September 23

The Skeleton Road – Val McDermid

The Skeleton Road
The Skeleton Road

When a skeleton is discovered hidden at the top of a crumbling, gothic building in Edinburgh, Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie is faced with the unenviable task of identifying the bones. As Karen’s investigation gathers momentum, she is drawn deeper into a world of intrigue and betrayal, spanning the dark days of the Balkan Wars.

Karen’s search for answers brings her to a small village in Croatia, a place scarred by fear, where people have endured unspeakable acts of violence. Meanwhile, someone is taking the law into their own hands in the name of justice and revenge — but when present resentment collides with secrets of the past, the truth is more shocking than anyone could have imagined . . .

 

Thanks to Netgalley for providing a copy for review.

Confession time first. I am a Scottish book blogger, I mainly read crime fiction and yet in my 40 years I have never read a Val McDermid novel. I put that wrong to right with every turn of the page and will be back for more soon.

The Skeleton Road was a tricky read for me for a variety of reasons and it stomped all over my emotions as the story progressed. A key focus is upon the Balkan Wars and we are given an insight into some of the atrocities of the conflict. The previously untold stories of horrific war crimes that are often hard to comprehend or rationalise are depicted in a necessary detail.

We read about the struggle and the pain that was endured by so many as the country formerly known as Yugoslavia broke into separate country states. Having visited Croatia, and driven through beautiful landscapes which (in some places) still show some signs of the conflict that occurred there just a few short years ago, I found it easy to immerse myself in the book.

I would also note that I read The Skeleton Road in the week it was published. A week that ended with the Scottish Indy Referendum – an event which is actually discussed during the story. Reading about the turmoil in a European country as they strove to become a country in their own right made my personal requirement to place a cross in one of two boxes extremely humbling.

The principle character of The Skeleton Road was DCI Karen Pirie, I got the impression this was a character that had been introduced in previous story but I found Pirie to be a strong voice and would like to read more books she appears in. Other supporting characters (specifically The Mint) added a lighter tone that lifted the dark tone of the story.

Pirie works cold cases so a skeleton atop an old Edinburgh building places the investigation firmly at her door; yet she soon crosses paths with a War Crimes investigation and politics come into play. I found that Val McDermid is rather good at ensuring Pirie wins the power-play conversations and the way Pirie out-manoeuvres those in the way of her investigation was a delight.

With a story crossing from Fife to Oxford and then to Croatia there was a good flow to the majority of story but I did feel that I lost my way slightly in the middle of the book as the back story of the Croatian characters were established. But the pace was quickly re-established and the finale played out very nicely for this reader.

A great introduction (for me) to Val McDermid and I recommend that you spend some time on The Skeleton Road too.

 

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September 12

Doctor Who: The Blood Cell – James Goss

An asteroid in the furthest reaches of space – the most secure prison for the most dangerous of

The Blood Cell
The Blood Cell

criminals. The Governor is responsible for the cruellest murderers so he’s not impressed by the arrival of the man they’re calling the most dangerous criminal in the quadrant. Or, as he prefers to be known, the Doctor.

But when the new prisoner immediately sets about trying to escape, and keeps trying, the Governor sets out to find out why.

Who is the Doctor and what’s he really doing here? And who is the young woman who comes every day to visit him, only to be turned away by the guards?

When the killing finally starts, the Governor begins to get his answers.

 

My thanks to Netgalley for providing a reading copy

With Doctor Who back on our screens every Saturday night it is great to see BBC are keeping the books going with brand new original adventures. Particularly pleasing is that the new books feature Peter Capaldi as The Doctor – show of good faith in the writers that their interpretations of the new Doctor will be consistent with the show.

As I write we are 3 shows into the Capaldi run and I am very pleased with what I have seen thus far. It also means that as I read Blood Cell I could easily imagine The Doctor and Clara playing out the story – major Kudos to James Goss on this front as I really enjoyed his depiction of Capaldi’s Doctor.

The story its-self takes a less conventional approach. The Doctor has been arrested and is imprisoned in a secure prison in deep space. He is Prisoner 428 in the eyes of the Prison Governor and it is through the eyes of the Governor that we see the whole story unfold. The book is told in the first person from the Governor’s perspective.

The Doctor is a mysterious character at the best of times but to the Governor he is a puzzle, an irritation and a liability. The reader gets to enjoy seeing The Doctor get one up on his captors at every opportunity. While the reader knows the Doctor is most likely in a prison because it suited his purposes, the Governor has no idea that his problem prisoner is actually working in everyone’s best interests.

