Friday, 30 October 2015

'Still You' by Claire Allan. Book Review and Giveaway.



Thanks to the author, I have a fantastic prize pack for one lucky reader.  There is a signed copy of Still You, a beautiful book-lovers necklace, a swanky bookish bar of chocolate and an alzheimers.org.uk charity pin.  Just enter via rafflecopter link below.  Good Luck!

My Review

Georgina is starting a new phase of her life.  Recently separated from her husband, she is learning to be a single mother and adjusting to being a single woman, instead of one half of a couple.  One of her new experiences is becoming a carer to alzheimer's sufferer, Áine Quigley.  The elderly lady has begun to deteriorate and her son has finally accepted that she needs help.  Georgina and Áine take a while to find their rhythm, but pretty soon they bring out the best in each other.  Áine's memories are fleeting and her carer helps her recall them, while all the while remaining cautious of their effects.  The women help each other, without even realising it, and their friendship becomes more important than the disease.  But are the memories safe to rekindle? Should the past be left forgotten?  How much of Áine is still simmering behind the dementia?  Georgina feels that Áine is still there, and is ready to support her, no matter what...

This dual-time story flicks from 1960's UK and Italy, back to the present day.  Áine and her sister, Charlotte are like chalk and cheese, with one escaping the mundane, pre-planned life while the other stays at home to keep the cogs turning at home.  When tragedy strikes, Áine's life takes on new meaning and she sees herself in a very different role.  Family attitudes and expectations are forever hovering on the peripheral, yet she aches to be loved for herself.  

Back in the present day, Georgina can see chinks of what she imagines is the real Áine, through the steady confusion of dementia.  She knows that Áine is a woman of character and has her own distinctive story, but can also see how her past is being gradually eaten away by her disease.  She knows that the job of carer has its limitations, and ignores recommended protocol and employment guidelines, instead focusing on befriending her client.  Her own life is in limbo, so the two women have something different to offer each other.  

Claire Allan has a way of bringing her characters to life, in her own distinctive way.  She avoids over-sentimentality and instead focuses on the narrative.  There is a warmness within her words and an appreciation of the individuality of her character's stories.  Áine is a charming example.  While some would see alzheimer's patients with a broad-stroke view of dismissive indifference, the author added depth to the narrative.  While some writers portray carers as slaves to martyrdom, this novel shows these workers as regular, everyday men and women who just want to earn a living, while helping others who can't help themselves.  Georgina and Áine are an unlikely duo, but they need each other equally.  They bring out the best in each other, while dodging days of confusion and despair, yet through it all, hold their dignity as much as possible.  The extra characters are there to help balance the overall tale and the split time-frame is great.  I did find myself wanting to read more and more about Áine's past and flicked through the book with great gusto.  There are elements for those who love a good  romance, but for me, this was a story of personality.  The one we are born with, carry forward through our teenage years, into our adult lives and which makes us who we are.  This is the story of what happens when that personality starts to lose its grip, and becomes muddled up, out of control.  Will people remember that you are still you?  

An honest, heartfelt read, from one of Ireland's most charming and talented female fiction writers.  Ideal for an evening by the fire, candle lit and the doors shut to the cold of winter...

Still You is published by Poolbeg Books and is available in trade paperback and ebook format.  You can order your copy, with Free Worldwide Postage and 22% discount, here.  

GIVEAWAY



Friday, 16 October 2015

Book Giveaway: 'Dear Cathy, Love Mary' by Catherine Conlon & Mary Phelan. Open INT.




Thanks to Penguin Ireland,  I am delighted to have a hardback edition of Dear Cathy, Love Mary to giveaway.  I have been raving about this warm and wonderful look at the letters of two teenagers, in 1980s Ireland, for a while now.  I know there have been many followers who have managed to grab their own copies in local bookshops and online, but for those who haven't, here's your chance to bring back those 80s memories.  You can read my review of this nostalgic collection of letters, full of warmth and affection,  here.

To be in with a chance of winning, just enter via rafflecopter link below.  Good Luck!  If you are not the chosen winner, you can order your own copy, with 13% discount and Free Worldwide Postage, click here.   It can also be ordered via amazon, using link below:





Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Book Review : 'A Slanting of the Sun' by Donal Ryan. Short Stories.






