Monday, 30 September 2013

Author Night at Bleach House Library - featuring Louise Phillips

Margaret Bonass Madden

Last Friday 27th September I had the huge honour of hosting my first author night here in Bleach House.
Having read Louise Phillips " Red Ribbons " and " The Doll's House " via Esquires Bookclub in Drogheda, Co. Louth, I was delighted to review both books for this blog.  After some interaction with Louise through Facebook and Twitter she said she would love to come out and talk to our Bookclub and to stay over in my Library B&B.

To say I was thrilled would be a bit of an understatement !!

We had an amazing night of food, wine and lots of book talk.....My idea of heaven.
I was a tad starstruck at first as I am a huge fan and had so many questions for her.  She was a complete lady, chatting to us all and sharing some fascinating insight into the world of publishing and also some great writing tips for budding authors.  We had some lovely discussions about our recent reads ( The Herbalist by Niamh Boyce being a firm favourite ) and chatted well into the night.
I also had to added benefit of some extra time with Louise the following morning over a nice leisurely breakfast,  where she let me pick her brain some more :)

Photo: Last night with all my Lovely Friends :-D

Thanks to all the Ladies from Esquires Book Club for bringing some tasty dishes and top class wines.
I'm blessed to have such wonderful, book loving friends........

I had an awesome night and hope to have some more inspirational evening like this one again.  All talented Authors welcome at Bleach House Library !!!!!

Sunday, 29 September 2013

I received a nomination The Liebster Award - For New Bloggers !!

What a nice tweet to wake up to!!!!
Fellow Blogger Samantha at has nominated me for this Award which is a great way to discover new blogs and increase your network of like-minded Book Lovers......

The rules: 
1. Answer the questions set my the person who nominated you and create your own list of questions for the bloggers you choose to nominate.
2. Nominate some other new bloggers and tag them to let them know.
Simple !

Here are the questions I was asked by Samantha :

1. What book have you had on yourself for what feels like years but never got round to reading?
Hard to believe, but I have not read " The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo ". I bought it years ago but keep pushing it to the end of my to-read list.

2. Which book would you recommend everyone to read at least once in their life?
I would recommend that eveyone should read " The Diving Bell and the Butterfly "by Jean- Dominique Bauby,  as it is one of the most moving personal accounts I have ever encountered.  Some passages have stuck with me for years and I occasionally re-read it for inspiration.  A stunning book......

3. Who is your favourite book character?
 The one book character who sticks out,  for pure entertainment reasons, is Jimmy Rabbitt Snr. from Roddy Doyle's " The Snapper ".  He is one of the funniest and most genuine Fathers I have had the pleasure of knowing.

4. If you could only ever read one more book what would you choose? 
 My favourite book of all time is " Rebecca " by Daphne Du Maurier and will continue to read on a regular basis for the rest of my life. I find something wonderful on every re-read.

5. How many books do you have on your TBR pile?
 At the moment I have 24 books on my TBR pile.  Some have been sent from Publishers to review and some were my own purchases.  I can't stop buying books !

6. Which book that features travel has made you want to visit that place?
Recently I have read a good few book set In Maine, Usa and all along the coastal areas surrounding it. If someone wants to send me a ticket and offer to look after my four kids, I would go tomorrow!!

7. Where do you love to read?
I am afraid it's terribly boring, but , my bed is my favourite place to read. My youngest daughter joins me each evening and we read in happy silence until my husband comes and kicks her out !

8. Have you ever started a book and not finished it? If so what was it?
A very rare thing to happen to me, as I try to give each Author a fair chance. It can sometimes be more my fault than theirs that I am not enjoying it.  After my Brother's death I hit a terrible reading slump and have still not finished those books.  Also, I am halfway through " Strumpet City " for the past 4 months as I keep thinking it's more of a Winter book....

9. If you could have any book made into a film what would it be?
I would really love to see Lucy Clarke's " The Sea Sisters " on the big screen.  While reading it, I could almost smell the sea and the scent of spices for sale in the marketplace seemed to ooze with colour!
Also a wonderful story which remains one of my favourites of this year so far.

10. Would you ever attempt to write a book?
I honestly thought I would have one well written by now!!  I became a Mum at a very young age and time has kind of screeched past me - My youngest is now 10 years old but I am also a Foster Mum so each week brings uncertainty.  However,  last week I went back to school part-time to study English and History, and am just loving it ! 
I also had my first Author Event here in Bleach House 2 days ago, when Louise Phillips came to talk to myself and my bookclub friends about her 2 crime thrillers " Red Ribbons " and " The Doll's House ".  
She was so gracious and helpful with all of our questions and passed on some amazing tips for budding writers. 
Let me just answer this question by saying : Watch This Space !!!

