Orenda Books

Deep Blue Trouble – Steph Broadribb

Title – Deep Blue Trouble

Author – Steph Broadribb

Published – November 2017

Genre – Thriller

This is the follow-up to Steph’s debut ‘Deep Down Dead‘ and takes place pretty much where Deep Down Dead ends – Lori is desperate to get JT out of prison and in the absence of a witness (the only one who can vouch for JT is in a coma) Lori agrees to take on a job for FBI agent Alex Monroe.

Monroe seems to hold all the cards which isn’t a situation that Lori is exactly comfortable with and flies in the face of everything she learned from JT – but she has no choice. Leaving her daughter, Dakota, at summer camp she sets off to recapture Gibson ‘The Fish’ Fletcher, a man she has captured in the past but who is now on the loose following a jail break. It’s obvious that Monroe has a personal reason for wanting Lori to be the one to take Fletcher but he operates on a strictly ‘need to know’ basis. What unfolds in a rollercoaster of a chase across America and even venturing into Mexico on the trail of the missing man.

Lori remains driven by her feelings for JT and her worries for her daughter. She’s as ‘kick-ass’ as she was in the first book but the situation demands that this time she’s acting more on her own than as part of a team. She has one person she can call on for help and is given the support of a team through Monroe but she’s not used to trusting people she doesn’t know but her lack of allies leads to more internal monologue.

The first book featured a lot of Lori’s backstory (so you may be better reading the series in order) so it was going to be interesting to see how the second book would develop without this. Some of this is dealt with by having some of the story from JT’s point of view and for the reader understanding his situation in jail adds to the tension – there are some repercussions from the previous book. There’s also more of an investigative aspect – so part PI/part bounty hunter.

What I particularly admire is how different the voice in the book is to the author. You can often go to events or meet authors and when you speak to them you can see something of them in their books – the voice they write with is similar to their own. If you’ve ever come across Steph at an event you will know how different she is to Lori. Perhaps if you’re American and read the books something might jar but for me it feels completely authentic and there’s nothing that would make me think this wasn’t written by someone as American as Lori.

If you like a strong female character with a unique voice and rollercoaster thriller then this is the book for you. Many thanks to Lounge Books for the free download.

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In Her Wake – Amanda Jennings

Title – In Her Wake

Author – Amanda Jennings

Published – 2016

Genre – Fiction

I first came across Amanda Jennings at Crimefest a few years ago just before she announced a new deal with (then fledgling) publisher Orenda books. I duly received a review copy of In Her Wake and it has sat on my TBR for well over a year. It was one of those books that I was put off for two reasons – one was that it wasn’t an obviously ‘crime fiction’ book and the second was the overwhelming amount of positive reviews I saw the book receiving. It might seem odd to delay reading a book because of the second point but if a book is getting such a lot of coverage then my blog post won’t add anything to what’s already been said and the other reason is that often books with such overwhelming praise can be disappointing when your expectations have been raised.

We all imagined when were young that we were adopted or somehow came to be living with wrong family, what we picture as our ‘real’ family is a sort of idyll of family life.  When both Bella’s parents die in quick succession she discovers that there is some truth to this feeling – her parents have deceived her for years and her seemingly perfect life is torn apart. Bella embarks on a journey (to Cornwall) to find out more about her real identity in what becomes a journey of self-discovery. What Bella finds isn’t what any young girl would dream up as their ‘real’ family. The aspects of a more female-centric book are balanced by the events that lead to Bella’s new life and the truth behind the events adds a more thrilling aspect as they are uncovered during the course of the book.

The author definitely  has an eye for character, it was easy to empathise with Bella and the writing made the behaviour of other characters credible. Interestingly the one person whose point of view the reader never gets to understand is the person Bella thought of as her mother, the driving force behind the events in the book. As Bella learns more about her childhood she can see how it’s shaped her life and the decisions she’s made, whether for better or worse.

