Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Blog Tour and Giveaway - "The Judge's Wife" by Ann O'Loughlin.


I am delighted to bring you an exclusive piece, from Ann O' Loughlin, on my stop of the Blog Tour for her latest novel The Judge's Wife.  I also have a a copy of the book, as well as a copy of her debut novel, The Ballroom Cafe, to giveaway to one lucky reader. To be in with a chance of winning this great prize, just enter via rafflecopter link below.  Good Luck!


The Judge's Wife by Ann O'Loughlin

The Blurb

Can a love last forever?

When Emma returns to Dublin to put her estranged father’s affairs in order, she begins to piece together the story of his life and that of Grace, the mother she never knew. She knows her father as the judge – as stern and distant at home as he was in the courtroom. But as she goes through his personal effects, Emma begins to find clues about her mother that shock her profoundly.
A tale of enduring love and scandal that begins in 1950s Dublin and unravels across decades and continents, digging up long-buried family secrets along the way, The Judge’s Wife asks whether love really can last forever.

Exclusive author feature

SYBIL CONNOLLY

Grace Moran in The Judge’s Wife loved to wear Sybil Connolly day dresses, suits and elegant ballgowns.
Dublin designer Sybil Connolly designed the most beautiful clothes. She  reworked traditional Irish fabrics and styles – including peasant blouses, flannel petticoats and shawls – to give them contemporary appeal and glamour. Perhaps her most distinctive contribution to fashion was pleated handkerchief linen – as worn by Jackie Kennedy in the official White House portrait – it took up to nine yards of Irish linen handkerchiefs to create one yard of the uncrushable pleated fabric that pioneered.

This is an extract where Grace’s daughter, Emma in her father’s house in Parnell Square, Dublin comes across boxes and boxes of clothes belonging to the mother she never knew. In one special shop box is a beautiful Sybil Connolly dress wrapped in tissue paper.

EXTRACT:

“My God are you moving in or out?” Angie peered around a stack of boxes in the hall. “What’s going on?”
Boxes and boxes were piled high, with the name Grace scrawled in thick black marker. Stumbling, confusion clouding her face, Emma hit against a high stack of boxes, making it shake.
“Where did these come from?”
The foreman stepped from behind a tower in the front room.“I told you.”
“Don’t touch them.”
“You said—”
“Don’t touch them.”Tremors hurled up her body, buckling her knees and gripping her stomach. When Angie ran to her, she let her pull her gently into the library.
“You need to sit down, dear. Something has spooked you for sure.”
“These are my mother’s things. I never knew any of it was in the house.”
Somebody called out that everything was down from the attic and Emma jumped to her feet.
“Now, now, these boxes are going nowhere. You catch your breath,” Angie said gently, pressing Emma back onto the chaise longue.
A man carrying a wide box stepped into the library and placed the box beside her. “A pretty fancy box. I would open it first, if I were you. We are moving to clear out the old kitchen in the basement. Will you want to inspect anything there?”Emma shook her head.
The box took up the width of her arms. Once white, it was now covered in a layer of fine dust, the string faded a green-grey. Behind the dust, the name Sybil Connolly, Dublin was set in plain black print.
“I had better scoot along.” Angie Hannon stood and watched Emma for a few seconds. “Will you be all right?”
Emma nodded, walking to the hall with Angie. “It is just a shock, I hardly know where to start.”
“The box in your hands is as good a place as any.”
Angie looked at her watch. “I had better get going or I’ll miss the first collection.” She whipped out the door, stopping only briefly to berate the workmen. “Will you quieten down a bit? They can hear you cursing in the city centre.”
Glancing into the front sitting room, Emma looked around. Stacks of boxes like a child’s playing bricks everywhere, four abreast on the upholstered couch, spanning the width of the window.
Placing the outsize rectangular box on the floor, she eased the top off gently, her hair tumbling down, blocking out her face, her hands trembling. A cloud of dust blustered up around her as she pushed back the cover and pulled on layers and layers of white tissue paper, which piled up and crumpled around her.
A dress, ivory, ruffled with lace and inlaid with satin ribbons, was folded neatly. Emma lifted out the dress, standing up so it unfurled to the ground in a hurried whishing whisper. Layers of pleated frills were topped with lace and interwoven with pale-blue ribbon. The skirt spread out in tiny pinched pleats, a series of Chinese fans fluttering their messages. It was heavy to hold, the taffeta underskirt setting the pleated ruffles in place. Emma held it to her, swaying from side to side. The whoosh of the linen as it swept across the carpet made her swing faster and faster, the room twirling until she felt dizzy. Falling between two boxes on the couch, the linen spread around her as if it owned her.
She felt at home here, probably for the first time. All the times she had dreamed of her mother, wanting to feel her comforting presence, her soft touch, all the times she imagined it. Passing her hand over the linen, she disturbed the fabric and a faint hint of perfume waved around her. Pulling the nearest box on the couch, she nudged the cardboard flaps open. A bundle of silk scarves lounged like sleeping snakes.
Placing her hand into the well of colours, she heard the klssss of the silk as it moved, disturbed after years locked away. Not checking what she was picking, she pulled, latching on to one long scarf. It slithered out in a haze of royal blue, green, purple, the colours bouncing in the light, throwing bars of colour at the mirror over the mantelpiece. Crumpling it to tame it around her neck, she pushed the linen dress aside and jumped up to look in the mirror. Settling her hair on top of her head, the scarf complemented her long, graceful neck. Then, abruptly, she let her hair fall down.
There was no going back to Australia, but what life could she make here among the forgotten treasures of a long-dead woman? Opening two more boxes, she tumbled out the contents, sifting through the clothes and losing track of time, only stopping when she heard the chat from the people standing at the bus stop outside the window. Peeping out the window, she saw a man finish his bottle of Coke before leaning over the railing and letting the empty bottle smash to the basement.
Cross, Emma ran to the door, but the man was already boarding a double-decker.
“You will have to put up some sort of netting. They don’t care about anyone.”Angie Hannon, on her way home from Mass, was carrying a small white box. “I stopped off at the Kylemore and got you some cream slices: they go lovely with a cup of tea.” She hopped up the steps and placed the small box in Emma’s hands. “Don’t worry, I won’t be imposing myself. I am off out with the women’s club today.”
Emma smiled and made to go back inside. Angie called out softly, “Your skirt: it is a Sybil Connolly isn’t it?”
Emma spun around. “How did you know?”
“Anyone with an eye for fashion could not miss a Sybil Connolly. Sure, didn’t she bring linen from the bog to the city?”
“I found it in the house.”
“Look after it. A vintage treasure, it is.”
“I didn’t realise.”
“I always heard your mother was a right looker and stunning in Sybil Connolly.”
“I wouldn’t know.”
Emma’s throat tightened and pain flared through her that so many knew her mother and she did not even have a faint memory: a favourite name or nursery rhyme, a touch, a look. Anger swelled inside her at her father and she wanted him to be alive so she could cross-examine him, demand answers.
Angie Hannon called out to Tom Harty’s wife and Emma, taking advantage of her distraction, slipped back inside her front door.
What good was it opening these boxes and rummaging through the life of the mother she had never known? She should lock up this place, run away, but where would she go? There was no home back in Australia, just a lot of other possessions she did not care about and a husband busy playing house with another. She kicked a box, so light it skidded across the tiles in the hall. It hit a stack piled too high and the top box toppled over, the contents spilling across the floor.
Not bothering to pick up the items, Emma climbed the stairs, stopping on the fourth step to look back down the hall. The black and white tiles glinted in the light spilling in from over the door. It was the judge’s house. It still had his smell, and she expected him to call out from his library, to hear him clear his throat as he read his files.
*****************************************

