Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Book Review - "Caramel Hearts" by E.R. Murray.

Life is not a bed of roses for fourteen-year-old Liv.  Her Mum is in rehab, her father disappeared when she was a toddler and her sister, Hatty, has dropped out of college to take over the reins.  The two girls are determined to make things work so they can avoid a social services intervention.  They had been in foster care before and will do anything to keep Liv at home.  As if this is not hard enough, Liv is now being targeted by the school bully and is losing her best friend, Sarah.  When she finds an old hand-written book of recipes, she uses the world of baking to add some sweetness to her bitter life. But can some cakes and cookies make her pain melt away? 

ER Murray has written a YA novel that is both heartbreaking and inspiring.  Liv is a teenager with a temper, but for a very good reason.  She has had a difficult childhood and is torn between hating her alcoholic mother and wanting her approval and love.  The discovered recipe book is a rare glimpse into her mothers happier moments and Liv hopes that some of the happiness will rub off on her.  However, creating buns, fudge and cupcakes can be an expensive past-time and Liv struggles to find ingredients.  Enlisting the help of the school dinner lady, she attempts to re-create her mother's dreams.  All her plans go awry when, in a moment of madness, Liv does something terrible and it leads to a chain of uncontrollable events.  The bullying increases, her friendship with Sarah collapses and the boy she has feelings for is slipping through her fingers.  How can things get any worse? 

It can be hard to discuss addiction with children.  They have an image in their mind of what an alcoholic looks like, and if they have had no contact with one, they struggle with relating to their stories.  In this novel the author has used a very real story, set in a very real world, to show that any one of us can be touched by addiction.  Liv is a memorable character, with her sassy nature hiding her despair and loneliness.  She is terrified she will be removed from her home and placed into foster care, and has painful memories of being separated from her sister.  Like many kids who have never met their fathers, she has an idealised notion of him and thinks h may be the answer to all her prayers.  In chapters reminiscent of  Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime, Liv decides to track her father down, meeting some strange and wonderful characters along the way. 

This is a touching, yet honest look at what it is like to live with anger, fear and uncertainty in your life.  To not know when there is going to be food in the fridge or whether you can afford to wash your clothes.  It looks at the idea of hope and how children believe in its power.  It also addresses reality, in a non-judgmental way.  Children don't need to be spoken to in a condescending way, they just need the truth and to know that someone is watching their back.  Bullying is cleverly interwoven throughout the novel, without sugar-coating it.  Girls can be especially cruel and Liv is the victim they have hand-picked for their campaign.  To balance the darker moments, ER Murray has included achievable recipes into the book, which are sure to tempt even the toughest teenager.  

This YA novel is bound to be a hit with kids aged 12-16; that age where they are too old for toys, too young for deep relationships and have more questions than answers.  It is written with love and hope and this flows through the voice of Liv.   She may have a hard life but she is determined to make the most of it, even if she makes some mistakes along the way.  Just like everyone of us...

Caramel Hearts is published by Alma Books and is available in paperback and ebook format.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Book Review - "Don't You Cry" by Mary Kubica.

I am delighted to be part of the Blog Tour for Mary Kubica's latest thriller, Don't You Cry.  Pop over to the other blogs for excerpts, interviews and reviews...


Quinn is concerned.  Her flatmate, Esther, has vanished into thin air and when she discovers a strange letter and receives a very odd phone call, she begins to fear for her friend's life.
Alex is fascinated with the appearance of a new face in his small town, just outside Chicago.  The girl brings out things in him that he never knew existed.
Two stories of discovery are told in tandem, bringing the reader on a journey of suspense and mystery.

This is Mary Kubica's third title with Mira UK and I have been lucky to be an early reader of all three.  With The Good Girl and Pretty Baby, Kubica placed herself firmly amongst the finest contemporary thriller authors that are ever-present on Bestseller Lists in Ireland and the UK.  This latest story sees a slight variation in her writing style, with more descriptive passages and locational detail.  I feel as if know parts of Chicago now, despite never setting foot there.  Alternating chapters allow a gradual build up of the two main protagonists, Quinn and Alex, while the reader gathers information on the two mysterious characters of Esther and Pearl.  The two separate storylines are equally intriguing and the pace is slow but steady.  This is not your typical thriller.  It has a bit more depth, making it ideal for a slower read which is character based.  This is not to say it is not thrilling.  In fact, it has a lot more to offer than a run-of-the-mill thriller.  It has some exquisite detailed prose and some very memorable characters.  The novel picks up pace in the second half and the chapters just can't come quick enough.

