Saturday, 25 April 2015

"Before I Go" by Colleen Oakley.

Thanks to and Allen and Unwin for sending me a review copy of this title (along with some fancy tissues)...

Daisy has been cancer free for almost three years and is wondering if her husband, Jack will remember to book somewhere nice for her ‘Cancerversary’?  He’s not great with the everyday chores and she finds herself almost ‘mothering’ him on a daily basis.  She doesn’t like picking up his socks, sorting out his drawers or reminding him to eat.  But she loves him to bits.  Complete opposites, they nevertheless work well together.  He’s the scatty scientist type, while she leans towards OCD with her need to organise everything and make never-ending lists of things to be done. 
When the cancer returns, the couple struggle to cope with the diagnosis and can’t seem to find a mutual way to enjoy the time they have left together.  Jack is heartbroken but he doesn’t know how to verbalise it.  Daisy is in quasi-denial and refuses to let herself relax on old habits. She worries that Jack will not cope when she dies and she hatches a plan to find him a new wife.  What starts off as a plan for her husband’s future, turns into a gut wrenching experience for Daisy.  How can you find your own replacement when you don’t want to leave?  All the while, the tensions are building at home as the couple tiptoe around the cancer-in-the-room.  Daisy even agrees to letting her mother, a highly emotional, bird-watching, lonely woman, help her out.  Luckily she has her feisty and flirty best friend, Kayleigh, to call on for some light relief. 

This debut is sure to be popular.  The publishers have placed a sticker on the cover offering a refund if the reader doesn’t think it’s ‘as good as JoJo Moyes’.  This seems a brave, if risky, move as Moyes has sold millions of books and has a huge fan base.  Her novel Me Before You has a similar theme to this story (dying character, lots of emotion) and the covers are remarkably similar.  Hopefully this won’t backfire on Colleen Oakley as her writing is good. Damn good.  The only small issue I had with it (and it may not even have been obvious to the author or editor at the time) was that the couple of black characters that were included were described as black straight away.  This led to an uncomfortable feeling as the colour of their skin was completely irrelevant to the story.  Both were staff in medical centres and neither were mentioned again.  No white characters got the same treatment and it just jarred a bit.  That said, the medical research was well used, the mood was light enough to carry each chapter through without becoming maudlin and Kayleigh and Daisy’s Mother were wonderful additions.  Jack was more in the background and I couldn’t just grasp him.  Daisy was an odd one too.  Straight laced, but innocent with it. Distant and rude at times (not overly keen of her attitude to her friendly neighbour, or her treatment of her therapist) but if I knew I was dying, I’m sure I would have moments of being an absolute bitch!  She balances these epsiodes with deep profound thoughts, but never voices them aloud. "... how [personal] memories act like kersosene on the fire of my love for him.  They engulf me.  Scorch the innards of my being."  

This may make it seem that I didn’t enjoy Before I Go.  This is not the case.  I really enjoyed it.  It is an ideal read for someone who loves to escape for a while.  Sometimes we need to have a good, inexplicable cry.  Let off some steam, switch off from dreary chores or crappy TV.  You could do a lot worse than this book.  It is a poignant story of hope, fear and love.  Three interchangeable emotions that can divert direction at any time.  An emotional read with slivers of humour, ideal for fans of comfy slippers, long chats with your BFF and weepy movies.  I’m just not sure I would compare it to JoJo Moyes, that might be a bit overly optimistic.  This is still one I would recommend and it is well worth the price of a paperback for the escapism and emotional rollercoaster. 

Before I Go is published in paperback on 7th May by Allen and Unwin and is currently available in hardback and ebook format.

"Kitty Hawk and the Icelandic Intrigue" : Book Three of the Kitty Hawk Flying Detective Agency Series: Volume 3" by Iain Reading. Review from Mia, aged 11.

Review from Mia, aged 11.

This is the third book featuring the awesome Kitty Hawk and this time she's flying from Florida to Iceland.  This is the first leg of her journey around the world and gets pretty interesting.  Dealing with kidnappers, environmental issues, crazy university students, volcanic eruptions and more.  Kitty doesn't have a spare minute.  

