Thursday, 14 December 2017

Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb: Review and Giveaway.

It is that time of the year again. The last minute dash for Christmas presents is upon us and the task of finding the right book, for the right person, can be quite daunting. This novel may just be the answer to all your prayers. It is a warm and gentle tale, with a big heart, making it ideal for any reader with a big heart; from the school teacher, to your great aunt, and everyone in between...
Thanks to Harper Collins in ireland, I have two copies of Last Christmas in Paris to giveaway. Just enter via rafflecopter link below. Open INT and closes Sunday 17th December. Good Luck!

My Review

1914 and Evie Elliot begins correspondence with her brother, Will, and his best friend, Tom, who have departed for France at the beginning of WWI. She never anticipates that their letters would become so frequent, or that they would cross for many years. The newspapers have glossed over the seriousness of the situation in Europe, with vague stories of battles well fought by brave young men, but Tom reveals the truth in his honest letters to Evie. The conditions are described with a delicate touch, while his ever-decreasing spirit becomes more obvious as the months turn into years. Evie is frustrated with her restrictive role in the war effort and continues to push boundaries, to change this. The two friends dream of visiting Paris, after the war, and sometimes this thought alone is all that keeps them going.

1968 and Tom has arrived in Paris, with a collection of letters and memories. However, there is one last letter to open. The past is forever inscribed in the history of these letters. But how does it all end? 

Gaynor and Webb are two experienced authors, who have both written about WWI and work extremely well together. Their work is blended, seamlessly, and brings the characters personalities to life, via the medium of letters. You will find yourself cheering on the soldiers and the families that await their safe return. You may also be surprised to read of how media censorship was misleading all those on the home front. Would so many young men have signed up, had they known what it was really like, over there?

A really beautiful historical novel, revisiting the wonderful art of letter writing and the lives of those who depended on correspondence to escape the daily trauma of war. An ideal read for the cold winter months and especially at Christmas time. A perfect stocking filler.

Last Christmas in Paris is published by William Morrow and is available in Pb and ebook format. You can pick up the Pb edition in your local bookshop, or order the ebook version via amazon link below:

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Book Review: Redemption by Darren Darker

Guest Review from Diarmaid McCaffrey.

Darren Darker’s Redemption bears all the hallmarks of a modern thriller. A crotchety broken-hearted action hero archetype; vendettas and old grudges; decades old regret and demons from the past that have to be slain. But Redemption twists these conventions into a genuinely original narrative.    

At the tail end of the second World War Karl Muller, a German bomber, crash-lands off the coast of Ireland. Reading the writing on the wall he abandons his plane, leaves behind his partner and starts a new life in rural Ireland and, for decades on end, makes the best of his clean slate. However, when the past comes back to threaten his family, he needs to rely on his friend. Recent widower John Morgan is hoping to rebuild his life in the wake of his wife’s death while at the same time trying to save the Miller family.

The narrative switches several times during the book, most notably back to the 1940’s in Muller’s youth, which is a complex plot device to traverse, but Darker switches back and forward between POV’s seamlessly and manages to convey these themes and general plot in a way that’s fast moving and entertaining throughout (which is no easy feat for any author especially when it’s come to a book that deals with historical aspects). It’s a totally immersive experience, with subtle little details throughout, that paints a perfect picture of the Irish countryside.

While it’s an enjoyable read, Redemption doesn’t have that “polished” feel with somewhat lack-luster editing, which leaves many of the sentences without words and in one scene during the later chapters it magically jumps from Summer to November which was a tad jarring.
(**Ed. update: Redemption has since gone under a re-edit and the author is happy with changes.)

Despite this, passion pours from this piece with remarkable detail regarding the historical aspects and exciting characters.

About the Author

Darren Darker is a member of the Irish Writers Centre and contributor to He started his own car maintenance business 9 years ago and currently has 5 staff and growing. He has been the recipient of several awards for services to the state as a member of the Civil Defence as both a voluntary fireman and a coxswain on a rescue boat whose duties included helping the Gardai search for bodies. Darren is the proud dad of Adam.

