All 2024 reviews - Shastrix Books

2024

All reviews

Death and Croissants

Death and Croissants

Ian Moore

7th July 2024

I’ve seen this book and its sequels in shops so many times and eventually picked it up in a charity shop.

This is a tale of a bewildered Englishman who runs a B&B in the Loire Valley, who just wants a quiet life, but whose guests seem to be a wild mix of people causing too much excitement to enter his life.

I think my main frustration was that we’re aligned with the wrong character. This means that there’s so much going on that we don’t see, and even when action happens most of it is in the chapter breaks and we just get filled in afterward.

I found the narrative very easy for my eyes to just slide past and so found myself having to go back and find out what I’d missed, which is never a great experience.

There are a couple of moments where I did actually laugh, but eventually I realised I needed to just put the effort in to get the second half done in one sitting so I couldn’t move on to something hopefully more engaging.

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Dune

Dune

Frank Herbert

7th July 2024

I’ve waited many decades to read this, but a desire to avoid the films until I’ve done the book finally prompted me into it.

At its core this is the tragic tale of a young man forced by prophecy/destiny into a course of actions that he has almost no control over, serving as a vehicle for building a science fiction world seemingly decrying a capitalist future of oppression by a hereditary ruling class.

I struggled to find most, if any, of the characters engaging, and the worldbuilding limited in interest with the focus being more on the politics than anything else. I found the plot to be slow, and driven much more by what people were thinking rather than doing.

The narrative frustratingly flicked between characters, often seemingly mid-sentence, so just when I was starting to feel comfortable in an alignment I was thrown elsewhere. I’m not sure I would read something that’s so much in the heads of its characters and think “this’ll make a film”.

As much as I wanted to appreciate it, I don’t expect to be picking up any of the sequels.

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Death in Fine Condition

Death in Fine Condition

Andrew Cartmel

29th June 2024

After reading a hefty non-fiction tome and trying to read something which turned out to be very much not my thing, I turned to Andrew Cartmel, whose previous novels I’ve found very relaxing and enjoyable.

The Paperback Sleuth is the opening to a new series with a new main character, but very quickly becomes clear that it’s the same world as the Vinyl Detective series, and Cartmel makes great ongoing jokes out of cross-over between the two.

This though has a new tone. Cordelia, our main character, has a more chilled attitude to life, and that’s reflected in slightly more graphic sex and drugs references than those in the previous series.

It’s a really good book, and I absolutely stormed through it in two days, aided by the weather being perfectly attuned for sitting out in the garden in the evenings.

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The Whole Truth

The Whole Truth

David Baldacci

29th June 2024

Having just finished a hefty non-fiction tome, I was recommended (by said tome) to pick up a thriller next, and so I grabbed this one which was early on my shelf and had remained unread for some years.

The narrative immediately grated. I was dropped into a scene of baddies plotting their plots, which is never something that I find that interesting - where’s the mystery? Where’s the joy in working things out? I don’t want a sense of empathy with the baddies.

Then I was introduced to “Shaw” - no first name - who for some reason in advance of reading I’d got the impression was going to be a professional female special agent character. But nope, turned out to be a man with an ego and no easy to discern profession. I don’t know why I’d got the impression I was expecting a woman, but it was disappointing to find another book about a man.

But still I kept going, until in about the fifth chapter there was a scene so unnecessarily reprehensible, that just felt like it was a throwaway scene to make the hero look less seedy, but could have been handled with much less shock value.

And so yeah, this was in no way what I was looking for to read. I wasn’t feeling entertained, I wasn’t feeling escapism, and I was being made to feel uncomfortable by the author’s choices of what to include. So away it went and I moved on to something more fun. I won’t return.

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Unruly

Unruly

David Mitchell

29th June 2024

Just occasionally I dip into some non-fiction reading, and this time I’m glad I did.

David Mitchell covers the monarchs of England from the mists of time (years with three digits) up to Elizabeth I, with an appreciation of irony and narrative storytelling that reality lacked at the time.

His voice comes across perfectly as he walks through history in roughly chronological order, taking no prisoners as he labels kings and queens by levels of competence and luck, with various anecdotes from history mixed in with his own personal reminiscences about learning about the period.

I really enjoyed both the facts and the sense of humour that the book portrays, and felt it much more approachable a read than other attempts at comic history that I’ve read.

