Tuesday, May 28, 2013

From This Moment On by Colette Caddle

From this Moment On is the story of Lynn a once confident young woman who must rebuild her life after a horrible work harassment case has left her without a job and feeling rather bruised by life. Once her case is settled it would seem that Lynn has it all a kind and considerate boyfriend a loving family and great friends but her fear and depression are holding her back and as the family she once worked for are the most powerful family in town its hard to rebuild her life when the past is all around her and the repercussions of her ordeal are still reverberating. Can she make a fresh start or will the secret she is keeping destroy her?

Based purely on the cover of this book I would never have picked this book up in a shop. There is nothing wrong with the cover it has a perfectly pleasant landscape scene with two chairs in the foreground but it screams one thing to me "Chick Lit" which is a concept and a way of pigeon holing women writers which I despise. Originally "chick lit" was coined to refer to books about young women living in the city and looking for love. However soon every woman who wrote contemporary or romantic novels was swept up into this group and while some readers are delighted that the kind of books that they like are easily recognisable in a bookshop or supermarket I feel that the whole thing did women as readers and as writers a disservice. I admit I judge books by their covers I can't help it, it is a reader's first impression of the book and as a bookseller of twelve years I know it's what all readers do and it's a habit I won't be able to break. So why would I not pick up Colette's book in a shop, because the cover is too safe, too wishy washy. 
However I am certainly glad this book was sent to me to review because there is nothing safe or wishy washy about this novel. This is contemporary Ireland in glorious techniclour; from the commuter towns of Meath to the bright lights of Dublin from luxury hotels staffed by Polish and Latvian beauties to dodgy property deals done on a handshake. From feuding families in small towns to minor celebrities and oddball literary wannabes. Colette Caddle is a worthy successor of the mantle of Maeve Binchy with all the wit of Marian Keyes and the warmth of Cathy Kelly.
Thanks to Sharon at Gill Hess for sending this out to me. From this Moment on is out now from bookshops nationwide

The Adventures of Jenny , Sylvester and their Six Little Chicks and Meet the Fairies in my Backyard written and illustrated by Dolores Keaveney

I have previously reviewed Dolores Keaveney's Earth Angels which is a wonderful blend of poetry, art and spirituality but what Dolores is best known for are her delightful and wonderfully colourful picture books for children. So far Dolores has produced seven books If I Were a Bee, Beelicious A first cookery book for children, Earth Angels and Jenny the Little Brown Hen which has also been produced in Irish as Jenny an Chearc Bheag Dhonn as well as the two new books The Adventures of Jenny continue now that she and Sylvester have a family of their own. One day they leave the hen run to explore but as Jenny and Sylvester and the chicks enjoy their freedom they don't realise the danger they are in. A great story for small children with an important message about road safety. Meet the Fairies in my Backyard is a fantastic introduction for young children to nature and the different types of plants and flowers they can find in their back garden as well as the magical fairies who live among the grass and trees and flowers. A gorgeously illustrated book with great rhyming text will make this a great bedtime favourite and I suspect a great book for grandparents to share with budding gardeners. You can find out more about Dolores and her books and artwork from her website and the books can be bought through the website or from Eason stores nationwide.

The Ark of Dun Ruah by Maria Burke

Currach books normally publish non fiction Irish interest titles but they have branched out into the children's market with Maria Burke's The Ark of Dun Ruah. This is a tale of adventure and fantasy which will appeal to  children aged 10-13 approx. It features the story of orphaned brother and sister Simon and Kerry Macken who live in the normally quiet town of Kilbeggin, Kerry is a designer and a seamstress and Simon an amateur inventor. They are invited to travel to Fire City by Lady Lumina, President of the Land of Fire who has fallen for Kerry's designing skills. Almost as soon as they set out on their journey strange things begin to happen. In fact Simon had been seeing strange things since before they had left Kilbeggin; a mysterious hooded stranger who vanished before his eyes and a horde of giant eagles who try to attack their owl friend Pod. During their time on the ship the Ark of Dun Ruah they discover that Pod has been kidnapped by Red Beak an evil giant eagle who rules over Eyrie Island. They pair are determined to get their friend back and so they must go to the island and face the deadly evil there. A must read for fans of fantasy I think this will have particular appeal for fans of the Arthur Quinn series by Alan Early.