All of this sounds epic, but most of her Icelandic travel is spent going from the capital city to up north and visa versa.  But don't let that little piece of info stop you from getting this book because it is actually epic.  This book's mystery is that Kitty finds a college professor lying in a pool of blood underneath a desk. Dun, dun. dun!  Find out what happens in the Icelandic Intrigue.

This book was incredibly fantastic.  I learned a lot about the Icelandic culture; like how their last names work.  It's very confusing, but it makes sense.  I loved this book so much I brought it to school, to see what happens in between my subjects.  Irish...she's in Iceland, Maths...she has some dinner...etc.  I think I might have a new favourite author.

I recommend this book for ages 10+

Kitty Hawk and the Icelandic Intrigue is available in paperback and ebook format.

"The Lost Fairy" by Marian Broderick. Review by Endija, aged 8.

Review from Endija, aged 8.

With a new cover, by 'Design A Cover' competition winner, Shelagh-Jessica Gilbourne, from Millstreet, Co. Cork. 

What happens to the Christmas tree fairy who falls off her perch?
Flora the fairy reckons she is the most important part of Christmas and the most beautiful fairy ever! But Flora has heard worrying stories that some families put a star on the top of the tree. Can you image in it? A mere star! Flora makes sure to kick the star back down a few branches every time she sees it advancing up the tree.
But when Flora falls off the tree, the vain and selfish fairy has much to learn before she can regain her rightful place on the Christmas tree.  

I really liked this book and loved the pictures.

I also liked the way Flora was full of herself and she said " Some people have stars on top of trees instead of a fairy!".
 I liked all the names and that Lily the Little could hear Flora.  How amazing is that?

I recommend this book to my friends Kate and Katie.

The Lost Fairy is published by The O'Brien Press and is available in paperback.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

'What Becomes of Us' by Henrietta McKervey

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

It's fast approaching the fifty year anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland, and plans for commemorations are abound.  Maria Mills is a copy writer with the national TV station and while the Donnybrook office is busy gathering momentum for the celebrations, she is more concerned with forgetting her past.  Recently arrived from London with her young daughter, Anna, she places the child in the care of  Mrs Halpin, a woman who is testing Maria's patience.  Escaping a battered existence in London, she has hopes of a fresh start in Dublin.   Life in 1965 Ireland is not as progressive as it seems and the everyday battles that women encounter are frustrating and restrictive.  When Maria meets Tess, an elderly neighbour, she is pretty sure the old woman has a link to the 1916 Rising.   Could she help bring the untold stories of the women who fought for Ireland's Independence to life, with the help of Tess? 

While we now know the important role that the Cumman na mBan (the women's republican group) played in the 1916 Rising, back in 1965 there was still a cloud of secrecy surrounding their involvement.  The access to national archives gives a a fuller picture of the duties these women performed and how they placed themselves in danger on a regular basis.  Tess is one such woman.  Her diary recounts events from before, during and after the Rising and gives a snapshot of what it was like for a young woman to experience life on the rebel side.
Maria is trying to start a new life.  Her child has now started school  and is in the care of the staunchly Catholic Mrs. Halpin.  Anna adores her new childminder and is oblivious to the tension between her mother and the older lady.  Prayers are recited, Irish language is spoken and Mrs. Halpin seems set on removing all traces of London from the young cailín.  Having a minder has its benefits though, and Maria begins to socialise with some ladies from work, with disastrous results.

This is Henrietta McKervey's debut novel and she has picked a perfect topic, with ideal timing, as the Easter Rising 1916 centenary plans are well under way.  The Cumann na mBan are an organisation with such interesting tales to delve into.  Reading the pension applications online, alone, makes for fascinating reading as proof of duties carried out were required to be able to qualify for pension.  So many stories, photos and new information have surfaced over the past fifty years, so while Tess' story may not seem that outlandish to us now, Maria and her colleagues would have been shocked at the old soldier's tale.  Her story was the one I enjoyed.  I also loved Mrs. Halpin's character.  She was a fiesty widow, who had a sharp, hard exterior but underneath was just a lonely woman who cared deeply for Anna.  I didn't take so well to Maria though.  She was very bland, annoyingly square and openly rude to poor Mrs. Halpin.  Running from your past is all very well, but I just didn't care too much. 

