December 23

2014 – My Magnificent Seven

Although I have only been actively blogging for six months it is time for my end of year round up. A quick check of my blog finds that I have reviewed around 50 books in the last 6 months of the year. To select a top 10 from 50 seemed too many so I was going to do a top five. Until I started my list and I discovered that I wanted to include one or two more: Grab This Book’s Magnificent Seven was born.

So in no particular order I present the seven books that I enjoyed reading most (and the reasons why) during 2014.

 

Stalkers – Paul Finch

I was late to the party on Paul Finch’s brilliant Mark Heckenburg novels. The good thing about this was: by the time I read Stalkers there were two sequels and two more on the way.

Stalkers is a compelling thriller which pulls no punches and delivers shocks and twists in equal measure. I have probably recommended Paul Finch’s books to more of my friends than any other author this year – thus far I have had nothing but positive feedback from those that took my advice.

Stalkers Review

Doctor Who: Engines of War – George Mann

Cast your eye over my blog and you will find that Doctor Who books crop up fairly frequently. I make no apology for this, I have been a fan of the show for 35 years and I have been reading Doctor Who novels since the 1980’s. Not counting the books I read more than once, or the many audio plays, I think I have read around 350 different Who novels (although it is probably more).

For me, George Mann’s Engines of War stands out as one of the best that I have read. Ever. It features the Daleks, a new companion (Scarlet) and even better – The War Doctor. The Doctor has been fighting in the Time War, the Daleks fear him and the Timelords still cannot control him. His weariness of the War is telling and this is not a Doctor that can solve all the problems and just disappear in his TARDIS waiting for the next adventure. Mann catches the fatigue and frustration of the Doctor brilliantly.

If you enjoy Doctor Who and have seen John Hurt’s War Doctor in action then this is a must read. If you like an exciting good guy/bad guy story this is also for you, there is a great adventure to share. If you hate all things Doctor Who, this may not be the book for you. But I loved it!

Engines of War Review

 

Vendetta – Dreda Say Mitchell

Some books are in my list for personal reasons and some are here as they are stand out reads. Vendetta falls into the latter category. It was (without any doubt) one of the most entertaining books that I have read in recent years.

I cannot say enough good things about Vendetta and was thrilled to be able to participate in the Blog Tour when it was published. Dreda Say Mitchell penned a fantastic article Heroes to Die For  which featured on my site. The combination of hosting the tour, having an exclusive article to feature and the book being one of my favourite reads of the year made this a memorable title for me.

Vendetta Review

 

Digital Circumstances – Brian Stewart

Summer 2014 was an amazing time to be in Scotland. We had the Edinburgh Festival (as we always do), the Book Festival (as we always do) but we also had Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games and the small matter of the Indy Ref – the world was watching.

Three out of the four events were spectacular successes – the fourth is subject to ongoing debate but 55% of the people were happy at the time!

During the height of all things Scottish I started reading Digital Circumstances, written and self-published by Brian Stewart. The story is (mainly) set in Glasgow and had a great mix of cybercrime and gangsters. As Glasgow is a city I know well and was very much in the public eye as I was reading Digital Circumstances – it just seemed a perfect read at the time.

A fun read and worth seeking out.

Digital Circumstances Review

 

Someone Else’s Skin – Sarah Hilary

A debut novel and the introduction of a principle character (Marnie Rome) which the author is planning on developing into an ongoing series. I have included this book in my top picks of the year mainly because it was a brilliant story which I got totally drawn into as I read.

However, Someone Else’s Skin holds the honour of being the book in 2014 with the best plot twist. It totally floored me and had me re-evaluating everything I had read up to that point in the story.

I read well over 100 novels this year, it would be very remiss of me to exclude the year’s ‘Jaw Drop’ moment from the list of my top books.

Someone Else’s Skin Review

 

An Evil Mind – Chris Carter

A fellow blogger contacted me asking if I could help him by reading a Chris Carter book (a task I felt reasonably comfortable accepting). He had been set a mission by the publishers: to find readers who had not read Chris Carter’s work and see if he could turn them into fans. I agreed to help and duly received a copy of An Evil Mind.