The Judge's Wife is published by Black and White Publishing and is available in PB and ebook format.

Book Review - "The Comfort Of Others" by Kay Langdale.



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

Friends can be found  in the strangest of circumstances.  
Elderly spinster, Minnie, lives in the family home with her sister Clara.  Their country estate, Rosemount, while once grand and vibrant with garden parties and tennis matches, has dwindled through the years and now they live a modest life with their crumbling mansion surrounded by modern houses.  
Eleven year old Max lives directly opposite the ladies and can see them through his bedroom window.  He notices that Minnie seems to be writing in a diary each evening, while he pours his heart out into a small dictaphone.  
These two may have nothing obviously in common, but sometimes the bond between the young and the old surprises even the most cynical person.

Once again, Kay Langdale has delved into the mind of a child and brought them to life with her stunning prose.  Max's story is one of change, uncertainty and coming of age.  His mother has brought him up single-handedly and he is very perturbed when she finds a new boyfriend.  It had always been just the two of them and Max is not feeling so great about the new arrival in their lives.  Meanwhile, Minnie is coming to terms with her past.  She is finally addressing long-suppressed memories and finds writing her diary has a therapeutic effect.  She watches Max from her first floor window and sees he is a troubled soul.  When she invites him into Rosemount for tea, an unlikely friendship develops between a child heading for adulthood and an adult who has hidden from the memories of  her  own childhood.  A mutual love of antiques and straight talking become a ritual that both characters begin to embrace.  Both are in pain and seem to have found their route to temporary relief.

A harrowing back story blends in with a modern tale of displacement; bringing a perfect novel of  gentle friendship and respect.  Using the polar opposite protagonists, the author shows pain from different perspectives, all the while showing how sometimes the elderly and the young have more in common than many expect.  Both are semi-dependent and reply on others honesty.  Both seem to require patience and understanding.  Both can have moments of loneliness that can be forgotten by their younger/older contemporaries.  Simply put; they have time for each other.  No jobs, no dependents, no time-watching or responsibilities.  Minnie may have her sister under the same roof, and Max has his mother, but neither feel relaxed enough to speak their minds in their home environments.  Their unlikely friendship unfolds with mutual respect and they find out more about themselves than they ever anticipated.  A wonderful array of minor characters bring added humour to the novel, with Max's friend Eddie hopping off the page with his quirky ways and Clara silently rambling through the corridors of Rosemount.  The antiques that fascinate Max are enchanting and the reader can almost smell their history and see their dusty surroundings.  

Don't be fooled by the cover of this novel, which implies a light, fluffy read. It is delightful and heartbreaking in equal measures.  It shows how secrets can eat up a persons soul, yet the right friendship can free their spirit.  If you are a fan of  Maggie O'Farrell or enjoyed the wonderful Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey, this is the perfect read for you.  It is a book written with beautiful words, endearing characters and is a tale of trust and mutual respect, no matter what your age...
Highly Recommended.

The Comfort Of Others in published by Hodder Books and is available in HB and ebook format.


Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Book Review - "Choose Me" by Kay Langdale.