Mary Kubica has done it again.  A wonderfully taut read, with above-par detailed description and powerful prose, Don't You Cry is one to savour.  Don't rush through it, like you may normally do with thrillers, but slow down and take in each word.  You may find yourself transported to the streets of Chicago or to a seat in a small town diner, smelling the coffee and bacon.   One thing is for sure.  You are getting a fantastic story, with characters that play with your head.

You can read my review of The Good Girl here and my review of Pretty Baby here

Don't You Cry is published by Harlequinn Mira 


Friday, 13 May 2016

Book Giveaway - "All Is Not Forgotten" by Wendy Walker.

Thanks to the lovely folks at Harper Collins Ireland, I have two advance reading copies of All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker to giveaway.  Published on 14th July, this is a razor-sharp debut that will make you re-think how you choose to remember.  Film rights have been bought by Reese Witherspoon's production company, who devoured the book in one sitting!  To be in with a chance of winning a copy, just enter via rafflecopter link below.  Good Luck!


In the small, affluent town of Fairview, Connecticut everything seems picture perfect.

Until one night when young Jenny Kramer is attacked at a local party. In the hours immediately after, she is given a controversial drug to medically erase her memory of the violent assault. But, in the weeks and months that follow, as she heals from her physical wounds, and with no factual recall of the attack, Jenny struggles with her raging emotional memory. Her father, Tom, becomes obsessed with his inability to find her attacker and seek justice while her mother, Charlotte, prefers to pretend this horrific event did not touch her perfect country club world.

As they seek help for their daughter, the fault lines within their marriage and their close-knit community emerge from the shadows where they have been hidden for years, and the relentless quest to find the monster who invaded their town - or perhaps lives among them - drive this psychological thriller to a shocking and unexpected conclusion. 

Here are some thoughts on All Is Not Forgotten, from some bestselling authors:

"Deeply intriguing and provocative, "All Is Not Forgotten "explores intricate family relationships against the backdrop of searing suspense. A novel filled with twists, surprises, and a plot that keeps you guessing. "All Is Not Forgotten "is not to be missed." Karin Slaughter, author of PRETTY GIRLS

"An assured, powerful, polished novel that blends suspense and rich family drama. Built on a fascinating scientific premise and laced with moral complexity, it is, in a word, unforgettable." --William Landay, author of DEFENDING JACOB

Captivating and bold, Wendy Walker takes an incisive look at the importance of memory and the power of manipulation. Fascinating and at times shocking, "All Is Not Forgotten" is one book you won t easily forget. Not to be missed! Mary Kubica, author of THE GOOD GIRL

With an exceptionally unreliable narrator and unique plot set-up, "All Is Not Forgotten" is a compelling, thought-provoking mystery that will have you looking at every therapist you know in a brand new light. Kimberly McCreight, author of WHERE THEY FOUND HER

"In the brutal, heart-pounding "All Is Not Forgotten," memory cannot be trusted; when a girl is given "the treatment" to erase her memories of a vicious attack, a small town crumbles under the weight of its secret peccadilloes, dangerous alliances, and the question of what really happened that dark night. A fascinating and compelling novel." Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, author of BITTERSWEET"

All Is Not Forgotten will be published by MIRA Books on 12th July 2016 and can be pre-ordered via amazon link below:

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Book Review - "The Last Days of Summer" by Vanessa Ronan.

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

Lizzie's brother is released from prison and returning to the family home where his sister and her daughters now reside.  In the small town, in the heart of prairie land, it is not a homecoming to celebrate.  Jasper is not wanted by the locals and his return is unwelcome.  Lizzie accepts his return as her lot but tried to shelter her daughters from the animosity that surrounds her brothers presence.  Katie is a typical teenager, trying to appear non-plussed by her uncle, while her younger sister, Joanne, is curious as to why he his hated so much.  Can Lizzie protect her girls from the bitter tensions building in their small community?  Was the decision to allow her brother to return the biggest mistake of her life?  Is a blood bond enough to carry the burden of a brothers crime?  As the heat soars and the atmosphere becomes heavy, this tale of a summer in small-town America becomes a narrative on family, feuds and forgiveness...

