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The Point of Poetry by Joe Nutt

I’m a big poetry fan. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I did my dissertation on the poetry of Philip Larkin, someone I consider to be particularly more accessible to readers than, perhaps, Shakespeare. Some people are afraid of poetry, many members of my own family, in fact, and no matter what I say or do can convince them that reading poetry is a pleasurable activity. When I was very kindly asked to be on the blog tour for Joe Nutt’s The Point of Poetry, I jumped at the chance, not because I needed convincing of the benefits of reading poetry, but because I wanted some justification for the argument that I’ve been having for a long time: poetry is to be enjoyed, not endured.

Here’s the blurb:

What’s the point of poetry? It’s a question asked in classrooms all over the world, but it rarely receives a satisfactory answer. Which is why so many people, who read all kinds of books, never read poetry after leaving school. Exploring twenty-two works from poets as varied as William Blake, Seamus Heaney, Rita Dove and Hollie McNish, this book makes the case for what poetry has to offer us, what it can tell us about the things that matter in life.

Each poem is discussed with humour and refreshing clarity, using a mixture of anecdote and literary criticism that has been honed over a lifetime of teaching. Poetry can enrich our lives, if we will let it. The Point of Poetry is the perfect companion for anyone looking to discover how.

The Point of Poetry is an interesting look at how poetry can be accessible to all. Nutt gives us a gentle introduction to some great poems, and some useful techniques on how to read poems without being completely lost in a literary device fog.  With each poem he has chosen to introduce the reader to, he entices them to give poetry a chance where they might not have done before. He describes how the poem works and picks out phrases to draw the reader in but does not give the poem in full until the end, cleverly building up the reader’s anticipation and leading them to want to read the poem as a result.

Reading poetry takes a bit of work, or at least imagination, on the part of the reader, as you need to be able to read between the often few short lines on what the poet is trying to say. Nutt doesn’t try to deny this, and some poems are easier than others to grasp, but this book allows the reader to appreciate just how much you can get from a good poem: what is essentially a condensed novel, with all the emotion of an epic novel in a few short stanzas.

Some of the poems, I liked, some I didn’t. Some I was familiar with, some I wasn’t. Yet that was partly the point. Nutt gives us a wide range of different poems, some that even he didn’t like, but the wide range of material he uses means that there is something there for everyone. For example, I’m a fan of Carol Ann Duffy and particularly enjoyed his analysis of Mrs Midas, from her The World’s Wife collection.  My old friend (or nemesis, sometimes, when I was writing my dissertation) even gets a mention, albeit fleetingly. I understood the purpose of his reference to Larkin’s poem Church-Going and I agree with the idea that Larkin cared about what the reader was bringing to the poetry party. The interpretation is on the part of the reader as much as it is on the poet, and Larkin would often draw on the day-to-day experiences that people could relate to and they could bring their own take on Larkin’s words. I’d have liked to have seen a chapter on a Philip Larkin poem. Perhaps in the next book…

The Point of Poetry is a great book for someone new to poetry or to someone who has an aversion to it, as well as those who have championed poetry, like me, but have found it falling on deaf ears. Perhaps experiences of poetry at school have scarred you for life. I genuinely think this book would help to combat that. It eases the reader in gently, by mixing more complex poems with more straightforward ones, but tells you how to read them for the best effect. There should be more books like this on the market, mini anthologies of poems with a how-to-read guide. If Joe Nutt is so inclined, this could make a great series. I’d be in the queue to read them, that’s for sure!

The Point of Poetry Cover

 

Welcome To The Heady Heights

One of the first Orenda Books that I read and reviewed was The Last Days of Disco, by David F. Ross. I was struck by its poignancy despite it’s consistently humourous narrative, and being the first in a trilogy, the other books in the series were in a similar vein. (The Rise & Fall of the Miraculous Vespas and The Man Who Loved Islands). Having enjoyed this trilogy so much, I was excited to read Ross’s latest novel, Welcome To The Heady Heights.

