Monday, 24 November 2014

"If You Were Me" by Sheila O'Flanagan. Guest review & Giveaway!

Thanks to for sending the review and giveaway copies... Enter via Rafflecopter link below. This is a hardback 1st edition of this title!! Open INT.

Review by Meabh Nic Raghnaill.

You're engaged to a good-looking, successful man who adores you. You're on a countdown to the wedding day. Your family and friends are delighted, and excited.
You've long ago stopped thinking about your first love. The boy you never kissed. Even though he stole you heart and disappeared. You've grown up since then. You've put the past behind you. Love is more than a racing pulse and reckless passion.
But what happens if, even for a moment, that's what you feel?
Carlotta O'Keefe is about to - and soon she'll be facing the biggest decision of her life.

This is the first novel by Sheila O'Flanagan that I have read and I found it a light-hearted, enjoyable read. It is a real "what if" book which I'm sure the majority of women can identify with. What if I'd kissed that boy all those years ago? What if we hadn't lost touch? No matter how successful and happy a person is, everybody has a "what if?" I really connected with this book as it made me think of my own what ifs and remember things I had thought long forgotten.

I really enjoyed the descriptions of the different locations throughout the book especially the Spanish locations. At points I could almost imagine myself in Seville sipping sangria and eating tapas. The Spanish influence is felt throughout the book with each chapter title being a song title in Spanish. I didn't go so far as searching for these songs but I think it's a great idea to supply a soundtrack and if I ever reread this book I will be playing them to see how (and if) they compliment the story.

I found the characters realistic in that they were all flawed to some extent. Carlotta in particular I wanted to kick at multiple points as I found her incredibly irritating with her indecisiveness. I found it a bit incongruous that a very successful woman would dither so much. At the same time, this did make her more lifelike which is a good thing so even though I didn't like the main character, the characters are well represented. Also, who doesn't like a character like Luke - handsome, kind, generous with a hint of bad boy mystery!

If You Were Me is a well-written and enjoyable novel. It is quite predictable but there are enough little complications and twists to keep it interesting and the characters are well portrayed... I think my favourite is Chris's mother with her snide comments. I'd recommend this to anybody who wants a light read on a rainy Sunday curled up by the fireplace.
My rating:3.5/5

If You Were Me is published by Headline Review and is available in Hardback and ebook format.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Sunday, 23 November 2014

Martine Madden, author of "Anyush", visits Bleach House Library....

Now and again, you stumble across a book that touches you, and may stay hovering in your thoughts, long after you’ve finished it.  While I could safely go through hundreds of book per year, there are usually less than a dozen that I would re-read, buy as presents or continuously recommend via social media.
Occasionally, these books are by virtually unknown authors, smaller publishing houses or can even be self-published titles.  When I read a review online, or from a trusted publication, I can usually spot the hidden gems among the more publicised books and add the book to my immense wish list.  Sometimes, I will just pick up a book as the blurb or cover appeals to me at first glance.  This was the case with Anyush, by Martine Madden.
A debut author, from the midlands, Martine has written a story, based on fact, which looks at the effects of Armenian Genocide in Turkey and blends many threads together; love, trust, hate, anger and grief.  All culminating in a work of fiction that is truly memorable.

I couldn’t wait to meet this author and emailed her publisher, Brandon Press, to arrange an interview at Bleach House.  Martine squeezed this in on a hectic literary weekend and I got to host herself and her husband, John, on a miserable rainy night.  However, rotten weather aside, Martine graciously agreed to be grilled by myself and some bookclub members.  The fire was blazing, the table was loaded with food, and the wine was waiting on the sideboard.   I had so many questions and got stuck in straight away, asking about how the idea for Anyush came about?

“As many of these things happen, it was totally by chance. I set out to write a short story about our couple of years in the Middle East and remembered a conversation I’d had with two Lebanese Armenian friends who had worked there with me. They’d mentioned something about the Armenian Genocide and I decided to find out what exactly they had been talking about. Googling it, I came across the photographs taken during the genocide by a young German soldier called Armin Wegner, and to say they were heartrending is a gross understatement. Photographs of dead mothers and children, people starved to death or beaten, others marching in a grim line until they fell down from exposure, hunger and exhaustion. Pictures of women crucified, decapitated bodies and horrors so unthinkable as to seem unreal. My eye fell on the most sobering statistic of the Armenian Genocide – 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children killed in this way. A shattering statistic, and one people on this side of the globe seemed to know little about. I ditched the idea of writing a short story and (naively) decided to write about the Armenian Genocide instead.”

