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!


All Her Starry Fates by Lady Grey

I read a lot of poetry and it is always lovely to read a new collection, so I was honoured to be asked to read and review All Her Starry Fates by Lady Grey.

As its title suggests, All Her Starry Fates has an ethereal feel to it, juxtapositioning everyday life problems within the landscape of a grander scheme of things. Described as a collection of courage, this collection eloquently portrays someone with a distinct lack of confidence in themselves and their decisions. The persona in the poems questions those decisions, in poems with simple phrases and varied structures throughout.

The poems vary in length but each one provokes the reader to build a picture in their head of the writer’s emotional state.  Lady Grey uses repetition to give a feeling of confusion and sense of frustration.  EE Cummings’ influence is clear in some of the poems, particularly with the use of lower case letters. This adds an air of unease to the words, as if the writer is filled with anxiety

Whilst self-doubt is prevalent throughout, there is also hope, particularly as the collection progresses. The sense that less is more works so well for this collection, as the simplicity of the poems lays bare a multitude of emotions that it is obvious that even the shortest of poems has been carefully constructed for maximum impact.

This is a lovely collection of poems that is easily readable and relatable. As an avid reader of poetry, I would highly recommend this collection for any reader. For those new to poetry, this is an easy collection to start with, and for those who are keen poetry readers, this is a wonderfully thought-provoking and well-written collection.



Hydra by Matt Wesolowski

Last year, I read what I thought was a truly innovative novel, Six Stories, by Matt Wesolowski. I enjoyed reading it immensely and particularly liked the structure of six podcasts containing interviews with six witnesses to a crime mystery. I was very eager to read the next “Six Stories” novel, Hydra.

In Hydra, Scott King, the journalist and presenter of the Six Stories podcast series, is reviewing the case of Arla Macleod, who at twenty-one years old, bludgeons her mother, stepfather and sister to death with a hammer. Convicted of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility and put into a mental institution, Scott wants to see what led this young girl to kill her family. Scott interviews Arla and those who knew her; friends and acquaintances that may be able to offer an insight to reasons why Arla would become so detached from reality to the point where she kills her family. However, as his investigation goes on, it seems that some of his interviewees are holding back and when Scott starts to receive threats via text, it seems someone doesn’t want this case being scrutinised.

The structure of Hydra is what really makes this novel so gripping. Each podcast/chapter contains a transcript of Arla’s recordings to her psychologist at the secure unit, which shows her state of mind and times when she is more lucid than others. This offers the reader an insight into Arla’s innermost thoughts and it is clear that there have been events which have shaped her mindset. There are the interviews with people linked with Arla, and there are the interjections by Scott King. Intermingled with news reports, documentary excerpts and the text messages received by Scott, as a reader, you become the investigator reviewing the evidence put in front of you.

Wesolowski is a very skilled writer. Each podcast has enough information to carry the story forward but keeps enough back to keep the reader invested. The interviewees are not necessarily reliable, not least because they are relaying memories from years before, as well as the sense that some are holding back, and we are reminded about this at regular junctures by Scott King. As readers, we share Scott’s frustrations. Scott is our objective viewpoint and Wesolowski balances Scott’s interjections to perfect effect for the reader.

As a series, the “Six Stories” structure could continue indefinitely for as long as Wesolowski wants to write them, and I can guarantee I would be one of the first in line to read them. Each book can be read as a stand-alone very easily and anyone who has any interest in true crime documentaries would love these novels. Orenda Books has struck gold yet again with the wonderful discovery of Matt Wesolowski’s writing, with it’s unique structure and I look forward to reading more of his books in the future.



Deep Blue Trouble by Steph Broadribb

I’m a massive fan of Stephanie Plum, the creation of prolific author, Janet Evanovich. So, when I read Steph Broadribb’s novel Deep Down Dead last year, I loved it. Much more serious than Evanovich’s protagonist, Lori Anderson is a bounty hunter with a chequered past that has left her scarred. I was very excited when Deep Blue Trouble fell through my letterbox so I could find out what happens next.

Lori Anderson is again fighting for her family. Her once-lover, once-mentor and father to her daughter, JT, is in jail for the attempted murder of a security guard, but he did not commit the crime. Lori cuts a deal with her FBI contact, to find and bring back to him a criminal who has murdered a couple in an apparent bungled burglary with in return for JT’s release from prison. However, all is not as it seems, and while she is looking for her felon, JT is in danger in prison, adding extra urgency to Lori’s case.

Broadribb has brilliant character building skills. She manages to capture various facets of Lori’s emotional state at every step of her journey: fear for JT and her daughter, Dakota; irritation and anger at the conflicting evidence in front of her; frustration at the lack of control over any given situation; and vulnerability when she considers her relationships with JT and Dakota. Lori is a fascinating mass of contradiction, and the reader wants her to succeed.