Here’s the blurb:

It’s the year punk rock was born, Concorde entered commercial service and a tiny Romanian gymnast changed the sport forever…

Archie Blunt is a man with big ideas. He just needs a break for them to be realised. In a bizarre brush with the light entertainment business, Archie unwittingly saves the life of the UK’s top showbiz star, Hank ‘Heady’ Hendricks, and immediately seizes the opportunity to aim for the big time. With dreams of becoming a musical impresario, he creates a new singing group called The High Five with five unruly working-class kids from Glasgow’s East End. The plan? Make it to the final of Heady’s Saturday night talent show, where fame and fortune awaits…

But there’s a complication. Archie’s made a fairly major misstep in his pursuit of fame and fortune, and now a trail of irate Glaswegian bookies, corrupt politicians and a determined Scottish WPC are all on his tail…

The first thing to point out is that it is impossible to read a David F. Ross novel without reading it in a Scottish accent. In fact, it should be! It undoubtedly enhances the reading experience.

Like his trilogy before it, Ross treats the reader to a beautifully balanced funny yet moving story, as he takes us on a journey to explore the fabric of Glasgow’s people and places. There’s a variety of characters from all walks of life, depicted in true Ross fashion, who seemingly don’t connect, but the threads all come together to make a magnificent literary tapestry of the contrast between different segments of society, from the downtrodden, to the criminal, to the celebrity.

I don’t want to give anything away but look out for Archie’s pitch for a new game show to celebrity entertainment mogul, Heady Hendricks. I literally laughed out loud on my morning bus to work. Archie is ahead of his time, as I think his game show suggestion would undoubtedly have a place in today’s reality TV society. It couldn’t be any more dangerous than Dancing on Ice!

The narrative itself is beautifully written, and the character of Archie, in particular, is impossible to feel anything but affection for, even when he gets up to a few questionable things. He’s a dreamer, undoubtedly, but he has a good heart and good intentions, and having him as the main protagonist has you cheering him on from beginning to end.

Set in the 1970’s (a tiny bit before my time, only being born in 1978), Ross paints a picture of a different world, before technology was key and women were often treated as second-class citizens, particularly in the workplace. However, he also draws on the parallels, such as the pedestal we put celebrities on, the ways in which different classes are treated, and the underbelly of corruption that feeds into every society.

I loved this novel, just like I loved the Disco Days trilogy. To have the skill to write a novel that can make you laugh out loud and also make you cry is something I can only dream of having, but Ross absolutely nails it in this novel. One phrase in the novel seemed to sum it up perfectly (although it wasn’t necessarily it’s purpose in the narrative): “But she was joining the dots. The many, many threads –random when examined individually, but wound together, they began to make sense.” (Kindle location:3383 of 3725) That’s exactly what this novel does, and it does it exquisitely well. Bring on the next David F. Ross funny tear-jerker!

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Deep Dirty Truth by Steph Broadribb (Orenda Books)

One of the best characters I’ve encountered recently is undoubtedly Steph Broadribb’s Lori Anderson. I’ve loved the first two books in this series and I was really excited to read Deep Dirty Truth. Here’s the blurb:

A price on her head. A secret worth dying for. Just 48 hours to expose the truth…

Single-mother bounty hunter Lori Anderson has finally got her family back together, but her new-found happiness is shattered when she’s snatched by the Miami Mob – and they want her dead. Rather than a bullet, they offer her a job: find the Mob’s ‘numbers man’ – Carlton North – who’s in protective custody after being forced to turn federal witness against them. If Lori succeeds, they’ll wipe the slate clean and the price on her head – and those of her family – will be removed. If she fails, they die.

What I love about these novels is that Lori is constantly battling for her daughter’s safety and now the safety of her one-time mentor, father of her daughter, and lover, JT. As a mother myself, Lori’s gritty determination to do whatever it takes to protect her family resonates with me and it’s very easy to champion her from the outset.

I also like that she has street-smarts. She is clever and intuitive. She thinks logically despite the intense pressure that she is often under, which engages the reader to follow her train of thought to the story’s conclusion.

Given that JT is out of action, Broadribb cleverly leaves Lori having to rely on her wits and Federal Agent Alex Monroe, who she doesn’t really trust, but this also forces JT to take care of, and bond with, Dakota, their daughter. When Broadribb takes us to JT’s and Dakota’s story, the reader gets an insight to their lives and their relationships with Lori, and each other. This is a lovely aside to the main action.