This challenging topic could not have been easy to research, especially from rural Ireland so I asked Martine how did she manage it?  “That came about through many different channels. The internet, of course, is an invaluable tool, and the Armenian National Institute has an extremely comprehensive website. I also read Orhan Pamuk’s biography to get a sense of the city of Constantinople (Istanbul), Robert Fisk’s The Great War For Civilisation which has an excellent chapter on the genocide, Simon Payaslian’s The History of Armenia, Alice Riggs Sheppard’s ‘The Sheppard of Aintab’ about her father, Fred Sheppard, a missionary doctor in Turkey during the First World War, and Vasily Grossman’s An Armenian Sketchbook.  Also I was lucky enough to come across an article written by a journalist for National Geographic in 1903 about the year he spent living in Constantinople. But basically I became a magpie, and any mention of Armenia or Armenians was fanatically pounced on”. 

Each author has their own writing process and each has something to teach us, in their own way.  I love hearing about their routines, approaches and tips, so as we nibbled on some mango and chilli cheese (divine) I asked Martine how she approaches it, being a busy Mum, like myself?  “I’m usually at my laptop by 9 or 9.30 and keep researching or writing until lunchtime. I take an hour’s break and then continue until 5. Only of course when other commitments leave me free. That schedule is sometimes aspirational!” 

      Husband, John, is loving the interest surrounding Anyush and was more than happy to tell us about reading the early drafts of the book.  Martine says he “read the first drafts, although probably never in sequence. A very close friend, one of the few people who knew I was trying to write this book, read the earliest complete draft and God Bless her, never discouraged me, despite the awful drivel she had to read.”   This friend ended up being a good luck charm as she had a special interest in the book’s subject.  She also, inadvertently helped the publishing deal with Brandon/O’Brien Press.  “That friend I mentioned works for the Trinity Foundation with a woman called Zhanna O’ Clery. Zhanna is a philologist, so has a huge interest in the written word, but by a remarkable coincidence she’s also a Russian Armenian. Added to this she’s married to Conor O’ Clery, the retired foreign correspondent with the Irish Times. My friend passed the manuscript to Zhanna who in turn passed it on to Conor, who really liked the story. He then sent it to Michael O’ Brien of The O’Brien Press and Michael made me an offer to publish. Sounds easy, I know, but it took eight years to get there.”

     The food was dwindling and the night was coming to the end, but I had to ask……What can we expect next?  More historical fiction perhaps?  “Yes. I’ve started the second book, which is linked to the first, but you don’t have to read Anyush to read this one. It’s set in India in 1905 and is told from the perspective of an English governess and an Indian boy. Lots of wonderful research!”
     Music to my ears, as this character is briefly mentioned in Anyush, and I had wondered what her story was.   The Empire, India, England and the early twentieth century, who wouldn’t be excited about book two?

You can read my review of Anyush here....and you can order your copy from amazon link below or get from any good bookshop.  You would be mad NOT to!!!

"Knightmare - Damsel Disaster!" by Peter Bently. Reviewed by Nicky, aged 9.

Thanks to Stripes Publishing for supplying a review copy, in return for an honest review...

Review by Nicky Roe, aged 9.

This book is about a young man called Cedric who works for sir Percy, a rather stupid knight in shining armour.  Cedric is Percy's best friend.  So when a super rich princess that Percy bumped into is looking for the right husband, Percy comes up with a crazy plan to get the princess to choose him.  How will it all go down?  Who will the princess choose?  Find out in Knightmare - Damsel Distaster! 

Damsel Disaster is book three of the Knightmare series.  My favourite character is Cedric.  The book is like a sneak peek of his diary.  I thought this book was very funny.  Sir Percy is Cedric's master so he must do whatever the master wants, even if it involves crazy schemes like dressing up princesses.  I would recommend this book to both boys and girls aged 7 to 10 years old.

This title is published by Stripes Publishing and is available in paperback and ebook format...

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

"Stardust Stables:Free Spirit" by Sable Hamilton. Guest Review from Jane Roe, aged 11.

We received a review copy of this book from the publisher...


The book is about Kellie, a happy-go-lucky stunt double, who works at Stardust Stables during the summer.  Stardust is a riding Stables for talented stunt doubles who work with horses only.  

