Thursday, 30 October 2014

"Mom Made Us Write This In The Summer (Max and Maggie Journal)" by Ali Maier



REVIEW BY MIA MADDEN - AGED 11.

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


This book is journal of 10 year old twins, Maggie and Max and how they spent their summer.  Their Mom made them do it to keep them from fighting with each other,  
They have to choose six topics each and then both have to write all twelve topics in their journal.

For example, Maggie chooses 'The Zoo' and then they both write about what happened there.  This was one off the funniest bits, especially when the Hippo poos!  Max also has an accident with a ball, a slingshot and a garbage disposal unit
.
The twins fight, just like all kids, so that makes the book realistic.

I enjoyed this book, but because I had to read a digital version, it had no pictures and the notes written in the journal entries got a bit confusing.  I had to ignore the smaller font and concentrate on the normal sized writing.  I would really like to see the pictures, especially of the zoo.  I would recommend this for ages 8+


Mom Made Us Write This In The Summer (Max and Maggie Journal) is published by Erie Island Media and is available in paperback





"A Nantucket Christmas" by Nancy Thayer




Thanks to Headline and Bookbridgr.com for supplying a review copy of this title...


The winter season on Nantucket is very different to the busy summer time.  The summer crowds have returned to the mainland, the sun has tucked itself away and the storms are brewing.  The rental houses empty out and the year-round residents get ready for their Christmas visit from Santa and MrsClaus, who each year, arrive by ferry with great excitement from the islanders.  
This year is going to be different for Nicole.  Recently married to Sebastian,  she is about to host her first Christmas on Nantucket with Sebastian's pregnant daughter, Kennedy, and her family, who are coming to stay for a week.  A new family,including a less than welcoming step daughter, may not make for the merriest Christmas.

The book starts with the change of season on Nantucket and Nancy Thayer describes the closing up of the summer houses, the abandoning of 'extras' and the onset of winter.  Nantucket is always portrayed as a playground for the wealthy and the usual beach scenes with bobbing yachts in the background are par for the course.  This short novel is a different approach and is a refreshing look at the island, still from the angle of the wealthy residents, but a change all the same.

Kennedy is one of the most annoying, selfish, self-centered adult I have come across in fiction.  A wife and mother, without a worry in the world, she spends her time being vicious, nasty and hurtful to her father's new wife.  She thinks she can persuade him to get back with her mother (who is also a nasty piece of work) and never considers that her father may actually be happy.  Sebastian sees his daughter through rose tinted glasses and rarely protects Nicole from his daughter's vile attitude.  All through this, Nicole cooks up a storm for her guests, bends over backwards to facilitate them and gets no praise.   

The story is sweet, the island sounding wonderful, as usual, and the Christmas feeling takes over at times.  Kennedy's darkness is pushed to the side, luckily, by the amazing food that Nicole rustles up. Warning: You will crave food while reading this book!

A light, if unrealistic, short book.  Perfect for a pre-Christmas atmospheric read and will make you grateful for the family you have.  Another look at how money cannot buy you class, or nice manners.

A Nantucket Christmas is published by Headline Review and is available in paperback or ebook format.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

"Coming Home To You" by Liesel Schmidt



Thanks to netgalley.com and CarinaUK for the review copy of this title...


When you find the man of your dreams in your early twenties, you are one of the lucky ones.  A whole life ahead of you.  Getting married, buying your first home, having children and basically doing everything as a couple.  No more nights alone on the sofa or heading to the movies on your own.  An end to the dreaded match-making efforts of well intentioned friends and colleagues. 
For Zoe, she was lucky enough to meet her ideal mate, Paul.  But his sudden death means she is facing the world alone again.  A year later,  she decides to move out of their apartment and begin to live again.  With her best friend Kate by her side, she takes the tentative steps on this forward journey.  This includes house sitting for a posted Marine,  and as she pours her heart out to him by journal and email, the whole experience strengthens her wounded heart.


The concept of this debut novel was wonderful.  I have read quite a few books featuring the younger, recently bereaved, protagonist.  The conversing by email and keeping of a journal appealed to me as it sounded like the kind of thing I would do.  The idea had similarities to Holly Martin's wonderful novel, The Guestbook.  That was the only similarity though.

The grieving process is glossed over as the reader is brought into the story around the one year anniversary of Pauls death.  She has been alone all this time and now, all of a sudden, she is reunited with her best friend, becomes very close with the local coffee shop owner and is moving house and quitting her job.  The dating scene brings out Zoe's personality and, I have to say, I didn't like it.  She was very judgmental about her date.  Too good looking, clothes too expensive, the restaurant was too flashy and she didn't understand the menu.  She runs to hide in the ladies room before even getting to talk to him that much, considers abandoning him because she thinks he is too sure of himself. (He told her he graduated first in his class in Med School -That's a problem, why??). I actually felt sorry for the man who was stuck with a dinner guest who is content to eat salad rather than ask what the items on the menu are in English.   Maybe the fact that she is 25 and he is 35 shows how maturity should always be considered when choosing a potential partner.