If there’s ever a sequel (although I’m not anticipating one) then I would read it.

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Murder at the Monastery

Murder at the Monastery

Richard Coles

23rd June 2024

Everything is a bit shaken up in Canon Clement’s third mystery novel, which follows immediately on from the second.

The narrative is split here across multiple locations, as we follow three different threads of plot, which only somewhat overlap into plot. This feels quite odd in places where we jump between points of view mid chapter, which isn’t a style I’m all that used to.

One of the big changes with this book is that it’s much more a story about the characters, and less of the focus is on the mystery. This might be seen as detracting from it, as the murder referenced in the title feels secondary to the actual story that’s being told. Personally, I found it an interesting take and was engaged sufficiently with the characters that this didn’t matter.

I’m continuing to really enjoy this series and am intrigued to see where Richard Coles is going to take us next.

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Supernova

Supernova

Robb Pearlman

23rd June 2024

The second Star Trek Prodigy novel is a novelisation of a video game based on the TV series. It seems to be set immediately after the first novel, somewhere in the early second half of season one.

The crew find a mysterious message and set off to investigate, only to lose each other across three planets infested with baddies.

I can’t actually see quite how this would map to a video game, so in that sense it’s either a good novelisation or a weird game.

Compared to the first Prodigy novel though, I don’t feel like this manages to capture the characters’ voices as well. It gave me less of the evocative sense of the TV show, and felt just that bit less immersive as a result.

The plot isn’t bad, but felt like the connection to existing baddies was tenuous and could have worked equally well without that aspect that felt like it risks being contradicted by later TV episodes.

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Shadowstitch

Shadowstitch

Cari Thomas

15th June 2024

The second main book in the series arrived much larger and longer than o was expecting, with 650 or so pages.

Undaunted, I stuck my head in and was immediately hooked, drawn back into this world of teenage witches facing their pasts and futures while their world is under attack.

There’s so much going on, and Thomas does a great job of weaving that into a narrative told from one character’s alignment, that reveals secrets and world building to us at the perfect pace.

It’s a brilliant balance of moving the novel’s plot and the series plot forward in step, and I thoroughly enjoyed every page.

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Dead Tired

Dead Tired

Kat Ailes

9th June 2024

It’s sequel time, and we return to the sleepy Cotswold village that Alice moved to before Jack was born, and which now even the characters refer to as being like Midsomer.

I really like the bunch of characters and the sense of humour that the narration brings to them all. It must be hard to work with a large cast of main characters, all in a similar situation (early motherhood) and yet make them all stand out distinctly. I’ve definitely read a cosy crime that couldn’t achieve that at all, but this does so with style.

I also love the way the characters lives develop, we get to revisit various other characters from the first book too, and a rich new cast are introduced as well to fill out the new plot. Creating characters is clearly something that Ailes has put a ton of effort and talent into.

And the plot is great too - there’s a bunch of stuff going on, loads to investigate, clues all over the place, and enough that you think you maybe have worked some stuff out but without being confident enough to not want to race to the end and find out.

This was a two-day read for me, aided by two long train journeys, but also demonstrating how much it motivated me to focus on it.

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Pliable Truths

Pliable Truths

Dayton Ward

9th June 2024

A Next Generation / Deep Space Nine crossover novel, this story covers the period shortly before the DS9 pilot episode, when the Cardassians are withdrawing from their occupation of Bajor, and the Enterprise is dispatched to provide humanitarian and diplomatic help.

It feels like Star Trek, which is I suppose one of the best compliments for it. There’s a ton going on, so bigger than one episode, with a lot of plot strands to pull on and none of them seeming to dominate. This might make the book feel unfocussed, and I did at first wonder what the main plot actually was, before realising that it didn’t need to have a main plot to successfully tell stories about these characters.

Obviously the characterisation is spot on, and I particularly enjoyed seeing Keiko O’Brien get some story time as a botanist, and seeing her and Miles think about their future plans.

The choice of Garak for the cover art feels like a misstep. I can understand that he’s a marketable DS9 character, but his appearance doesn’t feel like it adds up to enough to make him as prominent as Picard, or more prominent than other characters.

One of those novels where it takes me a while to get into the swing of it, but from about halfway I stormed through.

