Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Keeping Mum By Emma Hannigan Guest reviewed by Margaret Bonass Madden of Bleach House Library

I have read a couple of Emma Hannigan's books and found them great so was delighted when asked to review this newest offering.
It is a novel about eight women, four mothers and their daughters. Each has their own story and as the four mothers are roughly the same age, as are the four daughters, it is nice to see how each family are different but have some similarities. The main link between the mothers is the fear of their little girls growing up and finding themselves in the big bad world without their Mums, while the daughters yearn to get out there and gain some independence with their parents approval. A week in Spain is on the cards for the women and their offspring, to help build some bridges and perhaps regain some trust. Although they have never crossed paths before, all the ladies find their problems are not exclusive to them and sometimes a stranger's opinion can be just as valued as a friend's.
The book flicks between characters at a nice pace and each story is given equal attention. Some of the problems seemed a little shallow to me but some people's idea of a problem is another's daily grind and visa -versa. Emma Hannigan is wonderful at writing from a woman's point of view and can describe feelings, so gently and calmly, that the reader seems to know the characters personally without any effort.
This is a perfect read for Mums and Daughters everywhere who are separating on their different paths in life. Sometimes words have to be spoken to allow the roads to be clear ahead.
Ideal for fans of Cathy Kelly and Sheila O'Flanagan.
Keeping Mum is published by Hachette Books Ireland and is available now

Monday, December 2, 2013

Tips on Writing a Synopsis from Victoria Lamb

Historical Romantic fiction author Victoria Lamb shares some top tips on writing a synopsis on her blog below


Victoria's latest book His Dark Lady which I reviewed Here is now available in paperback

Guest Review Midwinter Sacrifice

I was inundated with great crime fiction this year but I simply couldn't read it all so some good friends of mine Carrie and Anthony who are big fans of Scandi fiction and TV have been reading some books and here is the first of their guest reviews.

Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft reviewed by Anthony Mc Intyre

It is the coldest winter that anyone in Sweden can remember. ‘Winters here are the devil’s work’ is the phrase from her father’s repertoire dancing around the head of Malin Fors, a senior detective in the city of Linkoping. A body of a very heavy man is found hanging from a tree. There is no rush to cut him down. In this weather he is not about to thaw out anytime soon. When he does eventually make the drop he lands on top of one of the cops, given new meaning to having a crush on somebody.

The killing makes the third item on the national news even though it has not been ascertained that the man was murdered. It is not a supernatural story but Mons Kallentoft has pitched some of the dialogue of this novel so that that the dead person is narrating what is going on around him as the police and forensic workers gather beneath his feet: and then some. Although unusual it complements rather than complicates. 

Investigations soon establish that the victim is a loner, someone who lived on the margins of society, known locally as Ball-Bengt, and who was frequently the subject of derision and abuse. The victim used to run after balls kicked over from the local soccer ground, hence the nick name. A harmless activity but not one in keeping with a more ‘normal’ adult mode of behaviour. Yet it didn’t make him harmful. That he had attacked his father with an axe at one point suggested he might not have been harmless either.  He might have been the victim of the Ljungsbro bullies, a couple of local teenagers given to throwing their weight about and perhaps tempted to use that weight against the weighty, often a source of satiation for bullies in need of placating their own pernicious form of gluttony.

Fors is perhaps a one glass of wine too many tippler but manages to see things something more clearly than an alcoholic haze would permit. Divorced from the father of her teenage daughter, Tove, she finds herself having to move faster than normal to keep up with adolescent demands and moods. Her husband’s past saw him work in Rwanda during the genocide and the suspicion lingers that events closer to Kigali than Stockholm might reveal a clue about Ball-Bengt’s fate.

The tight knit Murvall family, under the baleful eye of the strict matriarch, is determined to hold tight its secrets. It exudes total contempt for the police and strives to maintain an air of impenetrability. Unlike the cops of Hans Koppel these ones are active and on the job, never letting up, or failing to pursue a lead. A brutal rape in the forest from many years back and a traumatised woman provide vital leads. Did her relatives kill the fat man or is it a winter sacrifice, the residue of some ancient pagan ritual? A dead dog found strung up would suggest that it is the latter.

Literally something of a cold case without the historical connotations, it was initially as unyielding as the cold. Over time it failed to sustain its imperviousness, proving vulnerable to unpicking from dogged investigation as layer after protective layer is stripped from it.  Surrounded by an able team and overseen by a superintendant who is a cop’s cop, Malin like a snow plough drives through the obstacles that this case presents.

The story is methodical rather than pulsating. More akin to chess than boxing it grips for reasons other than excitative. The precision with which the detective work is fine tuned, the style of writing, and the inexorable closing in on the culprit holds the focus. 

This is good Scandinavian crime fiction. There is a backdrop of moroseness to the narrative, which while helping to reinforce a stereotype of the melancholy Swede it seems the perfect setting for this type of story. The moodiness that permeates much Swedish crime fiction seems paradoxically to have created a mania around it.

The good news about this book is that it is the first in a series of Malin Fors stories. If what is to come is as good as the first they will be well worth waiting for. 