For me, and it’s not the first time I’ve criticised this aspect of a book, I wasn’t too keen on the more supernatural elements. Just me, just not a fan. But that aside this was a compelling book that mixed a character-driven story with a mystery. It was beautifully written and captured the emotional rollercoaster of Bella’s grief and discovery as she reevaluates everything she thought she knew.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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Deep Down Dead – Steph Broadribb

51dphgk8vslTitle – Deep Down Dead

Author – Steph Broadribb

Published – Jan 2017

Genre – Thriller

Before I start my review it’s only fair to say that I have known Steph (aka ‘Crime Thriller Girl‘) for a  few years and may have had a social drink or two with her at crime fiction events. I hope that readers of my blog can trust, however, that I wouldn’t give a positive review to a book because of this. In fact that does lead to some interesting thoughts about the world of bloggers, authors and crime fiction conventions / events – but for another day!

Florida bounty-hunter and single mother Lori Anderson seizes the opportunity to take on a job to help her make ends meet after her young daughter’s medical treatment. But with a higher than normal bounty comes a higher than normal risk and Lori finds that the job has a personal aspect to it that will bring back memories that she would prefer to stay buried.

The story is fast paced, with lots of action and plenty of emotional twists and turns. Some of the action sequences have a very visual quality to them and it would be easy to see them transferred to (small or large) screen. It touches on some dark themes and has a smattering of sex, violence and secrets. There are aspects that manage to lighten the mood a little and Lori is a feisty leading lady. I don’t want to give too much away but there’s also a ‘will they, won’t they’ aspect to the story.

I have to confess that if there was one aspect I didn’t like it was Lori’s daughter. I can see how important she was to the plot and to Lori’s motivation but there was something about the too good to be true, pigtails and eye-rolling, that made me hope something dreadful would happen early on in the book!

I mentioned when I reviewed The Distance by Helen Giltrow that while there are plenty of women writing crime fiction it feels unusual to read a thriller written by a woman. It’s therefore great to read another credible, pacy thriller from a female author. Another unusual aspect of Dead Down Dead, and one that is shared with the series by Rod Reynolds and Mason Cross, is the use of an American setting by someone who is British.

This is an accomplished debut and in Lori, Steph has created a character with a very clear and convincing voice. It’s obvious that she’s also familiar with the locations she uses and I know that she took research further than most authors by training as a bounty hunter in California.

I was pleased that the ending didn’t pan out as I thought it might and  it didn’t go for an ‘easy’ option. This is the first in a series and I’m curious to know where the next instalment will take Lori.

Many thanks to the author for the review copy.

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Behind the Scenes – the Independent Publisher

orenda letterhead redThis is the third in my ‘behind the scenes‘ look at some of the often unsung heroes who help to bring great crime fiction to bookshops and ultimately our shelves. This time my Q and A is looking at the role of the independent publisher and Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books was kind enough to give up her time to answer my questions.

Karen is the powerhouse behind Orenda Books which she launched in late 2014. Renowned for the way she supports her authors Karen is a master of social media, plays football for England in the annual  ‘Bloody Scotland Crime Writers’ Football Match: Scotland v England’, is a talented baker – providing themed cupcakes at her authors’ launches and even finds time to support authors outside her own list with a section on the Orenda website.

Was being a publisher something you imagined you would do when you were at school?

Well, apart from wanting to be a nurse or a fire-fighter, a ‘books’ career has always been on the radar. I remember reading a novel (the name escapes me) when I was about twelve or thirteen, and the protagonist was a young woman who read slush piles for a publisher. I couldn’t believe it. Reading books could be a JOB? I wrote short stories throughout my teenage years, and read voraciously from the moment I could do it myself. I also had a habit of making notes in the margins of books. I think I might have been made for this job! When I moved to the UK from Canada after university, my first ‘real’ job was with a publisher.

What prompted you to start Orenda Books?

I worked at the job above for a few years, moving from secretary to the editorial director to commissioning editor. I then left to become freelance, and ended up writing books about raising children, discipline, emotional health, education, etc., and did some TV and other media. I actually became tired of writing about the same type of thing, and when I was offered a job in a small independent, working a day or so a week writing press releases, jacket copy, etc., I leapt at it. It was an interesting and intensive experience, and I ended up working about seven days a week, not one! When a decision was taken by new shareholders to slash the list, I didn’t feel comfortable being there. After lying on my bed for about 24 hours, I made the decision to start my own publishing company. Towards the end of my former tenure, I was doing almost everything anyhow, so it wasn’t an entire leap. A month later, Orenda Books was born, and I haven’t looked back.