The author writes her descriptive passages with flourish...
 'She looks at the GPO across the road.  It has the solid, dignified air of an elderly lady told as a girl never to heed her looks because they would desert her in time'.
Description of Nelson's Pillar were meticulous and some of Dublin's best known shops get a good mention.  
I did struggle a bit with the short sentences and choppy dialogue. At times the shorthand style that is used in the middle chapters (using character's initials) made for a lot of re-reading previous pages so I could figure out who, or what, I was reading about.  
On the whole, this is a great way of learning about women's involvement in the fight for Ireland's Independence.  Tess is endearing and her story deserves its place in fiction.  I think this would be ideal for all the Irish abroad, as we head towards 2016 and remember the measures taken to secure a Republic. 

What Becomes of Us is available in TPB and ebook format   

Thursday, 16 April 2015

'The Good Girl' by Fiona Neill

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

Romy is sixteen and has just moved with her family to a sleepy, rural town in England with her family.  Life suddenly seems brighter when they get some new neighbours, with two teenage sons.  A bohemian family, Romy finds herself drawn to handsome Jay, while her conservative mother struggles to hide her distaste of the neighbours lifestyle. Hippies, sex therapists and far left,  they represent everything that Romy's parents are not.   Meanwhile, young love leads to Romy uncovering her new boyfriend's secret and making an offer that may change her life forever.  In a parallel story, her parents secrets are about to be uncovered and may make things worse.

A difficult book to review as it has multi-layered stories with different themes.  I was expecting a psychological thriller but it is more of a literary read with added thrill.  The ending is placed at the start of the novel and the story unfolds gradually.  A little to slow unfurling, I found the story lost its momentum for the middle third of the book.  The dangers of online activity and the lack of privacy is one that all parents of teens worry about.  This story looks at the issue, but the teenage Romy is an unusual example of a sixteen year old, so it was hard to see her making this mistake.  She was far too clever a character to do something so blatant.  Her inner sense would have kicked it, long before allowing such momentous act to be filmed on camera.  Her younger brother was actually really annoying and the product of a very odd coupling of parents.   Her mother and father's mistakes also seemed improbable.  

The marketing and blurb suggested one book, but reading it proves another novel entirely.  
 A good read, if a bit too long.

The Good Girl is published by Michael Joseph and is available in hardback and ebook format

Sunday, 12 April 2015

"Skin Paper Stone" by Máire T. Robinson

Thanks to New Island books for supplying the review copy of this title...

A mature student, a struggling artist and a small time drug dealer cross paths at a Galway house party and while their lives are all varied, they each have their own story to tell.   Stevie is embarking on her PhD in medieval history and is hopeful that she can now begin to live her life in a broader sense.  Joe (Kavanagh) is still not sure what he wants to be when he grows up, despite completing an art degree.  He has a mash-up of temporary jobs, a penchant for booze and weed and dreams of tattooing tourists in Thailand.  Pajo is a stereotypical, wannabe drug dealer with a small-mind and big ideas.  He treats his women as bad as he can, yet they keep coming back for more.  The aspirations of these fictional residents of Galway are limited and the stories inevitably cross over during the course of the novel.
The advance reviews for this title were strong.  Comparisons were made to some of Ireland's modern literary talents and the front cover quote from Nuala Ní Chonchúir, which states  'This is a writer who is here to stay' is a fine accolade for a debut author.  The stunning, and ethereal, cover design is also note worthy for its effective simplicity.  It cries to be picked up from a display shelf of over-thought paperback designs, and the need to turn the wrist and read the back cover is almost instinctual.  The blurb is fairly generic and conceals the high standard of writing and depth of the narrative, actually understating the overall package of this piece.  This is not just an average story of boy meets girl or friend becoming foe.  It's a story of cause and effect.  How a new friendship can change your perspective on life, how your goal posts can shift as the days and weeks progress.  How one persons idea of love is another's nightmare.  The power of  overwhelming expectations, from within , is part of Stevie's story.  What she had envisioned as a fulfilling journey, through academia,  brings old scars to the surface and she attempts to ignore the warning signs.  Kavanagh is loved up, beginning to see his future on the horizon and even plans his great escape from Galway.  Meanwhile, Pajo is concerned with an attempt to muscle in on his business and keeps his ear to the ground, while keeping his women on their knees, literally.

