Tag Archive | Orenda Books

Turbulent Wake by Paul E. Hardisty (Orenda Books)

Paul E. Hardisty’s Claymore Straker series has been a triumph for Orenda Books. I have enjoyed reading the books so far in that series immensely, so I was excited and intrigued to hear that Hardisty was writing a novel that wasn’t in this series. Here’s the blurb:

A bewitching, powerful and deeply moving story of love, loss and grief. This extraordinary departure from the critically acclaimed thriller writer Paul E Hardisty explores the indelible damage we can do to those closest to us, the tragedy of history repeating itself and ultimately, the power of redemption in a time of change. Paul drew on his own experiences of travelling around the world as an engineer, from the dangerous deserts of Yemen, the oil rigs of Texas, the wild rivers of Africa, to the stunning coral cays of the Caribbean.

Ethan Scofield returns to the place of his birth to bury his father, with whom he had a difficult relationship. Whilst clearing out the old man’s house, he finds a strange manuscript, a collection of vignettes and stories that cover the whole of his father’s turbulent and restless life.

As his own life unravels before him, Ethan works his way through the manuscript, searching for answers to the mysteries that have plagued him since he was a child. What happened to his little brother? Why was his mother taken from him? And why, in the end, when there was no one left for him, did his own father push him away?

The blurb itself would have been enough to encourage me to read this novel. The premise is intriguing, thought-provoking and mysterious. Hardisty writes with such intellect and brings his own personal career experiences into his novels that you feel much more educated after reading.

Like Claymore Straker, Ethan and his dad, Warren, are troubled souls. Their lives prior to the present day of the novel have been that fraught with challenges and traumatic experiences that it is not difficult to see why Ethan feels like he is misplaced. It is clear that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” but the novel explores if that is as a result of Warren’s behaviour and experiences before and during Ethan’s childhood, or if Ethan has made his own path.

The narrative structure serves the premise well, with Warren’s manuscript of stories that detail pivotal points in his life interspersed with Ethan’s take on how his own life is progressing (or not), and of his relationship with his Dad before and after the illuminating manuscript. Like many Orenda Books novels, it strays from a linear narrative which increases the tension and keeps the reader guessing.

Like with the Claymore Straker novels, Hardisty beautifully describes the variety of locations that both Ethan and Warren find themselves in. His narrative is rich in stunning, figurative language that is intertwined into the story to make the reader feel (or at least, wish) they are in these gorgeous locations.

Hardisty does not disappoint with this beautifully written novel. With diverse characters and a variety of sumptuous settings, this, like many other Orenda Books, is a work of art. I would recommend any Hardisty novel, but this one in particular is a beauty.

Breakers by Doug Johnstone (Orenda Books)

I’m sure you have gathered by now, I’m a big Orenda Books fan, and recently, there has been a run of absolutely brilliant books from the Orenda bookshelves. I was excited by the blurb of Doug Johnstone’s Breakers. Here it is:

Seventeen-year-old Tyler lives in one of Edinburgh’s most deprived areas. Whilst trying to care for his little sister and his drug-addicted mother, he’s also coerced into robbing rich people’s homes by his bullying older siblings.

One night whilst on a job, his brother Barry stabs a homeowner and leaves her for dead. And that’s just the beginning of their nightmare, because they soon discover the woman is the wife of Edinburgh’s biggest crime lord, Deke Holt.

With the police and the Holts closing in, and his shattered family in terrible danger, Tyler is running out of options, until he meets posh girl Flick in another stranger’s house. Could she be his salvation? Or will he end up dragging her down with him?

The first thing I want to say about this book is that if you like your novels with hearts and flowers, you might want to steel yourself before reading this novel. But read it, you should. The narrative is incredibly powerful – it’s gritty and gory, with its roots firmly in the downtrodden and criminal underworld of Edinburgh. Johnstone depicts this slum-like, deprived location with such resonance that the reader cannot help but want to see Tyler and his little sister, Bean, get out of this desperate situation.

However, this novel is deeper than a hard luck story. This is a novel of bad luck and bad choices. Tyler, Bean and Flick are all victims of their parent’s circumstances, and as children in this situation, they are fighting battles they really shouldn’t have to. Johnstone shows their resourcefulness despite their lack of available resources and their resilience after particularly harrowing experiences. As a mother, this novel tugged at my heartstrings from start to finish, and I found myself wanting to know how Tyler, Bean and Flick turned out.

What Johnstone shows is that you can break a cycle of turning to crime when poverty-stricken or indeed, lacking in parental guidance. It doesn’t matter who you are or what background you are from, everyone has a story and their own demons to battle. As a narrative, this is a proper page-turner of a novel that you don’t want to put down. It’s fast paced, shocking at times, and Johnstone uses every literary tool in the box to develop a multi-faceted novel that generates a multitude of emotions in the reader.

