Spotlight on Orenda Books
If you haven’t heard of Orenda Books yet, that’s all about to change. The UK-based independent publisher continues to make a splash with a growing list of crime fiction and literary fiction authors, including many CBTB favorites: Ragnar Jonasson, Thomas Enger, Matt Wesolowski, and more! Today I’m thrilled to share a “Spotlight on Orenda Books” - aka a chance for you to explore Orenda’s growing list, learn about my personal favorite Orenda titles, and read a Q&A with Orenda Books’ publisher, Karen Sullivan!
Without further ado, let’s dive right in!
What Is Orenda Books? Who Do They Publish?
Orenda Books is an independent publisher of literary fiction and upmarket genre fiction based in London. Orenda is home to an ever-growing list of international authors - all of whom can be found on the Orenda Books website. I follow Orenda Books for their fantastic list of crime fiction authors (of which there are many!) - but Orenda also publishes a number of strong literary fiction voices as well. A few Orenda-published authors whose names you might recognize…
For the full list of Orenda’s authors, visit their website.
Which Orenda Titles Are CBTB Favorites?
Okay, narrowing down this list was hard - but it must be done! I will say that across the board, the Orenda crime titles I’ve read have been consistently strong. Publisher Karen Sullivan has an eye for finding the hidden gem - that author with a unique viewpoint and strong voice who brings something fresh and exciting to their writing. That’s what always keeps me coming back for more with Orenda books: I know I’m always going to find something different and original with each book of theirs that I pick up. So if I had to narrow down my top favorites? I would say:
1. Ragnar Jonasson's Dark Iceland series. Book one in this standout series is SNOWBLIND - an Agatha Christie-style locked room mystery set in northern Iceland, wherein a small town becomes the “locked room” after a blizzard cuts off the one road connecting it to the rest of the country. It just doesn’t get much better than that. Jonasson’s writing is atmospheric and emblematic of the best of golden-age detective fiction—he’s an author whose work will always be at the top of my reading lists. If you’re interested in learning more about the town that inspired SNOWBLIND, take a virtual tour of it with Jonasson as your guide. My personal favorite book within this series is BLACKOUT.
2. SIX STORIES by Matt Wesolowski. Talk about a breath of fresh air - Wesolowski’s stunning debut will be an instant-hit with fans of true crime podcasts (like myself!). This engaging and additive crime novel follows a true crime podcaster who, through a series of interviews, attempts to piece together the truth behind a longstanding mystery. Wesolowski’s writing is fiercely original and inventive - this is one of those books that just illustrates how well Orenda can spot an up-and-coming talent. You can catch my full review of SIX STORIES here.
3. CURSED by Thomas Enger. This book is actually an installment in Enger’s Henning Juul series - but it really can be read as a standalone. The overarching topic of this series is as follows: a journalist (Henning Juul) sets out to uncover the truth about the tragic house fire that killed his young son years prior. In CURSED, however, Enger shifts focus away from Henning and onto his ex-wife Nora - a shift that gave this story even more dynamic and heartfelt emotion. My full review of CURSED is here.
4. EXQUISITE by Sarah Stovell. Now here’s a psychological suspense novel that belongs on your spring or summer reading lists! Stovell’s easy-to-binge novel EXQUISITE follows two writers who embark on an illicit affair - one that has far-reaching, and potentially dangerous, consequences. There’s a touch of a romance angle to this book, but it didn’t bother me in the least - in fact, I loved how Stovell masterfully weaves together a story that’s as much about love as it is about love gone very wrong. You can find my full review here.
5. HOUSE OF SPINES by Michael J. Malone. Another absolute binge-read - but this one with very different subject matter. In Malone’s outstanding standalone, a down-on-his-luck writer inherits a vast estate from a relative he never knew he had. But as he gets settled in his new home, it becomes clear to him that not everything is as it seems - and that the house may have its own plans for him. This is one chilling ride, and I loved every moment of it! Catch my full review here.
Q&A: Karen Sullivan, Publisher of Orenda Books
I’m delighted to welcome Karen Sullivan to CBTB to talk all things Orenda Books!
Crime by the Book: Tell us a bit about Orenda Books! When did you first start Orenda? What inspired you to start your own publishing company?
