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Turbulent Wake by Paul E. Hardisty (Orenda Books)

Paul E. Hardisty’s Claymore Straker series has been a triumph for Orenda Books. I have enjoyed reading the books so far in that series immensely, so I was excited and intrigued to hear that Hardisty was writing a novel that wasn’t in this series. Here’s the blurb:

A bewitching, powerful and deeply moving story of love, loss and grief. This extraordinary departure from the critically acclaimed thriller writer Paul E Hardisty explores the indelible damage we can do to those closest to us, the tragedy of history repeating itself and ultimately, the power of redemption in a time of change. Paul drew on his own experiences of travelling around the world as an engineer, from the dangerous deserts of Yemen, the oil rigs of Texas, the wild rivers of Africa, to the stunning coral cays of the Caribbean.

Ethan Scofield returns to the place of his birth to bury his father, with whom he had a difficult relationship. Whilst clearing out the old man’s house, he finds a strange manuscript, a collection of vignettes and stories that cover the whole of his father’s turbulent and restless life.

As his own life unravels before him, Ethan works his way through the manuscript, searching for answers to the mysteries that have plagued him since he was a child. What happened to his little brother? Why was his mother taken from him? And why, in the end, when there was no one left for him, did his own father push him away?

The blurb itself would have been enough to encourage me to read this novel. The premise is intriguing, thought-provoking and mysterious. Hardisty writes with such intellect and brings his own personal career experiences into his novels that you feel much more educated after reading.

Like Claymore Straker, Ethan and his dad, Warren, are troubled souls. Their lives prior to the present day of the novel have been that fraught with challenges and traumatic experiences that it is not difficult to see why Ethan feels like he is misplaced. It is clear that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” but the novel explores if that is as a result of Warren’s behaviour and experiences before and during Ethan’s childhood, or if Ethan has made his own path.

The narrative structure serves the premise well, with Warren’s manuscript of stories that detail pivotal points in his life interspersed with Ethan’s take on how his own life is progressing (or not), and of his relationship with his Dad before and after the illuminating manuscript. Like many Orenda Books novels, it strays from a linear narrative which increases the tension and keeps the reader guessing.

Like with the Claymore Straker novels, Hardisty beautifully describes the variety of locations that both Ethan and Warren find themselves in. His narrative is rich in stunning, figurative language that is intertwined into the story to make the reader feel (or at least, wish) they are in these gorgeous locations.

Hardisty does not disappoint with this beautifully written novel. With diverse characters and a variety of sumptuous settings, this, like many other Orenda Books, is a work of art. I would recommend any Hardisty novel, but this one in particular is a beauty.

Breakers by Doug Johnstone (Orenda Books)

I’m sure you have gathered by now, I’m a big Orenda Books fan, and recently, there has been a run of absolutely brilliant books from the Orenda bookshelves. I was excited by the blurb of Doug Johnstone’s Breakers. Here it is:

Seventeen-year-old Tyler lives in one of Edinburgh’s most deprived areas. Whilst trying to care for his little sister and his drug-addicted mother, he’s also coerced into robbing rich people’s homes by his bullying older siblings.

One night whilst on a job, his brother Barry stabs a homeowner and leaves her for dead. And that’s just the beginning of their nightmare, because they soon discover the woman is the wife of Edinburgh’s biggest crime lord, Deke Holt.

With the police and the Holts closing in, and his shattered family in terrible danger, Tyler is running out of options, until he meets posh girl Flick in another stranger’s house. Could she be his salvation? Or will he end up dragging her down with him?

The first thing I want to say about this book is that if you like your novels with hearts and flowers, you might want to steel yourself before reading this novel. But read it, you should. The narrative is incredibly powerful – it’s gritty and gory, with its roots firmly in the downtrodden and criminal underworld of Edinburgh. Johnstone depicts this slum-like, deprived location with such resonance that the reader cannot help but want to see Tyler and his little sister, Bean, get out of this desperate situation.