The reasons for Prisoner 428’s incarceration are not immediately clear but are revealed as the story unfolds. The Doctor’s travelling companion, Clara, is more of a cameo than a featured character but her apparent squabbles with the TARDIS provide some light relief as the tension in the story starts to ramp up.

This is the first of the novels I have read featuring Capaldi’s Doctor. Blood Cell was a strong start and I want to read more.

Some unexpected items included in the 100 objects.
Some unexpected items included in the 100 objects.

 

 

As an aside I ran a quick check on the other books written by James Goss and I noticed he co-authored one of my favourite Doctor Who books Doctor Who History of the Universe in 100 Objects. That too is highly recommended for fans.

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September 6

Doctor Who (Time Trips) The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time Traveller – Joanne Harris

Struggling to get back to UNIT HQ, his body being destroyed by radiation, the Third Doctor arrives

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Time Traveller
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Time Traveller

in the most perfect English village, where everyone is happy. But is he really on Earth, or somewhere far more strange? As his body weakens, the Doctor and the Queen of the village begin to unravel the truth.

 

This is the latest book in the Time Trips series – a new range of novellas featuring The Doctor that are to be written by ‘high profile commercial and literary authors’. Joanne Harris more than meets these credentials with a series of successful novels on her CV (Blackberry Wine, Chocolat and The Lollipop Shoes to name just a few).

Loneliness tells a story of The Doctor as he reaches the end of his third incarnation (as portrayed by Jon Pertwee). Fans may be keen to learn that the story fits into the last 5 minutes of Planet of The Spiders – just before The Doctor falls out of his TARDIS and regenerates.

Getting the essence of The Doctor can sometimes be elusive but Joanne Harris captured the ‘Dandy’ element of Pertwee’s Doctor perfectly and I had a great sense of nostalgia as I remembered how much I enjoyed the time when Pertwee was the dashing hero.

Travelling alone on his way back from Metabelis III the TARDIS is diverted to an idyllic English Village. He finds himself under the care of the Queen who is very keen that he ask no questions, tries to blend in and that he keeps his head down. Naturally The Doctor is not keen to take a passive role and trouble ensues.

I don’t want to share any more detail of this story as the impact of this book is in the reading. Joanne Harris seems to have written Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time Traveller with the intent of triggering a specific response – if my experience is replicated by others she has succeeded.

I was curious about the Time Trips stories as I have only read a couple of the books thus far. Jenny Colgan wrote Into The Nowhere which featured the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara – it is also very good! So how did Joanne Harris get Jon Pertwee? Through the wonder of Twitter I was able to pose that very question to Joanne Harris and she confirmed that she had a free choice of Doctor and she wanted the Third Doctor. Seeing how the story unfolded I now know why her selection was so perfect.

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time Traveller was released on 4th September and should be purchased immediately!

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September 5

Gin Glorious Gin – Olivia Williams

How Mother’s Ruin Became The Spirit of London.

A colourful and fascinating history of our favourite spirit told through the life and times of our

Gin Glorious Gin
Gin Glorious Gin

capital city.

Thank you to Bookbridgr for providing a copy for review. And to Olivia Williams who responded to some of my random Tweets while I read her book.

I found Gin Glorious Gin to be informative, educational, entertaining and often disturbing, Also, the cover should carry a warning about reading the book in public.

Gin Glorious Gin follows the development of the spirit from its early days in London through to the current resurgence in its popularity. Olivia Williams brings us a fascinating commentary of life in London as seen by many generations of Londoners (through the bottom of their gin glass).

From the backstreets of the poorest slums to Buckingham Palace we learn how Gin has played an important part in London’s history. It has risen in popularity only to fall from grace and rise again. We discover how the skill in preparing fine gin is a much sought after commodity. There are stories about how the London hotels treasure the best cocktail makers and how their skill can allow them to become famous around the word.

We learn that there are dozens of ways gin can be flavoured and the book explores many of these providing recipes, tips on concocting new cocktails as well as things to avoid!

The writing is informed and the style conversational at times so, despite the volume of anecdotes and information that is conveyed, you keep coming back for more.

What I did find as I read through Gin Glorious Gin was that I made new friends (cover warning time). The book is eye-catching and the subject matter seems dear to the hearts of many. Random strangers would spark up conversations with me on my train journeys as I read – they would share their stories of gin (mothers ruin always gets a mention) and I would smile and nod and resist telling them that I read the very story they were sharing in the book that I was holding. It seems to have an appeal that draws strangers together.

