Monday, 31 August 2015

"Asking For It" by Louise O'Neill.



I received a copy of this title in exchange for an honest 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 on 3rd Sep 2015, by Quercus. 
 You can order your copy, with Free Worldwide Postage and 13% discount, here.  The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:


Saturday, 29 August 2015

"Eggshells" by Caitriona Lally.



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


Vivian is not great at social interaction.  Actually, Vivian is extremely awkward in company and can go days without speaking to another human being.  A grown-up orphan, she lives in an inherited house in Dublin's North inner city.  She has sporadic contact with her sister, also called Vivian, and avoids her neighbours as much as possible.  However, she would like to have friends, have a purpose to her days and someone to bounce her random thoughts off.  Lemonfish, her decrepit goldfish, is not one for  words, so she advertises for a friend.  But Vivian, being the individual that she is, only wants a friend called Penelope.  No nicknames, like Pen or Penny.  She has her reasons, one being her love for certain words and their formations.  When she receives a reply, Vivian embraces the idea of friendship, despite initial reservations, and travels outside her comfort zone.  The reader is brought on a memorable journey, through the streets of  Dublin, where Vivian looks upon the city from a unique angle.  She sees places, landmarks and road signs unlike most of us.  She sees colours where we may see grey, history in place names long ignored and symmetry that is taken for granted.  But can one survive the streets of Dublin when unable to converse to an acceptable norm?  Vivian walks the streets, to a certain pattern, determined to find answers within the city limits...

Vivian may be the most endearing character I have encountered in modern Irish fiction.  Like Jonesy, from Donal Ryan's The Thing About December, there is a raw, honest and innocent feel about her.  Caitriona Lally shuns the label of  'mental illness' and shows how the most intelligent minds can often hide behind the facade of awkwardness and insecurity.  Vivian's personal hygene, for example, is atrocious, as she doesn't see the need to conform to the 'norm'.  She is afraid of her own reflection and sees no need to change her clothes on a regular basis.  To her, food is fuel, money is for the bare basics and the real goal in life is to find harmony in words, on the streets, in history and in books.  When she makes an effort to conform, albeit in her typical unusual way, there are hilarious consequences.    A trip to the hairdressers in the City's largest department store actually made me laugh aloud, while her attempts to gain the friendship of a taxi driver had a mixture of humour and sadness blended together.   Vivian's sister is riddled with sibling embarrassment and disdain, yet she is aware that she is tied to her namesake forever.  Their interaction is uncomfortable from her perspective, yet her oblivious sister tries her best to blend into their family unit.  

Lally has created a character which will remain forever etched in my mind.  Vivian is a woman who many would cross the road to avoid, yet could enrich the lives of others.  Her idiosyncrasies may seem extreme and would make you wonder if such a character would survive without access to cash on a regular basis (not really touched on in the novel).  But, this is fiction, and like The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simpsion, Eggshells is such a clever read, using the protagonist as a way of making the reader question the accepted 'norms' of our everyday lives.  There is a also a touch of magic injected into Dublin's Northside, which is a welcome change to the more fiction-populated areas on the Southside.  No need for leafy suburbs and canal walks, when Vivian shows the hidden gems on the other side of the Liffey.  Some may say that not much happens in this debut novel.  I would disagree.  It is full of sincerity, spacial awareness, a reverse view of today's expectations and an massively memorable character.  Highly recommended for lovers of Irish literary fiction...  

Eggshells is published by Liberties Press and is available in paperback and ebook format.
You can order your copy, with Free Worldwide Postagehere.  The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:


Friday, 28 August 2015

"The Secrets We Share" by Emma Hannigan. Giveaway.




Thanks to Headline Review, I have a copy of the new paperback edition of Emma Hannigan's The Secrets We Share.  I featured this title, as part of #IrishFictionFortnight, and you can read my review here.

Devastated after a tragedy, Nathalie Conway finds herself on a plane to Ireland. She is on her way to stay with her grandmother Clara. The grandmother up until now Nathalie had no idea existed...
As Clara awaits her granddaughter's arrival, she is filled with a new sense of hope. She has spent the last twenty years praying her son Max would come back into her life. Perhaps now her son can find a way to forgive her for the past. And her granddaughter may be the thread to stitch the pieces of her beloved family back together.

To win a copy of this novel from one of Ireland's best loved female-fiction authors, you can enter via rafflecopter link below.  Good Luck!  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Emma Hannigan is from Bray, Co Wicklow in Ireland. She is married with two children. 