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The Secret of the Haunted Mirror

The Secret of the Haunted Mirror

M. V. Carey

1st June 2024

Looking for something short to read, I grabbed this mystery from my shelf to revisit. While I’ve read it before, I didn’t remember this one at all, so it was fun to see the adventure play out.

As is standard for the Three Investigators, something creepy is going on, and then something criminal.

The plot is a bit convoluted, and the creepiness over surprisingly early, but overall I enjoyed it as a little adventure.

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The Shooting in the Shop

The Shooting in the Shop

Simon Brett

1st June 2024

A quick return to Fethering was really relaxing, and I raced through this mystery in two days - it was just what I was looking for in a book.

It’s Christmas, and Carole is really trying to join in and make it more enjoyable than her usual lack of festivities, but really she’s motivated most by trying to solve yet another local murder.

I really enjoy these characters and their little world. We got a few reminders pop in of previous adventures and friends, but mostly this is a new story with new suspects and a new plot.

I’m not entirely sure I understood the conclusion, but I don’t think that mattered too much, as the journey was what was important to me.

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The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi

The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi

Shannon Chakraborty

1st June 2024

I have found myself reading several books about pirates lately and this one landed in my hands after the cover stood out in the bookshop.

It’s set in and around the Indian Ocean about 800 years ago, and follows the story of retired pirate captain Amina al-Sirafi as she is drawn back into action for one last fantastical adventure.

I really enjoyed the setting - it’s good to find a book with a different view on the world, clearly a lot of thought and research gone into it, and that educates as well as entertaining.

The fantasy elements, while there from the start, built up in an easy to follow way and felt like really solid world building. The characters were compelling and believable, flawed in interesting ways, and yet always fun to be with. And the narration was fun - relaxed, informative, and with a style that really made you want to read more.

But I did find myself wishing the book was about a third shorter. By the time I was a week in I had lost patience a bit, not because the story wasn’t moving, but just because I was mentally ready to be reading the next book in my pile instead.

I was surprised to learn after reading that this is planned to become a trilogy. I’m not sure how I feel about revisiting this world and characters - the book worked well as a standalone.

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Displeasure Island

Displeasure Island

Alice Bell

26th May 2024

Back for a second adventure, Claire and Sophie go on holiday to an Irish prison island turned wellness retreat. Naturally given this is cosy crime, murder ensues, and the pair and their friends need to work out who dunnit, alongside a host of other mysteries.

I found this more challenging to read than the first novel. In part I suspect that’s because my copy has been printed with enormous letters, which means fewer words per line and I had to hold the book further from my face than normal. This may be a sign of my own aging too. But the text was a bit extremely big and made me feel like the novel was being artificially lengthened to meet a page count.

The range of new characters were good. They were a distinctive bunch, each with solidly identifiable traits, complex interpersonal dynamics, and a bunch of motives which is always important. And they showed an impressive range of diversity (in some metrics at least) which I enjoy in a novel and feels more reflective of my experience of the real world.

For whatever reason though it didn't grip me as much as I wanted it to, and now I’m less confident about recommending this series to friends as I was before.

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Radical Moves

Radical Moves

Franklin W Dixon

26th May 2024

In their 113th novel, the Hardy Boys take up skateboarding (it is 1992 for them after all), meet up with some competitive skateboarders, and naturally get dragged into a skateboard-related mystery.

As they go, it’s a fairly standard Hardy Boys adventure, although none of the regular side characters make an appearance, meaning their traditional roles in the plots have just been added as extra skills and interests of the super/powered brothers.

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A Spy Like Me

A Spy Like Me

Kim Sherwood

11th May 2024

Kim Sherwood’s version of the Double O’s return for what does slightly have the feel of a middle book.

The characters are all remarkably broken people, and this really draws you in as a reader and turns them from superheroes into real people you can believe in and root for.

There were a few moments in the narrative where I lost track of the flow and had to pop back briefly, but most of the time the action and introspection unfolds smoothly.

There are tons of little references dropped in for Bond fans, and that’s amused me to see throughout. I didn’t count or tick them off but it felt like there might be one for each of Fleming’s original works.

I really like what Sherwood has done to revitalise the franchise - modernising it without taking away what makes it special.

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The Hidden Queen

The Hidden Queen

Peter V Brett

11th May 2024

Book two of the Nightfall Saga, sequel series to the original Demon Cycle, sees our teenage heroes regroup in a journey to save their parents, and the world.

