Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Author Feature Nuala O'Connor

Nuala Ní Chonchúir was born in Dublin in 1970; she lives in East Galway. Her second novel The Closet of Savage Mementos appeared April 2014 from New Island. Nuala’s third novel, Miss Emily, about the poet Emily Dickinson and her Irish maid, will be published by Penguin in the US and Canada this July and Sandstone Press will publish the UK and Ireland edition in August. www.nualanichonchuir.com

My 5 favourite books are:

1.      Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2.      Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
3.      Silk – Alessandro Baricco
4.      A Pagan Place – Edna O’Brien
5.      The Poems of Emily Dickinson – ed. Franklin

My top 5 writing tips are:

1.      Read widely – like a maniac
2.      Write every day (or at least five days a week), even if you don’t want to
3.      Don’t focus on other writers’ methods/output etc. – find your own groove and get on with it
4.      Learn to be your own best editor
5.      Buy books, subscribe to literary magazines, know your industry

Do you plan the story first and then do the research or does reading and research spark ideas?

I start out with a character or two (sometimes real, sometimes imagined, sometimes a mixture of both). I research in tandem with the writing. Which makes the first part of writing a historical novel very slow for me because I am constantly breaking away to research details like food or clothing or whatever. But there’s a buzz to research – I absolutely love it. I love uncovering juicy, interesting details that I can weave into my fiction.

Do you think historical fiction is enjoying a resurgence and why is that?
Maybe people are more open to it now? Did Hilary Mantel open a floodgate when she won the Man Booker the first time? Nobody cared much when she wrote about an Irish giant…I’ve always loved and read hist fic but maybe with the success of ‘Downton Abbey’ on TV people want to sink themselves into a cosy past, where things were more genteel and (rich) people had more time. We’re naturally nostalgic perhaps and that feeds into it.

What draws you to writing about the past?
It’s the use of imagination – there is total invention in the way the characters’ use language and, as language is key for me, that gives me a lot of scope for enjoyment as I write.
I love exploring women’s lives too – life has changed for women and it is interesting to me to look back and see how women coped. I like to bring women to the fore – men dominate the historical record.
As I say, I also adore research. I don’t like hist fic that is overloaded with facts and flavour, but a hint of how things were, a good historical atmosphere, draws me in as both reader and writer.

Do you have a typical writing day?
Yes, I write from 9am to 12pm, while the kids are at college and school. Soon to be stretched out to 2.30pm – yahoo!

What are you working on now or planning for after Miss Emily?
I will have a heavy PR round with Miss Emily so I am working towards prepping for that.
I have made a tentative start on novel #4. It’s set in the nineteenth century between London and Ireland and that is all I’m saying about it!

Beyond the Sea by Melissa Bailey Blog Tour, Guest Post and Review

I was thrilled to be asked by Melissa to review her new novel and to take part in this blog tour. This is only Melissa's second book but she is fast becoming a favourite author. Regular readers of this blog will know that I love historical fiction, gothic tales and ghost stories and Melissa managed to provide all three with her first novel The Medici Mirror (Read my review Here) now with her second novel Melissa has provided more of my favourite things in the form of Scottish islands, Viking treasure and Mermaids.


Beyond the Sea is a poignant and beautifully atmospheric tale of a grieving young woman trying to come to terms with the loss of her husband and young son at sea. After a year of struggling with her grief in crowded London streets Freya has returned to the cottage in the Hebrides that has become home and which is alive with memories of her once happy family. Her parents, her sister and her friends all advise against Freya staying alone on the island but despite the haunting dreams which wake her at night and the fog her brain seems stuck in due to too many pills and too much wine, Freya needs to be there. She finds comfort in the little box of treasures that her son Sam acquired beachcombing and metal detecting. Then she meets a young man Daniel and they are drawn together by their interests in the history and myths that surround the islands especially the tales of the Ceasg; the mermaid but there is a darkness and a danger that surrounds Daniel and as Freya is drawn in by the tales of the Ceasg and the Green Island she must heed the warnings in her dreams. A powerful tale of grief, hope, mystery and magic. Perfect for fans of Posie Graeme-Evans, Elizabeth Gifford, Lucy Atkins and Barbara Erskine and Rachel Hore.

Melissa kindly wrote a piece about the setting of the novel and sent some gorgeous photos too.


I have been asked a lot about the setting of Beyond the Sea, and why I chose the Hebrides as the landscape in which the action of the novel plays out.

Interestingly, while the book emerged from a single image of a woman, her hair turned white in grief, standing alone by the sea, a lighthouse in the near distance behind her, I think I probably knew even then, way back in the beginning when I didn’t know much else, that the woman was standing on a beach in the Hebrides. It’s a part of the world that I love. I’m drawn to its wildness, the stark rawness of its beauty, the fact that the weather can change in an instant, sunshine becoming rain becoming sleet. It is brutal, elemental, timeless - craggy mountain ranges, desolate moorlands, restless ever shifting seas. And yet, I feel there is also something redemptive, magical almost about this landscape. The sea takes away, and yet it also gives back. It is an endless, eternal pattern. The sea is often death, but it is also life. So the remote fringes of the British Isles, the untamed edges of civilisation, seemed a very natural and fitting backdrop for a woman touched by devastating loss, her emotions as turbulent and fast changing as the winds or the tides, but perhaps moving slowly towards redemption.