Writing became her passion and life line in 2006, quite by mistake. Having discovered she carries the cancer gene BRCA 1, Emma chose to have a double mastectomy and her ovaries removed. 
Alas, she developed cancer a year after her radical surgery. Determined to battle and become a true cancer vixen, Emma fought the good fight! To date Emma had beaten cancer a remarkable 8 times!
'I like to keep score,' she jokes. 'So far it's cancer 0 - Emma 8 
Emma's fight with cancer is detailed in her memoir 'Talk to the Headscarf.' Emma is a glass-half-full type of person and cancer hasn't changed that. 
'I wrote 'Talk to the Headscarf' to show people that cancer doesn't always win. When I was diagnosed at first, I wanted an ordinary person to tell me I could live through this awful disease. This isn't a misery memoir. It's not there to scare people. It's all the things you ever wanted to know about cancer, but were afraid to ask! I laughed out loud writing parts of this book and I hope readers will too.'
Emma's writing career began in the chemotherapy unit. 
'I wrote because I was bored. But most of all I needed an out let at the time. I discovered I adore creating characters and telling stories. I feel truly blessed to have found this wonderful and exciting new career.' 
Emma has written six novels and is determined to keep adding to her list.
If you would like to contact Emma or learn more about her, please go to her web site: www.emmahannigan.com



The Secrets We Share is published by Headline Review and is available in paperback and ebook format.



Wednesday, 19 August 2015

"Miss Emily" by Nuala O'Connor.




Emily Dickinson loves words more than people.  She notices the beauty in the minutia of nature and sees random darkness of the world around her.  Quite content to remain within the confines of her house and gardens in Amhurst, she adores her friend Susan, is indifferent to her family and whiles away her hours writing verse, in her bedroom.  However, when a new maid arrives from Ireland she is strangely drawn to her chatty and inquisitive nature.  Ada is not backward in coming forward and balances out the stuffiness of Amhurst, delightfully.  There is life injected into the house and Emily and Ada become unlikely friends.  The smell of baking lingers in the downstairs kitchen and pantry, the sound of chat is heard where there was formerly silence and Ada's beau is a frequent visitor to the Dickinson kitchen.  Ada's life is altered one fateful evening and things slowly begin to unravel.  A fear of the unknown, a lack of family and a dreadful illness cause Ada to become a problem for the Dickinson family.  Emily is determined to help, in whatever way she can, but can she save Ada?  Is their friendship strong enough to go beyond the barrier of the staff/employer divide?

To say I was chomping at the bit to read this novel is a bit of an understatement.  I have been a fan of Emily Dickinson's work since studying her for my school exams.  Not only are her words profound, intense and memorable, but researching her life was an unexpected pleasure.  The 'crazy' lady, locked in her bedroom with no company but for her poems.  Dark, depressed and dreary.  This is what many have come to believe about Emily's life and words.  But this is an incomplete, and perhaps debatable or inaccurate, picture.  Nuala O'Connor has identified with the woman behind the poetry.  The human being who devoured literature, loved her friend and sister-in-law dearly, appreciated nature for its simple existence and who said :

"Hope is a thing with feathers - 
 That perches in the soul -
 And sings the tune without the words - 
 And never stops - at all - "

Each chapter is given a unique title, which lends a feeling of a more intimate read.  It also means the reader can return to favourite passages quite easily.  The chapter lengths are short, yet each contains an equal measure of literary delight.  There are no fillers here.  For the first time, I am considering buying the audio book, to soak up the eloquent words from another perspective.
The author has taken a legendary poet and given her a voice through fiction.  Using wonderful prose, elegant style and respectful narrative, she has brought Emily to life.  Her famed 'darkness' is not relevant to this story, her love of flora and fauna, her trusting nature and her adoration of the written word are the important factors.  Her unexpected closeness to the family maid is the core of this tale.  Ada is what Emily needs, and Emily is what Ada needs.  Two very different women, two vastly different walks of life, yet two characters who understand each other more than anyone.  
Meticulous research has led to a novel full of detail, warmth, depth and beauty.  It is historical fiction with elegance and integrity.  Just as Miss Emily Dickinson deserves...


Miss Emily is published by Sandstone Press on 20th Aug 2015 and is available in paperback and ebook format. 


Tuesday, 18 August 2015

"About Sisterland" by Martina Devlin.


I received an ARC of this title from Ward River Press, in return for an honest review...

Sisterland is all about women.  Men are only needed for breeding and heavy labour.  Women no longer need them and every female has a role within the land.  There are limited thoughts allowed, memories are censored via 'memory-keepers' and emotions are strictly controlled.  The governing body of Sisterland are a group of nine women, who make all decisions for the good of their country.  Mothers are not allowed bond with their babies, male children are not celebrated and the concept of love is unknown.  Living quarters are allocated, not chosen, life partners are assigned and every day is extremely regimental.  Women can not leave their homes without wearing masks to protect them from the atmosphere and 'nature' is piped in through speakers and air vents in the form of bird song and various scents.
  Constance is struggling with controlling her emotions and when she is chosen to 'baby-fuse' and become pregnant, for the good of Sisterland, she feels 'mos' that she had never know existed.  Her regimented surroundings start to seem smothering and she has more questions than answers.  If only she had someone to talk to.  Can she risk asking about her feelings? Is there anyone in Sisterland she can completely trust?  Is this place really for the benefit  of womankind or is there more than meets the eye?