What happens when your Mum dies and there is no one left to take you in?  This is the devastation situation for nine-year-old Billy.  When he loses his mum, his whole life is turned upside down in an instant.  He has never known his father and his grandparents moved to Spain when their daughter began slipping away from them.  Social worker, Miriam, is left to pick up the pieces of Billy's life and she is desperately trying to find him his 'forever family'.  The options are limited, as not many families want to adopt an older child, preferring to extend their families with babies, and Miriam needs to pull a few strings to begin the search.  Can there be a chance for Billy to start afresh, away from long-term foster care?

Kay Langdale has managed to blend a heartbreaking story with one filled with hope, humour and honesty.  Billy's situation is more common than you think, with many, many children finding themselves available for adoption in the UK.  Different laws to the ones in Ireland mean that these children have the chance at a new life.  A fresh start and a forever-family.  But what happens when the social services can't find the right family?  Is there a sense of panic? Placements made in desperation?  One would hope not.  The author brings us on the hopeful journey, alongside Billy, while also shedding light on the social workers role in the adoption process.  This was a novel that struck a chord with me, personally, as I am a foster carer who has had many placements of this age bracket.  The kids who are in care are not there by choice and have very little chance to voice their true feelings about their situation.  After seeing a TV show on UK television, where it showed 'adoption parties' held for children needing new families, I was horrified to think that these vulnerable kids could be paraded like puppies in a pound, waiting to be chosen.  However, at least there is the possibility, in the UK, for these families to adopt these children and dispatch with all the red-tape connected with foster care.  Sometimes I wish our own government agencies would consider the fact that sometimes blood is not thicker than water, and some kids need a complete new life, without traumatic contact with their birth families.  
In the case of this novel, we can see how Billy is confused, feeling unwanted and unloved and tries his best to keep everyone happy, despite his own despair.  This is typical behaviour of kids in care.  They are more concerned with everyone else's feeling than their own.  The families that Billy encounters on his match-making search are vastly different and bring some laugh out loud moments along with cringe-worthy interactions.  There is a family of three, who have an older boy that is not so keen on having a nine-year-old sibling and has no qualms about letting Billy know; a deeply religious couple who would frankly scare the bejaysus out of ME, never mind a child; and a hipster couple with a rainbow family who want to add England to their countries of adoption, all the while believing they are single-handedly saving the world, Angelina and Brad style.  In the midst of all these play-dates and sleepovers is a scared and lonely child.  Billy writes his thoughts on scraps of paper and hides them in a tree.  This is his way of coping.  Miriam is really doing her best but sometimes cannot see his biggest fears.  The novel unfolds at a gentle pace, with different viewpoints, and is a most pleasurable read.  
This is the second book of Kay Langdale's that I have read and I have two more here, ready to go.  She is an author that deserves more attention.  She writes with genuine feeling, delightful prose and gives the reader a satisfying experience while connecting with her characters.  Bordering contemporary and literary fiction, she is definitely one to check out.  Ideal for fans of  Maggie O'Farrell or Anna McPartlin.

Choose Me is published by Hodder and is available in paperback and ebook format. 
You can order your copy, with Free Worldwide Postage, HERE.  The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:

You can click HERE to read my review of Kay Langdale's Away From Here.


Monday, 27 June 2016

Book Review - "Little Bones" by Sam Blake.




Detective Garda Cathy Connolly makes a gruesome discovery while examining the scene of a burglary.  Sewn into the lining of a vintage wedding dress are tiny little bones, which appear to be human.  Here begins a investigation that reaches far into the past, yet still has a rippling effect in the present.  While Cathy searches for answers, she keeps her own secrets from those closest to her.  But how long can she keep silent?

  Cat Connolly is a feisty young female detective who is not afraid to take chances.  At her physical peak, she spends most of her free time at the gym and throws herself into her work with gusto.  The case of the little bones has her perplexed and the owner of the wedding dress seems oblivious to their existence.  Working through rumours and dealing with unwilling witnesses makes the case all the more cumbersome.  Each chapter brings more detail, teasers and potential leads while the parallel story of Cat's personal life lends an extra dimension to the novel.  The location is mostly set around South County Dublin, with many familiar landmarks getting a mention.  Not solely based in Ireland, extra characters bring extra locations and the links between Ireland, England and further afield become apparent.  There are a few separate storylines and each one is as strong as the next.  

 Sam Blake's debut crime thriller made it straight onto the bestseller lists, and for very good reason.  From the very first page the reader is treated to a tense, fast-paced journey of suspense.  There is a balance of police-procedural, thriller, drama and mystery all wrapped up in the 390 pages.  The page- turning is fast and frantic and it has one of the best cliffhanger endings since Karen Slaughter's Will Trent novels.  Detective Cat Connolly has found her home.  It is firmly placed  within the pages of Sam Blake's strong crime thriller series.  Readers will be itching to know what happens next to the independent, yet vulnerable Cat.  A thrilling debut with a gutsy protagonist and a memorable story.  The pages will practically turn themselves...
Highly Recommended.

Little Bones is published by twenty7 and is available in TPB and ebook format.  You can order your copy, with 18% discount and Free Worldwide Postage, HERE.  The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:


Thursday, 23 June 2016

Blog Tour - "How To Find Love In A Bookshop" by Veronica Henry. Review and my Favourite Independent Bookshop Feature.



To celebrate Independent Booksellers Week, I am delighted to stop off on the blog tour for Veronica Henry's latest novel, How To Find Love In A Bookshop.  You can also scroll down to read my feature about my favourite bookshop, Blackbird Books, Navan, Co. Meath.