The lighthouse was also crucial in establishing the mood of the novel. To me, lighthouses evoke images of keepers tending a light at night, keeping vigil during both calm and storm. They are symbols of sanctuary, of hope, of light in the darkness. Yet they are simultaneously the quintessential symbol of loneliness and isolation – solitary towers aloft in the middle of the ocean, battered by the elements. Therefore it too seemed to be a wholly appropriate place for the woman to live – a very visual image of her emotional state.

As I started to plot the novel in more detail, the woman became Freya, whose husband and son vanish at sea the year before the novel begins. She returns to the lighthouse they once called home, seeking solace, trying to move beyond her grief. Beyond the Sea is the story of her journey. But it also tells the story of the Hebrides, the lighthouse and the sea – all characters in their own right.

The blog tour continues tomorrow details in the image below and you can find out more about Melissa and her books at her website http://www.melissabailey.info/blog/

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Lullaby Girl Blog Tour

Today I am delighted to be hosting the Lullaby Girl Blog Tour. Who is the Lullaby Girl? Get your hands or your kindle on a copy of this fantastic debut novel from Aly Sidgwick and find out. Aly's debut novel is a thrilling, suspenseful and intriguing tale of psychology, love and memory. A young woman is washed up on the shore of a remote Scottish loch. How did she get there? Who is she? She does not speak and she doesn't remember anything, but she sings a haunting Danish lullaby over and over. The Press christen her The Lullaby Girl and scramble for her picture and her story, but no family comes forward to claim her. When caseworker Rhona is assigned to look after the girl she is determined to find out who she is and where she came from. In Rhona's experience of dealing with patients suffering from trauma and breakdown the girl's loss of memory must mean that she has suffered terrible hurt. At the remote care home she is taken to the girl begins to remember and with memory comes fear. Interlacing the present day and the past this cleverly written tale is the most thrilling debut I have read this year and will appeal to those who loved the unreliable narrative of Gone Girl as well as those with a fondness for Nordic Noir.

The author Aly Sidgwick was kind enough to stop by and tell me about her dream cast if Lullaby Girl were made into a film. Here's what she said

I was asked who I’d like to play my characters if Lullaby Girl was ever made into a film. Wow, it’s been tough to decide! Okay...


Kathy’s a difficult one, because the people I imagined her as are no longer the right age to play her. I think of her primarily as a young Kate Bush, with hints of PJ Harvey and Juliette Lewis. I like Rooney Mara but don’t know if she could do the right accent! Hmm, maybe Hannah Murray? She has the right look to her, and she has the slightly awkward, unusual manner that’s key to the character.

Magnus is so difficult, too! His strong accent is important, so I’d prefer a Scandinavian actor, but can’t think of one who’d fit. They’re all a bit too bulky, whilst Magnus has a wiry, rock star build. I think of him as a cross between a young Vincent Gallo, Gustaf Noren and Nicke Hellacopter. Only one of whom is an actual actor, haha!
Gustaf Noren 

Maybe Tamsin Greig? She has that down to earth quality, and she’s instantly likeable. Rhona is all about empathy, but she also has a fragilty in her that she tries to hide away. A psychiatrist friend told me that most counsellors require counselling themselves... So there’s a balancing act between weakness and strength in her. I can see Laura Dern as Rhona too.
Tamsin Grieg

Joyce is an easy one. Tilda Swinton! I frickin’ ADORE Tilda Swinton. Everything she does is incredible. She’s so versatile she could probably play any of my female characters, but she would be my perfect Joyce.

Mary doesn’t speak, so there’s no problem with accents there! She has to look really innocent, so.... Maybe Lily Cole? Kate Micucci also has the ’Mary’ factor.

Mrs Laird
Maggie Smith, hands down.

Mrs Bell
Supergran! Or Grace Zabriskie.

I can totally see Hank Von Helvete as Hans. He has the crazy eye! Or Benicio Del Toro, but then the accent would be all wrong.

A cross between Udo Kier and Christopher Walken.

Tim is very warm, easy going and a bit scatty. Visually, I imagined him a bit like Jamie Bell or Matt Smith.

Lina should be classically beautiful, with piercing eyes. Emma Stone maybe?

Viktoria Winge in her teens would have made a perfect Sølvi.

and there you have it the dream cast now go and read the book. Thanks so much to Janne at Black &White Publishing for a copy of the book and for asking me to take part in the blog tour. Available now on kindle and in paperback.

