particularly more from Nightingale felt like a new take.

I don’t know if I will continue reading these graphic novels - I suspect it will depend on what sort of prices I can find them at.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Plain Bad Heroines

Plain Bad Heroines

Emily M Danforth

1st June 2022

I don’t really remember how this ended up on my wish list - possibly just as a result of aggressive advertising on social media. But when I found a copy in a small independent bookshop it leapt out at me, quite possibly aided by the bright yellow and pink colour scheme and the chunky size.

I was not sure what I was getting into, and even after reading I’m not sure how to classify this novel. It is horror, though fairly tame, but it’s also a romance,or multiple romances, as well as a comedy. There’s a lot in here and the genre seems to twist and turn with the plot.

I found it hard going to begin with. Interestingly I found the parts set in 1902 harder to read than the parts set in the present day, but I couldn’t put my finger on what clever stylistic trick the author was pulling to achieve this subtle difference in tone.

But once I hit the halfway point the pages wouldn’t stop turning. It did help a little that I was unexpectedly stuck on a train for three hours with nothing else to do but get stuck in.

It’s an incredibly complex book, with layer upon layer to uncover, and I’m still not sure having finished it that there wasn’t another layer that I entirely missed. I loved that it’s a book entirely about women, and such a range of them, and especially a book celebrating queer women and their diversity.

I still don’t really know why I read this book, but I’m glad that I did, even though it took me three weeks to get through. I’m intrigued to find out what the author might publish next, and whether I will be similarly entertained.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Cave-in

Cave-in

Franklin W Dixon

1st June 2022

The Hardy Brothers head away from home again to help investigate something fairly forgettable at a ski resort film set. Meanwhile they get involved in a class war between the locals and the rich landowners, without acknowledging it as such.

What’s most notable about this book is that it’s the first time Chet seems actively upset about his friends’ bullying and body shaming. This doesn’t get picked up by the otherwise perfect-in-every-way main characters, and Chet continues to be referred to as alternatively fat and chubby throughout.

As plots go, this one is fairly bland.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty StarEmpty Star
The Devil's Bargain

The Devil's Bargain

Stella Rimington

7th May 2022

In Stella Rimington’s latest novel she’s departed from her previous character and introduced an entirely new set for us to follow on their investigations and suspicions.

It’s a fascinating take, although for the genre felt particularly low on suspense. We’re aware of many points of view throughout, which does mean we know more than the characters, but also means that we get to see everything play out from all over.

One of the aspects that I found quite clever was the sense of timelessness. Apart from the context of being after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there is very little to indicate when the story happens - no detailed mention of mobile phone technology - so could easily have been any point in the last 20 years or so.

An enjoyable adventure I thought, and I hope that these continue.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Amongst Our Weapons

Amongst Our Weapons

Ben Aaronovitch

7th May 2022

Rivers of London 9 sees Peter and his surprisingly large group of friends now investigating some suspicious deaths and rings.

It is again a really enjoyable narrative and explores a variety of London locations and beyond. This book in particular felt like it’s really widening the worldbuilding and we’re seeing much more of what goes on outside the Folly. I feel like a re-read of the whole series might be in order soon though, as there is so much that’s happened I sometimes struggle to remember it all.

This book in particular stood out for its excellent representation. The characters are pulled from a really diverse pool of British residents, including notably disabled and LGBTQ characters as well as the usual range of ethnicities and genders (plus spirits and foxes of course). I was really happy to see this.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled Star
The Crimson Flame

The Crimson Flame

Franklin W Dixon

7th May 2022

A pretty standard early 1980s adventure for the Hardy Boys, as they are hired to protect a valuable ruby from potential thieves.

The mystery is pretty straightforward, but the adventure is quite fun.

This falls into the category in which the brothers go travelling a lot, including to another country. As an adult reading, I found it disappointing that more effort wasn’t spent exploring the culture of their destination, and spending some time actually educating the reader about what it’s like there.

Once again, there are almost no appearances by female characters in the entire book. I’m really fascinated to find out when this changes.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Dawnshard

Dawnshard

Brandon Sanderson

1st May 2022

This novella side story from the Stormlight Archives has finally been published in print in the UK, which means I’ve been able to read it.

It feels very self contained as a story, and yet also feels like something that should impact upon the main narrative in the future as well, which will be interesting to see if it does.

With Stormlight being so epic, and my memory less so, I wasn’t sure at the start whether I was meant to already know the characters or not, and the book didn’t feel like it was giving me many clues. Ultimately I don’t think it matters, although almost certainly this shouldn’t be read without reading the main novels first, at least up to this point, as I suspect a lot about the world wouldn’t make sense to a totally new reader.