The Salmon of Knowledge

The Salmon of Knowledge is part of Poolbeg's new series for younger children; Ireland's Best Known Stories In A Nutshell illustrated by Derry Dillon and adapted by Ann Carroll. These books are ideal to read aloud at bedtime and make great first readers for the seven plus age group. My son really enjoyed this introduction to a traditional tale which is re-told here in lively detail. If you are not familiar with this tale it features a young Fionn Mac Cumhaill who studies with the wise teacher Finnegas by the banks of the Boyne. Finnegas has searched for the salmon of knowledge for many years for whoever has the first taste of this magical fish will gain all the wisdom in the world. Find out how Fionn learns all that he needs to know to become the great and wise leader of the Fianna. There are six books in the series so far the others are How Cu CĂșchulainn Got His Name, The Children of Lir, The Story of Newgrange, The Story of the Giant's Causeway and The Story of St Patrick. The make an ideal gift and are available from all good bookshops at just €4.99

The Chronicles of Cadaver College: The Book of Ornis by Olive Mooney

This is the First book in a thrilling new fantasy adventure series from Irish author Olive Mooney. The story begins with Simon de Bruin our unlikely hero who finds himself at a pair of tall, ivy clad, iron gates and cannot remember how he got there. As Simon asks to be let in through the gates he is asked for his D.O.D. date of death and as the hell hounds lunge out of the darkness ready to drag him away twelve year old Simon realises that he is in fact now a ghost. Simon wakes up to find that he is now a resident of Cadaver College and as the last in a long line of de Bruin warriors it falls to him to defeat the sea witch Halbizia who has cursed the college. It’s a lot for young Simon to take in but as he learns more about the college and makes some friends including Fi the pirate Princess, Augusta the suffragette librarian and Sir Syl the crusading knight who writes awful poetry Simon begins to prepare for the coming battle.

This is an ideal read for children aged 8-11 and great to read aloud. Perfect for fans of Emily Mason’s ghost detectives and younger Derek Landy fans.

Olive has had great fun reading the book at a number of Primary schools and will be taking part in Kildare libraries Children's Book festival this autumn. Keep up with all her activities and competitions by liking the facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Chronicles-of-Cadaver-College/471999882852387

You can purchase the book from all branches of Dubray Books (Dublin, Bray, Kilkenny and Galway) and all branches of The Book Centre (Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny, Kildare) or directly from Olive's website http://chroniclesofcadavercollege.com/

Friday, May 17, 2013

After Flodden By Rosemary Goring

After Flodden by Rosemary Goring is an outstanding fiction debut from a powerful and talented author. Rosemary Goring has previously written the bestselling Scotland the Autobiography and has worked as a non-fiction editor for many years but this book feels like the work of a fiction author at the height of her powers. The captivating story features a handful of characters in the aftermath of the Battle of Flodden in 1513. Patrick Paniter was James IV’s advisor and secretary and he is haunted by the horrors of the battlefield and the death of his king. Louise Brenier has asked for Paniter’s help in finding her brother who hasn’t returned from battle.  The indomitable Louise disgruntled with the search for her brother decides to set out to find him herself and finds herself caught up in a feud between two border clans.  The action is fast paced and perilous. The characters are believable and their stories compelling. This novel will have huge appeal for fans of Rose Tremain and Hilary Mantel. It introduces a period of history which is less well explored than the rest of the Sixteenth Century and which deserves further exploration. I cannot recommend this story highly enough; it is a must for all fans of Historical Fiction.

Here is a link to my review on lovereading.co.uk

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Lost by Claire McGowan

If like me you are new to reading Claire McGowan then don't worry although this is her second book it is the first in the Paula Maguire series which sees Northern Ireland born Paula already a successful forensic psychologist in London seconded to a cross border unit tasked with tracing missing women. Paula is a difficult but fascinating character. She accepts the new job rather reluctantly returning to her home town of Ballyterrin, a thinly disguised version of Newry the author's home town and moves back in with her retired policeman father. There are all sorts of delicate paths to be trod with an English policeman leading the team a mix of Protestants and Catholics from North and South of the border. McGowan plays to her strengths here with the tension humming under almost every interaction. There are also complications when Paula meets up with old friend Aidan O'Hara now editor of the local paper. On top of that there are the stark facts of two missing teenage girls and cold cases which the team are tasked with investigating. I could have happily gone on reading about Paula and her tangled personal life and her effective if unorthodox detective methods for another two hundred pages. Claire McGowan is a writer at the top of her game and she joins the ranks of top notch Irish crime writers now taking over the book charts. Perfect for fans of Cath Staincliffe, Erin Kelly, Jane Casey and Casey Hill.

Thanks to Veronique Norton of Headline Publicity for sending me this book to review and also Claire's first novel The Fall which I intend to read ASAP.

