Thursday, 28 January 2016

"Even The Dead" by Benjamin Black. Book Review.

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

This is the seventh novel in the Quirke series, from Benjamin Black.  Set in 1950s Dublin, the City Morgue is where you'll find pathologist Quirke.  Usually spotting anomalies among the anatomy...
When a body is discovered in Dublin's Phoenix Park, suicide is presumed.  But Quirke's assistant (minding the shop while his boss is on leave) has his doubts and calls the pathologist back to base.  Before long, there is an investigation underway, with an old friend, Detective Hackett called in to muddle through the case.  When a young girl disappears while under the care of Quirke's daughter, things get a little complicated.  Politics, Church and State seem to be interlinked in this curious case and Quirke battles with his thoughts more than his desire for a drink, as he walks the streets of Dublin, searching for answers.

Benjamin Black Is the pen name of acclaimed author John Banville, so you know you are going to get top notch writing.  But are you going to get an engaging crime thriller from such a literary source?  The answer is a resounding yes.  From page one you are plonked into the world of 1950s Dublin, with its historical streets, murky past and reserved political and social atmosphere.  Cleverly, the author uses strong female characters alongside the bare-minimum Quirke.  Phoebe, his daughter, is an independent woman, living on her own and working full time for Dr. Evelyn Blake, a consultant psychiatrist.  A new-fangled idea in Dublin at the time, psychiatry raises more than a few eyebrows yet Phoebe is delighted to work for Dr. Burke.  There is also Rose, the wife of Quirke's step-brother who is a bored wealthy housewife but has a cutting personality and a free spirit.  Balancing these characters against the legal, procedural and clerical restraint of the time, Black has succeeded in drawing the reader into the story with subtly and questioning curiosity.
  While the narrative unfolds slowly, with different threads interlinked, there is a sense of loss at its conclusion.  Quirke may have his flaws, but he also has an aura that seems to attract the ladies and upset the men, in equal measures.  His determination to reduce his alcohol intake is not rare by todays standards, but is still quite unusual in 1950s Dublin.  This, in itself, makes for interesting reading.  The thrills are less obvious than a more contemporary based novel, yet the overall package is one of pure enjoyment.  Characters are present without over description and their dialogue is what counts.  The reader can almost picture Quirke's observations, through his own eyes, while he walks the streets of Dublin and the pubs and hotels of the city are described in all their smoke-filled glory.  
Although this is book seven of the series, it can be read as a stand-alone novel.  Quirke's back story, while interesting, is not essential to each case.  This is crime noir (albeit set during a heatwave) with flair.  It is engaging, tense and subtle, with Dr. Quirke's shadowy figure staying with you, long after the last page is turned.  A wonderful combination of history, intrigue and strong characters makes it come to life in your hands...

Even The Dead is published by Penguin and is available in paperback and ebook format.  You can get your copy, with Free Worldwide Postage and 13% discount, here.  The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Blog Tour - "Even The Dead" by Benjamin Black. Author Q&A.

Visceral, gritty and cinematic, Even the Dead is the latest stylish thriller from John Banville's crime-writing alter ego, Benjamin Black.

Pathologist Quirke works in the city morgue, watching over Dublin's dead. The latest to join their ghostly ranks is a suicide. But something doesn't add up. The victim has a suspicious head wound, and the only witness has vanished, every trace of her wiped away.
On the trail of the missing woman, Quirke finds himself drawn into the shadowy world of Dublin's elite - secret societies, High Church politics and corrupt politicians. It leads him to a long-buried conspiracy that involves his own family. But it's too late to go back now...

I am beyond honoured to be part of this blog tour for the latest Quirke novel, from Benjamin Black.  As you are probably aware, this amazing series of books was adapted as a BBC drama, with Gabriel Byrne in the lead role.  Benjamin Black is the pseudonym of one of Ireland's finest, John Banville.  So, without further ado, here are my questions for Benjamin, along with his answers...

Questions and Answers with Benjamin Black

There is a wonderful selection of female characters within each of the Quirke novels.  While some are marginalised, others are strong, independent women.  Did you find it harder to build on the stronger characters, given the setting of the novels is 1950s Ireland?

Yes, women were hardly visible in the Ireland of the 1950s—I mean visible in public life; in the home, they had absolute power, invested in them by the Catholic Church, which in its canny fashion always favoured the mothers. But there were some women, even in that dark time, who asserted themselves and made an independent life. I am particularly interested in Phoebe, Quirke’s daughter: my agent suggests that I’m in love with her, but I suspect that in fact Phoebe is me, in some strange fashion that I don’t quite understand.