But it is itself a fun little self contained adventure, with some good characters and fascinating interactions between them. A nice little return to Roshar between the big books.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
The Kaiju Preservation Society

The Kaiju Preservation Society

John Scalzi

1st May 2022

John Scalzi has produced a great, light-hearted yet incredibly serious novel, set during but not about the pandemic, which kept me well entertained.

After being sacked and forced to work for a corrupt food delivery firm, an old friend offers Jamie a mystery job which turns out to be working for the titular Kaiju Preservation Society.

The opening is particularly funny to the extent that I had to read passages aloud. It’s a long time since something has opened so well, and a little disappointing that the same level of amusement wasn’t kept up through the subsequent chapters.

However the plot picks up then and keeps the reader engaged. There’s an element that’s almost Harry Potter - we’re aligned with a character who is totally new to this world, lives in a dorm room with his friends, gets lessons, fights monsters, and ends up having to save the day. There are more spoilery parallels too.

That’s not to say it’s derivative, just an amusing observation about how this sort of story works.

I really enjoyed it, and am glad that the author found some time amid the grim few years of pandemic to produce something that is a bit fun, as well as having a serious message for our time.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled Star
The Judge's List

The Judge's List

John Grisham

1st May 2022

Grisham returns to the land of sequels as we return to the investigators of dodgy judges, and a horrifying accusation is made.

With this novel, I feel like I might be on the Grisham off ramp. The narrative style is becoming increasingly dry and hard to engage with, and it feels like Grisham in this book particularly has started taking lessons from other crime writers I’ve given up on about how graphic to be in describing violent criminal activity, and that’s not what I’m here for.

I found the novel to be a bit of a slog, and just really wanted it to be over all the way until the conclusion. That itself was very true to the Grisham style, which I’d describe as being unable to provide a satisfying ending.

So I don’t know if I’m even going to bother with the next book. Maybe that’s the end.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty StarEmpty Star
A Corruption of Blood

A Corruption of Blood

Ambrose Parry

1st May 2022

The third Ambrose Parry novel continues in the same style as the first two. We follow our characters though their mildly soap opera nineteenth century doctor lives, while they also investigate a murder or two.

As before, it’s a flood blend of mystery, history, and character, with a decent injection of brutal and explicit medical practice thrown in. Not for the faint hearted reader perhaps in that last respect.

I do feel a little like some of the more soapy aspects are starting to seem dragged out after three books, and are things that seem to fit into the classic trope of being solvable if only the characters would actually talk to one another.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Oblivion's Gate

Oblivion's Gate

David Mack

5th April 2022

The finale of the 20+ year so-called Star Trek lit-verse sees an end to a novel series that has kept me a companion since the end of the DS9 TV series. So this is a bitter-sweet moment of reflection as it’s finally wrapped up and put away so that the continuing novel line can sit back into line with the TV canon.

It’s a hell of an ending, bringing together so many characters, so many threads of storyline, giving each and every one a chance to shine before devastating the reader like only David Mack can. And he has embraced this opportunity.

Plot wise, Mack rounds things off with a really clever set up that makes everything make so much sense and really allows for the reader to root for the characters despite it being very clear and very upfront about how things are going to go.

So all in all an excellent and very fitting end to this long running narrative thread. Very well done to the three authors who put the trilogy together to wrap this up and land us happily back into where we, as readers, need to be to continue to enjoy Star Trek novels of the future.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled Star
Buy book: UKUSBuy ebook: UK
A Three Dog Problem

A Three Dog Problem

S J Bennett

5th April 2022

The Queen and her staff return for a second investigation. This time we find them at Buckingham Palace, where not only has a body been found in the pool, but one of the Queen’s favourite paintings has been lost.

Although I’ve described the plot tongue in cheek, it’s actually a really solid mystery story, with decent characters who properly seem invested in the events and have real human emotional responses to what’s happening around them.

I really enjoy the balance of mystery, humour, and character that Bennett brings to these novels - they make for a nice piece of escapism from more serious reading.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
The Return of the Archons

The Return of the Archons

Brian J Robb

5th April 2022

I’d heard of Obverse and their various Archive series before via Twitter, but it was only when I heard they were going to release a Star Trek series that I took the plunge and pre-ordered the first three entries.

And so the first book of the Gold Archive. It’s essentially a prolonged essay on the episode The Return of the Archons, considering the historical background of the episode, the themes that it brings up, and the echos of the episode through subsequent Trek shows.

It’s a more academic style of text than I am typically used to reading, but not in such a way that makes it dry or unreadable. I enjoyed dipping in and out, reading a few pages at a time, and learning more about this episode in more depth than I think I’ve seen it thought about elsewhere.

