All 2023 reviews - Shastrix Books

2023

All reviews

Night Watch

Night Watch

Terry Pratchett

31st December 2023

Generally considered to be the best Discworld novel, Night Watch follows Samuel Vimes - a character we’ve watched grow for some years now - as he is transported back in time to encounter his much much younger self.

There’s a lot going on, and even on a second read I’m sure I’ve barely scratched the surface. At its most basic, it’s Back To The Future, and Vimes needs to make sure his future is waiting when he gets back. But it’s also a political thriller, it’s also Les Miserables, it’s also a commentary on society.

But it also feels long - longer than I feel is normal for Discworld novels and longer than I was expecting. I suppose really it’s only taken me four days to read but that feels like longer than it should have.

And while the jokes are there, I don’t think it feels as funny as other books in the series - there’s a lot of heavy, serious stuff, and that detracts from the humour. It’s certainly still very clever in the use of language and in its observation of the human condition, but I wasn’t laughing out loud.

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Angelmaker

Angelmaker

Nick Harkaway

31st December 2023

I finished this epic late last night and somehow am still not entirely sure I know what was happening. It’s a book about a potential end of the world and one clockwork repairer’s attempt to stop it. And yet it’s also much more than that.

There’s a rich tapestry of characters, who I’ve enjoyed getting to know and to visit their varied worlds. Everything starts fairly tame and the level of suspension of disbelief feels like it just needs ratcheting up chapter by chapter. And they are very long chapters.

In general, the prose takes effort. I’m not saying that as a bad thing - just an observation that this is not a tale for skimming, as the words are dense and important to follow events. And that for me makes it a slow read, and still engrossing.

What I loved most though was the small moments of levity. It’s a serious tale, but there are just small patches of dialogue littered throughout which felt almost Pratchettian in their humour.

I would probably pick up another Harkaway novel, but not for a while if it’s going to feel quite as much commitment as this.

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The Demolition Mission

The Demolition Mission

Franklin W Dixon

31st December 2023

The Hardys head to the racetrack to take on a case their father is too busy for, and naturally bring Chet along for the ride.

This is noticeable for the danger in the story, which feels higher than in some, with a lot of ways that the characters could die or sustain serious injury.

However it does manage to provide more female characters than I’m used to from the series, featuring a bigger role for Callie, and a guest character who is a racing driver. Not up to modern levels or passing any sort of test, but a noticeable step forward.

The plot is solid if a bit convoluted, with a lot going on, and the technology feels a lot more modern.

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Three Ring Terror

Three Ring Terror

Franklin W Dixon

31st December 2023

In book 111 the Hardy brothers and Chet are off to join the circus, Chet as his hobby of the week, and the Hardys to investigate a mystery.

It’s a good investigation with a range of characters, but as a mystery story I think fails a bit in that the clues aren’t solvable by the reader until exactly the same moment they are to the characters.

it’s a good character piece though, and plays up the differences between Frank and Joe that sometimes get overlooked, and makes good use of Chet to add to the plot and to add some comedy, without him being made fun of or letting the side down.

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Bookshops and Bonedust

Bookshops and Bonedust

Travis Baldree

31st December 2023

In this prequel to the author’s first novel, Legends and Lattes, we meet a young Viv, early on an adventuring career, and forced to take a convalescent sea-side holiday.

The ensuing plot will be little surprise to readers of the first novel and this one’s title, although there are some great new characters to meet and get to know.

It feels like something aspects of the story are very much drawn from the author’s real life experience of bookshops, and this makes for some of the most amusing passages.

I felt overall that it’s not quite recaptured the same charm as the first novel, but that was a lot to live up to, and it’s still a solid cosy fantasy novel to curl up with.

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Murdle volume 1

Murdle volume 1

G T Karber

31st December 2023

Murdle is a set of logic puzzles framed around a story that’s a bit silly and nonsensical and hard to follow. But that’s fine, because the logic puzzles are the important thing.

The puzzles are divided into four difficulties which increase as you progress through the book. Although mostly I found the second and third difficulties perhaps not in the right order. I really enjoyed the puzzling.

There are two issues I had though. One is puzzle 96, which despite four attempts I could not get a solid answer out of.

The second is the structure of the book, and the story within. At the start of each puzzle is a brief intro. Then you do the puzzle, then the next part of the story is at the back of the book with the solution to that puzzle. This makes for awkward flicking back and forth and a risk of accidentally seeing the solution to the next puzzle. And given how infrequently I needed to check the answers, I was halfway through before I worked out that there was more story there. It would have made more sense to me if the story had continued on the next page instead.

But overall a good challenge and time and brain occupier. I’ve already started the second book.

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Scorched Earth

Scorched Earth

Robert Muchamore

9th December 2023

The final novel in the Henderson’s Boys series, a prequel to the Cherub series, depicts the brutal end period of the nazi occupation of France, from the points of view of a group of child secret agents working for the British.

As always, Muchamore feels like he does not shy away from graphic realism. That means that the sorts of things that happen in mid-20th Century wartime are going to be depicted in detail, so be prepared for that.

As a specific entry in the series, this one felt bitty to me. It’s clear from the timeline that these books are set that this needed to be the wrap up, but it achieves that by being made up of distinct episodes which don’t really ever feel like they flow together into a narrative. It’s more just a set of steps to get to the end. If this had all been one book, then maybe this would work as the climax, but it doesn’t feel like it strongly stands alone as a story.

Overall though I’ve found the series interesting to read. I think I enjoyed the original series more with its contemporary setting, but this one feels more educational, and assuming the realism extends to at least some historical accuracy, I feel I’ve learnt things.

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The Sunlit Man

The Sunlit Man

Brandon Sanderson

3rd December 2023

The final secret project is the most serious and most cosmere-y of them all. Sanderson says that of the four, this is the one written for his fans.

Without wanting to spoil things, let’s just say that there are a bunch of references to previous Cosmere works, and that this is set later in the timeline.

It is a standalone adventure - we follow a lone traveller who is on the run, as he arrives at a planet with unique properties, and finds himself in the middle of a local war.

Sanderson’s abilities at world building naturally shine through, and I love how he can make so many different experiences based in the same connected universe.

I found the character an interesting one to follow, and learning more about how various aspects of the magic systems I’ve already encountered work and will develop.

Another really good Sanderson to cap off a really good year.

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Metamorphasis

Metamorphasis

Jean Lorrah

3rd December 2023

The first of the giant novels, this long TNG novel set in season two is focussed on Data, dealing with his emotions following the episode The Measure of a Man and dealing with his feelings for Tasha Yar.

Lorrah begins with a passionate foreword about how fans should accept TNG, and explaining that you don’t have to read her first TNG book before this one, despite her re-use of a set of guest characters.

The book is fairly neatly constructed out of distinct acts, which depict parts of the action. It has some science fiction tropes, which do help with neatness of fitting into this shared universe but feel like a more recent author might have tried to avoid.

But it’s a good piece of science fiction that expands on the world seen on TV in the way that only printed storytelling could back then, and really helps to explore the character of Data in several new situations.

But it feels like it’s been made giant by making the chapters longer, rather than by having more of them. It felt like quite a slog sometimes just to get to a convenient break point, and I think that’s what made it take so long for me to get through.

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The Secret of Sigma Seven

The Secret of Sigma Seven

Franklin W Dixon

18th November 2023

In their 110th adventure the Hardy Boys head along to the local science fiction convention only to find that the main attraction has been stolen, and they need to investigate.

It feels kind of nice that the authors of the paste eighties and early nineties tried to adopt more of popular culture into the settings of these novels. This feels very relatable.

But the cast of guest characters still feels like a mass of tropes and some more diversity wouldn’t do any harm. There is one female character in the whole book, and while she has a position of authority on paper, she’s shown as fairly powerless in reality.

The mystery is okay as a plot, but not really one with many clues, it’s mostly about accidental coincidence leading to the reveal more than anything cleverer. So pretty average overall.

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GoldenEye

GoldenEye

John Gardner

12th November 2023

Novelisation of movies was a big thing in the 90s and 00s which seems to have since stopped on the whole. And this is probably one of the first that I read back then. GoldenEye makes for a really good, enjoyable, and memorable movie, so it’s a shame the book doesn’t live up to it.

