Monday, 30 November 2015

Bleach House Library Top Reads 2015 - Part Two

Following on from yesterday's post of Top Reads from Literary and General Fiction, here are the other books we loved this year...

Children's Fiction 

A Dublin Fairytale by Nicola Colton.

My Review

Fiona has been given the task of taking some 'special witches brew' to her sick Granny.  With a map of Dublin in hand, she sets off through the capital's streets.  She passes the duck pond in St. Stephen's Green, scoots by Trinity College of Sorcery and encounters a Troll at the Ha'penny Bridge.  Although she is afraid, she remains brave and even befriends a dragon at The Spire.  The Magic Market, at Moore Street is full of wonder and amazement, until Fiona's basket is stolen by the Big Bag Wolf.  But she finds herself surrounded by new friends and even invites them to her Granny's house.  The little girl, in the red raincoat, shows young readers around the wonderful city of Dublin, while the story of  Red Riding Hood is re-told in an enchanting way.

This is a completely delightful picture book.  The pictures are full of colour and show off Dublin's best known landmarks, in all their glory.  Parents and teachers will be more than happy to read this sweet book to their children and pupils alike.  The illustrations alone make this one of my all-time favourite children's books.  This would make an ideal Christmas gift for anyone with Irish roots (I know my family abroad will love this, especially with Free Worldwide Postage) or just for any grandparents who love to sneak a bit of history in to their story-time sessions. Even just for parents who know and love Dublin.  It may inspire a trip to the city, with time to feed the ducks in St. Stephen's Green, or a wander through the grounds of Trinity College.  This story-book will fill the imagination of both children and adults alike.  An sublime debut, which should be added to all children's bookshelves...

A Dublin Fairytale is published by The O'Brien Press and is available in hardback and can be ordered, with Free Worldwide Postage and 10% discount, here. 

The Book of Learning by ER Murray. 



This is the first book in the Nine Lives Trilogy.  It's about 12-year-old Ebony Smart, who lives with her Grandpa Tobias and pet rat, Winston.  When Tobias dies, Ebony has to go to Dublin to live with a newly discovered aunt.  Reluctantly she goes, leaving her childhood behind.

When she arrives at her new home, she learns that she is one a few people who can reincarnate. During a tour of the house with her Aunt Ruby, Ebony finds a mysterious book that has her name on it.  Later that night she steals the book and reads about the reincarnating race and a guardian who can access the place where all the souls are kept.  Also a dangerous man called Icarus Bean is out three somewhere, looking for Ebony.  With the help of Aunt Ruby, Winston, two pre-historic wildcats, a new mind-reading friend called Zach and her past-selves, can Ebony find the guardian and Icarus Bean?

I loved this book so much that I made Lego figures of Zach and Ebony, and I don't usually mix up my Lego figures!  My mind was racing when I was reading this book, trying to piece together the clues, but I had to read to figure it out.
I can't wait for the next installment in the series.  I think this is another book to put on my favourites list...

I recommend this book for ages 10+.

The Book of Learning is published by Mercier Press and is available in paperback and ebook format.  You can order your copy, with Free Worldwide Postagehere 

Conor's Caveman: The Amazing Adventures of Ogg by Alan Nolan


Conor's Caveman is a great book with lively characters and a great sense of humour.  My favourite character is Ogg.  You would think he's not smart but he is.  He remembers his family from 6000 years ago and that's something we can't do.

The story starts off at a scout trip.  Conor and Charlie are put on the same team.  They go up a high hill and it gets foggy.  They wander off and find a caveman named Ogg.  A few days later Conor's mum still doesn't know about Ogg, but some scientists do. They try to capture Ogg at a scout trip.  

I loved this book and I thought it was great!  Alan Nolan is a great author.  I enjoy him and I hope you will too...
I recommend it for ages 7+


Conor's Caveman is published by The O'Brien Press is available in paperback and ebook format.  You can order your copy, with Free Worldwide Postagehere.

