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Stella Sky One – The Perfect Ending ❤️

About 18 months ago, I wrote a post about the end of Stella Season 5, imploring Ruth Jones to bring back the wonderful characters of Pontyberry, when there was doubt as to whether the show could carry on with the death of Stella’s first true love, Rob Morgan. Stella Sky One – My Thoughts and a Plea to Ruth Jones I thought it could. Despite being Team Rob all along (and still am😉), I felt it was the right decision to kill him off and let Stella have a life with Michael. I pondered the idea that Rob could return as a confidante to Stella in ghostly form (so pleased I got my wish!)

After watching this final series, Ruth Jones having made it clear that at this was the end, I have loved seeing Stella and Michael battle over the revelation that Rob was baby Holly’s dad, in a twist that I didn’t see coming at all. I was strangely pleased that Holly was Rob’s (see, always Team Rob) and whilst I never really bought into the idea that Stella and Michael wouldn’t find their way back to each other, the final episode was sheer writing perfection to draw everything to a stunning conclusion that leaves everyone satisfied, though not without it’s drama. I did wonder if Stella would just walk away with Rob, adding a real definitive finality to the series, but I’m glad she didn’t.

I have watched every episode of Stella right from the first episode and I have loved every single minute of it. Ruth Jones is immensely talented, having written a wonderful series and played Stella so beautifully. She has given each and every cast member their own unique identity that even when they play a tiny role in a scene, it gives so much viewing pleasure. A gutteral noise from Auntie Brenda, a gasp from Bobby, a “that’s disgusting” from Nadine, or a “cock” from Rhian adds such humour to a scene, it is impossible not to smile.

There has been lots of laughter over the years, but there have also been tears. Craig Gallivan has made me cry the most. He’s had some harrowing scenes to film over the six seasons and he is a wonderful actor. His “don’t make me into a f**king orphan” speech tonight had me in floods again. To have a show generate such warmth for its characters from its viewers is a wonder to behold and a show that can initiate a myriad emotions in an hour is genius.

I argued for Stella last year that for those who felt it was getting boring perhaps were not seeing the value in the community of Pontyberry as it is. The dynamic between the characters was enough to keep me invested regardless of the plot, although personally I have not felt there has been a dip in the plot anyway. Is now the right time to draw it to a close? Ruth Jones seems to think so. I could have watched more series of it had tonight’s ending not played out as it did.

However, what Ruth Jones did in tonight’s episode was a stroke of genius. She gave Stella the perfect ending. No loose ends, no what if’s (as Rob said, “it’s the here and now that matters” – I might be paraphrasing here), and an ending that leaves the viewer feeling that if there is no more Stella, as Ruth Jones has indicated, there were no unanswered questions to frustrate, as is common in many dramas. 

I’m terribly sad to see it end, but I’m happy in the knowledge that my box sets will be like old friends to comfort and amuse whenever the mood takes me. I have favourite episodes that already I watch again and again. They all have a strong Rob presence, I admit. To name but a few, the one when Luke fights Lenny, when Emma has her baby, when Rob dies, and tonight’s episode will undoubtedly join that list.

Thank you to the wonderful actors who brought these vibrant, funny, multi-layered characters to life. You have, and will continue to make me laugh and cry. Biggest thanks goes to Ruth Jones though, who has written this stunning masterpiece that has the perfect mix of quirky humour and overwhelming poignancy that has left me rather emotional yet again. I look forward to reading the novels that Ruth Jones is currently writing and doing what I normally do on this site and reviewing her books. To date, Stella has been the only TV programme to inspire me to review it. There’s a good reason for that: because I’ve cockin’ loved every minute of it, presh! So long, Stella. You will be missed.

Maria In The Moon by Louise Beech  (Orenda Books)

Last year, I was introduced to Louise Beech’s writing with the stunning How To Be Brave. The Mountain In My Shoe was a superb follow-up and I have been eagerly awaiting my chance to read the next Louise Beech masterpiece, Maria In The Moon. Apart from being one of the loveliest ladies I have ever had the pleasure to meet, she is a beautiful writer who grabs her readers by the heartstrings and moves them to tears, yet somehow manages to uplift them at the same time through the sheer grunt and determination of her characters. So when I say that Maria In The Moon has been the one book I have been waiting to read all year, you can take that to the Bank.

