Saturday, 28 February 2015

"Second Life" by SJ Watson

I received a review copy of this title from

From the author of Before I Go to Sleep, comes a novel of death and discovery.  When Julia hears of her sisters death in Paris, she feels a mixture of relief and loss.  Julia had adopted Kates son when it became obvious her sister could not provide the stable environment he needed.  But lately Kate had been demanding to return of her teenage son.  The bittersweet relief of her sisters death is only momentary, and Julia begins to doubt that the death was an accident.  Gaining access to Kates online activity, she stumbles across the world of online dating and the ability to lead a second life.  Soon she is hooked.  The excitement of secret online liaisons becomes addictive and common sense is thrown out the window.  But how long can one maintain a double life before someone gets hurt?

This book seems to have a bit of the 'Gone Girl effect' about it.  You either love it or hate it.  I think the main reason for the way people feel about a character.  Some readers cannot enjoy a book where they feel uncomfortable with the protagonist, others need a more defined line between a 'nice' person in a novel and a 'distasteful' one.  I tend to go with my gut instincts and if I find myself turning the pages with great speed, it means I'm going along for the ride.  The whole concept of a second life has become more common with the accessibility of the internet in all of our lives.  While, years ago, people had to place adverts in specialised magazines or be part of secret networks of similar minded folk, now anyone can just click a button and become whomever one wants.  The current Graham Dwyer trial, in Ireland, has shown how easy it is to lead two lives independent of each other.  In SJ Watson's novel he shows how a middle aged, respectable mother and wife can slip so easily into a new role.  The role of a sexy, single, adventurous woman who is up for anything.  One day a week Kate can escape the mundane and ordinary life she has led for years and return to her pre-marriage days of  drink and drug fueled excitement and sexual abandonment.  Her sleuthing into her sister's life has opened a Pandora's Box and she is soon sucked in...

Kate is not a character that many women are going to like.  Once she begins her online journey, she appears to become two very different people.  One is traditional and stable, the other is fiesty, brave and open to fantasy.  However, if the novel is read with attention, the cracks in her personality are there before her online dalliance.  She has had addiction issues in the past, lived another life in Berlin before returning the UK to marry Hugh, a successful consultant surgeon.  The second life that she embarks on may not have been very far under the facade of her existing one.  
The first half of the novel is a little slow, as we learn of the connections between Julia, Kate, Hugh and Connor.  There are extra characters too, like Julia's best friend (who is surplus to requirement about two thirds into book) and Kate's roommate,  Anna, who helps knit together the last few months of the dead girl's life.   Text messages, secret phone calls and virtual sex are all part of the bigger picture and the reader is sucked into the heart pounding encounters of Kates new world.  Fantasies become reality and the book takes on a new pace and atmosphere.  It moved from an average psychological thriller to a deeper, more intense read that had me hooked. You don't have to agree with characters, or even like them much, to make a book a winner.   Like a roller coaster that makes you feel queasy,  this book will have your blood pumping with part shock and fear and the need to discover more, climb up that steep slope that inevitably drops down, with massive speed, on the other side.  Be brave, enjoy the ride, and look at each person you meet at the school gates or supermarket with the knowledge that everyone has inner thoughts...

Second Life is published by Doubleday Books and is available in hardback, paperback and ebook format

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

BLOG TOUR: 'The Abrupt Physics of Dying' by Paul E.Hardisty. Review and Exclusive author Feature.