Darkmouth: Worlds Explode by Shane Hegarty

Review from Mia, aged 11.

This is the second book in the thrilling Darkmouth series by Irish author Shane Hegarty.  It continues the adventures of the last Legend Hunter, Finn, who has been frantically searching for a way to save his father.  Finn's dad is stranded in the Infested Side, another world filled with blood-thirsty monsters.  After stumbling across crystals covered with strange red dust, Finn attempts to open a gateway to the Infested Side.  Accompanied with his best friend Emmie and an annoying man, that keeps on telling Finn how many rules he's breaking, he ventures through the gateway.  This journey leads the group to befriending a monster, weird radio messages that might be from Finn's dad, being attacked by wolf-like creatures, time travel, explosions and finding his grandfather.  In all this confusion, will Finn find his dad?

This was a striking novel that didn't take long to get exciting.  A very well-written book by an amazing author.  I really enjoyed it and it was extremely funny.  I liked the artwork in it aswell.  Darkmouth: Worlds Explode is in my top ten books at the moment. 

I recommend this for age 9+


You can read Mia's review of the first in the Darkmouth series here.

Darkmouth: Worlds Explode is published by HarperCollins and is available in hardback and ebook format.
You can order your copy, with Free Worldwide Postage, and 18% discount, here.

The Midnight Carnival by Erika McGann. 

Review from Mia Madden, aged 12.

This book is the thrilling fourth installment in The Demon Notebook series, from Erika McGann.  This time, Grace and her friends come across a carnival in the park with no posters or flyers to tell them about it.  The girls take a liking to  it and go there every evening.  They meet a bearded ballerina called Justine, lizard-skinned Drake and strong-woman Agata, who make good friends with the young witches.  But Adie soon gets over it and tries to contact her buddies from Hy-Breasel (in the last book).  She ends up bringing home a faery that seems impossible to beat.  So, she goes to Bob (also known as the mirror man from book 2).  Back at the carnival, Jenny gets kicked out of magic class and decides to train with Agata.  Grace soon finds out there's an evil spell keeping the carnival going and Justine asks the witches' help to find an ancient straw doll that's supposedly keeping the acts alive.  Will the girls find the doll and will Adie get rid of the faery?

Like every one of Erika McGann's books, I loved this one.  My favourite character is Una because she's the funny one of the group and her catchphrase, which is 'fudgeballs', is hilarious.  With loads of twists and turns in it, I just couldn't predict what was going to happen next.  I love Erika's writing so much, that Erika is my Confirmation name!  Five stars for this one...

I recommend this book for ages 9+.

The Midnight Carnival is published by The O'Brien Press and is available in paperback and ebook format.  You can get your copy, with Free Worldwide Postage, here.


One by Sarah Crossan.

Conjoined twins, Grace and Tippie, have led a fairly sheltered life.  Surrounded by family and friends, home-schooled, with  local people used to seeing them all the time and therefore not being the object of people's stares.  All this changes when finances become an issue, and they have to move into a new public school.  While they continue their normal routine, like any regular child, they are subject to gawps, stares and barely concealed curiosities.  They struggle to process their new situation but find two friends to share their burden.  All is going (relatively) well, until one twin becomes ill.  A decision needs to be made, and only the girls can make it...

Written in verse, this novel brings Grace and Tippi's world to life with beauty, grace and warmth.  The girls are more than sisters, they are as one.  They share a body, for sure, but so much more than that, they share a soul.  Best friends, with different tastes in food and boys, with two very different personalities.  They may be conjoined, but are two intelligent, beautiful girls who need to be seen separately.  Falling in love, visiting the doctor, choosing what to eat, all these things require consideration on each others part, yet rarely cause tension.  The bond that they have is something that could never be understood by any single person.  
Sarah Crossan has crafted a novel that draws the reader into the lives of two girls, united from birth, as if she had injected their stories directly into the bloodstream.  As you turn the pages, you feel their feelings, see what they see and think their thoughts.  Each character is shaped in their own individual style and their story becomes a part of your life.  I began to slow down as I approached the end of the book, as I was dreading turning the last page.  I did not want to say goodbye to these girls.  I wanted to read more, and more about them.  It only took a few minutes to settle into reading a novel that is written in verse, as it is so beautifully composed.  The words are clever, well thought-out and very lyrical.  Each verse has a title, rather like a chapter, but they come fast and are fluid, blending together seamlessly. Aimed at the YA market, but suitable for any confident reader,  this should be added to everyone's wishlist, immediately.  Since closing the back cover, I have missed Grace and Tippi, their sister, their parents and their friends.  I was a part of their world for a very short time, but what a world it was...

