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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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.

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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.

Links:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rob-Sinclair/e/B00LFXNU76/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1488963366&sr=8-1

https://www.facebook.com/robsinclairauthor/?fref=ts

https://twitter.com/RSinclairAuthor

http://www.robsinclairauthor.com/

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!😊