Sometimes a book can etch away at your senses to the extent that it enters your bloodstream.  The Last Days of Summer does just that.  Lizzie and Jasper's hometown is insular and choked with tension.  The single mother never questions her decision to allow Jasper to return to their home but she struggles with the effect he is having on her small family.  Already stigmatised, they continue to keep their heads down and carve their existence into the vast landscape.  Abandoned by her husband after Jasper's arrest, Lizzie has retreated within herself.  Her eldest daughter, Katie, works in the local diner, dates the popular guy and tries to ignore the disruption that comes from Jaspers re-appearance.  Eleven year old  Joanne is at an age where anything new is to be appreciated and explored and she hovers around her uncle with an inquisitive innocence.  The family are treated with distrust, distaste and are on constant alert.  Lizzie battles with her unbalanced feelings towards her brother and attempts to holds her head up high, for her own sake as well as for her sibling.  This is a debut that tests your emotions.  It reaches into your soul and grabs at parts of you that are unexplored, underused or ignored.  The prose is neat and tidy, yet contains some moments of  unadulterated evil alongside exquisite beauty.  There are echos of Steinbeck throughout, with the landscape becoming a momentous character in itself, and the examinations of family commitment, responsibility and pride are ever-present.  Seeing the world from a curious eleven year old's eyes, juxtaposed against the dark mind of a convicted criminal, does not take away from the bond that they share.  There are tear-inducing passages in this novel that are more to do with innocence than despair.  There are moments of pure hatred alongside descriptions of the vast sprawling plains of the prairie and the writing is so meticulous that it makes your skin tingle.  Scenes of  mundane family chores, evenings on the wooden porch and limited conversations between two generations of siblings are all part of the overall package of this study of human emotion.  This is a family who struggle to maintain their credibility and their right to belong within a community unwilling to forget.  It is a novel of substance and atmosphere.  Vanessa Ronan has brought the tradition of the great American novel and inserted it firmly into the contemporary world.  If you can remember the delicate description of a slow moving turtle in Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath or the intense heat of a southern summer in The Color Purple, then the swaying grasses and airborn insects of The Last Days of Summer are sure to resound with you.  

Sometimes a novel touches you.  Sometimes it lingers.  Then, there are novels that become part of your own personal canon.  This debut is the latter.  It is simply divine.

The Last Days of Summer is published by Penguin and is available in TPB and ebook format.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

"I Am No One" by Patrick Flanery. Guest Review from Orla McAlinden

We received a copy of this title, via Gill Hess, in return for an honest review...

Guest Review from Orla McAlinden

If, like me, you are often slightly horrified by the detail in which your friends record their lives online, you will find the premise of I am no one, by Patrick Flanery, terrifyingly tantalising. In this post-Snowdon, post-Wikileaks world, Flanery has chosen a fascinating, relevant and important topic to explore in his third novel. 
I was raised in Northern Ireland, the most heavily policed district of Europe, from the early 1970s to the 90s, and I was delighted to receive I am no one to review — a timely examination of mass State Surveillance and data-mining. All through my childhood I knew people who wouldn’t answer their phones unless you knew the secret morse code of ringtones, I knew people who wouldn’t speak in public places, or who would only speak in public. As Heaney wrote of Northern Ireland at the time, “Whatever you say, say nothing.”  On a friend’s wall was a poster that read “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you!” and the protagonist of I am no one appears to be gloriously paranoid.
Jeremy O’Keefe is a disappointed academic, banished from Columbia University for a secret misdemeanour that is alluded to throughout the book, but never revealed. His failure to achieve tenure coincides with the end of his marriage and, in retreat, he takes a position at Oxford University, where he spends ten years in exile before returning to New York University, as the book opens.
Jeremy descends into paranoia and fear as it becomes apparent that he is being followed and that his online and cellphone activity is being monitored, exploited and even altered.  The initial incident is minor — an email sent from his own account to a student, that he has no recollection of writing. Couldn’t he just have forgotten? Is he showing signs of dementia? Has his daughter noticed anything untoward? But within days these questions take on a more sinister tenor — has he been hacked, by whom and to what avail?
A mysterious package is hand delivered to his concierge service; could it be a bomb? The tension is high as he gingerly unwraps the first package. No explosions, but a detailed record of every email transaction he has carried out in the past ten years.  At this point I still thoroughly expected the story to take off and become the gripping page-turning thriller that the book’s cover and blurb implied. I really, really wanted to love this book. But I couldn’t, try as hard as I might.
It’s not so much that Jeremy is an insufferable bore and an elitist snob who behaves badly and I wanted to shake him. I have no problem with unsympathetic, or outright hateful narrators. It’s not the long rambling sentence structure (perfectly constructed as far as grammar goes, I might add) which often encompass three hundred or more words.  It’s not the endless, endless flashbacks which appear in the oddest places, sometimes right in the middle of conversations. It’s not even the constant intrusion of the writer, showing us how much cleverer than us he is, and how much he knows on dozens of very interesting topics like the cinematic exploration of totalitarian East Germany, or the philosophy of betrayal. All of these quirks are annoyances, nothing more.
Where the book falls is its absolute dishonesty. We spend chapter after chapter on a journey with a man who fears that he is going mad, suffering paranoiacal delusions, even to the extent that he may be suffering from dissociative personality disorder — bugging his own phone and recording his own email correspondence — without conscious knowledge.
The other possibility is that he is under surveillance by the state and he knows that is impossible, he has done nothing to deserve this, he wails self-pityingly “I am no one!” It is truly gripping as a reader to accept that in this tech-obsessed world, replete with drones, CCTV, spy cameras, bots trawling through our online communications — any one of us could, in a heart-beat, become the mistaken victim of this kind of horrific government intrusion. In an agonised soliloquy he wonders whether his use of the phrase “I have become radicalised…” in an email almost ten years ago could have been enough to draw him to the attention of the authorities and the reader catches her breath and thinks, wow, I need to be more careful.
As the book winds it’s slow and rather dull way to the mid-point we suddenly find out what the reason for his surveillance is. And that’s where the book ended for me, I am afraid. What O’Keefe has done in his final years in Oxford is so stupid, so damaging, so utterly worthy of international alarm bells ringing, that it is immediately obvious that either he knew all along the reason why he was being observed, or he is an utter moron. And one thing that Prof. Jeremy O’Keefe, world-expert on the Stasi, renowned scholar of state surveillance in post-war Europe is not, is a moron.
I know that I could have loved this book and learned just as much from it if it had been written as an actual thriller, instead of in its current hectoring, didactic, and inexcusably dull format. What a shame.    3 stars

