Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

London is a city on wheels – a future city like you’ve never known before. In the terrible aftermath of the Sixty Minute War, cities which survived the apocalypse became predators, chasing and feeding on smaller towns. Now London is hunting down its prey, getting ready to feed. But as the chase begins, Tom uncovers a secret – a secret full of deadly consequences. Soon he is plunged into a world of unkillable enemies, threatened by a weapon that will tear his life apart…

I purchased a copy of this book for my personal reading.

I purchased the full series of these books some time ago and with the release of the film of the same title now seemed the most opportune moment to give it a read. Mortal Engines offers up a blend of steampunk set within a post apocalyptic future vision of Earth. In a world destroyed by war, resources became limited and coveted by all. Many of the settlements, towns and cities became mobile – roving the scarred wastes in search of much needed materials. The largest settlements prey upon anything smaller, harvesting them while smaller towns feast on any scraps left behind.287861I was hooked early on. Reeve’s descriptive style captivated me, really immersing me in the story. The “good guys” are relatable and likeable, riddled with character flaws and failings even though they mean well. The villains of the series are utterly loathsome – from the deluded Mayor Crome, the self-loving Thaddeus Valentine to the part-machine assassin Shrike. The characters have been created so well I found myself loving and loathing them as their arcs unfold.

The plot is well defined, and the world building throughout is excellent. The details really bring to life a ravaged world filled with scavengers, hunters and people desperate to survive in peace. Twists appear throughout the story and are used to good effect without ever feeling like they are there just because. Character motivations ebb and flow and reveal themselves at just the right time and where relevant to the storyline.

Mortal Engines ticked all the boxes from the first page to the last. I loved the world and locations so vividly brought to life – a vibrant, dangerous futuristic world of survival and power. It sated my need for a well-written steampunk novel without overplaying its hand. I am looking forward to seeing how the story develops in the three books that follow Mortal Engines.

My rating:
goodread

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A Very Funny Murder Mystery by Paul Mathews

A Very Funny Murder Mystery by Paul Mathews

Untimely death is part of everyday life in the quirky English village of Upper Goosing – European Murder Destination of the Year 2015. And when Lady Peculiar’s butler – a part-time comedian – is found drowned in mango chutney, Detective Inspector Clinton Trump comes blundering onto the scene – ready to shun logic, breach protocol and trust in his own gut instincts.

What will “South East England’s greatest detective” uncover? Is her ladyship a murderess? Was the killer a comedy rival? Or are darker forces at work in this particular corner of Brokenshire? Join our self-proclaimed British detective genius, as he races against time to solve this very funny murder mystery – so he can play in a golf tournament without distraction!

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review.

Self-titled quite funny guy Paul Mathews, whose books have featured regularly on Books and Beyond Reviews, returns with the first book in a new series. Taking a break from Howie Pond in the We Have Lost series, The new series brings us an all new hero – Clinton Trump, South East England’s greatest detective. A Very Funny Murder Mystery takes us to Upper Goosing in Brokenshire, a quaint, chocolate box English village that just so happens to be home to a higher than average rate of murders.
42140765In the upper class of the village, a ladies curry night ends with the murder of the manor butler, drowned in his own mango chutney. Detective Inspector Clinton Trump with all the confidence a man who would bestow himself the title of greatest detective in the region arrives to take charge of the case and solve it by the end of the week so that he might enjoy a golf tournament at the weekend undisturbed.

In much a similar fashion to the We Have Lost series of books, the investigation is riddled with twists and turns and thanks to the overconfidence of Clinton Trump, his dislike at having to work with sidekick Constable Dinkel, an overbearing boss and a passionate desire to dodge work and get out to the golf course and often descends into farcical comedy. In his now typical style, Mathews manages to poke fun at just about anything possible – from American tourists and upper class dinner parties to self-important detective inspectors and a fantastic laugh at the expense of Russian visitors to Salisbury Cathedral. And in a humorous twist we even get an entertaining chapter seen through the eyes of Trump’s long suffering cats.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the We Have Lost series of books from Paul Mathews I held high hopes for this latest outing. Once again the genre, this time mystery rather than spy, has been taken and butchered with the bluntest of hatchets into something that could never be accused of taking itself too seriously. Mathews brings the laughs, creates colourful characters who all have relatable problems and puts them into laughable situations creating the beginning of what looks to be a brilliantly funny new series.