How would you describe the ethos of Orenda Books and the titles you choose to publish?

We publish literary fiction (and I use that word deliberately, because I have a very firm belief that you must never underestimate readers of genre fiction, and assume that they all want the churn-em-out stuff), with a heavy emphasis on crime thrillers, and about half in translation. There are some exceptionally wonderful aberrations on my list, and it is honestly a huge relief and source of excitement to be able to publish exactly what I want, with no one to whom I have to account!

I believe in a lot of things. We publish across many formats, including audiobooks with the wonderful Audible, a few in hardback, all in ebook and in paperback. But I firmly believe that people who choose a physical book over an ebook want something beautiful – something that is a joy to read, to hold! We use great paper, have fantastic jacket designers, truly wonderful typesetting with lots of little details, and I think it makes a real difference. In less than two years we are competing well with the conglomerates, and producing books that certainly match theirs, in both look and feel, not to mention content.

The writing REALLY matters to me, as does a tight, seamless plot. All Orenda authors are exquisite writers – that is essential. And I love the idea of pushing the boundaries of a genre – bringing something new or different to it, upholding its greatest traditions, enlightening, drawing attention to social or other issues while entertaining. It’s a vibrant market and it’s an honour to have the opportunity to bring some truly amazing authors to readers.

I don’t care about becoming rich or famous; I care about doing this job well and doing justice to my increasingly BRILLIANT stable of authors!

What has been the biggest challenge for you and what has been your biggest success to date?

last-days-of-disco_december-with-quotes-copy-2You know what? I would say that EVERY book has been a success in its own way. To date, our runaway bestselling titles are Ragnar Jonasson’s Snowblind, Nightblind and Blackout, and Amanda Jennings’ In Her Wake, but in Scotland David F. Ross’s books (The Last Days of Disco and The Rise & Fall of the Miraculous Vespas) have received unbelievably wonderful critical acclaim and sold both in other countries and (secret) formats! We’ve had rights sold, books optioned for film and the stage. We’ve won prizes, had seven number-one kindles, achieved excellent review coverage in the papers, been incredibly well supported by the all-important blogging community, been shortlisted for the IPG Best Newcomer Award, got a Bookseller Rising Star this year, got authors into over 40 festivals. I could go on! Every author on my list is magnificent, and their achievements never fail to astound and excited me. Having wonderful new authors keen to join is also a success. We have a team that people want to join, and I LOVE that!

Challenges. OK, well it’s hard to make a name for a new company and I also have a LOT of debuts, which means that it can be even harder to persuade booksellers to take us and our authors seriously. We do a lot of translations, so cash flow is always slightly alarming (we spend probably £15K per book for a translated title before it even hits the shelves, which is considerably higher than it would be for a book in English). I am the only employee in this company, and luckily have a brilliant team of freelancers who sort me out with jackets and editorial things (I would be remiss if I did not mention West Camel here, who is my second eye and the best editor I’ve ever met! Plus Mark Swan, who does my jackets and Liz Wilkins and Anne Cater, who have done other magnificent things), but the amount of work is sometimes terrifying! We’ve gone from six books in the first year, to almost triple that this year, with the same again next year. I often feel faint!

Another challenge is an obvious one. The bigger companies tend to be more risk-averse, and often watch smaller companies to see which authors are performing well, before swooping in with a big cheque. This is a frustration, but I suppose that’s business. The irony is, of course, that bigger doesn’t mean better and being published by someone completely passionate about your books can equate to very strong sales. That’s certainly happened here.

How might being an author with an independent publisher differ compared to a major publishing house? 