Quirke’s relationships are tentative yet vital.  Phoebe, Hackett, Mal and Rose all seem to trust him and his judgments.  Does he trust himself?

Lord, no. Poor Quirke regards himself as a hopeless case, despite the evident fondness that people have for him, especially women. He is a damaged soul, badly in need of repair. I’m excited by the entrance on to the scene of Dr Evelyn Blake. Quirke has found himself a psychiatrist, and has fallen in love with her! I await large developments.

For me, the second most important protagonist of the Benjamin Black books is Dublin itself.  When you walk around the city now, do you see it through the eyes of Quirke or just take it as it is today?

Yes, certainly Dublin is one of the main characters in these books. When I began to write them I discovered a deep fondness for the city that I hadn’t really been aware of before. The areas which form Quirke’s main stamping-ground—Upper Mount Street, the Pepper Canister Church, the canal—these remain largely unchanged, I’m glad to say. I used to live in Upper Mount Street many years ago, and the flat I had is the one I have given to Quirke—it’s the second floor of Number 39, if you’re interested. That street, running down from the Pepper Canister to Merrion Square and Government Buildings, is one of the loveliest thoroughfares in the world.

Quirke is trying to battle his alcohol addiction yet lives in a time where drink is more than socially acceptable.  Given the changing attitudes to drinking culture, was this hard to bring to life?

Not at all—we still drink like fish in Ireland, even though fish, strictly speaking, do not drink at all. When I started to write about Quirke I didn’t think of him as an alcoholic, but just as a heavy drinker, and I’m not sure even yet that he is truly an alcoholic. Is he addicted to drink, or does he just use it to drown his sorrows in?  

The balance of power between Church and State is a well-known part of Irish history.  When dealing with the times of mother and baby homes, was it easy to imagine the frustration the Garda√≠ (police) felt with their limited authority or is it still fresh in the minds of the Irish?

I’m afraid the apparatus of the State was geared to suppress knowledge of the way in which women and girls were treated in those days. You have to understand that the country was entirely in the grip of the Church, and that to a large extent the people were, simply, brainwashed. When I first started going to Eastern Europe in the 1970s and 1980s I felt that I had come ‘home’. The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper is right in asserting that Communism and Catholicism are merely two sides of the same coin.

Quirke is a man of few words, but manages to gain respect from almost everyone he encounters.  Was writing such a charismatic character a joy or a chore?

Well, a little of both, as is always the case when one is writing fiction. I find him interesting, mainly because I don’t understand him. If I did know what goes on in his mind, and in his heart, I probably would find him too boring to sustain.

When reading crime-noir, it is usually based in dark, rainy or foggy streets.  Even The Dead  is set in the middle of a heatwave, with the girls in summer dresses and sandals, while the men struggle to keep cool in their trilby hats and button-neck shirts.  Did this create any obstacles with regards to atmosphere?

You know, it never occurred to me that I was writing a noir mystery set in high summer! I had been thinking back to a record-breakingly hot summer in my childhood, sometime around 1955, when the sun shone for months on end and there was a serious drought. I remembered how strange life was in those months, as a people accustomed to rain and fog and cold struggled to cope with a heatwave; I think we all went a little mad.

This is the seventh book in the series and Quirke seems in no hurry to retire.  Can we expect more from the strong, silent pathologist?

Oh yes, I’m sure there will be more. Every time I finish a Quirke book I tell myself it will be the last one, but of course I immediately start devising a new plot. As I said, I’m very interested in Evelyn Blake, and long to know if Quirke will find a little happiness with her, or if he will let a golden chance slip through his careless fingers.


Benjamin Black is the crime-writing pen name of acclaimed author John Banville, who was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He is the author of fifteen novels, including The Sea, which won the 2005 Man Booker Prize. In 2013 he was awarded the Irish PEN Award for Outstanding Achievement in Irish Literature. 

Black has written seven novels starring Quirke, the surly but brilliant pathologist. In 2014 the Quirke novels were adapted into a major BBC TV series starring Gabriel Byrne.

Even the Dead is published in paperback by Penguin on 28th Jan 2016. The ebook is also available for download...

Friday, 22 January 2016

Exclusive Cover Reveal, Excerpt and Giveaway - "The Girl From The Savoy" by Hazel Gaynor.

