Monday, 31 July 2017

Book Review: Letters From The Suitcase by Rosheen and Cal Finnegan.

**This review originally appeared in Sunday Independent on 17th July 2017

Rosheen Francis never got a chance to know her father, David.  A naval officer during WWII, he never made it home. His wife, Mary, eventually re-married and rarely talked about her first love. However, just before her death, she gifted her daughter something extraordinary: a trunk which contained over five years-worth of correspondence between Mary and David. This book reveals the story of a politically-aware couple, their determination to marry and their heartbreak at being separated by David’s postings abroad. The letters begin in 1938, when the intensity of their new-found love is apparent and their visits are frequent. Mary finds herself working as a secretary at Bletchley Park, while David begins his Naval training. They agonise over weekend-leave and the opportunities to meet up steadily decrease. They have married in secret and dream of beginning their new life together. Their letters are full of hopes, dreams and complete devotion to each other: “your letter was the most perfect of letters, and will be my most valued possession always, because it is the outward sign of the wonderful, unbelievable knowledge that you love me as much as I love you, completely, with all my mental and physical strength and for ever.”

By 1940, David is in a Skegness training camp and his letters are light-hearted accounts of daily life on a naval base. However, the harshness of the camp’s conditions is not ignored. He describes wonderful concerts, yet in the same letter he tells of the death of a man from exposure and the ongoing epidemic of bronchitis and pneumonia. All of this before they even leave Britain. The same letter ends with a note of positivity: “It’s really miraculous how much one can be in love and it’s even more wonderful to think that we found each other so early and so young, so that the rest of our lives will be spent together”. The letters become more intermittent as David heads for Africa, and onto India, while Mary raises baby Rosheen in the rubble that is London. The insight afforded by the trunk-full of correspondence is both entrancing and heart-breaking. David’s postings abroad result in wonderfully descriptive vignettes, while Mary’s independence flourishes under extremely difficult circumstances. It is hard not to fall under the spell of this intelligent, astute and loving couple. Rosheen is very fortunate to have been given access to her parent’s short, yet intense, relationship.

Margaret Madden.

Letters From The Suitcase is published by Tinder Press and is available in HB and ebook format. You can order your copy, with Free Worldwide Postage, HERE. The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:

Monday, 17 July 2017

The Summer Of Serendipity by Ali McNamara - Review and Giveaway.

I am delighted to help kick off the blog tour for Ali McNamara's latest novel, The Summer Of Serendipity. I also have a copy of the book to giveaway to one lucky reader. Just enter via pinned post on Bleach House Library facebook page. Open INT and closes on Monday, 31st July. Good Luck! Serendipity Parker is a property hunter, who matches her clients with their dream homes. Travelling with her assistant, Kiki, the trip to Ireland proves more problematic that they anticipated. Although they have found the perfect property, in the small village of Ballykiltara, there is more to the house than meets the eye. Local folklore, century-old legends and a protective community all throw a spanner in the works. Serendipity and Kiki get to know the locals a little better and begin to see the magic in the small, touristy village.

 It's that time of the year: Summer is well and truly here and our reading tastes alter accordingly. The need for something light, fun and easy-going is what summer is all about. While we may not all have a holiday booked, or a sunlounger to rest on, the pace certainly eases over the summer months and sometimes all you want is a charming book that does not require too much concentration. This may just be what you are looking for. This is female fiction with a rom-com feel. Serendipity (or Ren, as she is known) is a businesswoman first and foremost and is used to getting what she wants. Her trip to Ireland sees a shift in her mentality, as she begins to see that a house is not just about the location or its prospective buyer. Kiki is a great character, with her tendency to mix-up well-known sayings resulting in some great comedic moments. Along with the hotel staff (especially Finn and Donal) there is a great selection of personalities and they blend well together.

This is a light-hearted read, with some nice nods to Irish History and Archaeology, and gives a glimpse into village life and the craic that can be had. It is not all woolly sheep and Guinness souvenirs; it is the people; the views and the historic atmosphere. There may be lots of cliché in the novel, but the banter makes up for it. A lovely, warm and sweet read.


Ali McNamara attributes her over-active and very vivid imagination to one thing – being an only child. Time spent dreaming up adventures when she was young has left her with a head bursting with stories waiting to be told.
When stories she wrote for fun on Ronan Keating’s website became so popular they were sold as a fundraising project for his cancer awareness charity, Ali realised that not only was writing something she enjoyed doing, but something others enjoyed reading too. | @AliMcNamara

The Summer Of Serendipity is published by Sphere and is available in PB and ebook format.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman - Guest Review from Diarmaid McCaffrey.

Huge thanks to Diarmaid McCaffrey for his insightful review of Anna Freeman's historical fiction title, The Fair Fight...