My Review

Emilia has spent her whole life surrounded by books.  Nightingale Books opened not long after her birth and was her father's pride and joy.  Upon his death, she discovers he had hidden debts and not a  chance of profit in sight.   She can't see how she can keep it open and finally admits that she may have to sell the Cotswold's shop to a local property developer.  However, she knows her father would turn in his grave at the thought and she is determined to do everything in her power to maintain his legacy. 

There are also a few locals who have their own reasons for wanting Nightingale Books to remain open.  Sarah links it with her big secret, Thomasina credits it with her love of cooking and Jackson has ulterior motives.  When a bookshop is more than just bricks and mortar it can motivate people in a powerful way.  But is it too late for Nightingale Books?  Without money how can Emilia keep things afloat?

This is the thirteenth novel from UK author, Veronica Henry, yet the first I have read.  Sometimes you just want a book to relax with, draw you in to the characters lives and make you feel like you've been given a rather large hug from an old friend.  This is a book that does just that.  
Emilia's father had brought her up as a young, single-parent and managed to instill a love of books within her soul.  His death leaves an aching gap in more than his daughter's life though, as he was loved by the whole rural community.  As Emilia comes to terms with her loss, her neighbours deal with their own grief.  A financial burden, the shop is a non-viable entity, yet is is so much more than a bookshop to many locals.  The characters cross each others paths throughout the novel and a bigger picture starts to emerge.  Emilia needs to make some tough decisions and yet she has inherited her father's generous spirit.  It is a huge undertaking for a young woman and she needs to find her way in life.  The author writes with a smooth and easy style and each chapter leads gently into the next.  A light, pleasurable novel, with some character-recommended reading lists dotted throughout, it is a little bit of escapism that you will not put too far from hand once you've started.  Unashamedly commercial fiction, How To Find Love In A Bookshop is the equivalent of going for dinner in your favourite, family-run restaurant.   You know what you're going to get, the familiarity is welcoming and the sense of fulfillment as you leave is wonderfully satisfying.  It was gratifying enough for me to go out and buy another of the author's titles...

How To Find Love In A Bookshop is published by Orion Books and is available in HB and ebook format. 


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

MY FAVOURITE INDEPENDENT BOOKSHOP

BLACKBIRD BOOKS, NAVAN, CO. MEATH.

Blackbird Books opened the doors of their store in April 2015.  Owned and run by husband and wife team, Shane and Lorraine, it is a haven nestled withing the cobbled streets of the historical town of Navan, Co. Meath.  Both Shane and Lorraine took a huge chance embarking on their venture, as Ireland struggled to regain momentum following a dreadful recession.  Their love of literature dismissed any doubts and luckily they took a chance.  A small but carefully selected range of books are available in store and the staff are more than willing to order in any titles that are not in stock.  I have been known to tweet Shane, at ridiculously unsociable hours, with my latest request.
The ground floor of Blackbird books is entered via a small door and opens up onto the ground floor, where there is a children's nook complete with wooden dolls house and pint-sized table and chairs.  There is always a stash of colouring sheets and crayons available and an array of beautiful titles (English and Irish language) to purchase.  Local authors have been known to entertain the children with readings and lauches and I witnesses some fine ninja-style warriors myself!  

Shane, Lorraine and Booker Prize winner Ben Okri.
The adult section is adjacent and is stocked with lovingly chosen titles, ranging from Irish fiction, to classics and translated books.  Shane and Lorraine are huge readers, like myself, so know their stuff.  There are bestsellers, but each book on the shelf seems to be have been chosen with care.  Beautiful editions of poetry are available, alongside locally sourced greeting cards and gifts.  Each purchase is placed into a black paper bag and gift wrapping is another added bonus. (You don't get that in large chain-stores, eh?), Also on the ground floor, there is a coffee area, where you can sip a really decent cuppa (again, locally sourced) and have a nice bookish break.
Upstairs, there is a further seating area, but also selves and shelves of second hand titles.  I have discovered some real gems here; early edition penguin classics (the orange ones, which I collect), stunning coffee table books and non-fiction titles I could not normally afford.  It is virtually impossible to  leave the first floor empty-handed.  Be warned!
Shane and Lorraine also hold many bookish events at Blackbird Books.  Readings, signings, poetry and music nights... The atmosphere is relaxed and everyone who attends leaves with a smile.  I am just glad I live a little distance away, in the neighbouring county of Louth, as I would be broke!  

The next time you are tempted to buy a book, please consider your local Independent Bookshop, as these places are disappearing from our neighbourhoods and being replaced by  larger chain-stores and supermarkets.  Would you wish to have you children, or grandchildren miss out on the bookshop experience?  The dedicated staff and owners?  The scent of brand new books mixed with second-hand books loved for years? The meeting place for like-minded book lovers?  I panic when I think that shops like Blackbird Books may not exist for the next generation.  Do you?

 You can check out Blackbird Books on their website http://www.blackbirdbooks.ie/ Twitter https://twitter.com/BlackbirdBks and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/BlackbirdBooksNavan

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Book Review - "The Week I Ruined My Life" by Caroline Grace-Cassidy.




Ali and Colin are childhood sweethearts, with two kids under their belt and a lifetime of memories between them.  But something's not right.  They are constantly fighting and Ali feels smothered by expectations.  As the tension builds at home, another kind of tension is building in her work place.  Owen is handsome, funny and the attraction between them is palpable.  But is she ready to throw away her marriage on a fantasy?  Her friend, Corina, worries that a work trip to Amsterdam could be a disaster waiting to happen...