Martina Devlin has delved into her imagination and thrust the reader into a world of 'what if'...
What if you were not allowed think what you wanted to? What if emotions were a commodity? What if  you were only giving birth to increase the population?  All combined, these concepts are fantastical, but when individually examined, many have occurred in many regimes, worldwide, already.  How insane was the Nazi regime during WWII? How many baby girls have been dumped in China? How many young women were used for breeding an Aryan Race?  Why do whole countries let a small number of people make such important decisions without questioning their motives? Simplistic, I know, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and this book brings the idea to a new level.  Set in the near future, science is not the cause of this extreme idea of a female-led society.  Unusually, there is no manipulation of embryos, artificial insemination or test tube trials.  The good old fashioned baby-making ways are used, but under controlled guidance from specialised staff.  Pregancy terms are shortened, to facilitate more births at a faster rate, and 'Sourcing places' take the place of hospitals.  The Nine (the governing body of Sisterland) are a sinister crew, who have more than a few shady moments, making the book even more interesting.  How far-fetched is this novel? Not very, it seems.  Restricting the flow of  information and editing history can lead to a very different future.  Clever manipulation, piped smells and music, thought-forming chants and complete segregation.  Is it completely improbable? This amazingly clever novel makes it seem eerily possible.  Using an inquisitive young woman as its protagonist, the author is able to address the whole background to Sisterland, and how it came to be.  The additional characters are fantastically drawn and link many issues seamlessly.  It may take the reader a little while to settle into the language and identify with individual characters, but once in, you won't want to leave this bizarre world.  Your dreams may move to another level, your thoughts on history may jar and your awareness of your own emotions may increase.  Welcome to Sisterland.  A world not that far removed from the one we live in...
Highly recommended.

About Sisterland is published by Ward River Press on 26th August 2015 and will be available in Paperback and ebook formats.


"Demon Road" by Derek Landy. Review from Mia, aged 12.



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

REVIEW BY MIA, AGED 12.

This book is about a sixteen year old girl named Amber.  She lives a normal life, in a normal house, with a normal job and normal parents.  At least, she thinks her parents are normal.  When two rude guys attack her, it changes her life forever.

She becomes a red-skinned, horned demon and then figures out her parents and their friends demons too.  And, they are out to kill her.

When Amber is sent off with a complete stranger on a drive around America, she has no idea what's going on.  She makes a deal with a demon from Hell and she only has 504 hours to find a person who's name she doesn't know, or else she dies.  During the journey, Amber meets an Irish guy called Glen who has a similar predicament to hers and he tags along.  On their mission, Amber, Glen and the driver, Milo, battle off vampires, more demons and winged beasts.  But will they survive driving across the Demon Road?


This is an amazing book by Derek Landy, one of my favourite authors. I read it in three nights!  I love his Skulduggery Pleasant novels as well.  I find Derek's work a great way to get people reading.

There is a bit of cursing in this book, so I recommend it for ages 12+


Demon Road is published by Harper Collins and is available in Hardback and ebook format.  You can order your copy, with 18% discount and Free Worldwide Postage, here.  The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:




Sunday, 16 August 2015

"Pretty Baby" by Mary Kubica.




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

A cold, wet and miserable Chicago day.  Heidi is a busy working mother. Same train station, same routine.  But a young mother and baby catch her eye and she just cannot shake off the feeling that she should be doing something to help them.  One brief moment on a platform may change her life forever.  But will her good intentions be her downfall?

Mary Kubica strormed into the bestseller charts, last year, with her debut novel The Good Girl.  I was lucky enough to be an early reader of that title and was shocked to learn it was her first novel, such was the quality if the writing.  You can read my review of The Good Girl here.  The author has yet again produced a page-turner to hook the reader from page one, with this latest offering, Pretty Baby.

  Heidi is a warm-hearted woman, who takes care of refugees in her working life and is a wife and mother of a twelve year old daughter.  She has battled cancer. come out the other side and is fearless in her quest to make the world a better place.  Her husband adores her, but is working long hours to keep the family living in comfort in their midtown apartment.  Their daughter, Zoe, is approaching puberty and has the mood swings to match.  When Heidi sees the teenage stranger, soaked to the skin and cradling her baby awkwardly, she cannot shake the image.  Her insides ache and she feels drawn to the desperate situation.  Despite her family's obvious discomfort, she offers Willow and her baby, Ruby, a roof over their head.  But why will she not inform the authorites?  Why does she not tell her best friend or her neighbour about her temporary lodger?  Who is Willow running away from and why are her clothes stained with blood?