Maria In The Moon is set in Hull in the aftermath of the terrible floods from a few years back. Catherine has been forced out of her home whilst repairs are taking place for the flood damage and she is living above a Chinese takeaway with her best friend, Fern. Catherine decides to take a volunteer job at a flood crisis helpline, for reasons she can’t quite grasp onto, having had experience working with crisis helplines before that left her with terrible nightmares. When a chance question in her induction encourages her to remember memories from when she was nine years old, she is confused as to why she cannot remember anything from her ninth year, only the years before and after. As Catherine tries to uncover the mystery of what happened in her missing year, she finds herself considering the people in her life and how they have influenced her, and the choices she has made. As memories return and she is forced to confront her demons, Catherine’s life is turned upside down.

As mentioned previously, Beech is particularly good at writing feisty main characters, from Rose in How To Be Brave, to Conor and Bernadette in The Mountain In My Shoe. Catherine is equally, if not more, feisty and even at the times when she seems a little abrupt and aloof, the reader feels a sympathy with her before they even realise why. Beech is able to instill a depth to Catherine that transcends her smart mouth and shows a sense of vulnerability that instantly warms the reader to her and invests them into wanting to know her story.

In the backdrop of flood-damaged Hull, Beech speaks from the heart, having been a victim of the floods herself, and reminds the reader of the impact it had on the residents of those people whose properties were damaged, from an emotional, financial and practical point of view. Catherine is depicted as being quite pragmatic a lot of the time, but there is an undercurrent of frustration and sadness which adds another layer of intrigue to Catherine.

Beech’s narratives are funny, poignant completely gripping. It never takes me long to finish her novels as, quite frankly, I can’t put them down. They are also easily readable multiple times. To me, if a novel can make you laugh, cry and want to read it all over again, it is a perfect reading experience. This is what you get with a Louise Beech novel each and every time. There’s enough mystery within the plot to drive the narrative forward and to keep the reader guessing but it is the characters themselves who generate the desire within the reader to learn more, right from the first page.

Louise Beech has yet again written a completely satisfying read. I have yet to I find a single, even tiny, flaw with her novels; no sense that it could have been improved in any way. Of course, it’s an Orenda Books novel and this is a commonality amongst the books published by Orenda, but three novels in and I continue to be blown away by Beech’s writing. I hope to meet Louise again soon at another book signing so I can tell her face to face how much I enjoyed Maria In The Moon but in the meantime, I will be recommending this book to whoever I can. Having already purchased it for my friend’s birthday, I’m looking forward to hearing about how she loved it, as I am sure she, and anyone else who reads it, will. I look forward to the next Louise Beech perfect read.

House of Spines by Michael J. Malone (Orenda Books)

One of my favourite reads of 2016 was undoubtedly A Suitable Lie by Michael J. Malone. It was the only book I’ve ever read that tackled the taboo subject of male spousal abuse. Malone handled this rarely mentioned subject with such sensitivity, with a plot that gave the reader plenty of food for thought. I wondered if the brilliance of this novel could possibly be replicated in further novels, considering that A Suitable Lie was so unusual. I was certainly looking forward to reading Malone’s next novel, House of Spines.

The title itself is intriguing, before the ‘spine’ has even been cracked. It makes perfect sense as you read through, but I won’t spoil it for any future readers. Ranald McGhie finds himself as the sole inheritor of a grand mansion on the outskirts of Glasgow, bequeathed to him by Great-Uncle Alexander Fitzpatrick, someone who, until this juncture, he has never heard of. Not without his own personal struggles, having been previously diagnosed as being bipolar, Ranald moves in to the old house that appears to have a sense of foreboding surrounding it. As Ranald finds his way round the huge house, and meets the strange housekeeper Mrs Hackett and her husband Danny, who tends to the gardens, he wonders if it is the house’s secrets or the symptoms of his bipolar condition, are causing him to feel uneasy and to imagine strange goings-on at Newton Hall. As he ingratiates himself with the locals, in particular, an insatiable woman called Liz, Ranald begins to worry that this windfall may be bad for his health.

Malone entices the reader from the get-go. With an opening prologue of a strange childhood memory from Ranald’s past, the reader instantly throws Ranald’s reliability as a narrator into question. This continues throughout, and even when you think you have it all figured out, something happens to confuse the situation. Flashbacks to the past in the memories of the locals and of Alexander’s letters serve to inform but again, they are not reliable witness statements, and Malone cleverly uses these to further cast doubt as to what is really going on.

