Book Review: The Last Chance Hotel (Nicki Thornton)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

Book of the Month
Book of the Month (July 2018)

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It’s not often I feel compelled insta-tweet when finishing a book.

TL;DR – A twisting, turning magical who-dunnit – a really excellent read!

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RAGDOLL RATING: 5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

I won this book in a twitter giveaway, so it’s been on my reading list.

The Story…

Seth is an ordinary kitchen boy, working in an ordinary hotel, situated in the middle of a not-so-very ordinary forest.

Seth’s world is turned upside down and inside out when a party of magical guests arrive. When one of the guests dies, Seth is accused of the murder and must do everything he can to clear his name.

What follows is a series of twists, turns, surprises and magic!

What I liked…

The thing I liked most about this book was the fact that by the end of the book, almost every guess I made was wrong. But more importantly, even though I was wrong I could pick the clues out all through the book afterwards. It wasn’t one of those murder mysteries where literally everything that happened before the last chapter didn’t matter, because the vital (and indeed only clue) turns up and destroys all previous theories (I’m looking at you Death in Paradise…). No, I had my theories, lots of theories, and while I was close, I was wrong – and that was a lot of fun!

Secondly, I liked Seth. Seth’s a darling. He works hard, despite his horrible bosses, and their scum-of-the-Earth daughter, Tiffany. He’s an orphan, so he’s stuck where he is – but he finds solace in cooking. He’s just a real nice kid. When he gets bullied by Tiffany you really feel his pain. When he’s accused of murder, and every bit of new evidence points to him, you fear for him, I mean it’d be a pretty dark children’s book if he got hauled off to magical jail at the end, but still, you really worry about him.

Thirdly, I liked the buildup. I can best describe this book using the phrase “Nothing is as it seems!” Every time I thought I had a handle on what was going on, something would happen to make me question everything I thought I knew. I still have a question that I want answering about the cat Nightshade, but who knows if I’ll get one! It was well paced, you just got used to things and then something new happened, and it was exciting too.

What I disliked…(but really sort of liked)

I intensely hated Tiffany. Delores Umbridge levels of hate. She is just horrible. Just thinking of how to write this paragraph makes my head spin thinking about the depths of my loathing. Which is obviously what was intended, and I think demonstrates the quality of the writing. Or it triggered some sort of bullying-related PTSD, one or the other. But I can’t put a character I hate as a mark against a book, because it makes the book what it is, which is why I’ve had to change to title of this section.

Final thoughts…

The Last Chance Hotel is a wonderful example of a murder mystery. It is an easy and thoroughly enjoyable read and I recommend it to anyone – especially the youngsters!

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Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Head On (John Scalzi)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

Click to see my review of book #1 in the series: Book Review: Lock In (John Scalzi)

Capitalism, pro sports and disabilities don’t mix!

TL;DR – Another fast paced science fiction crime/conspiracy novel. Scalzi’s work makes for excellent reading.

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RAGDOLL RATING: 5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

This book came in as “A book published this year” as part of my reading challenge.

I originally picked this book out because I love a good science fiction read. I generally hate books with sports themes, but the invented sport ‘Hilketa’ sounded like it would provide some interesting concepts.

The Story…

Hilketa is a brand new sport, designed to be played by Haden’s (people who suffer from Haden’s Syndrome, which causes a state called lock in – conscious and aware but unable to move the body). Two teams battle it out in their specially designed android bodies. The aim – to remove the head from an opponent and score a goal with it.

The league is hoping to expand globally, and all is going well until a player dies on the field. FBI agent Chris Shane and his partner Vann set out to investigate this unexpected death, only to find themselves following a trail of bodies and a conspiracy that could take down the whole league.

This book follows on roughly a year from the events of ‘Lock In’.