Kelly and her beautiful horse, Dylan, get a job in a new movie.  Kellie gets to meet and work with Jemma Scott, the lead actress and they become great friends.  But when Jemma falls ill, can Kellie step in and wow the director to save the film, and do all the dangerous stunts?  Kellie has never done acting before...

Free Spirit is part of the Stardust Stables series.  It is a great book.  It's a combination of horseriding and acting and I love both of them.  Sable Hamilton is a brilliant author and I can't wait to read more of her books.  My favourite character was Kellie because she is like me.  Dylan, Kellie's horse, sounds like a great horse and I wish he was real so I could meet him.
I recommend this book to girls aged 9+.

Stardust Stables is published by Stripes Publishing and is available in paperback.
Stardust Stables is published by Stripes Publishing and is available in paperback

Monday, 17 November 2014

"As Good As It Gets" by Fiona Gibson.

I received an advance reading copy of this title, from, in return for an honest review.

Not quite forty, but feeling it, Charlotte is trailing her sixteen year old daughter, Rosie around the shops.  Always a few feet behind, as having her Mum walking alongside her would not be cool, Rosie is scouted by a modelling agency in Forever 21.  The teenager has visions of trips to Paris fashion week, and large pay packets, before she has even got home.  Charlotte is excited for her, but dreads telling her husband.  She foresees trouble in the camp.  

Charlotte has been happily married for years, and along with Rosie (who's biological dad is not in the picture), has an eleven year old son.  Her recently unemployed husband is withdrawn, her son is a highly intelligent character and Rosie is caught between childhood and wanting to be grown up and independent.  If all this wasn't bad enough, an email from Charlotte's Ex adds a twist to the tale.

It has been a while since I have read any of Fiona Gibson's work, but she still occupies a lot of shelf space in my library.  I have great memories of her column in More! magazine (can I call it a column to avoid discussing it in detail) and even recall her Jackie and Just Seventeen days.  Between these magazines and Smash Hits, there are great chunks of my adolescence....Those were the days. No mobile phones, waiting for the landline on the hall table to ring, or a letter to arrive.  The free lip- gloss and the pull-out posters.  What I loved about the book was how it showed that us, children of the 80s,  are all aging together.  I also have a sixteen year old and while she doesn't mind shopping with me, she has been known to suggest I put on some make-up before we leave the house.  I actually burst out laughing at Charlotte's reaction to the maze that is Forever 21.  A vast superstore for young adults, usually set over three or four stories, with staff who have brightly coloured hair and numerous body piercings or tattoos (displayed with over-tanned flat stomachs also on show), who always seem to be looking at the over 35s with pity.  I may have even snorted a little when Charlotte buys her son a blue sweatshirt, instead of black one, from Hollister as she couldn't see in the darkness of the shop.  I have often thought that shoppers should be issued with mining helmets as they enter the store!

The comedy element remains throughout but less so as the story of Rosie's birth dad surfaces and Charlotte tried to gain some momentum in her marriage.  The supporting characters are fantastic, with Charlotte's workmates adding some real zest.  I loved her bosses emails to his work force and could almost picture the grimace on Charlotte's face as she opens them.   I could go on to mention more great personalities, a great tin foil story and a handful of birdseed, but, hey...... why ruin your enjoyment? 

I would definitely recommend this to lovers of women's fiction, mother's of teenage girls and daughter-in-laws who have learned to keep their mouths shut over the years.  Who? Moi?  Ideal for fans of Sophie Kinsella, Jenny Colgan and early Marian Keyes.

As Good As It Gets is published by Avon on 29th Jan 2015 and can pre-ordered in paperback or ebook format...

"The Songbird's Way" by Jennifer Barrett. Review and two amazing giveaway packs. Open INT.

Chrissie is at a crossroads.  It's her thirtieth birthday, her partner has organised the most amazing party for her and she is surrounded by well wishers.  Why then, is she feeling a niggling sensation?  She is loved, cared for and supported by Tim.  Why does she feel the weight of the world on her shoulders?  Can her desire to travel be to blame?  Can she see a future without addressing her past?