It feels long, and is incredibly detailed, painting a picture of what this world has become and following some long journeys. It’s not really quite what I was expecting, because it doesn’t do what the original series did with building out to another character - instead we continue to follow just the two points of view.

Both characters continue to grow through the book, and it’s clear they’ve gained in confidence and ability, and it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out in book three with the changes to the dynamic that will result from the events of this book.

It took me a while to get through it, but was still an enjoyable world to visit.

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A Beginner's Guide To Breaking and Entering

A Beginner's Guide To Breaking and Entering

Andrew Hunter Murray

6th May 2024

Andrew Hunter Murray’s third novel is an amusing yet insightful tale that follows Al, a self-described interloper, as his life turns chaotic and everything starts to go wrong.

The character is a great creation and tells the story with humour in a really easy to read narrative and totally believable loss of control.

For the most part, it’s a much more light hearted tale than the author’s first two books, but as it goes on there is a varied undercurrent of societal commentary that bounces through the cracks.

I really enjoyed reading this, and look forward to more from this storyteller.

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The Cat Who Caught A Killer

The Cat Who Caught A Killer

LT Shearer

28th April 2024

This was a charity shop purchase which I’m absolutely delighted by.

I was caught totally off guard right away when the book went somewhere so different to what I was expecting, and I was hooked.

I read the entire book in 24 hours, it’s so well done, easy to read, funny, and with a plot that draws you forward at a great pace.

There a tough line with a plot like this where the crime is so personal to the main character, and Shearer treads this excellently, balancing the serious nature of the crime with the lighthearted presentation of the interaction between the two main characters.

Despite the brevity, the running gags entertained me every chapter. I’m definitely going to need to read the sequel soon.

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The Galaxy and the Ground Within

The Galaxy and the Ground Within

Becky Chambers

28th April 2024

The fourth and final Wayfarers book takes us to a low population planet that serves as a rest stop along a galactic superhighway, where three guests are trapped with their host during a planetwide emergency.

It’s a delightful novel which is super easy to read, about five very different characters from different backgrounds learning to live together temporarily, and to support each other through a crisis.

The universe that Chambers has created with these novels is wonderful to visit, and there’s so much detail that’s gone into the world building and yet still it’s presented in such a way this doesn’t impact the readability. Yes, my brain struggles to imagine the physicalities of some of the species represented, but that doesn’t stop me appreciating the personalities, the life stories, and the difficulties that each face.

It’s been a really nice series to read, and I hope that I find the same satisfaction in her other and future works.

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The Cloisters

The Cloisters

Katy Hays

28th April 2024

This was another new book I picked up based on the attractive cover art, and though it turned out not to be my normal thing, I’m glad I did.

It’s the story of a young woman looking for what to do next after college, and to escape her hometown. It’s the story of a friendship she develops with a colleague. And it’s a story of the knowable and the unknowable. There’s a lot of psychology of the characters that someone more knowledgable than me in that area could die into.

I felt lost a few times while reading - the passage of time flowed oddly or I had to go back and check whether I had missed something, and sometimes I had, sometimes I hadn’t. It’s quite a slow burn for a lot of the book, and I sort of feel like the darkness leads to a dampening of emotion.

I did enjoy this visit outside my normal genres, but I don’t think it’s the sort of reading material that could sustain me full time and I suspect it will be a while before I try something similar again.

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A Dangerous Trade

A Dangerous Trade

Cassandra Rose Clarke

20th April 2024

Having finally managed to catch up on all the episodes of Star Trek: Prodigy’s first season, I felt comfortable starting my dive into the three novels that have been published.

It is a short novel, and clearly printed for younger authors, with large, sans-serif text on very cheap paper, and a fast pace story.

The most important thing for me though is that the author has totally captured the feeling of Prodigy. The book reads just like it’s an episode of the TV series, with the right pacing, the right use of the characters, the right peril, and the right morals.

Compared with early novels from other Star Treks, this feels the most spot on with its characterisation and world. Every character gets a chance to shine and I loved it for that.

A jolly good little adventure.

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Faebound

Faebound

Saara El-Arifi

20th April 2024

I really loved Saara El-Arifi’s first two novels, so was intrigued to see what she’s constructed in another world. In some respects, it’s a quite different sort of story, but it retains a lot of the progressive elements that I’m finding very comforting in my reading at the moment.