Yet again, Steph Broadribb has written a great, engaging novel that I read over two days, only stopping for things like work and sleep! From early on in the novel, it becomes apparent that this series is destined to continue. The next story is beautifully set up at the end of this one, and I cannot wait to read it.

 

The Liar’s Girl by Catherine Ryan Howard

Happy New Year, everyone! I read some fantastic books in 2018, and I have high hopes for 2019, especially with the blog tours I have on my calendar for January. My first read, and first review of 2019 was  of The Liar’s Girl by Catherine Ryan Howard. Here’s the blurb:

Will Hurley, Dublin’s notorious Canal Killer, is in prison, ten years into a life sentence.
His ex-girlfriend, Alison, has built a new life abroad, putting her shattered past behind
her.
Then the copycat killings start. Will holds the key to unlocking these crimes, but he’ll
only talk to Alison. Can the killer be stopped before there’s another senseless
murder? And after all these years, can Alison face the past – and the man – she’s
worked so hard to forget?

To give you some idea of how much I enjoyed this novel, I read it in two sittings. It would have been one, but I needed to get off the bus! The main protagonist, Alison, intrigued from the beginning. She is obviously carrying the baggage of her past with her, despite the fact that she is trying hard to move on. Will is also a great character; the reader never quite knows how reliable his narrative is, and the tension with each meeting of these two characters is perfectly palpable, adding to the reader’s investment in the truth.

Predominantly set in Dublin, the surroundings play a big part, and though the author fully admits to a little poetic license in the location details, she sets the scene well. The canal becomes a foreboding added character, something to be feared, along with the idea of seclusion.

Alison and Detective Malone make a formidable duo, and while I get the impression this is a standalone novel, I’d like to see these two characters in a sequel, working together to solve a crime.

This was a fantastic read to start off 2019 with, and I can highly recommend this book to any crime fiction fans.

The Liar's Girl Cover

 

Bloodhound Christmas Crackers Extravaganza – Dark Fragments by Rob Sinclair

I’m very privileged to be part of the Bloodhound Christmas Cracker Extravaganza and to be able to repost my review of Dark Fragments by Rob Sinclair. This was a brilliant book by an author who continues to write brilliant novels. I can highly recommend any Rob Sinclair novel but this one was a brilliant one. It would make a brilliant Christmas present for any suspense novel fan. 🌲⛄️🎅

Dark Fragments by Rob Sinclair (Bloodhound Books)

Yesterday marked the release of Rob Sinclair’s first novel away from his brilliant Enemy series (of which I’m really looking forward to reading the next instalment) and I was honoured to be asked to read an advanced reading copy of Dark Fragments (Bloodhound Books). I managed to finish it on its release day so here is my review.

Dark Fragments tells the story of Ben Stephens, father of two to Harry and Chloe and husband to his second wife, Gemma. Following the murder of his first wife Alice, he has made a life with Gemma, the lady who he had been having an affair with before Alice’s murder. Ben owes money to local gangster Callum O’Brady and his life quickly spirals out of control as he tries to dig himself out of the massive hole he has found himself in.

The narrative is split between the action as it unfolds, with the odd hint as to the direction that the plot will take, and chapters printed in italics where Ben is explaining his actions and feelings to an unknown individual about these events that have taken place. This dynamic increases the tension for the reader and gives the reader an insight to how and why these actions came about.

The characters are well built up by Sinclair and there is plenty to leave the reader guessing about as the story unfolds and questions are raised about the motivations of the various characters.

This is a spectacularly clever novel which offers a lot of unexpected events which are written so well by Sinclair to have maximum impact as they become apparent to the reader. The premise of the story changes constantly so the reader never quite knows where the story is going as Ben’s control over his situation ebbs and flows throughout. Sinclair doesn’t pull any punches at all and doesn’t skimp on the descriptive language when the scenes are particularly dramatic, making it a wonderfully sumptuous read for anyone who wants a no-holds-barred crime novel.