A collection of twenty short stories, from one of Ireland's most loved authors, this is Donal Ryan's third published title.  The consecutive successes of The Spinning Heart and The Thing About December were the stuff of dreams.  Originally rejected, many times, the author's novels were discovered by an intern in a small publishing house and went on to capture the nations heart and imagination, whilst riding high on the bestseller list for most of 2014.  Ryan's lyrical prose and study of a rural Irish community, recovering from economic downturn, showed how the literary form can thrill a reader as much as any contemporary fiction.  The author's talent at showing beauty in the everyday, mundane lives of individuals shone from the pages of his books and introduced a bright new voice to the already established, yet unofficial, Canon of Irish literature.

Understandably, there was a fear that this collection may not be as powerful or have the same originality of his earlier work.  The fear is unfounded.  This is a book of delight.  Warm yet sharp, devastating yet memorable, ironic while at the same time believable.  Characters are brought to life with concise clarity and a meaningful manner.  The reader encounters liars, cheats, victims and the marginalized.  There are insights into the minds of the disillusioned, the disenchanted and the desperate.  While each story has its own unique narrative,  there is a sense of uniformity throughout the collection.  The goodness within can be tarnished by the need to function in a modern society, to expected standards and beliefs.  The exhaustion of hiding inner-darkness is achingly obvious and the reader is not required to be a judge or jury at any stage.  The stories are simply a peek through the keyhole, not a complete picture, but enough to catch a glimpse at the workings of others lives.

In Trouble, we are witness to a young boys heartbreak, when he is once again stigmatized as being part of the travelling community.   He is devastated to learn that he may never escape this, that his whole life will be one circle of judgment.  In The Squad, we are privy to the memories of an old man, now in a nursing home.  There are elements of regret languishing within him and despair at his inability to change the past.  Sky is detailed with beautiful prose, showing how much a child can lend to the life of a lonesome adult and that dependence can occur without obviousness.
Hurling is a recurring theme in many of the stories, with A Long Puc standing proudly erect among the tales.  An Irish priest brings his love of the game to Syria, and instills the joy of the sliothar and the hurl to the village.  Impromptu games and tournaments are arranged and there is a brief moment of joy in the battered land.  The collapse of this brief unity is made all the more devastating with the image of an unused, hand-carved hurley, laying in wait against a holy-water font.  The pain is raw and real.

This is not a collection which will make you feel comfortable.  It is not one that should be devoured in one sitting.  Each story deserves its own space, its own time and its own contemplation.  While some tales are more shocking than others, some have more 'meat' to them, they all have one thing in common.  The don't sugar coat life, they don't shy from the harsh realities of human nature and they all linger for longer than the reader may necessarily want them to. 

A powerful collection, which should be savoured.  Don't bother putting it away when you have turned the last page.  You may just be reaching for it, time and time again...



A Slanting Of The Sun is available in hardback, paperback and ebook format.  You can order your copy, with 23% discount and Free Worldwide Postage, here.  The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:


Tuesday, 6 October 2015

A new way to read. Review of Playster.com.

The age of digital entertainment is gradually overtaking the world of TV and DVDs.  As my followers know,  I would much rather read a book than turn on the TV, so what about the idea of reading digital books?  I'm ok with e-books, buying the odd one on my kindle, especially if I can't get to the bookshop.  But if I could get access to a massive collection of books, online, for one flat fee per month, would I use it?  I decide to give it a go...

Playster.com is a new online service in the same vein as Netflix, but with books, games, movies and music.  For a subscription fee, (varying depending on which service you require) you have unlimited access on your laptop, pc or tablet.

 As I am looking at this from the angle of books, I found  the best way to view the books was via my kindle.   There are quite a selection of titles to choose from, with some top publishers getting involved.  There are separate genre areas; Bestsellers, Film Tie-ins, Romance, General Fiction, Thrillers, YA, Humour, Sport etc.




 At first glance, there seems to be a heavy load of Romance books, mostly geared towards the older reader, but I did come across some more main stream women's fiction, from Cathy Kelly and Jennifer Weiner among others.  The lay out the titles is a little muddled and I only came across certain titles by accident.  I think this is a glitch that will have to be addressed.  I'm a big fan of the idea of 'related' books, just underneath the title you have clicked on.



There were some great random finds, hidden among the more recent releases, and I had a real blast-from-the-past moment when I discovered Flowers in the Attic, by Virginia Edwards.  It brought back memories of the 1980s and moving onto adult fiction as a teenager.  This is not a book I would go out and buy, but having it as part of bigger online selection made it a feasible read in the near future.  The same can be said for the range of classic novels.  Macbeth, Silas Marner and Gone With The Wind all made it into my online 'library'.