This is Caroline Grace-Cassidy's first novel with her new home, Black and White Publishing.  There are plenty of new titles on the contemporary fiction shelves but this one is a bit special.  It brings the reader into the very real world of marriage and the working mother.  Not all women return to work after having their children.  Some choose to stay at home, others work part-time to keep in touch with the adult world.  Others, like Ali, relish their time at work while managing to balance their family lives precariously.  But when Colin begins to hint at Ali becoming a full-time mother, something inside her snaps.  He says he helps out at home but this is not true.  He bemoans the fact that he is the main bread-winner, all the while implying that Ali's job is a 'hobby'.  How many women are subjected to this patriarchal nonsense?  How many of them fantasize of a different life?  I would guess a lot more than you would think.

This novel take us on a 'what if?' journey.  The tension building up inside Ali becomes apparent from the first chapter and the author shows us how anger can bubble up at an alarming speed.  Colin is a throw back to the days where men believed they were Top Dog in any marriage, and he is blind to the imbalance in their relationship.  Owen is a veritable breath of fresh air, with the added good looks thrown in, with Corina emerging as the female friend we all want and need.  Although there are two young children in the story, they play minor roles of which I was thankful for.  We all know what the daily chores surrounding kids are and don't need them repeated in every book featuring families.  Corina was a fantastic character, with her devil-may-care attitude and brash, reliable presence.  She is a true friend, and if she exists in real life, please pass on my contact details; I NEED her in my life!

As far as female fiction goes, this novel is up there with the best of them.  With a fresher approach than the big bestselling names of old, it raise the bar in its genre.  Caroline Grace-Cassidy makes her characters more than words on a page.  She makes the reader feel as if they are in the room, watching the story unfold.  Although there are a little too many mentions of  clothing labels (I find them irrelevant), the cafés, restaurants and streets of Dublin and Amsterdam are perfectly interspersed throughout.    The ending is not as predictable as you would think and leaves the overall package one of high-grade.  This is an established author who is growing from strength to strength.  In a crowded bookshop, make sure you keep your eyes open for her.  Having a strong female protagonist is nothing new, but having one who also struggles with her insecurities, fears and fantasies can be hard to get right.  There is a bit of Ali in all of us and while her ultimate decisions may not mirror what we would do, she is as real as it gets.  
Highly recommended.

The Week I Ruined My Life is published by Black and White Publishing and is available in PB and ebook format.  You can order your copy, with 11% discount and Free Worldwide Postage, HERE.  The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:


Thursday, 16 June 2016

Book Review - "Where They Lie" by Mary O'Donnell.



Gerda dreads the phone ringing, yet knows she must answer.  The caller claims to have information about the whereabouts of missing brothers, Sam and Harry, who are among Northern Ireland's 'Disappeared'.  There has always been doubt as to the level of their involvement in Ireland's 'Troubles' but their family and friends need closure.  Without bodies, they cannot achieve this.  Will thesde mysterious phone calls shed light on the disappearance, or re-kindle old flames of fear?

Mary O' Donnell has a distinctive literary voice.  Strong yet silent, bold but not brash.  She uses four main characters to bring her story to life.  Gerda and her on/off boyfriend Niall, along with Gideon (Gerda's brother) and his wife Alison.  The four of them each have their own take on the disappearance of the twins, but all crave some answers.  As the reader is given a glimpse into the thoughts and actions of each character, the workings of Northern Ireland come to life.  The peace process may have changed the atmosphere of fear and mistrust, but the past is not easily forgotten.  Tensions still exist and the religious divide is ever-present.  The streets are still nervous and the mural-painted walls are an ever-present reminder of the North's history.  Niall is the 'southerner' of the group and his travels over the border are regular but seem to be done with a heavy heart.  The author uses words to portray the crackles of uncertainty between north and south, and the relationship between Gerda and Niall has its own fractured moments.  Alison holds bitterness close to her chest, unleashing her anger on her husband and his sister when it becomes too much.  

This is a novel that is written with powerful prose, great insight and confidence.  However, it was just a little too vague for me.   I was moved by the words and the atmosphere yet I found it was more like an extended short-story than a complete novel.  Gerda was a wonderfully formed character but Gideon was lacking something.  The talent of the author is undeniable and I can completely understand how she has won so many literary prizes.  This is a haunting read, with ripples throughout of Ireland's recent, painful history.  Perhaps the unsatisfied feeling that I experienced upon finishing the novel is more to do with my lack of understanding as to the feelings within Northern Ireland than of the story itself.   I live so close to the border between north and south, yet it may as well be a million miles away.  I remember the long drive from Dublin to Belfast (pre-M1 days) and my pounding heart as I witnessed the checking of cars at the border crossing beyond Dundalk.  Passport checks, changing of punts to sterling and my first glimpse of an armed officer.  But I was a southerner, unused to the tensions and uncertainty that the locals lived with on a daily basis.  Where They Lie is an evocative look at life in Northern Ireland and the unanswered questions that still remain there today.  The past is interlinked with the future is this tale of trying to move forward in an unsettled present.

Where They Lie is published by New Island and is available in paperback and ebook format.


Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Book Review - "Lying In Wait" by Liz Nugent



I received an ARC of this title via netgalley.com...