What I liked…

I think my favourite part of this book was that a lot of the social and ethical themes from the first book are explored in greater deal in Head On. One such example from the first book was the idea that the things that made life liveable for Haden’s would be taken over by non-Haden’s in the name of profit. Haden’s make up around 1% of the population, and after Abrams-Kettering (a bill that removed financial support for Haden’s sufferers) the markets for Hadens-related products was set to shrink. In Lock In, preparations were being made to chase the non-Haden market by paving the way for non-Hadens to use threeps (the android bodies Haden’s use to have a presence in the physical world. In ‘Head On’, this theme is explored further, and we see able-bodied protesters, whining that the Hilketa leagues only feature Haden players. Drawing obvious parallels to the sort of nonsense protests we see in the real world about ‘safe’ spaces for marginalised and minority groups. It is elements like this that demonstrate both a good understand of disability and minority issues, and it helps make the world both real and engaging.

We also learn a lot more about the world as seen through the eyes of Haden’s. Scalzi has created a really rich culture for Hadens, and we learn a good deal about the etiquette, social norms and the role of the Agora (an ‘online’ world for Hadens).

Our two main characters, Shane and Vann were the leads in ‘Lock In’, and they continue to be interesting individuals with an entertaining partnership. After a year of working together, Shane and Vann have created an effective working relationship which often involves some delightful good cop / bad cop interrogations that are enjoyable to read and often very amusing to boot. In addition we see the return of the supporting characters in the form of Shane’s housemates, who play a bigger role in this book than in ‘Lock In’.

The plot summary makes it sound like this book is heavily centred around the sport of Hilketa – and it is – but this is not a sci-fi sports novel. I was quite worried when I bought this book that it might be mostly about sport…fantastic science fiction sport, but sport none the less, and that wasn’t of great appeal to me. Fortunately this wasn’t the case. It is first and foremost a crime / conspiracy novel, which happens to involve the sport. We do learn quite a bit about how the sport works but it isn’t the primary focus.

Finally, I love the fact that Scalzi made sure to provide quick explanations of the key terms and themes as they arose. If you had read ‘Lock In’ recently then you might consider them superfluous, but it did mean that if you wanted to, you could read ‘Head On’ without having read ‘Lock In’ first, which I thought was pretty neat.

What I disliked…

I can’t exactly put my finger on anything specific that I didn’t like – I just know I enjoyed the first book more (and I read them back to back). Actually that’s not quite true – for some reason, Scalzi switched from using the word “Harness” to describe the apparatus that held a Hadens physical body, and started using “Creche” instead. I don’t know why, and it’s not exactly a problem, I just found it a bit odd.

I don’t think there was anything wrong with the book – in fact a lot of parts I thought were much better, it just overall felt a little less than its counterpart somehow. I couldn’t decide if I should give the book a 4.5 or 5 button rating – I eventually decided on 5 because it seemed unreasonably to give a book I enjoyed so much a lower rating just because of a vague sense that the first one might have been better.

Final thoughts… 

This book is an excellent sequel to ‘Lock In’ and an excellent story in its own right. Scalzi has created rich and full worlds, chock full of detail and careful thought – such careful world-craft deserves high praise.

The book doesn’t just follow a simple murder or conspiracy track, it also tackles a whole bunch of social and ethical issues which made the whole experience a lot more enjoyable for me.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes solid science fiction, also to any crime fans who don’t mind the futuristic setting.

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Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Lock In (John Scalzi)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

“Weapons-grade science fiction. Not to be missed.” 

TL;DR – I was hooked the whole way through. It’s clever and really makes you think. Perfect for the sci-fi fan in your life.

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RAGDOLL RATING: 5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

My primary reason for reading this book was that I wanted to read the sequel “Head On” as part of the reading challenge (A book published this year), but since there was only one book that came before it in the series, I thought I ought to read it first.

I chose this series because I love science fiction and sampling authors I haven’t read before, so this seemed like an ideal candidate for reading.

The Story…

Haden’s Syndrome spread across the globe quickly and unexpectedly. Most people recovered, but an unfortunate percentage experienced lock in – fully conscious and aware, but completely unable to control their bodies.

After a great deal of research, a solution of sorts was found to help. Personal transports (or threeps) where created – robotic bodies that could be controlled through a computer, surgically implanted in the brain of a Haden’s sufferer. This provided Haden’s with a way to interact with the world at large. But tensions are running high as the implementation of a new law threatens to make the lives of Haden’s even more difficult.

New FBI recruit Chris Shane, and his partner Leslie Vann set out to solve a Haden related murder at the Watergate hotel, and soon realise the problem is considerably bigger than they could have possibly imagined.