Highly recommended.

One is published by Bloomsbury Childrens and is available in hardback and ebook format.
You can order your copy,with Free Worldwide Postage and 10% discount, here.

Asking For It by Louise O'Neill.

My Review

Eighteen year old, Emma O'Donovan, has it all.  Looks, brains, a great group of friends and a great social life.  All that changes when she is found on her front doorstep, bruised and blistered, with no recollection of how she got there.  She vaguely remembers a party, the previous night, and drinking copious amounts of booze, popping a pill and flirting her ass off.  After that, it is blank.  When she returns to school, the next day, it becomes very obvious that something big has happened.  No one will talk to her, there are whispers and pointing fingers and everyone seems to know what happened at the party.  When she discovers a facebook page, with photographs of her from that night, she begins to realise that her life has just collapsed.  But was she asking for it?

I can honestly say that I have not read a book that affected me as much as this one did.  I was so upset by the contents that my heart was pounding in anger, my hands ached from clenched fists and my heart broke a little more with each page.  I had to take a break, halfway through, but read it within four hours.  There was no way I could have put this away for another day.  

Louise O'Neill has taken the concept of 'consent' and brought it to her fictional story, based on many real-life cases.  Instead of setting the book in a big city, or with older characters, she has used the cusp of adulthood for her protagonist, Emma, and shown how a young woman, with a cocky, self assured exterior, can be an insecure child underneath it all.  The eighteen year old has been complimented on her extraordinary beauty since she was a baby and has learned to use this to her advantage.  Her stature and confidence means that she is the 'it' girl.  Everyone wants to be her friend, her lover, just be near her.  She gets away with a lot because of this; she can be a real bitch to her friends, uses people for her own gain and helps herself to what she believes she deserves.  However, the minute she closes the door to her own home, she reverts to childlike behaviour, with her mother pressing her pressure points.  She is constantly reminded by her mother of her need to maintain her poise and her beauty, while her father places her on a 'Princess' pedestal.  She wants it all.  Her whole life she has had it all.  The party is another example of her need to be queen bee.  She desires attention from men and women.  She thinks the girls should want to be like her, while the men should crave her.  Add alcohol and drugs into the mix and things very quickly descend into the stuff of nightmares.  

The novel starts off like a typical YA book, friends hanging out, classroom chats, after school chats and online banter.  A host of characters are introduced, very quickly, and there is a balance of males and females.  The night of the party changes the books direction and the reader is sucked into the very real and raw events that occur on that fateful night.  There is no easy way to describe the pain I felt in my gut, at this stage.  It was a bit like when you receive some terrible news, and your breathing and heart rate just shift, leaving a lump in your throat and a pain in your soul.  Sure, Emma was not a likeable character, especially when drunk.  Sure, she was flirty, cunning and out to get what she wanted.  But that does NOT make it right.  Ever.  It is irrelevant what she wore (with another, more staid character even mentioning that she owned the same dress), or whether she had previous sexual relationships.  Quite simply, she did not consent.  O'Neill cleverly uses an unlikable character to bring that point home.  There is NO excuse for rape, or sexual assault.  
The second half of the book examines Emma's life a year after the event.  This is almost as distressing as the party scene, as the reader sees her world collapse, along with the rest of the family.  The accused are experiencing things very differently to the victim and the rural community are taking sides.  The writing is sharp, honest, brutal and shows how backward the world is, in coming forward.  This is a book marketed as YA, yet should be read by everyone over sixteen years of age, regardless of gender, to highlight the injustice of our legal system, our outdated attitudes to women and encourage discussion of what is 'consent'.  An outstanding book, not to be ignored.  For the sake of females everywhere, present and future generations...