Review by Declan Madden

This debut novel introduces the character of Clay Straker to the reader and is a story of industrial pollution in the Middle East.
Clay Straker , retired from the South African Armed Forces , has retrained as an engineer and now finds himself working for Petro-Tex , a new kid on the block in the oil industry .Based in Yemen his job involves environmental testing for the company in support of its applications for government approval .This work mainly consists of cash donations to the relevant officials and tribal leaders to smooth the process . The novel starts with the  kidnapping of Clay and his Yemeni driver and a face to face meeting with Al Shams , a renowned terrorist in the country.Al Shams is seeking the reason for the recent deterioration of the health of the local population and gives Clay a deadline of one week to highlight their plight .
What follows is a page turner which sees Clay taking on the very company he has been promoting and its blatant disregard for the Yemeni tribes . To complicate matters Rania La Tour , a journalist with AFP , seduces Clay in order to get an interview with Al Shams but she too has other motives . Clay becomes a fugitive and soon is fighting for his life and running out of options . Who can he trust and how can he prove Petro-Tex is breaking every rule in its efforts to extract oil from the Yemeni desert?
I really enjoyed this novel and found a strong character in Clay Straker . The writing was well paced with plenty of action . As I was reading I was certainly imagining a good movie in the pages and, as is normal, trying to figure out who might play the lead role. I finally settled on Matt Damon . I think there is scope for this character of Clay to appear again in a follow up novel and I look forward to reading more from this author . Definitely a cracking debut .

Exclusive Blog Tour Feature from author

What Hasn’t Been Said Before

As my dad always used to say, five pounds (dollars) and my advice will buy you a cup of coffee.   Orenda Books in London has just published my first novel, The Abrupt Physics of Dying.  So coming to me for “Tips for New Writers” is like going to an L-plate driver for tips on doing the Dakkar Rally.   What I can do is refer an aspiring writer to the thoughts of some other, much more highly qualified sources.  In fact, a very quick search will dig up so much advice to writers that if you read it all you’d never actually do the one thing you have to do to be a writer:  write.   Hemingway said it best: “whatever happened the day or the night before, you’ve got to get up and bite on the nail.”  No excuses.  Just about everything you’ll find on this subject refers to this one, entirely evident but impossibly difficult reality.  No matter what you do, if you don’t actually produce – string words together on the page – you’re not a writer. 

EH spent a lot of time writing about writing.  Many writers have.  EH called it a discipline.  The discipline of Flaubert.  That’s a good word for it, what we do.  It wasn’t until I started long-distance endurance sport (triathlon) about fifteen years ago that I found I could actually write long. Triathletes talk about “going long”.  The Ironman is a 3.8 km open water swim, 180 km bike, and a 42.2 km run (marathon), back-to-back.   Ten plus hours of non-stop racing. To me it’s like writing, like getting published.  Before you commit to finishing something like that you don’t think it’s possible.  The training commitment alone is outrageous.  It takes discipline and a lot of time.  But you do it.  A lot of the time it hurts like hell, but you keep going.  You make a lot of mistakes.  You learn.  And then one day you’re crossing the finish line, and that’s about what it feels like when you finally hold that published first volume in your hand.  The cause and effect is all around you, in the cheering crowds lining the finishing chute, in the smell of the pages the first time you riffle through them, that electricity firing inside you.  You decided to do it.  You did what was required.  And you got there.
Hemingway also said: “There is no use writing anything that has been written before unless you can beat it.  What a writer has to do is write what hasn’t been written before or beat dead men at what they have done.”  To me, that’s the other really important thing: trust your own voice. 

Of course, so much has been written that it can be a daunting thought.  But the possibilities for the written word are infinite – literally never ending.  And what has been done is finite.   Mathematics proves that the difference between the two, the room for innovation, is still infinite.  Martin Amis calls it the ‘War Against Cliché.’  But it’s not easy.  I guess that’s the thing about writing – it’s hard.  Push yourself across that last ten kilometres when it’s 35 C under a crushing sun and everything hurts and that blister on your right heel has burst and is wearing itself raw and the liquid is sloshing around in your shoe and you’ve already been out there for twelve hours and you just want it to be over and you don’t want it to end.  So train hard.  Physically and mentally.  And be prepared to go long, in a way that hasn’t been done before.