Click through to check my review for a more comprehensive summary, however, the addition of four new Chris Carter novels to my bookcase in the last few weeks should give a fairly big clue as to how much I enjoyed An Evil Mind. When drawing up a shortlist of possible titles to include in my Magnificent Seven, nothing came close to dislodging An Evil Mind from the list.

My thanks to Shaun on this one – take some time to visit his blog at: www.bookaddictshaun.co.uk

An Evil Mind Review

 

Red Rising – Pierce Brown

The book that broke my rules. Don’t get drawn back into Fantasy novels. Don’t start a series of books if the last books are not published yet. Don’t lend out your copies of your favourite books to friends as you know they will love it. Three copies of Red Rising later I currently only have my digital copy left – I MAY get some of my paperbacks back (eventually)!

This book made me want to read Fantasy novels again – this is after an 8 year hiatus where I have only really read crime and thrillers. A must read novel and worthy for inclusion in ANY list of recommended reads.

Red Rising Review

 

So there we have it – my best reading memories from 2014 and a brief explanation as to why these books stood out for me.

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November 14

Dead Man Walking – Paul Finch

Dead Man Walking
Dead Man Walking

His worst nightmare is back…

As a brutal winter takes hold of the Lake District, a prolific serial killer stalks the fells. ‘The Stranger’ has returned and for DS Mark ‘Heck’ Heckenburg, the signs are all too familiar.

Last seen on Dartmoor ten years earlier, The Stranger murdered his victims in vicious, cold-blooded attacks – and when two young women go missing, Heck fears the worst.

As The Stranger lays siege to a remote community, Heck watches helplessly as the killer plays his cruel game, picking off his victims one by one. And with no way to get word out of the valley, Heck must play ball…

 

 

I think that my blog may be in danger of becoming a sub branch of the Paul Finch Fan Club. Just after I started blogging I read the first of Paul’s Mark Heckenburg novels, Stalkers. I loved it and reviewed it. I quickly read the second book in the series (loved it and reviewed it). Then I found Paul had written a Doctor Who short story within an anthology I was reading (which also got a review).

Enforced break time…there were only three Heck novels and I didn’t want to rush the last one (The Killing Club).

Some months later my resolve crumbled (mainly due to the imminent release of the 4th Heck novel). I read, and loved, The Killing Club and now sit with the brand new – as yet unpublished – Heckenburg book Dead Man Walking.

Skip forward 48 hours and I am done. Dead Man Walking has been and gone…and I loved it (I rather thought I would).

Dead Man Walking opens some 10 years in the past and we learn of a murderer, dubbed The Stranger, who is attacking then butchering his victims. The police are on the case and a trap is laid and sprung.

Jump to the present and Heck is working in Cumbria – he has fallen out with his boss (Gemma Piper) and been transferred to a small police station where he will be out of everyone’s way. Summer has gone and the Lakes are eerily quiet, particularly when the fog descends.

Two girls get lost in the hills and Heck leads the search. Battling against the fog and the bleak weather he finds one of the girls and, despite the trauma she has experienced, she tells of an attack which sounds remarkably like the work of The Stranger – has he returned?

Heck calls in Gemma. In this fourth outing Piper  takes a much more proactive role in the investigation than in previous stories. I love the Heck/Piper pairing. Given the history the pair share there is great friction between the two and this is heightened by their recent falling out and Heck’s subsequent relocation to the Lake District. For extra spice we have ‘The Other Woman’. Heck has been spending time with the local publican (Hazel), when Gemma and Hazel get together they do not exactly click! There are some great scenes between Gemma and Hazel adding a little light relief to the tale.

Light relief is very welcome as Dead Man Walking is a tense story. The dark foggy nights over a damp, isolated village makes a superb setting – a killer is picking off the villagers one by one and there is a real sense of claustrophobia as Heck, Gemma and Hazel struggle to keep one step ahead of the murderer.