Then there is the fact that she stumbles across a property for sale and feels fate has picked it for her.  Of course, the owner not only gives it to her for the paltry sum of $250 but then offers to do it up for her too, as it he is a contractor.  She picks one of the worlds most bizarre business ideas for her new shop and yet never seems to work in it.

There was also a cringe worthy encounter with an Italian carpet fitter where the author used every cliche in the book to describe the poor man.  Slagging off his Mama and her cooking is not my idea of comedy.

I really wanted to like this book.  The idea was very clever, but the bringing together of the concept just didn't work for me.  It could be my age.  I am not put off by a well educated and well dressed man who tries to impress dates by taking them to the best restaurant in town.  I would not ask a man, away from home, serving his country "Where are your parents? Are they alive? Do they stay in contact with you?".  Zoe was annoying, needy and clingy.  More like a teenager than a girl in her mid-twenties.  Again, this could be my perspective, from a woman in her early forties.  Hopefully the authors next book will show a more level headed lead character, or at least a bit more realism.

I would say this title is more suited to the New Adult market and may appeal more to this age bracket.

Coming Home To You is published by Carina and is available as an ebook.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

"If I knew you were going to be this beautiful I never would have let you go" by Judy Chicurel



I received a copy of this novel, from the publishers, in return for an honest review...

1972. A fictional island near Manhattan.  A summer of sex, drugs and not so much rock and roll.  A summer of unwanted pregnancies, tripping on a variety of pills and hanging out on street corners.  Not a glamorous life for teenager, Kate, but the only life she knows.  Along with a posse of girlfriends and a wide circle of local druggies, she remains slightly on the edge of  this crazy world, within reason but without any judgment.  The village is no longer what it once was, in the roaring 20s, but the kids are conent to be there, regardless of how it drags them down.  An unfolding tale of despair,  loyalty and hope.  This debut novel is a brave look at the hazy, drug filled 1970s, viewed from a different angle to the norm.   Less hippy and more street smart.  Less 'Flowers in your hair' and more 'Sympathy for the Devil'.

**********************************************

A debut novel with real bite, Tinder Press have landed on their feet by signing this author.  The writing is just outstanding, each chapter like a short story, giving the reader glimpses of Kate's life on Elephant Beach, NY.  Her patchwork group of friends are all content with their mediocre lives in the grim seaside town.  Most girls are dying to lose their virginity, fall pregnant and walk down the aisle, all in that order.  They dream of the perfect marriage, sweet little houses and adoring husbands. Unfortunately,  they dream of this without really thinking it through.  Not many boyfriends stick around, there is no money for dream homes or weddings, and contraception is normally thought of far too late.  The girls have seen what teen pregnancy has done to their classmates, but it doesn't deter them.  

All through this book, they pop pills and smoke cigarettes non-stop.  They drink until they fall down and take risks with their sexual health all the time.  The lectures of their parents fall on deaf ears and the local drunk even warns them to watch out.  The Vietnam War seems like another world to this group and other than seeing some changes in returning veterans, they seem oblivious to the effects of this War.  

The story starts off with a large cast of characters.  I had to re-read a few pages to catch up.  Then I was hooked.  Choppy and realistic, the chapters read like a veritable feast of mini-stories, all blended together to make this delicious tale of a hidden 1970s America.  One of no hope, no glory and no ambition.  Kate is the only exception.  She dreams of a better life.  Not one that will remove her too far from Elephant Beach, but one that will raise her spirits and her standards.  She is a beacon shining through the dull, lifeless, drug filled personalities of her generation.  Judy Chicurel has created a wonderful new voice in fiction.  A no-frills approach to a decade of drugs.  Racism is rampant and War ignored.   It is refreshing to read something so honest, and I applaud both the author, and the publishers for taking this risk.  It has paid off.  A clever, razor sharp novel that will stay with you long after completion.

If I knew you were going to be this beautiful is published by Tinder Press on 30th October 2014, in hardback and ebook format. 

Saturday, 25 October 2014

"Levi's Gift" by Jennifer Burke




A mother, a daughter and a lost grandchild.  Sometimes grief can bring people closer that they ever thought imaginable.   

Lena is watching her daughter, Mattie, spiral downwards into a pit of depression following the stillbirth of her son, Ben.  A difficult mother and daughter relationship at the best of times, she suggests a trip to Italy, hoping it may heal some wounds.  But who's wounds is she really trying to heal?

A story of love, loss and regret, under the shimmering sunlight of Italian skies,  The stories of young love, old love and in-between love.  The effects of forbidden encounters, lost lives and altered paths. 

A visit to see a friend ordained as a priest is where the past collides with the present.  Can Lena and Mattie ever have the bond that has eluded them all this time?  Will the peaceful surroundings of a seminary be a help or a hindrance? 



Jennifer Burke has written a novel full of spirit.  Religious spirit.  The descriptions of the Catholic seminary, just outside Rome, are eloquent and detailed.  The seminarians, nuns and priests are lovingly described and seem flawless.  There is a world of peace, comfort and serenity behind the walls of the seminario, and the author uses the sounds of a choir to blend these aspects together. 