There’s lots of experience in Broadribb’s writing. Her own previous life as a bounty hunter is undoubtedly woven into the narrative which makes the novel, and Lori’s experiences more authentic. Lori is skilled at what she does and at no point appears incompetent, even when she is coming unstuck.

There’s so much scope in the character of Lori Anderson that Broadribb has left her readers intrigued to see what will happen next, much like there was at the end of Deep Down Dead. There are also a number of additional characters in this novel that could easily make future books as gripping as Deep Blue Trouble.

Deep Blue Trouble is fast-paced, edgy and a thoroughly enjoyable read. Broadribb has written a fantastic sequel that will keep fans of the first book very interested to know where Lori’s journey will take her next. I’m very much looking forward to reading the next instalment.


The Silver Wolf by Rob Sinclair (Bloodhound Books)

Over the last couple of years, I’ve always waited in eager anticipation of Rob Sinclair’s next novel. Having read his debut novel, Dance With The Enemy, the first in the Carl Logan series, I was fully invested in Logan’s story. The transition from Carl Logan to James Ryker has been brilliantly executed by Sinclair and I was very much looking forward to reading The Silver Wolf.

In the third book in this series, James Ryker wants answers following the disappearance of the love of his life, Lisa. An attack on Ryker’s former employers, the Joint Intelligence Agency, distracts Ryker from his mission to find those responsible for Lisa’s disappearance but are the two inextricably linked? A twisted web of seemingly unconnected events all seems to come back to one name, an enigma called The Silver Wolf.

What I love about this character is that he is always so near, yet so far, to a happy ending, which gives him an unpredictable edge. As a reader, you never quite know if Ryker’s hot-headedness will overcome him and put him in danger and Sinclair plays on this so well by creating events that could send Ryker either way, building up a deliciously suspenseful read.

Ryker is also an impeccable, supposedly-former, agent with razor-sharp instincts, so he can demonstrate moments of brilliance to either solve a puzzle or extract himself from danger. He can also endure various torturous situations which Sinclair portrays in wonderfully gory detail. Surrounded by characters that ground him or rile him, exchanges with Ryker are never arbitrary, as they carry the plot forward, or add to the intrigue of who Ryker can or cannot trust.

Sinclair has generated a lovable, yet deeply flawed, character who readers instantly champion. He’s rarely smug and doesn’t feel sorry for himself; he’s almost resigned to the fact that he is never going to escape the tough life he has found himself in and the elusive happy ending seems just out of reach for him, which makes the reader sympathise with him. All this just keeps the reader wanting more and more. I sincerely hope this isn’t the last James Ryker novel, but if it is, what a brilliant last novel to finish the character on. Needless to say, I’ll be looking forward to reading the next Rob Sinclair novel.


Interview – Matt Johnson – author of Wicked Game, Deadly Game and End Game (Orenda Books)

Matt Johnson is the critically acclaimed author of Wicked Game,Deadly Game and the upcoming final chapter in the trilogy, End Game (published by Orenda Books), crime thriller novels about Robert Finlay, an ex-SAS soldier and policeman, who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Matt has very kindly agreed to an interview with me alongside the cover reveal for End Game.

Hi Matt. Tell me about Robert Finlay, the main protagonist in your first two novels, Wicked Game and Deadly Game:

I’m not too sure where Finlay’s character came from, Lisa. He certainly wasn’t planned. I started writing many years ago, not with the intention of writing a book but as a therapy, a means suggested by a counsellor to address the PTSD I had been diagnosed with. At that time I wrote about my symptoms, their causes, and about my career in the Army and police. It was only much later that the idea came about to use the notes that resulted to create a crime thriller. As I wrote, Finlay evolved as the main protagonist of the story. He isn’t me, and Wicked Game isn’t an autobiography, but I have used many of my personal career experiences in the telling of his story.

Finlay, like me, is a soldier who became a cop. Unlike me, he faces a threat from his past when terrorists discover his identity and that of friends from a similar special-forces background. His story is authentic, but the events in Wicked Game are, of course, fictional.

Finlay’s battle with PTSD is largely based on your own struggle with the disorder. How cathartic has the process of putting your experiences on paper been, albeit from a fictional standpoint?

It was very cathartic. At the time, and particularly when I started, I found it very challenging. Recording events in words, thinking about them, finding the right way to describe them and then writing about me, how I felt, how I reacted, how I was affected, it all served to compel me to unearth and address emotional issues that had built up over many years. I have likened it to the de-fragmentation of a hard disk on a pc, the before and after, where the result is a disc (or brain) that can function better for having undertaken the process.