The book contains a reasonably faithful representation of the plot of the film. But translating between media doesn’t really work in this case.

Gardner is clearly working from a script, and so doesn’t have the dialogue down as well as the finish film. The characters are much more verbose, and several of the punchlines are missing that get the best laughs.

He’s added a lot that’s not in the film (or I suppose kept bits that got cut). There are filler scenes that help to bridge gaps that the film doesn’t bother to explain, for example. And these feel awkward and contrived - there’s probably a good reason the film just skips them and leaves them to the viewer’s imagination, or we all collectively just agree to ignore.

One of these additions in particular stood out for being overly gratuitous. Gardner adds a lot more explicit sex than the film contains. He’s also added a scene of creepy sexism that’s incredibly inappropriate and frankly should have been in 1995 and I struggle to see how it was acceptable then.

The narrative is clunky, and doesn’t feel right as a novel at all. The only reason that the book works is that it reminds you of how good a film it was, and makes me want to watch it to refresh my mind of what really happened, instead of this mess.

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The Mystery of Monster Mountain

The Mystery of Monster Mountain

M. V. Carey

12th November 2023

The 3 Investigators, now in the middle of their series of adventures, head away from their usual haunts on a camping trip, and to visit a cousin of their friends/employees.

It’s a classic mystery story where there’s a lot going on and a lot to investigate, with homemade technology, shifty characters all over the place, and an element of the supernatural to freak things up a bit.

I felt that some of the elements were maybe a tad too obvious, but then I have to remember the target audience haven’t been reading mysteries for anything like as long as me, and these are serving to introduce them to the genre.

A good contribution to the series.

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The Mystery of the Cupboard

The Mystery of the Cupboard

Lynne Reid Banks

12th November 2023

The fourth book in the cupboard series, and this one I remembered from my childhood as being my favourite.

Omri and his family have moved away from London to the countryside in the South West, after inheriting a house from a distant relative. And here we finally learn more about the history of the cupboard.

This is quite a shift in tone from previous books, with the action being mostly in the past and being communicated to the present. This makes for a more relaxing tale but also a more interesting, more detailed, and more contemplative story.

I still found it to be the best of the series, although in doing this re-read I have learned that there is a fifth book, which I’ve not previously read, so it will be fascinating to find out how the story continues.

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The Jennings Report

The Jennings Report

Anthony Buckeridge

12th November 2023

Book 19 of the Jennings series once again sees a varied set of events which tie together into mishap and misunderstanding. Not however one that I have any memory of from when I would have last read it as a child.

Possibly more holistic than some of the other novels, this one is structured around the rescue of a hibernating hedgehog, who plays a role throughout.

The story comes together well, although some aspects of the middle seem to lack payoff, and I’m not sure that they add enough comedy value without that.

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Puzzle for the Secret Seven

Puzzle for the Secret Seven

Enid Blyton

4th November 2023

Book ten sees the Secret Seven confronted with a brief mystery at the end of what almost feels like some sort of social commentary without a moral at the end. I remembered barely anything of it from reading it as a child.

It’s a weird entry in the series because the mystery is almost the third plot, after the social one and the continued bickering with the group’s nemesis, Susie.

I felt slightly uncomfortable reading it, because there’s a very clear class divide, and although it’s not treated in a negative way it does feel like there could be a tad more sensitivity in presentation, and indeed more support provided by the state rather than relying on kindly middle class farming families.

Additionally my copy has clearly been altered from the original - it’s from the 1990s and has decimal currency throughout - so I can’t help thinking that the narrative might have originally been different, and again might be different now.

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The Killings at Kingfisher Hill

The Killings at Kingfisher Hill

Sophie Hannah

4th November 2023

Sophie Hannah’s fourth Poirot novel sees him and his friend Inspector Catchpool getting on a coach to visit a fairly new communal estate in the countryside. Naturally on the way they learn about various murder plots, and set out to investigate.

I feel that Hannah has been able again to craft a perfect narrative that balances between being true to Agatha Christie’s style and characters while also feeling up to date in style and morality, despite the period setting.

The plot of this one has a lot going on, and there were a few moments where I thought I’d spotted clues only for them to be red herrings. One reveal I felt was obvious for a long way coming, but that didn’t help me get ahead of the game for the big one.

I really enjoy Hannah’s extensions to the Poirot canon and will be looking out for the next one.

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History

History

Miles Jupp

4th November 2023

I’ve been considering reading this since it came out, and picked up a charity shop copy which I’ve finally got to reading.

It’s the tale of a teacher at a boarding school, who doesn’t feel like he fits in, is bullied by the other staff, disrespected by the children, and is worried about the state of his marriage.

I’m afraid to say I gave up after about 100 pages. The narrative of a a series of depressing events and although I liked the character I wasn’t enjoying the bad things that kept happening to him.

In a sense, it reminds me a bit of children’s books of old, where despite best intentions everything goes hilariously wrong. But in this case the hilarity wasn’t making its way through to me.

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The Christmas Appeal

The Christmas Appeal

Janice Hallett

28th October 2023

A novella from Janice Hallett revisiting the scene of her breakthrough novel was an irresistible purchase for me.

It’s five years or so later, and once again we are treated to a mystery in the form of a collection of correspondence - email, text, WhatsApp etc - between the members of an amateur dramatic group, as something horrible unfolds.

It retains all the delight of the original book, and although I read through most of it in the course of a single train journey, I really enjoyed it. There’s a lot to think about, a lot to keep track of, and lots to laugh at.

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Warriorborn

Warriorborn

Jim Butcher

28th October 2023

I was surprised when I found out that this had been published without any recommendation having been made to be by a bookseller - as I’ve bought all of Jim Butcher’s works to date and already had the second book in the main Cinder Spires series on my wish list.

It’s a novella - so a fairly short single-act story in which we follow a ragtag group of Warriorborn (seemingly part human, part cat) as they attempt to investigate what happened at another spire and retrieve some documents for their leader.

It’s a nice reintroduction into the Cinder Spires world - it’s been eight years since the first/previous book, and this was a nice taster and reminder of the world before diving back in properly in a few weeks.

The story itself is really compelling - there’s a solid mix of action/adventure and character interaction. It feels almost like a D&D adventure in some respects. And although it only really took me one train journey to get through, I really liked it.

However, the printing quality seems very weird. From what I can guess, it feels like this has really been produced to be an audiobook (which makes sense as audio is a massive market at the moment), and the print version is just tacked on for people like me who prefer the old fashioned format. It’s explicitly a “printed by Amazon” paperback, and I don’t think they’ve yet got the hang of making it feel like a book rather than a brochure. The paper is high quality, but not the right quality - it’s a bit like someone’s read about books but never touched one. And the cover feels cheaply printed and cut.

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The 13th Witch

The 13th Witch

Mark Hayden

28th October 2023

I’ve been seeing this book and series promoted for a long time, and finally got round to picking up what I thought was the first book.

While it sort of is the first, I discovered that there are actually five earlier novels, but they are more action thrillery, and this is a sort of fantasy spin-off which has expanded to be the real main series.

The character, world, and plot I found really compelling. There’s that classic setup of someone new to the magick world, with tons to learn and intrigue and mystery everywhere. And a bunch of hints throughout that there’s more to learn and more history to uncover.

I really enjoyed a bunch of the interactions between characters, and can easily see this expanding into a rich series and world as the books go on.

I did think though that aspects of the narrative are a bit rough. There are a few places where I felt like something had been missed in establishing or re-establishing a point or a character. There’s a pair of characters whose relationship is entirely unmentioned. There’s a lot brought in, particularly later on, which is clearly referring back to earlier stories, but without enough context to help the new reader.

But that aside, I really enjoyed reading this, and fully intend to continue on to more of the stories.

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Shadow

Shadow

James Swallow

28th October 2023

I’ve put off the fourth Marc Dane novel for years after finding the third less enjoyable, but finally got to it now.

This time out the world is threatened by a deadly virus attack (the book is from before the global pandemic), and Marc and friends need to rush around the world trying to stop everything.

I didn’t find it as readable as I feel I would have liked. I feel like my tastes at the moment don’t lend themselves well to the thriller genre, and I’ve never been good at reading action scenes, because my imagination doesn’t play them out visually enough.

I think this shift in my ability to consume is mostly why I struggled to read it, and that if I were at a different point the pacing and action might have appealed to me more.