He has been an avid reader since he was introduced to Agatha Christie, Sven Hassell and Ed McBain at an inappropriate age! Redemption is the first novel in his John Morgan Series . The follow up - No end to the lies will be out shortly.  

Redemption is available in ebook format. You can get your copy via amazon link below:

Monday, 20 November 2017

Book Review: What Alice Knew by T.A. Cotterell.

Guest Review from Diarmaid McCaffrey.

This psychological thriller revolves around  Alice  - funnily enough - who works as a painter, or more specifically, paints portraits of her clients. (Which allows her to notice small little intricate details people, a nice little trait interwoven within the novel). One faithful day, Alice’s husband Ed doesn’t come home, and she is unable to contact him, setting off alarm bells in her head and questions in her mind. At the start of the novel he appears to be a loving husband who saves lives on a regular basis, but as the story goes on its clear things aren’t what they appear with him.

The characterisation of protagonists in his book is phenomenal. In particular the character of Ed. While his disappearance sets off the events of the book, his presence is felt throughout, to the point where, even without personally knowing him, we feel like we do, sensing his disappearance as rather unusual; out of character for him and even in his absence he seems to go through a character arch. The book eventually builds and builds the tension until it reaches a heartbreaking climax where Alice needs to make a heartbreaking decision.

The story itself is mesmerising, to say the very least. There’s almost a rhythm to the plot, like a well-crafted song. It ebbs and flows in right places; building upon themes like trust, regret, and emotional wounds, trying to get over them; all explored in great detail; all building up to a fantastically set up twisty-ending that offsets the novel perfectly, yet seems to come out of nowhere.

On the whole, T.A. Cotterel’s What Alice Knew is a fascinating book. It contains a tense and unnerving narrative that slowly but surely rises to a crescendo, that is sure to stay with you long after the last page is turned.

What Alice Knew is published by Black Swan and is available in PB and ebook format. You can order your copy, with Free Worldwide Postage, HERE. The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Book Review: Dinner at the Happy Skeleton by Chris Chalmers.

I was honored to be asked to read an early edition of this title and provide a cover quote. It was many months ago, but this gem has now been unleashed on the reading public. Highly recommended!

My Review

Dan is fast approaching forty, has just lost his job and is nowhere near settling down with a man. In fact, he is happily plodding along as a plus one in an existing partnership and spending far too much time into online gay chat rooms. His newfound freedom from the 9-5 world means he now has more time to consider what direction his life is heading. Past conquests and a disastrous relationship with a handsome young waster are all floating around his mind as he logs online to find quick hook-ups. Is this what he really wants?

Dan is everything you want in a protagonist. Flawed yet endearing; clever but blinkered; content to live alone but seeking company. He is cute, funny and solvent. His string of one night stands include liaisons with a well-endowed porn-star and online flirting with men who want to know if he will ride bare-back. The gay online dating world is fast, furious and limited to location.

Chris Chalmers uses his snappy style to bring Dan to life. A novel full of wit, comedy and unflinching honesty, it is like reading a gay Nick Hornby. The world of Dan is one that hops off the page, bringing you through the streets of London and online sex-fuelled dating sites. Cynicism is ever-present but in a thoughtful way. The true gem of this book is it’s wry and witty character, Dan. Wonderfully drawn, he is someone that will remain in your thoughts long after you turn the last page. Sharp, sassy and completely believable. I want to be part of his circle of friends. You don’t have to be perfect to be memorable.

This is clever contemporary fiction at its finest. I dare you not to connect with Dan from beginning to end...

About the Author

Chris Chalmers is the author of Dinner At The Happy Skeleton, Five To One, Light From Other Windows, and for children, Gillian Vermillion — Dream Detective. He lives in South-West London with his partner, a quite famous concert pianist. Chris has been the understudy on Mastermind, swum with iguanas and shared a pizza with Donnie Brasco. Aside from his novels, his proudest literary achievement is making Martina Navratilova ROFLAO on Twitter. 

You’ll find him on Facebook @chrischalmersnovelist, on Twitter @CCsw19, and at

Dinner at the Happy Skeleton is published by J. Mendel Books and is available in PB and ebook format. You can order your copy in your local bookshop, or via amazon link below:

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Book Review: December Girl by Nicola Cassidy.

