Friday, 23 December 2016

The Realities of Christmas Day - Article originally posted on

The Realities of Christmas Day For A Book Addict by Margaret Bonass Madden

Article by writingie © 22 December 2016 .
Posted in the Magazine ( · The Big Idea ).
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.  I totally agree. The Christmas decorations are up, the songs are being sung (in my case, the same one over and over in my head) and the Elf DVD has been dusted down.  But, in all honesty, how can I escape to read? How early is it acceptable to abandon my family and head to bed? I can get away with it the rest of the year, but Christmas is different.  There is no nice way of sneaking off for an hour of solitude.
I have been a mother for twenty seven years now and Christmas is definitely a big occasion in our house.  We have a slightly different tradition, where we open our presents on Christmas Eve (carried through from my side of the family) and the kids get the joy of their Santa presents and stockings on Christmas Day.  We all gather in our kitchen late on Christmas Eve, sharing a mammoth Chinese take-away and then move into the drawing room where the great unwrapping begins.  It is done in age order and, as I’m the oldest (by five whole weeks,) I am always last.  Then there is a couple of hours of playing around with recently opened gifts, watching TV and getting the youngest packed off to bed before Santa arrives.  I begin to get book-withdrawal symptoms just after the last present is opened.  I shuffle around the room, pretend to watch TV and laugh along with in-family jokes.  I briefly forget my literary addiction while preparing the room for the next day and then dash upstairs to read.
Then comes Christmas Day.  Obviously a no-go area for solitary reading,  what with the whole spending-time-with-the-family thing.  The big dinner is eaten, the food-coma  is in full swing, the Prosecco is all gone and the paper hats have been abandoned.  The board games come out and the banter begins.  I can usually manage a sneaky chapter or two during these competitive sessions, but refereeing may be required.  There is an overall feeling of contentment in the house and the normal daily chores can be forgotten.  There are power-sleeps for some, family phone calls made and new toys assembled.
In the midst of all this seasonal chill-out is a book lover, reading glasses perched on the top of her head, snatching sneaky moments with her fictional characters.  Ironically, there are people all over the world who are reading Christmas books alone and dreaming they had a family to spend the day with.  I think this year I shall step away from the books, even for just one day, and see how I do.  Hang on, that might be a bit adventurous. Would anyone notice if I listened to an audio book with earphones in?
Merry Christmas from all at Bleach House….
(c) Margaret Bonass Madden

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Book Review - 'The Last One' by Alexandra Oliva.

In The Dark is a reality survival show that pushes its contestants to the limits.  The prize money is high but some are competing for more than the cash.  Zoo is running from her own reality and thinks the show may give her a new perspective.  Things start to go terribly wrong and one by one the contestants dwindle. But where are the crew and supplies, and is the whole world watching Zoo with admiration or horror as she battles the elements?

This is such a clever novel.  While the characters are given unusual names (and this takes a bit of getting used to) the concept is taught and as the game begins, the reader is right there alongside its participants. Zoo is a tough cookie, despite her slight appearance.  She has an inner-determination that sees her holding her own against some of the tough guys.  She soon gains some respect and the group begins to divide.  Online comments are dotted through the start of the book and its easy to relate to how the viewers feel about the reality show and its stars.  When obvious cameras begin to disappear, Zoo finds herself battling the elements with just her mini-cam and starts to suffer from paranoia.  Can she survive through to the bitter end? Is it really worth it? 

The over-all mood of Oliva's debut is one of tension and determination. Zoo is a strong character and the concept is even stronger.  It takes a few chapters to get really into the story, and the character names do not help this, but it is WELL worth persevering with it.  Once the games begin and challenges are set for the players, individual personalities come to light and clashes appear.  The woodlands have a personality of their own and the camera crew cannot interfere. Days slip into night and sleep is restricted.  The desire for food is intense and inner-survival skills become worth more than anything else.  The pace is choppy, with bursts of intense thrills and dips back to a steadier feel. The story line shifts about two thirds through and the protagonist takes on a more intense role.  I thoroughly enjoyed The Last One.  I had no idea what I was about to read and enjoyed the journey all the more for it.  A cross between Black Mirror and Survivor, with a great feisty, female lead. 
 A whip-cracking debut that I can highly recommend. 