Mons Kallentoft, 2011, Midwinter Sacrifice. Hodder and Stoughton: London. ISBN 978-1-444-75152-2

To check out the original review on Anthony's website click Here and if you are a fan of Scandinavian crime fiction read Anthony's reviews of  You're Mine Now and The Dinosaur Feather by clicking on the titles.
Anthony McIntyre is an Historian, Journalist and Political Commentator.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Someday Find Me by Nicci Cloke from Guest Reviewer Margaret Madden

Another Guest Review from my dear friend Margaret of Bleach House Library

This novel is mainly about two characters: Fitz, a 25year old barworker/DJ and his girlfriend Saffy, an art student. After meeting at a party, they are drawn to each other and very quickly move in together. However, Fitz discovers Saffy has issues. Drink, drugs and an eating disorder are all symptoms of deeper problems. He is slow discovering these issues though, as he is completely blinded by his love for her. When the seriousness of her addictions begin to threaten Saffy's health, and even her safety, Fitz feels he has no option but to call for help.
Saffy's side of the story interlaces with Fitz's and the reader can see how she has many problems that are spiraling out of control. Her dependence on drugs reads as a dark and dirty place to be, and her problems surrounding food are causing bouts of OCD. Basically, she is drowning and cannot see anyway through the surface of her despair.
Rehab has not worked for her before, and she describes being force fed and being watched as she visits the toilet, but with no happy ending. When she sees that she may have to return to the rehab centre, she runs away. As with the drink and drugs, running away seems to be her only way to escape. Saffy's family clearly do not see any light at the end of the tunnel and when her sister Jelli, talks to Fitz about her, this is when he questions if he has made a mistake by asking for help.
" "Don't get hung up on Saf. She lives on her own planet most of the time," "Find yourself someone new, hon, without issues. Saf's sweet but she'll always put herself first, it's just the way she's wired." The ache in my chest grew bigger and bigger and my hands and feet felt itchy and I realised all of a sudden that the Saffy her family knew wasn't her - maybe it was a her they'd just made up to explain it all away but whatever it was, it wasn't her. My Saffy was the real Saffy, and I knew her better than any of them ever would and there was no way in hell I was letting her just leave or be alone or be afraid. "
Nicci Cloke has written an in-depth look at love which knows no judgment. Fitz is just blown away by Saffy and will do anything to be with her. Saffy, while adoring Fitz, is just too far gone in her depths of darkness to see how much he wants her, how much he can help her, how he can try to fix her. It is a harsh read, with some very dark moments. The scene where Saffy's mother is force feeding her is heartbreaking. Another where Fitz tried to make her eat an apple is also disturbing. However, we can't ignore the realities in this world and this book is as real as it gets. Recommended.
Check the original review on Margaret's blog http://bleachhouselibrary.blogspot.ie/2013/11/someday-find-me-by-nicci-cloke.html

Thanks so much to Harper Collins for a review copy of this book

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Kevin McCarthy Interview

Kevin McCarthy's second novel published earlier this year is shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards, you can vote for him here and check out my review of Irregulars here.

1. Who are your favourite authors/biggest influences and why?

My favourite authors? Like favourite films, this list changes often, but I do keep going back to Joseph Conrad and one of his acolytes, American novelist Robert Stone. As far as influences go, both of them would be big influences in terms of outlook and the notion of average men, working men and women put in positions of moral (and actual) peril. I’ve huge, big love for Derek Robinson as well, and his novel, Goshawk Squadron—nominated for the first ever Booker prize, incidentally—was a real influence on Peeler. Robinson went to great lengths to debunk the mythologies of the air war in WWI and instead reveal the grim realities of the pilot’s lot. I took this as a template for my treatment of the policeman’s lot in Ireland during the War of Independence. Alan Furst, as well, is one of the masters, and qualifies as a favourite because I ration his books and only read them on holidays so as not to read them all too quickly. I did the same with Patrick O’Brien.

As my novels are crime fiction—historical crime, if you will—I recognise Michael Connolly’s Harry Bosch novels as a real influence. So to Joseph Wambaugh, Per Wahloo and Maj Sjovall, writing brilliant Scandinavian detective fiction with a lefty bent before it went all dragons and tattoo trendy!

Recently, I’ve gone through a big Alice McDermott phase—one of THE great Irish American novelists, in my humble opinion.

2. What draws you to the period you write about; Ireland during the War of Independence and Civil War?

I think it’s mainly the turbulence of the period, and the fact that over time (and with research) I came to discover how simplistic has been the conventional historical narrative re the period. The one I was taught as a kid seemed so black and white, good v evil, Brit v Irish etc. that I just knew there had to be more to it and sure enough, there was. It was also a period of great conflict and terrible grief across Europe, in the wake of the Great War and I wanted to fit Ireland and her troubles into that pan-European experience, I suppose. But mostly I thought the ambiguity, the messy reality of Irish men shooting other Irish men—cops, mainly—in back alleys and ditches, was the perfect setting for crime novels that would examine the underbelly of the founding of a nation. That sounds a bit pretentious, I realise, and I wasn’t thinking as such when I started writing Peeler. Mainly I was interested in the idea of writing about something that hadn’t been much examined in fiction at the time, ie the experience of the Irish constable as both predator and prey, trying to solve a case of terrible murder, in the midst of violent revolution.

3. Were you a bookish child and what were your favourite books in childhood?

I was. I read pretty much anything I could get my hands on, really. At one stage I read every Hardy Boys novel there was and then, secretly, every Nancy Drew as well. The first real ‘adult’ book I read was ‘Alive’ by Piers Paul Read, when I was 9 or 10, about the rugby team that crashed in the Andes and were forced to resort to cannibalism to survive. I went through an obsession with survival stories and my mother encouraged it, really, buying me any she could find. I loved crime novels as well, of any kind, discovering Joseph Wambaugh when I was about 13 and loving the illicitness of much of his writing. I still love his books.