Greenbean Novel Fair finalist 2016, Irish Writers Centre. The Flight of the Wren.

Eludia Prize winner 2014, The accidental wife and other stories, forthcoming Summer 2016 

Monday, 2 May 2016

Book Review - "Distress Signals" by Catherine Ryan Howard,

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

Adam Dunne has turned a corner.  After years of being a struggling writer, his script has piqued interest and it looks like his life is about to become everything he has dreamed of.  He can't wait for his girlfriend, Sarah, to return from a business trip to Barcelona so the celebrations can begin in earnest.  There is just one problem.  He can't contact her.  When she fails to arrive back on her planned flight, Adam realizes something is terribly wrong.  Digging deeper, he discovers that she was not even meant to be on a work trip.  It seems she had embarked on a cruise, and not alone either.  A handwritten note arrives at Adam's home, attached to Sarah's passport, with the simple words "I'm sorry".  Adam refuses to believe that Sarah has simply left him, and as the authorities are subject to 'at sea' restrictions, he begins his own investigation into Sarah's disappearance...

Catherine Ryan Howard's thriller debut is something special.  She has taken the crime fiction genre and cleverly added an element of legal and procedural uncertainty.  What happens when a crime is committed aboard a cruise ship, miles from land?  What country has jurisdiction and is there a definitive person, or even state, to hold responsible for any wrong doing?  These questions are addressed and answered as we travel alongside Adam on his quest for the truth.  There are parallel stories intertwined throughout the novel, where the reader is treated to snippets of  other lives and the atmosphere is taut and thrilling.  The cruise ship, the Celebrate, is a character in itself.  Its many bars, restaurants, swimming pools and staff quarters make for fine reading. The onboard politics are divulged whilst the secrets are hidden behind many doors and on many different levels.  Surrounded by the ocean, the waves of intrigue gain momentum and the chapters lead the reader on a bumpy ride of climatic thrills.  This is one of those books that has you thinking 'just one more chapter' at each sitting.  A constant, thrilling pace is maintained throughout with no unnecessary padding and each chapter is equally as important as the last.  There are red herrings, blind corners and a multitude of possible endings.  Don't be overly confident that you have it all figured out, as each page brings more possibilities.  

Distress Signals is a brave and assertive fiction debut from this young Irish author.  She writes with confidence, without facetiousness and has earned her place alongside some great crime fiction writers from this small island.  Don't presume that it is a book just for females either.  The cover is misleading.  A male protagonist and sharp, snappy dialogue makes this ideal for fans of Harlan Coben, David Baldacci and James Patterson.  I cannot think of a better book to grab for the summer holidays than this one.  It has it all. From Cork to Barcelona and onto the vast oceans of a cruise company's well-travelled routes, this is a page-turner that should be packed in every suitcase this year.  Just don't expect to dip in and out of it.  It will grab you from the very start and you will lose all sense of reality while it's in your hands.  Maybe buy two copies, as your spouse/partner/friend may feel a little left out?  I promise they will be just as hooked as you will be...

Distress Signals is published by Corvus on 5th May 2016 and is available in TPB and ebook format.

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