The main characters of Lena and Mattie are each given their own parts within the novel,  but I'm not sure this was necessary.  Both characters are tough and not without flaws.   Lena is a woman who has carried an inner turmoil for almost twenty years.  Seemingly unaware, she has ignored her daughter for most of her life, and only when she sees her in the depths of despair does she seem to notice her existence.   Mattie is grieving.  Grieving hard.  But trying to grieve alone, as she has had to deal with most things alone for her whole life.  Luckily for both women, there is a family, nearby, who embraces their oddness.  Ruth is Lena's best friend and her family have been there for years.  Mattie and Ruth's son, Simon, were sweethearts before college and Simon's brothers feel like Mattie's brothers.  A devout Catholic family, the complete opposite to Lena and Mattie, they are responsible for the trip to Italy.

Jennifer writes with a real passion for the seminario and for the life contained inside its walls but I found myself getting a little bored.  The story took a while to kick in and when it did, there was so much religious intone that my mind wandered again.  Luckily, Ruth and her family kept the story alive.  I adored Simon and his brothers, thought Ruth was an absolute legend, considering what she had to put up with in Lena, and the nuns were fantastic.  Lena, however, was not a nice character.  Selfish and prone to fainting fits when the going got tough.  Mattie was also guilty of drama queen tactics and hurtful behaviour.  Like mother, like daughter.  Returning, from Italy, with more knowledge but more bitterness, the women eventually become more relaxed and likable as they forge on in their respective lives.  Luckily, Ruth hangs around too.

Jennifer Burke's writing is superb.   She uses beautiful prose and there is immaculate attention to detail.  The scenes where the seminarians have a secret wine and cheese night, below stairs, had me wishing I was there too, sipping organic wine while sampling local cheeses and breads.  The author is passionate about her subject,  this is obvious in her writing but the religious, and in turn musical scenes, were a little too much for my personal tastes.  I felt it was eating into possible character development and taking away from the narrative.  However, this book is perfect for someone who prefers their books from the literary genre and I will certainly look forward to reading more of Jennifer's lyrical prose.

Levi's Gift is published by Ward River Press/Poolbeg and is available in paperback and ebook format.


Monday, 20 October 2014

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Exclusive Cover Reveal. "We've Always Got New York" by Jill Knapp with Chapter One Excerpt

This little gem is due out on 20th November 2014 and I was thrilled to be asked to host the cover reveal.  This is part two of Jill's What Happens To Men? series, and I loved the first book. You can read my review here.  Jill has kindly given us a sneek peek at the first chapter of We've Always Got New York and Amelia is back from Brazil.  Now, time to find out whether you are Team Michael or Team Hayden?  I'm on Team Hayden ;)




 "We've Always Got New York" picks up after Amalia Hastings returns to Manhattan from her trip to Brazil to find that life has in fact gone on without her. Fresh off the plane, she is left feeling anxious and unresolved, left alone to pick up the pieces, and deal with the repercussions of choosing her own path over Michael. Amalia finds herself without an apartment, without a job, and starting to wonder if she's even without a best friend!


Now here's a sneak peak at the first chapter of "We've Always Got New York"!!