2016-03-22-18-55-50I think the main thing is the personal approach. I work closely with my authors from the moment they are signed onwards. I attend events  and festivals with them, edit, promote, pitch to the sales teams around the world, and that’s something that I think authors enjoy. Having been an author myself for many, many years, I understand that everyone needs to feel valued and know that they are getting full support. I don’t know about other independents, but we are very much a team here at Orenda. We are growing together. We support each other. Celebrate the successes, and push when things are trickier. It’s just the BEST environment to nurture some incredible talent, and I think we are all happy and home, and all working VERY hard to achieve the best. Being a big fish in a small pond, or even a noticeable fish in a pond, is something that attracts people to small publishers. Plus independents tend to be more nimble, able to take risks and act quickly, and generally do things with authors that might never get past a big acquisitions meeting at a conglomerate. We’ve had a number of very big-name authors interested in joining us, so that probably says something about the ‘small town’ approach.

What impact has the rise of self-publishing had for smaller publishers?

I don’t think it’s a problem at all. I’ve signed two self-published authors and would actively encourage authors who are struggling to get an agent or a deal to consider this approach. There is no shame in doing it yourself, and some very good writers have their roots in the self-published world. It does, of course, mean that the market can become quite saturated, and the quality is, unfortunately, not always there. I worry sometimes that books are devalued by the number of free and very cheap ebooks available, and becoming strongly geared towards disposable reads. After all, if you pay only 99p or get it free, who cares, really? I never lower prices on our ebooks unless they are supported by a major retailer (or they reduce it them themselves) because I am well aware that authors need to earn a living, and we need to survive, too. Having said all that, our ebook sales are increasing month by month, and we know that people are happy to pay full price (not expensive by any means) for wonderful, readable books!

What one piece of advice would you give to an author who is trying to get their first publishing deal?

in-her-wake-hbcover-copy-4I would suggest that you get and take every bit of constructive criticism that you can. Beta readers (first readers) are invaluable, and although it is very painful to cut words, plotlines, characters and even passages of prose, you need to trust the opinions of those who know what they are doing. In particular, agents, or publishers who take the time to point out where there might be weaknesses. There are some incredible mentoring programmes for aspiring authors, courses (sometimes expensive, but possibly worth it) and other authors who run these courses or will do a report for a small fee. I DEFINITELY don’t like to promote anyone in particular, but Amanda Jennings is very involved in the Womentering scheme, and Michael J. Malone actually earns his living sorting out people’s books (around writing his own). If you can’t get a publisher or an agent, and feel that your book is as strong as it can be, then go ahead and self-publish. But get yourself out there, too. Attend fairs, festivals, events where other authors in your genre might be. Make friends. Network. Get some support and help. Use social media wisely – to befriend and let people know your book is there, without repeating messages and becoming annoying. It’s a close and supportive community, this book world, and I think that if you make friends and attract potential readers, you’ll be in with a chance. But don’t forget how important it is to get your book right before you submit it. And learn the art of writing a blurb – a summary of your book, much like what appears on the back of the books you pick up in the bookshops. If you can sell your book in a paragraph, you’ll attract notice.

sealskin-vis-3-copyFinally, I REALLY dislike it when a writer compares themselves to someone on my list. It’s nice to have an idea of the type of reader it might attract (for example, I am publishing a book called Sealskin next year, and a few wonderful comparisons came to mind, such as a book called The Year of Wonders and the author Angela Carter), which is very useful for the sales team. But if you tell me that you write exactly like Amanda Jennings or Michael Malone, chances are you aren’t going to get very far. I HAVE those authors. I don’t want copycats. Every author has to bring something new, special and different to the table.

Without giving away any trade secrets – what are your ambitions for Orenda Books?

My ambitions are to carry on exactly the way we are at the moment. Acquiring authors that fit the list and will add to the company – and the genre and industry in some way – while keeping it small enough to maintain the personal touch I mentioned above. My authors didn’t buy into something grand and big, and I will ensure that we are always a team, and that everyone is important. Having said that, I publish wonderful books, and I expect to win prizes and sell lots of them. These authors are magnificent, and I will be sticking by them as they soar. And I fully expect that all will do so. And that’s also what they bought into. A great future.