Monday, June 1, 2015

For the love of Martha by Maria Murphy

Maria Murphy's debut novel is a romantic, atmospheric and haunting mystery. Set in two time periods; the book features two budding romances: Juliet a young photographer falls for handsome researcher Logan Pershaw when the two meet on holiday in Florence and in 1880 teenage governess to the Pershaw family; Martha White falls head over heels for the dashing new doctor. However although Martha is long dead her spirit does not rest easy and when Juliet visits Logan at his family home in County Monaghan she finds that not only is the house haunted but so is her young man. A search through the family archives reveals that for generations the Pershaw men have died young. Juliet must discover why Martha is haunting the Pershaw family if she is to have any hope of a future with Logan. This is a well written, fast paced and intriguing debut. If you enjoyed The Secrets of Armstrong House or Tyringham Park then you will love this book.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Chosen Queen by Joanna Courtney Blog Tour

I am delighted to be involved in the Blog Tour for the first book in an exciting new Historical Fiction Trilogy. 

The Queens of the Conquest trilogy1066. Three Queens. One Crown.
As a young woman in England's royal court, Edyth, granddaughter of Lady Godiva, dreams of marrying for love. But political matches are rife while King Edward is still without an heir and the future of England is uncertain.

When Edyth's family are exiled to the wild Welsh court, she falls in love with the charismatic King of Wales - but their romance comes at a price and she is catapulted onto the opposing side of a bitter feud with England. Edyth's only allies are Earl Harold Godwinson and his handfasted wife, Lady Svana.

As the years pass, Edyth finds herself elevated to a position beyond even her greatest expectations. She enjoys both power and wealth but as her star rises the lines of love and duty become more blurred than she could ever have imagined. As 1066 dawns, Edyth is asked to make an impossible choice.

Her decision is one that has the power to change the future of England forever . . .

The Chosen Queen is the perfect blend of history, fast-paced plot and sweeping romance with a cast of strong female characters - an unforgettable read.


Joanna Courtney has blended history and powerful storytelling to create an outstanding opening to this new series set to rival historical fiction heavyweights like Philippa Gregory and Susanna Dunn. The series is set in the lead up to the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 and the first book is the tale of Edyth daughter of the Earl of Mercia who through her two marriages was firstly Queen of Wales and then Queen of England.
Edyth is a fantastic protagonist, from the merest hints that survive in historical record Joanna Courtney has fleshed out an outstandingly vivid and human character. Wrapping a story of love, friendship, politics, war and power around the bones of history is no mean feat but Joanna Courtney has really pulled it off. The book opens with Edyth as a young girl just beginning to understand the politics of life at court and between men and women when suddenly her life is transformed; her father is out of favour with the King and the family are banished. They seek refuge at The Welsh Court were everything from the language to the table manners seem wild and strange, nevertheless Edyth feels a freedom in Wales and before long the land and it's King have captured her heart. Marrying the King of Wales makes Edyth a powerful figure but an isolated one and when the Welsh make one raid too many against the English, Edyth finds herself on the opposite side to her own family as the two countries prepare for war. Edyth is an incredibly likeable character and her lifelong friendship with Svana the handfasted wife of Harold Earl of Wessex is wonderfully drawn. I cannot recommend this book highly enough if you are a fan of Anne O'Brien, Philippa Gregory or the late Ariana Franklin then meet your new favourite author. I look forward to reading the rest of the series and immersing myself in Joanna Courtney's wonderful storytelling once more.

Huge thanks to Natasha Harding at Macmillan for sending this book to me and asking me to be part of the blog tour.

Learn more about the author on her gorgeous website http://www.joannacourtney.com/ or connect with her on twitter at @joannacourtney1

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Edge of Dark by Pamela Hartshorne

The Edge of Dark is the first Pamela Hartshorne novel I've read but it certainly won't be the last. This is a time slip novel, a genre that I adore. The two protagonists are Jane a butcher's daughter who makes an advantageous marriage in Sixteenth Century York and Rosalind newly appointed events director at Holmwood House. It is the restored Elizabethan townhouse in Micklegate that connects the two women. The echoes of the past are brought to life by the work being done in the house. As the house begins to look as it did in Elizabethan times and the staff are encouraged to dress as Elizabethans for the grand opening so the restless spirits of Jane and her family begin to overpower Roz and her colleagues. The time shifts between the two characters are expertly done leaving the reader dying to know more about both time lines and with both stories coming to dramatic climaxes. This is a fantastic page turner, filled with twists and turns and a great cast of characters. It is at times thrillingly dark as the title suggests and I can't wait to read the author's previous books. This novel will be perfect for fans of Tudor fiction such as Philippa Gregory and of course fans of time slip fiction such as that of Barbara Erskine.

Thank you to Louise Buckley of Pan MacMillan for a review copy of the book.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Set Me Free by Daniela Sacerdoti Blog Tour

I was thrilled to be invited to take part in the blog tour for Daniela Sacerdoti's newest Glen Avich novel. It's no secret that I am a huge fan of Dani's writing. Dani's newest book Set Me Free is now available in paperback and kindle edition and comes with a free recipe book.