I love this novel. It wasn’t an easy read in that there was a strong sense of realism in the narrative, in terms of the surroundings/location, and the situation of these children, but Johnstone shows light in the dark and hope in the seemingly hopelessness of Tyler’s situation. Also, by putting Tyler and Flick together despite their considerably different backgrounds highlights the misconception that money brings you happiness. Undoubtedly, Orenda Books has yet another successful novel on their hands. I will be recommending this novel to anyone who loves a gritty page turner.

Worst Case Scenario by Helen Fitzgerald (Orenda Books)

It is often the case that authors selected to be published by Orenda Books tend to explore the road less travelled, choosing topics that are rarely written about and challenging the reader’s perceptions. It is what makes Orenda Books novels so special. One of their latest signings is Helen Fitzgerald, and like other Orenda authors, I had full expectations that I would be taken on a literary journey that I had not been on before. Here’s the blurb:

Mary Shields is a moody, acerbic probation offer, dealing with
some of Glasgow’s worst cases, and her job is on the line.
Imprisoned for murdering his wife, Liam Macdowall has published
a series of letters to the dead woman, in a book that has made
him an unlikely hero – a poster boy for Men’s Rights Activists.
Liam is released on licence into Mary’s care, but things are far
from simple. Mary develops a poisonous obsession with Liam
and his world, and when her son and Liam’s daughter form a
relationship, Mary will stop at nothing to impose her own brand
of justice … with devastating consequences.

Fitzgerald’s uses her main character, Mary, as a vehicle to explore a number of thought-provoking and often taboo topics, such as male domestic violence, paedophilia, and the dreadful state of our social care system. Fitzgerald doesn’t hold back in her approach. This is a gritty novel that doesn’t show the main protagonist as a hero, or even in a favourable light most of the time. Mary Shields is your proverbial “car crash”, though a lot of it isn’t really her fault. However, Worst Case Scenario gives a good overview of the life of someone who works in social services, the impossible challenges that they are expected to overcome, and the unfairness of a system that is designed to help people in need.

What I loved about the narrative in this novel is its no-holds-barred bluntness. No sugar-coating, just an honest depiction of a damaged character who, at heart, wants to do right by everyone who deserves it. True, Mary makes a lot of horrendously bad decisions that cost her, but often, this is down to the restraints placed on her by the job that she does. Also, we can’t underestimate the effects of the menopause on a woman’s state of mind!

Helen Fitzgerald has written a brilliant novel that, in true Orenda tradition, is uniquely formed and not afraid to talk about subjects many authors would stay well away from. Like Mary, I felt completely exhausted and in need of a glass of wine by the time I finished it, but to me, that’s a great response to have to a novel. It’s such a cleverly written novel with perfect balance of humour, poignancy and intrigue. I look forward to reading other novels by this author in the future.

Worst Case Scenario Cover

Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech (Orenda Books)

I am always excited when I hear about a new Louise Beech book release. Since her first novel How To Be Brave, Beech has consistently written beautiful novels that pull at every possible emotion throughout. I had no doubt that Call Me Star Girl would be just as amazing.

Here’s the blurb:

Tonight is the night for secrets…

Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago – and her killer hasn’t been caught.

Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers.

Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after twelve years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father … What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station … who says he knows who killed Victoria, and has proof. Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything… With echoes of the chilling Play Misty for Me, Call Me Star Girl is a taut, emotive and all-consuming psychological thriller that plays on our deepest fears, providing a stark reminder that stirring up dark secrets from the past can be deadly…

I have come to expect Beech’s novel’s to take me on a journey into the life of someone who is strong, yet fragile, with a complexity of emotional baggage that defines their life no matter how much they try to reject it. In a series of flashbacks, from the perspectives of multiple characters, a picture is built up of Stella’s life in the build up to her final show, her vulnerabilities, her strengths, and the origins of these traits. Beech lays out a jigsaw of emotional pieces for the reader to put together and as always, the narrative is clever, unexpected and jam-packed with poignant, tear-jerking scenes.

What I absolutely love about Beech’s novels is that each novel is unique in plot, structure and hits a multitude of different genres in each book. In Call Me Star Girl, there’s elements of mystery, crime, ghost, romance, domestic noir and even a little erotica. I love that I can’t categorise it as this genre or that genre, but as a stunningly crafted work of art that ticks every box of the perfect read checklist.

Every so often, an author comes along that has the ability to blow you away with every single piece of literature that they offer up. Beech is undoubtedly one of those authors. Despite knowing to expect a rollercoaster ride from her previous novels, there’s many twists, turns and loop-the-loops that the reader just isn’t prepared for. Every.Single.Novel. Beech has an extraordinary skill for creating the perfect novel time and time again, and she is the author whose novel I look out for each time I hear that a new one is released. She is undoubtedly jewel in the Orenda Books crown. Call Me Star Girl is a wonderful addition to Louise Beech’s masterpieces and I cannot recommend it enough.