I am so honoured to share the UK/IRL cover of Hazel Gaynor's upcoming novel, The Girl From The Savoy.   New York Times Bestselling author, Hazel, is one of the queens of Historical Fiction, drawing the reader back into the world of her protagonists.  Not only do I have the cover to share with you, but I also have the Prologue!  There is a letter from Hazel, to her readers, and an Elizabeth Arden gift set to giveaway in celebration of the reveal!  I know, I know, I spoil you...

The Girl From The Savoy is now available for pre-order, with its ebook publication date 9th June 2016 and the paper back publication date 8th September 2016.

Readers,  Voila!! 

The Blurb

The new rich and compelling novel from the author of The Girl Who Came Home. Perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Rachel Hore. 
Dolly Lane is a dreamer; a downtrodden maid who longs to dance on the London stage, but the outbreak of war takes everything from her: Teddy, the man she loves – and her hopes of a better life. When she secures employment as a chambermaid at London’s grandest hotel, The Savoy,
 Dolly’s proximity to the dazzling guests makes her yearn for a life beyond the grey drudgery she was born into. Her fortunes take an unexpected turn when she responds to an unusual newspaper advert and finds herself thrust into the heady atmosphere of London’s glittering theatre scene and into the sphere of the celebrated actress, Loretta May, and her brother, Perry. All three are searching for something, yet the aftermath of war has cast a dark shadow over them all. A brighter future is tantalisingly close – but can a girl like Dolly ever truly leave her past behind?

Letter from Hazel Gaynor

Dear reader,
I’m very excited to introduce you to my forthcoming novel THE GIRL FROM THE SAVOY, and to share the beautiful cover for the Ireland/UK edition!
Set in London in the early 1920s, this was such a fascinating novel to research and write, taking me ‘downstairs’ with my character Dolly Lane, a chambermaid at one of London’s most iconic hotels, and onto the West End stage with Loretta May, a renowned actress. Following the aftermath of the Great War, the novel also took me to the battlefields of France, and into the minds of the men and women still struggling to come to terms with their experience of war.
Through the contrasting lifestyles of my leading ladies, through their leading men, Teddy and Perry, and through the cast of supporting characters, I hope to have written a novel rich in emotion and passion; a novel that will take you back in time, to London in the 1920s.
The book will be available in Ireland on 9th June in ebook and paperback. In the meantime, here’s a little taste of what’s to come!
Best wishes,