Set Me Free is the third of Daniela Sacerdoti's Glen Avich novels set in the tight knit community of an Aberdeenshire Village. The books are loosely connected and have some recurring characters However they can be read as entirely stand alone novels and in any order. Believe me once you have discovered this author you will want to read more.
Set Me Free is the story of Margherita whose world is falling apart. Unable to have children of their own she and her husband adopted six year old Lara, a troubled but incredibly bright young girl and then a miracle happens Margherita gets pregnant but what should be a time of joy instead becomes a crisis as Ash; Margherita's cold and distant husband isn't sure he wants another child. Although they manage to patch things up for a time when Leo is three the cracks in their marriage become too huge to ignore on top of which Margherita is worried about Lara who is now fifteen and struggling with anger issues and bullying at school and online. Margherita asks Ash for a separation, desperate to find some space and time to think. She travels to Glen Avich where her Mum and Step-Dad run the local coffee shop. The village has a revitalising effect on both Lara and her Mum and they fall in love with the peace and quiet, the fresh air, the scenery and the people. But is Margherita ready to give her heart away again when she meets historian Torcuil Ramsay? and who is the mysterious boy that Lara has been seeing in secret? After a summer of rediscovering her love of baking and finding what she really wants you will be rooting for Margherita to make the right decision. An enchanting read from a wonderful writer. Daniela Sacerdoti goes beyond the boundaries of contemporary romance incorporating elements of magical realism and the supernatural. I defy you not to fall in love with the place, the characters and the writing.

Daniela was kind enough to answer a few questions for me, which I greatly appreciate.

Five Books that Inspired you

Many, many books inspired me but some stand out.

First and foremost, it has to be Anne of Green Gables by Lucy M. Montgomery, probably my favourite book of all time. It’s the story of an orphaned girl in Canada and the readers gets to follow her absorbing journey through life over six books as she grows up and gets married. Her story really touched me and has stayed with me ever since I first read the books.

The second book has to be Wuthering Heights – so beautifully written and immensely powerful; its images are burnt into my imagination.

I’m also really into Harry Potter – I’ve read all seven books and I think J. K. Rowling is amazing. Recently, at the Colombia Book Fair, I was asked who would I be if I were a character in the Harry Potter saga, and which house would I be in – my answers were Luna Lovegood, and Ravenclaw.

I was lucky enough to have my dad reading The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit to me when I was very young. I loved them and they stayed in my imagination forever – I would advise anyone to read them both!

Finally, advice for new writers: To be very determined and not let themselves be discouraged by rejection and criticism. To work very hard and to be themselves, write from the heart and not pay heed to trends or to what the market wants at that given moment.
And last, but not least, to read a lot!

Thank you very much to Janne at Black & White Publishing for sending me a copy of the book for review.

Find out more about Dani and her books at her website http://danielasacerdoti.com/en/adult-fiction/ and her twitter @danisacerdoti

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The House Where It Happened by Martina Devlin

This book has become one of my all time favourites because it's fantastically well written and a wonderful page turner but it also includes many of my favourite elements; witches, mystery, ghosts, history it's all here. It's set in 1711 and based on the real events surrounding Ireland's only mass witch trial. Just as the belief in witchcraft is beginning to fade, in a quiet corner of Ulster where superstitions and fear took root easily a young woman, a newcomer but a member of a respected local family begins to accuse one woman after another of torturing her through the power of witchcraft.
The author has fictionalised the events though the narrative remains essentially true to the actual accounts of the incident. The story is narrated by Ellen the 18 year old maid at Knowehead House where Mary Dunbar was a guest when she began to make her claims of being attacked by witches. As the community begins to fall under Mary's spell, Ellen is not entirely convinced however she cannot ignore the strange and brooding atmosphere at Knowehead and she is certain that the house is haunted. This is the story of two very different young women; one pampered and indulged, the other hard working and forced to grow up quickly. It's a story of class politics, religious fervour and how the echo of past wrong can reverberate through a community. Whether like me you are interested in the history of witchcraft or you simply enjoy a rattling good yarn then I highly recommend this book. The writing is wonderful, following the Ulster Scots dialect gives it an authenticity but it is not difficult to read. Placing Ellen at the centre of the story is a genius move as it means like her we watch the entire drama unfold. One of the best books of 2014.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I am in Blood by Joe Murphy

I am in Blood is the third novel from Wexford born author Joe Murphy. This outing sees the author combine the psychological suspense of Dead Dogs and the historical fiction of 1798 Tomorrow the Barrow We'll Cross. I am in Blood proposes the fictional possibility that after his Whitechapel murders Jack the Ripper came to Dublin. The story is told through three narrative voices; Nathan Jacob a present day teenager coming to terms with his father's death, Sgt George Frohmell a member of the 1890s Dublin Metropolitan Police force and the killer himself.
The book opens with the brutal killing of Mary Shortt in Victorian Dublin's notorious red light district The Monto and as Frohmell investigates he starts to see similarities to the Whitechapel slayings. The narrative device is incredibly clever as we see Nathan map out and follow in the footsteps of George who is also attempting to map out and track the killer.
The book is an utterly compelling read and I simply couldn't put it down. Murphy's setting and his characters are wonderful depictions and his portrayal of Victorian Dublin's poverty, crime and politics are top notch. I particularly enjoyed the portrait of George the DMP Sergeant. Frohmell is sandwiched uncomfortably between the powers that be at Dublin Castle who consider him beneath their notice and are only interested in stamping out Fenian unrest and the ordinary masses of Dublin's teeming poor who spit at him and consider him a filthy peeler and an even filthier prod. Nonetheless George's dedication to his city and his people is absolute, topped only by his dedication to the woman he loves. I felt wrenched out of 1890s Dublin when the book ended and could happily have read another hundred pages about these characters. I think this is Joe Murphy's best work yet. If you are a fan of Kevin McCarthy's Peeler and Irregulars you will love this book and I am sure this book will see Joe Murphy gain many new fans.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Orkney Twilight by Clare Carson