This book is split into three parts.  The first looks at Chrissie's early life.  The daughter of a bohemian couple, she had an unusual upbringing, but one which leaves her with a love of music and travel.  Her mother's bike is lovingly used for many a road trip and becomes an integral part of Chrissie's world. 
The second part brings the reader up to date and shows where Chrissie stands in the present time.  Her memories still play a part in the story and her bond with her father is achingly obvious.  The final part sees the introduction of some new and wonderful characters and stunning locations.  A small town in Tanzania comes to life, as a love story is re-told.  The sounds of Africa become the soundtrack of the novel, as the author lovingly describes the birds, wildlife and dusty trails.  

This is a novel with a warm, embracing feel about it.  The story may seem average to start with (a young woman, trying to see her future while still unsure of her true role in life), but within a few pages, this ordinary concept becomes extra-ordinary.  It takes on a new meaning and the author brings us on a multi-layered, multi-coloured journey.  There is a constant melodic feel throughout, as Jennifer Barrett blends her love of music and her love of travel together.  The result is a smooth mixture of different cultures and a diverse range of characters.  Many of whom will linger long after the last page is turned.  The writing is tranquil, even and very readable.  In fact, I read the whole thing in one sitting... 

This is Jennifer's second novel.  Her first, Look Into The Eye, is now calling to me!

I was lucky enough to attend the launch of A Songbird's Way last weekend and was given some amazing gifts to giveaway!  There are signed books, along with some bird and music related goodies....

Up for grabs, there are two amazing prize packs.....
Both contain: A signed copy of The Songbird's Way, A birdcage themed necklace, A bird themed bracelet, a musical note pencil & eraser set and a hand carved wooden bird decoration.  Truly stunning gift packs, so appropriate to the novel!  Just enter via Rafflecopter below.  The giveaways are open INT, so best of luck everyone....

The Songbird's Way is published by Poolbeg and is available in paperback and ebook format...

Sunday, 16 November 2014

"A Meditation On Murder" by Robert Thorogood. Guest review from Celeste McCreesh

Guest Review from Celeste McCreesh

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

This story opens on one of the most unspoilt Islands of the Caribbean, Saint-Marie where we meet Aslan Kennedy who is a yoga instructor and self styles Spiritual Guru and owns his own hotel "The Retreat" along with his wife Rianka.  One particular morning, he gets up and goes down to make green tea to bring to the Meditation Space, which he does as normal on a daily basis.  He sees the five guests that are staying in the hotel on the beach and calls out to them to get their attention. It was an hour and a half later that the screaming started and he's been murdered.

We are then introduced to the detectives that are assigned  on the case, Detective Inspector Richard Poole and Detective Sergeant Camille Bordey.  It seems to be an open and shut case as there were five other people who were inside a locked room where Aslan was killed and one of them has already confessed to the murder but are they the murderer?  DI Poole is even convinced that the person whom has confessed to the murder is the one person who couldn't have done it.  Are they covering for someone else?  Is there more to this murder than meets the eye?  As the Detectives delve deeper into the victim and all the suspects pasts and history the truth starts to emerge and  a web of lies seem to be untangled.  DI Poole is adamant that no stone will be left unturned to track down the real killer.

I really enjoyed this book, however I felt that the story did dip a little bit in the middle but once it picked up the pace again I couldn't put it down.  I loved the descriptions of the sandy beaches and the surrounding scenery on the island and I wished that I was there with the heat on my face and looking out and walking on the white sandy beaches instead of looking out at the gloomy weather we've been having here in Ireland.  I thought I'd a fair idea of who the killer was but didn't work out who it was until the very end but I had suspected about three characters throughout the story.  It is the first book I've read by the author Robert Thorogood & I would definitely read more of his work.   I only realised that this book is based on the Death in Paradise TV Series.  If you're looking for a good classic crime or murder/mystery then I would recommend that you curl up on the couch and sink into this clever whodunit story.

Although this hasn't been published yet, to be honest I didn't particularly like the cover at all, it's not a cover that's intriguing or would make me want to pick it up and read it. Other than the fact that I now know who the author is and what he's done,( i.e. been the creator of the hit BBC1 TV series Death in Paradise), I'd walk past it in a bookshop and it would be a case of judging a book by it's cover on this occasion.

Thank you to Harlequin (UK) Ltd via Margaret Madden for allowing me to read and review an ARC of this book. This book will available on Kindle and in all good bookstores and will be published on the 2nd January 2015.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

"The Brave Kitten" by Holly Webb. Guest review from Kate Roe, aged 7.

Guest review from Kate Roe, aged 7.