Another ambition is to demystify translated literature. While there is a thriving niche market, there is no reason in the world why the average reader wouldn’t enjoy books from other countries. I’ve got some of the MOST amazing translators in the business working with me, and I think you’d be hard pressed to find even one of our translated titles that feels awkward. We cherry pick the VERY best books from other countries, and that’s something that we want to continue.

Have you ever been tempted to write yourself?

I was a writer for many, many years, and I also ghostwrote a lot of books (for quite famous people, too!). I can write a blurb and a nice advance information sheet. I can pull apart a book and put it back together again in the BEST way. But could I do what my authors are doing? No way! They are imaginative, smart, brilliantly creative and talented, and I never buy a book that doesn’t give me at least four goosebump moments. And that doesn’t mean just plot. It means writing, too. I truly believe that I have some of the best writers in the genre on this list, and the stuff that is happening around them – awards, fresh talent picks, prizes, TV deals, reader and blogger top reads, review coverage, festival and event invitations, bestseller lists – it all confirms that we are on the right track. While I can fix books that need attention, I would be a complete fool to think I could write anything like the books that appear on my list!

What are you reading at the moment?

Ooh, OK! It’s a mix! I am a person who has books all over the place. Beside my bed is Craig Robertson’s Murderabilia, and I am LOVING IT! Today I got a copy of Gallows Drop by Mari Hannah, and that is going to be my downstairs, on-the-sofa read. In my handbag, I’ve got more, including the OMG BUY IT Fiona Cummins’ debut Rattle, and, similarly, the new Erin Kelly (He Said; She Said, gasp!), which I should pass on, but can’t bear to. The new Ian Rankin is buzzing in my bag.

Then on my computer, it’s all about submissions and editing. We’ve just finished Steph Broadribb’s Deep Down Dead. And for the first time, we’re experimenting with bound proof copies. This is ONE book you won’t forget in a hurry!! But I’m also reading the beautiful, mesmerising Sealskin by Su Bristow, a debut author retelling the Selkie legend. Again, oh WOW! Something always on the go, and fortunately not only are my personal reads all different, but my authors are absolutely different! My last ‘non-crime’ read was Schtum by Jem Lester and it would not hesitate to recommend it. There are LOADS more in the pile.

I do a ‘community blog’ on the Orenda website, and we feature Q&As with ‘other’ authors. So I get sent a WHOLE load of books with a view to doing just that! On the horizon are books by Anya Lipska, Eva Dolan, Michael Wood, Doug Johnstone, Derek B. Miller, Ali Land, Erin Kelly, Mark Hill, Joseph Knox, Luca Veste and more … I am SO busy, so I only read the ones that hook me with the blurb, the jacket or the premise. Aspiring authors, take note!

You can find Karen on twitter under the name @OrendaBooks.


I’d like to thank Karen for taking the time to give such candid answers to my questions.

Snowblind – Ragnar Jónasson

9781910633038-275x423Title – Snowblind

Author – Ragnar Jónasson (translated by Quentin Bates)

Published – 2011 (2015 in translation)

Genre – Crime fiction

Score – 4/5

It’s an odd situation that Ragnar Jónasson has been a familiar face on the crime fiction circuit for some years, but this is the first opportunity for those of us who only read English to judge his ‘Iceland Noir’ credentials and he is not found wanting.

Ari Thór Arason is a recently qualified policeman living in Reykjavik with his medical student girlfriend. When an opportunity for his first posting comes up it’s in Siglufjörður, a small, isolated fishing town right the way up in the north of Iceland. Although his girlfriend is unenthusiastic about the situation he accepts the position and quickly moves, alone, to this close knit community. The setting for the book is incredibly important; the location is particularly isolated, not only is it physically remote but during the winter it is in perpetual darkness and the inclement weather only adds to the difficulties of going to, or escaping from, the town. It’s a small community where people don’t lock their doors and nothing ever happens – but of course if that were the case we wouldn’t need our intrepid detective!