Dead Man Walking was a terrific read, there was a constant feeling of peril hanging over the key characters. Finch introduced a sinister murderer with an almost supernatural ability to hunt down his victims and you couldn’t see how Heck would outfox him. Finally, the author’s use of the weather conditions and the remote locations heightened the tension and make the plight of the characters more vivid. An atmospheric thriller which kept me engrossed right to the last page – full 5/5 awarded to Paul Finch for Dead Man Walking.

 

Dead Man Walking is published by Avon and is available from 20 November.

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November 7

Vendetta – Dreda Say Mitchell

Vendetta
Vendetta

 

Two murders. Two different crime scenes. One killer?

Mac wakes in a smashed-up hotel room with no recollection of what has happened. With his lover’s corpse in the bathroom and the evidence suggesting that he killed her, Mac is on a mission to uncover the truth and find the real killer.

But he’s in a race against time with less than a day to unravel the mystery. Still reeling from a personal tragedy Mac isn’t afraid of pain. Hot on his heels is tenacious Detective Inspector Rio Wray. Double-crossed and in the line of fire, Mac has to swim through a sea of lies to get to the truth.

But only Mac knows he’s been living a double life. Can he be sure he doesn’t have the blood of a dead woman on his hands.

Thank you to Hodder and the Bookbridgr team for my review copy.

 

 

Before I start my Vendetta review in full there is something that I need to get off my chest…

VENDETTA IS MAGNIFICENT!

Thank you – I have been holding that in for a couple of weeks.

No point in my being coy about this review, I loved Vendetta! It is a roller-coaster of adventure with undercover cops, Russian gangsters, nasty murders and has many unsavoury characters popping up all over the place. I have wanted to shout about how much I enjoyed reading it but had been holding off so I could time my review to coincide with Dreda Say Mitchell’s Blog Tour visit.

There is a cover quote from Lee Child ‘Breathless from the first word and thrilling to the last.’ Top author nails a review in one line. That is exactly how I found Vendetta. In the opening scenes our hero, Mac, wakes in a hotel room with a gunshot wound to his head and his girlfriend’s mutilated corpse in the bath. Did Mac kill her? He can’t remember but the police are outside and Mac does not want to stick around to answer awkward questions.

What comes next is a frenetic thriller as we follow Mac through the back streets and dark alleys of London while he tries to keep one step ahead of Detective Inspector Rio Wray and tries to catch up with a killer (assuming that killer is not Mac himself).

Short yet punchy chapters, fast paced narrative and an engaging story make Vendetta very readable and extremely enjoyable. I loved Dreda Say Mitchell’s characterisation of Mac and DI Wray, she puts her cast through the wringer and how they contend with their respective trauma and loss defines their actions through the book. Characters pushed to their limits take reckless chances which, in turn, leads to great entertainment for a reader.

I have read some great books this year but Vendetta stands out as one of the best. I tore through it and grudged any time that I had to tear myself away from Mac’s world. Also, I am glad the book was published this week as my review copy (and I) got soaked in an October downpour so it needs replaced. I want Vendetta sitting pretty on by bookshelf as it has earned its place as a ‘keeper’. Unsurprisingly I have awarded Vendetta a five star review.

 

VENDETTA by Dreda Say Mitchell is out now in paperback and eBook, published by Hodder, £6.99. For more information visit www.dredasaymitchell.com and follow Dreda on twitter @DredaMitchell

 

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October 25

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train
The Girl on the Train

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.

Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.

Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

Thanks to Transworld and Netgalley for my review copy.

 

I could just leave this review as:

“Wow, this book is incredible – everyone should read it!” because that is exactly what I was thinking as I read The Girl on The Train.

You need a little more though.

 

Rachel is the lead voice, she is The Girl on the Train. She is a sad character. Her husband has left her, he is living with his new wife and their new baby in Rachel’s old house – a house that Rachel sees every day from her seat on the train as she travels to work. Unfortunately, Rachel is not prepared to accept that her marriage is over, she drinks heavily and is very much down on her luck.

On her journey to work Rachel sees another house every day – she watches the couple that live there and she imagines how their perfect life together must be. They are her ‘Jess and Jason’.