This story is about a young girl called Helena who helps out at the local vet surgery where her older cousin, Lucy works.  On the way to the surgery one day, they find an injured kitten under a car.  They feel sorry for the kitten and take him straight to the clinic.  Helena loves this cat and takes care of him as longs as he's at the surgery.  There he is operated on and gets a cast.  Caramel (as Helena calls him) has no chip or collar.  He has nobody to claim him.  He's homeless.  Caramel is fed up of being stuck in the clinic!  Will anyone give this poor kitten a home?  Who will claim him?  Find out in The Brave Kitten.

The Brave Kitten is a lovely story about a girl and a cute little cat called Caramel.  Helena ia my favourite character because she is so kind to Caramel after his injury.  I am a cat lover so this book really suits me.  I think Holly Webb is a great writer and I would love to read more of her animal books.  

I would recommend this book to 7 to 10 year old girls.

The Brave Kitten is published by Stripes Publishing and is available in paperback.

Friday, 14 November 2014

"Earth Angels Are Everywhere - Are You One? Poems and guidance for an Earth Angel" by Dolores Keaveney

Guest review from Ruth Dunne

This short book contains poems, quotations and short reflections celebrating the everyday acts of kindness and thoughtfulness which ordinary people perform every day.

It encourages us to carry out similar acts ourselves and to be aware of the benefits which simple acts of generosity can bestow others, particularly those who may be struggling in their own lives.

The book is probably best used as a source of inspiration or quiet reflection to be dipped into from time to time.  It could also be useful as a resource for primary and secondary school teachers for SPHE and religious education and provoking discussion or providing a starting point for prayer or meditation groups.

Earth Angels are everywhere; are you one?The book looks at the small kind acts of everyday life and the thoughtful moments that make a difference. It highlights man's humanity to man and poses the question. Do you make a difference?

A percentage of the proceeds of this book will go to Plan Ireland, a Children's Charity whose Patron is John Hume. I am a long time sponsor with Plan Ireland and if you purchase this book you will be helping to save children in the developing world.

"The touching artwork and simple yet profound message of this book help me to step back from the world of deadlines and responsibilities. To sit once again in the heart; pondering the magic of possibility.  Bring on the Earth Angels, they are needed now." LUCINDA DRAYTON, Spiritual Singer/Songwriter. 

Earth Angels Are Everywhere is available in paperback format and can be ordered via the author's website  or from Amazon.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

"SeaRISE: The SeaBEAN Trilogy Book 3 by Sarah Holding. Review by Mia, aged 11.

We received an ARC of this title, from the author, in return for an honest review...
Review by Mia Madden, aged 11.

This is the third, and final installment in the SeaBEAN Trilogy. *Sad Face*.

I this book, it is 2018 and the C-Bean (a time-travel machine) is about to be taken away for a tune-up.  Alice and friends decide to have a sleepover beforehand but, when it turns midnight, the gang get taken to 2118 by a guy called Commander Hadron.  
They see the St. Kilda as a very diffferent place, in the future, and it is not good.  Half of it is underwater, the sky is weird shade of green and the kids even have problems breathing.

Alice is trying to get everyone back to 2018.  A new friend from the future is introduced, Rudy, a fourteen year old boy, who joins in the adventures.

SeaRISE is another wonderful installment which teaches us to look after the world we live in.  This means travelling forward in time as well as backwards.  Although this sounds very confusing, it's not when you are reading it.  

I am going to miss Alice a lot.  I will have to find a new amazing book series to keep me occupied now.  I really hope to visit St. Kilda one day, myself.  I will really miss all the adventures involving the C-Bean but who knows, maybe someday in the future, a magical box will appear in my garden!

I would like to thank the author, Sarah Holding, for letting me read her awesome books.  I may be her biggest fan and will continue to spread the word about the SeaBean Trilogy.  She kindly invited me to her launch party in London, but I can't make it over the sea this time.  I certainly hope we get to meet sometime in the future (but not TOO far into the future)!

Recommended for age 9+

SeaRISE is published by Medina Publishing on the 27th Nov 2014 in paperback and ebook format#

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

"The Burning Room" by Michael Connelly. Guest review from Declan Madden

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

The Burning Room is the latest novel in the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly . In this outing Harry is part of the new Open-Unsolved unit of Robbery-Homicide Division in the LAPD . In keeping with the operating procedures of this unit whereby experienced investigators are paired with rookies ,Harry finds himself partnered with Lucy Sato . Harry and Lucy find themselves assigned a real cold case when the victim of a shooting 10 years previously dies as a result of an infection . The only new physical evidence available is a damaged bullet which had lodged close to the victim’s spine and had remained there for 10 years .