Perhaps, more than any other genre of book novel based around historical settings is probably one of the most grueling types of fiction books any author worth can write with an audience that’s notoriously unforgiving when it comes to anything that might take them out of the novel. Inconsistencies are the death knell for any immersive experience and that’s goes double for a novel that attempts to zero in on a certain pocket of history not to mention several different  seemingly small factors having the potential to anchor and take the reader out of the book entirely. Tone, the use of past tense, relevant terminology and language fitting the time period, are all spinning plates that could topple over at any moment  if not handled well.

So if nothing else, The Fair Fight deserves to be singled out for the clear amount of research and attention to detail woven in the narration.

Set in the later half of the  1700s, the narration of the book is divided between the three main characters of the novel  Ruth, daughter of a prostitute, whose slowly making a name for herself as a female boxer. Charlotte, Ruth's backer and supporter, who finds her own motivation from Ruth to walk her own path, and finally George, best friend to Charlotte's husband and thus creating quite a sizeable awkward dynamic  with these three characters. Of course, the use of multiple narrators potentially creates the risk of all the voices becoming  bland and indistinguishable but thankfully each  voice of each character is distinct and  unique to each one’s personality

...And therein lies the heart of The Fair Fight;  how the characters interact and mingle with each other, their personalities the driving force of the novel, each one having their own distinct personalities and opinions behind them, underlining the class system that separates the two friends and the general divide their individual worlds have

Freeman's skill is clear with each page , however, as both are drawn with such depth that one has no trouble believing in their motivations, The action sequences, most of which take place during boxing matches, are rich with detail, but are far from the focus. They’re more like  devices used to segway towards each new section of the book.

Over all, The Fair Fight is a well packed hyper authentic look through a certain period of history. That’s sure to make any plane ride or train journey fly by, and anyone that’s a fan of historical fiction, warts and all will certainly enjoy this hidden gem. The story itself is certainly outside of the norm that you’re used to seeing from the genre, and thanks to that it has a quirky little charm that breaths life into its characters.

The Fair Fight is published by W&N and is available in PB and ebook format. You can order your copy, with Free Worldwide Postage, HERE. The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:

Friday, 7 July 2017

LMFM #LateLunchBookclub July recommendations.

July Recommendations

 Friday, 7th July.

Here are the books I have chosen for July's #LateLunchBookclub. It can be hard to please all readers, so I have chosen from different genres in the hope of finding you a perfect summer read. All these books are available from your local bookstore, library or online. (Remember, if you can't find a book in-store, your bookseller can order it in for you.)

I really hope you enjoy the recommendations and feel free to leave me a comment on the blog, twitter: @margaretbmadden or facebook: Bleach House Library. Follow #LateLunchBookclub for all LMFM book reviews, interviews and chances to win some book bundles.  #LateLunchBookclub Podcasts are also available on the LMFM website. So, here we go...



Female Fiction: The Woman at 72 Derry Lane by Carmel Harrington

On a leafy suburban street in Dublin, beautiful, poised Stella Greene lives with her successful husband, Matt. The perfect couple in every way, Stella appears to have it all. Next door, at number 72 however, lives Rea Brady. Gruff, bad-tempered and rarely seen besides the twitching of her net curtains, rumour has it she’s lost it all…including her marbles if you believe the neighbourhood gossip.
But appearances can be deceiving and when Stella and Rea’s worlds collide they realise they have much in common. Both are trapped in a prison of their own making.
Has help been next door without them realising it?
With the warmth and wit of Maeve Binchy and the secrets and twists of Liane Moriarty, this is the utterly original and compelling new novel from Irish Timesbestseller Carmel Harrington.


General Fiction: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live
Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.
Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.
One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.
Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?


Thriller: Honeymoon by Tina Seskis

There's trouble in paradise . . .
For as long as she can remember, Jemma has been planning the perfect honeymoon. A fortnight's retreat to a five-star resort in the Maldives, complete with luxury villas, personal butlers and absolute privacy.
It should be paradise. But it's turned into a nightmare.
Because the man Jemma married a week ago has just disappeared from the island without a trace. And now her perfect new life is vanishing just as quickly before her eyes.
After everything they've been through together, how can this be happening? Is there anyone on the island who Jemma can trust? And above all - where has her husband gone?


Non-Fiction: The Boy Who Gave His Heart Away by Cole Moreton

‘How do you say thank you to someone for giving you their heart? It is the greatest gift a person can ever give.’
Marc is a promising young footballers of 15, growing up in Scotland. A few hundred miles away in England, Martin is a fun-loving 16-year-old. Both are enjoying their summers when they are suddenly struck down by debilitating illnesses. Within days, the boys are close to death.
Although their paths have never crossed, their fortunes are about to be bound in the most extraordinary, intimate way. One of them will die and in doing so, he will save the other’s life.
This is a deeply powerful and dramatic story. It is extremely rare for the family of a donor to have any personal contact with the recipient of their loved one’s organ. Yet remarkably, the mothers of these two boys meet and become friends, enabling the extraordinary, bittersweet moment in which a mother who has lost her son meets the boy he saved. Reaching out and placing her palm flat against his chest, she feels the heart of her son beating away inside another. Her boy, the boy who gave his heart away.