Molly Thomas loses more than her home, the night her family are evicted from their farmhouse in 1894. Her father is accused of stealing stones from the passage tomb at Dowth, Co.Meath, which originates back to approx. 3,200BC, but Molly knows that most of the local tenants had used the granite stones from Dowth and there a more sinister reason for their eviction.

The Thomas land is owned by the Brabazon family, who live in the nearby Brabazon House, a country mansion well known for hosting grand balls and hunting events. Henry Brabazon is a gentle soul (unlike his father) and dreams of studying criminal law in London, therefor escaping the expectations attached to being heir to the Brabazon title.

When Molly flees Ireland, after her father’s death, she is not to know that what she is running from is a lot less worse than what she is headed toward. Her life spirals out of control and she is not long becoming a victim of circumstance. Things go from bad to worse when her baby, Oliver, is taken from his pram outside a London shop and not one person has witnessed his kidnapping. Will Molly’s luck ever change, or is she cursed to suffer forever?

The novel begins with a prologue, describing the laying of the passage tomb, and then the disappearance of Oliver. The story then flicks back to the evection and introduces the Thomas family and their polar-opposites: the Brabazons.
When Molly escapes to London, via Liverpool, the narrative takes an even darker turn. The young woman is out of her depth and is preyed upon, almost instantaneously. Back at Brabazon House, Henry has his own problems: those of expectations and tradition. Then, the reader is introduced to Gladys and Albert, and a connected thread within the story. The tale continues in England and Ireland, right up until the War of Independence, and immediately afterward.

This is the debut title from Co. Louth native, Nicola Cassidy, who herself grew up in the Boyne Valley and knows the landscape of Dowth extremely well. She has taken the historic monument and used it as an anchor for her story. The saga is spread over almost five decades of turbulent Anglo-Irish relations yet only addresses the violent wars toward the end of the novel, which may be to appeal to the reader who is wanting more Downton Abbey than Rebellion. The structure is a little confusing at times, with the 1896 thread being somewhat lost in the flitting to-and-fro from other strands of the saga and there are chapter headings, for example: “Dowth, Co. Meath, Ireland, St Stephen’s Day. 1894, 10.20pm (Twenty Months Before)” which could have been simplified, ensuring a more fluid reading experience. But these are small editing issues, rather than any criticism of the writing or indeed the story.

December Girl is awash with historical detail about Drogheda and the surrounding countryside, even using nuggets of actual events. The linen industry is booming, the shipping port is a hive of activity and the streets are described with loving detail. Molly is a feminist, before her time and the reader is not treated to a sugar-coated view of her struggles as an independent woman. Far from it. Her story is dark and disturbing. Henry is an altogether lighter character, with a good heart and the benefit of a wealthy upbringing. Brabazon House sounds idyllic and typical of the Anglo-Irish country houses which still stand today. Nicola Cassidy is a name to watch out for. She has come a long way, in a relatively short period of time, and I am sure we have not heard (or read) the last of her yet.  

***I received a copy of this title, from the author, in return for an honest review***

December Girl is published by Bombshell Books and is available in PB and ebook format. You can order your copy via amazon link below:

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Book Review: Hunter and the Grape by Eoin C. Macken.

Eighteen-year-old Cat is on a mission to find Sophie Durango, a girl who has stolen his heart (and his virginity). Fleeing his hometown in Albuquerque, with a few dollars and no real plan, he heads for Los Angeles and finds himself with an infuriating travelling partner, the quirky Star. The pair form an unlikely bond when their bus breaks down in the middle of the desert and they are forced to accept help from an old man and his sullen friend. Re-naming themselves Hunter and Grape they begin a journey of self-awareness, facing up to the past and discovering what true friendship means.