Author Paul E.Hardisty

The Abrupt Physics of Dying is published by Orenda Books and is available in paperback and ebook format.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

"Spill Simmer Falter Wither" by Sara Baume

Thanks to Tramp Press for the review copy of this title...

One man and his dog.  Not an original idea, but this is no ordinary novel.  
This is my favourite novel of the decade.  

This debut comes from the winner of  2014 Davy Byrnes Award, so I had a sneaky suspicion that I was starting to read something special.  It took me about thirty seconds of reading to know, rather than suspect, that this was a novel to be savoured.  From the prologue, to each individual chapter (each attributed to a season) and from paragraph to line, I slowly inhaled the story and let it take over.  I was transported from a cold bedroom in Co. Louth to the rural villages of the Irish Midlands, stopping off in the odd coastal towns.  The potholed roads, the long twisting laneways, the silent main streets and the family run pubs and petrol stations.  What a change from the usual dual carriageways of our daily lives.  As I turned the pages, I was reluctant to do so.  The knowledge that I had to finish this book was something that I was ignoring, instead choosing to place my bookmark in with hesitation and delaying the inevitable.  I would place the book at arms length, glance at it, close my eyes and re-read the latest pages in my mind.  Now, I am aware that that this makes me sound slightly deranged, but those who know me can surely picture it.   Eventually, I could hold off no more.  The bookmark was removed for the last time and I faced the final pages.  I felt like I was losing a friend.  I was almost certain how the ending was going to shape up, and I was in denial.  A big deep breath and it was over. 
 I am still a bit bereft.  

The protagonist in this tale is not named, however the mystery of his name is easily solved.  He has a diminished mental capacity which makes him the same level as a child of approximately nine years old.  The reader is left to imagine this gentle giant with an abundance of innocence and years of loneliness and isolation.  He adopts an ex-badger baiting dog, who he christens OneEye, and here begins an incomprehensible story of devotion.  

Sara Baume has taken the idea of friendship to a new level, in my opinion.  The 'companionship' concept does not come close to the depth of feeling described in this novel.  A child may feel this way about a special blanket, sobbing uncontrollably when parted from it.  A recently widowed man may have a shadow of this feeling visible across his face.  A mother may feel this as she watches her son head off to war.  Such is the depth of the friendship between Ray and OneEye.  Each chapter is sprinkled with seasonal sensations and each line is written with the most sensual prose I have encountered from a contemporary author.  The mood, the tempo, the minimal dialogue and the outstanding descriptive passages made for an emotional journey, albeit on a small island with basically just one character.    I could go on to reveal more plot line and quote some of the poetic verses contained within the narrative, but I am going to leave that to the lucky person who is reading this novel for the first time.  I can never have that honour again, but will certainly enjoy my re-reads.

A massive congratulations to Sara Baume and Tramp Press.  You have raised the bar for Irish, and International, fiction...

Spill Simmer Falter Wither is published by Tramp Press and is available in paperback 

Saturday, 21 February 2015

'How I Lost You' by Jenny Blackhurst

I received a copy of this title from for review purposes...

Susan Webster is trying to move on with her life, under a new alias, and with very different meaning.  Found guilty of killing her infant son, she has done her time but has no recollection of that terrible night.  Divorced from her son's father, she has just one close friend to turn to when all she believes comes under a wave of doubt.  A hand delivered envelope appears, with a photo of a young boy.  Her son's name is written on the back, and if he was alive, he would be the age of the child in the picture.  Is Dylan alive somewhere?  How could he be?  Who would send her such a cruel photo?  When other strange things start happening, Susan knows she must investigate further, but watch her own back...