Young Adult: Girl In Between by Sarah Carroll

I know the mill has a story cos there’s something strange going on. I heard something. I’ve decided that I’m going to find out what it is later today when Ma leaves. Cos even if it is scary, we live here and we’re never leaving. So if there’s something going on, I need to know. 

In an old, abandoned mill, a girl and her ma take shelter from their memories of life on the streets. To the girl it’s home, her safe place, the Castle. But as her ma spins out of control and the Authorities move ever closer, the girl finds herself trapped – stuck in the crumbling mill with only the ghosts of the past for company.

Can she move on before it’s too late? 


Short Stories: Joyride To Jupiter by Nuala O'Connor


A heartbroken man deals with his wife s Alzheimer's as best he can. The Jesus of O'Connell Street reflects on his situation, which isn't half bad. A too-young girl witnesses her father s shocking infidelity. A quiet murder on a riverbank. Imperfect lovers and unlikely friends thwart and bolster each other as they act out their dramas on the beaches of Brazil, in the bedrooms of Dublin, and in the wilds of North America.

 With prose both lyrical and profound, the award-winning Nuala O'Connor writes of maternal love and cross-generational friendship but here, also, are stories of ageing, suicide, and the buoyancy of new love. In these urgent, humane stories of ill-advised couplings, loneliness and burgeoning hope, we find O Connor's trademark humour and sensuality, and the quest for longed-for truths. A truly stunning collection by one of Ireland's finest writers.



Here's hoping you find some of these recommendations in your hands this summer. Enjoy!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Book Review: The Stolen Girls by Patricia Gibney: DI Lottie Parker Book 2.

It is DI Lottie Parker's first day back at work after after a traumatic ordeal and things are not going well. Already late to work, she finds a young woman and her child on her doorstep. The stranger does not have much English and hands Lottie a letter before disappearing as quickly as she appeared. Not long after her work day begins, the station is awash with activity as the body of a pregnant girl is found by a road maintenance worker. Before long, another body is discovered, and a local teenager has been reported missing. DI Parker and her team find themselves struggling to identify the girls and just how they are connected...

Patricia Gibney has a knack of opening her novels with a bang. Her prologues are tense and gruesome, dragging the reader in by the scruff of the neck. This book opens with a harrowing scene from war-torn Kosovo, 1999. A young boy watches in horror as his mother and sister are brutally attacked while he hides in fear. In the main body of the story, Lottie is ignoring the needs of her children and by throwing herself into to the difficult case, she misses some vital signs of serious problems at home. She forgets her son's counselling sessions; leaves her troubled daughter in charge of her two younger siblings and has reverted back to the take-away dinners. Even the obvious distress of her two girls seems to wash over her, as she worries about the unidentified bodies.

 A direct provision centre, for refugees, is causing Lottie some concern and she confronts the manager but with no effect. The plot thickens, but with no names and no leads, it makes Lottie's job even harder. The case seems to have links to human trafficking and there is an added element of the return of a well-known gangster to the midland town of Ragmullen. DS Boyd is once again on-hand to support his boss, but the previous spark between them is now not much more than Lottie talking down to him as he tries to show his support. Add in the politically incorrect and socially immoral DS Kirby and the office is not the most pleasant place to be. 

This is a page-turning thriller, with a very interesting story-line.  While the themes explored are difficult ones, they are based on fact and it is hard not draw comparisons with the treatment of refugees and the ongoing issues surrounding human trafficking today. This may be a fictional story, set in a fictional town, but there are towns like this all over Ireland, Europe and beyond. There are many, many unidentified bodies yet to be claimed and many people making money on the back of undocumented immigrants. Hopefully, by book three,  Lottie will see the error in thinking her children can manage without her and start to listen to their voices as much as her caseload. She is a great character, but in fear of losing her likability.  


Patricia yearned to be a writer after reading Enid Blyton and Carolyn Keene and even wanted to be Nancy Drew when grew up. She has now grown up (she thinks) but the closest she’s come to Nancy Drew is writing crime!
In 2009, after her husband died, she retired from my job and started writing seriously. Fascinated by people and their quirky characteristics, she always carries a notebook to scribble down observations.
Patricia also loves to paint in watercolour and live in the Irish midlands with her children.