In the newer releases section, there was a bit of a dip, but some hard hitters made the cut.  Still Alice by Lisa Genova and American Sniper from Chris Kyle are there, along with the amazing 12 Years A Slave by Soloman Northrup and Ten Tiny Breaths by K.A. Tucker.  I was also delightfully surprised to see one of my favourite crime fiction authors, Steven Dunne, on the list with his wonderfully chilling novel, The Reaper.    

The formatting of Playster.com could do with a bit of adjusting, with the main issue being the Beta format, but I believe this is set to change very soon.  Long term subscribers are issued with a tablet and headphones, along with the necessary hardware to hook the package up to a TV screen.  While I was concentrating on the books section,  my kids did have a go at the games and peeked at some of the movies.  The games are varied and can be used on any tablet or device.  The movies are limited at present, but I remember the small selection when Netflix first started.  Looking at the low cost involved for subscription, especially when you consider it would cover the cost of just one paperback per month, it seems a fantastic way of extending your own 'library'.  I would recommend you give it a go, there is a free months trial available, and see how you get on.  You may be surprised at how your reading tastes change when you have a vast array of titles to choose from.  Don't be put off by the nasty, sexist demo video that appears on the main site.  Just pretend you never saw it, as it may kick off your inner-feminist, regardless of your sex.  Focus on the books, flick through the genres, but all the while checking underneath each title to discover some more 'non-related' searches. (This is how I found most of the good stuff).
If Playster can fix the few teething problems, get rid of the highly outdated and offensive advertisement and keep their titles updated, they are on to a winner.  Any book-lover, especially those who read ebooks, will definitely get their moneys worth with their subscription...

Check out Playster.com here...

See related articles about Playster.com here and also here.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Book Review: 'Dear Cathy, Love Mary' by Catherine Conlon & Mary Phelan.



I received a copy of this title, from the publishers, in return for an honest 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.  The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:



Sunday, 4 October 2015

Children's Picture Book Review: 'A Dublin Fairytale' by Nicola Colton.



We received a copy of this title, for review purposes, from The O'Brien Press...


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. 



Saturday, 3 October 2015

Book Review: 'How To Get Ahead In Television' by Sophie Cousens. Guest Review from Kay Mitchell.





A sparkling comedy romance set in the madcap world of TV broadcasting.

From the winner of the #LoveatFirstWrite competition from Corvus and Lovereading.  


Poppy Penfold desperately wants a career in television. After months of dead-end applications, she gets her big break with a temporary job as a runner for RealiTV. But to land a permanent role, Poppy will need to go head-to-head with fellow runner Rhidian: arrogant, highly competitive – and ridiculously good looking.

Poppy goes all out to impress, but somehow things don’t go to plan. Whether failing to prevent a washed-up soap star from becoming roaring drunk during Scottish game show Last Clan Standing, or managing to scare the horses during the filming of Strictly Come Prancing, Poppy gets noticed for all the wrong reasons. With highly strung presenters and distractingly handsome producers in the mix, it’s Poppy’s determination that will see her win or lose her dream job, and maybe her dream man too…


Featuring TV programmes such as:

Can Your Dog Do Your Job?

Strictly Come Prancing

Changing Grooms

Till Death Do Us Party


Sophie Cousens has worked in television for twelve years. She attributes surviving this long to always knowing where the Post-it notes are kept, and her ability to carry six coffee cups at once. This is her first novel.


Review from Kay Mitchell


Well if you want an entertaining read this is the one for you. This book fits into the coming of age category with lots of hilarity thrown in and I do mean spontaneous laugh out loud moments. Fans of Bridget Jones-this is one to add to the repertoire with a little less angst and soul searching.

The reader is immediately drawn into the narrative as Penny Penfold seeks to find her way in the world as a working girl now that her halcyon days of University have come to an end. Typical of any girl in her early twenties who wants to carve out a path in an area she has a passion and an interest in, she has to fend off her mother’s well intentioned advice to steer clear and head to a steady career in banking. Perseverance pays off eventually and she secures a contract despite the mishaps surrounding her initial interview.

Penny is quickly involved in the day to day background goings on associated with the Media industry. As in all walks of life she has to negotiate how the pecking order works and quickly learns that she faces strong competition to secure a contract from the very handsome and charming Rhidian.
Many escapades later Penny finds herself in a compromising situation with the well-known lady killer James but makes a quick exit after a light bulb moment as to what is really going on.

As a light hearted read it works well. It is an easy read that will take you over a wet weekend without a doubt and what it lacks in depth it makes up for in entertainment.


How To Get Ahead In Television is published by Corvus and is available in ebook format.  You can order your copy via amazon link below:

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