Chapter 1- Amalia

I could tell by the look on her face that she was expecting something from me. She was expecting something to be different. For me to be, in some way, changed.
I’m Amalia Hastings, and on August 20th at 9:17 pm, I was home. 
Home. The word seemed funny to me because I didn’t have a home to go back to. I moved out of my apartment right before leaving for Brazil and after my friend-with-benefits, Michael, showed up at my apartment, asking me to stay. I hadn’t thought it through properly; I just knew I didn’t want to live in that apartment anymore. Before my trip to Brazil I packed up what little stuff I owned and put it in storage for when I returned, assuming I would deal with it then. Well, “then” has become “now”. So for tonight I was staying with my best friend Cassandra. Who was currently waving at me.
I knew what she wanted. She wanted stories. Juicy ones that involved hot hookups on the sand. She wanted to see pictures. Pictures of the places I went, the food I ate, and the hot guys I met. She wanted me to run up to her in a sun dress, hair braided and skin tanned, and explain, no, to pontificate, to her how life-changing my trip was. She wanted me to playfully link her arm around mine and gush about how amazing it all was. How I was changed forever. That I had a new appreciation for life, food, and music. She wanted me to tell her that I would never be the same.
But this isn’t the movies and I’m not Julia Roberts.
The florescent lights above me flickered, making the airport look dark and ominous. I looked down at my hand as I pulled my rolling suitcase across the sticky, tiled floor. Not even my hand had acquired a tan. Three months in the Brazilian sun and my skin remained as pale as ever.
Cassandra was looking right at me with wide, unblinking eyes. I walked a little slower.
For some reason I couldn’t pinpoint, coming off the plane felt like a surreal experience to me. Although I was relieved to have landed, and I wouldn’t have wanted to stay in Brazil any longer, I still wasn’t utterly happy with being back. I wondered if it merely had to do with the fact that I had no apartment to go back to and was feeling pretty untethered from not having a proper home.
There’s an old saying. I’m not really sure where it’s from or who said it first. Kind of the proverb equivalent of The House of the Rising Sun. It proffers, “Wherever you go, there you are”, and up until about one month ago I had no idea what it meant. But now it means everything. It rings in my ears like a scolding mother, repeating itself over and over again until I submit.
I finally stood face to face with Cassandra, who was grinning like a fool at this point. She was dressed down for the night, wearing a purple racer-back tank top that showed off her summer glow, jeans, and gold flip-flops. Her blonde hair was pulled into a loose, messy bun and her make-up was minimal, apart from the extra-shiny, coral lip-gloss she was wearing. She reeked of summer.
“Hey,” I offered, looking down at my sneakers. I wished I had more energy for her, but after ten hours on a plane it was all I could muster up.
Cassandra cocked her head to the side and smiled. Her hair swung back and forth and she popped her hip out like a model in training. She looked as fierce as ever, even dressed-down in comfortable summer clothes.
“That’s all I get? Get over here!” she said, pulling me in for a hug.
I hugged her back for a moment and then pulled away, overcome with exhaustion and jet-lag. I smiled at Cassandra. She smelled like a salty coconut and I realized she had probably come straight from Fire Island, a beach not too far from Long Island and just outside of the city. That explained the dressed-down attire, but not the lip-gloss. Unless, of course, we were going straight back there from JFK airport.
I looked back at the gate. Most people I knew hated airports, but I liked them. They offered a chance to escape. Get on a plane and in six hours from now you could be across the country. You could be in a different town, in a different house, with a different group of people. I think we all took that for granted.
 I could go back to Brazil right now. Or I could go somewhere else. I’ve never been to Cincinnati; I wonder what it’s like there. Or maybe Savannah. I could definitely live in Savannah! I took a step backwards, away from Cassie. Back toward the inside of the airport. She just smiled.
“Very funny, Amalia!” she said through perfectly white teeth. “Don’t sneak away from me now. I’m so glad you’re back, I really missed you.”
Cassie threw her arm over me and smushed our faces together. She whipped out her iPhone and flipped the camera application around so the front lens could be used and snapped a picture of the two of us. Before I knew it, she uploaded the picture to Facebook with the caption “So excited, Amalia is officially home!”
Without glancing back, she walked a few feet in front of me and remained glued to her phone. The back of her Havaianas smacking onto her heels echoed throughout the now nearly empty hallway. I let out a long sigh that Cassandra didn’t hear and pulled my suitcase toward the exit. Yep, it was official. I was home. 

****************************************************************************************
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jill Knapp standing on Roosevelt Island, New York, where one of the books characters, Alex, lives.


Jill Knapp, a native New Yorker, is a writer for Harper Impulse, Harper Collins. A regular contributor to the Huffington Post, Knapp reports on entertainment, relationships and the differences between city and suburban lifestyles. In addition, she is a former adjunct professor of Psychology at her Alma Mater Kean University. She received a Masters in Psychology from the New School For Social Research in Manhattan, and taught professional figure skating for over a decade.

We've always Got New York is published by Harper Impulse on 20th Nov 2014 in Paperback and ebook format.


Sunday, 19 October 2014

"Black's Creek" by Sam Millar.



Many thanks to Brandon/O'Brien Press for sending me a review copy of this title.  I have been asked to review it for DundalkFM, early November. 

A small town in upstate New York, Black's Creek is about to be hit by tragedy.  For a group of teenage boys in the 1970s, there's not much else to do but hang around, discussing comic books, TV shows and swim in the forbidden Jackson's Lake.  Three best friends, a day they will never forget and a blood oath taken.  The bravado they feel leads them to believe in their abilities to bring justice to the sleepy town, despite the Sheriff being close to home.  Sometimes the answers to problems seem so obvious, but can teenagers make informed decisions without some kind of guidance?


This multi-layered book is more than just a crime noir.  It is a story of friendship, idealism, innocence and trust.  Tommy, Brent and Horseshoe are witness to a traumatic event and it shakes them up badly.  The police force have their hands tied up in the legal tangles that a teenager cannot understand.  When Brent suggests they take the law into their own hands, even drawing blood for a blood oath, the boys become connected in a world of deceit.   Tommy's father is the town Sheriff and the town folk look up to him, calling to the house at all hours of day and night, with their woes.  Tommy adores his father and all he represents.  But when he snoops around in his fathers office he finds a diary containing the mans innermost thoughts.  Suddenly the Sheriff becomes less hero and more human.  The boys plan doesn't end the way they expected and their friendship is tested.  But when the body of a young girl is found, the town looks to the Sheriff  to find the culprit.  Tommy wills his father on, while learning to deal with his own grief.