4. Are you a planner or a pantser when it comes to writing?

I tend to be a pantser for about the first third of the book—though this is kind of disingenuous as I’ve spent months thinking about a book before I finally find myself sitting down to write it—and then usually write myself into a cul-de-sac and have to plan out the rest. This plan is flexible, however, and often I’m surprised by the turns the story takes as I’m writing it. Also, I occasionally come across something in researching that totally changes the course of the story, making the plan somewhat redundant. But then again, this is not a bad thing. Someone once said—can’t remember who—that “if I’m not surprised by what happens in my book, how can I expect the reader to be surprised?”

5. Best writing advice you ever received?

Don’t give up the day job! That sounds flip but it’s actually very good advice as there is simply no way to make a living as a novelist without hustling so much for work that it affects the quality of your fiction. (And I know several writers for whom this is the case.) A day job allows a writer to write what he wants to without much concern for the market or fear that his/her kids won’t be able to eat unless you publish something, anything!

Write drunk, edit sober…again, somewhat sarcastic, Papa’s advice, but I believe not to be taken literally. He means, I think, to write one’s drafts quickly, mindlessly, without inhibition or restraint and then to edit with the cold, sober critical eye you’ve suppressed thus far.

To this, I’ll add my own bit of advice: Get the damn draft done! Don’t edit as you go along, just get the thing done. Anything you write now, no matter how rubbish you think it is, can be fixed later. A stack of pages is a stack of pages, crap or not, while a fraught and polished ten pages is really nothing to work with and not enough to drive you on to finish. A writer’s greatest enemy is self-doubt—this is shit, I can’t write, I can’t think of a word that works, I have no right to be competing with the big boys and girls when I write this kind of garbage—and one way to vanquish self-doubt is to drown it under a weight of written—however badly—pages. Nothing inspires a writer to sit down at his desk like a stack of already-written pages to work with.

6. What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a stand-alone novel—separate from the O’Keefe series—set during the Indian Wars in post-Civil War America. I’m about a third way done with it and it might be time to write down some sort of plan, actually. I've been researching it for over a year and writing sporadically. Hoping to go away for a month in the summer and get some sort of draft done.

7. Your three desert island reads?

Depends on the day! I would probably take along an Alan Furst, not sure which one as they’re all brilliant. Ummm, SAS Survival Guide? Rick Stein’s Great Seafood Recipes?

8. Your favourite fictional character (your's and someone else's)

Let’s see… I really like Nora Flynn from Irregulars. She is a CID Detective Officer in what is essentially a Free State hit squad. She is the result of a great bit of story-shifting research I came across. I read that the Criminal Investigation Department in 1922 had 6 female agents/detective officers on their books that were ‘cloaked as typists.’ They were armed and played a vital part in the rather nasty work of the CID. Originally I’d written her character as a man and then realised what an opportunity I’d be missing. She is the first female protagonist I’ve written and I have to say, I’m really proud of her. I asked my wife if she read realistically as a female character—does she act, think, react like a real flesh and blood woman would--and she replied that, yes, she did, and “I really don’t like her!” I do like her though, compromised though she is.

Someone else’s? Hmm. I love the two knucklehead, surfer patrolmen in Wambaugh’s recent Hollywood Station trilogy. They are, at the same time, hilarious, frightening and very believable. The kind of cops you both would and wouldn’t like to be arrested by, depending on the surf conditions.

9. How much research do you do for your novels and where?

Loads and loads and wherever I have to go, I go. I spent a brilliant week in Wyoming last summer, researching the book I’m currently writing and hope to go back this summer again. It’s one of the fun things about writing historical fiction.

Yes, you do have to read some pretty dry stuff as well, but mostly, the research is fascinating. And it had better be because you shouldn’t be writing about something if you don’t love it, be it the period or the event or whatever. I’ve been to archives, here and in the UK, the Imperial War Museum, National Library and every pub in Irregulars. All in the name of research, of course!

10. What books (and writers) would you recommend for anyone who wants to learn more about Ireland in the early twentieth century.

Fiction wise, anything by O’Flaherty, but The Assassin is a particular favourite of mine. It’s pulpy but gives such a rich sense of the bitterness and latent violence in the period immediately following the Civil War in Ireland. The Informer is also wonderful. Peeler and Irregulars by Kevin McCarthy? ;)

Non-fiction, the memoirs by Ernie O’Malley, Tom Barry, Dan Breen, invaluable and thrilling in their own way.

Thanks so much Kevin

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Wolf Bride out in paperback

I was delighted to receive a copy of this for review today, a gift from the author, and signed no less. Wolf Bride is published in paperback today, it is also available as an e-book. A delicious mash-up of erotica and historical intrigue. I am really looking forward to reading this. Thanks Ms Moss.

Graham Joyce Wins British Fantasy Award

Don't worry, my month long immersion in independent and self published fiction will result in plenty of reviews but for now a quick post about a wonderful author of Fantasy; Graham Joyce. Here is the press release from Gollancz. I hope to read and review the book this Winter.

Graham Joyce received a standing ovation at the 1,000-strong awards ceremony of the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton on Sunday 2nd November 2013.  Picking up the Best Fantasy Novel Award for an unprecedented sixth time in his career, Joyce was earlier this year diagnosed with aggressive lymphoma cancer.  The event marked his first public appearance since his diagnosis.
Joyce won the Best Fantasy Novel Award for Some Kind Of Fairy Tale, a story in which a young girl thought to have been abducted from the woodlands of the East Midlands returns to her family after twenty years [Gollancz; Paperback £7.99; e-Book £4.99].
Six months ago Joyce had the experience of being revived by an emergency resuscitation team at the Leicester Royal Infirmary.  Joyce said, “Just being able to stand here today is a wonderful award, thanks to the doctors and nurses of the NHS.”
In 1989 Joyce quit his job as a youth worker and went to live and write in a beachside shack on the Greek island of Lesbos.  He sold his first novel after a year in Greece.  Since then he has written twenty novels and numerous short stories. His novels have attracted admirers including Isabel Allende, Iain Banks, A S Byatt and Stephen King.
Praise for Graham Joyce’s award-winning The Silent Land
‘An author in full control of his considerable talents’ THE TIMES