Mary Kubica has created a character who is genuinely a nice lady.  A do-gooder, who sees her place in the world as an aide to better the lives of others.  Do her family have to suffer as she crusades on behalf of others?  Her husband, Chris, has the patience of a saint and lets his wife take the lead in their personal life, while he earns the big salary.  A slave to work, with an attractive female co-worker, he balances out Heidi's earth-mother role.  Their daughter is spoiled and fairly demanding for a girl of her years, and you could see why Heidi would have fond memories of her infant years, rather than her current ones.  Willow is intriguing from the get-go.  She is secretive, insular and obviously afraid.  She is afraid of thunder, loud noises and is distrustful.  The reader is treated her to her back story from the beginning so know her reasons, but Heidi and her family have no idea.  Different chapters are narrated by Willow, Heidi and Chris, leading to an unravelling story which keeps you gripped to the end.  A psychological thriller which explores motherhood, lack of trust, inferiority issues and the inner workings of the mind.  A gripping read, fantastical in its concept, but a thrilling ride all the same...

Ideal for fans of The Girl on the Train

Pretty Baby is published by Mira on 13th Aug 2015, with the kindle version currently available on Amazon.

Monday, 10 August 2015

"FishBowl" by Bradley Somer.


I received a copy of this title, via Lovereading.co.uk, in return for an honest review... 



Ian the Goldfish is on a journey of discovery. Falling from a rooftop of a 27 floor apartment block, he catches glimpses of the varied lives through the passing windows. The reader is treated to a deeper look at the lives of the residents of the building.

 Each chapter has a name (rather like each episode of the TV show, Friends) and each one is filled with the individual stories of a wonderfully diverse range of characters. A young couple who's ideas of a relationship vary immensely, a first time mother in labour, a woman who is afraid to leave her apartment, a young boy who is home-schooled, the lonely caretaker of the building, the construction worker with a secret and a visiting mistress. There is no connection between these people and they all close their apartment doors without knowing each other. 

As Ian floats past each window, he struggles to make sense of what is happening (goldfish memories not being the greatest) and the author cleverly describes the human world through the (dry) eyes of the fish.

 There are some of the most amazing pieces of prose dotted through this wonderful novel. It reminds me of a modern day James Joyce, with acute observations, wry humour and wit, combined with honest and endearing characters. Like 'Dubliners' without dwelling on the location of the apartment block or separating each chapter into short story form. There is a slight similarity, in style, to Nick Hornby's works, but this author brings a more literary edge to the table. An absolute joy to read.

This is a quirky read, full of wonderful characters and unique stories.  The lightness of Ian the Goldfish is balanced by some great writing and memorable moments.  Definitely worth buying, for the arty cover alone.


Here is the very slick book trailer...



Fishbowl is published by Ebury Press and is available in Hardback and ebook format.  You can order your copy, with Free Worldwide Postage and 24% discount, here.  The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:

Sunday, 9 August 2015

#IrishFictionFortnight - Day 14 - Exclusive Claudia Carroll Short Story and Giveaway



A massive thank you to author, Claudia Carroll, for not only donating a signed copy of her latest novel as a giveaway, but writing an EXCLUSIVE short story for #IrishFictionFortnight.  To say I am honoured is a bit of an understatement!  So, for all you female fiction fans, I give you this: 


We Can But Dream... 