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Murder at the Museum

Murder at the Museum

Alasdair Beckett-King

28th October 2023

ABK’s murder mystery for children hits the perfect tone. Not too grisly, but very funny.

The plot is solid, and pitched at an ideal level for a young reader to engage and follow as well as pick up on some of the clues just before the characters.

The main character is compelling, interesting, and authentic in a way they sometimes aren’t.

The narrative is incredibly funny with a joke in seemingly every second sentence. This is where ABK shines in all his output. And there are some jokes for the grown-ups too.

All-round an excellent choice, and for me an ideal palette cleanser after a really long epic read.

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The Priory of the Orange Tree

The Priory of the Orange Tree

Samantha Shannon

28th October 2023

It took me years to get to and weeks to read, but I’ve finally finished and really enjoyed this 800 page brick.

The opening chapters throw you into a world of two halves - an east and a west separated by religion and attitude toward dragons. I found it a little hard to keep track of which was which at first, particularly because I’m not good at east and west in my head - so it took a while to get into and remember from chapter to chapter who was who.

Once that was over with though the plot progressed at a solid pace, with a range of relatable characters. One in particular stood out to me as a favourite. It’s a world where gender and sexuality are almost always treated with equality, and that’s a lovely setting to be in, and really highlights the occasions where there are reasons this is lacking.

I raced through the final third over the course of a weekend, having really enjoyed the read, and am looking forward to picking up more books by Shannon. Although definitely time for something shorter next from my pile.

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The Hidden Man

The Hidden Man

Charles Cumming

28th October 2023

This is an odd spy novel in which for a long time I wasn’t sure that much was happening. I’m still not quite sure I follow what happened either.

It’s a story of two brothers, who have very different relationships with their father, who in turn is killed in suspicious circumstances. Between them, they are drawn into his life as a spy from different ends.

It’s definitely a captivating narrative, despite the confusion. I raced through it and enjoyed the characters and the moments between them.

However the book feels surprisingly dated for something only 20 years old. There’s a total lack of diversity in the cast, and the only female character is presented in a way which feels very uncomfortable to a modern reader. The lack of technology really stands out, and I wonder if perhaps this will become more readable on that front in another 29 years as it becomes more of a period piece.

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No Time Like the Past

No Time Like the Past

Jodi Taylor

1st October 2023

The fifth St Mary’s book sees Max in a constant state of recovery from both what’s previously gone wrong, and what goes wrong again.

I struggled a bit with this book, in part I think because I can never really remember the continuity (I’m not entirely sure it’s there to remember), and in part because of the episodic nature of the storytelling within.

It doesn’t quite feel like it’s one story with beginning, middle, and end - but more a sequence of events - and I can’t help feel that in another world each of those events might feel more holistically like one story.

It works though as a bit of a palette cleanser between heavier works. It’s easy to read, and slightly educational as well.

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The Last Devil To Die

The Last Devil To Die

Richard Osman

1st October 2023

The expanded Thursday Murder Club are back in action in this fourth novel, when one of their friends is found dead and they are forced to come together and investigate.

There’s a lot going on in this one, and I feel that Osman is stretching his literary muscles a bit more and expanding into almost soap opera territory with the range of character and moments of their lives we get to see.

This is a particularly sad novel in several respects. We’re seeing a range of people at different stages of their life, but in particular this novel does deal with a lot of grief, and so some readers might want to tread carefully.

I really liked this visit to Cooper’s Chase. I thought it held together better than the previous novel. But I’m intrigued to learn that Osman is trying something different next, and look forward to that.

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Starter Villain

Starter Villain

John Scalzi

23rd September 2023

Scalzi has done it again with a short, fun, comic novel that makes you think.

Charlie is just a normal bloke, down on his luck, cat to feed, and dreams of running a pub. Until his estranged uncle dies and a surprising inheritance lands in his lap.

I love how the books starts of feeling like it’s one thing and then just totally surprises at every turn with what comes next. I’d deliberately not read much in advance about this book, and am really glad because it was a really enjoyable rollercoaster of a romp.

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The Expectant Detectives

The Expectant Detectives

Kat Ailes

23rd September 2023

This was one of those books that I picked at random from the shelves of a bookshop one day based entirely on the cover. Big bold words and the promise of a cosy crime with a unique twist in the choice of detectives.

The set up is not quite what I had expected from the blurb - but it’s even better. Alice and Joe have moved to the countryside with only a few weeks to the baby’s arrival, and while at their ante-natal class, a murder occurs just downstairs. Naturally, the expectant mothers band together to investigate, and the police are unimpressed.

It’s a really funny narrative, with recurring laughs and many reflections on life which feel very much drawn from the author’s own experiences, and which make the characters and setting seem entirely real.

The plot is solid too, with plenty going on and loads of clues, red herrings, and side-mysteries to solve. There are some elements which to me seemed maybe a tiny bit obvious coming, but I don’t think that wasn’t deliberate.

Really good - looking forward to book two next year.

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The Book Eaters

The Book Eaters

Sunyi Dean

23rd September 2023

I bought this based mostly on the marketing, and wanting to support the shop where I found it. I was a bit nervous going in, because I’m not normally one for horror, although after reading I think I’d describe this more as “creepy fantasy”.

Devon is a mysterious human-passing creature called a “book eater”, who can eat books and absorb their knowledge. She’s from one of six remaining reclusive families in the UK. But she’s on the run, and so is her young son. And through a narrative half told in the present and half in flashback, we learn what’s going on.

I was surprised by how compelling I found it, and moved really quickly through the story. There’s a ton to learn, and Devon’s character is really conflicted and great to follow.

I love the balance between things I now know, and things I still don’t, that are left unknown either for my mind to wander about or to fill in if there are more novels. I can see another novel listed by the author next year (though with no details), and am excited to pick that up then.

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Low Action

Low Action

Andrew Cartmel

17th September 2023

The fifth Vinyl Detective novel feels back on form after I found the previous one a little lacking.

I’m not convinced that the humour in the narrative is up to the levels of the earliest novels though, which my memory tells me had me laughing much more.

Instead it’s a light but dangerous plot, as the quite highly expanded cast of regular characters gets together again to try to find a) who is trying to kill one of them, and b) a valuable record.

I raced through this one and enjoyed it all round. Looking forward to more.

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Nightrise

Nightrise

Anthony Horowitz

17th September 2023

The third Power of Five novel introduces us to some new characters - a pair of twins who live a rather unfulfilling childhood in the USA, until someone tries to buy them.

Then it becomes the sort of adventure I’m used to from Horowitz, apart from a section in the middle of the story which twists to a pseudo-Lovecraftian horror escapade (I liked this part less, I don’t find I have the right sort of imagination for those sorts of horror).

It’s a good, well paced story, bouncing around and starting to tie together a bigger picture that’s clearly going to continue into the final two novels.

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Yumi and the Nightmare Painter

Yumi and the Nightmare Painter

Brandon Sanderson

17th September 2023

I allowed myself to take this Cosmere story slowly, and only to read two chapters at a time, up until the traditional Sanderlanch ending kicked in and then I raced to the finish line.

It’s the story of two people with very different lives who are mysteriously thrown together, and into each others’ shoes, and have to work out who they are and what’s going on with them and their world.

The narrative alternates between the characters, although this format becomes more fluid as things proceed, and that follows the nature of the story and characters as well.

I really enjoyed this one. It’s nice to have a full-length stand-alone novel-length Cosmere story again, and to explore some totally new dynamics but with moments of familiarity.

The only weakness I think comes towards the end, where a lot of exposition ends up happening in a slightly clunky way, rather than smoothly through the narrative as I would have expected.

It’s a great trip to the Cosmere though, and another excellent bonus from Sanderson’s year of releasing secret projects.

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Towards Zero

Towards Zero

Agatha Christie

17th September 2023

A (fairly) stand-alone Agatha Christie mystery, in which a wide range of early 20th Century English people assemble on the south coast for a September break.

The plot is complex and I found it tricky to keep track of the characters several times, as there are so many of them, and not all with obvious connection to any of the others.

The narrative reads somewhat more like a play than a novel, and knowing this story does also exist as a play, I assumed it had been later adapted into novel form, but it turns out the opposite is the case. It’s a dialogue heavy story, which was the main reason for my misapprehension.