My rating:
goodread

The Azrael Initiative by K Hanson

The Azrael Initiative by K Hanson

Best friends Kayla Falk, an engineering student, and Olivia Bellamy, who is studying nursing, are nearing the end of their college career when terrorists attack their university. Through a combination of cleverness, bravery, and luck, the two manage to foil the deadly plot. A mysterious man from the United States government, Mr. Hightower, sees their potential and attempts to recruit Kayla and Olivia for a program to take on ISIS. They initially refuse, but another terrorist attack that strikes close to home pushes them to change their minds and join the Azrael Initiative.

After several months of hard training, the two women are dropped into Al-Raqqah, the capital of ISIS, in Syria. Once there, they must blend in with the locals as they strike from the shadows to kill ISIS leaders, destroy their facilities, and free captives. As Americans deep within enemy territory, they know that they will be killed if discovered. As women, they also know that they would suffer before death. Walking the line between vengeance and justice strains their relationship. As they work to resolve their differences, the symphony of brutality around them ultimately pushes them closer together and forges them into the warriors that they were meant to become.

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the authors in exchange for an honest review.

Upon reading the premise of this book I was definitely interested. An action packed adventure dancing with deadly foes with two dangerous female protagonists. In a world filled with Jason Bournes and Jack Reachers, The Azrael Initiative struck me as a potential breath of fresh air. The core setting, Al-Raqqah, the heart of the ISIS Caliphate only heightened the sense of tension and drama to the synopsis of this book.The Azrael InitiativeSadly I felt the book really shot wide of the mark. I felt the author was almost trying too hard. The most mundane of things felt over-described – breakfast, lunch and dinner, tedious elements of the day. That is until the pivotal, life changing terrorist attack on a university completely upends the lives of our two core protagonists, which is swiftly followed by another devastating scene. This sounds fine in principle, but with so much occurring in the first 30 pages or so felt too much for my liking.

The dialogue also felt too stilted. The dialogue between parent and daughter following a potentially deadly terrorist attack was so casual it almost felt like it was just another day. There wasn’t any urgency or concern. Too often characters referred to each other by name, often in the same passage of conversation, and repetitively from sentence to sentence.

Though I wasn’t expecting best-selling, award-winning book I had hoped for more. There were occasional bright spots sprinkled throughout, sadly they were too infrequent in comparison to the heavy doses of implausibility. Elements of the book had a young adult genre vibe about them, and I wonder if that is part of my problem. An expectation of an action-packed thriller, but with YA elements, and never fully being either led to what was something of an anticlimax for me.

My rating:
notforme

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.

I purchased a copy of this book for my personal reading.

I’ve been looking for something different to try in my reading for some time. I was always guilty of sticking to the same few authors, but since starting up Books and Beyond Reviews I vowed to change that. Having read a lot of Terry Pratchett fantasy has become a firm favourite genre of mine. Mix that together with a crime procedural tale (another winner in my books) and I had found a series I couldn’t pass up.
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Rivers of London is the first book in the series of the same name from British author Ben Aaronovitch follows probationary Met Police officer Peter Grant – an easily distracted but capable officer with aspirations of becoming a detective. Just days away from starting a career in police paperwork, a brutal murder offers a career-defining opportunity for Grant. While on duty, manning the police cordon at the scene of a grisly murder on a cold winter’s night, Grant encounters the only eye witness to the crime, a man who just so happens to be a ghost. But this is only the beginning of the weirdness for Peter.

Having fallen down the rabbit hole into a world of weirdness most people don’t even know exists, Grant finds himself plucked from a future working in drudgery, and dropped into a life of investigating crimes involving the paranormal. Just when his training should be coming to a close his new boss – Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale – develops his skills in detecting and communing with the paranormal, along with learning spells that just might save his life out in the field.