Although Ari Thor is the main character, the story is told from multiple points of view and I found it a little difficult to get a handle on who each character was and what their relevance was to the story – but it all became clear in the end. The story is a ‘small-town’ one, initially involving the seemingly accidental death of a prominent member of the community who is involved in the local dramatic society, something which Ari Thor’s boss believes only requires a perfunctory investigation. Jónasson uses the choice of setting to his advantage, making the most of the conditions as a way of limiting the pool of suspects and adding an extra layer of tension. It’s actually quite surprising how many of the community are outsiders – people hiding from something, whilst those born there are perhaps more prone to seek an escape to the south. It’s perhaps Ari Thor’s position as an outsider that lets him question his boss and pursue the case.

The small town nature of the setting means that the investigation focuses on long hidden secrets, illicit affairs and long held grudges. Jónasson’s writing hones in on the minutiae of the characters’ lives and memories, but pay attention because hidden in all of this detail are clues crucial to the resolution of a number of different threads within the story.

It’s impossible to review this book and not make a reference to Agatha Christie. The reason is that Jónasson is renowned for being a huge fan, having translated fourteen titles into Icelandic. I wouldn’t say that this has obviously influenced his writing style, but the setting is perhaps an Icelandic St Mary Mead where people know, or think they know, each other’s business. The clever plotting, attention to detail and red herrings are certainly in the Christie style.

Snowblind is the first in Jónasson’s ‘Dark Iceland’ series and there are currently 4 more books to be translated. It’s interesting that the translation is by Quentin Bates, a successful author in his own right who sets his own books in Iceland, although writing them in English. A book can be spoilt by a poor translation, something you only notice when a phrase jars and you’re reminded that the work was originally written in another language. Fortunately, as you would expect, there is no such issue here.

Thank you to the publisher of the review copy. You can see another point of view on My Little Pile of Rocks.

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The Abrupt Physics of Dying – Paul E Hardisty

abruptphysicsofdyingTitle – The Abrupt Physics of Dying

Author – Paul E Hardisty

Published – Dec 14 (ebook) Mar 15 (print)

Genre –  Thriller

This is one of the first books to come out of new publisher Orenda Books and if all the books are as good as this they will be a force to be reckoned with.

The book is best described as an “eco-thriller” and with a background working as an engineer, hydrologist and environmental scientist Hardisty is well-qualified to write about the subject.  However, if this makes you think that the book will be full of lots of technical detail you needn’t worry – Hardisty has a deft hand when it comes to balancing what the reader needs to understand and what they don’t.

Claymore Straker (isn’t that a name to conjure with!) is an oil company engineer based in Yemen. His job is to put together the environmental reports that will back up the company’s plans to do – well to do whatever it is they want. The book opens to a cracking start as Straker and his Yemeni driver are hijacked by terrorists and the incident gives the reader a real feel for Straker’s character.  He’s torn between being the tough guy and beating the terrorists or complying with them and ensuring the safety of his driver. This balance between action and conscience is at the heart of the book.

The terrorists believe that the oil company is responsible for an illness affecting local villagers and they challenge Straker to find out the truth. He half-heartedly begins to comply with their demands and soon realises that there may be something to the allegations. In fact he’s been burying his head in the sand (if you excuse the pun) for some time and the situation gives him the impetus to make a difference. Early on in the story Straker meets a mysterious journalist – a beautiful young woman with whom he strikes up an alliance. The book introduces the reader to Yemen – its landscape, its people and its politics and all have a part to play in the story. The country is on the verge of a civil war and there are a lot of trigger happy people about – Straker’s situation isn’t helped by getting on the wrong side of one of the most violent of them.

In a previous life Straker was a soldier in the South African army, with references to the Angolan conflict his backstory holds the key to his scruples and something for which he feels the need to make amends. The question is how far is he willing to go and can he ever atone for his earlier actions?

A great page-turner with all the elements that make a cracking thriller. There’s plenty of action, twists and turns, skulduggery and an evil oil company – what more could you want?! This is one of those books that makes you want to turn to Google and find out how much is fact and how much fiction. The underhand behaviour of the oil company is particularly topical as environmental concerns are frequently in the news at the moment with the public’s concerns over fracking. If I have a grumble it’s that the ending doesn’t tie up all the loose ends, but this is the first in a series and I’m already looking forward to The Evolution of Fear – even if I do have to wait until 2016!

You can see another review at Live Many Lives

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