I can see this book being a much loved Christmas gift for the family gin lover. But, as a non gin drinker, I can assure you that it has an appeal to all readers.

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September 4

Taking Hollywood – Shari King

Taking Hollywood
Taking Hollywood

From Los Angeles based performer and presenter Ross King and bestselling author Shari Low, comes this dark tale of secrets, lies, and ruthless ambition, Taking Hollywood.

THE GLAMOUR OF JACKIE COLLINS MEETS THE GRIT OF MARTINA COLE IN THE DARK HEART OF A SUN-BLEACHED LOS ANGELES.

1993
In front of a galaxy of stars, three young film makers accept their Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
Davie Johnston, Zander Leith and Mirren McLean, childhood friends from a rough housing estate in Glasgow, have taken Hollywoodby storm.
Only they know what they did to get there. . .

2013
Twenty years later Davie Johnston is the top host and reality show producer in town. Mirren McLean is a respected writer and movie director and Zander Leith is box office gold. But they haven’t spoken to each other in twenty years, their relationships devastated by one horrific secret.
Thousands of miles away, in a town where nothing is as it seems, a young ambitious journalist discovers a tantalizing story from the past. Tinsel Town beckons. She is determined to expose the kind of scandalous drama that usually only happens in the movies.

 

Thank you to Emma at Busy Bee PR for providing a copy for review. She thought I would enjoy this book and she was right!

Let me position this review. I have never read a Jackie Collins novel, I don’t follow celebrities or keep up with the Kardashians and the cover stars of the magazines I read are more likely to be Daleks or Lara Croft. But what I do like are stories that are about people, their lives, their hopes/fears and how they tackle problems. Taking Hollywood delivers this in abundance (likely by private jet with champagne on tap).

We meet Davie, Mirren and Zander at a time in their life when everything they hold dear is crumbling around them. Each face their personal demons, a failed marriage, drink and substance abuse or public rejection – all under the intense spotlight of the showbiz media in Hollywood.

The story swings between present day and twenty years back to 1993 when the three were children living a miserable existence in a Glasgow suburb. We know they make good and become international stars but we also know that they share a dark secret, one that drives them apart just as they have the world at their feet. As we follow the story we learn more about Zander, Davie and Mirren and their shared history.

The slow reveal of the childhood secrets is pushed on by the presence of a Scottish journalist who follows a story of a missing Glasgow Gangster to Hollywood and a hidden connection with the three stars. The journalist (Sarah) grounded the story for me and reeled in some of the excess and opulence – through her eyes we see the layperson’s view of just how far removed from reality the celebrity lifestyle seems to be.

The Hollywood portrayed is one of lavish decadence, excess and greed. Everyone is for sale, everyone is available and anything goes. Yet despite their public face showing success Taking Hollywood reveals the sham behind the glam and depicts a miserable life for our three heroes. I moved from disliking the Mirren, Davie and Zander to feeling sorry for them as their problems mounted. Anytime I find that I empathise with a character I know the author has drawn me in.

The story blends the fictional characters into real events and there are name checks for many famous stars (that even I recognised). It is a wonderfully bitchy story where everyone is trying to out-do everyone else and some of the stunts are great fun to read.

Taking Hollywood is pure escapism and as we got closer and closer to the finale I just could not put it down. The payoff of the revealed secret made it all worthwhile, thought I had it nailed – nope! Good job guys.

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September 2

Waiting For Doggo – Mark Mills

Thank you to Frances Gough (and Doggo) for providing a review copy

Waiting For Doggo
Waiting For Doggo

I really enjoyed this charming wee tale (tail)?

Dan has been dumped and he has been lumbered with the new addition to his (now broken) household: a small and seemingly unattractive canine named Doggo.  Doggo and Dan have not bonded thus far but now must forge a relationship for the sake of Doggo’s gentleman parts…the Dog Home will not take him back ‘intact’.And so we begin our entertaining journey into Dan and Doggo’s strange relationship.

Dan had a successful career in Advertising until his wingman had a breakdown. Now he has a chance at a new start with an upcoming advertising agency and through Waiting For Doggo we find how Dan rebuilds his life and his career while battling rejection, navigating office politics and dealing with unexpected family revelations.

The author, Mark Mills, writes with an easy flowing style. He creates fun characters and I found it easy to get caught up in the office squabbles and be frustrated by the missed opportunities for our hero, Dan, to find his one true love.