 

 

The Ringmaster by Vanda Symon (Orenda Books)

Orenda Books is on fire at the moment, releasing one brilliant book after another, so I was very excited to read The Ringmaster by  Vanda Symon, and to be on the blog tour. Although this is part of a series, this is the first of Symon’s book I have read.

Here’s the blurb:

Death is stalking the South Island of New Zealand…
Marginalised by previous antics, Sam Shephard, is on the bottom rung
of detective training in Dunedin, and her boss makes sure she knows
it. She gets involved in her first homicide investigation, when a
university student is murdered in the Botanic Gardens, and Sam soon
discovers this is not an isolated incident. There is a chilling prospect of
a predator loose in Dunedin, and a very strong possibility that the deaths are linked to a visiting circus…

Determined to find out who’s running the show, and to prove herself,
Sam throws herself into an investigation that can have only one ending…

The Ringmaster throws the reader into the action from the off, and it doesn’t seem to slow its pace throughout. Symon brilliantly keeps the reader on tenterhooks right from the Prologue, and like all Orenda Books, it is a quintessential page-turner. DC Sam Shepherd is a determined, intuitive detective who, although is new to her detective training, she possesses that skill of all good literary detectives, an ability to spot the anomaly that most other detectives would miss, linking up seemingly separate pieces of evidence to make a case.

The narrative itself is incredibly powerful, and there is one particular scene where Sam has to act against all her natural instincts for the greater good that is very poignant and emotionally charged. (You’ll know it when you get to it, believe me!) Symon captures the scene perfectly and adds another layer of emotional baggage to the already overloaded Sam.

The Ringmaster is a great novel and I didn’t feel any the worse for not having read any other novels in the series, as Symon gives just enough detail to read as a standalone whilst being given just enough information as is relevant to the plot of this novel. It has, however, made me want to read other Sam Shepherd novels, as she is a strong, feisty detective who looks adversity in the face and gives a good old shove out of the way. This would be a brilliant holiday read, so if you’re looking for a book to read on the beach, I can highly recommend this one.

The Ringmaster Cover (1)

 

 

 

 

The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl (Orenda Books)

Orenda Books are well-known for publishing fictional works of art from across the globe. In particular, they have been successful in attracting some of the best writers in the Nordic Noir scene, Kjell Ola Dahl being one of them. The Courier has taken off like a rocket since its release and I can understand why. Here’s the blurb:

In 1942, Jewish courier Ester is betrayed, narrowly avoiding arrest by the Gestapo. In a great haste, she escapes to Sweden, saving herself. Her family in Oslo, however, is deported to Auschwitz. In Stockholm, Ester meets the resistance hero, Gerhard Falkum, who has left his little daughter and fled both the Germans and allegations that he murdered his wife, Åse, who helped Ester get to Sweden. Their burgeoning relationship ends abruptly when Falkum dies in a fire.And yet, twenty-five years later, Falkum shows up in Oslo. He wants to reconnect with his daughter. But where has he been, and what is the real reason for his return? Ester stumbles across information that forces her to look closely at her past, and to revisit her war-time training to stay alive…Written with Dahl’s trademark characterization and elegant plotting, The Courier sees the hugely respected godfather of Nordic Noir at his best, as he takes on one of the most horrific periods of modern history, in an exceptional, shocking thriller.

One of the most distinguishing features of this novel is its staccato short, present-tense sentence structure, allowing the reader to embrace the tension that builds up in each scene. As a reader, you are forced to take continuous pauses in the narrative to make sure you have the same time to take in what is happening as the various characters.

Starting in present day, Dahl flips between 1942 and 1967 to disjoint the narrative just enough to replay what has happened and the repercussions of these occurrences. The narrative never stands still, constantly moving from one period of time to another to describe Ester’s activities during the war and how these activities return to throw her life into turmoil after seeking out a more normal life.

Dahl takes the reader on a journey of discovery of spy activities in the Second World War and how years later, the effects are still felt. Ester is trying to leave her experiences behind her but her attempt at living a quiet life gets disrupted by her past. Her involvement in the war efforts then, still invokes the same curiosity in her, which Dahl portrays beautifully.

Generally, Nordic Noir or historical novels wouldn’t be my genre of choice, yet The Courier combines these two brilliantly and I have really enjoyed reading it. Yet again, I have been reminded never to disregard a book because of the genre it falls into. The Courier is going to be a great success, of that I have no doubt. It would make a brilliant film, in my opinion. Orenda Books consistently release books that engross me from start to finish, and The Courier is no exception.

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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.