Part spy thriller, part detective novel, part family drama and part coming of age story ‘Orkney Twilight’ is a beautifully written evocative novel set in London and Scotland in the early 1980s. It features undercover policeman Jim who is struggling with alcohol addiction and a failed marriage and his bright and rebellious daughter Sam who is about to go away to Oxford. Together they and Sam’s friend trainee journalist Tom travel to Orkney at midsummer and while Sam and Tom attempt to find out what Jim is up to Sam becomes convinced that she is being followed. Sam soon becomes mixed up in a dark and shadowy world and tragedy is only ever a wrong turn away. Full of references to Norse mythology and the gorgeous twilight of an Orkney summer, perfect for fans of Erin Kelly, Ann Cleves and Peter May.

This review originally appeared at lovereading.co.uk

Prayer for the Dead by James Oswald

Prayer for the Dead is the fifth book in James Oswald's Inspector McLean series featuring the troubled detective who sees things most other detectives don't. This book sees Tony teaming up with an unlikely ally, a journalist who has been a thorn in his side in the past. However another journalist has gone missing and is soon discovered dead, murdered in a bizarre ritual. With no forensic evidence to go on Tony must use his hunches and insights to discover the killer but as the body count mounts and no suspect is revealed Tony must visit the ghosts of the past before the killer comes far too close to home. I love this series they are far from your average police procedural as the paranormal and the spiritual are a subtle but important part of the story and the characters are a wonderful cast, well worth revisiting. 

Granuaile Queen of Storms by Dave Hendrick and Luca Pizzari

This brilliant new graphic novel just blew me away. The O'Brien Press have published a steady stream of fab new graphic novels featuring episodes and characters from Irish history and mythology and the quality of the storytelling and artwork is top notch. The story of Granuaile Ireland's Pirate Queen will be familiar to many school children and readers of Irish history and this wonderful book brings that story gloriously alive in good old fashioned comic book style. It's savage, bloody and feisty just like Gráinne herself and I have no doubt that kids and grown ups will enjoy it equally. A wonderful addition to any collector's shelf. 

Vendetta by Catherine Doyle

This is the first in a thrilling new series from a superbly talented new author and is my other top teen debut of the year. A modern day Romeo and Juliet set amongst the feuding criminal gangs of Chicago. this is a tale of love, power, death and revenge. The story would make an amazing movie with breathtaking action, characters that leap off the page and a love story that will just about break your heart. I cannot wait for the next book.
Sophie thinks the summer is going to be long, hot and deathly dull especially as she and her Mum are coping with her Dad being in prison and having a lot less money as well as being social pariahs, but then not one but five hot boys move into the old abandoned mansion next door. Then Sophie meets Nic Falcone and sparks fly and by the time they learn the truth about each other's family it's too late. Aah just go and buy it okay. 

Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths

This is the fifth book in the series featuring Ruth Galloway; a forensic archaeologist based in Norfolk who teaches at the fictional University of North Norfolk and occasionally assists DCI Harry Nelson with criminal investigations. I read the first four in the series quite close together and then had a break of almost two years before starting this one so I am fairly confident that it could be read as a stand alone but I do urge anyone who hasn't yet done so to read the entire series because it is without a doubt one the best crime series out there. While some authors start to get repetitive after a couple of books this series remains fresh and innovative and in many ways this book sees the author really hitting her stride in terms of character development making this my favourite in the series so far. The action opens with Ruth receiving the news that an old University friend has died in a house fire, although she hasn't seen Dan in nearly twenty years Ruth is devastated but when she gets letter from Dan saying he has made a hugely significant discovery and is afraid for his life she is very worried and shortly after the police confirm that Dan has been  murdered. This book sees the majority of the action moving away from the bleak Norfolk coast to the equally bleak Pendle area of Lancashire. This series is perfect for those who enjoy crime novels focusing on character development and asking why rather than depicting grissly murder scenes. The books will also appeal to those who enjoy a touch of the paranormal with their helping of crime and as such will appeal to fans of James Oswald and Phil Rickman.