I enjoyed revisiting her world though - despite the accidental reference to climate change when they complain about a September heat vastly less than the one I was experiencing as I was reading.

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One Shot Kill

One Shot Kill

Robert Muchamore

9th September 2023

World War Two is continuing in anger in this entry of the Henderson’s Boys series, as the core characters return to France under cover.

I really like how Muchamore feels like he’s trying to stick to historical realism with these novels, but that does mean that there is real brutality, real violence, and real repercussions. In places shockingly so, and probably something for adults to be aware of when their children are reading.

This is a solid adventure story though, with real risk, real peril, and a solid pace that keeps the reader’s attention throughout.

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A Rock and a Hard Place

A Rock and a Hard Place

Peter David

9th September 2023

Back to the early 90s with the tenth Next Generation novel.

Some of the edges still feel a bit raw, with elements of characterisation feeling enhanced upon what’s in the TV show. But then it’s Peter David, who is one of the great authors of this era of Trek, and who has definitely earned the right to expand the canon. I really liked the dynamic he adds between Troi and Riker - definitely feels like it’s leading up towards his later Imzadi novels.

There are some notable guest characters, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about them. They frustrated me a little, but I think that’s the point, especially when I have such an established relationship with the main characters.

All in all, a good book, particularly standing out against others of the early 90s. Definitely maintains its readability.

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The Prime Time Crime

The Prime Time Crime

Franklin W Dixon

9th September 2023

Hardy Boys 109 sees the brothers back at the local TV studio as Frank takes part in a local inter-school quiz show. Until of course the host doesn’t show up, and the brothers enter detective mode.

It’s a nicely different pace, with some guest characters that shake things up, and although they are frustrating in places to read about, they do add a unique comedic edge to proceedings.

A good entry in the series for this era, which I found flowed quite smoothly.

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Seafire

Seafire

John Gardner

9th September 2023

John Gardner ups the continuity, as his time as Bond author draws towards a close. I definitely get the sense that it’s setting things up to wrap up, and doing so with the knowledge that the film series is about to change things up too.

Bond and Flicka (returning from the previous novel) are sent to investigate a suspiciously rich businessman, and tail him about the country then the world in what turns out to be the classic Bond plot.

I feel like Gardner is trying to channel Fleming more than usual here, and drops a bunch of references back to past missions and characters, as well as following a Fleming-like structure to the narrative.

I was disappointed by the ending, but I can’t say it’s out of character for a Bond novel, and I’m keen now to get onto reading Cold, Gardner’s final novel, which I remember sort of wrapping around Seafire in order to wrap up all the loose ends.

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The Secret of Phantom Lake

The Secret of Phantom Lake

William Arden

3rd September 2023

Things get creepy and dangerous again for the Three Investigators as they hunt for actual pirate treasure.

It’s a fairly run of the mill T3I novel, with a mystery happening upon them, and lots of going places to hunt clues. There’s perhaps a bit more structure set up than sometimes, which makes it feel a little formulaic.

Not bad, but not their best outing either.

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Courageous

Courageous

Jack Campbell

3rd September 2023

Book three of the Lost Fleet series - a surprisingly compelling set of novels about realistically timed space travel and space battles.

There’s not a huge amount to say about the plot except that it’s more of the same, just with the fleet’s situation getting worse as they run low on supplies and their enemies get wiser to their new tactics.

I felt like this one dragged a little - and there’s a lot more sex than probably necessary to advance the character-based part of the plot.

A good distraction though, and I’m definitely planning to keep going through the rest of the series and see how things unfold.

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Holiday at the Dew Drop Inn

Holiday at the Dew Drop Inn

Eve Garnett

3rd September 2023

The third book in the One End Street series is one that I didn’t know existed when I read the other two as a child, and so is entirely new to me on this read through.

It focuses on the character and setting that quickly became a favourite in the previous book, as Kate goes on holiday for the whole summer. However I don’t think it does it as compellingly as the previous book managed.

One thing I particularly noticed in this book was the length of the paragraphs. I can only assume that this is an effect of when it was written - but there are frequently paragraphs taking up almost an entire page, and that’s a lot of dense, small writing, to have in one go. Similarly the book, and the individual chapters, feel longer than in the first two books.

The story is generally good fun. It’s interesting to see some returning characters, and some actual characters arcs for, well at least one of them, which I think sets this a bit apart from the previous novels.

As with the previous novel, there’s one small moment of legacy racism, which probably would be entirely commonplace at the time the story is set, although I’m not sure that would be fair to say of the time this novel was actually written. It’s more subtle this time round, but still jarring to a modern reader.

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Secret of the Indian

Secret of the Indian

Lynne Reid Banks

27th August 2023

It’s probably thirty years since I read this third book in the series and I had no memory at all of what happens.

The story follows on immediately from the events of book two - The Return of the Indian - and so really just feels like the second act, as Omri and Patrick work to fix some of the damage done which maintaining secrecy.

I actually thought it worked better than book two, with the peril feeling more real, and us getting some more characters - particularly female characters finally showing up with some agency and character of their own. But I don’t think it can work alone, and so the reader really does need to read both books together.

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Trust Jennings

Trust Jennings

Anthony Buckeridge

27th August 2023

Jennings and his friends return for another set of chaotic adventures caused by misunderstanding and/or wilful misinterpretation of rules and instructions.

This feels like a perfectly workable entry to the series. The plot comes together nicely into the usual three-act structure, with excellent foreshadowing and callbacks.

But it just doesn’t quite have the energy and hilarity that I found in the previous story - Jennings in Particular - which felt one of the best.

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Secret Seven Mystery

Secret Seven Mystery

Enid Blyton

27th August 2023

The Seven have a mystery to solve when a girl is reported missing from her boarding school and rumoured to be hiding in their local area.

As a mystery, it’s a good one - with plenty of investigating to do. The old dichotomy of sexism toward the main female characters, while presenting independent guest female characters with proper agency, continues.

I think this one struggles a bit against the modern reader though. The central plot point feels very scary in the modern world and I think perhaps the books ends up over glamourising running away from home, and so I suspect some parents might not be as comfortable reading this as parents would have been when it was written.

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Death of a Bookseller

Death of a Bookseller

Alice Slater

27th August 2023

I picked this up during a book-shopping spree, based on the promise of the cover and an expectation of cosy crime.

This is not cosy at all. In fact it was so not cosy that I found I had to stop at about the halfway mark. I was struggling so much to empathise with the characters and found it painful and cringeworthy to read.

This really is the story of two broken people, who happen to work together. One is broken by grief, and trying to navigate through this with the aid of drink, poetry, and bad relationship choices. The other is broken through social awkwardness and obsessiveness, incapable of empathising with her colleague and becoming her stalker.

I couldn’t cope with this level of negativity - I’m into fiction for enjoyable escapism, and for me this book didn’t offer that.

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Perilous Times

Perilous Times

Thomas D Lee

27th August 2023

I picked this book somewhat at random during a shopping spree, after noticing the cover on the shelf.

It’s a chunky tale about Sir Kay, an Arthurian knight who returns from the ground whenever Britain (or England, it seems to change) is in peril, and Mariam, an ecoterrorist set to counter climate change. Set in a dystopian future where climate change has rendered much of Britain uninhabitable, and mass capitalism has removed all shreds of public service from government.

So it’s a strongly political story, and because of that I found it difficult to read in places, because those elements ring true as a possible future.

But it is also a comedy - there are little moments of amusement throughout, and plot twists which seem both incredible and entirely logical in the moment.

I’m not sure I’d go as far as to recommend the book - it took a lot of reading to get through and is heavier subject matter than I’m really in the mood for this year.

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The Trial

The Trial

Rob Rinder

27th August 2023

The latest twist on the cosy crime genre comes in the form of this legal thriller starring trainee barrister Adam Green.

It’s interesting to read a legal story from a British perspective, after years of reading John Grisham, and I found this a refreshing, and much more relaxing, thing to read.

The mystery is a good one, there’s plenty to discover along with the characters, and a bunch that’s setting things up for sequels.

I found the end a bit rushed, but that’s not entirely unusual for me, as by that point I’m racing through because I’m hooked on the story.