Sam Millar has written a novel of deep and intense feeling.  The boys are young and innocent but each has their own individual personality, and very different sets of parents. The horror they have witnessed has changed them for ever and they will always feel that invisible bond.  The writing style has echoes of Huckleberry Finn, Stand By Me and other wonderful coming of age novels.  However, the book that kept coming back to me, as I read Black's Creek, was To Kill A Mockingbird.  The character of Sheriff Hendersen has ideals and values that are similar to Atticus Finch, and his son completely trusts him, looks at him with adoration and learns from him in many ways.  Not flawless, Tommy's father is a balance to his wife, who is a non-stop nit picker who has Tommy's heart broken with well intentioned nagging.  The overall atmosphere in the Sheriffs house is one of logic and love.  Tommy is a genuinely good kid, with a big heart and feels a need to put the world to rights.  His friends, Brent and Horseshoe are also harmless kids who are trying to grow up at different rates and are finding themselves on a daily basis.  

There are lessons to be learned for each character in this book.  The narrative is strong, a town weighed down by grief and the uncertainty of how it will cope under pressure,  also very similar to Harper Lee's classic novel.  What Sam Millar has done, though, is bring the story to the forefront, allowing the adolescent protagonist lead, but not take over completely.  A clever way of hooking the reader from the start.  I would challenge anyone not to devour this book in one or two sittings, and I can confidently say that this is a novel like no other I have read in contemporary crime fiction.  It is a story of a boy, a dark summer and a harsh introduction to adulthood.  Pure Gold.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Award-winning writer Sam Millar is the author of The Darkness of Bones, Dark Souls and The Redemption Factory, as well as the popular series featuring PI Karl Kane: Blood Storm, The Dark Place and Dead of Winter. His memoir, On the Brinks, was originally published in 2003. He has also written a critically acclaimed stage play, Brothers in Arms. He has received several awards for his writing including the Aisling Award for Art and Culture, and most recently, the prestigious Golden Balais d’or (France) for Best Crime Book for On the Brinks. On the Brinks was also named one of Le Monde’s Top Twenty Thrillers of 2013.


Black's Creek is published by Brandon/O'Brien Press and is available in paperback and ebook format.


You can hear my review on DundalkFM on 5th November at 7pm

2000 Followers Giveaway! "Eleanor & Park" by Rainbow Rowell. Paperback.Open INT.

I have reached 2000 Twitter Followers and I'm doing a major Happy Dance!




I promised a Giveaway when this happened, and the day has arrived!  I have chosen a paperback edition of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.  It is one of my favourite reads of 2014 and think that it has a broad appeal.  Not just for the YA market, this is a book that should adorn every bookshelf.  You can read my review here.


Just enter via Rafflecopter below, and thanks for all your support over the past 15 months...
Good Luck!



Friday, 17 October 2014

"Lemongrass Hope" by Amy Impellizzeri




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


Kate has been married to Rob for ten years and the couple have two beautiful little boys.  A lecturer in history, Kate has supported Rob on his journey to become partner in one of America's finest law practices.  Cracks, however, are beginning to show in their relationship and while they seem like a perfect family to the outside world, Kate is beginning to doubt decisions she made back in the 1990s.  
Sifting through the sands of time, the reader is taken on a journey through love, loss and hope, while all the while standing at Kate's side.  Past friends re-surface, new ones become more meaningful than expected and fate has its part to play.  Kate questions her role in life and how she can mold her future.

This debut novel from Amy Impellizzeri is full of substance.  Subtle changes take on a stronger meaning and things are not what they seem.  Rob is the man she chose all those years ago, but was he the right choice?  Can Kate settle with her decision and can she forget the past?
I can't give too much of the plot away without spoiling the enjoyment, but I can, with hand on heart, say this is a book to buy.

The writing in this novel is just stunning.  Simple, clear and yet powerful at the same time.  The characters are beautifully crafted and the tale lingers for days afterwards.  Reminiscent of The Time Traveler's Wife and The Notebook, I can honestly say it took me by surprise.  I knew nothing of the story, or its author and was not expecting to become engrossed in Kate's life so easily.  A novel that make me care about its characters is always a delight and can be hard to find.  This moving debut ticks all the boxes for me.  Beautifully written, fantastic story, memories intermingled with present time and characters that I wish I could add as friends.  I am one impressed reader!

Lemongrass Hope is published by Wyatt-Mackenzie and is available in paperback and ebook format


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

"A New York Christmas" by Anne Perry



I received a copy of this title from Bookbridgr.com in return for an honest review.

The year is 1904 and Jemima Pitt is heading off to New York as a companion to Delphinia, a young bride-to-be.  As Phinnie has no mother figure, Jemima wants to make sure she is well settled into the role of wife to a wealthy young American.  The Albright family have it all, house, money and a place in the top of New York society.  But all is not what it seems and Jemima is dragged into the drama, not long after her arrival.  