The book paints a picture of a new world, with distinct cultures to explore, and a rich mythology. One of the things I particularly noticed is that there is a lot going on that is obvious to the reader and yet the characters miss it entirely, which makes me think this is perhaps particularly targeted at an audience that is maybe less familiar with more complex intrigue and welcomes this more casual approach to storytelling. Despite this though, there were still reveals that surprised me, so I think overall a good balance has been found.

The story clearly uses some of the tropes that have appeared in genre recently that bridge fantasy into romance, and I felt much more comfortable with that here than in some novels I’ve read which I found just surprised me with the flip into graphic sex mode. This is a gentler approach to coupling the genres and I found that felt more balanced.

It’s a simpler read than El-Arifi’s other, darker series, and I’m sure will totally find its audience and leave them waiting for sequels and to find out what happens next. I’m not sure I’m quite in that camp at the moment though.

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Frontier

Frontier

Grace Curtis

20th April 2024

I bought this short novel after seeing the author recommended for fans of Becky Chambers. It’s not quite in the same space I don’t feel, but close enough that I still found myself enjoying it, particularly as I got more and more invested in the character and the world.

It is a book about climate change, to some extent, and so I had some trepidation at the start because the setting felt like it was going to be depressing. I think though that there is a narrative filled with hope despite the setting, which eventually comes to balance it out.

Although presented as a novella, it actually feels more like a sequence of short stories which are, in turn, sequels or prequels to one another, following the same character. That is to say, each chapter contains a fairly distinct episode in the character’s journey. This makes for a very readable structure.

I’ve added Curtis to my read list and will be looking out to buy her next novel soon.

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The Three Dahlias

The Three Dahlias

Katy Watson

14th April 2024

This new twist on the golden era/cosy crime genre sees three actresses who played the fictional detective Dahlia Lively meet up for a convention, where naturally they are drawn into solving a real murder.

It’s a wonderful read, full of fascinating characters with secrets to uncover. There’s a lot going on, and Watson’s structure provides a great way to meet her characters and see the world through each of their eyes, as well as setting out a thoroughly good mystery.

I properly enjoyed every moment and have immediately put the sequels on my wish list - I can’t wait to find out what adventures await for them.

The perfect cosy read, just the sort of thing I was hoping for.

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The Olympian Affair

The Olympian Affair

Jim Butcher

7th April 2024

The second full length Cinder Spires novel and it really does feel its length. It took me two goes to read it, having a pause halfway for a holiday and two other novels.

The book does little to recap or reintroduce its world, although I’m not sure I remember much of that from the first. Instead we are thrown straight into the world and the plot. I felt that if I hadn’t recently read the novella in this series I would have been totally lost, particularly as this book follows on almost immediately and directly from the events of the novella.

It’s then a slow burn as we see a lot of politics and conversation between an array of pairings from different factions, and it’s not really until the final quarter that the action level picks up. I didn’t find it as engaging to get through as I had wanted to.

I’m not convinced at this stage that I’m going to bother to pick up a third book in this series if one comes. It wasn’t gripping enough to justify occupying so much of my limited reading time.

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Red Seas Under Red Skies

Red Seas Under Red Skies

Scott Lynch

7th April 2024

The second adventure of Locke Lamora finds him in a new city, with a new plan, and new things to go wrong with it.

This is a heist novel, but one that gets so complex, with lies upon lies stacked up like Inception, to the extent that every now and then I had to pause and remind myself how many layers deep we were.

I really enjoyed it. Lynch has created some really engaging characters and a rich world with so much to explore, and with really quite light fantasy elements that almost could not be there but be some sort of meta-scam.

My only criticism of the novel is the opening. It starts with the classic trope of presenting a scene from much later in the story, but out of context, which feels like it’s just trying to trick the reader into keeping going to find where it fits. Instead, this is just confusing and utterly unnecessary as the plot proper is so engaging right from the start.

I enjoyed this revisit to this world, and have book three lined up on the shelf - although I suspect it will be a few years before I get to it.

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Attack and Decay

Attack and Decay

Andrew Cartmel

7th April 2024

Book six sees the Vinyl Detective and ever expanding posse head to Sweden on the trail of a rare special edition album which has totally nothing dangerous about it whatsoever.

It’s a great detective novel, with a bunch of really compelling characters who are essentially going on holiday together and having a laugh.

