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Sea of Tranquility – Emily St John Mandel

I awarded this (very short) novel four stars as soon as I finished it, but on reflection I am deducting a star because it seems to have been almost completely forgettable.

So here we are, a couple of weeks later, and I’m struggling to remember its point. You may have read that there’s a time travel element to this, and there is indeed a knotty timey wimey plot worthy of Steven Moffat. Fine: I’m always here for that. But then there’s also the stuff about a writer on a book tour during the pandemic, and it all got a bit Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Allow me to explain: traditionally, when a rock band releases their first album, it’s often full of the good stuff they’ve honed and developed coming up through the clubs and building a following. Then comes that difficult second album, and if they’re any good and have a following wind, a third.

All their early songs will be about their lives and experiences up to then.

But then they might be on the road, promoting those first three albums, touring incessantly, and before you know it, all their songs are about the record company executives who blight their lives, their hotels, and what it’s like to never stop moving.

And then the plane crashes.

I feel like this slight, novella length outing is probably best considered an unfortunate by-product of being an author who was on a book tour during a pandemic. Mandel is a good writer, and Station Eleven is still my favourite book of the last decade, but I’ll probably never read this one again.

Without Fail (Jack Reacher #6) – Lee Child

I’m not a Reacher superfan, so I’m no expert, but this seemed like an atypical Reacher novel to me. I mean, I’ve only read two or three before, and I’ve seen the recent TV series and the films, but I reckon you could substitute some other character’s name for Reacher’s here, and it would be a fairly bog-standard thriller about a threat to the life of a politician.

What did I expect? A lot more conversations in which Reacher told bad guys what was going to happen before beating the crap out of them, I suppose. In fact, this novel didn’t really kick into gear until after halfway through (64% on my Kindle), having spent its first half putting Reacher in an unusual (unlikely) – for him – situation and establishing an unconvincing relationship with a secret service agent on the Vice President’s protection detail.

I’ll explain my rating: three stars is always “all right if you like this kind of thing” while four or five stars are “good” and “excellent”.

So I’m afraid this doesn’t even get three stars, because if you like this kind of thing you probably won’t like this because Reacher doesn’t beat enough people up. He also sits in meetings and wears a suit, if you can believe that. I’m actually being generous with two stars because there’s a completely pointless fridging as well. Jack Reacher: The Afternoon Meeting.

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