‘In every sense a chiller’ THE INDEPENDENT

‘Compelling’ METRO

‘This tour de force invites comparison to the work of Haruki Murakami and Ian McEwan. So perfectly rendered…both beautiful and devastating…a classic in the making.’ WASHINGTON POST
‘Stark, layered, ominous and yet appealing…luckily for the reader, in the end Joyce delivers relief along with satisfaction and wonder’ NEW YORK TIMES

Monday, October 7, 2013

Seven for a Secret

Seven for a Secret is a crime novel which succeeds both as a follow up to last year’s Gods of Gotham and as a mystery in its own right. We are back with the fledgling NYPD in 1846 and Copper Star Timothy Wilde has a new case to solve as a young woman rushes into the police headquarters reporting her family has been stolen. Soon Wilde is on the trail of a gang of blackbirders; legal slave catchers who Mrs Lucy Adams claims have illegally taken her sister and son. With the help of the Vigilance Committee and his brother Captain Valentine Wilde, Timothy discovers a web of corruption that leads to his old adversary Silkie Marsh and to the heart of The Democratic Party. Lyndsay Faye has painstakingly recreated 19th Century New York with meticulous research, rich contemporary language and fantastic characterisation. From the wealthy and well-dressed politicians to the starving orphans, from the drunks to the dandies, this book is peopled with a fascinating cast of characters. The Wilde brothers are by turns comic and tragic and despite their faults utterly likeable. Don’t start this book at bed time as you are likely to lose sleep as I did, desperate to know what happened next and what scrape the Wilde’s will find themselves in. Perfect for fans of Sherlock Holmes and anyone that loves a wild thrill ride of a tale.

Available now in hardback, trade paperback and e-book from Headline Review.
This review originally appeared on welovethisbook.com

October is small publisher month

Throughout the rest of October I will be reading and reviewing books; both print and e-books which are published by smaller independent publishing houses and self published by the author.

Some of the titles up for review are
Inceptio by Alison Morton published by SilverWood Books

A Rip in the Veil by Anna Belfrage published by Matador

The Blackheath Séance Parlour by Alan Williams published by Cutting Edge Press

Some other titles I hope to review include Shadows of the Past by Carmen Stefanescu
The Call of Agon by Dean F Wilson and 
A Man Against a Background of Flames by Paul Hoggart.

The Incredible Life of Jonathan Doe by Carol Coffey Guest Review by Margaret Madden of Bleach House Library

A Guest Post from my lovely friend, book club buddy and fellow blogger Margaret Bonass Madden of http://bleachhouselibrary.blogspot.ie/ 
Having read Carol Coffey's previous novels, The Penance Room and Winter Flowers, I was delighted to see this on my To-Be-Reviewed pile.  I am a big fan and was dying to see if this new novel was as good as her others.  I was not disappointed.

Brendan is forced to go to live with his Uncle in New Jersey after a brush with the law.  He has also to complete some community service as part of his bail conditions.  A big change for a man in his 30s who lived a pretty self centered life in New York. 
His ex-cop Uncle is hard, tough and extremely old school.  His Aunt is meek and mousy.  Their daughter, Eileen is a nervous, shy  woman who is completely controlled by her bullying Father.  However, Brendan and Eileen form a bond and the changes in their lives mean their days become a bit more bearable for both of them.

Eileen introduces Brendan to staff and residents at a local homeless shelter where she  volunteers, and this is where Brendan meets the unusual character, Jonathan Doe.  Found as a child severely battered, neglected and abused, he has lived at the shelter for years and no one knows where he came from or why he speaks fluent Spanish. This man's story becomes too intruiging to ignore and Brendan decides to investigate the man's past, despite warnings from staff to let it be.

The characters in this novel are just perfect.  Warmly researched, the attention to detail that has been afforded to the individual stories leads to some of the best writing I have come across for years. The concept of what a home is, what family means and how our past can influence our future is delicately interwoven throughout the chapters and you can almost feel as if you are in the middle of the wonderful story along with the cast. 
There are several threads throughout the book but they are so well linked that there is no apparent divisions. Smooth, sleek and compelling, the wonderful characters just tug at your heartstrings and you are wishing them well as they explore their past, present and future.

Similar in style to the 2009 BestSelling " The Silver Linings Playbook " by Matthew Quick, this underrated novel by Carol Coffey deserves a chance to be up there with the best novels of 2013.

Highly recommended.

" The Incredible Life of Jonathan Doe " is published by Poolbeg.
Thanks to Poolbeg for a review copy of this great book.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Some top notch writing tips

Elizabeth Moss is the author of a number of Regency romances and most recently has released Wolf Bride the first in a series of raunchy Tudor Romances. You can find out more on her website here Elizabeth writes historical fiction and teen fiction under another name. Guess who? Check out her fantastic writing tips below.

The Opening Pages of your Novel Part One


Opening Pages of your Novel Part Two

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Three competitions for novel writers

Irish Children’s Prize

This year A. M. Heath are launching their Irish Children’s Prize.  We are looking for a new standout voice in children’s fiction.
The Irish Children’s Prize will be judged by Julia Churchill, children’s book agent at A. M. Heath, and David Maybury of Brown Bag Films, Penguin Children’s Books and Inis Magazine editor.