This debut from Jenny Blackhurst has all the ingredients for a great psychological thriller.  A murder, a victim, a trial and all the darker moments related to losing a child.  Then, the uncertainty of what really happened.  Is there more to the story?  Flashbacks are used,  chapters are a good length and the pace picks up to a mighty crescendo for the ending.  The overall package is great but I had a few  issues with the novel.   The pace is very slow to start with.  I actually abandoned the book a few times as I was losing interest.   The story is very similar to other novels of this genre (The Boy Who Never Was by Karen Perry, for example) and therefor I could see where it was headed.  However, the pace picked up, new characters were introduced and it found its way to become a real page turner.  I found myself rolling my eyes when Susan practically falls in love with a man she met twelve hours previously, and knows nothing about, and their interactions began to irritate me.  Her one close friend, Cassie, could have been a much stronger character.  She was just beginning to come to life, when the author pushes her aside in favour of the love interest/hero.  She makes brief appearances towards the end, but more like an afterthought.  A real pity as she was gutsy and gave some balance to Susan's weak and naive nature.  In saying this, the red herrings and twists and turns are good.  A few times I thought I had the plot line sorted, but I was wrong.  The rushed ending was a surprise and the flashbacks come into context.  I just hope that the slow pace at the start, and bizarre love interest don't put readers off.  A confident debut, with a few tweaking issues, but I really look forward to seeing more from this author...

Ideal for fans of Sophie Hannah 

How I Lost You is published by Headline on 23rd April 2015 in paperback and ebook format

Monday, 9 February 2015

"You, Me & Other People" by Fionnuala Kearney

Thanks to Harper Collins UK for sending me an ARC of this title, for review purposes...

Beth and Adam have parted ways.  Not in an amicable way either.  Beth discovers Adam has cheated on her, for the second time, and has had enough.  Their daughter Meg, is away at University and Beth just cannot take the lies and deceit anymore.  She struggles to move on from their break-up as she doesn't know herself as a single unit, just as a wife and a mother.  Rattling around her marital home, she wonders if, by kicking Adam out, has she done the right thing.  Was a it a knee jerk reaction to his affair?  Can she forgive and forget?  Can she manage without him?  

Adam, meanwhile, is struggling to come to terms with the break-up himself.  The novelty of a younger woman, sex on tap and a bachelor life is not as appealing as one would think.  He misses the home comforts and the magnitude of his dalliance is swallowing him up.  Things are even about to get worse, as an unexpected phone call causes more secrets to come to the surface, and spill into his life.  Things couldn't get worse, or could they?

Fionnuala Kearney has written a novel that began so realistically that I felt I was right there beside Beth, almost immediately.   The writing is so subtle that you find yourself lost in the world of this family from beginning to end.  Beth seems to be a representation of a large percent of women over forty, who have done the major child rearing, picked the dream home and decorated it to within an inch of its life, all while supporting their husbands in a quasi cheer-leading way.  A stay at home mother who has a hobby or a 'calling' (in this case, song writing), which occasionally brings home some money,  means that Beth has been cocooned in this suburban world, with a kind of separation from reality.  Firmly convinced of her husband's adoration, she never suspects he would play away from home again and her world shatters in one foul swoop.  Their daughter, nineteen year old Meg, is also devastated by her father's infidelity and she lays on the guilt trip in a heavy handed way.  Also gunning for Adam's demise is Karen, Beth's best friend and confident throughout the whole ordeal.  Even  Adam's younger brother, Ben, is horrified at his sibling's behaviour.  All in all,  Adam is not popular.  With anyone.  While we read of his feeling lost and alone, it is hard to feel any sympathy for the creator of his own hard luck.  

All through the book, there are little clues to a more uneven past than Beth could imagine.  Like chinks of light through uneven floorboards, there is enough to warrant further investigation into the murky darkness, but with the knowledge that you may not like what you find. 
 Secrets and lies.  Who are they usually to protect?  The liar, or the people who trust them?  

This debut caused me to basically miss a whole day with my family.  I knew by the third page that I was hooked and that there was no point in putting it down.  I read straight through, until my eyes were unable to fight the good fight anymore, but only with the knowledge that it was the weekend and I could pick up the baton nice and early the next day.  
A clever look at human nature, the differences between men and women and the dynamics of the 'average' family.  We all have boxes in the attic, labelled and forgotten.  How many of us have secrets that we hope remained labelled and forgotten?  More, I expect, that you would think...