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Fourth Wing

Fourth Wing

Rebecca Yarros

5th August 2023

I picked up this TikTok sensation on the second opportunity, because people on the internet would not stop talking about it. And because it has dragons.

It’s the story of a young woman who against her will has to attend a dangerous military academy to learn to become a dragon rider. While there she meets a wide variety of fellow students from diverse backgrounds, and forms relationships of a variety of kinds with them as she tries to survive and thrive.

I found it to be very readable for the first three quarters, although there were places where I felt it a bit rough - and some places where it felt like some more foreshadowing would have made things a bit less deus ex machina.

The final quarter lost me though. There are two sequences back to back which, while definitely foreshadowed, I felt were unnecessarily explicit to continue telling the story. I feel like these both raise the minimum age at which people should feel comfortable with children reading.

And then the climax involved the type of scene which I’ve learnt that I find really hard to read. The sort of action where every word counts, and that’s just not something I find easy to take in. But that’s on me rather than the narrative.

So in all, it’s readable, and I can see why it’s become as popular as it has - but I’ve read more compelling, more readable, and more enjoyable stuff this year which I’d definitely recommend over it.

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Voices of the Dead

Voices of the Dead

Ambrose Parry

5th August 2023

The fourth Raven and Fisher novel sees the pair dragged in to investigate another crime while they continue with their day jobs treating patients in 19th Century Edinburgh.

For some reason I was nervous picking this book up, but clearly that was nonsense as I read it in just two days.

There’s so much going on with multiple different plot lines going on for each of the main characters, interweaved throughout the book - both affecting the specific plot of this one, and developing their lives and relationships to keep things moving for their world.

Really great, and although there’s a small amount of gore and violence, I think it’s much less than in previous books.

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Fear on Wheels

Fear on Wheels

Franklin W Dixon

5th August 2023

For their 108th mystery, the Hardy Boys find themselves working undercover at the local hot-rod show, as monster trucks fly around them.

As a mystery, it’s a good one with an interesting and dangerous setting, and a wide variety of characters to suspect and investigate. There’s a lot going on.

This one lacks all but one of the clichés of the series in this era, and that one that remains feels unfortunate because it just feels like picking on someone. I’m torn between whether a lack of recurring stuff makes this a better book, or is disappointing.

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Never Send Flowers

Never Send Flowers

John Gardner

5th August 2023

This 1993 James Bond novel sees the international spy and assassin sent to Switzerland to investigate the mysterious death of a holidaying member of staff from another government agency.

As a novel, it’s perfectly readable. As a plot, it contains all the outlandish characters and events that you might expect from Bond stories.

But it doesn’t really feel like it has quite the depth of character that I think I’ve now come to expect from this series. It’s almost like it’s a cliché, or trying too hard to be a Bond story from the movies. It feels more like a murder mystery with a ridiculous ending planned, but still breaks the rules.

And it being from 1993, it doesn’t really understand yet where it needs to fall on the spectrum between sexism and feminism - clearly trying to embrace the latter while still, with a modern eye, landing squarely in the former.

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Grave Expectations

Grave Expectations

Alice Bell

29th July 2023

It would be fair to say that I bought this cosy crime novel entirely on the basis of the title. It’s the story of a medium and her ghostly pals, as they are accidentally drawn into trying to solve a murder that nobody else believes has happened.

At first, it felt like there was a roughness and inconsistency to the narrative. But as I continued reading, I realised that this is in fact a genius move on the author’s part, where the narration is following the mood of the protagonist throughout.

There are tons of small moments that stand out. Little jokes, snide asides, or random observations from the characters that make them feel like real people rather than constructs.

The mystery is solidly constructed too. There are clues throughout with a range of fidelity. Some are big and bold and repetition makes them really stand out, while others are subtle, and you don’t know if you are being played with with red herrings.

I really enjoyed this story, and am intrigued to see if we’ll get any more adventures for these characters.

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The Frugal Wizard's Handbook for Surviving Medieval England

The Frugal Wizard's Handbook for Surviving Medieval England

Brandon Sanderson

29th July 2023

The second of Brandon Sanderson’s secret projects is a standalone story about a chap who wakes up, with no memory, in a field… in something resembling mediaeval England, and with only scraps of his guidebook still intact.

The narration reminds me of Sanderson’s early Alcatraz series, which I haven’t ever managed to get into, though much more polished. It’s a very casual telling, but doesn’t quite achieve the same level of charm experienced in reading Tress, the first secret project.

The book (well, the edition I’ve got) is illustrated throughout. I think the secondary story that plays out through line drawings on almost every page is actually my favourite part of the whole construction.

Normally, one of the things I love about Sanderson’s worlds is how they are built. This one seems to be solidly constructed, but we are visiting it too early to really learn about that - and so I feel a bit like I missed out on something there.

A good book, but not up there with Tress as the best of the best.

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The Mystery of the Shrinking House

The Mystery of the Shrinking House

William Arden

29th July 2023

This classic 3 Investigators mystery sees the friends clearing out the possessions of a deceased artist, then hired to track them back down.

It’s incredibly readable for a kids book from the early 1970s, and the mystery really holds up. It certainly feels like a lot more effort went into crafting this series than into Hardy Boys adventures.

It’s full of the quirky elements that make this series fun, a bunch of the series regular elements, and some proper puzzles which you can try to solve along with the team.

A solid entry and one that really represents the series well.

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Further Adventures of the Family From One End Street

Further Adventures of the Family From One End Street

Eve Garnett

29th July 2023

I had one memory of this book from reading it when I was a child, and I’m pleased to see that scene plays out just the same. The rest of the book was like reading an entirely new story.

Unlike the first book, this one is presented more as a continuous novel, rather than almost a collection of short stories with continuity between. After a bout of measles, three of the children are sent off to the countryside to recover. This provides for the best part of the narrative, taking up the central half of the book, and unsurprisingly seems to be the part that will be repeated in the following book.

Unfortunately, as the book reaches its conclusion, it takes a surprisingly racist turn. Being from the 1950s, I’m sure the terminology used was in common parlance. But being from the 2020s, it’s utterly out of place and, repeated as it is four times or so, completely threw me out of the narrative and really ruined the end of the reading experience. It’s exceptionally irritating as it’s not evening meaningful to the plot. There feels to be no reason whatsoever for it being included, and with a modern mindset that just makes it feel like the author has done it for shock value.

So, a really nice, nostalgic read… until the last couple of chapters which spoiled it. I really hope that modern reprints have tweaked the ending to make this appropriate again for small children.

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Return of the Indian

Return of the Indian

Lynne Reid Banks

29th July 2023

The sequel, which I’m revisiting after a likely 30 years, sees Omri once again court disaster by exchanging his small toys for real people in his magic cupboard.

I had barely any memory of the plot of this entry in the series - it introduces a lot more peril for a lot of characters, and also uncomfortable themes, some of which might need putting into context for a modern young reader.

There is acknowledgement of some racism, but with today’s lens, a decent amount gets through regardless.

Not quite as good as the first book.

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Jennings in Particular

Jennings in Particular

Anthony Buckeridge

16th July 2023

I’ve been slowly re-reading this series from my childhood over the past decade and a half, and this is one of the most enjoyable.

These are the tales of JCT Jennings, a boarding school third-former in an indeterminate mid-20th century decade. My copy is from the 80s and had been updated with decimalisation and probably other tweaks.

The three act structure that marks the series continues to be present, and ties together really well into an overall series of comedic entertainment which really kept me hooked.

Probably my favourite of the series.

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Bored Gay Werewolf

Bored Gay Werewolf

Tony Santorella

16th July 2023

I was attracted to this book by its title, boldly printed on the cover. It’s just sounds fun, and while it is that, it’s more too.

This is the story of Brian - who has abandoned his college studies and escaped to a city to work in a bar/restaurant after being turned into a werewolf. His relationships are what make it interesting, and it’s something of a coming of age novel as he works out who means what to him.

Like some of the best stories, it uses its fantasy setting to reflect back on the real world, and in particular some toxic aspects of it. I found it a polite telling, and a good pace.

Very good, and leaves me wondering if there are some more adventures to be had for Brian, or if the author will produce something equally good in a new setting.

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Somewhere To Belong

Somewhere To Belong

Dayton Ward

16th July 2023

The latest Discovery novel, set between seasons three and four, sees the crew respond to a distress call and get caught up in an internal conflict amongst some old friends.