"My Husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it."

The opening line of Liz Nugent's second novel packs a punch.  The reader gets a glimpse of what is in store and the story starts off with a sprint.  
Lydia Fitzsimons has it all.  A prominent husband, a clever son and a beautiful period property that has been in her family for years.  Avalon is her safe haven and she finds no need to venture from its walls.  Surrounded by lavish gardens, down a private avenue, she can protect her family from prying eyes and never worry about outside influence.  All this is to change.  When Andrew loses the family fortune and agrees to aide his wife in a crazy scheme, things begin to fall apart at Avalon.  The death of Annie Doyle sets off an uncontrollable chain of events which do more to harm the couple's son, Lawrence, than anyone.  Only one life may have been taken, but many more will be transformed...

Liz Nugent has written a novel like a game of chess.  There are black squares and white ones.  There are Queens, who appear to be less powerful than Kings but are behind a lot of the major game-plans and there are pawns, being sacrificed to increase the mobility of others. The juxtaposition between the characters has real clarity.  Lydia's delusional approach to motherhood is carefully balanced with her son's battle with self-esteem and assertiveness.   Andrew's meekness is most unlike his mother's cutting way.  Annie Doyle and her family are the polar opposite of the middle-class Fitzsimons and their reaction to loss is unlike anything that Avalon has ever experienced.  But what makes Lydia the way she is?  Why is Lawrence so submissive?  How many secrets does Avalon hold within its walls?   Can a person have all bad blood flowing through their veins, or is there an inherent reason for their disturbed state?  Can Lydia inspire some sympathy from the reader when they consider the bigger picture?  Could Lawrence benefit from a large case of the 'wake-ups' that he so obviously needs. or is it too late?  Annie Doyle could be any young woman in the 1980s who had difficulty in school and was always heading down the wrong road.  How different her life was to the sheltered one that Lawrence led, yet they both had their demons.

From the winner of the Irish Book Award for her Crime Thriller, Unravelling Oliver, comes a tale of two families, two different paths and one interlinking event.  It is slow and steady, with an almost gothic feel, with Lydia reminding me of the legendary Mrs. Danvers from Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca.  There is a chill in the air, from page one, and the creepiness unfolds via alternating characters, one chapter at a time.  Just when you think you can guess where it's all headed, you are spun on an invisible axis and are taken off in an alternative direction.  This  is an author who can show how madness and matriarchy are two subjects that can be mixed together with great effect.  Spine-shivering in its subtlety.  

Lying In Wait is published by Penguin Random House on 7th July 2016 in paperback and ebook format.  For those lucky enough to attend Dalkey Book Festival, there will be advance copies for sale at the event... 



Tuesday, 14 June 2016

#BookChat vlog post #1


Apologies for the lack of technical expertise, but here is my first #bookchat vlog, filmed by my able assistant, Mia.  Includes books from Marian Keyes, Donal Ryan, Caroline Grace Cassidy and many more.  Hopefully it may help you choose your next read.  Enjoy (and hopefully I'll get better as I go along). 



Book Review - "Dear Amy" by Helen Callaghan.



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

School teacher, Margot, freelances as a newspaper agony aunt and receives some disturbing mail:

Dear Amy,
Please please PLEASE help me!  I have been kidnapped by a stange man and he's holding me prisoner in this cellar.  He says I can never go home. I don't know where I am or what to do and nobody knows I'm here.
I don't even know how long I've been gone,but it seems like forever.  I'm afraid that people will stop looking for me.  I'm afraid he'll kill me.
Please help me soon,
Bethan Avery.

Hand written, in childish scrawl, Margot fears that the letter may be genuine.  Another school girl is missing and she fears for her safety.  She passes on the letter to the police and discovers there was indeed a missing girl called Bethan Avery, but back in the 1990s.  How is the recent disappearance of a schoolgirl related to this old case?  Why is Margot receiving letters?  How can she find a girl who has been missing for almost twenty years?  With the help of Martin Forrester, a criminologist with Cambridge University, she delves farther in the past in an attempt to understand the present.

This is one of the most twisty, turny novels I have read in a long time.  From the first chapter, the author take the reader into veritable carnival-like attraction of distorted mirrors, hidden corridors and cloak draped stages.  The letters received are heart-breaking yet confusing.  How is the missing girl able to post them, yet not know where she is? Why has she chosen an agony aunt as her saviour?  Does she read newspapers?  Will a TV appeal help?  Margot is already feeling pressure from her broken marriage and her vulnerability is now exposed even more.  Turning each page brings more questions and before you know it, you are hurtling towards the final chapter.

Helen Callaghan is an example of how returning to education can inspire a person to follow a dream.  Studying as a mature student can shed a different light on a persons interests and talents; sometimes resulting in a new career; a new outlook on life and, in this case, a sharp, cunning debut novel.  Callaghan's writing is pacy, vibrant and fresh.  The narrative is strong and the page-turning factor is high.  There are many, many crime writers out there who should look over their shoulders at this new novelist.  Part thriller, part psychological drama, this cries out for a TV three-part drama.  There are tastes of the writings of Ruth Rendell and Erin Kelly in here, as well as some similarities to  recent televised dramas like Sky One's The Five and BBC4's Thirteen.   This is a debut of note.  Just don't expect to get much done once you start.  It's one you won't  put down easily.     

Dear Amy is published by Penguin Michael Joseph on 16th June in HB and ebook format.