The narration switches from Rachel to Jess (real name Megan) and the reader gets to learn more about Rachel’s ‘perfect’ girl – unsurprisingly all is not perfect in her life after all.

The final narrator of the story is Anna. Anna is married to Rachel’s ex-husband. She does not like Rachel and is increasingly frustrated by Rachel’s constant interference in her life – she just wants Rachel to leave her family alone. But when Rachel gets drunk she calls and emails her ex-husband and Rachel gets drunk a lot.

As the book unfolds the story is moved on by changes to the narrator. We move from Rachel to Megan to Rachel then to Anna before joining with Rachel again. Slightly confusing if you have to put the book down mid chapter but easily recoverable (and you will not WANT to put the book down mid-chapter).

Paula Hawkins creates vivid, believable characters. The switching of narration between Rachel (The Drunk), Megan (The Perfect Girl) and Anna (The Other Woman) is expertly handled. I was completely drawn into the story, driven by the necessity to find out what happened next. The true mark of my enjoyment was that I was disappointed when the book ended – I could have read more.

I am very much against spoilers so I cannot reveal too much more about the various twists in the plot but I can assure you that there are twists a-plenty. The Girl on the Train is a gripping read – you must avoid spoilers, you must read it as soon as you can and you must hope that someone makes it into film so that you can tell them you read the book first and that it was incredible.

A full five out of five for The Girl on the Train.

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August 16

Doctor Who Engines of War – George Mann

The War Doctor
The War Doctor

Between 1989 and 2005 I read a lot of Doctor Who novels. For those not familiar with those dates they represent the years that The Doctor was largely absent from our televisions. But he lived on in print and I lapped up those stories. Thanks to the excellent Target Books range I could read the stories of the adventures that had been broadcast on TV between 1963 and 1989. Then along came Virgin Publishing who released a range of books (one per month at their peak) featuring the continuing adventures of the 7th Doctor. These were joined after a couple of years by Past Doctor stories – tales designed to slip in between the stories which had been broadcast on television and featured Doctors 1-6 and their respective travelling companions.

Then in 1996 we got the 8th Doctor TV Movie. Things changed (including the Doctor). BBC Books took back ownership of the Doctor Who stories and began a lengthy run of original novels featuring the 8th Doctor and they also published their own Past Doctor stories too. I would usually buy two Doctor Who books per month – for around 14 years. I have read A LOT of Doctor Who novels.

When the show re-launched on BBC in 2005 the books continued but the addition of 1 small child to our household curtailed the book buying for me.

However, my devotion to the print adventures of our favourite Time Lord puts me in a pretty strong position to assess the latest offering: Engines of War by George Mann.

I am happy to report that it is without doubt one of the best Doctor Who novels I have read. There are lots of things contributing to this and I cannot share them all because <Spoilers>. However, the chance to join The War Doctor is a great start. Throw in a feisty new companion, trips to Gallifrey, Daleks, Timelord political machinations and the unexpected return of some forgotten personalities and there were treats galore for the fans.

The author does a great job of creating the personality of the War Doctor, you can feel the spirit of the character we are so familiar with battling the necessity of the destruction he brings in this unfamiliar guise. Clearly the War Doctor is tormented by the path that he has forced to take and this comes through in Mann’s fast paced story.

To reveal too much of the plot would rob the reader of the chance to enjoy the story unfolding. Suffice to say that I would love to read more of this battle-weary Doctor’s exploits. The new companion (Cinder) was also a great addition to the mix, she and the Doctor enjoy snappy and entertaining dialogue and it is through her eyes we see how the Doctor almost seems to relish his confrontations with those who stand in his path.

Despite this being a War Doctor story we still see a figure determined to do the right thing, protect the innocent and try to bring solutions to lost causes. With little source material available to form a clear image of how the War Doctor could be expected to behave I believe that George Mann has done an admirable job of crafting a hero we can believe in.