I don’t feel that the humour is as strong in the earliest novel, but that’s doesn’t get in the way of adding some. One new character in particular feels like she brings a remarkable joke that someone is endearing despite it keep giving more and more material for the book to work with.

I find these novels very comforting to read and am happy to see that Cartmel has another series now started that I can catch up with too.

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Firewall

Firewall

David Mack

7th April 2024

In this prequel to Star Trek: Picard / sequel to Star Trek: Voyager, we follow Seven of Nine’s journey of discovery following the end of the Voyager TV series. Rejected by the Federation over their fear of her Borg past, she seeks to fit in elsewhere.

It’s an excellent story that shows us considerable parts of the journey the character took between her TV appearances, and feels very in keeping with everything we know from the shows. There are nice little Easter egg references, but mostly this is a standalone plot that tells a solid story that fits the era and our time.

The book does feel like it represents the time we live in. There are several aspects which just wouldn’t have happened in the books of previous eras, but now are comfortable and normal, and make for a more welcoming and authentic setting.

And yet we also get a bunch of the classic David Mack tropes as well, which continue to be a delight to find, and fit so well with this style of tie-in storytelling.

A really nice visit to this world and a beloved character who I can only hope we keep seeing more of in the future.

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A Spoonful of Murder

A Spoonful of Murder

J M Hall

9th March 2024

Picked this up in a charity shop as a random buy because the premise sounded like a casual cosy crime I could enjoy. Sadly I never found the enjoyment I was seeking.

There are three main characters, but even after a hundred pages I hadn’t noticed anything to distinguish them in my mind. All were retired primary school teachers, with husband and/or child to moan about, and didn’t really want to get into solving the crime. But they weren’t distinct enough in my mind to be able to follow which chapters went together.

The plot did little for me. I think because the characters had no strong motivation to be involved in the plot, that meant I wasn’t given one either.

And something about the structure or narrative meant that I had no interest in more than one chapter at a time - which means I end up doing something else instead of reading.

So while there was nothing awful about it, it just didn’t meet my threshold for attention. I set it aside and immediately read five chapters into another book.

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A Dirty Job

A Dirty Job

Christopher Moore

9th March 2024

My second visit to the mind of Christopher Moore was as enjoyable as the first. In this novel we meet Charlie, who through a CD-related accidental encounter, believes he has become Death.

It’s a hilarious yet also very sad novel in places, including right at the start. There are a plethora of fascinating characters, and it’s lovely to see a world populated by so many of them who are really fleshed out and leave you wanting to spend more time with them.

The plot feels a bit chaotic, and there are some parts where I’m not sure I entirely followed what was happening. Time doesn’t really pass in a linear fashion, with jumps ahead after the first act which don’t always seem to quite flow. But that doesn’t stop the fun.

I’m inspired again to find more of his books - Moore has an inspiring comic take on the world.

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Everyone on This Train is a Suspect

Everyone on This Train is a Suspect

Benjamin Stevenson

9th March 2024

The classic sequel, in which our protagonist returns to tell another story with a title that tenuously connects it to the first despite not being entirely accurate when it comes to evaluating the plot, wherein only a specific subset of the people on the train some of the time are suspects.

It’s a very clever and very funny narrative, told as our hero is invited to a writer’s convention aboard a train travelling the north-south span of Australia. The mystery is to some extent the classic locked room, where the room is the train.

I do think with the plethora of cosy crime available today that it’s the narrative that has to make it. This is amusingly meta as the detective is a crime writer, and so references all the classic tropes as he goes.

Really good, raced through it, book three is going straight on my list for next year.

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Wish You Weren't Here

Wish You Weren't Here

Gabby Hutchinson Crouch

9th March 2024

This was a random purchase for me based on the cover and description. It’s a short but amusing tale of a family of modern day exorcists, who get called to a church on a small island to help the local priest with a poltergeist problem.

It’s a novel set of characters with unique abilities and characteristics that makes for an entertaining read which transitions neatly into something quite tense. I particularly liked the accountant.

I enjoyed this trip to something random, though I’m not sure I enjoyed it enough to specifically seek out the sequels.

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Sunbringer

Sunbringer

Hannah Kaner

9th March 2024

I picked up this sequel after having enjoyed Godkiller, but have found it a struggle.

I pushed through to about page 70, chapter by chapter, but something about it seems to just make my eyes fall off the lines of text and I find them skipping to a line much lower leaving my brain with no idea what’s happening.