As I’ve mentioned in my reviews of your books on, I love the character of Jenny, Finlay’s wife. In my opinion, she offers the reader an insight to Finlay that illuminates his struggle from the viewpoint of someone who likely knows him better than himself. Was this your intention for Jenny, or was she purely there to be Finlay’s raison d’etre?

From the feedback I’ve received I think you are not alone. People like Jenny. I created her as Finlay’s rock, the woman he turns to when he needs solid advice, and also as the life-partner he is motivated to protect. I didn’t want him to be a character that only had himself to worry about and as a result might act in a way that was perhaps too heroic or too cavalier. I wanted him to have to think about the effect his actions and decisions would have on others and to have that influence him. I also wanted a third-person view on the troubled character, to show what he cannot see of himself, and to care enough about him that she is prepared to also take risks. It was also important to me that Finlay and Jenny have a strong, caring relationship; characters to whom loyalty is important.

Have you known Finlay’s end game from book one or has your direction changed at all for Finlay’s story?

I’ve had a rough idea of where the story is heading, and it was always my intention to tell it over the course of a trilogy. Having said that, the story has evolved in the telling and the editing process has brought about several changes I didn’t foresee at the beginning.

What is your day to day writing process?

Pretty disorganised but I’m getting better. Wicked Game was written ‘on the hoof’ so to speak. The story developed as I wrote. By the time I started book two, I realised I was going to have to be more organised and, for book three, I became yet more disciplined. I have a daily target of one thousand words – which I seldom meet – but I’ve now learned to create a storyboard which I loosely follow as the narrative unfolds. I take my time and frequently take a break to go back and re-assess where I have reached. Often this produces new ideas that can change the story quite markedly.

I write creatively in the afternoon and evening. Mornings tend to be saved for emails, personal work and social media. I also like to get out as often as I can and will break off to give my dogs another walk up ‘the mountain’ where I do my best thinking. And I always try to carry a small digital recorder to save those little ideas that pop into the brain unexpectedly.

Who are your writing inspirations and why?

I was actually inspired to write by a series of events. To cut a long story short, I let a colleague down during the 1980s when I failed to recognise his PTSD. Many years later when I also became a victim I promised myself I would try to make amends for that failure by bringing the realities of the condition to the attention of people through the medium of fiction. So, it was that experience which inspired me to write.

In terms of role models, it’s a much harder question as, immediately before I started writing, I read very few books and I favoured non-fiction. I was a ‘holidays only’ reader of, perhaps three or four books a year. In my twenties and thirties I used to read a lot more, enjoying the work of James Herbert, Isaac Asimov, James Patterson and Paulo Coelho, amongst others.

Favourite author? Probably Lee Child.

How important is social media, and reviews by bloggers like myself, to you? 

Social media is really an essential writer’s tool. Without it, building a readership can be a very slow process indeed and interacting with readers is now so much easier – if time consuming! I learn from readers all the time and I read all my reviews. If someone likes the books I want to know what I did right – so I can repeat it – and if they have a constructive criticism I will also pay heed to it.

Book bloggers are something of a new phenomenon. I’ve heard mixed points of view from my fellow writers. Some think that the blogging world is very insular with bloggers essentially writing to a small audience who read each others blogs. Others, myself included, subscribe to the notion that book blogging is a growing medium that readers are now starting to cotton onto. Review sites like Goodreads and Amazon have their uses but, for those readers who want a more in-depth analysis of a book – that they are about to commit several days of their precious time to read – the blog is a growing source of a reliable assessment.

You tackle some real political hot potatoes in your novels, such as international terrorism and people trafficking. What do you do in terms of research when writing on such big issues?

Having spent the bulk of my working life dealing with such crimes, much of my fiction is based on my own experience of the realities of such subjects. Add in the fact that I’m also fortunate enough to have a good network of colleagues who are still in the police and related services and you’ll quickly see where I go when I need an idea or an answer to a question.

And then there is my natural detective’s curiosity. I read about current affairs and I explore every medium I can to learn more about subjects that capture my interest. Often this produces ideas, some of which I incorporate within my own work.

Wicked Game was self-published initially until Orenda Books weaved their magic over what was already a great narrative. To any aspiring author, what advice would you give on publishing their first novel?

If self-publishing I would advocate checking and re-checking your work before you press that ‘publish’ button. Check grammar, spelling etc. Check formatting, check layout, check everything and then get another set of eyes to re-check it. Nothing seems to frustrate readers more than having to fight through a badly proofed novel in order to try and get into what might be a really excellent story.

If commercially published, I’d say to trust the team around you. As a new writer I was initially somewhat alarmed by the way things can be taken out of your hands. Jacket design, marketing, price-setting and all manner of other decisions are made by others. Editing is also a real skill. What I’ve learned is that all the people involved in getting your book onto the shelves are very skilled and very professional, and by the time your ‘baby’ is ready for publication they have as much invested in it as you do – more, if you include the financial investment of your publisher. Trust them, they want it to succeed just as much as you do.