by Claudia Carroll


            ‘Suzie? Come on, enough faffing about. Up on the scales please!’ ordered their instructor, an emaciated woman who’d probably never gone within six feet of a complex carbohydrate in her entire life.
            ‘Go on then Suze, you can do it,’ her best pal Jayne over at her hissed encouragingly.
‘Easy for you to say. ‘Suzie whispered back, ‘may I remind you, you weren’t the one who had the take out chicken tikka masala last night. Bitch.’
‘Ah relax,’ Jayne muttered, so the rest of the class of skinnymalinks they were surrounded by wouldn’t overhear. ‘At least you skipped desert, whereas Bessy Bunter here went straight onto the chocolate pecan ice cream. Compared with me, you ate like bloody Gandhi last night. Now shut up and get weighed.’
            The brisk, disappointed ‘tsk, tsk,’ from their class instructor as Suzie gingerly stepped on the scales told her everything she needed to know. Four pounds up on last week. Surprise, surprise.
Not that poor old Jayne fared much better when her turn came. A mortifying six pounds up in a week. Their instructor almost had to be given oxygen after that one.
‘You know what? This is such a load of horse dung,’ Jayne moaned to Suzie after class, as the pair of them sat in Starbucks, over a miserable zero-calorie herbal tea, that frankly tasted like drinking tepid water, drunk out of a puddle.
‘All that money to join Weight Busters and the pair of us have actually piled it on. Please remind me why we thought this was a good idea in the first place?’
            ‘Because,’ said Suzie determinedly. ‘You and I are having a joint wedding and the pair of us are going to look emaciated, bony and so, so scarily thin, that we’ll look back on the photos in years to come and think, wow! How did my family not cart me off to be treated for an eating disorder?!’
‘Just keep on telling me that,’ said Jayne, staring longingly at a woman at a table beside them, who was having a full fat hot chocolate with whip and a side of hot fudge cake. Even the smell of it was starting to make Jayne feel violent. ‘Because, hand on heart, I’m this close to cracking and making a bolt for the nearest Indian take-away.’
            Thankfully though, Suzie stood firm.
            ‘Think of the pair of us going to a dress fitting in one of those fancy bridal shops,’ she told Jayne determinedly. ‘One of those posh, designer wedding boutiques where they actually hand you a glass of champagne while you’re being measured.’
‘They really do that?’
‘Course they do! Then think about our dress designer fretting herself to nothing because we’re both losing so much weight in the run up to the wedding, that the dresses are hanging off us. Wait till you see, she’ll compare the two of us to Kate and Pippa Middleton. And you don’t need me to tell you the size the pair of them were at THAT wedding. Then think of our joint wedding reception. And the wedding cake…’
‘Which has to be chocolate biscuit cake, with extra thick dark chocolate sauce on the side…’ Jayne chipped in, hand on her elbow, looking like she was ready to start eating the leg of the chair beside her.
‘Then think of how thin we’ll both be on our joint honeymoon…’
‘Which I really think should be in the Caribbean,’ said Jayne firmly. But then she’d had this thing about Caribbean honeymoons, ever since reading about five star resorts there that were all inclusive. Meaning you could eat and drink what you wanted. All day, every day. Bliss.
‘Hmm,’ said Suzie suddenly sounding doubtful. ‘But then what if there’s a hurricane? There’s always stories on Sky about hurricanes howling through the Caribbean destroying everything…could you imagine? What about…say…the Seychelles instead?’
‘Do they do all inclusive hotels, with all you can eat buffets?’ was Jayne’s first concern.
‘Well, emm…yeah. I’m sure they do.’
‘Well of course, we’ll have to check. I’m not starving myself for this big wedding, only to go on honeymoon and find out there’s only pathetic bits of mango and watery old salads for lunch. You know my criteria.’
‘Course I do love,’ Suzie nodded along. ‘The honeymoon hotel must have a minimum of eight restaurants…’
 ‘Serving everything from Japanese sushi to Chinese….’
‘To Italian. Twenty-four hours a day, round the clock. Well I mean, we gotta have pizza on the beach.’
‘That’s a given! Why else are the pair of us starving ourselves to nothing, if we can’t have pizzas in the middle of the day – or night -  whenever we feel like it?’
‘Oh and don’t forget room service! I for one will need rashers, eggs and sausages first thing every morning…’
‘Oh would you shut up, I’m actually salivating now,’ said Suzie, starting to get a bit tetchy from the hunger pangs. ‘All I had today on account of the weigh in, was a shagging boiled egg and a niggardly bit of chicken with the skin gone off it.’
‘That it?’
‘Yeah,’ Suzie relied virtuously. ‘Well, apart from the chips I had after the chicken, that is.’
‘Oh well they hardly count,’ said Jayne encouragingly. You can’t just have chicken just on its own. That’s not natural.’
‘How about you?’
Ehh…yoghurt, porridge with low fat milk …’
‘Good girl.’
‘And ehh….a cheese toastie with a box of Pringles.’
‘Did you have to mention Pringles to me? Right now, I’d gnaw someone’s head off for a single Pringle.’
‘But come on, just think how worth it it’ll be!  Just think. You and me. On our joint honeymoon. Wearing  tight jeans…’
‘Jeans!! I lie awake at night dreaming about being able to wear skinny, boyfriend cut jeans…..’
‘So just stay strong! We can do this, we can motivate each other, we can starve together! It’ll be SO worth it. Think of the guys!’
‘Our grooms! Our actual grooms….our husbands….so proud of us, looking adoringly at us….’
‘And of course,’ Suzie said triumphantly, ‘after we deal with all the weight loss, there’s only one thing we’ve got left to do!’
‘What’s that?’
‘The easy bit!’
‘Which is…?’
 ‘All we have to do is go out there and find ourselves two fellas!’

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

#IrishFictionFornight Giveaway

To be in with a chance of winning a signed copy of Claudia's newest release, just enter via rafflecopter link below.  Good Luck!  