I want to blame the printing I think. The font is not a standard choice and the lines of text do feel very close together, but I’m not sure it’s fair to assume it’s entirely that, and not something about the narrative that’s failing to grip me too.

I gave it a second go after reading something else, but immediately found the same thing happening. So I’ve shelved the book for now and will see if inspiration to try again appears later.

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The Maid

The Maid

Nita Prose

9th March 2024

Picked this up from a charity shop after being very tempted when it first came out in paperback. It took three days to read which was a relief after a book I struggled to get into.

This is the story of a hotel maid and a murder, but mostly it’s about the maid and the way that other people treat her and take advantage of her.

I found the first half of the book quite hard to read because of the character’s treatment. This is clearly something the author intended and it makes a really strong point.

The second half flew by however almost in a single sitting. I’m not sure yet whether it’s caught my attention enough to buy the sequel - it’s possible that the awkwardness will have been dealt with and gone, but really I’d rather less stressful reads at the moment.

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A Death in Diamonds

A Death in Diamonds

S J Bennett

22nd February 2024

For obvious reasons to contemporary readers, book four of Her Majesty The Queen Investigates is a prequel, taking us back to 1957 and a younger monarch, setting out to solve one of her early cases.

This allows for some great new characters to be thrown into the mix, and Bennett paints well the difficult balance of social class between them in a variety of contexts.

The author has clearly done a lot of research and pours a great deal of love into these pages, taking little things that are maybe known about the real characters these are based on and expanding them into endearing parts of the story.

I find these incredibly relaxing and joyful cosy crime stories, full of amusement, despite the occasional serious parts of the storyline.

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Red Side Story

Red Side Story

Jasper Fforde

22nd February 2024

After fourteen years’ wait, the sequel to Shades of Grey has finally arrived. I absolutely loved the first book and have read it more times than any other over the intervening years. And so I’m excited and trepidatious to re-enter the world.

The action picks up just a few weeks at most after the first story, and we rejoin the familiar characters as they deal with the various repercussions of the events and learnings from book one, before discovering more and more about the world in which they live.

Fforde carries out an impressive job of world-building - expanding upon what he set out originally and feeling like we are all taking a giant step backwards together, enabling us to see more (but still not all) of the same picture. And this is broadly the theme of the whole novel.

I really enjoyed revisiting this world and finding myself in a sequel that properly feels like it’s continuing and building upon the first. It doesn’t have that weird middle novel feel that you sometimes get with a second book - and properly stands alone as well with the job it’s doing.

A book that is somehow exactly as good as its predecessor. I don’t feel in any way let down by this, and it slots really nearly into my head as a continuation. I can only hope for more in maybe another 14 years.

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A Day of Fallen Night

A Day of Fallen Night

Samantha Shannon

22nd February 2024

The prequel to Shannon’s “The Priory of the Orange Tree” is possibly even better than the first novel. I picked it for a holiday as the length meant I wouldn’t need multiple books, but still it took me a good two weeks to race through the 850 pages of narrative.

Set hundreds of years earlier, we see a different political landscape across the world, with new cultures, new characters, and new beliefs. It’s an amazing piece of world building to set up something that so clearly can develop towards what we knew from the first book.

The characters are fascinating to follow, and the interaction or not between them makes for a really interested evolving dynamic as the story progresses. Several years pass over the course of the story, and Shannon does well to show the passage of time passing in a way that you feel in the tale.

I've found myself reflecting several times since finishing about the diversity of characters. There's a strong LGBT majority amongst the characters, and it's notable that this is an entire world where thats just the default. The conflict between the humans in the story doesn't stem from such petty interpersonal differences as in the real world, but is focussed on differences of opinion about how to face an external threat to the whole - and how those differences shape and are shaped by hundreds of years of society.

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Mrs Sidhu's Dead and Scone

Mrs Sidhu's Dead and Scone

Suk Pannu

22nd February 2024

Although the first Mrs Sidhu novel, the book starts with well established characters, being a spin-off from the radio series. And so this isn’t an origin story at all, and we are straight into the action as the chef turned investigator is called to make scones for a village fete, after the previous volunteer’s murder.

It has its moments for being a very funny narrative. Mrs Sidhu is a classic chaotic good character, trying to do her best, becoming obsessed, and putting her foot in things.