This is the first book by Anne Perry that I have read,  She has written far too many to mention, including The Inspector Pitt Series (I presume that Jemima is his daughter), World War I Series and a host of Christmas Novellas.  The cover had me expecting something relating to Christmas, even the title promised it, and the artwork was very pretty.  However, that was the only festive thing about it.  Snow on the ground, yes.  Nothing else.  A weak link at best.  
The story was bizarre and had weak characters.  The historical part of the historical fiction was wasted.  Instead, there was endless rambling dialogue from annoying people.  The murder, which happens at the beginning of the book, seems almost like an inconvenience  rather than a tragic event.  
A most un-enjoyable story, along the lines of Murder She Wrote and Miss Marple.  Maybe suitable for a bed ridden elderly aunt, possibly one who is asleep or in a coma....


A New York Christmas is published by Headline on 23rd October 2014


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

"Each and Every One" by Rachael English



I received a copy of this from netgalley.com


The Shine family have lived a comfortable life.  A lovely home on leafy Dublin street, family holidays and property abroad, private education for their children. All this was handed to them on a plate, via the hard work of Gus and Joan, their hard working parents.  But all this is about to change. Gus announces that his money has run out and breaks the news that his children must now stand on their own feet, supporting themselves and their own families, for the first time in their lives.  Tara, Vee, Niall and Damien are shocked with the news and, except for Tara, struggle with their new cut-backs.  This story delves into the lives of the four adult Shine children and how they deal with change.

I loved Rachael's first novel, Going Back, so was delighted to get my hands on a review copy of this second novel from the Irish writer and presenter.  
This book is very different to the first.  The characters are more serious, the narrative is not as fun and the characters are, for the most, irritating.  The end of the Celtic tiger years is a feature of a lot of Irish fiction at the moment.   The boom/bust stories are frequent and seem to imply that we were a greedy nation, pouring money down the drain and deserve the crisp awakening of these 'lessons learned'.  I had hopes that this book would be different.  The Shine family, however, were a stereotypical, self made dynasty, who showered their children with luxuries and continued to do so, even after they grew up and moved on with their own lives.  Did Gus and Joan really believe that encouraging their thirty-something son to go on an endless 'Gap-Year', or paying their daughters mortgage and her kids school fees, while allowing her to shop endlessly and expensively, was helping mold their personalities?  Their wannabe politician son, Damien, is a hypocrite, with socialist ideals but children who attend expensive, private schools (also paid by Daddy Shine).  Even the token, grounded daughter, Tara, who has a real job and a bit of ambition, is withdrawing funds from the family piggy bank.  She lives in the basement of her parents large home in an affluent neighbourhood and supports herself and layabout boyfriend.  When I say support, I mean, she buys food and beer.  No rent is payed and the bills seem to be paid by her parents also.  
When the siblings hold a meeting, to discuss their new hardship, I found it impossible to connect with any of them.  I had hopes for Tara, though.  She is a journalist who has seen the other side of the coin and has even befriended a family from a very difficult social background to the one she is used to. But, even Tara shows her true colours.  When she discovers something related to her parents financial difficulty, she storms off in a child-like temper and the reader is told of her new lodgings being in a terrible bedsit in Ballsbridge.  For those readers who know Dublin, Ballsbridge is a very affluent area, and even the smallest bedsits could set you back more than a lovely 2/3 bed home in lesser areas.  My sympathies were not with Tara, or indeed any of the Shines.
My sympathies were, however, with Carmel, a worn down grandmother from a rough area of Dublin, who struggles on a daily basis to protect her two young grandkids from the harsh reality of their situation.  Tara has a good heart and befriends this family, and I kept wishing that some of Carmels genuine compassion would rub off on the young journalist.  

I was a little disappointed in this novel, but maybe that is because I am overdosed on works of fiction telling me that Irish people are much better off since the recession hit.  Being told that we are now more genuine, more caring and compassionate.  I would like to think that some of us have indeed improved our attitudes, but the family in this book screamed of Capitalism, snobbery and self pity.  I would love to have heard more of the day to day realities of Carmel and her situation.  This book is the story of a family.  Just not a very nice one.  Just the wrong one.

Rachael English is a talented writer and storyteller.  Her style  is easy to read, flows along nicely and has a lovely warm tone.  I am a fan, just not of this fictional family.  I hope her next novel comes soon and returns to the relaxed form of Going Back


Each and Every One is published by Orion and is available in paperback and ebook format.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

"The Woman Who Stole My Life" by Marian Keyes (Published 6 Nov 2014 )



 

I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley.com and PenguinUK in return for an honest review
 
 
Stella has turned forty, her husband is forever working and her two teenage kids are like ships passing the night.  Her daughter has a boyfriend now and thinks she's in love, while her son is more interested in yoga and cooking than being a regular teenage boy.  Then an unexpected illness means Stella's life is about to change, in more ways than one.

The story zigzags through different stages of a two year period in Stella's life. From hospital in Dublin to hotels around The United States, working in a beauty salon alongside her sister, to having her own self-help book tour. Stella is re-discovering herself but there is someone watching who wants her new life, and will stop at nothing to have it.