Novel Fair 2014

The Prize

Twelve entrants will be anonymously selected by a judging panel to take part in the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair on February 22nd, 2014. Each writer will have a stand at the Fair where they will present the synopsis of their novel, the finished novel itself and biographical material. Top Irish publishers and agents will be invited to the Irish Writers’ Centre to meet these writers in person.


Richard and Judy launch bestseller competition

Friday, September 6, 2013

A fantastic interview with my favourite author Diana Gabaldon

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

Susanna Kearsley's latest novel is out in paperback now. I bought this while on holidays and started it straight away I had heard great things from The Historical and Time Slip Novels Book Club on facebook so I just had to have it. I certainly wasn't disappointed. Nicola has a special gift she can hold an object and see a glimpse of its past. It's a tool that's come in handy in her work as an art dealer. Margaret Ross travels down from Scotland to the London gallery where Nicola works to find out more about a family heirloom and how much it could be worth. Nicola holds the carved wooden firebird for a moment and immediately she sees that the Ross family stories are true it was given to an ancestor of Margaret's by The Russian empress Catherine. However Nicola has never told her boss or any clients about her gift so she needs to find evidence to back up her vision. She decides to investigate and enlists the help of old flame Rob McMorran who has a psychic gift even greater than Nicola's. Together they uncover the fascinating story of Anna a young Scottish woman who  lived  in Eighteenth Century St Petersburg and became embroiled in Jacobite politics. This is a brilliant and well written tale perfect for fans of Diana Gabaldon and Barbara Erskine.
Out now from Allison & Busby.

The Golem and Djinni by Helene Wecker

This a fabulous debut. An historical fantasy tale set in New York in 1899 in which the author conveys a strong sense of time and place. The author brings to life the many various neighbourhoods of turn of the century New York, the cold, the poverty, the overcrowding but also the customs and the habits and most importantly she brings alive the legends and the heritage as the two main characters are creatures of Arabic and Jewish mythology. The Golem is Chava a woman made from clay her purpose to serve her master in all things but when her master dies she is cast adrift and must find new purpose. Ahmad is the Djinni trapped for centuries in a copper flask and freed by a unwitting tinsmith. Each has their own separate beginning but the author seemlessly weaves together the disparate mythologies and unites the two characters who are hunted by a desperate and dangerous magician. This is a glorious and page turning escapist read perfect for fans of Susanna Clarke, Deborah Harkness and Carol Goodman.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Longbourn By Jo Baker

Many authors have attempted to write about the world of Jane Austen's fiction including most recently P.D James whose Death Comes to Pemberley  left me a bit cold. With Longbourn however debut author Jo Baker takes an entirely new approach telling the story of the Bennett Household from a vantage point we have never seen before; that of the servants. The story is told through the eyes of Sarah one of the housemaids who doesn't view Jane and Lizzie through the same rosy tones as we might having met so many film and television versions of them. They are rather different creatures to Sarah who has the washing of their muddy petticoats and soiled linen. Longbourn shows us the harsh realities of a servant's life Sarah suffers blisters and chillblains and is sent out in the rain to fetch shoe roses. She is constantly carrying bedpans and hanging out washing. She does however find some time for romance flirting with Mr Bingley's footman a former slave who reveals that the Bingley fortune is founded on sugar and therefore on slavery. We also discover the cruelty of military life through the back story of Mr Smith. I adored this book. I found it unputdownable and can't recommend it highly enough. Presenting the world of Austen's characters in an entirely new light is no mean feat but Jo Baker has the skill and imagination to do exactly that. Longbourn is available now in hardback and trade paperback from  Doubleday.

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

It's a number of years since I first read Diane Setterfield's debut The Thirteenth Tale and I enjoyed it so much I have recommended it to many others since, friends, family and customers alike I even listed it in my top five reads of all time which believe me was not an easy list to compile.
So of course I jumped at the chance to read an early review copy of her next book Bellman & Black which will be published by Orion this October in time for Halloween. I dived straight in to find a glorious slice of Victoriana layered with gothic suspense and mystery. The story opens with the last dying moments of William Bellman as his life flashes before him. He remembers being a ten year old playing in the cemetery with his friends and firing a stone at a rook with his catapult. He knocks the bird to the ground and instantly feels that he has crossed a line. Death has entered William's young life and it follows him through the years. The image of the rook, of the cemetery of the mourning clothes and all the trappings of the Victorian cult of mourning recur throughout the story and lead William to open an emporium of mourning, the first department store dedicated to funerals; black hats and gloves, coffins, black edged stationary can all be purchased at Bellman & Black. This novel is a glorious return for a wonderful and talented writer.

Friday, August 30, 2013

In which I get distracted and forget my camera

I have spent most of the past month on a holiday of sorts, I say of sorts because as a mum for nearly fourteen years now I know well that there are no holidays. My self the hubby and the three kids have been galavanting about the countryside and the city visiting museums, galleries and historical sites. We spent a long time looking at this famous Renoir Painting Les Parapluies

which is part of a group of impressionist paintings shared between The National Gallery in London and the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. It recently returned to the Hugh Lane and will be on display for the next six years. Do go and have a look, the gallery is fascinating and there is no admission charge. 