Crow Moon by Anna McKerrow

This book is one of the teen debuts of the year so far a thrill ride of a novel combining contemporary, dystopia and magic. The characters are brilliantly drawn the story is excellent and the writing fast paced and gritty. Set in the near future, the south west has cut itself off from the rest of England and renamed itself The Greenworld this is a self sufficient community run by powerful female witches. Danny is a typical sixteen year old boy in that his biggest worries are avoiding work and trying to get girls to sleep with him, his Mum is head witch in his village and he is feeling bored and longs for adventure, when the chance to travel through dangerous moorland roamed by outlaws comes, Danny jumps at it and heads off to the next village. Here he meets a gorgeous young witch called Saba, draws the attention of an outlaw set on destroying the witches way of life and discovers powers of his own. This book is among the brilliant new wave of fantastic UKYA being published at the moment and will slake the thirst of fans of Kit Berry, Patrick Ness and Sally Green.
Thanks to Niamh Mulvey at Quercus and the author for sending me a copy.

A Cage of Roots by Matt Griffin

An intriguing debut for the 9 to 12 (Middle Grade) age group with some fabulous illustrations from the author. Ayla has grown up in a New York orphanage with no knowledge of her background. She is rescued and brought back to Ireland by her three very large and burly uncles. In Ireland she settles down into a new life and makes good friends with Finny, Sean and Benvy but before she has gotten used to this new way of life she is kidnapped and imprisoned underground by strange otherworldly beings. It's up to her uncles and her friends to rescue Ayla who it turns out has been born for a very special purpose. A jam packed adventure featuring time travel and Irish mythology this is perfect for fans of Alan Early.

The May Bride by Suzannah Dunn

The May Bride is Suzannah Dunn's fifth historical novel and fans of Philippa Gregory and Victoria Lamb will delight in her depiction of Tudor life. Dunn departs from the habits of most historical novelists by using comtemporary language and dialogue, it takes a little getting used to but does lend the story immediacy. There are many novels about the Tudors; it is almost an industry in itself, but Dunn has managed to hit upon a subject matter in The May Bride which has quite literally become a mere footnote in history. The novel deals with the scandal at Wolf Hall that rocked the Seymour family while Jane was still a teenager. Jane narrates the story and this gives us great insight into her character. History has relegated Jane to the role of a mousey, obliging, dull little woman who gave Henry VIII his only surviving male heir and died before he got bored of her. This book shines a light on Jane's girlhood and Dunn certainly does give us a portrait of the straight laced and obedient daughter and sister but it is precisely Jane's place at the sidelines of the action that gives her an insight into those around and helps her to develop a watchfulness which serves her well in adulthood. The story opens with the arrival of a new bride the wife of Jane's older brother Edward. Jane is the eldest girl and at 15 she is captivated by the style and manners of Katherine Filliol, over the course of the summer she becomes Katherine's ally as she negotiates her first year of married life. However as she recounts the story Jane starts to see the game that Katherine has been playing and it's devastating consequences. Dunn is excellent on the sights, sounds , smells and everyday routines of Tudor life and for anyone who like me is having withdrawal symptoms after Wolf Hall this book is a perfect read.
Thanks to Poppy Stimson at Little Brown for a review copy of this book.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Resonance by Celine Kiernan

Celine Kiernan is a writer I simply cannot recommend enough, I love her writing so much that I am struggling to write this review but here goes. Firstly this book combines gothic, historical, fantasy and horror in a way that is completely unique. Secondly the two settings; a gothic mansion in the Irish countryside and the narrow streets of inner city 1890s Dublin are brilliantly realised, Kiernan's use of dialogue and wonderful , rich, descriptive prose are a real treat. Thirdly Kiernan really knows how to create amazing, unique and interesting characters.

If that wasn't enough to get you racing off to the shops to buy this book perhaps the plot will hook you. The story focuses on two groups of friends; Tina a seamstress in a Dublin theatre, who works for the aging diva Ursula Lyndon, her suitor Joe who works several jobs trying to raise money for a future with Tina and Harry a young American magician who has arrived in Dublin looking for work (Actually a young Harry Houdini). The three friends along with Ms Lyndon soon catch the attention of Vincent and Cornelius who have arrived at the theatre to audition players to perform at their country house. In reality Vincent and Cornelius live at Fargeal Manor and have lived there for centuries with Raquel and her children and an assortment of retainers and villagers. They have clung to life and their youthful looks by feeding from the light of an "angel" locked beneath the manor house but they and the angel are growing weak and what the men seek are performers who will feed the angel and sustain them. Tina, Joe and Harry soon realise that something is not right and set out to release the angel but have no idea of the consequences.