I have been a huge fan of Marian Keyes since her first novel Watermelon and have read everything she has written since. From the Walsh Family sagas to her under the duvet stories.  Marion has a knack of bringing a sense of Irish comedy into all her books without them seeming contrived.  This book had me giggling away from page one with the views on Karma, a Bitter Women's Bookclub and an ex-husband who is clearly going off the rails.  Her father was what got me laughing the most.  The vision of him reading to Stella aloud when she is in hospital, and his reaction to some of the books, was just hilarious.

Unfortunately, things slid downhill from here.  The narrative is weak and the chopping and changing time frames were confusing and eventually became irritating. While some sections were sub-headed with HIM, HER, this confused me more as other sections had no such headings and didn't even seem to gel together in any particular order or relevance.  Stella's son Jeffrey seemed to have potential at the start of the book but became a cliche once his parents separated. Moody is one thing, rude and obnoxious is another.  Demanding diva like behaviour brought his character to a whole other level, and it was not a good one.  Her daughter, Betsy was given a rare appearance and had no substance.  
Ryan, the husband, had some bite in him at the beginning, but like his son, became so annoying a character that had he been real, I would have left the country to avoid for ever, bringing my children with me under false travel documents so he could never contact us again. A smarmy, selfish idiot who any sane woman would avoid at all costs! 
This bring me to Mannix. The new man who starts off as a knight in shining armor and re-appears, suddenly single, available and hankering after Stella.  Not at all put off by her atrocious children and ex, he obviously sees something in Stella that I never spotted and, from here on in, the book sunk. 

Far too long ( over 550 pages ), poor story-line and awful characters ( except for Stella's Dad and Mannix's ex ), meant that I had to force myself to care enough to finish.  Considering its great beginning, I was sorely disappointed.  
However, it is Marian Keyes, and I am sure it will head straight to the number one spot when published in November, just in time for the Christmas market.  

Sorry Penguin, this Irish reader wants the old Marian Back.......
 
 


Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Exclusive Cover Reveal! "The Songbird's Way" by Jennifer Barrett

EXCLUSIVE COVER REVEAL!


I was thrilled to be asked to do the exclusive cover reveal of Jennifer Barrett's latest release, The Songbird's Way.  Published on 23rd October 2014 by Poolbeg, expect some great giveaways from Jennifer and Bleach House Library.  It is a story I am dying to get stuck into!  Read the blurb below and add to your wishlist, or pre-order via link at bottom of page.


The Songbird’s Way
by Jennifer Barrett


She has come to a crossroads – is it too late to go her own way?

When she is a child, Chrissie’s beloved father encourages his daughter to use her voice and to overcome her fear of singing in public. Inspired by her parents’ passions, music and travel become Chrissie’s whole life, but after seven years on the road and a family tragedy on a cycling tour of Tanzania, she loses the heart for both. 

As her thirtieth birthday approaches, life for the former singer appears to be back on track as she settles in London with boyfriend, Tim. Only Chrissie’s not so sure that she’s the settling-down kind. Her secret dream is to follow in her mother’s tyre-prints, to tour Africa and see as much of the world as she can. As she struggles with her choices, Chrissie becomes intrigued by a newspaper article about the adventurous, unconventional life story of a woman three times her age.

But Chrissie is a people-pleaser. Despite her father’s early advice, she rarely has the courage to speak up. Events reach crisis-point, and on the day she turns thirty Chrissie panics and leaves her own party suddenly. What happens next is both astounding and revealing.



Praise for Look into the Eye:

“This is an exceptional debut novel, stirring, funny and eloquent . . .” – Irish Independent

“An absorbing contemporary love story . . . meaningful, and heartfelt” – The Irish Examiner

 “A charming and heartfelt tale about the impact of an encounter with the ocean’s mightiest creatures on two troubled lives” – Sunday Independent



The author will be donating a percentage of her royalties from The Songbird’s Way to schools, projects and initiatives focusing on the empowerment of women and girls in the developing world.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR





Author of Look into the Eye , Jennifer Barrett runs a developing world charity and divides her time between Dublin and Wicklow in Ireland.
A keen photographer, Jennifer travels far and wide to photograph and observe whales and other marine life in their natural habitats. Some of her favourite trips include a close-up encounter with the friendly gray whales in San Ignacio Laguna on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, and snorkelling with whalesharks off Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. It was a magical experience photographing orcas in the Arctic waters of Norway however that inspired her to write’ Look into the Eye’.

Both of Jennifer's novels are published by Poolbeg, with The Songbird's Way being published on 24th Oct 2014 and Look into the Eye available right now.






"Away From You" by Kay Langdale

 
 
 
I received a copy of this title, from the publisher, in return for an honest review.
 
 
 
Monica Watson is a married mother of two and is longing to return to work in the film industry.  After years of unemployment in her chosen field, she receives a call from an old work mate offering her work on a movie he is involved with.  She is delighted with the offer and can't wait to get started.  There is only one problem.  The job is in LA and means relocating for a minimum of three months.  Not so simple when she has toddler, Luca, nine-year old Ruby and her husband, Daniel to consider.  However, Daniel, a surgeon, sees how much this opportunity means to Monica, and persuades her to go.  A childcare worker is sought out, for the duration, and Ursula takes over the role of housekeeper and nanny.  But Ursula is not happy to minding the children.  She is tense, quiet and keeps her distance from Ruby and Luca.  Why can she not make eye contact? Why does Ruby have to work so hard to make the woman interact with her? Should Monica have turned down the job in favour for time with her family?
 