The sheer volume of original Doctor Who novels that are available invariably means that some will slip into obscurity. Within both the Virgin and the BBC range of books are tales that lacked any real spark. There were stories which could have featured any characters and the plots were so generic that, aside from calling the main character Doctor, you had no inkling that you were reading about our favourite Gallifreyan. That is why Engines of War stands out – you are never in any doubt of the subject matter and the importance that the story takes in the mythos of Doctor Who adventures. Excellent reading to be had – go grab a copy.

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August 7

Someone Else’s Skin – Sarah Hilary

Called to a woman’s refuge to take a routine witness statement, DI Someone Else's SkinMarnie Rome instead walks in on an attempted murder.

Trying to uncover the truth from layers of secrets, Marnie finds herself confronting her own demons.

Because she, of all people, knows that it can be those closest to us we should fear the most . . .

Thank you to Headline and Bookbridgr for providing a copy for review.

 

Someone Else’s Skin is a debut novel – I couldn’t tell. There was never a feeling that the author, Sarah Hilary, was finding her feet or that she had a great idea for a story but just could not quite make the elements come together. This is a slick, stylish thriller which tackles the disturbing reality of domestic violence with unflinching and often graphic detail.

Principle character Detective Inspector Marnie Rome is well established and I found her feisty and determined attitude suited the tone of the story well. She has her share of demons to conquer and, knowing there are sequels planned, I hope that these are visited in more detail in subsequent books.

The supporting cast were equally well developed and you find that you really will care what happens to the characters as the story unfolds. I sometimes find that too many peripheral characters can detract from a story and I lose track on how plot threads interweave. Not so here. A tightly worked tale where everyone has a part to play in getting the story to its dramatic conclusion.

Someone Else’s Skin drew me in. Domestic violence is not an easy subject matter and at times I found the accounts of how the characters had suffered quite harrowing to read. However, Sarah Hilary handled these encounters superbly. Violence is never glorified and always seemed to be recounted in such a way as you can almost hear a voice of contempt (usually that of DI Rome) as the actions of the perpetrator are detailed.

I finished Someone Else’s Skin earlier today and posted an update on Twitter which captured my feelings as I closed the book:

‘When the book you are reading turns everything

you believed onto its head and totally floors you.

THAT.’

I stand by that sentiment. I was enjoying this book (despite my qualms re the subject matter) when suddenly the plot was twisted. I didn’t see it coming and it escalated the book from ‘good’ to ‘great’. I love when that happens.

Someone Else’s Skin is available now on Kindle and will be available in paperback by the end of August. I urge you to Grab This Book, it’s a belter.

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June 19

Stalkers – a great book crept up on me

stalkersSTALKERS – PAUL FINCH

Time’s up. You’re Next.

“All he had to do was name the woman he wanted. It was that easy. They would do all the hard work.”

Detective Sergeant Mark ‘Heck’ Heckenburg is investigating the disappearance of 38 different women. Each one was happy and successful until they vanished without a trace.

Desperate to find her missing sister, Lauren Wraxford seeks out Heck’s help. Together they enter a seedy underworld of gangsters and organised crime.

But when they hear rumours about the so-called ‘Nice Guys Club’ they hit a brick wall. They’re the gang that no one will talk about. Because the Nice Guys can arrange anything you want. Provided you pay the price…

 

Having spent some time hanging round Twitter and getting a feel for what fellow readers were spending time with there was one name which cropped up more than once…Paul Finch.

Stalkers seemed the ideal jumping on point as it introduced Mark Heckenburg, a recurring central figure for Finch’s books. Promising start from my point of view – I love when an author establishes a character and builds on their story over a few books.

From the outset I was drawn into the story the Stalker element was unsettling when described  from the victim’s (limited) viewpoint. The scale of the true horror that was to follow was skillfully revealed and kept me hooked. There were some very disturbing concepts brought out and the author really put his characters through the wringer.

I read a lot of Michael Slade books when I was younger. Murder stories featuring the Royal Canadian Mounted Police but with nasty ‘shlock horror’ undertones.  This is the closest UK equivalent that I have read for many years but Stalkers was better – much, much better than anything Slade ever wrote.

I have no hesitation in calling Stalkers the best book that I have read this year – GRAB THIS BOOK  I give it an A+.

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