THE BLURB

In a New York minute, everything can change …

Holly Johnson is at a crossroads in her life. She wants to make it as a real journalist, and she’s dreaming of falling in love.

She’s so close to getting her break at work, and she’s met a very special guy. Well, she hasn’t actually met him … not yet. But everyone knows most relationships start online these days. And she’s on to a winner with this one. Isn’t she?

But something is not quite right with Andy McCoy – and he’s about to learn you don’t mess with Holly Johnson. She decides to fly to New York to find the truth.

Holly is about to get the shock of her life.

What she finds in Manhattan swiftly turns into a nightmare.

But maybe – just maybe – if Holly is true to herself, she can turn this nightmare into a dream come true …  


Meet Me in Manhattan is published by Avon and is available in paperback and ebook format.  To order your copy, with Free IRL and UK delivery, here.  


#IrishFictionFortnight - Day 14 - "My Buried Life" by Doreen Finn. Feature and Giveaway.



Thanks to New Island, there is a paperback edition of this title to giveaway for #IrishFictionFortnight.  Just enter via rafflecopter link below.  Good Luck!

IRISH FUNERALS IN FICTION by Margaret Madden

Irish funerals have a way about them.  They are an event in themselves.  Funeral homes are indeed used, but the further into the countryside you go, the more likely you are to attend a wake.  Irish people love a good funeral.  The best clothes are brought out, the homemade baking is wrapped in the nicest tea-towels and miles and miles of sandwiches are made. (Mostly ham and cheese, or egg salad).  People genuinely want to pay their respects, and must be seen to shake the hand of the bereaved, stand solemnly at a graveside or mention how wonderful the embalmed body looks in the open coffin.  There is no malice, just a need to be part of the gathering and there is always a gallon or two of tea to be had.  

If you do a google search of funerals in Irish fiction you will see some of our nations finest authors there.  James Joyce, John McGahern, Anne Enright et al.  However,  I have read two exquisitely crafted accounts of Irish funerals in recent years.  One was Donal Ryan's The Thing About December and the other was the opening chapters of this  novel, My Buried Life, from Doreen Finn.  
Both are set in recent times, both detail the days surrounding death and burial and both describe the reaction of the community to the passing of one of their own.  One in a country town, one in Dublin.  Donal Ryan uses his character, Johnsie to describe the women of the Irish Country Women's Association gathering in the home of a recently deceased man. 

"Sure why wouldn't they have been mad about their little crathur, Mother said to Molly Kinsella the day Dwyer died and a few of the ICA biddies had gathered in Johnsie's mother's kitchen to pick at the tragedy like crows picking at a flungaway snackbox."
  
In Doreen Finn's debut, her protagonist has returned from the US to bury her estranged mother.  Years of hostility and bitterness have brewed up inside her, and coming home is the last thing she wants.  The funeral is described from the eyes of a cynical, tired woman who has not set foot in Ireland for decades and feels nothing at the passing of her mother.

"Wet hands press my cold flesh.  Murmured words sweep over me, blending in a toneless wash of indecipherable sound.  Earth hits the coffin lid.  Thwack.  I try to focus on the eyes that line up in front of me, jet lag and a headache distancing me further from the kindness and awkward, fumbled mumbles of sympathy and solidarity."

While funerals may vary from county to county, and village to village, there is always a certainty that you will see people there that are serial funeral go-ers.  They go to see and be seen,, shake hands with the bereaved and eat paper-platefuls of triangle shaped sandwiches, all washed down with super-strength tea.  Sure, tea is the answer to everything...


THE BLURB

What happens when you no longer recognise the person you have become? 

Eva has managed to spend her twenties successfully hiding from herself in New York. 

Attempting to write, but really only writing her epitaph, she returns to Ireland to confront the past that has made her what she is. 

In prose that is hauntingly beautiful and delicate, Doreen Finn explores a truly complex and fascinating character with deft style and unflinching honesty. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Doreen Finn was born in Dublin. She was educated at UCD, and holds a degree in English and Spanish, and a Master s in Education. She has lived in Madrid and Los Angeles, and currently resides in Dublin with her husband and two small children. My Buried Life is her first novel


My Buried Life is published by New Island and is available in paperback and ebook format.  You can order your copy, with Free Worldwide Postage and 15% discount, here.  The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:




#IrishFictionFortnight - Day 14 - "Spill Simmer Falter Wither" by Sara Baume. Review and Giveaway.



"This is my favourite novel of the decade"


Thanks to Tramp Press, there are two copies of this award-winning debut novel to be won.  Just enter via rafflecopter link below.  Good Luck! 

MY REVIEW

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 the amazing team at Tramp Press.  The title is available in paperback and you can get your copy, with Free Worldwide Postage and 12% discount, here.  