The Last One is published by Penguin Michael Joseph in HB and Ebook and is released in PB on 29th December 2016. 
 You can order your copy, with 12% discount and Free Worldwide Postage,HERE.  The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:

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

Monday, 19 December 2016

Book Review - "A Suitable Lie" by Michael J. Malone.

Young widow, Andy Boyd is blown away by the beautiful Anna and sees his life finally turning around.  He has hidden away from the social scene since his wife died and now he has a wife and a mother for his young son.  Cracks begin to show as early as the wedding night and it is not long before things get out of control.  But why can't he walk away?

We have all read about women who stay in violent relationships, clinging on to the hope that their partners might change.  Love is a powerful drug and defies all logic.  But it is rare to hear of domestic violence from the male perspective.  Michael J. Malone has addressed the issue in this deeply disturbing and thrilling novel.  Andy is a big man.  A strapping rugby player, he towers over Anna and would never hurt a fly.  Yet he finds himself cowering in corners and walking the streets in his dressing gown rather than face up to the woman he loves.  A man can't hit a woman, right? But he can dream of strangling her to death?  How far can a person be pushed before they crack?  What happens when there are children involved? 

This domestic-noir title starts with a single page prologue that gives you goosebumps.  Malone  introduces Andy, father of four-year-old Pat and paints the picture of a grieving man who just needs to move on.  A big softie, he has a great relationship with his Mum and brother but definitely needs to get out more.  A whirlwind romance with the enigmatic Anna sees a second chance at family life and the reader roots for him.. It's not long before we are punched in the proverbial gut and see the gentle giant turn into a former shell of himself.  Family and friends have no idea why Andy is changing and when money disappears in work, things get out of control. This is a read-in- a-couple-of-sittings book with  the tension present from the early stages and maintained throughout.  There are twists and sub-plots, but the chilling feeling is what hooked me.  Set in a coastal Scottish town, the atmosphere is sharp and crispy with colloquial phrases adding more authenticity.  There were a few things I saw coming, but also plenty I didn't. Anna is one of those characters you will love to hate and there will be many times you will wonder why Andy did not just leave.  Just like all the women who have been abused for years and years, Andy shows that all is not black and white.  It is not as easy as we would like to think.  Not everyone can escape easily. How far would you have to be pushed before revealing your secret? My guess is a lot, if you are male...

A fantastic read, ideal for fans of SJ Watson and Sophie Hannah.  

A Suitable Lie is published by Orenda Books in PB and ebook format.  You can order via amazon link below:

Saturday, 17 December 2016

My article from where I ponder the Top Reads of the Year lists.

Article originally appeared on on 16 December 2016.

Top Reads of the Year lists are popular but where are bestsellers?

Margaret Madden is fed up with books of the year features which ignore bestsellers and popular fiction. She offers her alternative