Friday, 10 June 2016

"The Girl From The Savoy" by Hazel Gaynor. Book Review and Giveaway.





Thanks to Harper Collins Ireland, I have 5 signed copies of The Girl From The Savoy and a bonus prize of an art deco stationery set.  To be in with a chance of winning, just enter via rafflecopter link below.  Good Luck! 

My Review



1920s London.  Two women, two very different lives.  

Dolly Lane is a chamber maid in The Savoy Hotel but dreams of being a stage star.  She regularly auditions, hoping to become a chorus girl but wonders if her chance will ever come.  The post-war years have not been good to her and she tries to better herself in the only way she knows how.  Surrounded by glamorous opulence, she inhales the atmosphere and feels the music in her soul.

Loretta May is the star who tabloids were made for.  She oozes confidence and class and young women aspire to be just like her.  She is hiding a secret that she longs to tell but she can't find the courage to come clean.  She is concerned for her composer brother, Perry, and his emotional well-being, following his return from the war.  Together they hatch a plan to find a muse who may unlock his talent.  
Can a maid from The Savoy be the driving force needed?


The roaring twenties are the backdrop for this meticulously researched novel from New York Times bestselling author, Hazel Gaynor.  It opens with Dolly seeing her boyfriend, Teddy, off to war in 1916 and moves forward to the post-war decade, where men and women are still struggling to find their place in an ever-changing era.  Loretta is a shining star, yet behind her sharp tongue and glittering personality, lies a lonely girl with an ever-growing dependency on gin and opiates. The two protagonists are a million worlds apart, yet both have a deep love for the stage.  While Dolly is used to being in the throngs of the gallery, saving her pennies to afford the tickets to see West End shows, Loretta has been born into a comfortable life, where everything is handed up to her on a silver platter. Under normal circumstances they would never meet, let alone become friends.  Perry is the link that brings them together and music is what keeps the bond strong.   

Each chapter begins with a quote from its content and these snippets are just wonderful.  Loretta's words are both sharp and affirming, shedding light on who she really is.  Every girl dreams of being Loretta May, yet do they consider what is behind all the sequins and rouge?  Dolly is lucky to be employed by The Savoy, as there are not many positions available for a working class girl.  As she cleans the rooms of the rich and famous, she feels vulnerable yet motivated.  The hotel is a perfect place to star-spot and dream big dreams.  The author brings the reader through the plush rooms of The Savoy, with its grand lobby and luxurious dining rooms and the scent of entitlement almost wafting off the pages.  In contrast, we are shown the flip-side of the coin; servants quarters, cranky housekeeper and secret dancing on wooden floorboards after dark.  The traditional upstairs/downstairs divide is there, but with a fresh angle.  These are women you recognise.  They may be from an bygone era, but their stories are still very real today.  Dreaming of a  better life, wanting something that money cannot buy, being in the right place and the right time...

Historical fiction can be hard to get right.  It requires an overwhelming need for attention to detail, massive amounts of research and a need to know when to end the tale.  This author has managed to get the balance just right.  Her writing is fresh, witty and warm.  Her characters are believable and endearing.  Loretta is someone who will cause many a wry grin from readers, with her fantastic array of one-liners.  Her porcelain veneer hides a multitude of emotions, whereas Dolly is younger, more gullible and always on the verge of trouble.  London is a character in itself, with the smog, the trams and the fashionista draped through each chapter.  Sub-plots are discreet but still hold the attention of the reader.  The Girl From The Savoy is a lot more than it seems.  Yes, it is fine example of historical fiction. Yes, it is a perfect way to escape at the end  of a long day.  Yes, it has magnums full of pzazz.  But there is more to it than that.  It examines the role of women in a difficult era.  They were now released from their war-time roles of munition workers, nurses, ambulance drivers and more.  They had to surrender their independence when the fighting ceased.  These women had to crawl back into their disguarded skins and muddle along.  This novel sheds some light onto their frustration, their uncertainty and their need to find a new role in life.  Musical theatre was accessible and something they could escape into, whether on stage or in the galleries.  

This is a novel about music, dance and dreams; post-war glamour and style; dizzying hedonism and flashing lightbulbs.  It is also the story of women; their limits, their lifestyles and their influences.  The starched uniforms vs. the sharp-bobbed flapper girls.  This is escapism at its finest. 

Highly Recommended.

The Girl From The Savoy is published by Harper Collins and is available in TPB and ebook format.  You can order your copy, with FREE WORLDWIDE POSTAGE, here.  The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:  

  


Thursday, 9 June 2016

Book Review - "My Name Is Leon" by Kit de Waal.


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

Nine-year-old Leon has been placed in care, along with his baby brother, Jake.  His Mum is not able to take care of them and social services need to find them new homes as soon as possible.  Jake is adopted fairly quickly, as not only is he a baby, but he is white.  This is the early 1980s and mixed-race kids, like Leon, are not as easy to pass off as your own.  It's hard enough being a foster child, with the uncertainty it brings, let alone having your family ripped apart.  Leon dreams of finding his brother and taking charge of their lives.  But where does he start?