There are some razor-sharp  observations among the 250 pages of this book.  The characters hop off the page and take on a life of their own.  Galway is described honestly and without rose-tinted glasses.  Admirably,  the author tells of the local's boredom, and often resentfulness, of the 'Irishness' of the City.  The continuous playing of Galway Girl in the shops and pubs, the 'traditional' meals served in restaurants and the annual influx of tourists are hard to avoid in such a small area.  There is a common thread with each character.  They each have little or no dealings with their families.  They have escaped to Galway, not realising that it can be just as cloying there as in the family home.  

Not a huge amount happens in this novel.  Just like real life, the humour comes from everyday happenings, ordinary people and one-off occurrences.  The kind of 'you'd have to have been there'  moments, that we have all come across.  There is a bohemian feel throughout the book, the characters each having a spirit of freedom that comes with having no responsibility.  A mixture of dark comedic scenes, fantastic characters (Gavin, a fellow PhD fellow was just incredibly funny) and powerful writing make this an assertive debut.  A new voice in literary fiction, but a confident one.  

Skin Paper Stone is published by New Island and is available in paperback and ebook format 

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

"Some Girls Do" by Clodagh Murphy

Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of this title...

Claire is a quiet girl.  Living with her mother, working as a bookseller in an independent book store and happy to while away the hours on the internet or writing under her online alias, NiceGirl.  It just happens that her online persona is the complete opposite of her real self.  NiceGirl is the pseudo name for a hugely popular sex blog,  with plenty of steamy stories of the sexual exploits of a young, confident and experimental woman.  Online flirting with a London based publisher, Mark, leads to an offer of a book deal for NiceGirl, and Claire realises she will have to get some serious research done in order to convince him that she is capable of being as sexy as her online character.  Enter Luca, a handsome and experienced guy who has no problems lending a helping hand (or two) when it comes to sex lessons.  Hilarious bedroom activities are abound and Claire becomes aware of what she has missed out on over the years.  But can she convince Mark, or indeed herself, that she is a hot, sexy woman with some stories to share?

 This was such a great bit of fun!  From the first page, the reader knows that they are in for a light hearted look at sex and the exploits of singletons.  The online blog of NiceGirl, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, is laugh-out-loud funny and full of wild and wonderful make-believe shenanigans.   There are some cringe worthy stories that will have you in stitches as you picture the scenarios unfolding.  Claires quieter personality balances the brash one of NiceGirl and her innocence is really very sweet.  It's kind of a cross between Bridget Jones' character  and Samantha, from Sex and the City.  
I adored Luca.  A damaged soul with lots to offer (cough, cough), his back story was a welcome addition to the novel, with his strained relationship with his mother seeming very real.  Mark was nice but a bit wishy-washy.  Overall this story had a modern day (and sex filled) Jane Austen feel about it.  The book starts off as one thing, but ends up another.  Sometimes this can be a frustrating experience for a reader, but not in this case.  Life has a funny way of changing direction and the narrative here is no different.  
Clodagh Murphy has a wonderful way with words.  Some very raunchy, some funny and some moving.  The whole package works very well and I thoroughly enjoyed the sneak peek of Claires foray into the world of sexual adventure.  An ideal holiday read, grab a copy while the sun shines...

Some Girls Do is published by Hachette Ireland and is available in paperback and ebook format.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

"Dead Souls" by Elsebeth Egholm. Guest Review from Niall Moore.