Harry does what he does best and starts to pull at the threads in the case to see what unravels and for once seems to have found a kindred spirit in his new partner . Lucy herself has a troubled back story and seems intent on solving another case which Harry reluctantly gets dragged into . Harry is conscious of the fact that he has only 1 year left until he can retire with full benefit so he is trying to toe the line by avoiding any disciplinary issues .

Long time fans will realise that Harry and regulations are strange bedfellows indeed . What follows is a well crafted crime thriller we have come to expect from Connelly and the action rattles along at a pace .

The Harry Bosch series is now over 20 years old and he has become an iconic character in that time . Never afraid to take on the establishment in order to do things his way , Harry has found that the new breed of investigator relies more on technology rather than grunt work to solve cases and he has decided to do what is necessary to see out his final year . It is noticeable that he is a much calmer person in this book and that most of his demons ,of which there were many , have abated .

 I had the pleasure of attending an evening with Michael Connelly last year in Dublin where he was interviewed by fellow author John Connolly . Both admitted that they would have a harder time if their main characters were to be killed off and so I hope to see more of Harry Bosch over the next few years .

A definite must read for all Bosch fans .

The Burning Room is published by Orion Books and is available in Hardback and Ebook format.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

"Despite The Angels" by Madeline Stringer. Guest review by Meabh Nic Raghnaill

Have you ever felt you know someone already, even though you only just met? Maybe you knew them in another life...
Lucy and David, who live in modern Dublin, first knew each other in Ancient Crete. They had a baby girl, but disaster struck, and their guardian angels have been trying to reunite the little family for 4000 years.
Despite the angels' attempts to be understood, humans often do not hear, and unwittingly can waste whole lifetimes...
Now in Dublin things are still not going to plan - Lucy is far too young, and David is marrying someone else.
Angels are optimists, so they are re-organising, but - Humans must listen to their angels.

I will admit to being a bit wary of this book at first as, in general, I don't have much time for stories about guardian angels. I was wrong. Despite the Angels by Madeline A. Stringer was an absolute joy to read. It is well-written and incredibly enjoyable and combines all the elements I look for in a good book - romance, tragedy, humour, suspense and excitement.
From the very first sentence "My name is Jotin and I am exasperated with this "guardian angel" job.", I was intrigued and knew that this book was going to be different to how I had imagined.
The story centres around Lucy, David and their "angels" Jotin and Trynor. The narrative switches point of view between these characters and also switches between eras, as we see Lucy and David (and other more minor characters) in previous incarnations. While in some books too many changes of time, place and point of view could get confusing, Stringer manages it seamlessly and in such a way that it increases empathy for the characters and moves the plot along a good pace.
All the characters are interesting and engaging but my favourites are definitely Jotin and Trynor, the "angels". Their sections of the book were incredibly amusing and I loved how fallible they were. The wearied air about them was interspersed with incredible innocence and misunderstanding, leaving them seeming the most "human" of all the characters at times.
The only minor downside I found in this book was that in the second half it became a little bit repetitive and predictable. This was however, only a very minor flaw in an otherwise witty and engaging book and as such I rate it 4.5/5.  

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The thrill of a thriller. Article from