Asking for is published by Quercus. 
 You can order your copy, with Free Worldwide Postage and 13% discount, here.


Dear Cathy, Love Mary by Catherine Conlon & Mary Phelan.

My Review

Who can remember writing letters, on real paper, using a pen?  And then popping said letter into an envelope (preferably matching the writing paper) and heading to the post office to buy a stamp?  Usually the letters involved lots of angst-ridden prose and juicy gossip.  Often being sent to a friend or relative who had emigrated or just headed off for some summer work.  Less access to telephones, prohibitive costs when you managed to find a working public telephone, and a lack of internet, meant we all had to make an effort to stay in touch.  This non-fiction title, from Penguin Ireland, sees a full two-sided conversation between a pair of Irish teenage girls, separated by the miles of sea between Ireland and France, in 1983.  Cathy has taken an au-pair job in Brittany, while Mary has stayed behind, in South Tipperary, to study accountancy.  The girls embark on their journey to adulthood in different countries, but united with their love of correspondence.   The best 'fancy paper' is brought out and letters fly back between the girls at a steady pace.   
The reader is treated to (almost completely) unedited transcripts of these letters, and is thrown back to the days of records, tapes and limited TV viewing.  Chris deBurgh,  The Eurovision Song Contest and Dallas are the topics of conversation.   The latest fashion is dissected and gossip is ping-ponged, back and forth, with great aplomb.  Boys are on their minds, suntans revered and independence is something to be a little afraid of.  The cost of stamps is on their minds at times, and phone calls are few and far between.  The local newspaper is passed on to Brittany and the rose of Tralee is a great source of material for girls litany of events.  Photos of the actual letters are dotted throughout the book, and show the effort Cathy and Mary went to, when writing to each other.

This is a wonderful, nostalgic look back to 1980s Ireland, in all its backward glory.  The church still had a handle on society; with contraception, divorce and abortion all up for debate.  The girls were full of innocence and still enjoyed knitting and country walks, rarely venturing into cities or even local pubs. Their outlook for their respective futures are fairly bleak, as Ireland in 1983 was suffering from very high unemployment and the holy grail of jobs was a pensionable post in the Bank.  Not so different to today, so...

This is a book for anyone who had a pen pal, who was told by their career guidance teacher that au-pairing abroad was the way to go, or for those of us who collected 'fancy paper' and stalked the postman.  Basically, for anyone who remembers the suffocation of 1980s Ireland, but with a hint of nostalgia.  The days pre-internet, pre-walkman,(never mind i-pod) and the times when a letter from a friend would light up your day, sometimes even your week.  I foresee a huge influx of non-fiction titles, with all kinds of correspondence within its pages, coming to the bestseller lists in the near future.  This one deserves a place right up there.  It is warm, charming and full of youthful innocence.  Ireland may have been in the depths of moral decline (according to the Catholic Church) but these two young women were perfect examples of how the biggest tragedy was actually the mass unemployment that divided the nation into two camps; those who could stay, and those who could not.  A narrative that is echoing once again through our country...

Highly Recommended.  

Dear Cathy, Love Mary is published by Penguin Ireland and is available in hardback and ebook format.  You can order your copy, with Free Worldwide Postage and 15% discount, here.

Bleach House Library Book of the Year 2015

This was my favourite book of 2015.  While not a comfortable read, by any stretch of the imagination, it has such an important subject matter and should be required reading for anyone, male or female, over the age of fifteen.  Louise O'Neill has taken the age-old phrase 'asking for it' and made us all reach into our souls to see if there is ever such a thing...
Truly clever, articulate and memorable.  Left me sucker punched for days after turning the last page.  A must-read!

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