But I did find the plot hard to follow in places. Scenes didn’t always seem to flow one into the next and I felt repeatedly like I was trying to catch up and work out what had happened that I hadn’t been shown. I’m not sure enough of the dots were drawn for me.

It was a fun read, the second half possibly better than than first (my reading was interrupted by a short holiday), but I’m not sure I’ll be going back for another helping.

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The Defector

The Defector

Chris Hadfield

22nd February 2024

Chris Hadfield’s second novel sees the return of the stars of his first, for an unrelated story which begins in Israel in 1973.

It’s an uncomfortable start to a novel at the current time, and then an uncomfortable continuation for different reasons. Politically I’m not sure the timing of this story is great, despite its historical setting.

The style is slightly refined over the first book. There are still a couple of more technical passages, but for the most part it focusses on the people.

The plot however feels a bit bolted together. There’s a lot of coincidence going on, which in one particular case felt like it was leading to more plot but actually just fizzled out leaving me feeling like it was just there as an unnecessary tie-in back to the first novel. It seemed like Hadfield had decided against a late plot twist and instead just kept all the setup for it. Perhaps as a result, the climax of the novel feels rushed and somewhat anti-climactic.

Overall I didn’t enjoy it to the same level as the first novel. I think the change of setting away from space probably is a big part of that - this is a much more military thriller than it is science fiction. I could totally believe that the plot of this book was a thing that actually happened.

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Hercule Poirot's Silent Night

Hercule Poirot's Silent Night

Sophie Hannah

22nd January 2024

Sophie Hannah returns with a well inspired fifth Hercule Poirot mystery. She has a great grasp of the character, style, and mystery, and has produced another captivating tale.

Poirot and Catchpole get a surprise visitor who drags them away from their Christmas plans to solve a murder that has happened and one that hasn’t happened yet.

I find it really satisfying how Hannah is able to play with the characters now in a way that feels really true to Christie’s style and so continues to bring a sense of comedy to the proceedings.

The settings, the mystery, and especially the characters feel really believable, and I particularly enjoy the perfect balance between what is and isn’t said about the relationships between them.

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Making It So

Making It So

Patrick Stewart

22nd January 2024

Celebrity memoirs are not my usual choice of reading material, but when it’s Patrick Stewart there is an obvious exception.

I went in with some trepidation - can he write well? Will I like him after reading it? But both gave a yes answer.

The book starts quite brutally. Sir Patrick spends a lot more pages talking about his early years than later ones (in fact it felt like 1987 to present was over quite quickly compared to the rest) - and there are some shocking elements to his youth that seem quite distant to a modern audience.

Beyond that, the majority is naturally the story of a career in acting. There are some surprise celebrity guest appearances, including early on, and a lot of lists of people that Sir Patrick has worked with on probably hundreds of plays.

What really comes through to me are two things: his passion for acting, and how that has driven all of his choices and major life events; and how emotional a person he is. There are moments littered throughout where there is far more than I think would be expected from Captain Picard.

On the whole, I found this a very comfortable read (apart from the bits at the start), and I’ve really enjoyed taking the time to spend this time with Patrick Stewart.

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Defiant

Defiant

Brandon Sanderson

22nd January 2024

The fourth and final main novel in the Skyward series see us join Spensa as the time comes for her civilisation and its new friends to take the battle to their oppressors.

It’s an action packed and fast moving adventure, which makes it feel to me much more like the first story than those in between, and that’s very positive.

There’s a lot of room still, while being aligned with Spensa, to witness a lot of character growth around the plot, and that’s a good touch to keep things interesting amid all the battle scenes.

As we reach the climax, there’s also a chance to see things from other characters’ perspectives, which we’ve had a little of before, and I loved how Sanderson took this to another level and we learnt new things about some of these characters even in the closing chapters.

A really great way to end the series.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation Cats

Star Trek: The Next Generation Cats

Jenny Parks

22nd January 2024

This fun little book depicts the main characters and key scenes from the Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series as if they were cats.

All other aspects are totally true to the series, and this makes it both a pleasant trip down memory lane, as well as a fun set of cat pictures to look at.

There are some places an almost feels a bit too real and extends into the realm of slightly creepy.

Overall though an entertaining ten minutes or so, which could be stretched out if you budget yourself to maybe one page a day, or could entertain your Trekkie guests as a coffee table book.

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