There has been no shortage of fiction about adoption, the children usually grown-up and searching for their heritage.  When it comes to fostering, there has been no shortage of 'non-fiction' titles (usually with a close up picture of a child's tears on the cover), lording about how the most amazing foster mother in the world has 'rescued' children, like never before, all whilst hugging them to her ample bosom and feeding them fish-fingers and chocolate digestives.  There are many harrowing stories in the media about foster children who have slipped through the cracks, been placed in abusive households or suffered at the negligence of the social services.  But what about the average child in care?  What about the foster parents (myself included) who just want to give a child a chance in a safe and loving family environment.  Fostering does NOT always mean drama.  Usually the biggest drama is the endless bureaucracy and form-filling.  This is why I approach fiction featuring foster children with caution.  When this book landed here, early this year, I picked it up with the intention of just reading the first few pages and  then adding to my ever-growing pile of To-Be-Read titles.  What I hadn't figured on was that I would be sucked into Leon's world. Completely hooked on his story. 

The circumstances of Leon's placement are nothing new.  A mother, overwhelmed and lacking the mental strength to look after two young children.  Leon has been the main care-giver thus far but baby Jake is getting bigger and their neighbours begin to fear for their safety. The author brings the reader into the mind of Leon.  He can't understand why he has been separated from his brother.  He wonders if he will ever be wanted himself.  When his foster mother becomes ill and sends him to stay with her friend, Sylvia,  he feels lost and alone.  As he cycles through the area, he discovers an allotment and a it becomes his own world of escapism.  He can hide, pretend he is someone else and even find new friends.  But these friends are adults, with their own issues.  In the middle of England's race-riots, Leon struggles to find an identity, all while planning his reunion with his brother. 

"But no one cares about me.  No one cares about my brother [...] But no one cares about that.  I can't see him.  I keep asking and asking but you only care about yourself.  Everyone steals things from me." 

This may be Kit de Waal's debut novel, but she has touched on an age-old issue.  Fostering can still be a taboo subject, even in our so-called liberal age, and one thing has not changed; the children are blameless.  They are victims of circumstance and should not be categorized as anything but children.  They deserve the same opportunities in life as any other child. They are usually highly-astute, with an uncanny ability to see/hear/feel things that we may have not noticed ourselves.  This book cleverly shows how they intuitively know when they are being discussed and how they can become invisible in the blink of an eye.  The 1980s setting gives the book an added dimension, with Charles and Diana's wedding, street parties and racial stigma making appearances.  The characters are varied, of different classes and backgrounds, multi-cultural and yet all thrown together in a troubled England.   This is not 'misery-lit'. It's not fantastical fiction. It is the very real voice of a child in care.  The frustration, the anger, the insecurity and the endless uncertainty.  But it is also a story of friendship, love and family.  Sometimes blood is not enough.  Sometimes water is a lot thicker than it looks.

A truly memorable novel, to be read by anyone with a heart...

Ideal for fans of Elizabeth is Missing and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

My Name Is Leon is published by Viking and is available in HB and ebook editions.
You can order your copy, with Free Worldwide Postagehere .  Also available via amazon link below:


Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Book Review - "What She Never Told Me" by Kate McQuaile



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

Louise has returned to Ireland as he mother is dying.  Unanswered questions about her father are foremost in her mind, but her mother sheds no light.  A small discovery unearths a pathway to her past and she abandons her London life to delve further into the unknown.  Her marriage has disintegrated and her Irish past is calling her.  Recurring dreams unsettle her and she wonders just how real they actually are.  What has her mother neglected to tell her?  Does she really want to know? 

This debut from Irish author, Kate McQuaile, is neither 'thriller' nor 'female fiction'.  It has been referred to as 'Grip-Lit', in recent newspaper articles. I'm not a huge fan of this label as it implies that is only for female readers.  It is more a study of character and how one responds to secrets.  How many of us have discovered something that sheds a completely new light on our past and maybe even our future?  Can we presume that we have been given the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?  In the days before google and social media, it was not all that hard to keep a secret.  It is really only one generation back that we can spot inconsistent recollections of relatives, friends and neighbours.  In this novel the protagonist, Louise, has already been driven a hard blow by her failed marriage and now has to say goodbye to her mother.  Although she had a wonderful family life, her biological father was never mentioned and she is uncertain of her mother's honesty.  When she begins to renovate the Drogheda home she has inherited, she finds some cards which make no sense.  Here begins her search for answers.  Flying back and forth between London and the Co. Louth bungalow, she realises she needs to find her roots.  Both in her past and in her, now uncertain, future.

As I live in Co. Louth, with my small village only ten minutes from the historic town of Drogheda, I felt as if the book was written with me in mind.  There were strolls on Bettystown Beach, mentions of St. Oliver Plunkett's Head on display in St. Peter's church, descriptions of the north and south side of the River Boyne and of the hilly streets of the walled town.  Most Irish novels are based in Dublin, Cork, Galway or in the rural villages that are scattered all over our island.  It was an absolute pleasure to read one that is situated in an area within walking distance (well, a long walk).  However, this novel encompasses two main locations and two main narratives; London, Louth and the lives of Louise and her mother, Marjorie.  The story unfolds at a steady pace, until the last part where everything comes together in a sudden spurt.  The writing is delicate and descriptive and definitely holds the readers attention.  I did foresee the ending quite early on in the novel, but as I'm a voracious reader, I wouldn't be put off by this.  Kate McQuaile deserves a chance.  She is a talented writer of contemporary fiction who should appeal to readers of Louise Candlish and Dorothy Koomson.  There is more story than suspense, which shows her ability to use words rather than ideas.
This is a strong debut and I'm delighted to see Co. Louth in fiction.   Well done Quercus for discovering more Irish literary talent!


What She Never Told Me is published by Quercus and is available in TBP 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:

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