This is the first novel that I have read by Kay Langdale so I had no expectations.  The blurb was appealing and, at 279 pages, it is a great length to read in a couple of sittings.  I knew from the first chapter that I was reading something special.  The language and prose is delicate but informative, gentle but persuasive.  The narrative is split between characters so the reader gets varied angles and this really helped connect with the feeling of the novel.  Monica comes across as quiet selfish in her longing to further her career rather than remain a stay at home mother and wife, but her decision is more about broadening her own inner self-worth than any other reason.  Daniel had her full support when he was in medical school and she feels her time has come.  When a suitable childminder is found,  there seems no reason to grab this chance while she can.
When Ursula arrives, Ruby observes her and through her own viewpoint, the reader can see how she notices everything and substitutes Ursula for her mother very early on.  The chapters written from Ruby's perspective are wonderful.  So innocent yet calculating at the same time.  Ruby is a clever child and very endearing.  Daniel seems happy to relinquish the majority of family responsibility to Ursula and she takes on the child rearing role less enthusiastically than the household ones.  There is an invisible boundary between herself and the children but Daniel is too busy, with his own issues, to notice.  The shift in moods, throughout the novel, are subtle yet very powerful.  The writing blew me away at times, with melodic prose dotted throughout.
 
It is rare that a book can cause my emotion to bubble to the surface.  The story must be not only real and believable, but also written with some empathy and respect.  This is one of these rare books.  It may not have you turning the pages at break neck speed, but rather, slowly turning each page. Savouring the words. Anticipating the next poetic paragraph.  Wanting, badly, for it to last forever.  A beautifully written novel,   that will remain in your thoughts for a long time to come.
 
Away From You is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available in Hardback and ebook format
 

Monday, 6 October 2014

"Hide And Seek - Part 3" by Amy Bird, with a chance to win a trip to France.



The third and final part of Amy Bird's book is now available and thanks to publisher for sending me a copy.  It meant that I could read all three parts, one after the other.


Will continues to deteriorate and is now headed to Paris, to confront his birth mother.  He has revenge on his mind,  but is his mental state going to confuse things even more?   Menawhile, back in the UK, Ellie and her mother-in-law, Gillian, come to blows and an early labour causes promises to be made under duress.  Is Ellie ready for the wrath of a mother?  Has she met her match?

"Gillian comes closer to me.  She's actually standing in the watery goo at my feet.  But she doesn't stop there.  She leans in towards me and wraps her hands around my wrists.  Tight.  OK, so I was wrong.  I do have room for fear."

The third part of this book moves along at great speed, flitting from Paris and London and back again.  The peek into Will's inner thoughts are dark and scary and yet, somehow, the suspense back in the UK, with the face-off between Gillian and Ellie, is the one that made me want to turn the pages faster.  Ellie is truly a despicable character, but yet again, Will cannot see her true colours.  I wanted to jump into the book to let him know what he is actually dealing with.  The tension builts to a crescendo and the author pulls the reader along, speeding up like a train with no need to slow on approach to its destination.  A great read from an author I had yet to encounter.  I will definitely read more of her work after enjoying this thrilling three-part thriller.  Having the book in three parts is also a great idea, as each part is perfect for reading in one sitting!



Hide And Seek - Part 3 is published by CarinaUK and is available in ebook format.



"Middle School: Save Rafe! ": (Middle School 6) by James Patterson. Review from Mia, aged 11



We received a copy of this book, from the publisher, in return for an honest review.

Review by Mia Madden, aged 11.

This is the sixth book in the Middle School series, but you don't have to read them in order.  This is the first one that I read.

Rafe Khatchadorian is a boy who always seems to get into trouble.  It's back to school time and Rafe is not looking looking forward to it.  He was in trouble last term, and to be re-enrolled, back with his class, he has to go on a military camp-style wilderness expedition.  He has no idea what to expect and doesn't know anyone else going there.  All eight kids are there for a reason and need to learn about respect and teamwork.


I loved this book.  It was hilarious, had lots of funny illustrations and there were even some pages that were comic strips.  Rafe was funny but a little bit stupid.  He struck out with a girl from school many, many times and his heart was broken.  The other characters, Burp, Thea, Veronica, Arnie, Diego, DJ and Carmen, join Rafe in learning how to make fire, go white water rafting and climb mountains.  It seems one of the girls even had a crush on Rafe!




This book made me want read more of the Middle School series.  I think james Patterson is a brilliant writer and the illustrations by Laura Park were great!  I think kids who like David Walliams and Barry Loser would love this series too.
Age 9+.

Middle School: Save Rafe! is published by Arrow on 9th October 2014 and is available in Hardback and ebook format.


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