At the end of each year the book-loving community begins to rub its hands with glee as the Top Reads of the Year lists commence. We all glance through the lists, hoping to see a title that we also adored and maybe share the links on social media with added comments like “I’ve read 20. How many have you read?” or “I TOLD you these were great books, right?”.
However, something has happened over the past few years. The lists are becoming a bit obscure and predictable. Dare I say it, a bit arsey? They tend to be a feature-style compilation of published authors or journalists, most of whom know each other. They lean toward the literary fiction genre, with a smattering of historical non-fiction.
I may be wildly off-base here, but after reading three weekend broadsheets I feel a little let down. A large proportion of the books mentioned were repeated, despite there being thousands upon thousands of new releases each year. There were shout-outs for prizewinning novels, “worthy” novels and random non-fiction titles that could take a whole year to read.
My question is, are these really readers’ choices? When these not so random contributors were asked for their favourite reads of 2016, did they instinctively choose a book that they devoured in one sitting, or did they have a little think about how it would make them appear if they were to choose a more “suitable” title? For example, would an academic admit to reading Lee Child whilst tucked up in bed? Or would the winner of a prestigious literary award announce that they loved mainstream historical fiction with a bit of romance thrown in?
When Graham Norton’s debut novel, Holding, was published in October this year there were gushing reports of how he managed to get it just right, capturing the atmosphere of rural Ireland in a style reminiscent of Maeve Binchy. But how many of these reviewers had read Maeve Binchy? And did these same reviewers not previously say that Donal Ryan had captured rural Ireland in a unique and unequivocal way in his novels? Had Holding been written by an unknown female writer, would the reviews have even appeared in the national newspapers? Is there an element of liking what “should” be liked rather than liking for the enjoyment factor?
I read, on average, 200 books per year. Contemporary fiction, literary fiction, crime fiction, female fiction, historical fiction, non-fiction. Basically everything except fantasy and sci-fi. I have read some amazing books this year, and some truly dreadful ones too. I have swallowed some whole, in one sitting, whilst others have been a little like pulling teeth.
I treat each one equally, no matter who has written it and try to avoid reading others reviews until I have read it myself. I often receive a book months in advance of publication and can usually spot a potential bestseller in a very short reading time. When I see these books on the bestseller lists, I feel a little proud that I read it before anyone else and that I had foreseen its success.
Then, the end of year lists are published and these bestsellers and popular reads are nowhere to be seen. They have vanished. Their paperback selves are cringing with embarrassment on the general fiction shelves of bookshops, nationwide. In their stead are the aforementioned “arsey” titles with brand-new stickers glued to their, often hardback and expensive, covers. Book club members are tweeting each other photos of their latest book hauls, which now include the “recommended by [Insert name of author/journalist/literary critic]” titles. These books shall be displayed on coffee tables throughout the country, with visitors noting their existence and mentioning that they too have purchased this highly recommended book.
But will all these people read these books? Will they sit for five, six, 10 hours and savour each award-winning word? Will they escape into the world of insightful genius and sigh with contentment when they turn the last page? Perhaps they will. But will many of them throw the book down with glee and declare “That was just amazing! Bloody hell! What a book!” and pass it to the person sitting next to them and say “Read this! Now! I’ll watch you as you do!”? It’s doubtful.
But this is what a Top Read should be. A book that you cannot forget. You want to talk about, to dissect, to share with many. A book that you hope will never be made into a movie, unless the author is heavily involved with it. A little piece of heaven. Not something that you have to think about. It should be instinctual and it should not matter what genre, author or publishing house it came from. Let’s have some variety on next year’s lists. For the love of books...
Margaret Madden reviews books on her blog at
My Top Reads of 2016
Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
This book has stayed with me since I turned the last page. Frank is one of the most memorable children in contemporary fiction.
My Name Is Leon by Kit de Waal
A foster child is searching for his forever-family and yet the grown-ups forget to ask him what he thinks about it all. Insightful and heart-warming.
The Comfort of Others by Kay Langdale
A young boy and an elderly lady become unlikely friends. Warmth and affection seep into the reader’s hands.
The Week I Ruined by Life by Caroline Grace Cassidy
One mistake sees a woman’s life fall apart. Very hard to put this one down.
Age of Consent by Marti Leimbach
A harsh and cutting look at how a child can be misled and abused without even noticing it. Shocking and very real.
The Last Days of Summer by Vanessa Ronan
A stunning debut with echoes of John Steinbeck. Meticulously written and has a lingering effect.
Even the Dead by Benjamin Black
Quirk is back and is as dark and troubled as ever. 1950s Dublin jumps off the pages of this crime fiction novel.
Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard
Mysterious goings-on onboard a cruise ship. A read-in-one-sitting thriller.
The Drowning Child by Alex Barclay
FBI Agent Ren Bryce brings her wit and sassiness back with a vengeance in this tale of murder and mystery in small-town-America.
Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent
An atmospheric delight, with a Mrs Danvers-like character who sends shivers down the spine.
The Girl from the Savoy by Hazel Gaynor
A gentle tale of 1920s London and all its glitz and glamour. A real lose-yourself read.
On Sackville Street by A O’Connor
A dual time page-turner, set on Dublin’s famous street. Light and entertaining with a Downton Abbey feel.
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
An understated look at the tense relationship between a mother and daughter. Powerful.
All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan
Powerful prose and exquisite narrative make for a stunning read.
Hot Feminist by Polly Vernon
Humorous yet insightful look at a modern woman’s approach to feminism.
Making It Up As I Go Along by Marian Keyes
Some laugh-out-loud thoughts from the delightful Irish author and columnist.
1916: What the People Saw by Mick O’Farrell
The Accidental Wife by Orla McAlinden
Inter-connecting short stories set in Northern Ireland. The characters are real and raw, whilst the writing gently envelopes the reader.
The Good Immigrant, ed. Nikesh Shukla
An anthology of essays from black, Asian and Minority Ethnic writers living in Britain today. A eye-opening experience for any Caucasian living in their country of origin who would never have had to deal with the feeling of being different. Definitely a book to check out. Lingers with me months after reading.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Blog Tour Book Review - 'The Food of Love' by Amanda Prowse.