What Malone is really good at, is taking a flawed character, usually by circumstance rather than a self-inflicted cause, and making the reader sympathise with them whilst not completely trusting their instincts. I was desperate for Ranald to take certain courses of action to try and get to the bottom of the situation, not least because, like Ranald, I was fighting between rational and irrational thought. Things that couldn’t possibly happen had no plausible explanations. The balance between rationality and irrationality fluctuates throughout which gives this book a real edge and a desire to read it from cover to cover in one sitting. Thank God for annual leave so I could indulge myself with a one sitting read of this book, as I think I’d have been going to work like a zombie because there is no way I could have put this book down. 

Malone builds up the tension throughout, using the grandeur and antiquity of the grand mansion to further add an air of oddity to the events that take place. Ranald’s lack of close personal relationships blankets any sense of clarity by his friends. His ex-wife, Martie, and his ex-neighbour and unofficial surrogate mum, provides guarded insights to Ranald’s past and his state of mind, but they cause more doubt in the readers mind than answers to what may actually be going on. The apparent close-knit community of the small village adds an atmosphere of chequered history for the Fitzpatrick family, but again, the inhabitants are quite guarded so any information gleaned from them adds a small clue rather than a proper revelation.

House of Spines is a wonderfully written novel by an author who is fast becoming a favourite of mine. After finishing this book, I was reminded of how I felt when I finished Affinity by Sarah Waters. I wanted to be able to unread it, so I could enjoy the experience of reading it again, completely unaware of the ending. Not only is this a brilliant novel, the reading experience itself is phenomenal. At once, it is mindblowing, thrilling, shocking, confusing, and gripping from end to end. I read most of Orenda Books publications, and I wonder at what point I’ll read a book by Orenda where I won’t be completely floored by it. House of Spines is undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read by Orenda, and indeed by any other publisher, for a very long time. I’m truly honoured to have been given the opportunity to be part of this blog tour. 

Dying To Live by Michael Stanley (Orenda Books)

A few months ago, I read Deadly Harvest, the first Detective Kubu novel published by Orenda Books, and I loved it, a great crime novel set in Botswana. I was really excited to read another Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu crime story. 

In Dying To Live, Kubu is battling demons on a personal, as well as professional, level. Whilst a bushman, Heiseb, who appears older than you would assume is physically possible, is found murdered in the desert, Kubu’s adopted HIV positive daughter is fighting for her life, as her retrovirals start to fail. As in Deadly Harvest, muti, witch doctor potions, are heavily featured throughout the narrative. As Kubu and his colleague, Samantha Khama, try to find out who killed Heiseb, the disappearance of a prolific witch doctor seems too much of a coincidence.

As with Deadly Harvest, Dying to Live is a gripping crime novel, and while it is quite slow paced (mirroring the Botswanaian lifestyle), the plot is fascinating as it offers clues and red herrings throughout. The modern versus traditional lifestyle is juxtaposed beautifully and as even Kubu begins to wonder if muti could help his sick daughter. The writing duo, Michael Sears and Stanley Trollope, writing under the pseudonym Michael Stanley, have created a wonderful main protagonist in Kubu and a formidable sidekick in Khama, that the reader cannot help but want them to succeed. Restricted as they are by their location and the mindset of the traditionalist inhabitants, they always seem to get their answers one way or another.

A number of characters are introduced, both to inform and to confuse the reader into what these crimes are all about. The various characters are from a variety of backgrounds, traditional and modern, and the reader is left wondering just who the criminals are. 

Dying To Live is a fantastic novel, which is, of course, what we have come to expect from a book published by Orenda Books. Kubu is a really endearing character and there are times in this novel where I wanted to give him a big hug. These novels entice the reader with a beautifully written narrative and an engaging plot. I look forward to reading the next Michael Stanley collaboration.

L V Hay – The Other Twin (Orenda Books)

What I love about Orenda Books is their ability to find so many books that are so uniquely wonderful. So many books must cross the desks of Karen Sullivan and her staff and yet they still manage to pluck so many needles out of the proverbial haystack to provide avid readers like myself with the most sumptuous narratives that blow our minds every time. The Other Twin by L V Hay is another such needle.

Poppy Rutledge awakes from a drunken sexual encounter one morning to find that her mother has left her countless messages and texts demanding a call. Poppy’s sister India has committed suicide and Poppy returns home to Brighton to a mysterious set of circumstances that make Poppy believe that perhaps India did not commit suicide after all. India’s cryptic blog  posts add to the mystery and if Poppy can just unravel who India is referring to in her strange posts, she might be able to get some answers.