The Stolen Girls is published by Bookouture and is available in PB and ebook format. You can order yours via amazon link below:
I received a copy of this title, via netgalley, for review purposes.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Book Review: The Break by Marian Keyes.

Forty-four-year-old Amy is gobsmacked when her husband, Hugh, declares that he wants to take a break from their marriage. He plans to travel through South East Asia and sever all contact for six months. Leaving Amy and three children behind, he heads off with a rucksack, a quick-dry towel and a newly discovered sense of freedom. Amy is devastated but, in true Irish style, she picks herself up and carries on, regardless. With some words of (not your average) wisdom from her daughters, sisters and feisty mother, Amy slowly learns what it is like to be a separated mother and struggles to adapt to her new role, albeit in great vintage clothes.

It is twenty two years since Marian Keyes burst onto the fiction scene, with her debut, Watermelon. Twelve worldwide bestselling novels later, she returns with a fresh and zingy new host of characters. Amy is an extremely likable and well-rounded personality; in her prime, yet delightfully immature; attractive, yet insecure; career confident, yet equally happy to be at home. She has raised three very unique children and is a loving aunt to many. Her eldest daughter, Neeve, (who's father is a virtually-absent former footballer) is a make-up vlogger, even managing to rope in her Granny for the odd session. There is her quiet and contemplative niece, Sofie, who has been living with Amy and Hugh since her early childhood and is rarely seen without boyfriend, Jackson. Finally there is Kiara, a dream-child who gives her parents no worries. This houseful of females is awash with ongoing shenanigans and all-round mayhem which builds up momentum for the weekly extended-family meal. Add in Amy's regular commute to London, for her celeb clients requiring media-makeovers, and the story line never dips.

Keyes has come back with a bang. She has deposited some of her own insightful, warm wit into her characters and let them come to life in their own unique way. Fans will recognise many familiar topics dotted throughout the narrative; a love of all things cosmetic-related; a monthly cheese-subscription; a wife who is weary with the arduous task of caring for her husband with dementia; a fear of hairdressers; the joy of seeing a baby car seat being removed from a sibling's car. However, there are more universal moments. The delight of the first sip of crisp, white wine at the end of a crappy day; the 'mean-girl' effect on on adults who need friends, not enemies; the pre-date preparations required to make an older-woman feel confident enough to strip-off. There are also very valid and serious issues addressed. The ongoing Repeal the 8th campaign is tackled head-on with a character needing to travel abroad to end her pregnancy. Women, on this island, have no rights to their own bodies. Under Irish law, it is a criminal offense to procure abortion pills or seek termination in Ireland. In The Break, a female has made her choice, but cannot legally do anything about it. Choice is the key word.  It may not be a story line that everyone will be comfortable with, but it is a reflection of our times.  Unfair treatment of females in the workplace is also alluded to:

 "These days, my friends of child-bearing age, who work any sizable company, tell me that life is like a dystopian novel, one where women have to swallow their pill in a public ceremony every morning in the workplace. ('They watch over you like a hawk. You can't sneak off to puke from a hangover or put on even an ounce. If they suspect you're pregnant, you're immediately sidelined onto the worst project ever, to make you resign.')

But, there are lots of laughs. Bucket-loads of laughs. Amy is the kind of friend that you would want at your party. She's fun, sassy and you know she would have your back. Her ability to laugh and enjoy life, even through the darker moments, are endearing and despite being kicked in the teeth, she does not wallow in self-pity. (Instead, choosing to shop online, despite dwindling finances.) She is a great mother and a fantastic daughter. She gets her chance for her own 'mid-life crisis' and Jaypers, she gets right up on that horse. The sex scenes are real and raunchy, without being gratuitous, and are all the better for it. The body-shaming and 'things you should never wear over the age of forty' lists get the middle finger from Marian Keyes, and rightly so. There are some amazingly astute one-liners, all the way through:

"A soul-mate is like one of those seventy-nine-euro flights  to New York - a lovely idea but they don't exist."

"There are times when your heart is bursting with love for them and there are spells when you tense up at the sound of them entering the room."

Flashbacks give the reader a chance to know more about Amy and Hugh, allowing more depth to their relationship. The pacing is great, the language is a balance of the colloquial and generic and all emotions are examined; grief, anger, joy, surprise, despair, excitement (sexual and retail - YES!) and acceptance. Amy's mother is a breath of fresh air and like The Walsh Family novels, the diverse personalities within the family unit are the making of the story. I cannot fault this book at all. I am delighted to see Ms. Keyes back in flying form and spreading the joy to her readers. We are definitely a better nation for her. An outstanding look at life for the modern Irish woman.  Highly Recommended.

The Break is published by Michael Joseph on 7th September 2017 in HB. You can pre-order your copy via your local bookshop or via amazon link below:

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