#IrishFictionFortnight - Day 14 - "Eggshells" by Caitriona Lally. Author Q&A and Giveaway.



Thanks to Liberties Press, there is a copy of this fantastic literary title to giveaway for #IrishFictionFortnight.  Just enter via rafflecopter link below.  Good Luck!  

THE BLURB

Vivian doesn’t feel like she fits in – never has. She lives alone in a house in north Dublin that her great-aunt left to her. She has no friends, no job and few social skills. She knows she is different. Before they died, her parents used to tell her she was a 'changeling' who belonged to another world. Each day, she walks the streets of Dublin, looking for a way to get there. ‘I need a big wind that could turn into a cyclone because today I'm going to visit Yellow Road and Emerald Street. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the cyclone carried Dorothy to Oz, and she followed the Yellowbrick Road to the Emerald Palace to find her way home.’ It doesn't work. After all, Dublin has a certain charm, but no actual magic. And so Vivian sets off on a new quest: to find a friend. A very specific kind of friend. ‘WANTED: Friend Called Penelope. Must Enjoy Talking Because I Don't Have Much to Say. Good Sense of Humour Not Required Because My Laugh Is A Work in Progress. Must Answer to Penelope: Pennies Need Not Apply.’ A Penelope replies, but will the two women become friends? Will she make a connection with another person in this world so she can stop searching for a portal to another one? She sets off for their first meeting. ‘I huddle and tighten myself against the wind and think up ways to describe it to Penelope. Is a “rape” of a wind too strong for the first sentence of a first meeting?’ Rooted Dublin’s Northside, Eggshells is a whimsical, touching story about loneliness and friendship and hope.  

Q&A with Caitriona Lally


When did you realise that you wanted to write?
It was never a major realisation, more a slow gnawing, a feeling I should be writing. I had written stories for fun as a child but had gotten out of the habit. I studied English in college, and that was brilliant for my reading, but I didn't have the confidence to even think about writing then. It was only in my 30s that I talked myself into joining a writing class to make me write. I had been running marathons but injured my knee, and when it became clear after surgery that I wouldn't be running seriously again, I decided I needed a new obsession, so writing was it! I would hugely recommend joining a writing group - to meet other people who want to write and to learn how to give feedback, and accept it without weeping.

Tell us about being selected as one of the winners of The Irish Writers Centre Novel fair 2014.
That was the most incredible moment. I had entered my 10,000 words in October 2013, and had given up on the idea that I might be selected. So I was in the process of forcing myself to keep plugging away at the novel – at this stage I was on the fourth or fifth rewrite – and trying to stay motivated. Then when I got the phone call from Brendan at the Irish Writers' Centre, I just shrieked and shrieked, there was no sense out of me for a while. I suppose it was the first real validation I'd had for my writing – I had never been published anywhere before this, so I didn't really know if what I was doing was worth anything.
The Novel Fair itself was fantastic. I'd encourage anyone who wants to write a novel to enter – if nothing else, it gives you a deadline to work to. So, 12 of us were selected to meet lots of publishers and agents for 15 minutes, and pitch our novels to them. It was very intense, but great fun – and lovely to meet another bunch of writers. I got an agent, Ger Nichol, and then Liberties Press signed me, both as a direct result of the fair.

When did the idea of Vivian come to you? Before or after deciding to write about the streets of Dublin?
Somewhere in the middle I think. I'd been made redundant in 2011, and spent lots of time walking from my house in Cabra into town. I'd started noticing street signs that had letters missing, and I was making notes of them. Then the notebooks began to include interesting conversations I overheard on the bus or buildings that seemed to belong in fairytales or Bond movies. I thought I might write an essay about Dublin streets, but then I realised I was having more fun imagining why these street signs might have letters missing, or what these buildings could house. So Vivian grew from those imaginings. I decided to go the fiction route, but I think a lot of her impressions of Dublin are mine.

I am from Dublin and know most of the areas mentioned in Eggshells,  yet have never viewed them for the angle that Vivian did.  Was it a conscious decision to portray Dublin from a new angle, or was that the original goal?
There was no conscious decision to do that, but I'm delighted you think it's a new angle. It's just the way my strange mind works. I think that came from spending so much time wandering around Dublin; when you're not working, your mind is free to mull on things. Vivian views places as possessing secrets or magic, and a lot of the fun of writing Eggshells came from Vivian's perspective coming up against the realities of Dublin and its people. She's seeking a pattern or a code that will help her to find out who she is, so everything in the city becomes packed with potential meaning.

