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Paul McGraw:Kid to Killer by Paul Elliott

I must start this review with a big apology. I was invited onto this blog tour, read the book, started the review then life got in the way and I missed my tour date of yesterday. Sincerest apologies for the delay. Hopefully my review will be worth the wait.

Kid to Killer by Paul Elliott starts as a coming of age novel. Paul is fifteen years old and has moved around a lot, but after starting a new school in a rough part of Edinburgh, whilst he makes new friends quite easily, he finds the area is overrun with “zombies”, drug-addled individuals who terrorise the locals and attack them to obtain funds for their drugs or because the drugs have made them out of control. After an encounter with a “zombie”, the course of Paul’s life changes forever.

The novel does what it says on the cover. Paul goes from being a kid to being a killer. Elliott does a good job of showing his progression from one to the other, as circumstances dictate the initial actions in the novel but eventually Paul’s chooses his path.

I found this novel very easy to read and I was hooked all the way through. The premise is good and Elliott handles it well. Paul is a well-constructed character, and the other characters in the novel support the narrative very well. It also makes the reader question their own viewpoint on whether Paul’s actions can ever be justifiable.

I really enjoyed this novel from start to finish and I’d like to read more from Paul Elliott in the future.

Absolution by Paul Hardisty

The Claymore Straker series by Paul Hardisty is without a doubt a very valuable jewel in the Orenda Books crown. Every novel is a journey, figuratively and literally as Straker travels far and wide to fight his cause. I was honoured to be asked back on to the blog tour for this latest instalment.

In Absolution, Straker almost shares the limelight with his old flame, Rania, as she gives an account of her story in journal form alongside the third person narration of Clay’s story. Having kept his head down since giving evidence about his military service in South Africa to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, his cover is blown and those who surround him are put in grave danger as he is hunted down. Parallel to this, Rania’s husband and young son have gone missing, and she is being framed for their murder. As both parties try to solve their problems using their skills honed from previous adventures, Clay and Rania try to help each other whilst fighting their feelings for each other for the greater good.

As with the other books in this series, Hardisty writes with great intelligence and weaves his narrative with scientific, political and religious analysis to educate the reader and provide truthful background to the settings in which he places Clay and Rania. Together with the stunning imagery to describe the most barren of landscapes, and his brilliant character structuring, a Hardisty novel does not disappoint.

The dual narrative with Rania’s diary and Clay’s perspective through a third person works really well. Both characters are flawed and are haunted by their past actions, yet both characters are driven by love to make difficult choices. Sometimes there is no good decision for the character’s to make and Hardisty’s bravery for putting these decisions into their hands is to be admired.

This novel moves fast and it did not take me long to read it, mainly because I could not put it down. Straker is such an intriguing character and no matter what he does, the reader wants him to have a happy ending, ideally with Rania given their attraction to each other. From the title of the book, and the direction the narrative takes, Hardisty could well leave this series as it is and it will be beautifully rounded off. However, there is undoubtedly potential for more and I would be sorry if this would be the last Straker novel.

End Game by Matt Johnson (Orenda Books)

As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, author Matt Johnson was one of the reasons why I started writing book reviews. Floored by his self published debut novel Wicked Game, where readers were introduced by former SAS soldier turned police officer, Robert Finlay, I found myself enjoying reading a book that was not something I would have chosen to read voluntarily. I realised that I was likely missing out on a variety of books by not stepping out of my comfort zone. So, from then on, I read whatever was suggested to me and I’ve reviewed what I read ever since. Having read the two self published versions of Johnson’s first two books, I’d read the versions published by Orenda Books already knowing most of the story. So, I was very excited to read End Game, with no insight as to what would happen to Finlay.

In End Game, Finlay finds himself in danger again, after his friend Kevin Jones is framed for murder and the police complaints branch are attempting to take them to task for anything that they can make stick. With help from MI5 agent, Toni Fellowes, and Commander Bill Grahamslaw, Finlay tries to uncover the mystery whilst keeping himself and his family out of harms way.

Johnson has written a compelling story that ties up loose ends with Finlay and his associates. The characters that Johnson surrounds Finlay with adds a different perspective to his tale, making him an unreliable narrator at times. His judgement is often flawed due to the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and given his own experience with PTSD, Johnson portrays this with great authenticity.

Like his first two novels, End Game is full of secrets and lies, and the plot moves quickly from one mystery to another. UK Security Services are a key factor of this novel with a shifting perception of whether or not they are good or bad. Johnson displays a great working knowledge of the police, army and security services that make his novel very believable.

As a trilogy, the expectation is that this novel will round off the series, and it does exactly that. The reader is left with no loose ends by the end of the novel and feels that they have been on a traumatic journey with Finlay as he struggled to cope with the mess he found himself embroiled in, and his progression from suffering, to recognising, to learning to live with the symptoms of PTSD.

