After He Died by Michael J. Malone (Orenda Books)

Since I started reviewing books for this site three years ago, I’ve encountered works from a number of authors that I’ve enjoyed so much, it has made me really look forward to their next novel. Michael J. Malone is one such author whose novel, A Suitable Lie, has placed him as a firm favourite of mine, so I was very excited to read his latest novel, After He Died.

Here’s the blurb:

When Paula Gadd’s husband of almost thirty years dies, just days away from the seventh anniversary
of their son Christopher’s death, her world falls apart. Grieving and bereft, she is stunned when a
young woman approaches her at the funeral service, and slips something into her pocket. A note
suggesting that Paula’s husband was not all that he seemed…
When the two women eventually meet, a series of revelations challenges everything Paula thought she
knew, and it becomes immediately clear that both women’s lives are in very real danger. Both a dark,
twisty slice of domestic noir and taut, explosive psychological thriller, After He Died is also a chilling
reminder that the people we trust the most can harbour the deadliest secrets…

I read this novel in a day. I took every spare moment and couldn’t get enough of this novel from the beginning to the end. Malone’s writing style urges you to read on, sewing the seed of intrigue into every page, and as a reader, you cannot wait to find out what the story is, behind the mystery.

Malone takes the reader on a journey of enlightenment for Paula Gadd, as her life as she knew it is turned upside down and she begins to question all that she thought she knew, whilst dealing with the trauma of the sudden death of her husband. The narrative perspective is such that the reader becomes enlightened as Paula does, which builds the mystery and creates a great story that keeps the reader engrossed to the end.

There is also a political aspect to this novel, as Malone brings into question the class divide in Glasgow (which, in all honesty, could apply to any UK town or city) and how rich and poor exist in close proximity to each other but live massively different lives. He addresses that lack of funding for social services, which is to the detriment of those who require it. What this novel also does is to show that actually, although those with money and those who don’t live very differently, ultimately love and grief feel the same, no matter who you are.

As with A Suitable Lie, and more recently, House of Spines, Malone has again showcased his abilities as a fantastic storyteller. His novels never take the path you’d expect them to, and it is always all the better for it. He wraps up the mystery perfectly and you leave the novel having had a very satisfying reading experience. In the last week, I’ve been fortunate enough to read two wonderful novels, both published by Orenda Books (the other being The Lion Tamer Who Lost by Louise Beech), and I can’t help but wonder just how Orenda manages to source such unique and talented writers, What I do know is that I will undoubtedly be eager to read the next brilliant story by Michael J. Malone (and indeed, Louise Beech), and I look forward to encountering a few more Orenda star authors in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

The Lion Tamer Who Lost by Louise Beech (Orenda Books)

Reading a Louise Beech novel is like eating a beautifully crafted cupcake: you know before you taste it that it is going to be amazing, you enjoy every delicious mouthful and you feel sad after eating the last bite because this wonderful morsel has given you such immense pleasure that you can’t bear the thought that it is finished. i was very excited about the release of The Lion Tamer Who Lost and it sounded very intriguing. Here’s the blurb:

Be careful what you wish for…
Long ago, Andrew made a childhood wish, and kept it in a silver box. When it finally comes true, he
wishes it hadn’t…
Long ago, Ben made a promise and he had a dream: to travel to Africa to volunteer at a lion reserve.
When he finally makes it, it isn’t for the reasons he imagined…
Ben and Andrew keep meeting in unexpected places, and the intense relationship that develops seems
to be guided by fate. Or is it?
What if the very thing that draws them together is tainted by past secrets that threaten everything?

One thing that always strikes me about Beech’s novels is that they are never one genre or another. You can’t fit her novels into a category, which is testament to the brilliant imagination that she has to generate a novel that is completely individual and incomparable to any other. The Lion Tamer Who Lost is no different. The characters go on a journey that Beech crafts beautifully, taking the reader back and forth in time to explain Ben and Andrew’s stories.

There’s an incredible honesty about The Lion Tamer Who Lost that enables the reader to sympathise with every character, even when they are doing something that is not necessarily the right thing to do. Each character has their flaws but the way Beech portrays them gives the reader a rounded view of them so they can forgive the character’s bad decisions. Every character has a tale to tell that shapes their attitudes and behaviour, and they are not always as the reader would expect.

The structure that Beech uses in this novel is perfect for building up the stories of these characters without giving everything away. The novel starts mid-way through Ben and Andrew’s stories then you are taken back and forth between the past and present day to illuminate why Ben seems despondent and somewhat haunted in the initial chapters. The quotes from Andrew’s books at the beginning of each chapter also carry their own messages and it is a perfectly balanced novel to create an optimum amount of mystery and desire to find out the full picture.

Love is, without a doubt, the main theme of this novel and Beech depicts the intensity of familial love, passionate/sexual love and friendship love with incredible skill. In Beech’s dedication at the front of the novel, she quotes her friend who says “love is love, no matter who it’s between”, and this is ultimately the message that you get from this novel, and what a beautiful sentiment to be left with! This has always been my own belief too, so to read a novel which reinforces that has been an absolute pleasure.