It starts like any classic Star Trek novel, but soon becomes clear that the plot really does only work because it’s a Disco novel. It does a good job to extend the lore and explore the interaction between the two Discovery eras, and uses a range of characters from the show well.

I found it slow to read though, failing to give me a need to absorb it all faster as I read through. Each chapter felt like it ended at a convenient point to take a break, instead of offering the cliffhanger I might need.

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Winter's Gifts

Winter's Gifts

Ben Aaronovitch

16th July 2023

For a novella, this feels suspiciously long. It’s not as big as Aaronovitch’s full-length novels in this series, but with 200 densely printed pages, I’ve certainly read shorter novels by other authors.

This time out we follow Reynolds, the American FBI agent who investigates magic-related occurrences, as she’s sent to look into a weird telephone summons from a former colleague.

The story does a great job of expanding the world and seeing more about how yet another country deals with things (after the UK in the main series, and Germany in a previous novella).

It’s also a really high-energy little story that keeps up the pace and action throughout.

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The Spendthrift and the Swallow

The Spendthrift and the Swallow

Ambrose Parry

16th July 2023

A short story I somehow didn’t discover when it was published, this seems to fit somewhere maybe between the third and fourth books in the series.

It’s very short, and sees our favourite medical detective team of the 1800s looking briefly into a local death.

I suppose my main thinking is that I don’t understand why it’s a thing. It’s so short and feels like it must just be a publicity thing for the new book… but to someone who has been reading along already it just feels oddly lacking.

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A Death In The Parish

A Death In The Parish

Richard Coles

16th July 2023

Book two, and we’re back in the rectory with Canon Clement, the unlikely detective in this cosy crime village, whose life is already busy and complex ministering to his flock, overseeing the new priest in the next village, and exploring new hobbies with his policeman friend.

We get some great character development, seeing those established previously grow, and we get some new characters join to fill out the cast and add variety. There’s a lot of churchiness, which some readers might find off putting, but mentally I liken to world-building in fantasy novels.

The mystery itself I’m not entirely sure I followed the resolution of. There seemed to be quite a lot of threads of story all wrapped up quite quickly, and I can’t remember how exactly they added up.

Overall though, a nice cosy tale which I enjoyed, and I’ll definitely be picking up the next book when it in turn comes along.

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The Shadow Cabinet

The Shadow Cabinet

Juno Dawson

25th June 2023

The sequel to Her Majesty’s Royal Coven continues the adventures of a group of women whose perfectly normal lives as witches have been massively disrupted by the men in them.

I wasn’t sure where this was going to go after the events of the first novel, but it takes us down a really interesting route exploring both new and old characters and building out more of the world, the backstory, and being action packed in itself.

It took a couple of chapters to get back into, particularly getting my head around one character’s new situation, but from there on I stormed through at full pace.

Really enjoyable reading, full of humorous but also serious political jibes, and realistic scenarios despite the fantasy setting. I can’t believe I have to wait again to find out what happens next.

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Saints of the Shadow Bible

Saints of the Shadow Bible

Ian Rankin

25th June 2023

As I slowly catch up on the Rebus novels, I’ve arrived at 2014 in this book set around the referendum campaign - it’s interesting to see events that l actually feel a part of being reflected in the stories.

I really enjoy the Rebus novels - they’ve got the balance right for me of a serious, believable crime novel, but without feeling like the author wants me to sympathise with the villain, which I find detestable.

It’s full of humorous moments, particularly keyed around Rebus having been made a detective sergeant now, and his old sergeant being his inspector. Rankin has also seemed to have got his head around the new Malcolm Fox character now, who feels like he fits much more into the family here and makes for a readable character.

Everything I wanted.

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The Battle Drum

The Battle Drum

Saara El-Arifi

25th June 2023

The sequel to The Final Strife brings an exponential increase in world building - it feels like zooming out and suddenly finding myself somewhere ten time larger, and with ten times the civilisations to learn about.

The story follows the same characters we fell for before, as they expand their own horizons in different types of adventures. Every turn reveals more history, more culture, and more intrigue which is really fun to read about.

I found that I read this book much faster than I expected. My memory of the first book was that it was long and took a long time to get through, but this one just flew past.

Very much looking forward to book three, and learning more about this world.

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Yellowface

Yellowface

R F Kuang

25th June 2023

Rebecca Kuang has rapidly entered my favourite author list, and luckily for me she’s becoming quite prolific, and with incredibly varied range of storytelling based clearly on very thorough research.

This, her first ‘real world’ novel, follows a struggling and lonely author who pulls off an unethical stunt and gets caught up in the followup. It’s fascinating on so many levels.

The narrative is told in first person, and so as a reader you have to pause every now and then to take in the view from outside the narrative. Kuang has done a great job of providing someone you really want to emphasise with despite their terrible flaws.

I can imagine this being a book that I come back to over future years and read again, taking more and more from it with each reading.

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Dead Famous

Dead Famous

Greg Jenner

25th June 2023

I picked this book up after listening to Greg Jenner’s history podcast, and having enjoyed those thought the same might be true here.

The book is a history of celebrity, as a concept but told through the stories of various famous people throughout the past few centuries, and occasionally earlier.

I found it to be much more academic than I was expecting. I felt frequently like I should be taking notes, or referring back to notes I hadn’t taken to understand the context of something. The story isn’t linear, and Jenner moves in and out of many characters lives throughout, and I found quite difficult to follow who was who.

As a result I found the book slow going - certainly much more so than the fiction I’ve been reading around it. Although the tone of voice clearly matches what I’m used to from the radio, the pacing does not.

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Hollow City

Hollow City

Ransom Riggs

27th May 2023

The second book of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children follows immediately on from the end of the first, and is an action-packed adventure across 1940s Britain as the children race to save their mentor.

There’s no real recap of the first novel, so it took a while for my head to catch back up with some of what was going on, but in some respects that doesn’t matter as the pace is fast and it’s easy to get caught up in that.

It definitely shows through that this is a book built around the found photographs which feature throughout (and are likely the reason for the really high quality of the paper and printing - which ends up making this a really heavy book), and yet I think that’s a strong part of what makes the narrative move so compellingly.

I was thinking early on that I probably would stop after this book, but now I’m considering again whether to look out for book three.

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August Kitko and the Mechas from Space

August Kitko and the Mechas from Space

Alex White

27th May 2023

The second of Alex White’s books I’ve read, this time an original story in which they create a happily queer future full of music, technology, and giant alien not-robots who attempt to destroy humanity.

I really love the worldbuilding of White’s future, in which they don’t bother to explain things that would be mundane to the characters - we don’t know how they interact with their computers for example, just how they describe doing so.

The nature of the interaction between the characters and Mechas of the title is also fascinating. White has clearly done a ton of research into this and thought a lot about how to bring character to what might otherwise be generic baddies.

I found some aspects hard to visualise, but that’s not unusual for my brain for science fiction concepts or battle scenes, so I think that’s probably more on me than the text.

Looking forward to seeing how White develops this world in book two.

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Home Stretch

Home Stretch

Graham Norton

27th May 2023

Graham Norton’s third novel is a quite sad tale from the start about a community whose lives are all damaged by a local tragedy, and how that grows over the following decades.

I’m glad in a way that this book has lived on my shelf for some time, as the are definitely moments where I might have found it harder to read. As it was I raced through it in about three days and found it a really interesting look at lives and history of cultural attitudes.

There are parts of the narrative where we jump back and forth in time quite abruptly, and that did throw me off in places and I needed to reread a few paragraphs to work out what was going on.

But overall another really interesting story from Norton, and an encouragement to read his new novels too.

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Godkiller

Godkiller

Hannah Kaner

27th May 2023

I picked this up purely on the strength of the marketing, which it seems I’ve become a sucker for. It’s a story of a woman who travels the country as a freelance killer of gods (gods being illegal), but also of a couple of other characters equally, who have their own complex views on the whole god situation.

I enjoyed it, racing through the back half on a couple of long train journeys. The world building is thorough, the characters are compelling, and they play off against one another well.

I especially liked the town built on a bridge that features around the middle of the book. I thought this was a fascinating idea and made for quite a few interesting scenes.

I shall be looking forward to the rest of the trilogy.