My eldest daughter Chlöe and I also visited Newgrange and Knowth in The Boyne Valley. Visiting the monuments requires two separate tours from the centre but I urge everyone to see both as Knowth is if anything even more fascinating than the more famous Newgrange, both pictures below are of Knowth. (Images borrowed from wikimedia and goireland)

I brought both my daughters along to Kilruddery House in Bray, the eldest and I and my Mum are frequent visitors but it was Emily's first visit there. We climbed through the woods up a steep incline and stepping out on to a rocky ledge we had a stunning view back across the lawns towards the house and the hills beyond. However as you may have gathered from the title of this post I forgot to bring a camera. You can find out more about Kilruddery on their website here. In the meantime enjoy these pictures. Courtesy of docharra.com, antorra.coma and michaelgemmell.com

Kilruddery hosts numerous events, concerts and markets throughout the year and you can take a guided tour through the house; not all of it though it is still home to the fifteenth Earl and Countess of Meath, their son and daughter in law and young family. It is very family friendly and it is a working farm, you can even buy the produce. The house and gardens date back to the Seventeenth Century although the house was significantly remodelled  in the 1820s. It is well worth a visit and in fact you have probably seen it before, due to the estate's proximity to Ardmore Studios in Bray it is a popular location for filming and was used in productions such as My Left Foot, The Count of Monte Christo , The Tudors and Camelot. I feel a personal connection to the place as my grandfather worked for the previous Earl and his family for a number of years. 

I have been trying to catch up on some reading during my holiday time however finding time to blog and write while the kids are off school is a nightmare. I hope to have some new reviews soon though.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

August Aquistions

Bought, Won and Received for Review this month

An eclectic mix featuring Gothic Victoriana from Diane Setterfield, author of The Thirteenth Tale one of my favourite books of all time. More Historical Fiction from Seventeenth Century France by Jean Teulé and Sixteenth Century England by Jane Borodale. Also Conn Iggulden's take on The Wars of the Roses. Debut novels from Frances Osborne, Justin Quinn, R.S. Pateman and Kimberley McCreight. Werewolf urban fantasy from Martin Millar, the new Ruth Galloway mystery from Elly Griffiths, Muriel Bolger's fascinating literary tour of Dublin and the intriguing and beautifully packaged Night Film by Marisha Pessl. Along with all of the above my brilliant book club are reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier another favourite of mine. So if you need me I'll be reading.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

Lottie Moggach's first novel was the subject of a bidding war between eleven different publishers, she had a lot of pressure on her as the daughter of bestselling novelist and a real favourite of mine; Deborah Moggach (check out Deborah's hilarious rules for writing here) I wondered whether the daughter would live up to the promise of the mother.
I can certainly say that Lottie's book is as good as some of Deborah's work though not as good as my favourite Tulip Fever but that's probably because she writes in a very different style and that's not a bad thing, just a different thing.  Kiss Me First fits neatly in the category of post Gone Girl female led thrillers. There seems at the moment to be a shift towards a darker edge in contemporary women's fiction and I don't think there is any sense that writers are jumping on the bandwagon, rather writers are simply responding to the zeitgeist and the sex and shopping and cosy humour at either end of the scale during the "chick-lit" boom is of no interest to writers or readers in a post financial crash reality. 
Kiss Me First is the story of Leila she is a socially awkward young woman who has lived in a very closed world, her adult life has been focused on looking after her Mum who suffered from MS and now that she has died she has no-one. Her whole life takes place on-line. In between on-line role playing games she works remotely as a software tester. It is after she joins a philosophy discussion site called Red Pill that her world begins to change. The site administrator Adrian singles her out for attention and noticing her liberal views on euthanasia her tasks her with taking on the on-line persona of a woman who has chosen to die called Tess. Tess and Leila never meet in person but through on-line chats, emails and facebook Leila studies Tess and learns about a life utterly different to her own. Tess has had a priveleged upbringing and an expensive education, she is an artist suffering from bi-polar disorder who has traveled widely, experimented with drugs and had realtionships with a lot of men. Leila finds her fascinating.
However as the story begins with Leila searching for Tess at a commune in Spain we know from the start that it all goes wrong and the drama lies in how exactly it all unravels. This is a short book and it is well written and tightly plotted. I think Lottie Moggach has touched on the dangers of our reliance on social media and the need to make genuine connections. This is a sharp and fast paced thriller which I would highly recommend. Kiss Me First is out now from Picador. Thank you to Francesca Main who sent me a copy to review.

Holiday Reads Part Three Contemporary/Crime/Thriller and everything else

Last one some contemporary reads


Dying Fall- Elly Griffiths
Reconstructing Amelia- Kimberley McCreight
Love is the Easy Bit- Mary Grehan
How to be a Good Wife- Emma Chapman
Penelope- Rebecca Harrington
The Shining Girls- Lauren Beukes
The Sea Change- Joanna Rossiter
The Sea Sisters- Lucy Clarke
Alex- Pierre Lemaitre

Hardbacks and Trade Paperbacks

The Incredible Life of Jonathan Doe- Carol Coffey
My Father's House- Bethany Dawson
The Second Life of Amy Archer- RS Pateman
Dot- Araminta Hall
An Englishwoman in New York- Anne-Marie Casey
The Doll's House- Louise Phillips

Non Fiction

Possessed by The Devil- Andrew Sneddon ( The History of the Islandmagee Witches)
Flappers- Judith Macrell (Six extraordinary women of The Jazz Age)

Holiday Reading Part Two Historical Fiction

I apologise for the dealy in posting this up but I was surprise, surprise on holidays and doing lots of reading. Here is my round up of the best Historical Fiction which has been recently published but I have not yet gotten a chance to review. Do let me know if there is anything you would recommend from the list.

