Tag Archive | Orenda Books

Welcome To The Heady Heights

One of the first Orenda Books that I read and reviewed was The Last Days of Disco, by David F. Ross. I was struck by its poignancy despite it’s consistently humourous narrative, and being the first in a trilogy, the other books in the series were in a similar vein. (The Rise & Fall of the Miraculous Vespas and The Man Who Loved Islands). Having enjoyed this trilogy so much, I was excited to read Ross’s latest novel, Welcome To The Heady Heights.

Here’s the blurb:

It’s the year punk rock was born, Concorde entered commercial service and a tiny Romanian gymnast changed the sport forever…

Archie Blunt is a man with big ideas. He just needs a break for them to be realised. In a bizarre brush with the light entertainment business, Archie unwittingly saves the life of the UK’s top showbiz star, Hank ‘Heady’ Hendricks, and immediately seizes the opportunity to aim for the big time. With dreams of becoming a musical impresario, he creates a new singing group called The High Five with five unruly working-class kids from Glasgow’s East End. The plan? Make it to the final of Heady’s Saturday night talent show, where fame and fortune awaits…

But there’s a complication. Archie’s made a fairly major misstep in his pursuit of fame and fortune, and now a trail of irate Glaswegian bookies, corrupt politicians and a determined Scottish WPC are all on his tail…

The first thing to point out is that it is impossible to read a David F. Ross novel without reading it in a Scottish accent. In fact, it should be! It undoubtedly enhances the reading experience.

Like his trilogy before it, Ross treats the reader to a beautifully balanced funny yet moving story, as he takes us on a journey to explore the fabric of Glasgow’s people and places. There’s a variety of characters from all walks of life, depicted in true Ross fashion, who seemingly don’t connect, but the threads all come together to make a magnificent literary tapestry of the contrast between different segments of society, from the downtrodden, to the criminal, to the celebrity.

I don’t want to give anything away but look out for Archie’s pitch for a new game show to celebrity entertainment mogul, Heady Hendricks. I literally laughed out loud on my morning bus to work. Archie is ahead of his time, as I think his game show suggestion would undoubtedly have a place in today’s reality TV society. It couldn’t be any more dangerous than Dancing on Ice!

The narrative itself is beautifully written, and the character of Archie, in particular, is impossible to feel anything but affection for, even when he gets up to a few questionable things. He’s a dreamer, undoubtedly, but he has a good heart and good intentions, and having him as the main protagonist has you cheering him on from beginning to end.

Set in the 1970’s (a tiny bit before my time, only being born in 1978), Ross paints a picture of a different world, before technology was key and women were often treated as second-class citizens, particularly in the workplace. However, he also draws on the parallels, such as the pedestal we put celebrities on, the ways in which different classes are treated, and the underbelly of corruption that feeds into every society.

I loved this novel, just like I loved the Disco Days trilogy. To have the skill to write a novel that can make you laugh out loud and also make you cry is something I can only dream of having, but Ross absolutely nails it in this novel. One phrase in the novel seemed to sum it up perfectly (although it wasn’t necessarily it’s purpose in the narrative): “But she was joining the dots. The many, many threads –random when examined individually, but wound together, they began to make sense.” (Kindle location:3383 of 3725) That’s exactly what this novel does, and it does it exquisitely well. Bring on the next David F. Ross funny tear-jerker!

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Deep Dirty Truth by Steph Broadribb (Orenda Books)

One of the best characters I’ve encountered recently is undoubtedly Steph Broadribb’s Lori Anderson. I’ve loved the first two books in this series and I was really excited to read Deep Dirty Truth. Here’s the blurb:

A price on her head. A secret worth dying for. Just 48 hours to expose the truth…

Single-mother bounty hunter Lori Anderson has finally got her family back together, but her new-found happiness is shattered when she’s snatched by the Miami Mob – and they want her dead. Rather than a bullet, they offer her a job: find the Mob’s ‘numbers man’ – Carlton North – who’s in protective custody after being forced to turn federal witness against them. If Lori succeeds, they’ll wipe the slate clean and the price on her head – and those of her family – will be removed. If she fails, they die.

What I love about these novels is that Lori is constantly battling for her daughter’s safety and now the safety of her one-time mentor, father of her daughter, and lover, JT. As a mother myself, Lori’s gritty determination to do whatever it takes to protect her family resonates with me and it’s very easy to champion her from the outset.

I also like that she has street-smarts. She is clever and intuitive. She thinks logically despite the intense pressure that she is often under, which engages the reader to follow her train of thought to the story’s conclusion.

Given that JT is out of action, Broadribb cleverly leaves Lori having to rely on her wits and Federal Agent Alex Monroe, who she doesn’t really trust, but this also forces JT to take care of, and bond with, Dakota, their daughter. When Broadribb takes us to JT’s and Dakota’s story, the reader gets an insight to their lives and their relationships with Lori, and each other. This is a lovely aside to the main action.

Yet again, Steph Broadribb has written a great, engaging novel that I read over two days, only stopping for things like work and sleep! From early on in the novel, it becomes apparent that this series is destined to continue. The next story is beautifully set up at the end of this one, and I cannot wait to read it.

 

Good Samaritans by Will Carver (Orenda Books)

It’s a rare occurrence that a novel can provide you with so many shocks from cover to cover that you feel like you’ve run a marathon by the time you get to the end. When I started reading Good Samaritans by Will Carver, I wasn’t expecting to have that kind of experience. How wrong I was!

Here’s the blurb:

One crossed wire, three dead bodies and six bottles of bleach.

Seth Beauman can’t sleep. He stays up late, calling strangers from his phonebook, hoping to make a connection, while his wife, Maeve, sleeps upstairs. A crossed wire finds a suicidal Hadley Serf on the phone to Seth, thinking she is talking to The Samaritans. But a seemingly harmless, late-night hobby turns into something more for Seth and for Hadley, and soon their late-night talks are turning into day-time meet-ups. And then this dysfunctional love story turns into something altogether darker, when Seth brings Hadley home… And someone is watching… Dark, sexy, dangerous and wildly readable, Good Samaritans marks the scorching return of one of crime fiction’s most exceptional voices.

What struck me about this novel was that it has a relatively slow build up, yet it had the power to sucker-punch you multiple times throughout. Reading this on the bus to work, I got some very strange looks at certain points when an audible gasp of shock at the turn of events involuntarily escaped from me. What also struck me is how skilled an author Will Carver is to be able to lull the reader this way and that way, then throw everything you thought was happening into the air. Just when I thought I had it worked out, I really didn’t.

Carver’s writing style perfectly depicts the lives of his characters to create an ideal response from the reader. Often, short, staccato sentences build up the tension and portray the emotions of the characters in a direct and detached way. He has multiple narrators throughout; the characters tell their own story and there is a third person narrator to direct the reader through each character’s version of events. This further redirects the reader into a delicious trap of thinking one thing is happening, when in fact what is really happening is shockingly different.

Undoubtedly a dark novel, it intrigues the reader throughout and even when you reach the end, you are in a state of shock as even the ending doesn’t take the path you would expect. This novel is simply brilliant and if I could sum my final reaction up in one word, it would be “wow”! I’ve waxed lyrical about the brilliance of the team at Orenda Books for finding books that offer something extra special that you rarely find elsewhere, and with Good Samaritans, Orenda has done it again. Good Samaritans is definitely going on my top books of 2018 list and I will be recommending it to anyone who’ll listen, as it is a fictional masterpiece.

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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.

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Absolution by Paul Hardisty

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

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

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

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

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

End Game by Matt Johnson (Orenda Books)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

 

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.