Vivian may be one of the most memorable characters I have read in years.  She is considered ‘slow’, ‘different’ or ‘away with the fairies’ yet has a realness about her.  Do you think the Vivians of this world are given a fair presence in fiction?
I'm delighted you find her memorable – I loved writing her. And I'm glad you think there's a realness about her, I didn't want her to be entirely in her own world, I wanted her to have dealings with other people in the real world. I do think there are a fair few oddball narrators in fiction these days, particularly Irish fiction – Ray in Sara Baume's Spilll Simmer Falter Wither, and Johnsey in Donal Ryan's The Thing About December, for example. It can be very interesting to write about society from an outsider's perspective – the misfit can be better placed to see the nonsense of things considered normal – for example when Vivian visits her snooty sister and the sister is boasting about her kitchen and uses words like 'ergonomic, timeless, accents,' Vivian asks what accent the kitchen has.

This novel had me entranced from the get-go, with the randomness of Vivian’s thought process and her awkward social interactions.  Do you think she would mind that I found her so amusing, or indeed, endearing?
Aw no, I think she likes meeting with kindness, but the problem is when she feels safe, she talks more. Some strangers she meets have sympathy for this awkward person, but then she pushes the conversation too far into a strange dimension, and their sympathy wanes. On the other hand, I think Vivian is very resilient – when she has very awkward social interactions, she acknowledges it but even if she gets upset, she just picks herself up and sets off on her next adventure. I liked that about her, her ability to shake off any meanness she encounters, and crucially, to not blame herself. I didn't want her to look inward too much, or dwell on her own shortcomings – I'm not sure she's even aware of them.

It was wonderful to read about Dublin’s North side, for a change.  Most Dublin based fiction is either based in the leafy Southside or the coastal areas of North and South County Dublin.  Did you have any favourite moments while walking the routes that Vivian took?
I've had feedback from some southside readers who wanted more of the book to be set in the southside suburbs, so maybe there is a bit of a bias! I didn't consciously set out to make it a northside novel, I just live on that side of the city and that's where I'm most familiar with. I had Vivian live near where I live, so my walks into the city centre were where I got most of my notes. If I lived on the southside, I'd have been writing about those streets. But I didn't want it to be a suburban novel – it's very much city centre-based.
In terms of favourite moments – I had one encounter with a group of men and women drinking on Sackville Street. That conversation made it into the book – firstly they asked for money for a hostel, then money for drink, and one of them shouted 'An alcoholic without alcohol is like a bird without feathers!' What a gift – I had to add that into the book. If you wander the streets for any length of time you'll either witness or be part of the strangest conversations. The conversation Vivian has with a woman who says she's going to meet the president came from my encounter with a man who stopped me to say he was going to meet the president for lunch and asked where he could buy new shoes. We ended up having a lengthy discussion about the merits of cheap shoes that wouldn't last versus expensive shoes that you might not wear again, until I eventually realised that he wasn't altogether right in the head and that there was probably no lunch with the president.

Vivian’s trip to the city centre hairdresser was one of my favourite scenes in Eggshells.  The contrast of the salon’s brightness and the character’s grey world worked so well.  What was the inspiration for this particular scene?
It's so lovely to hear people's favourite scenes, and I love the way everyone's is different. I really enjoyed writing that scene. I'm not sure how exactly it came about, but I suppose there's some truth in it for me. I love going to the hairdresser because there's coffee and biscuits and magazines, but I find having conversations into the mirror uncomfortable, I'm not a big fan of seeing myself in the mirror while I look at the hairdresser. So, like with lots of Vivian's characteristics, I exaggerated my own unease to have Vivian refuse to look in the mirror at all.  Also, hairdressers always have wonderful shiny hair and beautifully made-up faces, and I feel like this undone frump sitting in the chair wolfing the biscuits, which helped with writing about Vivian's discomfort.

There are many famous locations peppered throughout the book.  Which would be your personal favourite?
Hmm, tough question, many of my favourites have made it into the book. I love the Natural History Museum, the one with all the dead animals. I find it fascinating – the old typewritten cards, the creepy-looking animals, the massive lobsters and crabs that I can't believe come from Irish waters. I love Trinity College too, I studied there ten years ago, and I came back to the college to work as a cleaner. As a cleaner, you get to see the insides of these beautiful old buildings at 6:00 a.m. when there's nobody else around, it can be magical, and sometimes quite spooky.

Vivian has a love of words, even writing her favourites down in a notebook. Have you ever done this yourself?
Yes, this is one of the ways Vivian and I overlap! I have a tendency to make lists of beautiful words, so for example, when Vivian writes the names of the moths and butterflies in the Natural History Museum, I did that myself before the character of Vivian even came to me. I have scraps of paper in boxes full of beautiful-sounding words that may never go into a book, I just like collecting them. I love passing shops with lists of the random things they sell – I'm the weirdo standing outside with a notebook and pen, listing them all.


Eggshells is published by Liberties Press and is available in paperback and ebook format.  You can order your copy, with Free Worldwide Postage and 10% discount, here.  The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:



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