Out Now in Paperback 

A Dangerous Inheritance- Alison Weir (Tudor era)
Citadel- Kate Mosse (WW2 France)
Merivel -Rose Tremain (Restoration England)
The Secret Keeper- Kate Morton (1960s England)
Ratlines- Stuart Neville (WW2 Germany 1960s Ireland)
Beautiful Ruins- Jess Walter (1960s Italy)
The Daughters of Mars- Thomas Keneally (WW1)
Tigers in Red Weather- Liza Klausman (WW2 and after)
The Pleasures of Men- Kate Williams (Victorian) 
The Girl in Berlin- Elizabeth Wilson (1950s Britain and Germany)
My Life in Black and White- Kim Izzo (Contemporary and 1950s)
Mistress of the Sea- Jenny Barden (Sixteenth Century)
The Memory of Lost Senses- Judith Kinghorn (early 20th century)
Park Lane- Frances Osborne (early twentieth century)
Abdication- Juliet Nicolson (1930s)
The Knot- Jane Borodale (sixteenth century)
The Painter's Apprentice- Charlotte Betts (seventeenth century)
Summer of 76- Isabel Ashdown (1976 as you might expect ;)
Habits of the House- Fay Weldon (late Victorian)
Midnight in St Petersburg- Vanorra Bennett (Russia early 20th century)


Z A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald- Therese Anne Fowler (1920s)
Dodger James Benmore (Victorian London)
My Notorious Life by Madame X- Kate Manning (19th Century New York)
The Paris Winter- Imogen Robertson (19th Century Paris)
Fever- Mary Beth Keane (19th Century New York)
The Summer Queen- Elizabeth Chadwick (12th Century England and France)
Rome The Art of War- M. C. Scott (Rome A. D. 69)
The White Princess- Philippa Gregory (Cousins War book 5)


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Bone Season

Samantha Shannon is being hailed as the new J. K. Rowling and having been given the chance to read her first novel I can see why. The Bone Season blends fantasy and dystopia and is darker and bloodier than Harry Potter or The Hunger Games to which it has also been compared. Our 19 year old heroine Paige Mahoney is tough as nails and living a double life; while her father works for the government, unknown to him she works for the criminal underworld using her clairvoyant skills which the government of Scion have declared illegal. It is 2059 and Britain as we know it no longer exists and is now under totalitarian rule, Paige is already an outsider as she hails from Ireland and through her memories we catch glimpses of her past there. Paige is attacked and kidnapped and finds herself a prisoner in Oxford, a city controlled by the Rephaim, a non-human race who have invaded Scion and are using voyants to control the Scion government and fight their own enemies. Here Paige is trained and imprisoned by Warden a Rephaite leader and while she does not trust him she soon learns that he is not the darkest enemy she will have to face. Samantha Shannon has created a fascinating and darkly gothic world and at just twenty one her writing skills are astounding. The Bone Season is the first of a seven book series and film rights have already been optioned. With huge crossover appeal this will undoubtedly be the next big thing in fantasy fiction.

The Bone Season is published by Bloomsbury on 20th August 2013  

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Holiday Reads Part One Fantasy

So its August and if you haven't already done so I'm sure some of you may be thinking of getting away for a few days or even just a for a quiet afternoon in the garden to read and relax. All of the summer reads are available now but what do you choose? Fear not I am here to help. Check out my essential reading lists divided by genre and hopefully you will spot something that will relax, entertain or enthrall you.

Fantasy Fiction

The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker. Harper Collins HB
Perfect for fans of The Night Circus and A Discovery of Witches the story blends 1899 New York with Arabian mythology and Kabbalistic magic in a tale of love, community, friendship and self sacrifice.

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon Bloomsbury (20th August) HB

21 one year old author Samantha Shannon is already being hailed as the next J.K Rowling. This book is the first in a projected series of Seven set in an alternate future where clairvoyance has been outlawed, Irish born Paige is living a double life daughter of a government official but also part of the criminal underworld until she comes face to face with The Rephaim and untold danger. This is the book everyone will be talking about this Autumn.

River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay Harper Collins HB

Inspired by the decadent Song Dynasty Guy Gavriel Kay re-imagines China in stunning detail. A Fantastic historical adventure which will sweep you away.

The River of No Return by Bee Ridgeway Penguin HB

Another beautiful cover for a wonderful tale of love and time travel perfect for fans of Susanna Clarke and Diana Gabaldon.

Swords of Good Men by Snorri Kristjansson Jo Flethcher  Books HB and TPB

Blending Viking History and mythology this is the first in a new series from first time Icelandic author Kristjansson and is sure to appeal to fans of Giles Christian and Tim Severin.

Path of Needles by Alison Littlewood Jo Fletcher Books PB

Following her Richard and Judy Bookclub selected debut can't have been easy but horror queen Littlewood blends murder and fairytales to great effect in this pocket sized little chiller.

So thats my Fantasy Round up and I will by posting up reviews asap. If you don't want to fork out on hardbacks all the books listed above are available on kindle and the next post will feature some purse friendly paperbacks.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Disappearance of Emily Marr

Louise Candlish’s latest book is an intriguing take on morality and celebrity culture. Emily Marr is a dissatisfied thirty year old who longs for more from life, her mother died when she was young, her father suffers from dementia, her job is poorly paid and she is bored with her long-time boyfriend. When she meets Arthur she feels her life has truly began but she couldn’t have known the tragic sequence of events that had been set in motion, events that will make her infamous and hated. Tabby has been abandoned by her boyfriend while they were travelling; she has made her way to France and the beautiful Ile de Re. She is penniless and desperate, contemplating sleeping rough when she overhears Emmie repeat the access code to her front door, thinking that she won’t be back for a day or two Tabby lets herself. Caught by Emmie asleep in the house Tabby expects to be reported to the police instead Emmie invites her to stay and slowly as the women bond she reveals her story. The twist when it comes in unexpected and incredibly clever. Do not mistake this book for a fluffy romance it is gripping, intense and will get book groups talking everywhere.  A perfect beach read with a dark thread. Ideal for fans of Emily Barr and Hannah Richell.