The Rivers of London series is one I have been meaning to get on to having heard it recommended by numerous other Terry Pratchett fans. Aaronovitch has hit the nail on the head from a sci-fi/fantasy side. The blend of myth and lore, and the creative ideas alone would be enough to make a brilliant story. The work put in to make a believable and yet entertaining crime procedural is not to be discredited. What sets this work apart in my opinion is the masterful way in which Ben Aaronovitch has taken two seemingly disparate genres and fusing them together wonderfully. I would have to classify Rivers of London as one of my books of the year and a new favourite series that I cannot wait to dive deeper into!

My rating:
goodread

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead by Charlie Laidlaw

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead by Charlie Laidlaw

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is about how small decisions can have profound and unintended consequences, but how we can sometimes get a second chance.

On the way home from a dinner party, Lorna Love steps into the path of an oncoming car. When she wakes up she is in what appears to be a hospital – but a hospital in which her nurse looks like a young Sean Connery, she is served wine for supper, and everyone avoids her questions.

It soon transpires that she is in Heaven, or on HVN, because HVN is a lost, dysfunctional spaceship, and God the aging hippy captain. She seems to be there by accident… or does God have a higher purpose after all?

Despite that, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is neither sci-fi nor fantasy. It is a book about memory and how, if we could remember things slightly differently, would we also be changed?

In HVN, Lorna can at first remember nothing. But as her memories return – some good, some bad – she realises that she has decisions to make and that, maybe, she can find a way back home.

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the authors in exchange for an honest review.

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead captured my interest with a very alternative take on the concept of heaven and the afterlife. And the concept Charlie Laidlaw sets out before us certainly intriguing. Heaven, actually a spaceship stranded in our corner of space for millenia, keeping an eye on our progress. God, merely an ageing hippie out of his depth, far from home, captain of an essentially rudderless ship. But the core of the story is less around afterlife and the great beyond, and more how reflecting on memories from a new perspective change our perception of them.
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The story starts out the tragic, early demise of Lorna Love – an aspiring lawyer. Hit by a car, distracted as she steps into the road, this makes for quite an impactful opening to what is in reality a quite light, hope-filled book. The narrative slips back a short period of time, to a dinner party with the senior-partner at a law firm she hopes to gain employment with. The author brings us right up to the accident once again within the first handful of pages, cleverly retelling it from the perspective of Lorna, rather than observed from a disembodied position as in the beginning of the book. Waking in a strange, sterile hospital, Lorna suffers confusion, morphing into irritation as she realises that her family aren’t around her as she awakens. Realisation begins to dawn on her that this isn’t a hospital and before long meets some of the residents of Heaven, or at least the spaceship called HVN.

As she spends more time on HVN, Lorna realises more and more of her memories return, some happy, some less so. With the benefit of hindsight and the chance to reflect on her life as a whole she sees things with a whole new perspective and with it, a chance to redeem herself and maybe even a second chance.

While I did feel the ending left a lot unanswered, kept me guessing, overall I enjoyed The Things We Learn When We’re Dead. It’s light-hearted and there is an undercurrent of hope. It really made me sit up and think. With that chance to look at our life choices and actions in the cold light of day, I think many people would consider how they might do things if given a second chance. The concept of the book is really interesting, the notion that heaven and God are not as they are thought to be. Any book that gives pause for thought is a worthy read.

My rating:
goodread

Dear Mr Pop Star by Derek Philpott & Dave Philpott

Dear Mr Pop Star by Derek Philpott & Dave Philpott

For more than a decade, Derek Philpott and his son, Dave, have been writing to pop stars from the 1960s to the 90s to take issue with the lyrics of some of their best-known songs.

But then, to their great surprise, the pop stars started writing back…

Dear Mr Pop Star contains 100 of Derek and Dave’s greatest hits, including correspondence with Katrina and the Waves, Tears for Fears, Squeeze, The Housemartins, Suzi Quatro, Devo, Deep Purple, Nik Kershaw, T Pau, Human League, Eurythmics, Wang Chung, EMF, Mott the Hoople, Heaven 17, Jesus Jones, Johnny Hates Jazz, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, Chesney Hawkes and many, many more.

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the authors in exchange for an honest review.