However, this novel is deeper than a hard luck story. This is a novel of bad luck and bad choices. Tyler, Bean and Flick are all victims of their parent’s circumstances, and as children in this situation, they are fighting battles they really shouldn’t have to. Johnstone shows their resourcefulness despite their lack of available resources and their resilience after particularly harrowing experiences. As a mother, this novel tugged at my heartstrings from start to finish, and I found myself wanting to know how Tyler, Bean and Flick turned out.

What Johnstone shows is that you can break a cycle of turning to crime when poverty-stricken or indeed, lacking in parental guidance. It doesn’t matter who you are or what background you are from, everyone has a story and their own demons to battle. As a narrative, this is a proper page-turner of a novel that you don’t want to put down. It’s fast paced, shocking at times, and Johnstone uses every literary tool in the box to develop a multi-faceted novel that generates a multitude of emotions in the reader.

I love this novel. It wasn’t an easy read in that there was a strong sense of realism in the narrative, in terms of the surroundings/location, and the situation of these children, but Johnstone shows light in the dark and hope in the seemingly hopelessness of Tyler’s situation. Also, by putting Tyler and Flick together despite their considerably different backgrounds highlights the misconception that money brings you happiness. Undoubtedly, Orenda Books has yet another successful novel on their hands. I will be recommending this novel to anyone who loves a gritty page turner.

Worst Case Scenario by Helen Fitzgerald (Orenda Books)

It is often the case that authors selected to be published by Orenda Books tend to explore the road less travelled, choosing topics that are rarely written about and challenging the reader’s perceptions. It is what makes Orenda Books novels so special. One of their latest signings is Helen Fitzgerald, and like other Orenda authors, I had full expectations that I would be taken on a literary journey that I had not been on before. Here’s the blurb:

Mary Shields is a moody, acerbic probation offer, dealing with
some of Glasgow’s worst cases, and her job is on the line.
Imprisoned for murdering his wife, Liam Macdowall has published
a series of letters to the dead woman, in a book that has made
him an unlikely hero – a poster boy for Men’s Rights Activists.
Liam is released on licence into Mary’s care, but things are far
from simple. Mary develops a poisonous obsession with Liam
and his world, and when her son and Liam’s daughter form a
relationship, Mary will stop at nothing to impose her own brand
of justice … with devastating consequences.

Fitzgerald’s uses her main character, Mary, as a vehicle to explore a number of thought-provoking and often taboo topics, such as male domestic violence, paedophilia, and the dreadful state of our social care system. Fitzgerald doesn’t hold back in her approach. This is a gritty novel that doesn’t show the main protagonist as a hero, or even in a favourable light most of the time. Mary Shields is your proverbial “car crash”, though a lot of it isn’t really her fault. However, Worst Case Scenario gives a good overview of the life of someone who works in social services, the impossible challenges that they are expected to overcome, and the unfairness of a system that is designed to help people in need.

What I loved about the narrative in this novel is its no-holds-barred bluntness. No sugar-coating, just an honest depiction of a damaged character who, at heart, wants to do right by everyone who deserves it. True, Mary makes a lot of horrendously bad decisions that cost her, but often, this is down to the restraints placed on her by the job that she does. Also, we can’t underestimate the effects of the menopause on a woman’s state of mind!

Helen Fitzgerald has written a brilliant novel that, in true Orenda tradition, is uniquely formed and not afraid to talk about subjects many authors would stay well away from. Like Mary, I felt completely exhausted and in need of a glass of wine by the time I finished it, but to me, that’s a great response to have to a novel. It’s such a cleverly written novel with perfect balance of humour, poignancy and intrigue. I look forward to reading other novels by this author in the future.

Worst Case Scenario Cover

Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech (Orenda Books)

I am always excited when I hear about a new Louise Beech book release. Since her first novel How To Be Brave, Beech has consistently written beautiful novels that pull at every possible emotion throughout. I had no doubt that Call Me Star Girl would be just as amazing.

Here’s the blurb:

Tonight is the night for secrets…

Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago – and her killer hasn’t been caught.

Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers.

Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after twelve years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father … What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station … who says he knows who killed Victoria, and has proof. Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything… With echoes of the chilling Play Misty for Me, Call Me Star Girl is a taut, emotive and all-consuming psychological thriller that plays on our deepest fears, providing a stark reminder that stirring up dark secrets from the past can be deadly…

I have come to expect Beech’s novel’s to take me on a journey into the life of someone who is strong, yet fragile, with a complexity of emotional baggage that defines their life no matter how much they try to reject it. In a series of flashbacks, from the perspectives of multiple characters, a picture is built up of Stella’s life in the build up to her final show, her vulnerabilities, her strengths, and the origins of these traits. Beech lays out a jigsaw of emotional pieces for the reader to put together and as always, the narrative is clever, unexpected and jam-packed with poignant, tear-jerking scenes.

What I absolutely love about Beech’s novels is that each novel is unique in plot, structure and hits a multitude of different genres in each book. In Call Me Star Girl, there’s elements of mystery, crime, ghost, romance, domestic noir and even a little erotica. I love that I can’t categorise it as this genre or that genre, but as a stunningly crafted work of art that ticks every box of the perfect read checklist.

Every so often, an author comes along that has the ability to blow you away with every single piece of literature that they offer up. Beech is undoubtedly one of those authors. Despite knowing to expect a rollercoaster ride from her previous novels, there’s many twists, turns and loop-the-loops that the reader just isn’t prepared for. Every.Single.Novel. Beech has an extraordinary skill for creating the perfect novel time and time again, and she is the author whose novel I look out for each time I hear that a new one is released. She is undoubtedly jewel in the Orenda Books crown. Call Me Star Girl is a wonderful addition to Louise Beech’s masterpieces and I cannot recommend it enough.

 

 

The Ringmaster by Vanda Symon (Orenda Books)

Orenda Books is on fire at the moment, releasing one brilliant book after another, so I was very excited to read The Ringmaster by  Vanda Symon, and to be on the blog tour. Although this is part of a series, this is the first of Symon’s book I have read.

Here’s the blurb:

Death is stalking the South Island of New Zealand…
Marginalised by previous antics, Sam Shephard, is on the bottom rung
of detective training in Dunedin, and her boss makes sure she knows
it. She gets involved in her first homicide investigation, when a
university student is murdered in the Botanic Gardens, and Sam soon
discovers this is not an isolated incident. There is a chilling prospect of
a predator loose in Dunedin, and a very strong possibility that the deaths are linked to a visiting circus…

Determined to find out who’s running the show, and to prove herself,
Sam throws herself into an investigation that can have only one ending…

The Ringmaster throws the reader into the action from the off, and it doesn’t seem to slow its pace throughout. Symon brilliantly keeps the reader on tenterhooks right from the Prologue, and like all Orenda Books, it is a quintessential page-turner. DC Sam Shepherd is a determined, intuitive detective who, although is new to her detective training, she possesses that skill of all good literary detectives, an ability to spot the anomaly that most other detectives would miss, linking up seemingly separate pieces of evidence to make a case.

The narrative itself is incredibly powerful, and there is one particular scene where Sam has to act against all her natural instincts for the greater good that is very poignant and emotionally charged. (You’ll know it when you get to it, believe me!) Symon captures the scene perfectly and adds another layer of emotional baggage to the already overloaded Sam.

The Ringmaster is a great novel and I didn’t feel any the worse for not having read any other novels in the series, as Symon gives just enough detail to read as a standalone whilst being given just enough information as is relevant to the plot of this novel. It has, however, made me want to read other Sam Shepherd novels, as she is a strong, feisty detective who looks adversity in the face and gives a good old shove out of the way. This would be a brilliant holiday read, so if you’re looking for a book to read on the beach, I can highly recommend this one.