I’m glad I made these purchases, and intrigued to find out whether this example is going to be typical of the series, or how varied they will become.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Game Plan For Disaster

Game Plan For Disaster

Franklin W Dixon

5th April 2022

Taking a week off school because of a teachers’ convention, the Hardy brothers go to college to act as private security for a famous local American football player in the lead up to a big match.

It’s action packed and feels a bit more modern than many of the books, though this may be because it is, given I’m reading in chronological order.

The mystery however is overly complex and there are a number of conflicting plot lines that mix around and rather than having just been red herrings, leave it unclear at the conclusion exactly what was really going on in all of them.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Cytonic

Cytonic

Brandon Sanderson

5th April 2022

The third book in what’s now called the Cytosphere, this continues Spensa’s adventures in a sci-fi action adventure that almost begins to feel like it has a computer game vibe.

This time it took me a while to get my head into the narrative. The first person, young person presentations feels now quite reminiscent of Sanderson’s other series, Alcatraz vs…, and that actually put me off, because I’ve never managed to properly get settled in that series.

After a while though I became absorbed by the plot and raced through the rest of the story. It’s presented as a traditional quest, focussed on character, and as with the previous novel very clearly distinct from its predecessor. The overarching plot is developed, but there are aspects that feel like this entry is just extended exposition and getting things lined up ready for the next book, the finale.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
The Twyford Code

The Twyford Code

Janice Hallett

5th April 2022

Hallett’s second novel is a similar but different take on the style of her first - this time presenting the entire narrative in the form of transcripts of audio recordings, as a recently released convict records his life story, and what he gets up to, into his estranged son’s old phone.

It took me a little while to get my head into reading this style, but once there I absorbed the story as fast as possible and was totally hooked.

Hallett does a really great job of drip feeding information about multiple different narrative threads all at the same time. The book must have taken really extensive planning to work everything out and fit it into the structure so perfectly.

It’s also funny. There are a bunch of little Easter eggs hinting at some of the inspirations for parts of the story, and the main character is thoroughly likeable.

Another really good story, and I’m looking forward to more of this kind of thing.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Better Off Dead

Better Off Dead

Lee Child & Andrew Child

23rd February 2022

Andrew Child’s second Reacher novel shows a lot of the same traits as the first. The writing style feels different - this time we’re in first person, which we’ve seen before in the series, but the tone feels almost smoother than in the novels written by his older brother Lee.

Reacher’s lack of knowledge of modern technology is demonstrated again. It adds quite a nice light and realistic touch to the character, and I feel like it might come from a gentle ribbing from younger brother to older on the authorship team.

Plotwise though I found this one a bit confusing. Part of the idea I know is a sense of mystery - the first person narrative always giving the sense that the reader can only know as much as the character - but even after finishing the story and hearing the explanation at the end, it doesn’t feel like everything adds up in my head. Possibly I read the end too fast so couldn’t take the information in and digest it before more came along.

Overall though, still a solid Reacher novel for the 2020s, and I will doubtless keep reading.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Revenant

Revenant

Alex White

23rd February 2022

This novel is a refreshing return to the midpoint of the DS9 TV series as we reunite with Jadzia Dax when she’s asked to try to help an old friend who has gone off the rails.

The tone of the book does feel different to many Star Trek novels - it feels aimed at less dedicated readers of the novels, and readers less familiar with all the (now) older TV series. It also has the slight feeling, particularly near the start, of being pitched closer to the “young adult” feel that the 2009 era Star Trek Academy novels had. But I don’t think any of these are bad things - they all fit well with a return to an era that the novels haven’t touched for a while.

In terms of the plot - I thought it really interesting, but I can imagine some readers would not like how it expands upon the canon, particularly in regard to Trill joining practices. I think White has certainly not felt constrained in creating new lore, and just about gets away with it.

The characterisation is where I think White shines. We spend most of our time with Dax, but four of the rest of the cast make significant appearances, and I do think it shows that White has definitely understood them all well, and utilises them. This comes across particularly in how Dax thinks of the other characters.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Buy book: UKUSBuy ebook: UK
The Burning God

The Burning God

R F Kuang

23rd February 2022

The third book of the Poppy War trilogy got off to a slower start for me. I found it hard to get back into the storyline, I think because it’s taken a darker turn and my ability to sympathise with the characters has reduced as a result.

My attention definitely picked up later on though, and I charged through the second half. Probably too fast, because I think I’m doing so I messed up my perception of time passing in the story. Having said that though, my memory is of long parts of the narrative covering relatively inconsequential events, and then major events happening very abruptly.

For me then, probably the weakest of the trilogy, though it does manage to deliver a satisfying ending that, unlike other fantasy trilogies, felt like it left me at exactly the right point - without feeling like I needed a bit more time with the characters or to see how things pan out following the climax.