Having read a lot of novels lately, the opportunity to read something easy to pick up and put down whenever a few minutes presented themselves to me was really appealing. And this collection of hilarious missives between the Messers Philpott and their pop music victims provided the perfect opportunity for this. A tome of around 100 letters and responses from a host of global music stars, Dear Mr Pop Star is the ideal choice for an easy reading light-hearted book.
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The letters range from the amusing to the amusingly absurd, but always questioning the lyrics of some of the most popular songs spanning the better part of three decades. In some of the scribblings the Philpott’s question the songs, dissecting chorus and verse for hidden meaning. In others, our intrepid music fans intentionally apply wrong meaning to songs to fantastic comedic effect. In other cases the authors have let their imaginations run completely wild amusing (or maybe infuriating) the artists. In all cases, the net result is some amusing correspondence between all parties.

There are a number of postcard thoughts aimed at other artists which in their own right make for entertaining interludes between the more substantial letters and their responses. While some of the to and fro was less entertaining to me, this is most likely down to my own ignorance of the artists in question and their respective bodies of work. With that said, this mirthful book contains plenty enough artists that I think almost any reader would be hard pressed not to find entertaining communique between the authors and musicians they are familiar with. To have had an opportunity to enjoy a light read that can be picked up for just a few moments at a time and find hilarity with in the majority of the pages is something I don’t often get given my usual leaning to a dark novel made this a most welcome and funny diversion!

My rating:
goodread

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.

The request seems odd, even intrusive – and for the two women who answer, the consequences are devastating.

Emma

Reeling from a traumatic break-in, Emma wants a new place to live. But none of the apartments she sees are affordable or feel safe. Until One Folgate Street. The house is an architectural masterpiece: a minimalist design of pale stone, plate glass, and soaring ceilings. But there are rules. The enigmatic architect who designed the house retains full control: no books, no throw pillows, no photos or clutter or personal effects of any kind. The space is intended to transform its occupant – and it does.

Jane

After a personal tragedy, Jane needs a fresh start. When she finds One Folgate Street, she is instantly drawn to the space – and to its aloof but seductive creator. Moving in, Jane soon learns about the untimely death of the home’s previous tenant, a woman similar to Jane in age and appearance. As Jane tries to untangle truth from lies, she unwittingly follows the same patterns, makes the same choices, crosses paths with the same people, and experiences the same terror as the girl before.

I won a copy of this book as part of a competition.

The Girl Before offers up a psychological thriller with a different direction from the norm. Told from the perspective of our two protagonists – Emma and Jane, the reader is taken on a journey through their lives. Two women with troubled pasts for very different reasons, Emma and Jane are both seeking new homes to move on and rebuild their lives. Written in a past and present format, following the narratives of Emma, the girl before, and Jane in the present in a parallel style as they both progress through a similar story.
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Seeking somewhere new to live that ticks all their requirements – safe and secure for Emma, survivor of a violent home break-in, away from schools with no reminders of children for Jane who is still coming to terms with the stillbirth of her daughter – is proving difficult for both women. That is until the estate agents loosely mention a house available for a low rental price, pristine, pure, technologically advanced, an architectural masterpiece. Neither woman can resist enquiring further about this piece of heaven, a second chance for them. But this property brings a huge catch.

The owner and architect, a mysteries man with a sad history of his own, has very exacting standards and almost overbearing list of rules that any prospective tenant must agree to abide by. And then, there is the application process. Nothing like the usual, an enormous questionnaire needs to be filled out as part of the process asking all sorts of seemingly benign questions. But what price for the perfect home? But not all is rosey at One Folgate Street, a property with a host of secrets and skeletons in the closets.

J.P. Delaney has created a piece of work in The Girl Before that really grabs you by the collar and drags you in from the start. The alternation between a portion of Emma’s story (the past) and then the following chapter flipping to the corresponding part of Jane’s story (the present) could so easily have fallen down before things started if not done well, confusing the reader. I was so thrilled to discover that Delaney has got this so right – as a reader I felt like I could connect the dots between the two stories. As with many of the psychological thrillers I have read, The Girl Before is dark, with secrets waiting to be uncovered and more twists and turns than a Formula One circuit. I was sure there was going to be some curve balls and was almost ready for it, yet I still didn’t see the ending that came – something that makes this book a real winner for me.

My rating:
goodread