I have looked forward to reading this novel for so long and I was not disappointed. It has been an immense pleasure to follow Matt Johnson’s writing journey from self publishing his first two novels, to the Orenda Books versions and End Game. I look forward to reading future novels by Johnson and there is plenty of scope for more Finlay novels, if Johnson chooses to take that direction. Either way, I feel privileged to have been part of the Robert Finlay Series promotion and I look forward to writing my next review for Matt Johnson.

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Darker by EL James

I’ve written on my blog before about how the 50 Shades trilogy was my guilty pleasure. I reviewed Grey, the first book that told the 50 Shades story from the point of view of Christian Grey, and having been very excited about it’s release, I was left feeling very disappointed with it. Whilst I’d hoped to get an insight into the mind of James’s fascinating character, what I felt I got was a male version of Fifty Shades of Grey but with a few added insights into the mind of the elusive male protagonist. It was with some reluctance that I decided to download Darker, expecting more of the same, but I hoped that I would be pleasantly surprised.

Darker tells the story of Fifty Shades Darker from Christian’s point of view, but unlike Grey, the reader gets much more of an in-depth view of Christian’s vulnerabilities and we get to know what actually happened when Christian’s helicopter went down; what Grace said to Christian when she finds out that her best friend, Elena, abused her 15 year old son; and what happened when he finds Leila in Ana’s apartment. It didn’t feel like I was reading the same story with a few tweaks. I was actually being given more information and being provided with what I’d hoped for in Grey – an insight into the enigma that is Christian Grey.

James is not the best writer in the world. There is still a lot of repetition, cliches and a few big words and high-brow references chucked in to try and give the impression of a more intelligent narrative. However, this was much less prominent in Darker, and the characterisation of her intriguing characters was allowed to shine through. As a reader, you get another perspective to Ana’s and Christian’s relationship, seeing that Ana is actually the one in control, and has been from the beginning. Christian’s desire to control each and every situation is borne from his terrible start in life, his love for Ana, and his complete lack of capacity to understand and deal with emotional feelings and responses.

We get more of an insight into Christian’s childhood and his relationship with Elena, which illuminates how his character has been created. This is James’s skill and where her writing falls short, she excels in creating multi-layered characters. Christian is flawed, yet brilliant. He’s assured, yet vulnerable. He’s more interesting than Ana to some extent, as his upbringing has undoubtedly shaped his entrepreneurial brilliance and his inability to recognise love. His vulnerability and his success are a fascinating combination for the reader.

After being so disappointed in Grey, I enjoyed Darker much more. The Fifty Shades novels from Christian’s point of view were so sought after by fans of the trilogy after the couple of scenes at the end of book three, that Grey was a bitter disappointment. It seems that James has decided to give the readers what they wanted with Darker and I sincerely hope that we get more of the same with the Christian version of Fifty Shades Freed.

 

The Meal of Fortune by Philip Brady

I was delighted to be asked to read and review The Meal of Fortune by Philip Brady. From the premise of the novel, it seemed like it would be a funny story.

Here’s the blurb:

THE BLURB:  The world of arms dealing, espionage and TV cookery collide in this fast moving comedy caper.

Failing celebrity agent Dermot Jack thinks his luck might have turned when a mysterious Russian oligarch hires him to represent his pop star daughter.

Disaffected MI5 officer Anna Preston is just as happy to be handed the chance to resurrect her own career. Little do they know that their paths are about to cross again after seventeen years as they’re thrown together in a desperate attempt to lure a notorious arms dealer into a highly unusual trap.

Hard enough without having to deal with the lecherous celebrity chef trying to save his daytime TV career or the diminutive mafia enforcer who definitely has his own agenda. Then there’s the very impatient loan shark who ‘just wants his money back’.

And Anna’s bosses are hardly playing it straight either. But one thing’s for sure. There’ll be winners and losers when the Meal of Fortune finally stops spinning. Oh, and another thing, Anna and Dermot are absolutely not about to fall in love again. That’s never going to happen, OK?

There is a lot going on in this novel but Brady keeps the plot moving with wonderful fluidity. Each character brings its own comedy to the story and all the characters are hilariously flawed in some way.

Alongside the hilariously funny characters, the plot is exciting and keeps the reader gripped throughout. Brady has multiple storylines going on yet manages to seamlessly link them all to a fantastic conclusion.

I really enjoyed reading this novel. Any novel that offers up funny and exciting, like The Meal of Fortune does, is well worth a read and I would recommend it for anyone who likes a book that makes them laugh out loud.