I am thrilled to be part of the Blog Tour for The Food of Love by Amanda Prowse.  One of the UK's most well-loved authors of family fiction, I was honoured to receive a review copy of her latest novel.  Read on for my review and check out all the other stops along her tour...


Freya and Lockie Braithwaite are happily married with two fantastic teenage daughters, Charlotte and Lexi.  Freya spends her days working as a freelance food writer and Lockie is a photographer. Their girls are surrounded by love and affection and life is great.  All that begins to crumble when Freya receives a phone call from Lexi's school.  The Braithwaites are plunged into despair as they discover their daughter is battling an eating disorder.  Suddenly, food becomes the enemy for more than just Lexi, as the family begin to resent mealtimes and all the pain which ensues. Life, love and family are all examined in this heart-warming and emotional read.

Most parents know all there is to know about their kids, right? Maybe not.  A person who has something to hide knows every trick in the book to ensure their secret is hidden.  When the secret is an eating disorder, the sufferer can deceive even the ones who love them the most.  Lexi is fifteen years old and has grown up in a loving family environment, adored by her parents, sister and grandparents.  She has friends, a good social life and no apparent reason to worry about her weight.  However, the disease (and make no mistake, anorexia IS a disease) has taken over her body and mind. It has also taken over the lives of her loved-ones.  Her mother is initially in denial and thinks a few changes to her weekly shop can sort Lexi's problem out and she genuinely believes a mother's love is all-powerful.  To begin with, Lockie thinks his wife's pandering attitude to Lexi is a bit extreme and thinks some tough-love might be more appropriate.  But when Lexi's weight continues to drop well-below the healthy BMI range, they soon realise that medical intervention is required.  Charlotte is a victim of her sister's illness, as she is basically left to her own devices during her final year of school.  The whole family is fractured and each day gets dangerously worse. Lies are told, hearts are broken and the disease finally takes over completely. 

Amanda Prowse has a way of drawing you into family dramas in a unique way.  Her warm, affectionate tone is balanced with the harsh realities of life and she doesn't shy away from controversial topics.  Lexi's story is by no means anything new. Anorexia has been recorded in medical journals since the 1600s and even Mary Queen of Scots was rumoured to have been a sufferer.  But, in the days of internet access and mass media being such a huge part of young girls lives, things have reached an alarming level. Pro-Ana sites where body-conscious girls (and boys) can pick up tips and encourage each other to painfully and lethally lose weight are all over the internet. Runway models and magazines depicting images of unhealthy looking role-models are everywhere.  It is a mother's nightmare.  We can't stop our kids from seeing these things.  We can't watch them every minute of the day.  We can only try to protect them in the best way we know how.  This novel shows that even the most loving family can be fooled into believing everything is ok. We are only human, we say things without realising the long-term effects, we pander to our children's food fads and desire to appear more fit and beautiful, but we forget that they can also keep a lot from us, should they choose to.  Prowse has not sugar coated this story, there are shocking scenes and plenty of weepy moments.  However, there is an element of eye-opening clarity that lingers after reading.  It will make you think twice about commenting on someone's eating habits or presuming that it could never happen to one of your own children.  Because it could. Every single person who has suffered with anorexia has a mother and a father.  Every single one of them has lied and fooled their family and friends.  This will never change. It has been medically recorded for more than 500 years, and it is not going away anytime soon. I think every mother, father and young adult could learn a lot from this book.  The ending was not what I expected and I would have perhaps liked a little more clarity. That said, I would highly recommend this book. In fact, I have passed it to my husband, as we are the parents of four girls and a boy. There but for the grace of God go I...

The Food of Love is published by Lake Union Publishing and is available in  PB and ebook format.  you can order your copy via amazon link below:

Friday, 9 December 2016

Book Review - 'Falling Softly' by Maria Duffy.