This is a dark tale asking deep questions about the existence of God and the meaning of life and friendship. It will intrigue fans and new readers alike and is a must if you are a fan of Dracula or The Picture of Dorian Grey. With this book Kiernan has absolutely become the Queen of Irish Gothic Fiction. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

This review originally appeared in HNR Issue 71 Feb 2015 you can view it online here http://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/crooked-heart/

Crooked Heart is the first adult novel from Lissa Evans since the Orange Prize-shortlisted Their Finest Hour and a Half(2009). This novel tells the story of ten-year-old evacuee Noel Bostock, who leaves blitz-ravaged London to stay in St Albans. His new family consists of the scatter-brained and near penniless Vera Sedge, her ungrateful teenage son Donald and her apparently housebound mother.
Noel has had an unusual upbringing; with no family of his own, he has lived most of his life with his recently-deceased godmother, Mattie, a former suffragette who has provided an eclectic education and passed on to Noel her suspicion of and disdain for authority. Vera feels scorn for authority for different reasons; all around her she sees people making money from the war effort, and Vera is determined to get her share, but her haphazard schemes have rarely borne fruit. However, once Noel realises what Vera is trying to do, he becomes the brains behind her scam operations and together they become a team. When they meet a bewildered old woman who reminds Noel of his beloved godmother, things take a nasty turn as Noel tries desperately to help her, thinking that in saving Mrs Gifford’s belongings from a thieving air raid warden he can somehow save his beloved Aunt Mattie, for whom he still grieves.
The novel is beautifully written and very well researched. Evans brings to life the world of scammers and thieves who thrived during the War while also making the voice of the precocious Noel utterly believable.

The Raven's Head by Karen Maitland

This review originally appeared in the Historical Novels Review Issue 71 February 2015. You can also see it online here http://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/the-ravens-head/

The Raven’s Head is an intoxicating blend of history, mystery and magic, and Maitland’s storytelling is deft and detailed. Told in the form of three interlocking narratives, the stories converge beautifully. The raven’s head is a beautiful carved silver object covered in alchemical symbols, and Vincent is stuck with it after his attempt to blackmail his master causes him to leave his job as an apprentice scribe in France. On the run, Vincent is a wanted man and begs passage to England hoping to sell the head and make enough money to become a wealthy man. However, the raven’s head is powerful, and it refuses to be sold. Meanwhile young Gisa, the apothecary’s niece, must put all her knowledge of herbs and plants to use in her new position as a servant for the mysterious alchemist Lord Sylvain. We also get the story of young Wilky, given to the Abbey where the strange and secretive White Cannons promise an education for young boys in their care, but when the boys begin to disappear it seems they also have a darker purpose.
Each story is spun out separately, but in the final section of the book they come together as Lord Sylvain’s experiments grow increasingly dangerous and magical. Maitland’s research is superb, and her storytelling wonderfully captures the period. The book also includes a useful glossary of medieval words and some historical notes on the supernatural beliefs of the time and the practice of alchemy. Highly recommended.

Half Wild by Sally Green

This review originally appeared on welovethisbook.com http://www.welovethisbook.com/reviews/half-wild

Half Wild continues the story of Nathan who we first encountered in Green’s outstanding debut Half Bad. With the first book ending on a cliffhanger this one opens precisely where Half Bad ended. Nathan is now 17; he has met his father and received his gift. Nathan is alone at first, his father having abandoned him once again. Gabriel is missing, presumed dead, and Mercury has disappeared taking Annalise who is under a sleeping spell. Nathan is not alone for long though as he finds himself making some unlikely alliances and meeting up with friends and enemies old and new. 

Green has excelled herself in this second outing creating a tale as dark and gritty and compelling as her previous novel that manages nonetheless to be shot through with hope, kindness and friendship. This is the kind of novel that transcends genre and deservedly so. This is a work of powerful fiction that is classified as YA but which anyone with a passion for fantasy, adventure or just good storytelling will appreciate. 

Nathan is a brilliant character; conflicted and struggling with his identity, unsure about his loyalties and desperate to keep his friends, his family and the girl he loves safe while also developing into a ruthless warrior and a powerful witch. I recommend this book to fans of Patrick Ness, Kit Berry and David Almond. Sally Green is certainly one to watch.

Nunslinger by Stark Holborn

Set in 1864, Nunslinger tells the story of Sister Thomas Josephine a Visitandine nun who has chosen to travel out to the state of California to bring God and her nursing skills to the Catholic mission in San Francisco. On the way however her wagon train is attacked and burned out. She is rescued by union soldiers but just a few hours later she is kidnapped by the outlaw Abe Muir and thus begins her wild ride through the old west as she meets fur trappers and Mexican bandits, homesteaders and outlaws. Falsely accused of murder she escapes hanging and goes on the run with Muir by her side and Lieutenant Carthy on her trail.
This is a whipcracking tale full of wit and adventure, perfect for fans of historical fiction or adventure. Sister Josephine must stay one step ahead of the law wherever she goes and rely on her own wit and skill to keep her out of a variety of scrapes as she travels across the territories from Indian country to the Sierra Nevada and Missouri to Mexico. Her reputation precedes her and soon the “six gun sister” is a creature of legend and as her crimes mount she must ask God for forgiveness. I wouldn’t usually pick up a western but I was pleasantly surprised and I think you will be too.

This review originally appeared on welovethisbook.com http://www.welovethisbook.com/reviews/nunslinger
You can find out more about the author here http://starkholborn.com/

Novel notebooks

And finally in this day of links and tips here is a wonderful insight into the novel writing process from another favourite and also Australian author Kate Forsyth


On Creativity and Distraction

And here's Kim again with this brilliant lecture on creativity in the internet age.