Now My Questions to the bloggers I tagged :
1. Do you ever skim through slow parts of books or do you read every single word?
2. What was the last book you read that made you laugh out loud?
3. Who is the most evil character you have come across in a work of fiction?
4. What is your favourite classics book?
5. Have you a genre you just can't read?
6. What was your first book memory?
7. What is the best book- to- screen movie you have seen?
8. When is the last time you borrowed from a library?
9. Do you prefer to read an actual book or read on an e - reader?
10. Which author would you like to have over for dinner?

My nominations are :

Ink and Paper
Chic Lit Bibliomaniac

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

" The Doll's House " by Louise Phillips

After reading Louise Phillip's Debut novel, Red Ribbons, I was delighted to win a copy of her new book via her Facebook page.  There's nothing better than opening the post and finding a book, with a personal message written by the author inside.

This is the story of Clodagh and her voyage into the past to try and decipher some disturbing memories of a tragic childhood.  She lost her Father and her baby sister in two separate incidents and now her Mother has passed away. Her marriage is frail , as is her relationship with her daughter, and she is battling an addiction.

Thinking the best way to move forward is to go back, she begins to visit a hypnotherapist to aid her recollection of childhood and help her make sense of her memories.

Alongside Clodagh's story is the return of DI O'Connor and criminal psychologist Dr. Kate Pearson, who are called in to investigate the murders of a prominent TV personality and a homeless man.  Is there a connection between the murders? Why does Clodagh have a feeling she knows the dead men? 

The opening few chapters of this book are fast, furious and full of graphic details.  Not for the faint hearted, with a vivid description of the rape of a young girl.  The writing of this event is phenomenal, the character is immediately hateful and will stay with you well after you have finished the chapter. 
The pace changes with the discovery of the famous murder victim and we are introduced to a large pool of new characters in relation to the investigation.
There is still some tension between O'Connor and Kate, with the latter adjusting to some changes in her life. 
The politics in policework are still there also, with O'Connor trying to be on his best behaviour while biting his tongue.

As I got further into the book it became very obvious that Louise Phillips has a huge talent for writing from a man's point of view.  This was also true of her first novel.  However, there was a bit of repetition within chapters, as Kate would give her opinions to O'Connor and then he would repeat them to the investigating team at a later stage.  
I really found myself looking forward to turning the page and finding a chapter about Clodagh's sessions with her hypnotherapist, as these were insights into the mind of a woman who has managed to block out a lot of her childhood memories.  It was well researched, described at a gentle pace and was intruiging.

The author has a gift of bringing darkness into the minds and lives of regular people and although I found the investigation chapters a little hit and miss, the main story of Clodagh and her troubled past and present was definitely bang on......

I am really looking forward to the next novel from this gritty, dark and talented Irish author!

The Doll's House and Red Ribbons are published by Hachette Ireland and are both available in paperback and ebook format. 
Louise Phillips can be contacted via twitter @LouiseMPhillips.

Monday, 23 September 2013

The Reluctant Assasin (WARP Book One) by Eoin Colfer

Guest review by Matthew Fitzsimons

This is about a boy and a girl from two different times who have nothing to do with each other until one day a man appears in the warp pod with a monkey arm and a bloody knife sticking out of his chest and everything changes. Riley is a young 14 year old Victorian gutter orphan in London in 1898. He is the apprentice of a sinister Victorian assassin called Albert Garrick, who Riley claims is death himself. Chevie Savano is a 17 year old orphan who is a Junior F.B.I agent of Native American origin from the twenty-first century. She has been deported to London because she messed up an F.B.I mission in a high school and has been ordered to help Agent Orange monitor a top secret W.A.R.P (Witness Anonymous Relocation Program) (hiding witnesses in the past to protect the future.)Pod.

Chevie is monitoring the warp pod when suddenly electric blue sparks fly and the computer control panels go crazy like in some cheesy 1980s movie, but this is real. The shock is like a mini earthquake and the pod is using so much energy it causes half of London to fall into darkness and all of London’s finest racing down the street sirens blaring. Then the man appears in the pod. Soon after Agent Orange and a fully armed specially trained Hazmat team go back in time on the pod to clear up any evidence that the dead man lived there. But what they do not know is that Garrick is waiting for them. When they arrive in 1898 Garrick quickly and brutally dispatches them despite only being armed with a knife. Somehow Garrick manages to go forward in time where he hunts down Riley and Chevie. He chases them through modern London and Victorian London desperate to kill them. Chevie and Riley know that if they do not manage to kill Garrick he will kill them and be armed with twenty-first century knowledge in the nineteenth century that could change the course of history forever!!!