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Three Cheers, Secret Seven

Three Cheers, Secret Seven

Enid Blyton

27th May 2023

For nostalgia reasons, I’m revisiting the Enid Blyton series that I read as a kid, and have now arrived at this entry.

Three Cheers is a great Seven story, seeing them randomly find a mystery and need to investigate it. It shows a level of social consciousness that’s not often present, and paints a picture (maybe unintentionally) of the class divide of the era.

However as a modern reader there’s a hugely clear level of sexism within the seven - the boys must do almost everything, and only one of the girls gets anything to really do as part of the plot, most of the time just being told to stay at home or otherwise being excluded. Weirdly though this doesn’t extend to the protagonist character Susie, who although the boys act towards with sexism, refuses to partake herself and demonstrates a lot of agency. It’s an odd contrast between the characters and I’m not really sure what it’s meant to be saying to the reader.

Overall though a very simple, quick tale, without any risk or danger.

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The Theory of Everything Else

The Theory of Everything Else

Dan Schreiber

27th May 2023

I’ve enjoyed Dan Schreiber’s audio works (podcasts and radio shows) for many years, so when his book was announced it went straight onto my list. This is a book of what he describes as ‘facts’ (quote marks his), which are things that people choose to believe, but likely aren’t quite actually true.

I can see this being an excellent book to keep in the bathroom. The chapters are short, and could easily be spread across a number of sittings. However you can also just devour the entire book in a couple of days, which was the approach I took.

As I had expected, the book is excellently researched, well written, funny and enjoyable to read. There are so many fascinating stories and I kept finding myself wanting to share some of its revelations, before remember that they are only ‘facts’.

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Murder Most Royal

Murder Most Royal

S J Bennett

27th May 2023

The third Her Majesty The Queen Investigates novel takes us to overwinter at Sandringham, where another mystery awaits.

It’s strangely bittersweet, reading this in the week of the coronation. It’s another delightful and incredibly respectfully put together tale, and very much a price of fun to imagine that this is one of the late Queen’s activities.

I didn’t feel quite so hooked as with the first two novels, but then I also had a theory in my head which was not proved correct by the eventual reveal.

I’m very happy though to continue reading these cosy novels, and am intrigued to see how they will play out going back in time to earlier in the Queen’s life.

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Gallant

Gallant

V E Schwab

27th May 2023

A creepy book which I picked up in an independent book shop. I can’t remember what had inspired me to look for a V E Schwab to buy, but something definitely had, and this stand-alone novel seemed a good place to start.

Olivia has had an unusual upbringing and can see things others can’t, and when she’s found by a letter from an unknown uncle, she starts to learn about her family and history.

Not really my usual choice of novel - I tend to avoid the creepy. Nonetheless, I raced through it in three days, and found it really interesting to see how things unfolded. It reminds me a bit of the level of creepy in the occasional Doctor Who episode.

I don’t think it’s done enough though to make me want to go out and seek out the rest of Schwab’s output.

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Panic on Gull Island

Panic on Gull Island

Franklin W Dixon

6th May 2023

The Hardys and Chet barely break a sweat when their friend/girlfriend/sister Iola is kidnapped in Florida. This is probably the most glaring plot hole in this novel, in which the only people to go looking for a missing teenager are three other teenagers, with all their parents just carrying on with their lives.

Beyond that, it’s the usual tale of near-misses, breaking and entering to look for clues, and eventually finding the coincidences that tie everything together. Pretty standard on that front from this era of Hardy Boys books.

Reasonably well paced though and with a good variety of characters and clues, and although Iola isn’t visible, she clearly has some level of agency throughout which is more than sometimes (although that hardly makes up for the incredibly low amount for any other female character).

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Beyond the Wand

Beyond the Wand

Tom Felton

6th May 2023

Tom Felton, who of course played Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter film series, delivers this autobiography covering his life from fishing child to LA megastar.

It’s incredibly readable. I devoured it in a day, and it’s far from my usual choice of reading material as I’m not generally a non-fiction person.

It certainly helps that I have a decent amount of familiarity with the HP film series, against which backdrop a lot of the book is set. Felton tells us how he became part of the world, and talks a lot about his relationships with other members of the cast and crew.

And then rather abruptly his life takes a turn, and I think we come to the chapters at the end of the book which reveal some of his motivation for writing. It’s very open, very self-aware, and very stark.

I hope that Felton’s got what he needed from the process of putting this book together, and I hope that one day in the distant future we might get a second volume, containing all his successes in life from here on.

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On His Majesty's Secret Service

On His Majesty's Secret Service

Charlie Higson

6th May 2023

Charlie Higson and James Bond make a surprise return in this coronation tie-in novel. When it was announced I thought that probably the publishers had had it up their sleeve for a while and were just waiting for the day to come - but actually it’s filled with right up to the minute references which make it feel like it was written within the past two months.

The book looks short - but feels on the inside quite reasonable in length. Less of a novella and more of a short novel. The narrative is comfortable and familiar, it’s not quite Fleming in tone, but it’s close enough that it definitely has the feel of a proper Bond story. And all the usual elements are there, some with an amusing modern twist to them.

I had wondered if this would be in continuity with Higson’s other Young Bond novels, but no, this isn’t the tale of a 103-year-old come back to save the country once again.

I enjoyed reading - it’s a nice visit to the character and the world, and the timely nature does add to the fun.

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A Wild and True Relation

A Wild and True Relation

Kim Sherwood

6th May 2023

I really did not know what I was getting into when I picked up this novel after having read the author, Kim Sherwood, ‘s previous novel (Double or Nothing).

It’s a historical novel with a lot of history, ostensibly about smugglers who operate along the Devon coast, but really about a gender non-conforming child who is brought up by the smugglers.

I found it took a lot longer than usual to get my head into the narrative. The voice used for most of the story is intentionally styled after writing of the time, and so not in the form I’m used to. There are also chapters written in totally different voices and fonts, and one of these fonts I found challenging to focus on.

Very much not my usual type of novel, but once I got past halfway I was finally properly into it, and was able to flow much more though the second half.

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Marple

Marple

??? ???

23rd April 2023

Marple is a short-fiction anthology, featuring 12 stories about the titular character, Miss Marple, as created by Agatha Christie, each told by a different contemporary author.

As individual stories, I found them a mixed bag, with my favourites coming in the second half of the collection. Some of them I found harder to read than others, and some of them I wasn’t sure I was really following. A couple of the authors I’m encouraged to look out for and try their own creations.

As a collection, they do well to emulate the world of Marple, and bring in a lot of connections back to Christie’s original stories. I noticed a few references to Bertram, and there’s a lot of appearances for Raymond. Possibly it sometimes felt like there maybe could have been a little more effort to avoid the same references repeating.

I don’t really think that short fiction is my thing, and so I suspect I was never going to be as into this collection as I wanted to be, but it was an interesting diversion for a couple of train journeys.

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Tress of the Emerald Sea

Tress of the Emerald Sea

Brandon Sanderson

23rd April 2023

I finally found myself with a copy of Tress of the Emerald Sea, the first of Brandon Sanderson’s Secret Project novels (out of 4 being released throughout this year), and I savoured it.

I managed to mostly limit myself to three chapters each day, up until the end when the traditional Sanderson-style climax made me devour the final dozen or so chapters in one sitting as everything came together.

It’s a really lovely story, about a girl who lives on an island and would be quite happy staying there thank-you, if only she didn’t have to rescue someone she loved, and on doing so learn a lot more about the world, and the cosmere.

My copy is beautifully illustrated, and printed, in a way that feels extremely uncommon in novels and yet truly made this book feel worth waiting for. There are all sorts of delightful little things throughout which made the act of reading it a joy on top of the story.

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London's Glory

London's Glory

Christopher Fowler

23rd April 2023

Rather than a novel, this books is a collection of short stories about smaller cases which eternally elderly detectives Bryant & May have encountered through the decades.

Individually, the stories capture the essence of the characters and their investigations. Collectively though I felt like they lacked something that I usually appreciate about this series, and I don’t think for me that the short format works so well.

I did appreciate the commentary running throughout the book though from the author, adding notes about the inspiration behind each of the stories, and some of the background to his writing of the novels that have come before.

Really though I’m ready to go back to the longer stories, and have bought the next four novels to sit on the shelf ready.