Nothing is as it seems in this novel. Hay builds up the narrative with India’s blog posts, chapters where there is a mysterious man and woman having conversations that seem to link to India’s demise and of course, Poppy’s own story. Poppy tries to unpick India’s life, having left Brighton for London four years earlier against the wishes of her then boyfriend, Matthew, and India too. Poppy’s own relationship with her family, and Matthew and his family, is often a barrier to the truth, a clever device by Hay to build the suspense and to make things difficult for Poppy.

Hay uses the theme of identity throughout to confuse the reader so they are not sure who can be trusted and what impact they have on the suicide/murder of India Rutledge. The four years that Poppy has been away distances her from the people she was once so close to, so her thoughts on her former friends and family are unreliable. Poppy herself is troubled about who she has become, but is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, to become the sister and daughter that she feels she has neglected to be since she left Brighton. She is reminded of her life before and the people in it, who seem equally uneasy with themselves, further adding to the sense that no-one can really be trusted to be completely honest.

The Other Twin is a truly brilliant novel that surprises the reader at every turn. The web of suspense is woven so tightly, there are few clues to the outcome of the story that are obvious on first read, which makes this such a fulfilling and enjoyable reading experience. Like many Orenda novels, The Other Twin is one of those books that you wish you could re-read without already knowing the ending. However, there is the added bonus of being able to read it again, but this time being able to place all the characters who on first read have remained anonymous. Hay is a magnificent writer who enchants the reader from page one and The Other Twin is definitely up there as one of my favourite books of the year so far.

The Other Twin

 

 

The Black Hornet – Rob Sinclair (Bloodhound Books)

A couple of months ago, Rob Sinclair rebranded his fantastic Carl Logan character from the Enemy series and released the James Ryker series. Carl Logan went into hiding with his girlfriend, Angela, at the end of Hunt For The Enemy and he returned as James Ryker in The Red Cobra, with Angela renamed as Lisa Ryker. This was a very brave move by Sinclair, to take an already loved character such as Carl Logan and to rename him to generate a whole new series, but it absolutely paid off. The Red Cobra was brilliant and while Carl Logan was threaded throughout, the reader readily accepted him as James Ryker, as he returned to his past life for, supposedly, a short time. After really enjoying The Red Cobra and left reeling at its cliffhanger ending, I was really looking forward to reading the next book in the James Ryker series, The Black Hornet, and thankfully, I didn’t have to wait too long.

In The Black Hornet, we join Ryker on his quest to find Lisa, who had vanished from their hideaway at the end of The Red Cobra. Ryker is in Mexico to catch up with an old contact, who he thinks will have information on Lisa’s disappearance. The meeting quickly deteriorates and he finds himself set up for murder and put in prison, seemingly as retaliation for transgressions during his time with the Joint Intelligence Agency, back when he was Carl Logan. However, not all is as it seems and Ryker has to navigate his way out of jail and to decide who he can trust, as he realises there is more to this situation than meets the eye. At the same time, in America, Congressman Douglas Ashford is embroiled in a dangerous game that links to Ryker’s situation. Ryker needs to find out how he can get himself out of the predicament he finds himself in, and how his past and present link, as well as trying to figure out how Lisa’s disappearance is linked to the complex situation he finds himself in.

One thing I have always commented on in all my reviews of Sinclair’s books, with no exceptions, is that he has a remarkable talent for building up suspense, often by mixing things up to keep the reader guessing. Things are never as they seem and often Logan/Ryker is key in throwing the reader off the scent as his emotions get the better of him. I really didn’t have a clue how it was all going to pan out right until the end, and again, we are left with many unanswered questions by the end of the novel, which only serves to enhance the reading experience as we eagerly await the next instalment.

Ryker struggles with conflicting emotions,  as he finds himself, yet again, being dragged back into Joint Intelligence Agency business against his will. Ryker can’t escape his past, and as he becomes more in control of his actions, the reader witnesses Ryker come into his own, using his experiences from when he was Carl Logan but with a more objective, more considered view about what to do next. His feelings for Lisa and his desire to get to the bottom of her disappearance is his motivation. He is no longer as motivated to be the fantastic J.I.A. agent that he was, however he can still take a good beating without faltering and he still has good instincts, both working in his favour.