I really enjoyed this book.  Like most books it starts off quite boring but quickly escalates into an action packed thriller. You can feel how terrified Riley is of Garrick. This book is a great read especially if you like action and Sci-fi. I would recommend it for people ages 12+ as the plot would be a bit confusing at times for younger and unconfident readers but for confident readers it is a great book. Eoin Colfer is one of my favourite writers and never fails to impress, this book was no exception. It was an amazing book.

Reviewed by Matthew Fitzsimons age 13

W.A.R.P The Reluctant Assassin is published by Puffin Books

Thursday, 19 September 2013

" Kiss Me First " by Lottie Moggach

I first heard of this book earlier in the year via a Facebook Trailer and was very impressed with the concept. 
A lot is mentioned of online hacking and how someone can access all your personal details with a click of a button and be able to assume your identity.  This book explores the concept further by introducing us to Tess, a young woman who actually wants someone to take over her online life.  She wants to disappear, but without anyone noticing that she has actually gone.  
The idea of a person ,who has a large group of friends and family, actually not being missed seems a bit unrealistic at first.  Then the book grabs you by the scruff of the neck and drags you along this weird and wonderful tale of Leila, who is responsible for Tess's online presence.  She keeps up the Facebook status updates, uploads photos, writes emails and leaves voicemails so that no one knows Tess is gone. All goes fairly smooth to start with, but then the story takes a twist when Leila starts to chat to a former love of Tess.... 

There is so much going on in this book that I would not recommend you make any plans for the day or two that you are reading it!  You may just become hooked by page 1 and begin to look at your own online activity in a whole new way.

It's a dark and mysterious read but with a twist of modern day issues that could easily be happening in any town, in any country, at any time.  

Lottie Moggach has written a debut novel with sharp and clever ideas and highly unusual characters. Hopefully, this is the first of many. 

Kiss Me First is published by Picador

Sunday, 15 September 2013

" I Came To Say Goodbye " by Caroline Overington

I received a copy of this from the publishers for review purposes.....

Caroline Overington is an Australian author who has worked as a journalist on a daily newspaper covering child murder and neglect cases for over seven years.
I have never read any of this authors work and did not know what to expect.   The cover reminded me of those terrible "true life" books that insist on clogging bookshelves and hogging bestseller lists despite the appalling writing.  Luckily, a quick read of the blurb on the back cover made up for the front....

" It was a crime that shocked the world.
The CCTV footage shows a young woman pushing through the hospital doors.
She walks into the nursery, picks up a baby and places her carefully in a shopping bag. "

This is the story of what led up to that moment.

Fat Atley is a young woman with lots of problems. A mother who left her when she was a baby, a below average intelligence, an unstructured family life and a dead-beat boyfriend who may or may not have shaken their baby, almost to death.  Then, when the State are called in, things just go from bad to worse.
You would think that Government officials, worldwide, would be equipped to deal with the most difficult cases of child abuse and of guiding and helping the parents with the aim of reuniting these families.  From reading this, you will learn that it not always the case.  Paperwork, inadequate facilities and overworked social workers and case workers can be the cause of many of the "fell through the crack" cases we read about in newspapers or see on television.
In this novel, we see the whole situation play out from all sides of the family but not from the side of the government officials.  This may seem a bit biased but from experience ( I am a foster carer), I can tell you that you rarely get all the information from officials and they will stick to their State guidelines even if it makes no sense in some cases.

Further into the book, the reader is left dumbfounded by some of the actions of officials, as they try to remove a child from the hospital while it is only minutes old.  This is the beginning of yet another slippery slope to disaster and one that is caused by overzealous social workers who are clearly not allowed any kind of scope for individual cases to be treated as such.

Although the style of writing is a bit rough, as written in letter form , from the family members involved, and perhaps there is a little too much emphases on Fat Atley's Father, it is essential to know how this poor girl became the woman she became.  Had the system not let her so badly down earlier, the tragedies may never have happened.  Unfortunately, this is the way of the world we live in.

This book actually brought tears to my eyes, which is very rare, and should not be dismissed as another
book about abused children, their horrible parents and how the children are so much better in care.  This novel is so much more than that.  It is a study of one family, how they tried to cope without a mother around, and how the system let them down, in more ways than one.