Karen Sullivan: Orenda Books is just over three years old! I started my career in publishing, working first as secretary to the editorial director of a commercial independent and climbed the rungs to become a commissioning editor. I left to become freelance just before I had my first son (of three), and ended up writing books on health and raising children for years. When my youngest started school, I decided to try something a little different and I took up what was ostensibly a one-day-a-week job in an independent publishing company, writing jacket copy and press releases, etc. It quickly became more than full time, and I was there for about 18 months when new owners proposed a change in direction for the company, which would mean slashing the list. I couldn’t bear to see that happen, so I left. Twenty-four hours later, Orenda was born! We publish literary fiction with a heavy emphasis on crime thrillers, about half in translation. Orenda has been shortlisted for the IPG Best Newcomer Award twice, and I was a Bookseller Rising Star in 2016. We’ve gone from strength to strength!
CBTB: What do you look for in the books you publish? What makes an Orenda book?
KS: It’s a small list (no more than 24 titles a year) and the hallmark is great writing, fresh new voices, fiction that stretches the boundaries of a genre, fabulous sense of place and exceptional plotting. I love books that are meaningful … where readers take away more than just entertainment value. For example, a lot of my books unpick issues at the heart of society, and that can be exceptionally moving and memorable. I love books that transport a reader to other cultures, and that’s just one reason why translated fiction is so integral to my list. My authors are passionate, promoteable and incredibly talented. We are small in number, but a mighty team!
CBTB: Orenda publishes some truly fantastic crime writers, from Michael Malone to Thomas Enger and many, many more! Have you always been a crime fiction reader?
KS: My immediate answer would probably have been ‘no’. I read a lot of literary fiction, and that’s what lines my bookshelves. However, there is a dark heart to a lot of excellent fiction, and some of it could actually be marketed as genre fiction. So there is significant crossover there. When I look back, my earliest reads were definitely crime: Nancy Drew, The Bobbsey Twins, The Hardy Boys and then books by Victoria Holt, the entire Agatha Christie oeuvre, Stephen King, Dorothy Sayers, Truman Capote, Joyce Carol Oates and the magnificent Patricia Highsmith, to name just a few. I visited the library every week and took out the maximum number of loans allowed: eleven. So I read eleven books every single week, and I read widely! My favourite gifts (usually from my aunt) were book box sets! My first taste of translated crime was Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, and I was hooked!
CBTB: What has been the most exciting part of starting your own publishing company?
KS: The very, very best thing is choosing magnificent books that I would love to read, with no one looking over my shoulder and saying that it isn’t commercial enough, or it doesn’t fit current trends. I love working closely with my authors at every stage of the book, including marketing and even travelling on the road with them en masse, on our now famous Orenda Roadshows. I love cherry-picking the best international authors, and finding exciting new debuts. I also love sticking with my authors. I’m all too aware that many publishers give up when sales don’t match expectations, but I’m equally aware that it can take two, three … six books for great authors to achieve recognition, and I look at it as growing together. Once an Orenda author, always an Orenda author. Between you and me, I also love being able to work in my nightie all day!
CBTB: Can you give us a sneak peek into any particularly exciting upcoming Orenda projects?
KS: There are too many to mention! Next year’s list is packed full of absolutely brilliant, exciting books and I can’t WAIT to get them out there! Before then, however, we’ve got the next books in the Reykjavik series from uber-talented Icelandic writer Lilja Sigurdardottir (Trap), another darkly funny thriller from Finnish Antti Tuomainen (Palm Beach, Finland), plus new books from my superstars Michael J. Malone (After He Died), Louise Beech (The Lion Tamer Who Lost), Lucy Hay (Do No Harm), Gunnar Staalesen (Big Sister) and Paul E Hardisty (Absolution) that are simply amazing!! We’ve got the Queen of French Noir, Johana Gustawsson’s utterly mesmerizing, Keeper, next in the Roy & Castells series, Kjell Ola Dahl’s The Ice Swimmer, and exceptional thrillers from Louise Voss (The Old You) and Doug Johnstone (Fault Lines). Canadian readers will be extremely excited to hear that Quebec author Roxanne Bouchard has been published in English for the first time, with We Were the Salt of the Sea coming at the end of the month. All round fantastic!
Next year, keep an eye out for Steph Broadribb’s next installment in the Lori Anderson series, with its unforgettable kick-ass single-mother bounty-hunter protagonist, and, of course, the next in the creepy Six Stories series: Matt Wesolowski’s Changeling.
No book makes the list if it doesn’t stand out in some significant way, so you can be sure that whatever you pick up will be a wonderful read!
Many thanks to Karen Sullivan for taking the time to chat with me about all things Orenda! Remember to visit the Orenda Books website to learn more about this independent publisher. You can also connect with Orenda on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!
Links to just an assortment of my favorite Orenda titles!
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