Waiting for Doggo is not my normal type of read. No murders, no suspenseful cliff-hangers and I cannot recall any times when Dan faced mortal peril. However, I found I enjoyed Doggo a lot more than I may have expected. A fun story – if a film were made it would be considered a Rom-Com (with emphasis on the ‘Com’ as I read it with a grin on my face).

Doggo will likely be one of the shorter novels I read this year and it came to an end quicker than I expected. I was slightly surprised to find that I was disappointed by this as I would have read more. Hurrah for Dan and Doggo – good luck to you both.

Very different from my normal choice of read but lots of fun!

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September 2

Red Rising – Pierce Brown

I have to thank Bookbridgr and  Netgalley for giving me the chance to read this book.  I am happy to provide an honest review and will happily tell everyone that this book is brilliant!

Red Rising Trilogy - Part 1
Red Rising Trilogy – Part 1

I have not read a fantasy novel for several years and I forgot my golden rule…never start a fantasy saga until all the books have been written. Red Rising is the first in a trilogy and I need parts two and three NOW!!!!!

Neither are available yet, Pierce Brown has promised that book two will be out in January 2015 – it already seems a long wait!

I tried to explain to a friend what Red Rising was like…Lord of the Flies with some 1984, a bit of Running Man but set on Mars. That does not do it justice, it is all of those yet more.

Just to clarify, I loved Red Rising!

Red Rising follows the story of Darrow. He is a Red, a miner on Mars. Generations of Reds (the lowest class of society) have been mining deep below the surface of Mars to help the Golds (the Society Elite) to terraform the planet and bring them a new world to live in.  Unknown to Darrow and the Reds, the terraforming completed several generations ago and the surface of the planet houses a civilisation that live a decadent lifestyle while the Reds continue to work themselves to death below ground so the elite can party.

Darrow gets a glimpse of life above the surface of the planet and his life is turned upside down, his life is a lie. Everything he believed and worked for was a sham. He gets offered the chance to change things – can he become one of the elite? Can he become a Gold and then crush those that perpetuate the lie? Can he bring down the elite Golds and the life that they have built for themselves?

We read about Darrow as his life is rebuilt. His appearance is changed (bones smashed and flesh carved). He learns new skills, adopts a new identity and has to undergo the trials that will deem if he (and hundreds of others) can be worthy to rise to the top of the pile.

The trial process most made me draw comparisons with Lord of the Flies – teams are formed amongst the students seeking to become the best ‘Golds’. They are thrown into an artificially constructed landscape where different factions are pitted against each other to see which faction can make best use of their resources and prevail. Each faction has a will to win and it soon becomes dog-eat-dog/kill or be killed. This is gripping story telling from Pierce Brown and the depths to which some of the trialists will stoop is terrifying.  As a Doctor Who fan, my mental image of this part of the story was a battle playing out in the Death Zone on Gallifrey.

Darrow is a likeable hero. He has to become something that he hates, act in a way that is alien to his natural instinct and he does not always make the right choices. This is a hugely satisfying read but be warned – it is just the beginning of the story!

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August 21

The Drop – Dennis Lehane

The Drop follows lonely bartender Bob Saginowski through a cover scheme of

Movie Adaptation incoming
Movie Adaptation Incoming

funnelling cash to local gangsters — ‘money drops’ — in the underworld of Boston bars. Under the heavy hand of his employer and cousin Marv, Bob finds himself at the centre of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighbourhood’s past where friends, families and foes all work together to make a living — no matter the cost.

 

Thanks to Netgalley for making this book available for review.

 

Several years ago I discovered Dennis Lehane’s excellent Kenzie-Gennaro novels and at the time I thought they were one of the best collections that I owned. I persuaded friends and colleagues to read them and bought multiple copies of some of the titles as my books were not returned if I lent them out.   The fifth book Prayers for Rain came out in 1999 and then…

…Lehane moved on to new projects and didn’t return to Kenzie and Genarro until 2010 with Moonlight Mile (which I missed as I didn’t know about it until yesterday). During the intervening 11 year period he penned several other works which included Mystic River and Shutter Island both of which were adapted to film and became box office successes.

Getting the chance to read The Drop was something of a treat – by reading it I indirectly discover some of my favourite characters have retuned while I was not paying attention AND I get to enjoy a story by an author I have not read since 1999. Yup didn’t read any of the stand-alone novels – planning to go back though.