Holly is getting ready for an extra-special Christmas.  Her boyfriend, David, has proposed and the groundwork for the wedding has begun.  He is a great guy, who clearly adores her, but something is missing. Why can she not get excited about the big day?
Josh's girlfriend is pregnant and they are moving into their new home before the baby arrives. She is stunningly beautiful and he would do anything to keep her happy.  But small cracks are beginning to show and the house move brings up some unexpected challenges.  Not least the fact that he is now across the road from Holly, who he used to date...

Who hasn't wondered what their first love is up to? The powerful connections that young adults experience can sometimes be exaggerated in our memories and rose-tinted glasses are often used. But how would you cope if you ended up seeing that special someone on a daily basis and the feelings resurfaced?  Holly and Josh find themselves hiding their past romance and keeping their feelings under wrap.  Holly has doubts about her impending marriage and her fiancee (and his needy mother) begin to get on her nerves.  At least she has her job in a local veterinary practice to keep her sane.  Josh's model girlfriend, Stephanie, is high maintenance and struggling with her pregnant status. Josh can't wait to become a dad and tried to instill some enthusiasm into the expectant mother.  It's not as easy as he thought and bends over backwards to please her, despite some of her dodgy decisions. As Christmas looms, the two households struggle to build up the seasonal spirit as memories come knocking on their doors.

Maria Duffy is one of Ireland's best known writers of female fiction and this is her sixth novel.  Each one is written with a gentle touch and a warm tone.  In Falling Softly we meet two characters with a connected past, who are about to embark on their individual futures.  Their unexpected reunion throws some serious spanners in to the works and their memories resurface.  Duffy interlaces the past and the present, whilst using supporting characters to create the overall atmosphere.  This is not a Christmas book, just one that happens to take place over the festive period.  The writing is charming and both Josh and Holly are endearing. Their respective partners are well drawn upon, with Stephanie being a particularly nasty piece of work. David's mother is a classic, controlling mother-in-law and I think I would hide behind the sofa if I thought she was on her way over to my house.  This is an enjoyable read, ideal for the holidays.  It has some sparkle, some sadness and a dash of hope. Ideal for fans of Cathy Kelly and Claudia Carroll.

Falling Softly is published by Hachette Ireland and is available in TPB. You can order your copy, with 17% discount and Free Worldwide Postage, HERE. The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Book Review - 'The Drowning Child' by Alex Barclay.

Special Agent Ren Bryce is back and she brings her sassy-style to the small town of Tate, Oregon. A child has disappeared and the lakeside town is weighed down by strange circumstances.  Secrets are hidden and rumours are rife.  Ren has to discover what is fact and what is merely fiction. But is it too late for twelve-year-old Caleb Veir?

This is Alex Barclay's eight novel and the sixth featuring the memorable Ren Bryce.  She is sharp, witty and holds no prisoners.  She struggles to control her bipolar disorder and takes a different approach to life than most.  However, she is wired in such a way that makes her stand out from the regular fictional FBI agents.  Each book brings more depth to her character, yet they can be read as stand-alone novels too.  The story line in The Drowning Child is strong.  A missing child, an unstable family, a town full of secrets and lies.  Two more children have been lost and although their deaths were deemed accidental, there is something not quite right.  A drunken and disgraced former medical assistant has some information that he feeds to Ren in his sober moments.  Other residents of Tate are less forthcoming and the investigation feels a bit like pulling teeth.  Time is ticking away as Caleb remains missing.

Barclay never holds back.  She examines the darkness and depravity in all situations and throws some of the best left hooks in crime fiction. Ren Bryce is full of insecurities, doubts and fears yet manages to remain one of the brightest and insightful fictional characters in a difficult genre.  Readers are guaranteed a racy, chilling ride with some of the best one-liners and throw backs in the pages of any crime book.  Although Ren is a troubled soul, working in a male-dominated environment, she can rise to her expectations, and beyond, in her own unique way.  If you have yet to meet Ren Bryce, what are you waiting for? Dive in. You are about to experience the queen of sassy. and a bloody good crime thriller too...

The Drowning Child is published by Harper Collins and is available in TPB with the PB edition published on the 29th December 2016.  You can order your copy via amazon link below:

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