I really look forward to reading more of Caroline Overington's work and hope people don't always judge a book by it's cover.

This title will be released on September 26th 2013

Thursday, 12 September 2013

" Small As An Elephant " by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

I stumbled across the book while searching for something to read and review that was not on everyone's blogs already.  Although it is technically a children's book , I was drawn to it by the blurb on the back and the wonderful cover.

Jack is 11 years old and is on a trip with his Mother along the coast of Maine, USA.  When he wakes up the day after they arrive at a camping ground, their rental car is gone, and so is his Mother.  This is not the first time she has left him alone, as we find out,  as she suffers from Manic Depression ( Jack describes this as when his Mom " Goes spinning " ).
However, this time is different, as he is alone in a new State, has no money, food or change of clothes.  All he knows is that he cannot be found or DSS will take him away from his Mom and may place him in Foster Care or with his Grandmother who,  he has been told , not very nice.

This fantastic little book takes the reader on a rollercoaster ride along with Jack, we feel his pain, sorrow, fear and hunger.  The descriptions are genuine, well worded and suitable for children for adults.  It is also the story of how mental illness can affect the sufferer's family as well as themselves.  Most importantly, it is the story of a boy's love for his Mother and how he can face anything life throws at him if it means they can stay together.

As a Foster Carer myself, I could empathize with Jack and recognized some of his insecurities within himself while portraying an outward confidence.  His love of elephants comes from a very happy memory and he clings to this like a lifeline.  Random facts about elephants are peppered through the book and make it more obvious how import his hobby is to him.

As with " The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas " this book is suitable for both adults and kids and I hope it becomes a fixture on many, many bookshelves worldwide.

Small As An Elephant is available on Kindle and in book format from Amazon, The Book Depository and many more good book sellers.
It is published by Candlewick Press.

" The Snow Bear " by Holly Webb

Thanks to Ruth Fitzsimons for the lovely review of Holly Webb's " The Snow Bear ". 

This Book is about Sara and her Snow Bear, and their adventures in the Artic.
Sarah and her Grandad build an igloo and a Snow Bear and that night she falls asleep in the igloo.  The next day Sara and the Bear set off on an exciting journey to find Snow Bear's Mam.

I really enjoyed this book and it was very hard to put it down.  I also learned a lot about the Inuit families.
I think it would be suitable for children aged 7-9 years and I would recommend it to my friends.

Ruth, age 8.

" The House " by A. O'Connor

I came across this book as part of Eason's 3 for 2 offer recently and although I had not heard anything of it,the cover called out to me.  The tag line says " Downton fans, you'll love this " - Irish Independent.

The book is split into three sections ; 1840's, 1910's and present day.
The first section is based around the building of the house by Lord Edward Armstrong for his new bride, Anna.  When Anna fails to produce an heir to the family's fortune, and title she takes matters into her own hands.
The second part skips through time and introduces Clara, another new bride, but one who is lonely, bullied and mostly alone. When the First World War starts, she struggles with her loyalty to the Armstrongs and the world she is part of.
The final chapters see The House unlived in for over 90 years and up for auction.
Will someone see the history contained in it's walls and appreciate its beauty?

Although I really enjoyed the first section of this book, with the descriptions of the house and its residents, the story then began to feel rushed, and Irish history was dashed through with very little mention of how the people of Ireland found themselves in the depths of despair during the famine years and after.  I think if you were not an Irish reader and not well read in Irish History, you would find it hard to follow the mood of the book.  
I also thought that the character of Prudence, Clara's sister in law, to be similar to Mrs Danvers from Rebecca Du Maurier's Rebecca.  The scheming and cruelty of this woman was all too familiar but nowhere near as hateful as Danvers.

O'Connor's book is a little over 500 pages long and was an easy read, nice short chapters and light , and as the tag line suggests, fans of Downton Abbey may enjoy the fast paced, soap opera style storylines.

I would have preferred more focus on the house itself and its layout, staff and atmosphere and perhaps more research into the feelings of Ireland as a whole during the relevant periods.

A special mention to Poolbeg for a really beautiful book cover though!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

" Longbourn " by Jo Baker

As a huge Pride and Prejudice fan, I could not wait to get my hands on a copy of this book.  This is the story of the servants who worked at Longbourn, the Bennet household and delves into their lives and how the comings and goings, of which we read of in Austen's novel, impacted on their lives.