Yet again, Louise Beech has created a perfect novel. I have yet to read anything by Beech that I have felt has been missing something, which is why I always look forward to reading her stories. I enjoyed this novel from start to finish and I laughed, and cried, which is always a good sign. This is an incredibly moving novel, as Beech’s novels always are, and it was immensely enjoyable to read, taking me no time at all, as I couldn’t put it down. Louise Beech is undoubtedly the jewel in the Orenda Books crown and I look forward to reviewing her next masterpiece.

thumbnail_Lion Tamer front cover final

 

The Backstreets of Purgatory by Helen Taylor

I’m delighted to be part of the blog tour for The Backstreets of Purgatory by Helen Taylor.

The Backstreets of Purgatory is a novel that brings together a variety of characters in Partick whose stories, though separate, intertwine throughout. Finn Garvie, the main character, is a spoilt man-child who strives for perfection in his art. He aspires to be the Caravaggio, his inspiration, of his time, but is struggling to assimilate his ideas onto the canvas. His girlfriend, who loves him, doesn’t know what to do with him; his best friend just irritates him and he is beguiled by the beautiful Kassia, convinced that she is his muse. When Caravaggio himself shows up in Finn’s life, stuck in purgatory until he assists Finn in finding his art mojo, Finn’s life takes an unexpected and sinister route.

This is an unusually constructed novel that deals with mental health issues, societal expectations and the individual character’s perceptions of success or failure. Taylor tells each character’s story, their thoughts on how their life has got to where it is and where they think it is going, and mirrors this with the other character’s who are inextricably linked across the board.

Taylor gives us a well-written, highly descriptive novel that is reminiscent of classic novels, with multi-sensual descriptions, and detailed, multi-faceted characters that are fraught with worries and show a distinct lack of confidence in themselves, that encourages them to skew their view of their surroundings and of those people around them.

This book also provides the reader with a lesson in Caravaggio himself. I knew nothing about Caravaggio beforehand, and Taylor gives enough biographical information and that of his paintings to give the reader enough information to follow the story but it also gives the reader an education too.

I found this novel a little unusual in places but it is funny, emotional, violent at times, and often poignant, ticking a lot of boxes in my “good novel” checklist. I look forward to reading Taylor’s next novel.

Proof of Life by Steven Suttie

I’ve been a supporter of Steven Suttie’s novels for some time now, ever since I read One Man Crusade, the first DCI Miller book, a couple of years ago. I liked books two, Neighbours from Hell, and three, Road to Nowhere, but I found book four, Gone Too Far, incredibly disappointing; it seemed like it was a parody of non-celebrity Katie Hopkins that was brimming with childish toilet humour between the detectives. This was a big departure for the usually serious and politically sensitive Suttie novels that I had come to know and admire. Suttie returned to form with book five, The Final Cut, but I felt the ending didn’t quite take advantage of what could have been a real statement about the political agenda he had built up throughout the novel. So, it was with a little trepidation that I began to read Proof of Life.

In Proof of Life, DCI Miller is once again facing a case that takes the country by storm, arousing a social and mainstream media frenzy. A teacher appears to have abducted one of his pupils for unknown reasons. However, as is common in Suttie’s novels, there are two sides to every story and nothing is ever at it seems.

I am over the moon to say that I loved this book from start to finish. I always want to love Suttie’s novels but my expectations of being blown away are so high, with One Man Crusade setting the bar, that it is inevitable that not every book will have the same effect. Of course, Suttie has had an excellent response to the two books that didn’t quite match my expectations, (although I should clarify that I loved The Final Cut right up to the end, which I felt detracted from the issues highlighted throughout), so they have obviously struck the right chord with other fans, which I’m really happy about, as I have championed Suttie on Segnalibro many times.

I love the way that Suttie sets a political agenda, and with a journalistically styled narrative that refers to real media outlets, and the effects of social media, he creates a brilliantly effective story that tells both sides of the story, often leading the reader to question their own beliefs and viewpoints. DCI Miller and his team are great conduits in the narrative and while the toilet humour is a little overbearing and in my opinion, unnecessary at times, the tales he tells show real crises in our country today.

Suttie never shies away from a political “hot potato”, in fact he embraces it with both hands and teaches us a thing or two along the way. He cleverly gives us a viewpoint that we might not have considered before but without any sense of bias on the narrator’s part. He tells it like it is, but leaves the reader to make his own mind up.

Proof of Life is a brilliant novel that kept me gripped from start to finish. As the characters of the DCI Miller characters become more familiar with each novel, the reader is much more invested, as with any good series of novels. In future novels, I’d like to see more of the detectives out of work. We’ve had snippets in the novels so far but I’d like to see more. Whatever Suttie chooses for his next subject, I’ll undoubtedly be one of the first in line to read it.

Proof of life

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.

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.

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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