How Sinclair amalgamates Logan and Ryker is really clever. Of course, they are one and the same, but Sinclair manages to instill in the reader a way of viewing them differently. We have seen a progression of the character from Dance With The Enemy, the first in the Enemy series, to The Black Hornet. His main protagonist has become more cynical, more aware and has learned to use his emotions largely to his advantage, where previously, he may have allowed them to engulf him and affect his judgement. Sinclair has developed Carl Logan to become a more savvy, thoughtful version of the headstrong Logan from the Enemy Series,  as James Ryker.

The Black Hornet is a brilliant sequel to The Red Cobra, and as eagerly anticipated as this book was, so too will the next instalment. There is so much more mileage in this character, particularly through this regeneration, and that is all down to Sinclair’s skill as an author. I starting reading this book as soon as it hit my inbox and I have no doubt that if I’m asked to be on the next blog tour, the next book will be read just as quickly, as I am desperate to know what James Ryker will do next. In Rob Sinclair’s hand’s, anything could happen, but it will be a brilliant, engaging read, that’s for sure.

The Black Hornet

Exquisite by Sarah Stovell (Orenda Books)

I’ll be honest, this review was almost not ready in time for my day on the Exquisite blog tour. I’ve spent the last two weeks knowing I needed to read it, really wanting to read it, but not finding the time in a busy two weeks of daily work, kids and general time-consuming life tasks. I needn’t have worried, though. In four and a half hours, I’ve devoured this psychological thriller and I’m comfortably writing this review at 2:45pm on Sunday 4th June, to be ready for my day on the blog tour on Monday 5th June. Phew!

Exquisite tells the story of Alice, a clever, aspiring writer who has had a troubled upbringing, and she has found herself in a rut with her artist-cum-layabout boyfriend, living in a hovel, and in her determination to revive her ambitions to be a writer, she submits a short story to try and gain a place on a writing course in Northumberland with revered, famous author, Bo Luxton. Bo reads Alice’s story and instantly feels a buzz about her potential protegé. When they meet, a relationship develops that throws both Bo and Alice into a turmoil. However, all is not as it seems.

Sarah Stovell writes with considerable artistry. The dual viewpoints of Bo and Alice enlightens the reader whilst adding another sense of mystery, as the reader does not know who to trust. The sporadic chapters written from Her Majesty’s Prison for Women, Yorkshire, written in italics, tells the reader that one of the women has done something so drastic that they have ended up in prison, but the reader is none the wiser as to which of the characters has turned to criminality.  The balance of the narrative is perfect to mislead the reader into changing their mind throughout as to who is speaking from prison.

The plot itself is quite simple but what Stovell does with it, how she builds it up and tells the story is nothing short of brilliant. I’m so glad I read this book in one sitting, because I know I would not have been able to put this down. Stovell has the reader gripped from the first chapter, one of the prison chapters. The novel holds such promise as a build up to some terrible event that has led to the apparent model prisoner committing a crime so terrible.

As is characteristic of novels published by Orenda Books, there is a great onus on the character development of the main protagonists in Exquisite. Bo and Alice are written with such precision, both with a harrowing back-story, both with their crosses to bear and both with a habit of making bad decisions. Stovell creates in the reader a sympathy with both characters and a confusion as to how one of these women could commit a crime so heinous that it leads to jail time. The prison chapters make the reader look for clues, but although they are there, Stovell still manages to distract the reader from the identity of the prisoner until it is revealed towards the end.

The beautiful Lake District backdrop to a considerable amount of the story feeds into the air of mystery, as the characters walk the fells and picnic in the stunningly atmospheric countryside. It’s used as  foreboding landscape, adding a sense of the unknown to the background, cleverly adding another layer of tension to the action without the reader fully being aware of it. Contrasted with Brighton, where Alice calls home, the Lake District is made to feel extremely attractive to the reader, particularly with its rich tapestry of literary history, but there’s an added feeling of vastness, which gives the narrative an interesting dynamic.

It is no surprise to me that this book is so brilliant. It has become so natural for Orenda Books to be synonymous with beautifully written, atmospheric, engaging and unique novels that it’s not so much an expectation, but a foregone conclusion that any novel released by Orenda will be exceptional to the point that you want to unread it and read it again with an unknowing mind. Exquisite is no exception. There is definitely scope for a sequel too. I don’t know if that is the intention, or whether this will be a stunning, stand-alone that leaves you to imagine what could happen next but what I do know is that I have enjoyed every twist and turn of this novel and I will, as always, be recommending this book wholeheartedly.

Exquisite Vis 3