The Thrill of a Thriller…by Margaret Bonass- Madden

Article by Site Editor © 5 November 2014 .
Posted in the Magazine ( · The Big Idea ).
I can almost pinpoint the day that I fell in love with thrillers. It was a Saturday afternoon and I had just purchased my first Nancy Drew book.   I was about ten years old and had outgrown Enid Blyton. My mother had driven me to the nearest book shop and after much deliberation, it was decided that I was old enough to try a mystery book. Well, I think my mother was sorry she agreed to this, as I became addicted and demanded the full collection. Checking online for the purposes of this article, I discovered that there were actually 175 titles. The first one, The Secret of the Old Clock, was published in 1930 and was followed by 63 more hardbacks. Then the rights were sold on, and the remaining books were published as paperbacks, written by a variety of authors.  It is these versions that I collected and I can still remember the covers, the excitement of getting the next in the series, and the satisfaction when I could solve the mystery before the end of the book.
Nancy Drew was often paired up with The Hardy Boys on bookshelves and I have no doubt that there are many crime thriller readers today who were weaned on the antics of these mystery solvers. While I can’t really remember the plot lines of each book, I do remember being sucked in from the very first chapter and turning the pages with tremendous speed. Nancy seemed so grown-up and glamorous and appeared to gravitate towards excitement. For a pre-teen in Ireland, this was a long way from my world and yet I felt a bond. A bond of sisterhood. A mystery solving bond. I was convinced that I had the skills to become a famous sleuth and that I too could crack the codes of unsolved crimes, all while wearing a well cut dress with appropriate footwear.
It seems I am not alone in my remembrance of the Nancy Drew books – a bit of online sleuthing uncovered a veritable hoard of fans.
claudia-carrollInternational best selling author, Claudia Carroll says “’as a young teen, I actually wanted to be Nancy Drew. For me, she was like a sort of prototype feminist, strong-minded, independent, not to mention super-smart. It’s wonderful to see a whole new generation embrace these books, but then what’s not to love?’”
colette-caddle-2The strong female character is a common memory for many and inspired a whole generation of female writers. Author of fourteen Bestsellers, Colette Caddle was delighted to have a heroine like Nancy Drew to aspire to: “growing up I was always a bit cheesed off that whilst I received dolls and craft sets for Christmas, my brother would get racing cars and Lego… how I adored Lego and would play with it whenever I was allowed. Likewise, when we played games, my big brother was the doctor and I was the nurse; he was the sheriff , I was the deputy… well, you get the idea. I was a ‘girl’ and only good for assisting, not being in charge, perish the thought! An avid reader all my life, was it any wonder I was drawn to the delights of books where girls were strong, clever problem solvers? I loved The Chalet School series but, Nancy Drew was, without doubt, my heroine. Fearless and smart and of course, always successful in solving crimes, how could I not be enchanted? The books were fast-paced with intrigue and action on every page. If you weren’t into playing with dolls, make-up or threading beads, the Nancy Drew series was a revelation. I wasn’t weird or odd after all, I simply had different tastes. Though, even in the eighties, there were still jobs girls weren’t supposed to do, I think we were a much more confident and forceful generation who didn’t accept that we were less intelligent than men. And, perhaps reading books like these allowed us to dream and then chase those dreams. Or maybes I’m just wearing my rose-tinted glasses! Either way, those books gave hours of pleasure. I may just go back and have a little read… for old-time’s sake.”
Claire AllanThe sassy, independent nature of Nancy Drew appealed to many young girls who had been raised on stories where boarding schools and uniforms were the norm. Escapism was sought and solving mysteries was an added bonus. The Secret Seven, The Famous Five and The Hardy Boys were also a popular choice, as Irish Author, Claire Allen recalls, “Nearly every visit to the local library when I was a child was to get a Secret Seven book. I dreamed of their adventures. I wanted in the garden and the picnics and the mystery solving fun they had. It seemed so thrilling – and of course it gave us a sense that children could be powerful, useful and solve mysteries.”
liz_nugent_biog_photo 200pxI was curious to find out if Nancy paid a pivotal role in the writing a thriller today, so asked Liz Nugent, debut author of the Irish Book Awards nominated Unravelling Oliver, if she read the iconic stories? Oh God yes, I devoured those books and the Hardy Boys stories. I just googled them there to remind myself. I guess she was the first really strong female character I read (after Jo in Little Women) that was proactive about her life. A lot of fictional girls in children’s literature spent their time doing embroidery and making sandwiches for their Dads, but Nancy was doing something fearless and a bit dangerous. I wanted to be Nancy. I still do!”
The common thread seems to be that we all admired Nancy for her assertiveness and strong will. It showed us girls that we could be whoever we wanted to be, breaking the traditional mould of housewife and mother. We could even take on the bad guys and win!
hazel_gaynor_bw_copyright_deasy_photographic 140x210New York Times Best Selling Author, Hazel Gaynor, also has fond memories of reading the mysteries as a pre-teen and wonders if they could still be seen in the same light today? “I read the Nancy Drew books when I was about 10, I think – and The Hardy Boys. After the innocent, ginger-beer based escapades of the Famous Five, Nancy Drew really impressed me. She was pretty cool – a proper detective, with attitude. I basically wanted to be her when I grew up! Great books. Not sure how PC they would be today though!”
It seems that the next generation are going to be introduced, via us mystery loving mothers. I have recently purchased the original hardback carmel harringtonversion of The Secret of the Old Clock for my 11 year old daughter Mia,  and Wexford based author, Carmel Harrington has every intention of bring the Nancy Drew titles into her household soon “I think it’s quite possible that I’ve read ALL fifty odd of the Nancy Drew books, as a young child. And I’m quite sure that these mysteries are to blame for my including suspense as subplots in my writing now! I spent many a night reading about Nancy’s adventures, when I should have been fast asleep. I loved getting lost in her world and was by her side every step of the way, as she tried to unjumble clues and interview suspects. All in her brave quest for justice and truth! In truth, when I read those books, I WAS Nancy Drew! I can’t wait to share these books with my own daughter in a few years.”
So, I am not the only one to have fallen under the spell of Nancy Drew. Fast forward many years, and I am still reading mysteries, although the more grown up term is thriller. I have a love of crime thrillers and, even to this day, try to solve the crime before the protagonist. I am often heard mumbling that I could have been a sharp and alert Detective, or a skilled and articulate investigator. Sometimes I even think I could commit the perfect crime. (This one is quiet worrying). These are very sweeping statements, indeed. But after reading 175 Nancy Drew titles, who wouldn’t feel they were ready for the real world?
(c) Margaret Bonass-Madden
Margaret Bonass-Madden is a foster mother, and book-blogger who is currently returning to full time education. Read all about her favourite books here.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