Guest review from Niall Moore

On All Hallows' Eve, ex-convict Peter Boutrup is visiting his best friend's grave when her estranged mother appears. Her son, Magnus, has disappeared, and she begs Peter to look for him.
The next day a young nun is pulled out of the moat at the convent in Djursland. She has been garrotted and Peter, who works there as a carpenter, was the last person to see her alive. Meanwhile, diver Kir Røjel finds an old box resting on the seabed. Inside are human bones. They are sixty years old, but the victim had also been garrotted.
While Peter is looking for Magnus, Detective Mark Bille Hansen is assigned to the case. He is determined to link the bones in the box with the girl in the moat - but the hunt for the truth leads both he and Peter down a path so dark, they fear they may never return.

This is the second book by Elsebeth Egholm featuring the character of Peter Boutrup and having just finished it, I have decided to read this first one.  

The pace will keep you engrossed as the story unfolds to a great finish.
The police, an ex-convict and a diver get involved in solving some strange deaths.  They all have different ideas as to whom and how the killings occurred.  They pursue their own ideas, ultimately ending in the same place.   This creates three different plots which you have to follow all the way to the end.  

Elsebeth Egholm has been given the title of 'Denmark's Queen of Crime' and this is a title I would not argue with...

An excellent thriller, which will hold your attention to the end.

Dead Souls is published by Headline and is available in paperback and ebook format

Monday, 6 April 2015

"Normal" by Graeme Cameron

Thanks to Harlequin MIRA for supplying the review copy of this title...

How quickly could you spot a serial killer?  Male? Female? Young? Old?  In fact, most of us know that anyone of us could be a killer.  There are obviously recurring themes when you research the lives of these killers; dreadful childhoods, lack of love and support, lack of feelings etc etc... but very few people think of these things when they bump into a stranger on the street or park beside them at the supermarket.  Who is standing in line alongside you at the library?  How often have you seen the same person at the bus stop beside your local coffee shop?  Can you continue to believe that there is inherent goodness within us all, or should you start to doubt everyone you encounter?  There are no answers to these questions, by the way, but this is a book that will make you think about who you can trust and how much should you believe to be true.

The killer in Graeme Cameron's debut novel is very different to the ones we are used to reading about.  There is no swagger, no preferred 'type', no bigger plan.  He is just a confused man with a soft centre, who happens to trap women and sometimes murders them.  A man with an average appearance, a likability about him and an urge to hunt and kill.  He seems confused.  He wants to be the nice guy, genuinely has a good heart and, as far as serial killers go, treats his hostages fairly decently.  There is a gentleness about him which confuses not only his victims, but the reader too.  One minute you are shocked at his secret cellar and the mere idea of his entrapment of these women.  The next you are willing him on as he answers questions from the police who have their suspicions about him.  He knows himself that he is not 'normal' and even drops hints to people he encounters.  The writing is both shocking and comical at the same time,  The character is tragic yet warm, devious yet innocent and full of equal measures of darkness and warmth.  A very clever narrative which has echos of truth about it (The case of Natasha Kampusch comes to mind straight away, while further into the novel there are similarities to the hunting style of serial killer Robert Hanson), the novel is one that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and won't let go.  You know he is a despicable man who derserves to be caught, but the almost child-like innocence he portrays at the same time makes you doubt  it.  Like 'Dexter', the TV show serial killer, you are almost praying he won't be caught.  There is no doubt that the twisted mind of this man is not someone who should be allowed to roam the streets, among the 'normal', but there is more than one person who wants him around...

I  almost inhaled this book in one sitting.  It is clever, sassy, different and inspiring.  A brave new voice in the world of thrillers.  A voice that demands to be heard, and remembered.  Bravo Graeme Cameron.  Who wants 'Normal', in fiction, all the time??? A massive thumbs up from Bleach House Library!