You’re currently finalising book three. Can you give us any information on what we can expect from Finlay in this next instalment?

Book three is called ‘End Game’ and is the final part of the Wicked Game trilogy describing the world of the Intelligence Services that Finlay and his former friends have entered into conflict with.

In this book, Finlay finds himself an outcast from the police service as he battles to clear a friend who has been imprisoned and falsely accused of a most serious crime.

‘End Game’ will take the reader into the world of the Hostage Negotiator and MI5, the Security Service, as I tackle issues of mental health in policing, betrayal, loyalty and the true meaning of courage.

Will this be Finlay’s last story or does he have more tales to tell?

I’m not sure. Certainly, I have sketched-out ideas for three more novels and one non-fiction book. I would like to see Finlay at the centre of these stories but whether he is, well, we will have to see.

For readers like myself who are eager to read Finlay’s next story, when will book three be published?

The publication target, I understand, is Feb/March 2018.

Thank you so much, Matt, for answering my questions. I look forward to reading End Game soon.

CWA Anthology of Short Stories – Mystery Tour – Edited by Martin Edwards (Orenda Books)

I don’t read a lot of short stories. Not because I don’t like them, more that I enjoy immersing myself in a longer narrative that will give me hours of reading pleasure. However, I have read two lots of short story anthologies recently and I have enjoyed them both immensely. The first was Reader, I Married Him, a collection of short stories with some connection (some barely recognisable) to the Charlotte Bronte classic, Jane Eyre. The most recent anthology was the the CWA Anthology of Short Stories – Mystery Tour. What struck me about both collections is the diversity of stories that have emerged by the various authors when given the same theme. This review is for the latter collection. The authors of the CWA Anthology of Short Stories – Mystery Tour were given the theme of travel to write a short crime/mystery story.

There wasn’t a single story I didn’t enjoy in this anthology, which is testament to whoever selected the stories to put in it. All the stories are very different but each is intriguing and engaging, with different angles on the theme of the collection. Of course, the authors are all members of the Crime Writers Association, so there is an expectation that the writing will be quality crime fiction, but there are no disappointments at all in this collection, each story individual but with a shared sense of trepidation for the reader as each story commences and surprise at the conclusion  (or lack thereof).

Although I enjoyed all of the stories, I had a few favourites in the collection. The Queen of Mystery by Ann Cleeves gets the anthology off to a brilliant start with an unusual turn of events. Her first person narrative gives off no clues as to how the story will pan out. Return to the Lake by Anna Mazzola is heart-rending, as is You’ll Be Dead By Dawn by C.L.Taylor, a wonderful achievement for such short narratives.

The Last Supper by Carol Ann Davis made me smile, a gem of a crime story with the ability to amuse. Similarly, Ed James’s contribution Travel Is Dangerous with his wonderful DS Scott Cullen character, a character I have come to know and love from James’s series, also provides some comedy in the dynamic between Cullen and his nemesis and former boss DS Brian Bain, alongside a great mystery story.

I liked the sense of vindication in High Flyer by Chris Simms, Wife on Tour by Julia Crouch and The Repentance Wood by Martin Edwards, highlighting the lengths people might go to when they have felt diminished by those around them.

Three On A Trail by Michael Stanley adds a little extra to the standard mystery (though I’m not going to say what that is). Having loved the recent Dectective Kubu novels released by Orenda Books, I’m already a fan of the writing duo that it was no surprise to enjoy this gripping short story. I also enjoyed the short, but sweet contribution by another Orenda stalwart, Ragnar Jonasson, whose letter from a traveller to his mother combines intrigue and the beautiful Icelandic landscape to  provide a chilling mystery.

If I had to pick one favourite, however, it would have to be No Way Back from J.M.Hewitt. This story was particularly memorable and hard-hitting, shocking and beautifully written, to fully encompass the theme of travel with a frighteningly murderous plot. There’s not a lot I can say about it without giving too much away, other than to say it is a fantastic short story. I have J.M. Hewitt’s novel, Exclusion Zone, on my kindle and will definitely be boosting it up my extensive TBR list, having enjoyed this story so much.

Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this collection of stories which provides the reader with myriad stories that gives short, sharp bursts of mystery-filled tales. Whilst I enjoy a more lengthy, character-building, plot-twisting narrative, what these authors have managed to achieve in such a short amount of words is nothing short of genius. What I have also found is that it will give you a taster by authors who you may not have previously read to entice you into reading their longer works. The compilation of the stories is perfectly balanced between totally shocking stories, amusing mysteries, and good old-fashioned detective tales. I look forward to reading more short story anthologies in the future.


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.