What I liked…

First of all, you have Haden’s Syndrome. I know (or at least think I know) that getting locked into your body, conscious but unable to move is a real thing that happens – although it’s definitely not a contagious disease. But the way this issue was addressed in this book was fascinating. The idea of personal transports and a virtual world (called the Agora) where an inspired response to the lock-in problem. But you also have people who have set out to cure Haden’s Syndrome and effectively unlock the sufferers bodies – one of the most fascinating parts of this book was the way these two solutions are met by Haden’s sufferers. You can see clearly that the premise has been really well thought out and understood.

The story was fast-paced and interesting. The transition from unusual crime to serious conspiracy was very well written and engaging – I was hooked in to the book very quickly and only once did I stop being completely gripped by every page.

The world building was really the key selling point for me. I’ve already spoken about the interesting aspects of Haden’s syndrome, but the book really goes deep into the descriptions of the condition and the way it has affected the world and sufferers alike. There are times when Scalzi talks about the ethics of the way Haden’s sufferers are treated, by the public, the government and members of the medical profession. Scalzi has also created an alternative world inside the ‘real’ world, in the form of the Agora and it’s incredibly interesting to the see the way this world is accessed.

Finally, it was really clear while reading this book that Scalzi had thought good and hard about disability and how disabled people think about themselves. He notes the differences in opinions between people who contracted Haden’s later in life with those who contracted it as children, and how these differences have affected their lives and interactions with threeps and the Agora.

What I disliked…

At one point, I thought the book was about to fall apart completely. I was almost finished – maybe 50 pages or less to go – and everything was falling in to place nicely. The problem was I couldn’t imagine how the book could possibly end in a satisfactory way in the limited space there was left. As it turns out, this was just my lack of imagination. Scalzi brings this story to an exciting and incredibly satisfying conclusion with great skill and artistry.

Final thoughts…

I was hooked on this book from beginning to end. There was nothing about it that I didn’t like. It was well written and clearly had a considerable amount of thought put into the world-craft, which is something I love to see in a book.

I recommend this book to anyone who loves a good science fiction novel. I would also recommend this to crime readers who don’t mind the futuristic setting.

I can’t wait to get stuck into the sequel.

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Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: The Grantchester Mysteries – Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death (James Runcie)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

BOTM
Book of the Month (May 2018)

“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy…except in Grantchester apparently…” Obi Wan Kenobi

TL;DR – If you like the whole “Sleepy little town has more murders than small countries” genre, and you like priests you’ll probably like this book.

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RAGDOLL RATING: 5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

I absolutely adore the TV series Grantchester (Al Weaver’s  Leonard is totes adorbs), and I’ve been wanting to read the books basically since I saw the first episodes. Also, it conveniently falls into the “A book made into a TV show that you’ve seen but haven’t read” category of my reading challenge.

Plus I just generally enjoy the easy-read detective story genre so it just seemed like a good idea for a read.

The Story…

The book focuses on “Canon Sidney Chambers”, man of God, turned amateur detective. It is set in 1950’s Grantchester and Cambridge.

There are 6 different short stories in this book, following the fairly simple theme of “Someone in Grantchester got murdered” (or kidnapped, or what-have-you), and Sidney, together with his police chum Geordie Keating are going to figure out who-dunnit.

The is not just a series of short, disconnected crime stories though (although you could probably read them that way if you chose). The ‘main story’ as it were, follows Sidney Chambers life and struggles with romance, friendship, the church, his housekeeper and his dog.

What I liked…

This book was a nice, easy read – it is absolutely perfect for the casual or time-poor crime fan. The stories and characters and engaging and likeable which goes a long way to making this book a low-stress read.

I like the fact that the book is broken up into 6 different parts, but has a sort of ‘main story’ as I mentioned above. A lot of writers would have been tempted to drag each of the 6 stories in this book out into a whole book so in order to try and find a balance between the crime themes and Sidney’s personal and professional life, but Runcie has done the opposite – finding a good balance by saying less. There is a lot to be said for short-and-sweet.

