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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.

End Game Vis 2

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.

Cover Reveal – End Game by Matt Johnson

I’m absolutely thrilled to have the honour of revealing the cover for the final instalment of the Robert Finlay trilogy, written by the immensely talented Matt Johnson, and published by truly brilliant Orenda Books.

First of all, here’s the blurb:

Robert Finlay seems to have finally left his SAS past behind him and is settled into his new career as a detective. But when the girlfriend of his former SAS colleague and close friend Kevin Jones is murdered, it’s clear that Finlay’s troubles are far from over. Jones is arrested for the killing, but soon escapes from jail, and Finlay is held responsible for the breakout. Suspended from duty and sure he’s being framed too, our hero teams up with MI5 agent Toni Fellowes to find out who’s behind the conspiracy. Their quest soon reveals a plot that goes to the very heart of the UK’s security services. End Game, the final part in the critically acclaimed Robert Finlay trilogy, sees our hero in an intricately plotted and terrifyingly fast-paced race to uncover the truth and escape those who’d sooner have him dead than be exposed.

Without further ado, here is the fantastic new cover:


Matt has also been kind enough to allow me to interview him, about his creation, Robert Finlay, about his struggle with PTSD and a reveal on when we can expect publication of this long-awaited climax to a wonderful series.

I’ll be posting this shortly!😊

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.

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.