Having loved the Enemy series, I did wonder if I would enjoy Dark Fragments as much as I loved Carl Logan’s stories, but I absolutely did. This is a magnificent step away from what is a brilliant series, with as much to entice the reader into wanting to know what happens next as any of the Logan novels. The difference is that there is a firm conclusion at the end of Dark Fragments, and it’s a really great one. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book for any avid crime reader.

The Green Viper by Rob Sinclair (Bloodhound Books)

Reading a James Ryker novel is like being reunited with an old friend. Having read Rob Sinclair’s Enemy series, where James Ryker was Carl Logan prior to his reincarnation, I feel very invested in his story. So, I was very excited to be asked to be part of the blog tour for Ryker’s next journey in The Green Viper.

Here’s the blurb:

I need your help. Call me.

Ex-intelligence agent James Ryker receives a coded message through a secret drop point, a means of communication known only to him and one other person. The problem is, that other person is his ex-boss, Mackie… and he’s already dead.

But the cry for help is real, and it’s a request Ryker can’t refuse.

Travelling to New York alone and without official sanction, Ryker has a single goal in mind, yet even he couldn’t have bargained for the violent world he’s soon embroiled in. Caught in the middle of a spiraling chaos with the FBI on one side, and two warring underworld bosses on the other, Ryker must put all of his skills to the test in order to come out on top, and keep his word.

In a world full of lies and deceit, loyalty is everything, and it’s time for James Ryker to pay his dues.

 

As with all the books in the series, reminders of his former life as Carl Logan pepper the novel, reminding the reader that his past has shaped his future and he will always be inextricably linked with the Joint Intelligence Agency, which is a blessing and a curse in equal measure. James Ryker is a fiercely loyal and determined character who will stop at nothing to succeed in his goal.

Sinclair is undoubtedly on top form with his latest James Ryker outing. As with his other novels, he isn’t afraid to make character choices that shock the reader and he doesn’t hold back on the graphic images when he describes the violence that his characters inflict, further enhancing his narrative. Set in New York, Sinclair again uses the location he sets the action in to bring an added character to the novel to great effect.

The Green Viper is a fantastic read and I don’t expect anything less when I pick up a Rob Sinclair novel. It’s great to pick up a book, knowing beforehand that you are in for a treat, and that’s a given with the James Ryker series. I look forward to the next one!

Good Samaritans by Will Carver (Orenda Books)

It’s a rare occurrence that a novel can provide you with so many shocks from cover to cover that you feel like you’ve run a marathon by the time you get to the end. When I started reading Good Samaritans by Will Carver, I wasn’t expecting to have that kind of experience. How wrong I was!

Here’s the blurb:

One crossed wire, three dead bodies and six bottles of bleach.

Seth Beauman can’t sleep. He stays up late, calling strangers from his phonebook, hoping to make a connection, while his wife, Maeve, sleeps upstairs. A crossed wire finds a suicidal Hadley Serf on the phone to Seth, thinking she is talking to The Samaritans. But a seemingly harmless, late-night hobby turns into something more for Seth and for Hadley, and soon their late-night talks are turning into day-time meet-ups. And then this dysfunctional love story turns into something altogether darker, when Seth brings Hadley home… And someone is watching… Dark, sexy, dangerous and wildly readable, Good Samaritans marks the scorching return of one of crime fiction’s most exceptional voices.

What struck me about this novel was that it has a relatively slow build up, yet it had the power to sucker-punch you multiple times throughout. Reading this on the bus to work, I got some very strange looks at certain points when an audible gasp of shock at the turn of events involuntarily escaped from me. What also struck me is how skilled an author Will Carver is to be able to lull the reader this way and that way, then throw everything you thought was happening into the air. Just when I thought I had it worked out, I really didn’t.

Carver’s writing style perfectly depicts the lives of his characters to create an ideal response from the reader. Often, short, staccato sentences build up the tension and portray the emotions of the characters in a direct and detached way. He has multiple narrators throughout; the characters tell their own story and there is a third person narrator to direct the reader through each character’s version of events. This further redirects the reader into a delicious trap of thinking one thing is happening, when in fact what is really happening is shockingly different.