Highly recommended.  Ideal for fans of Jojo Moyes and Diane Chamberlain

You, Me & Other People is published by HarperCollins and will be available in TradePaperBack (Ireland & Export) and ebook format from 26 Feb 2015

Sunday, 8 February 2015

"I Totally Funniest: A Middle School Story: (I Funny 3)" by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein

We received a copy of this title, from the publishers, for review purposes...

Review by Mia Madden, aged 11 years.

This book is the third installment of the I Funny series from James Patterson.  It is about Jamie Grimm, a boy in a wheelchair, who is extremely funny.  Jamie has entered the planet's funniest kids comic contest and is through to part one of the finals.  The only problem is, he has a bad case of stage fright.  But his trip to fame will help him learn that there is no need to be afraid on stage.  With his friends and family behind him, will he be 'totally funniest'?

I loved this book because there were really funny puns and jokes (which I love).  It is a great story which says that it doesn't matter what your physical abilities are, we are all good at something.  It was well written and had really cool pictures in it too.  I don't actually know anyone in a wheelchair, so it was nice to read about someone who is.  The book is set in Long Beach, California and it was interesting reading about the hurricane, as we don't get many of those in Ireland!  
Although this is the third book in the series, you don't have to have read the first two.  Things are explained in this installment. 

I would recommend this book for ages 8+

I Totally Funniest; A Middle School Story: (I Funny 3) is published by Arrow Books and is available in hardback and ebook format

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

"The Ice Twins" by S.K. Tremane

Thanks to Harper Collins for the review copy of this title...

Angus and Sarah are grieving the loss of their daughter, Lydia.  Her identical twin, Kirstie, witnessed the death of her sister and is affected by the memory more than anyone realises.  When Kirstie begins to act strangely, Sarah is concerned for her daughter's mental status.  Then the realisation that they may have mixed up the identity of the surviving twin dawns on her, and each day becomes an act of inner torture...

We have all seen them, identical twins.  We have heard the stories of how they fool their friends and families by switching identities as a form of amusement.  There are also tales of how they feel each others pain, fear and elation.  But, could they maintain a whole lifetime of deceit?  Would there not be some inkling of doubt in a parent's mind, when consumed with grief and despair?  This thriller has the reader guessing from the first chapter.  Could a child so young possibly be a victim of disassociation or are they imagining it?  Is there a logical explanation for the mixed identity crisis? Could they possibly have cremated their other daughter, without realising it? A change of scenery and a deterioration within their marriage causes Sarah to question her past, present and future.  A lack of trust for both Angus and Kirstie causes paranoia and uncertainty in her new home and beyond.  Who can she trust?  How can she help her daughter through this turbulent time?  Living on a secluded Scottish island, in a ramshackled cottage, alone with her thoughts, may be the beginning of a journey she doesn't want to take...

The dark, intense and chilly atmosphere of this psychological thriller cuts the reader to the bone.  A devastating statement from their young daughter, is the major inhale moment that grabs you into the world of these identical twins and their tragic separation.  Add in the isolated cottage, lack of telephone, heat, appliances (and pest control) and the rising tides and you have a gripping page turner.  The characters of Sarah and Angus were not to my liking.  I found them mismatched and could never picture them happily working alongside each other, even before the loss of their child.  I also thought it strange that a therapist would offer up theories, quite without persuasion, over the phone, without really knowing the 'client'.   The narrative and the gothic style descriptive passages made the thrills.  There was a few moments that were predictable but overall, the book kept me guessing which twin was actually alive.   The pace was great and chapter length ideal for a bedtime read.  Maybe have your heating on full blast, as the icy feeling within the pages may rub off.

The Ice Twins is published by Harper Collins and is available in Hardback and ebook format 

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