Normal is published by Harlequin MIRA on 9th April 2015 in paperback and ebook format

"For the Love of Martha" by Maria Murphy

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

Juliet is house sitting in Italy and is more than a little surprised when she encounters a strange man in the apartment.  Logan is actually the owners son and, when the shock wears off, the two find their attraction is mutual.  A brisk holiday romance with picnics and day trips leads to a declaration of love and an invite to an ancestral home in Ireland, the 1800s Carissima, built by Lorcan's Great-Great-Grandfather.  Juliet is not eager to visit Ireland (presuming she will have to move there permanently), preferring the fast paced life of London and she wonders if her relationship with Lorcan is worth the effort.

Meanwhile, the history of Carissima and its original residents, come to light with the discovery of a diary in the library of the house.  Martha, a governess, was passionately in love with Edward but was brought to Ireland during their courtship, with him remaining in England to secure their financial future.  Their story interwoven with the one of Juliet and Lorcan, and Carissima becomes the link.

This is Maria Murphy's debut novel and taking on 120 years of historical fiction is no mean feat.  The reader gets a quick glimpse of modern times in the one page prologue and is then whisked back in time to Berkshire, England, 1888 and the world of Martha and Edward.  The Pershaw family have taken her under their wing but the agreement is one they seem to benefit from, as they gain a full time governess for their young daughter Beatrice.  When the young doctor is called to the house to attend to Beatrice's fever, Martha is smitten.  Edward is also in awe, and within days they declare their love for each other.  Similarly, in 2010, Juliet and Lorcan are 'twitterpated' within hours and plans to be together are launched upon with great gusto.  All within days of meeting.  I have to admit at raising my eyes to heaven at this stage.  The Story meandered for a bit, with excess narrative (the church fire was not required in the novel, in my opinion) and I very nearly gave up.  The thing that kept me going was Martha.  I wanted to know what happened to her.  What had happened to her great love with Edward?  I had lost interest in Juliet and Lorcan, for sure, but Carissima appeared on the scene and brought the story to life.  The descriptions of the property were limited but enough to make me want to visit.  The grounds with walled gardens, a lake and rolling, gentle hills sounded idyllic.  The whispers in the night and the unexplained turning on and off of lights made for more page turning.  
Eventually, upon discovery of the 1800's diary in the library, the story found itself.  The missing threads were tidied up and the atmosphere came to life.  Martha's story was the heart of this book.  It just came a little too late.  I would have liked more from the Pershaws and less of Juliet and Logan.   Maria can certainly write though.  You can tell she really connected with the character of Martha and with the idea of Carissima.  I'm sure the historical fiction genre is her niche, perhaps for a more mature reader and I think we will see may more beautiful covers, with her name on them, over the next few years. 

I will have an interview with the author, Maria Murphy,  on the blog later this week, so check back...

For the Love of Martha is published by Poolbeg and is available in Paperback and ebook format

Thursday, 2 April 2015

"The Dragon of the Month Club; Volume 1" by Iain Reading. Review by Mia, aged 11.

Thanks to the author for supplying a review copy of this title...

Review from Mia Madden, aged 11.

This is the first installment of the Dragon of the Month Club series.  It tells the story of Ayana and Tyler, two best friends who don;'t have anything in common except their love of dragons. which only happens when they stumble across a book entitled 'The Book'.  The cover also said 'Six easy steps to conjure your own dragon', which really intrigued them.
They first had to conjure the dragon, then two membership slips appeared on the back of The Book for the Dragon of the Month Club.  Each month, a new dragon was published in The Book and the group attempted them.  But during an attempt to conjure a steam dragon, the friends get sucked into a world made up of books around Tyler's bedroom.  Ayana and Tyler will have to trudge through German fairytales, a sand-worm-infested book about dunes, Chinese folklore and more, to get back to the real world.  Will they be able to make it back home safely?
Like all Iain Reading books, this one is awesome!  You can even join the Dragon of the Month Club online - Here.  You can send in dragons that you created.  This book has all my favourite genres with a bit of fantasy included too...
I still can't believe that Iain is coming to visit Bleach House Library, and my school, YAY!

Anyway,  I recommend this book for ages 8+.

The Dragon of the Month Club is available in paperback and ebook format.

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