This is the second YA novel from author, actor and screenwriter, Eoin Macken. Like his debut, Kingdom of Scars, this is a contemporary look at a young male's coming of age. Set along the dusty roads of New Mexico, the novel is brought to life with descriptive detail and memorable characters. The dialogue is simple and extremely effective, almost like a play divided into numerous Acts: Act One: A roadside encounter where the two main characters encounter each other for the first time; the initial bus journey and the development of a tentative relationship forming. Act Two: An isolated cabin where the teenagers witness the grief of a stranger. Act Three: Another dusty roadside, further character development and background stories. Act Four: A new friendship with a homeless man and his dog and a trip to Las Vegas. Act Five: An unscheduled trip to Los Angeles and the search for Cat's dream girl; a stolen bike, a new friendship with a lonely french man and a dip in the ocean. The scenery is minimal, as both Hunter and Grape are the main attraction. Their individual stories are all the audience needs. 

These teenagers are both victims of their upbringing  and their circumstances. They are two lost souls who have found each other during their lowest moments. Without each other they may have travelled different paths, but together they complement each other and makes their pilgrimage one of adventure with semi-security. They need each other, despite their initial resistance. Damaged by their pasts, they need to face the realities of the present and learn to wade-into the future.

This is YA fiction, but with a leaning toward drama. A little slow to start, it builds up as the Acts progress and the characters reveal some of their back-stories. Hunter is struggling to be the alpha-male (lots of fist fights and hard-ons) and Grape uses her feminine charms far to much for my liking (including kissing random men to avoid confrontation). There is a sexist undertone throughout the novel which, as an adult reader, I found uncomfortable. I hope that young adult readers will realise that this is not the way gender should be categorised. However, Hunter is a genuinely nice guy, with a good heart, and matures as he travels on his journey. 

A charming, road-trip novel which takes two damaged teenagers on an unlikely adventure through the blistering heat of New Mexico and on to the more capable landscape of Los Angeles. Hunter and the Grape is refreshingly different to other YA novels, with an edgy and arty feel, which would be magnificent on stage or screen. Ideal for older teenagers and young adults alike.

*We received a copy of this title, from the publishers, in return for an honest review.

Hunter and the Grape is published by Ward River Press and is available in TBP and ebook format. You can order your copy with Free Worldwide Postage HERE. The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:

Sunday, 22 October 2017

How To Build A Home Library. Feature from & Irish Times by Sophie Grenham

How To Build A Home Library

BLEACH HOUSE LIBRARY was built from scratch by MARGARET MADDEN in her Co. Louth home
Photograph by Eoin Rafferty
Margaret Madden, blogger and reviewer, quite literally lives in her books. The extraordinary Bleach House Library was built from scratch by the flamed-haired mother of five in her listed 18th-century, seven-bedroom pile in Collon, Co Louth.
Madden immediately zoned in on the sprawling ground floor space, before moving in eleven years ago. “I ear-marked it as my library because it has double doors into the garden, it has a fireplace and it’s a big room,” she explains. “It’s away from the hubbub of the house, slightly isolated in its own wing. When you have as many kids as I have, it’s nice to escape without being too far away.” Looking around the light-filled haven, punctuated with pastels, I can’t imagine feeling anything but peaceful in here.
That’s only the beginning, for I quickly discover that Madden’s collection of roughly 5,000 books occupies nearly every single room in the house, bar the bathroom. While very neatly curated, her treasured literary cargo travels from the flagship library, up the staircase and into the master bedroom.
How does one manage this many books and stay sane? Madden admits that while she regularly donates to charity shops and libraries, more volumes typically find their way back in exchange. Books are alphabetised so she can locate desired titles quickly.
In her experience, what key elements make a decent library, should one embark on such a mission?
“There has to be a mix of old and new with a great non-fiction section,” she says. “Definitely have all different genres in a library. Add a good mixture of novels written by people of colour, from different perspectives and religions, translated fiction. I would be surprised if there was no Jane Austen or Dickens. Although they’re curriculum reads now, there are people who still want to read them for pleasure – not just for exams.”
Despite the seemingly complete appearance of Bleach House Library, this labour of love will continue.“Some people are passionate about their cars and some go horseracing,” she says, smiling. “This is my addiction and it just happens to be literary, so having a room of one’s own that is basically a giant book is just heaven! It is literally a dream since I was a child – and it’s come true.”

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