Undoubtedly a dark novel, it intrigues the reader throughout and even when you reach the end, you are in a state of shock as even the ending doesn’t take the path you would expect. This novel is simply brilliant and if I could sum my final reaction up in one word, it would be “wow”! I’ve waxed lyrical about the brilliance of the team at Orenda Books for finding books that offer something extra special that you rarely find elsewhere, and with Good Samaritans, Orenda has done it again. Good Samaritans is definitely going on my top books of 2018 list and I will be recommending it to anyone who’ll listen, as it is a fictional masterpiece.

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Cold Winter Sun by Tony J. Forder (Bloodhound Books)

Cold Winter Sun by Tony J Forder was one of those novels that had me intrigued  from the minute I read the blurb. In these situations, it can one of two ways: you’ll be sorely disappointed because it hasn’t lived up to the hype, or thoroughly satisfied because it lived up to the promise offered by the blurb.

Here’s the blurb that got me so enthusiastic about reading this novel:

A missing man. A determined hunter. A deadly case.

When Mike Lynch is contacted by his ex-wife about the missing nephew of her new husband, he offers to help find the young man with the help of his friend Terry Cochran.

Arriving in LA to try and track down the young man, the pair are immediately torn away when the missing man’s car shows up, abandoned on the side of a deserted road in New Mexico.

When two fake police officers cross their path, Terry and Mike know there is more to the case than meets the eye, and soon they find themselves asking exactly who it is they are really looking for…

Short and sweet, but intriguing nonetheless.

Now, whilst this novel is referred to as a standalone, this is not the first novel that these characters have appeared in. Forder wrote Scream Blue Murder as a standalone but decided to write a sequel before the first book was published. It certainly works well as a standalone and where reference is made to these character’s past lives, Forder gives a concise summary so the reader has enough information to continue reading.

Mike Lynch is a brilliantly written character. Forder uses this character to portray what life is like as a civilian after being in the forces, for better or worse. Undoubtedly troubled by what he has experienced, but at the same time, highly skilled in combat with impressive instincts, Mike is incredibly likeable, as is his silent but deadly friend, Terry. As a team, they are formidable, and though they don’t always agree with each other, they make a great partnership.

The use of inhabitable landscape features heavily in this novel. Initially Mike is camping in snow-covered Scotland, then he is summoned to investigate in the barren New Mexico desert landscape, where, during his time there, it snows. His surroundings act as an additional barrier to overcome in order to find his ex-wife’s husband’s nephew.

Forder has written a really enjoyable novel. The blurb delivered its promise, and then some. I am definitely going to be reading Scream Blue Murder, as I am keen to learn the back story to these characters in more detail. I can highly recommend this novel and if Forder decides to bring these characters back, I’ll be adding it to my TBR list straight away.

cold winter sun cover

 

After He Died by Michael J. Malone (Orenda Books)

Since I started reviewing books for this site three years ago, I’ve encountered works from a number of authors that I’ve enjoyed so much, it has made me really look forward to their next novel. Michael J. Malone is one such author whose novel, A Suitable Lie, has placed him as a firm favourite of mine, so I was very excited to read his latest novel, After He Died.

Here’s the blurb:

When Paula Gadd’s husband of almost thirty years dies, just days away from the seventh anniversary
of their son Christopher’s death, her world falls apart. Grieving and bereft, she is stunned when a
young woman approaches her at the funeral service, and slips something into her pocket. A note
suggesting that Paula’s husband was not all that he seemed…
When the two women eventually meet, a series of revelations challenges everything Paula thought she
knew, and it becomes immediately clear that both women’s lives are in very real danger. Both a dark,
twisty slice of domestic noir and taut, explosive psychological thriller, After He Died is also a chilling
reminder that the people we trust the most can harbour the deadliest secrets…

I read this novel in a day. I took every spare moment and couldn’t get enough of this novel from the beginning to the end. Malone’s writing style urges you to read on, sewing the seed of intrigue into every page, and as a reader, you cannot wait to find out what the story is, behind the mystery.

Malone takes the reader on a journey of enlightenment for Paula Gadd, as her life as she knew it is turned upside down and she begins to question all that she thought she knew, whilst dealing with the trauma of the sudden death of her husband. The narrative perspective is such that the reader becomes enlightened as Paula does, which builds the mystery and creates a great story that keeps the reader engrossed to the end.