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Record of a Spaceborn Few

Record of a Spaceborn Few

Becky Chambers

3rd April 2023

Becky Chambers’ third Wayfarers novel takes us to the Exodus Fleet, where we meet a variety of characters at different stages of their lives aboard this now-parked generational voyage.

It is, beautifully, a character driven piece where the plot is almost incidental to just getting to know the people and their lives, as they make a variety of choices about their futures or reflect on their pasts.

I have found these books incredibly relaxing to read, and to allow myself to fall into the worlds Chambers builds up in such an accessible way.

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Flip Back

Flip Back

Andrew Cartmel

3rd April 2023

The fourth adventure for the Vinyl Detective sees him trying to track down a rare record for a friend, and visiting the quite wacky band who produced it.

I found that this entry lacked something that I’ve come to expect from the series. The humour felt muted and less laugh-out-loud, and the peril almost felt more real and therefore less escapist.

The plot is outlandish, but I’m not sure it’s not too far, and seems to be a lot driving on coincidence rather than events that are caused by events. I’m still not entirely sure why many of the things in the plot even happened.

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The High Country

The High Country

John Jackson Miller

3rd April 2023

The first Strange New Worlds book feels superficially like a lot of the old novels - with a planet of the week to visit and find out what’s going on, with a civilisation who appear to be from Earth’s history. In this way, it follows the pitch perfectly - a modern take on the original idea of Star Trek.

It is a modern take too - there’s a good balance between three focal characters - and it’s about much more than just the action and the science fiction concepts.

Miller focussed on the characters we know from before - from The Original Series and from Discovery - possibly reflective of how early the text must have been written, and without him having yet seen the finished product of Season One. But actually my favourite parts are those with La’an, whose voice Miller gets absolutely spot on.

The one thing I did find though was that this wasn’t a book I was able to read fast. I’d just come off a period of heavy reading where I’d be really engrossed for hours, and this broke that habit. I’m not really sure what aspect had that effect, but it meant that it took me nearly two weeks to read instead of two days.

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The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels

The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels

Janice Hallett

4th March 2023

Janice Hallett’s third novel takes her format - the novel equivalent of a found-footage film - on a new journey as we follow the writing of a true crime book, and the author’s interactions and investigations as she tries to uncover what really happened.

This one is a bit of a hybrid presentation compared to the first two - some is correspondence, emails and text messages, and some is transcripts of audio recordings.

Thanks to a delayed train journey, I got through the book in 48 hours. But it is that gripping and the format really helps make it incredibly readable.

The plot is darker than the previous entries right from the start. To the extent that I even had a bad dream that seemed to have been inspired by it.

Overall though another great story, and I’m looking forward to more from Hallett in the coming years.

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Legends & Lattes

Legends & Lattes

Travis Baldree

4th March 2023

“Cosy fantasy” is the term that has been coined to describe this novel, and it fits perfectly. This is the tale of a retiring D&D-style adventurer and her plans to start a new, less physically risky, venture.

It’s a lovely character-driven tale about friendship, and sets up a wonderful little world that definitely feels like it’s inviting me back for another visit in future.

I’ve already been searching for more similar low-stakes reading to add to my list.

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No Plan B

No Plan B

Lee Child & Andrew Child

4th March 2023

Andrew Childs’ third Reacher novel takes us on an unusual journey to a prison, but not just for Reacher - but also for a bunch of other new characters whose motivations only become clear frustratingly slowly.

The writing style feels quite different from what I remember. It’s more bitty - there are a lot more point of view characters, and it was hard to keep track of them all, particularly while the narrative was trying to remain mysterious.

I think this has likely been the book that’s tipped me out of being a Reacher reader. A 30+ story series has been a good run, and kept me entertained over the past 13 years, but I think there’s so much more now I want to read that isn’t this. It’s fair to say my tastes change over time, so this may be more a reflection on me than on the books.

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The Family From One End Street

The Family From One End Street

Eve Garnett

25th February 2023

I recently read the biography of Terry Pratchett, in which it’s mentioned that as a young child he enjoyed reading Eve Garnett’s tale of a large working class family. And I remembered enjoying it, I imagine when read to me by my mum, as a small child (it was certainly her choice of a book she had known as a child - possibly even then her own original copy).

And so a second-hand 1975 copy very quickly made its way to my shelves, and then, once I’d finished the biography, into my hands and eyes.

The book remains delightful - there is surprisingly little to age it (although I realise it’s possible that between the 30s and 70s some editing might have gone on) in the style of language or the usual problems that early 20th century texts have. Perhaps there’s an element of sexism in the level of agency the boys control in their adventures, compared to those the girls experience.

But the book does, as I understand it sets out to, paint a picture of what working class life was like at the time - the professions and hardships of the parents, the daily happenings for the children, the cultural references, the challenges to overcome, and particularly the relationships with people of other classes.

I’ve very happily revisited this book - and have also obtained the two sequels, only one of which I read as a child.

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Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes

Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes

Rob Wilkins

25th February 2023

The life story of Terry Pratchett, as told by one of the people who knew him the best, having been the only person there with him through much of the creative process.

Rob proves himself to be a really good writer here. You’d not expect less I suppose from someone with all that experience (as becomes clear in the book) of working with our era’s greatest storyteller.

There’s a happy balance between storyteller and subject, with Rob’s voice breaking through - especially for the parts he was present for - and interrupting with the traditional footnotes throughout.

And then the book becomes, as you might expect, terribly sad. It’s unheard of for me to cry at a book, but this one definitely brought me the closest.

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The Satsuma Complex

The Satsuma Complex

Bob Mortimer

25th February 2023

Bob Mortimer is an extremely funny person to watch on television, so I thought that the idea of him writing a novel was definitely something that I’d like to read the output of.

The book is a tale of a lonely man who works for a legal firm, seeking companionship. Which doesn’t sound like the funniest setup, except that the man comes across very much as representing the young Bob Mortimer, with an imagination to match.

There’s an element of social awkwardness which could risk cringe, but I think the first-person presentation and that we are exposed to the internal logic of the narrator really reduces this.

The story is fine - but really feels like a vehicle for the funny moments, which start immediately with page two actually causing out loud laughter.

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Call for the Dead

Call for the Dead

John le Carré

22nd January 2023

This is John le Carré’s first Smiley novel, published in the early 1960s, and setting up a series that would continue for 56 years yet only contain 9 novels.

Smiley is a burnt-out member of the Security Service, having served pre-war, during WW2, and post-war. He’s just doing routine things, when something goes wrong.

Amongst other things, it’s a fascinating glance back in time - at surface level to pre-decimal coinage, and deeper into plot-affecting elements like the lack of constant mobile communication.

But it’s also a great mystery story, and an interesting first look at a character who feels like he shouldn’t be compelling, but nonetheless is.

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Fearless

Fearless

Jack Campbell

22nd January 2023

This book, the second in the Lost Fleet series, has been sat on my shelf for quite some years since I read the first novel, and I was really nervous about picking it up. Hard military sci-fi is not normally my thing.

And yet somehow immediately I fell into the flow of this novel and found it incredibly gripping. The narrative is not complex - we follow the fleet captain as he goes about the business of organising his mission - flipping between character moments inside his head, and epic space battles.

I really like how the space travel and combat feels very real - the author has clearly spent a lot of time considering the real physics of how spaceships and fleets would really move and communicate - and hasn’t cut corners with magic tech solutions but instead made them keep elements of the plot.

I will certainly try not to wait so long before book three.

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The Fifth Elephant

The Fifth Elephant

Terry Pratchett

22nd January 2023

In my gradual re-read of Discworld’s Watch novels I’ve reached The Fifth Elephant, which is one that I have the least memory of from my previous reading which must have been around 15 years ago.

It’s a tale of diplomacy, as Vimes is sent to Uberwald for the coronation of the Low King. As such, it does that classic Vimes thing of putting him in an awkward situation and letting his character flow.

I found it a bit harder to get going than some Discworld novels, and it wasn’t until around halfway that I properly started to accelerate through. I don’t think it has quite the relaxed readability of some of the novels - there’s a lot starting to go on at a deeper level in this part of the series, and fewer quick surface level jokes.

Overall though, it’s a solid mystery story, with a fantastic amount of world building and proper exploration of several of the favourite Discworld characters.

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