"Hello From The Gillespies" by Monica McInerney

Thanks to Penguin for supplying a review copy of this title...

Angela is getting ready for a new year.  Part of this tradition is sending off her annual 'Hello from The Gillespies' Christmas letter.  Done these days by email, she decides to have a rant as she types, and tell the truth about what has really happened during the year, planning to change back to her normal catch-up letter before sending.   She lets off steam spectacularly, telling it like it is, as a form of release.  She tells of the change in her husband, Nick, how her three girls are not turning out the way she had hoped they would and how her ten year old son still talks to his imaginary friend.  There is a warts and all paragraph on Nick's elderly aunt Celia and how she annoys the living daylights out of her.  There is even a whole section on a secret fantasy world that Angela escapes to every now and then.  All written with the knowledge that it can be deleted.  That is, until Nick sends it to everyone on their mailing list by mistake...

Set in the Australian Outback, Hello from The Gillespies is a story of family and change.  A single moment of honest clarity, albeit unintentional, has caused a ripple effect that is irreversible.  Angela cannot undo the harm she has caused by the hurtful comments of her honest letter, the same as her family cannot help her when she needs them most.

The story takes a turn, halfway through and the change is immediate.  Angela's letter is the crux of the tale for the first half, whereas the family unit is the bones of the second part.  Nick has been given the strong silent type role, while the their three daughters reminded me of King Lear's offspring. Young Ig, their son, is a confused little boy who seem lost at sea and in need of constant reassurance. He devolops nicely throughout the book, though, and is the least annoying of the children.  His bond with his mother becomes very endearing towards the end and balances out his sister's immaturity (despite their age).  

The Outback is lovingly described with stunning visual descriptions of the landscape, wildlife and sense of community.  Flashes of the old TV show The Flying Doctors were coming back to me and the accents of the characters even came to life.  I found the first half of the novel a little dragged out and Angela's moods were on par with her daughters annoying ways.  I felt sorry for Ig and Nick and was beginning to lose interest.  Then the book shifted.  
The family came into their own, the change giving them some breathing space, and a trip to Ireland peppered some flavour on the story.  
Throughout the novel, Monica's writing is wonderful.  Her skill at describing the Australian landscape, and rural way of life, is divine.  It is obvious she enjoyed researching this Outback world and it gave me an insight to a world I know little of.  The sisters were maddening, like teenagers rather than in their thirties, and if I was isolated with them, who knows what I would do to them. Luckily, Angela is blessed with an amazing friend, and neighbour, Joan.  She is there for her, through thick and thin, and shows us the power of friendship.

Monica McInerney has written another great novel.  Although very long, at over 500 pages, it explores the concept of family and the feeling of belonging somewhere.  I may never have been to Australia, but after reading this, I feel as if I have spent a year with the Gillespies and experienced some isolated Outback life.  A feel good read ideal for a week's night time reading by the fire.

Hello from The Gillespies is published by Penguin on the 6th November 2014 in paperback and ebook format

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