There is also a political aspect to this novel, as Malone brings into question the class divide in Glasgow (which, in all honesty, could apply to any UK town or city) and how rich and poor exist in close proximity to each other but live massively different lives. He addresses that lack of funding for social services, which is to the detriment of those who require it. What this novel also does is to show that actually, although those with money and those who don’t live very differently, ultimately love and grief feel the same, no matter who you are.

As with A Suitable Lie, and more recently, House of Spines, Malone has again showcased his abilities as a fantastic storyteller. His novels never take the path you’d expect them to, and it is always all the better for it. He wraps up the mystery perfectly and you leave the novel having had a very satisfying reading experience. In the last week, I’ve been fortunate enough to read two wonderful novels, both published by Orenda Books (the other being The Lion Tamer Who Lost by Louise Beech), and I can’t help but wonder just how Orenda manages to source such unique and talented writers, What I do know is that I will undoubtedly be eager to read the next brilliant story by Michael J. Malone (and indeed, Louise Beech), and I look forward to encountering a few more Orenda star authors in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

The Lion Tamer Who Lost by Louise Beech (Orenda Books)

Reading a Louise Beech novel is like eating a beautifully crafted cupcake: you know before you taste it that it is going to be amazing, you enjoy every delicious mouthful and you feel sad after eating the last bite because this wonderful morsel has given you such immense pleasure that you can’t bear the thought that it is finished. i was very excited about the release of The Lion Tamer Who Lost and it sounded very intriguing. Here’s the blurb:

Be careful what you wish for…
Long ago, Andrew made a childhood wish, and kept it in a silver box. When it finally comes true, he
wishes it hadn’t…
Long ago, Ben made a promise and he had a dream: to travel to Africa to volunteer at a lion reserve.
When he finally makes it, it isn’t for the reasons he imagined…
Ben and Andrew keep meeting in unexpected places, and the intense relationship that develops seems
to be guided by fate. Or is it?
What if the very thing that draws them together is tainted by past secrets that threaten everything?

One thing that always strikes me about Beech’s novels is that they are never one genre or another. You can’t fit her novels into a category, which is testament to the brilliant imagination that she has to generate a novel that is completely individual and incomparable to any other. The Lion Tamer Who Lost is no different. The characters go on a journey that Beech crafts beautifully, taking the reader back and forth in time to explain Ben and Andrew’s stories.

There’s an incredible honesty about The Lion Tamer Who Lost that enables the reader to sympathise with every character, even when they are doing something that is not necessarily the right thing to do. Each character has their flaws but the way Beech portrays them gives the reader a rounded view of them so they can forgive the character’s bad decisions. Every character has a tale to tell that shapes their attitudes and behaviour, and they are not always as the reader would expect.

The structure that Beech uses in this novel is perfect for building up the stories of these characters without giving everything away. The novel starts mid-way through Ben and Andrew’s stories then you are taken back and forth between the past and present day to illuminate why Ben seems despondent and somewhat haunted in the initial chapters. The quotes from Andrew’s books at the beginning of each chapter also carry their own messages and it is a perfectly balanced novel to create an optimum amount of mystery and desire to find out the full picture.

Love is, without a doubt, the main theme of this novel and Beech depicts the intensity of familial love, passionate/sexual love and friendship love with incredible skill. In Beech’s dedication at the front of the novel, she quotes her friend who says “love is love, no matter who it’s between”, and this is ultimately the message that you get from this novel, and what a beautiful sentiment to be left with! This has always been my own belief too, so to read a novel which reinforces that has been an absolute pleasure.

Yet again, Louise Beech has created a perfect novel. I have yet to read anything by Beech that I have felt has been missing something, which is why I always look forward to reading her stories. I enjoyed this novel from start to finish and I laughed, and cried, which is always a good sign. This is an incredibly moving novel, as Beech’s novels always are, and it was immensely enjoyable to read, taking me no time at all, as I couldn’t put it down. Louise Beech is undoubtedly the jewel in the Orenda Books crown and I look forward to reviewing her next masterpiece.

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