Thanks to Stacey Bartlett of The Bookseller for the chance to read this book before publication.

The Glass Ocean

Lori Baker who has won awards for her short stories is set to be a major literary star. Her first novel is a strange and dreamy tale of flame haired six foot two orphan girl Carlotta Dell’Oro. Carlotta’s tale begins as she sets out on a new adventure in a new land. She is the author of her own beginnings of how her parents met and their individual stories. Through her young narrator Lori Baker presents fascinating characters and recreates a Victorian world of stuffed animals, sea voyages, insatiable thirst for knowledge, creaking houses stuffed to the brim with clutter and a marriage of misunderstanding. Carlotta’s parents are thrown together by circumstance and they are distant both from each other and from their child. She grows up neglected and alone in a house full of curiosities from all over the world brought back from her grandfather’s travels and the glass which her father works in a constant search for perfection. This is a beautifully written novel full of loss and longing which can be summed up in Carlotta’s observation “It is interesting …how we always think most about the one who has gone away…and least about the one who has remained…” P.192.

Thanks to Stacey Bartlett of The Bookseller for the opportunity to read and review this title.

Coco's Secret by Niamh Greene Reviewed by Margaret Madden

This book is a little bit perfect!

A little slice of chic-lit heaven all packaged into 339 pages.

Coco finds an original Chanel handbag at the bottom of an odds and ends box purchased at auction. On closer inspection she discovers an old letter inside the bag and it moves her to search for the bag's original owner. With not much to go on, she trusts her inner voice and follows the leads from her small hometown to London and Paris. She begins to get a picture of the owner's life and so does the reader. 

From the first page I was hooked. I too wanted to know the origins of the bag and along with a great set of characters Niamh Greene brings us on a a nice easy trip from the 1950s to the present day.

Coco's grandmother Ruth is a wonderful addition to the tale and a character I would love to meet in real life. I could just picture their little antiques shop and all its little bits and bobs, and could almost smell the atmosphere.

Very chic, very sweet, very clever. Well done Niamh Greene.

Another guest review from the lovely Margaret Madden who now has her own blog at http://bleachhouselibray.blogspot.ie/ so follow her blog to keep up to date with Margaret's four book a week book habit and the many books she and her five children share.

Thanks very much to Cliona Lewis and Penguin Ireland for an early reading copy. Coco's Secret will be published on August 15th and will make a perfect holiday read.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Irregulars by Kevin McCarthy

Irregulars is a novel set in Dublin in 1922 at the height of the civil war. That description might be enough to put many people off. We all know about the civil war, don't we? We learned all about it at school, how brother turned against brother but no-one likes to examine it in too much detail because even nearly one hundred years later the politics are just too raw and personal. We all have family stories which place us firmly on one side or the other. However was it really so black and white? Along comes Kevin McCarthy with the second of his novels to feature Seán O'Keefe and he shows us Dublin in its raw and unglorified state. This book features good and bad on all sides and on none. Seán O'Keefe is a demobbed RIC officer hired by a well known Monto madam to find her missing son. So our hero sets off with unwanted companion Just Albert and their search takes them through classroom, doss house, and hotel to Gormanstown Free State Army Camp and Dublin City Morgue. The plot is peopled throughout with fantastic characters and dialogue so witty and alive that I read a number of passages aloud just so I could hear the fantastic language. When I say fantastic I mean alive and nasty and filthy and real. I wish Kevin McCarthy was writing for TV or stage. I am amazed that anyone but a Dublin native would have such a gift for the patterns and peculiarities of Dublin speech. (My grandfather was a Dublin taxi driver and I am married to a Northside Dub.) The convolutions of the plot twist and turn satisfyingly through the various strata of society, though never too far from the bleak dingy bedsits or the filth-strewn tenements. The descriptions of tenement life are vivid and shocking and so is the violence. Whether you are interested in Irish History or just enjoy a cracking crime novel then this is a book not to be missed. I had a personal interest in requesting this book from the publisher as parts of the novel I'm writing are set during The Irish War of Independence just before events in this novel take place. I didn't realise when I requested it that this was the second in a series so it can be read without any knowledge of the first book, nonetheless I will be buying the first Seán O'Keefe novel Peeler at the earliest opportunity.
I would be very interested in learning more about the author and his writing and research process.

Irregulars is out now from New Island  

Mad about You by Sinéad Moriarty Guest Review by Margaret Madden

After 10 years of Marriage, two children and career changes, Emma and James find themselves relocated to London for James' new job as coach to London Irish Rugby Club.

While Emma struggles with loneliness and looking after her young kids, James is getting home later and later from work. 

When James starts getting sextexts from an unknown number, Emma fears the worst. Then the parcels start arriving to their home and panic sets in...... Mad About You is Sinead Moriarty's ninth novel. She introduced Emma and James in the 1990s so readers of the previous novels will remember Emma's wacky sister, Babs , as well as their best friends, Lucy and Donal.
However, if you haven't read the previous novels it doesn't affect the enjoyment of this one.

The author has introduced some great new characters and I especially loved Poppy, who is a forty something Divorcée on the hunt for a man with money. Should Sinead write another novel in this series, I would love if she developed the new characters more!

I could feel Emma's frustration when she read the text messages and received inappropriate gifts in the post. The description of her heart pounding away like mad seemed so real.

Good read for the summer, especially if you are of a certain age and a bit of a worrier!!


Mad about You is out on August 1st and published by Penguin Ireland.
Learn more about Sinéad here http://www.sineadmoriarty.com/