The reason I know I will go back to Lehane’s work is that The Drop was fabulous. It is a story about people. Nice people, bad people, mis-understood people, missing people and scary people but it is the author’s skill at making their lives intertwine that make this story so strong. Oh, there is a dog too!

The principle focus of The Drop is barkeeper Bob Saginowski. Through Bob we learn about the Chechen gangsters that have taken over the organised crime in his corner of Boston. They use the bar where Bob works as a ‘drop’ to pass money gained from gambling and prostitution. During the story someone robs the bar on the night a drop is to happen. This leads to some unhappy gangsters and places Bob in a predicament as he has to find a way to replace the lost money. He also has to find a way to stop his new dog fouling in his house. Both these issues seem to have equal concern for Bob such is his approach to life.

While Bob is a laid-back and uncomplicated fellow he crosses paths with an ex-convict who is borderline psychotic – their clashes are peppered through the tale and I found myself rooting for barkeep Bob to repel the bully. When a writer engages my sense of injustice I find myself more drawn to the story – naturally I want the bully to get a taste of their own medicine.

The beauty of The Drop is how the characters are developed as the story unfolds – to even allude to some of the best twists would be criminal – this is a tale you need to enjoy for yourself with little pre-conception as to what may be about to happen.

The strength of this story is the characterisation and the interchange between characters – this is not a book that ends every chapter on a dramatic cliff-hanger or rolls from set play to set play in a frenzy of adrenaline. To be clear though, this is not a boring story either – far from it. You engage with the characters and want to hear more about them, pages fly past and you get drawn into their small Bostonian corner. I loved it and was sorry to reach the last chapter all too soon.

The Drop is available from 2 September.

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August 19

Skylanders: The Kaos Trap – Bowden/Marz

The Kaos Trap
The Kaos Trap

 

The #1 kids videogame and hottest-selling toy, Skylanders, is coming to your bookshelf in all-new comic book adventures! Join fan-favorite characters Spyro, Stealth Elf, Trigger Happy, and more in these original, never-before-seen stories that tie directly into the videogames.

 

Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy of this forthcoming comic book adventure. And for making my kids ‘squee’ with excitement.

If you have not encountered Skylanders before then you have managed to avoid a videogame phenomenon. First encountered in the 2011 game Skylanders: Spyros Adventures the player guides a playable character through a series of colourful and challenging adventures seeking to beat the evil Kaos and thwart his plans to turn the lands of Skylands to darkness.

The twist in the Skylanders games is that the player has an actual toy (a physical object) which can be placed onto a ‘Portal’ that is connected to the videogame console – said toy is then transported into the game and the player controls a digital version of their character within the game. Fancy changing the hero? No problem…there were 32 inter-changeable characters in the first game and with the third sequel due this October there will be over 100 different playable characters available by Christmas.

Skylanders are a big deal in our household and the thrill of reading new adventures was evident when mini bookworm 1 and 2 (my bambino’s) crowded round my laptop to enjoy their first digital comic book experience.

Needless to say they were not disappointed. Skylanders: The Kaos Trap ticks every box you would expect. Fun, colourful artwork, familiar characters, slapstick humour and lots of Skylanders kicking butt.

Meet the Team
Meet the Team

My copy contained what seemed to be the first part of an ongoing comic book adventure and had the added pull of featuring the new characters for 2014 – the Trap Masters. Lots of cameo appearances from established Skylanders including Spyro, Stealth Elf and Pop Fizz made this a great introduction to the comic.

Kaos has a new plan to conquer Skylands yet his latest plot appears to have been thwarted by the timely intervention of a Trap Master – or has it? Colourful and crisp artwork made this a very pleasing book for me to use to introduce my younger child (4) to comic book stories. The story is not too complicated for youngsters to follow, yet still pitches a good balance to cater for all ages: both my boys enjoyed it despite the 4 year age gap between them.

Once the teaser tale for the ongoing stories was complete there was a stand-alone story featuring fan favourite Flynn, new characters Chopper and Food Fight plus the Skylander Mini’s (such as Weeruptor, Gill Runt and Thumpling). Once again many cameo appearances to please the fans and a fun story for the target audience (and this older reader too). I believe that the Skylanders comic could, and should, become a regular addition to many children’s monthly reading pile. With a vast array of characters at their disposal and the weight of the Activision videogame propelling the toys into more and more shops the target audience is primed for this one.

Skylanders: The Kaos Trap is due out early October and the latest game Skylanders: Trap Team is due in stores 10 October 2014 on all major consoles (and now tablets too).

Warning – Skylanders is addictive and expensive fun!

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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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