Georgian England has become a fascination again thanks, in part, to Downton Abbey.  Unlike other period television shows, Downton showed us both worlds living under the one roof.  The Masters and Ladies of the house on the main floors and the servants down below.  It was inevitable that an author would ride this wave and produce a work which would aim to tell the popular Austen story from another angle.  I am just glad it was Jo Baker that did it.  Her own family worked in service two generations ago and she obviously put in a huge amount of research but with sensitivity.  The result is a wonderfully written account of the servants which I didn't want to end.

The original characters from Pride & Prejudice are all touched upon ; The Bennets, The Bingleys, Mr. Collins, Wickham etc, but from a different angle which at times gives them more depth.
Mr. Collins especially.  While in the original book he was bumbling and pitiful, in this telling he is given more insight and understanding.  The reader is also made aware of how different the story could have become had he considered Mary Bennet , the middle daughter, as a wife.
He enjoys chatting with Sarah, the housemaid, and treats her with more respect than she expects, asking her opinions and praising her for work well done.  He also trusts her with nuggets of his own opinions.
When speaking of the Bennet girls with Sarah he says.....
"It turns out that they have nothing to do in the kitchen, which is something of a concern, and a surprise, if I may say so; but I think they must have some responsibilities about the house, some actual work to do. A family of this size, with Mr. Bennet's income, I don't see how they could all be idle.  Or, indeed, what good it would do, to bring up a child to be of no practical use to herself or anybody else."

The everyday duties of Sarah and her young assistant, Polly, are harsh.  The constant washing of linens and clothes with cracked, damaged hands; the scrubbing of floors with old tea leaves, the slaughtering of animals to produce food and soap; and the emptying of chamber pots, which can vary in degrees of content.
This is all expected of a housemaid and they are still grateful to be in employment, with a roof over their head.

The chapters flow along, introducing more characters and more tales, past and present, of the servants and their lives.  They rarely complain or wish for a better life and sometimes even pity the Bennet girls and their organised lives, yet sometimes dream of it ....
"Sarah wondered what it could be like, to live like this - life as a country dance, where everything is lovely, and graceful, and ordered, and every single turn in preordained and not a foot may be set outside the measure. Not like Sarah's own out-in-all-weathers haul and trudge, the wind howling and blustery, the creeping flowers in the hedgerows, the sudden sunshine."

Mr and Mrs Hill, the Butler and Housekeeper have their own story to tell, as do Polly and James, the new footman. All the visitors, family and friends, to Longbourn have no interest in these people, or their stories, as they are in a cocoon of wealth and tradition. The reader, on the otherhand, becomes part of their little world below the stairs of Longbourne, and feels the cold on their fingers along with them, or smells the baking from the kitchen.  Most importantly, the reader cares what happens to them.  This is a sign of a writer who also cared, and who wants these peoples voices heard.

A wonderful book, written with warmth, caring and an obvious love for the hard working people of Georgian England.

Cannot recommend enough.........

Longbourn is available from Doubleday Books from 15 Aug 2013

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

" The Last Goodbye " by Caroline Finnerty

I received a copy of this as a gift from a wonderful friend who even got the author to write a beautiful note inside for me.  A fantastic gift!

Not only was I excited to read and review an Irish author I had not come across before, the cover of this book made me want to read it even more.  Having lost my Mother, I  knew it might be a difficult read but hoped it would be would be worth it.  It didn't disappoint.

Kate is pregnant with her first child and her partner, Ben finally persuades her to return to Ireland for a visit before the baby is born. She has avoided contact with her family for years and is still not convinced it is the right thing to do.  When she arrives back at her family home, things are as tough as she expected and she retreats even further into herself, while managing to create even more tension than before.
When her Father hands her a letter, written years ago by her Mother, Kate is unsure whether opening it will make things better or worse for her.  

Meanwhile, the book flashes back to the 1990s when Kate was a teenager and was beginning to rebel against the constraints of living in a rural village and constantly fighting with her mother, Eva.  We also learn why she ran away to London the minute she had completed her Leaving Cert Exams and had no intention of ever returning.

While I found the first part a little slow paced, and the character of Kate a bit shallow and unforgiving, I am really glad I stuck with it as things really take off with the introduction of Eva, Kate's Mother, in the 1990s section of the book.  I found her to be a nice, gentle character with lots of conflicting emotions and I could feel her pain in more ways than one.

Caroline Finnerty has written a sweet, moving and thoughtful novel and it would be perfect for fans of Jodi Picoult and Diane Chamberlain.  
I look forward to getting my hands on a copy of her first novel " In A Moment " and to seeing more of her future books on shelves in bookshops everywhere.

" The Last Goodbye " is published by Poolbeg and is available online and in all good bookshops.

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