The Ringmaster Cover (1)

 

 

 

 

The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl (Orenda Books)

Orenda Books are well-known for publishing fictional works of art from across the globe. In particular, they have been successful in attracting some of the best writers in the Nordic Noir scene, Kjell Ola Dahl being one of them. The Courier has taken off like a rocket since its release and I can understand why. Here’s the blurb:

In 1942, Jewish courier Ester is betrayed, narrowly avoiding arrest by the Gestapo. In a great haste, she escapes to Sweden, saving herself. Her family in Oslo, however, is deported to Auschwitz. In Stockholm, Ester meets the resistance hero, Gerhard Falkum, who has left his little daughter and fled both the Germans and allegations that he murdered his wife, Åse, who helped Ester get to Sweden. Their burgeoning relationship ends abruptly when Falkum dies in a fire.And yet, twenty-five years later, Falkum shows up in Oslo. He wants to reconnect with his daughter. But where has he been, and what is the real reason for his return? Ester stumbles across information that forces her to look closely at her past, and to revisit her war-time training to stay alive…Written with Dahl’s trademark characterization and elegant plotting, The Courier sees the hugely respected godfather of Nordic Noir at his best, as he takes on one of the most horrific periods of modern history, in an exceptional, shocking thriller.

One of the most distinguishing features of this novel is its staccato short, present-tense sentence structure, allowing the reader to embrace the tension that builds up in each scene. As a reader, you are forced to take continuous pauses in the narrative to make sure you have the same time to take in what is happening as the various characters.

Starting in present day, Dahl flips between 1942 and 1967 to disjoint the narrative just enough to replay what has happened and the repercussions of these occurrences. The narrative never stands still, constantly moving from one period of time to another to describe Ester’s activities during the war and how these activities return to throw her life into turmoil after seeking out a more normal life.

Dahl takes the reader on a journey of discovery of spy activities in the Second World War and how years later, the effects are still felt. Ester is trying to leave her experiences behind her but her attempt at living a quiet life gets disrupted by her past. Her involvement in the war efforts then, still invokes the same curiosity in her, which Dahl portrays beautifully.

Generally, Nordic Noir or historical novels wouldn’t be my genre of choice, yet The Courier combines these two brilliantly and I have really enjoyed reading it. Yet again, I have been reminded never to disregard a book because of the genre it falls into. The Courier is going to be a great success, of that I have no doubt. It would make a brilliant film, in my opinion. Orenda Books consistently release books that engross me from start to finish, and The Courier is no exception.

The Courier cover.jpg

The Island Affair by Helena Halme

Everyone has a different reason for picking up a particular novel to read. For some, it’s the cover, for others, it’s on recommendation. For me, and I’m sure for many other readers, it’s the blurb that draws me in. It was the blurb for The Island Affair, by Helena Halme, that made me accept the kind invitation to be on the blog your for this novel.

Here it is:

Can one summer mend a broken heart?

After the tragic loss of their 17-year-old son, journalist Alicia and surgeon Liam struggle to keep their marriage afloat. During their usual holiday to Åland, the Nordic islands where Alicia grew up, the rift between the couple deepens.

Enter tall, blonde Patrick, with the most piercing blue eyes Alicia has ever seen. When Patrick confides in Alicia about the near loss of his daughter and the breakdown of his marriage, Alicia is surprised to feel an affinity with the Swedish reporter. He’s the only person who understands Alicia.

But secrets held by people close to Alicia give her life another surprising turn and she finds there is a reason to live – and love – again.

I may have been drawn in by the blurb, but it was undoubtedly the characterisation and the pace of the plot that made me read this book in a very short space of time. With the beautifully depicted Nordic scenery and the intensely emotional narrative, this book provides everything that is promised by the blurb.

There are a few twist and turns along the way, and a few unanswered questions that are left to the imagination of the reader to decide on the outcome. Alicia is a character that the reader automatically feels sympathy for and doesn’t feel the need to judge her for her actions, even when they may be a little misguided.

Halme cleverly takes the reader down a variety of potential plot twists to keep the reader gripped and the eventual outcome is well set up.

I enjoyed this book immensely and I wouldn’t hesitate to read other books by Helena Halme.

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!

Heady Heights aw.indd

 

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.