The Orphan Choir by Sophie Hannah

Bestselling crime author Sophie Hannah has written a spooky chiller for Hammer.  The same people who brought us the cult horror movies are now working with Random House to revive interest in horror writing. As well as re-issuing classic tales such as The Witches by Peter Curtis and a number of books by Graham Masterton some, some well-known authors are getting in on the act with tales of witches, ghosts and vampires. 2012 saw the release of Helen Dunmore’s The Greatcoat and Jeanette Winterson’s The Daylight Gate and this year also see the release of titles from Melvin Burgess and Julie Myerson.
The Orphan Choir is the story of Louise a Cambridge Mum with a noisy neighbour who is keeping her awake. Her husband Stuart however seems able to sleep through the neighbour’s noisy parties and as Louise continues to finds sleep elusive and her health begins to suffer we get the first indication that all is not quite right. Louise is advised by her local council to keep a noise diary and her entries are included as part of the narrative. We learn that her son has been accepted at Saviour College School as a probationer in the choir and now lives away from home during term time. Louise feels that the choirmaster Doctor Freeman is keeping her son away from her. As Louise wanders the house and fills out her noise diary she hears a choir of children singing she can even recognise her son’s voice amongst them. She believes that her neighbour is waging a campaign of terror and harassment against her. Her husband does not seem to understand. She hears the choir singing more and more often and dreams of finding sanctuary elsewhere and so she plans her escape to a second home at Swallowfield. She believes that here she will find peace and escape from those that are against her, her thoughts are growing increasingly irrational. When she hears the orphan choir and begins to see them she knows that her neighbour is not tormenting her but that the choir are warning her, but what are the warning her about? Where is the danger? And will Louise discover before she loses her mind? The Orphan Choir is a tense and thrilling read employing the fast pace and great character building that we have come to expect from Sophie Hannah. Her fans will not be disappointed.

Out now published by Hammer follow the link below to see my original review on welovethisbook.com


Monday, May 13, 2013

Two Hundred Years of Pride and Prejudice

Last Friday BBC2 broadcast Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball which was an authentic recreation of The Netherfield Ball one of the key scenes in the book. I had planned to blog about how excited I was about watching this show as indeed were many other Janeites across the Internet however my blog was sadly neglected last week as other things took precedence, including reaching the 15k point in my novel but more about that later. 
However I am kind of glad I didn't blog about my excitement because I'm sorry to report that I was rather disappointed. I was delighted to learn about the food of the regency era it was an interesting aspect of the show as food historian and chef Ivan Day had the stressful job of preparing a feast of regency, soups, fish, jellies and puddings which in authentic regency style were all placed on the table at once and the guests simply helped themselves. However the food seemed to take second place to the rather patronising tones of the two presenters. 
The male presenter Alistair Sooke was someone I'd never encountered on TV before and I watch a lot of historical documentaries, a Google search reveals him to be an art historian so I fail to see the connection to Jane Austen. The female presenter Amanda Vickery is an expert on regency history and I have enjoyed watching her in previous programmes but I felt her presenting style here was a little high handed as though regency customs might be alien to the viewers, this seems a silly presumption because who else but an ardent Austen fan would watch a recreation of the Netherfield Ball on a Friday night. She also seemed more interested in discussing the frocks and frills which were no doubt a major part of any young person's preparations for a ball but the least interesting to me. 
There was also a lot of focus on the dancing, which given that it was ball was fair enough but firstly all of the dancers were professionals, so that's cheating because the balls in Austen's books would have had a mixture of age groups, ranks and abilities. Also we were never introduced to any of the dancers even though several of them spoke on screen about their experiences and they appeared to be acting the part of regency belles and beaus but we didn't see them receive any coaching in manners or etiquette. In fact the strict codes of class and rank were hardly mentioned other than a few sentences uttered by the presenters/onlookers as they like Mrs Bennett watched the dancers from the side-lines. The other major problem with this programme was that Jane and her characters were conspicuous by their absence as the dancers were never introduced either as actors or characters I struggled to work out who they were meant to be. Which of them was Darcy? Who was Elizabeth and if they weren't there then why not? It all seemed a little impersonal. Yes it was a recreation of a regency ball but it was not the Netherfield Ball and that was rather a let-down.

I have also been marking the 200th birthday of one of my favourite books and back in March I attended a Jane Austen write-a-rama at the Pavilion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire. This was the brainchild of writer and Jane Austen fan Sarah Webb. The workshop was for mothers and daughters, a brilliant idea which I haven't encountered before, of course Sarah made it clear that the participants could equally be Aunt and Niece or Godmother and Godchild or some other combination of adult and child but both had to be interested in Jane Austen and in writing. Sarah is an accomplished writer for adults and children and has organised many workshops and events in the past. I have had the pleasure of meeting her on a number of occasions and in fact when I was working as a Children's Bookseller for Eason O'Connell Street Sarah was the Children's Buyer and Marketing Manager so she was essentially my boss. 
All who attended the workshop seemed to be Jane Austen fans and many of the girls made no secret of the fact that they were Sarah Webb fans with a couple of them announcing a desire to become writers when they grow up, me too I thought. The workshop was a great mixture of fashion; Sarah came in costume, weird jewellery; she brought along authentic 19th Century mourning bracelets made from the hair of some of her dead ancestors and writing; Sarah read passages aloud from Austen's books and brainstormed a story idea with the group. We also got a glimpse into the Austen mania with chat about the many books, films and merchandise related to Austen that is now available and we even found time to watch the memorable scene from the 1995 BBC production where Darcy emerges from the lake at Pemberley dripping wet so I imagine another generation of Colin Firth fans have been created. A morning well spent I thought. 