 Exclusive extract from The Girl From The Savoy

Lancashire, England
March 1916
In my heart, I always knew he would go; that they would all go, in the end. Now the dreaded day has arrived. Teddy is going to war and there is nothing I can do to prevent it.
Everything is a blur. I don’t remember eating breakfast. I don’t remember laying the fires or doing any of my usual chores. I don’t remember hanging up my apron or putting on my coat and hat. I’m not even sure I closed the door behind me as I set off for the station, but I must have done all these things because somehow I am here, standing on the platform, and he is pressing a bunch of daffodils into my hands. Somehow, he is really leaving.
“I’ll be back before you know it,” he says, brushing a tear from my cheek. “They won’t know what’s hit them when we arrive. Look at us. Tough as old boots!” I glance along the platform. The assembled conscripts look like frightened young boys. Not soldiers. Not tough at all. “I’ll be back for your birthday and I’ll take you to the village dance, just like last year. You’ll hardly notice I’m gone before I’m back.”
I want to believe him, but we all know the truth. Nobody comes back. The thought breaks my heart and I gasp to catch my breath through my tears.
Mam had warned me not to be getting all maudlin and sobbing on his shoulder. “You’re to be strong, Dorothy. Tell him how brave he is and how proud you are. No sniveling and wailing.” And here I am, doing everything she told me not to. I can’t help it. I don’t want to be proud. I don’t want to tell him how brave he is. I want to sink to my knees and wrap my arms around his ankles so that he can’t go anywhere. Not without me.
“We’ll be married in the summer and we’ll have little ’uns running around our feet and everything will be back to normal, Dolly. Just you and me and a quiet simple life. Just like we’ve always wanted.”
I nod and press my cheek to the thick fabric of his coat. A quiet simple life. Just like we’ve always wanted. I try to ignore the voice in my head that whispers to me of more than a quiet simple life, the voice that speaks of rowdy adventures waiting far away from here. “Head full of nonsense.” That’s what our Sarah says. She’s probably right. She usually is.
A loud hiss of steam pierces the subdued quiet of the platform, drowning out the muffled sobs. Doors start to slam as the men step into the carriages. Embraces end. Hands are prized agonizingly apart. It is time to let go.
I reach up onto my tiptoes and our lips meet in a last kiss. It isn’t lingering and passionate as I’ve imagined, but rushed and interrupted by my wretched sobs and the urgency of others telling Teddy to hurry along now. We part too soon and he is walking away from me. I can hardly see his face through the blur of my tears.
The shrill blast of the station master’s whistle makes me jump. Mothers and daughters cling to each other. Wives clutch their children to their chests as they bravely wave their daddy good-bye. Great clouds of smoke billow around us and I cover my mouth with my handkerchief as the pistons yawn into life and begin turning on their cranks. The carriages jolt to attention, and he is going.
I start to move, my feet falling in time with the motion of the train, slow at first, and then a brisk walk. All along the platform, women and children reach out, clinging for all they are worth to prolong the very last touch of a coat sleeve, a fingertip, the last flutter of a white handkerchief. And I am jogging and then running, faster and faster, until I can’t keep up and he is gone.
He is gone.
He is gone.
I slow to a walk and stand among the suffocating smoke as my heart cracks into a thousand shards of helpless despair. Everything has changed. Everything will be different now.
I put my hands in my coat pockets, my fingers finding the piece of folded paper in each. I glance at the hastily scribbled note from Teddy in my right hand: Darling Little Thing, Don’t be sad. When the war is over, I’ll come back to you, back to Mawdesley. With you beside me, this is all the world I will ever need. I glance at the page in my left hand, ripped from the morning paper as I lay the fire in Madam’s bedroom. Society darling and brave nurse virginia clements revealed as west end star loretta may! I look at her beautiful face and elegant clothes, the perfect image to accompany the glowing report of Cochran’s latest dazzling production and the enchanting new star of his chorus. I stare at the two pieces of paper. The life I know in one hand. The life I dream of in the other.
The church bells chime the hour. Time to go back to the Monday wash and the predictable routines that carve out the hours of a maid-of-all-work like me. Wiping the tears from my eyes, I fold the pages and return them to my pockets. I turn my back on the distant puffs of smoke from Teddy’s train and walk along the platform. The surface is icy and I go cautiously, my footing unsure. I slip a little, steady myself, and keep going. Crossing the tracks, I step onto the frosted grass verge that crunches satisfyingly beneath my boots. On firmer ground, my strides lengthen and I walk faster, and all the while the question nags and nags in my mind: Am I walking away from my future, or walking toward it?
I don’t have an answer. It is not mine to give.
War holds all the answers now.

About The Author

Hazel Gaynor is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME and A MEMORY OF VIOLETS. She was selected by US Library Journal as one of ‘Ten Big Breakout Authors’ for 2015 and received the 2015 RNA Historical Romantic Novel of the Year award for THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME. A MEMORY OF VIOLETS was a WHSmith ‘Fresh Talent’ pick. As features writer for she has interviewed Philippa Gregory, Sebastian Faulks, Kate Mosse, Jojo Moyes and Cheryl Strayed, among others. Hazel has called Ireland home for the past fourteen years. She lives in County Kildare with her husband and two children.


 To celebrate the cover reveal of The Girl From The Savoy, I  have an Elizabeth Arden gift set to giveaway.  A small clutch, containing four lipglosses, this is sure to appeal to lovers of all things glam!  Just enter via rafflecopter link below.  Giveaway is open INT. Good Luck!

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Book Review - "Return to Tyringham Park" by Rosemary McLoughlin.

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

A lavish Irish country estate, Tyringham Park is once again full of secrets, lies and tragedy.  When Lochlann returns from his post as a doctor in the Australian Outback, he brings home his wife and daughter.  Unbeknownst to anyone, his daughter is actually not his.  He carries the guilt of his dishonesty daily and finds himself hiding from the people he should love the most.  The young girl grows up in the care of her Grandmother, and oblivious to her true identity, she divides her time between Dublin and Tyringham Park.  
Back at the family seat, there are more secrets to be hidden and the past may catch up with the Blackhurst family yet...

