A great ear for dialogue. A tale that hits plenty of high notes 

 Amusing, touching and well told  

 Lively, gritty and original  


Book (s) of the Year 

 A superb novel set amid the glitz and squalor of jazz in the north east

 I admit, I was crying with laughter. This book! I loved this book so much. Unlike anything I’ve ever read before

I didn't expect to be in tears at the end but I was


The story is actually a perfect snapshot of modern life. A couple have been together for years, one attempting to chase his lifelong dream whilst the other works a fairly tedious job to support them both. Tension and resentment mounts and there’s the inevitable break-up, both pronouncing the other to be selfish and unsupportive. It’s this consistent grounding in reality which actually makes Off Key a refreshingly intriguing read.

The author’s knowledge and affection for music and saxophones is immediately evident yet it never aggressively challenges the reader’s musical knowledge and nor does it alienate the reader from the story. It’s passionate yet accessible which is a great balance to strike.

The relationship of Charlotte and Kyle forms the basis of the entire book, but then there are off-shoots and bi-stories where everybody links together in some way. This tapestry is a rich one with each of the characters lovingly and realistically crafted. There’s definitely a wide array of personalities, relationships and situations which may sound like a complete sensory overload but it all weaves together exceptionally well.

Furthermore, Off Key swaps between different character viewpoints on a pretty constant basis. A nightmare I hear you ask? It’s true, if done poorly this can stilt the entire read, but in the case of Off Key I was pleasantly surprised. It was interesting to see things from the varying perspectives and get more of a three dimensional build-up of the story as a whole. It really does work. The only slight criticism I would have is that there were some characters, such as the autistic boy Craig, who don’t receive enough page time, precisely because the book is such a hive of activity.

Aside from the characterisation, the story itself is strong, probably aided by the multi-narrative. There’s enough going on to maintain interest but not so much that you lose track of everything. Everything develops nicely, the descriptions are wonderfully vivid and there’s always an undercurrent of wit. It’s plucky, it’s intensely readable and it’s entertaining. Well written with a great cast of characters, this is a surprising gem. The only downside is the occasional inconsistencies/some incorrect use of grammar and punctuation.