I have also been marking the anniversary by re-reading the novel with my bookclub. I treated myself to a lovely new Vintage edition and reading a host of other books about Austen.

Pictured above are my new copy of Pride and Prejudice and my lovely Penguin edition of Sense and Sensilbility, May, Lou & Cass Jane Austen's Nieces in Ireland by Sophia Hillan,  Jane Austen the World of her Novels by Deirdre Le Faye, Jane Austen by Marghanita Laski, A Truth Universally Acknowledged 33 reasons Why We Can't Stop Reading Jane Austen ed by Susannah Carson and the lovely new book by Paula Byrne The Real Jane Austen.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar

I simply had to show you both the UK and US covers of this book, both are gorgeous but I think I prefer the US cover, the font and the photograph give more of a flavour of the historical strand in this novel. This novel uses my all-time favourite fictional device it weaves together a contemporary and an historical narrative. The historical story features Evangeline English a lady cyclist who has travelled as a missionary with her sister to establish a mission in Kashgar. She is also keen to keep a record of their stay and turn that into a travel diary, she has tentatively named her project The Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar.
In present day London Frieda receives news that she was listed as next of kin for Irene Guy a woman she has never heard of and she must clear out a lifetimes worth of books, papers and belongings. She also encounters Tayeb a young man in need of friendship and somewhere to stay. 
In alternating chapters both stories unfold. 1920s Kashgar is vividly brought to life by Suzanne Joinson's wonderful eye for detail. The present day narrative is also intriguing but I felt that the historical strand was more compelling and Eva a stronger character.
Nevertheless I found this to be a page turning and enjoyable read and have already recommended it to friends. I will be very interested to see what the author does next.

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar is available now in paperback from Bloomsbury

Clay by Melissa Harrison

A lyrical and beautifully written debut detailing the lives of interconnected characters who live near to an urban park. The area and the city are never named. Melissa Harrison shows tremendous skill in weaving the narrative of her novel around the passing of a year with its unfolding seasons and the changes visible and hidden throughout the park and the urban sprawl. 
The characters are eight year old T.C. who is bereft by his Father's absence but neglected by his mother; he finds solace in nature and friendship in Jozef a Polish immigrant who misses his farm and his homeland. Sophia is a sprightly 78year old, who is trying to teach her granddaughter Daisy about the natural world outside of her cosy private school. Linda, Daisy's mother begins to reconnect with nature and her mother through the course of the book. Touching on themes of aging and childhood, crime, immigration and safety the characters’ lives impact on each other and the ever changing natural world is documented in detail. This was a wonderful read with a poetic intensity. Perfect for fans of Monica Ali and Zadie Smith.

Available now in hardback from Bloomsbury.

How To Fall by Jane Casey

How to Fall is Jane Casey's first novel for young adults, she is already an established crime writer with four novels for adults under her belt and another on the way later this year. How to Fall is the first in a new series of mystery thrillers staring Jess Tennant. The teen crime novel is a growing genre with Elizabeth George, John Grisham, Kathy Reichs and Harlan Coben all getting in on the act. However my first taste of the genre was The Angel Kiss series by Laura Jane Cassidy and aside from both authors sharing a nationality there are a number of similarities to be drawn between the two series; both feature a new girl in town, both feature a potential love interest and both feature some suspicious behaviour from the grownups. I think Jane Casey's novel will undoubtedly appeal to teen readers, in particular fans of Laura Jane Cassidy with its bang on detail about bullying and peer pressure and the air of menace which pervades an otherwise dull small town. I see no reason why the novel wouldn't similarly appeal to those who simply enjoy an intriguing mystery. The plot revolves around the tragic death of Freya. Although Jess and Freya were cousins they never met as their mothers had fallen out when Molly had married Jess's father, now divorced Molly has returned to her home town for the summer hoping to mend bridges and with her teen daughter in tow. Jess draws a lot of interest as she is a dead ringer for Freya and as she meets her family and those who knew Freya, Jess begins to ask questions about her cousin's death. Questions that make some people feel uncomfortable.
How to Fall is out now in paperback published by Corgi