Tyringham Park was one of my guilty pleasure reads (you can read my review here) and I was delighted to hear there was a sequel from Rosemary McLoughlin.  Now that Downton Abbey has finished its TV run, there is some Big House space to be filled.  
The book jumps straight into the continuing story of a missing Nanny, a mysterious drowning and the efforts required to hide some serious secrets.  I found myself getting a little lost, as it is a while since I read the first installment, and I'm not sure if a reader would connect too easily if they hadn't read Tyringham Park.  However, once the back story settles down, the sweeping saga gets right under your skin.  The chapters set in Australia are especially gripping, with the Hogan family coming to life straight away.  Their struggle with their mother's post natal depression is wonderfully written and the descriptions of her husband out walking the outback, searching for her, are very poignant.  Sisterly rivalry is also cleverly addressed and the progression of bitterness gains momentum as the novel progresses.  The story shifts back to Ireland and while the pace has settled, the story has taken over.  Lochlann's guilt has eased and he seems to be finally able to let go of the past.  But for how long? 

The Tyringham Park novels are ideal for fans of Downton Abbey, with all the crazy storylines, historical references and fabulous fashion.  I would recommend reading the first book, before starting Return to Tyringham Park, as there are too many references in the sequel to appreciate it as a stand-alone novel.  Perfect for those missing their weekly fix of historical drama.

Return to Tyringham Park is published by Poolbeg and is available in  trade paperback and ebook format.  You can order your copy, with 15% discount and Free Worldwide Postage, here.  The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

"The Rising Son" by Brian Kirk. Book Review by Mia, aged 12.

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


This book is about 12-year-old Jack O'Connor from London, who goes to Dublin and stays with his Grandad because his Mom needs some space.  He has never met his Grandad before, so they don't talk to each other much at first.  But when Grandad saves Jack from a group of bullies, they confide in each other a little more.  One night, Jack goes back to 1916 and befriends Willie Mahon, a messenger for the rebels.  They get caught in the crossfire between the rebels and the British soldiers.  When Jack wakes up that morning, he's outside his Grandad's house.  He wonders how he got there.  For the next couple of nights, the same thing happens.  How does he go back to 1916?  Can he save Willie from dying?  And why did his Mom actually send him to Dublin?

I got this book just in time for the centenary of the 1916 Rising. It mentions some of the key places and people. It's a great book for a school novel, along with Molly's Diary by Patricia Murphy.  It's good for learning about the rising and, believe it or not, Gaelic football!  

I would recommend this for ages 12+.

The Rising Son is available in paperback and ebook format.  You can order your copy, for €12 inc. postage, here.  The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Book Review - "I'll Be Home For Christmas" by Roisin Meaney.

I finally grabbed a copy of this, after Christmas, and was delighted to plonk myself down by the fire and get my Christmas reading on...

Tilly is on a mission.  Onboard a flight halfway around the world, she is trying to find answers.  The questions have only just surfaced but time is not on her side.
Laura is in a dark place.  A recent illness has caused her life to change and she fears it will never be the same again.  Despite the love of her family, she struggles to wear a smile these days.  
Can the two strangers bring each other some comfort or is distance more than a measure of miles?

This is Roisin Meaney's twelfth female fiction title and her words are by no means drying up.  Although marketed as a Christmas book, this could be read at anytime of the year.  It is a novel of hope, the concept of family and new beginnings.  It tells the stories of two very different girls, yet with something in common.  They have had polar opposite lives, in vastly different countries, yet have both been hurt by the same man.  They may not realise it, but they could do with each other.  Tilly is lost and alone, with childlike innocence that she needs helps growing out of.  In contrast, Laura could do with some of her innocence back.  She has battled demons and is struggling to come out the other side.  The Irish author combines the two strong characters with a more abstract, geographical one: Roone, a small island off the coast of Ireland.  Here the reader learns that sometimes things happen for a reason, not always fathomable...

Roisin Meaney has a knack of bringing Ireland to life, even if it seems a bit clich√©.  The ramblings of the islanders may seem extreme, but I have heard many a conversation similar in cities, as well as villages.  We Irish love to talk!  The sense of community is also realistic, as many have seen over the past few weeks during the floods in Ireland and the UK.  There is also a calm certainty to the relationships formed throughout the book.  There is no need for bells and whistles, or grand gestures of romance or thrills.  The everyday lives of the characters are more than enough.  We all know you can have Prosecco and Macaroons, but sometimes a fruit scone and a cup of tea is all you need.  Likewise with a good book.  No matter what the season is, the key is to sit down, relax and escape into another world for a bit.  Maybe with a scone and a cuppa on the side...

A lovely, warm read.  Ideal for fans of Freya North and Jane Greene.

I'll Be Home For Christmas is available, with Free Worldwide Postage and 13% discounthere.  The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:

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