All 2024 reviews - Shastrix Books

2024

All reviews

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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