I enjoy the characters, mainly because I know them from the television programme, however I am particularly enjoy the character of Sidney and his relationship to the Church and Christianity in general. I personally really enjoy reading about peoples interaction with and interpretation of their personal faith, and this book has plenty of it – although I am cautious to add, not so much of it that it detracts from the other themes of the book!

Finally, I enjoy the setting – mainly because Grantchester is only a few miles away and I know most of the place names! It makes things slightly entertaining for me…

What I disliked…

There are a handful of times where I found Runcie’s method of description a little peculiar, but not so much that I can remember exactly what bothered me, and certainly not enough to stop reading.

Also it bothers me the way the characters talk during a discussion about homosexuality, but frankly that’s my bad for reading a book set in the 50’s. Having said that, Sidney is very progressive in this regard which makes these passages easier to digest.

Final thoughts…

This book was an easy and enjoyable read. Each story was entertaining, and due to the format of short stories, the romantic subplots I usually can’t stand were engaging, but not drawn out.

The characters are lovable, although not hugely developed in many cases (again, due to the short-story format) but with 4 further books in the series, there is plenty of room for expansion. That said, the crime plots are the real selling points of this book. They are well thought out and a joy to read.

I strongly recommend this to anybody who enjoys a simple crime read – particularly those who are casual readers, are strapped for time, or struggle with longer stories.

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Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (Michael Chabon)


Goodreads Link | Michael Chabon Website

“Maybe I missed something somewhere…” ~Me, post-book

TL;DR – I liked this book enough to finish it, but not enough to read it again. Recommended for crime fans.

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RAGDOLL RATING: 3.5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

It won the Hugo for Best Novel -2008  (Reading challenge category)

I wouldn’t say I’m ‘big’ into crime novels – I enjoy them, but it’s not my usual area. Having said that, I’m a sucker for alternate history, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

The Story…

Alternate History – The state of Israel collapsed in 1948, and for the Jewish people in diaspora moved  to (and thrived in) a temporary new homeland – The Federal District of Sitka, Alaska. The district is due to revert to Alaskan control.

Alcoholic cop, Meyer Landsman is woken one morning in his flea-bag hotel room and informed of a murder in another room. Together with his partner Berko Shemets, Landsman sets about solving the case – and gets much more than he bargained for!

What I liked…

My first impression was the setting. As I say, I’m a sucker for alternate history, so this gave me something to sink my teeth into right from the start. It was, admittedly, quite a culture shock, what with me knowing very little about Jewish cultures, and even less about Yiddish terminology, but once I got my head around the basics everything settled nicely.

Secondly, the plot. It’s difficult to say what I particularly liked about it without giving away more than I am comfortable about the story itself. I enjoyed how the story progressed – it was entertaining, and kept the air of mystery about it as the case slowly unfolded – needless to say I absolutely did not guess ‘who dunnit’.

What I disliked…

The ending. I’m not going to say what happens and ruin it for anyone. I’ll also say right now that the ending wasn’t necessarily bad. As I said in my quote at the top, I feel like I must have missed something because I was left feeling like the story had just lost steam by the end.

The case was progressing, and I was enjoying it. Things were escalating and it was exciting. Discoveries were being made and everything looked great. Then it just sort of ended. This is why I think I missed something. As far as the plot goes, it makes sense to have ended where it did – I guess I just expected it to go another way. I could read the last few chapters again – and indeed I might – but for the moment, the vague sense of disappointment.

Another minor thing – the case had a chess theme, and often there were descriptions of chess moves, or terminology that admittedly flew right over my head. This isn’t a criticism of the writing itself – I’m quite sure if you’re slightly more familiar with chess than I am those parts would make perfect sense – it was just something that made little bits harder to follow.

Final thoughts…

When I started reading, I was having fun – and I really wanted to enjoy this book more than I did. Frankly, if it wasn’t for the ending – which I remind you, wasn’t necessarily bad, it just wasn’t what I was expecting – then this would have got a solid four buttons. Unfortunately, the fact the I got to the end with my interest waning knocked off some points.

One final point. When I started writing this review, I gave the book a 3 button rating. However, as I was writing, bits of the book I had enjoyed kept coming back to me and the rating seemed unfit – it didn’t do it justice. This book isn’t a bad book – I would recommend it to a crime fan – it just didn’t hit the right buttons for me!

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Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!