Fitful Head by CJ Harter

A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of being introduced to local author CJ Harter by a very good friend of mine. I read and reviewed her debut novel, Rowan’s Well, and quite frankly, it was brilliant.(Rowan’s Well by CJ Harter) It was Domestic Noir at its best. It was a very dark novel, really disturbing in places, but it was a fascinating and engaging read. So, aware that she was writing her next novel, I was very excited to read it.

Fitful Head is different to Rowan’s Well. Whilst it is a psychological thriller of sorts, it is essentially a ghost story. Isobel is trying, unsuccessfully, to rebuild her life after it is torn apart by the death of her husband, Richard, whilst they are on holiday in Barcelona with their two teenage children, Ben and Melissa. She is simply existing and following the same routine each day, until she meets a mysterious stranger whilst walking her dog at Pennington Flash, a local nature reserve. Whilst wary of the stranger, she finds herself drawn to him, but when Isobel starts experiencing strange happenings in her home, she wonders if there is a connection to the stranger or if Richard is behind the ghostly events. As her family and friends worry about Isobel’s state of mind, and bear witness to some of the strange happenings in their family home, Isobel struggles to cope.

I’m not necessarily a fan of ghost stories generally, but I was completely gripped by this book. Harter makes the paranormal events so plausible, as a reader you easily buy into the experiences of the characters and feel every bit as uneasy as they do. She uses every literary device available to her to make the settings enhance the unease of the characters.

Harter’s character construction is beautifully executed, making them believable and likeable. As a reader, you want Isobel to find peace and to be able to cope with her grief. You want her family to pull together and you want her to lean on those who love her. Using a series of flashback chapters to give an insight of Isobel before Richard’s death, this assists the reader in piecing together Isobel’s state of mind, her relationship with her husband and other events which have shaped how she is feeling as the events of the novel take place.

Harter has a wonderful talent for shocking her readers. She did that in Rowan’s Well and there are a number of shocking bits in Fitful Head. You don’t forget a CJ Harter book in a hurry and readers have a more enjoyable reading experience as a result. For me, the location of the novel being a five minute drive from my house, familiar places added an additional facet of awareness and enhanced my perception of the setting and the characters responses. I know Pennington Flash well. I take my children there to see the ducks and the Canada Geese. It is a great setting for this story and Harter depicts it perfectly.

I also loved the continuous references to Emily Dickinson’s poetry. I’m a big fan of poetry, and particularly Emily Dickinson. It is used fittingly throughout the novel and plays a prominent role in the final chapter.

I thoroughly enjoyed Fitful Head. CJ Harter is a truly gifted writer, and lovely lady too. I have loved both of her books for very different reasons, but both have kept me gripped, mainly with fear, throughout. The ending is exactly right and I have no doubt that anyone who picks this book up will have a brilliantly chilling but enjoyable reading experience. I cannot recommend this book enough, whether you are a fan of ghost stories or not.

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Blue Night by Simone Buchholz (Orenda Books)

Something that I’ve come to expect from an Orenda Books publication is that it will be unique in its own special way. Therefore, it’s always a very exciting prospect when I get Orenda book post and Blue Night by Simone Buchholz was no exception.

Blue Night is predominantly narrated by Chastity Riley, who has been transferred to the mundane witness protection team from the state prosecutor’s office after convicting one of her superiors. She is given the case of a man who is under police guard in hospital to try to work out what his story is and his involvement with the Albanian mafia kingpin who her friend is working hard to bring down.

Chastity Riley is a complex character, brilliantly depicted by Buchholz and her translator, Rachel Ward. She is troubled by her past, but determined in her approach to everything she does. She is by no means a reliable narrator and has a lot of secrets which enhances the reading experience by creating an air of mystery around the main character. Surrounded by equally mixed up characters, the reader has to rely on the evidence put forward to work out the truth, which is exactly what readers want from a crime novel.

The structure itself is quite strange, a common feature of Orenda novels, where there is the first person narrative from Chastity, interspersed with snippets of narrative from other characters from past and present, to add a further air of mystery. The plot itself is quite slow to start but it seeps into the readers psyche, urging them to read on.

The setting in Germany is also quite dark and gloomy, which further enhances the mystery somehow. It is by no means a cheery novel, although Chastity herself is quite witty at times. She is likeable, if not reliable, which makes the reader want her to succeed in working out the mystery. She is an incredibly deep character which will undoubtedly make for further interesting storylines, as it does feel that by the end of Blue Night, the reader only scratches the surface of Chastity Riley and that there is a lot more to learn.

Blue Night is a deliciously dark novel with layers upon layers of mystery, not all uncovered by the end of it. Buchholz leaves her readers intrigued to know more about these characters. Whatever case Chastity Riley takes up next, if indeed she does, I’ll be very keen to uncover it with her. The magic of Orenda Books strikes again!

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