I’m glad I picked up this trilogy after seeing the author win the Astounding Award in 2020, and I am certainly planning to pick up her future works.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Fan Fiction

Fan Fiction

Brent Spiner

6th February 2022

Brent Spiner, the actor who played/plays the Android Data and his family in Star Trek, pens the tale of a man named Brent Spiner, an actor who plays the Android Data in Star Trek, in the early 1990s, as he receives threatening letters and lives a confusing life.

The narrative is what this book is really all about. It paints a fascinating satire of life as a TV star, with larger than life colleagues, and a weird Hollywood world moving around you. But also of a man clearly too tired to be in any sort of control of his life.

The plot is chaotic, but somehow doesn’t really seem the point. There’s an element of whodunnit, but apart from a couple of pieces of beautiful misdirection it’s really just a sideshow for the narration, which is where the humour and love shows.

A fun adventure of a novel, likely only made possible by Spiner himself serving as the author, as the insights, teasing, and self-deprecation would feel wrong coming from anyone else.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Buy book: UKUS
Silverview

Silverview

John le Carré

6th February 2022

John le Carré’s final novel feels like he remained very much on form. It’s short by modern standards, but feels like the perfect length for the story it is telling. To some extent, it feels like Carré’s stature allowed him to escape concepts like word counts imposed by publishers, and just to write the words that are necessary.

This then is the story of a number of people with murky backgrounds. One retires tho a coastal town to become a bookseller, where he meets some of the others.

It feels like there are many layers to this world. The things that are happening on the surface are clear, and the layer beneath mostly clear, but there is another layer or two below that are obscured, and may take a second reading to expose.

A fantastic exit, and clear tribute to the author who really did define the entire genre and remained at its peak throughout.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled Star
Terra's War

Terra's War

Mitch Benn

6th February 2022

I absolutely adored Mitch Benn’s first Terra novel, and enjoyed the sequel, so was disappointed in his publisher’s decision to leave the story incomplete. Clearly so was Benn, as he’s now taken matters into his own hands and published the third novel himself - which explains why I had couldn’t find the novel for sale in my local bookshop.

This novel feels long. It’s a heavy book, being printed on quite thick paper, and the first half felt a bit of a slog to get through, before I became more properly hooked through the second half.

The story deals with the Everywar, a huge intergalactic fight for survival, tying together elements from the earlier novels. I think one area it felt weak was in recapping what had gone before - it felt like there was an expectation of familiarity with the first two novels, despite the time that has passed, which was more than what I had.

The first Terra novel will always be my favourite, but I’m satisfied now that the trilogy is complete, and happy for Benn that he’s been able to wrap the story up for himself. I look forward to seeing what he writes next.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Jingo

Jingo

Terry Pratchett

6th February 2022

My loosely focussed Discworld re-read has reached Jingo, a novel which I don’t think I was sure about the first time, but did enjoy on second reading.

Pratchett’s wit and insight into the human condition fill the pages, nothing here is more glorious than the character interactions, particularly between Colon and Nobbs, and it’s amazing how much is subtly communicated to the reader just in the dialogue.

I think where this one suffers a little is in the plot. It’s more complicated I think than many Discworld novels, with multiple layers of plot lasagne’d together in such a way that I’m not sure I really know what’s at the bottom.

But it does do well at holding up a mirror to roundworld, and pointing out the absurdities of war, property, and international relationships, while also condemning racism, a theme that runs throughout Pratchett’s work.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star
Buy book: UK
Eight Detectives

Eight Detectives

Alex Pavesi

6th February 2022

I picked up this new mystery novel entirely on a whim after seeing it displayed in a bookshop and needing an extra book to make up a multi buy deal. I’m glad I did.

The wrapping story sees Julia track down a mathematician turned author turned recluse, and visits him asking to understand more about his collection of short stories - which purport to be examples of all the mathematically possible crime stories.

It’s a fascinating book on several levels. The combination of maths and mystery fits nicely with me, as it could be said that I’ve studied both things. The structure, alternating between chapters representing each of the short stories, and chapters exploring the interaction and discussion between the two real characters, is novel, and makes for a really interesting read.

I’m really happy to have found this book, and am intrigued to see if the author has anything else lined up next.

read more

Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarEmpty Star

Top books

  1. Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled Star
  2. The Cliff House
  3. Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled Star
  4. Victory Disc
  5. Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled Star
  6. The Kaiju Preservation Society
  7. Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled Star
  8. The Final Strife
  9. Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled Star
  10. Oblivion's Gate
  11. Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled Star
  12. Silverview
  13. Filled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled StarFilled Star
  14. Amongst Our Weapons