Kim Wilkins on genre

I had to share this article from an author I greatly admire Kim Wilkins about the battle between literay and genre fiction. I couldn't agree with her more.Kim Wilkins on genre
 Find out more about Kim and wonderful books at her website


Friday, March 20, 2015

The Dream Snatcher by Abi Elphinstone

This review originally appeared on the Bookseller review website welovethisbook.com follow the link here http://www.welovethisbook.com/reviews/the-dreamsnatcher and Abi kindly got in touch to say that it was also published in the print edition which of course I was delighted to hear.

The Dream Snatcher is a wonderfully magical debut for the ten to thirteen age group which will appeal to fans of Philip Pullman and Michelle Harrison as it features a young girl, a tenacious wildcat and a beautiful woodland setting. Moll is a gypsy girl pulled into a world of dark magic. When she learns the truth about her parents and about who she is, she is revealed to be the key to an ancient prophecy. But danger lurks nearby as a witchdoctor known as Skull tries to lure her or "dreamsnatch" her away from the safety of the gypsy camp to prevent the prophecy from coming true and unleash his dark magic on the world. Moll needs all her determination and her friends to defeat him. This a beautifully written book with a wonderful cast of characters including some wonderful animals. I really enjoyed the fact that the adults are a part of the adventure, helping and protecting Moll and also acknowledging her importance to the camp.   The wonderfully atmospheric writing brings the ancient wood vividly to life. I was enchanted right from page one. It's dark, gripping and thrilling and I really hope it will be a long running series. 

You can learn more about Abi and her writing habits from this interview http://www.serendipityreviews.co.uk/2015/02/where-ideas-flow-with-abi-elphinstone.html be prepared for serious writing shed envy.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Guest Review of Rebecca series by Anna Carey from Jacq Murphy

Thanks so much to Jacq who blogs here https://bibliojacq.wordpress.com/ and is like me a dedicated kids and YA bookseller.

Time for me to review another of the O'Brien Press children's series. Anna Carey has published four books in the awarding winning Rebecca Rafferty series to date, and these books remain popular with teens all over Ireland. Set in contemporary Ireland, Rebecca lives at home with her sister Rachel and her writer mother and history professor father. She attends the local school with her friends Cass and Alice and the horrible Vanessa and Karen, where she is forced to deal with an English teacher obsessed with her mothers books. This is a fun, and funny, series which keeps you coming back for more. 

The Real Rebecca 

The first book introduces us to the titular character at fourteen, just beginning 2nd year, as her once boring life  becomes far more eventful. First, her mother has published her first book for teenagers and everyone thinks the horrible main character must be based on Rebecca. Then, she develops a massive crush on the mysterious Paperboy. And she has to put up with horrible, awful Vanessa trying to use Rebecca's notoriety to get herself on television! Can Rebecca show everyone her real self, avoid Vanessa and get the guy? 

Rebecca's Rules 

Her boyfriend has moved to Canada and all her friends are fed up with listening to Rebecca mope. It's time she reinvented herself,so with her band temporarily out of action, Rebecca decides to join the school musical and set some new rules for herself. Unfortunately, Vanessa has landed the lead role and thinks she's the biggest star on the planet. But getting to work with the extremely cute John Kowalski almost makes up for it... It's a shame her parents won't stop banging on about their days in the college musical! 

Rebecca Rocks 

It's the summer holidays, and Rebecca and her bandmates from Hey Dollface are headed to rock camp! The local college has a summer arts program and it's the perfect place to spend a few weeks, making music, meeting new friends and getting to know old friends a little better. When Cass reveals a secret she's been keeping, how will Rebecca and Alice feel? Not to mention, Rebecca's parents have been even more mortifying than usual, having been inspired to appear in a musical themselves. And there are some pretty horrible boys in a hideous band called Crack Parrot to deal with. 

Rebecca is Always Right 

It's only the beginning of 3rd year and Rebecca is already fed up of being nagged about studying for her Junior Cert. Rebecca may think she's already right but suddenly her life is getting more complicated. When disaster strikes for her sister as her longtime boyfriend Tom dumps her, can Rebecca find a way to help her mend her broken heart? And can Rebecca prevent her Dad from making a fool of himself in his starring role? And does she have more than friendly feelings for Sam? How can anyone be expected to study with so much going on! 

Reading these novels was almost like taking a little a trip back in time to my own teenage years. Anna Carey has managed to write Rebecca Rafferty in an incredibly authentic way. She may even be one of the most realistic teenagers I've ever read. Rebecca's home is in Drumcondra in North Dublin and the action mostly takes place in Drumcondra, Dublin City Centre and Kinsealy. It's fantastic to recognise street names, and others places mentioned in the books, and I'm sure this gives it a special place in the hearts of local children. Carey has included a well developed cast of multifaceted characters, with realistic, relatable and interesting storylines. My personal favourite would have to be Cass, her awkwardness and inner strength is really appealing and I loved her progression throughout the series. My favourite book in the series was Rebecca Rocks (no surprise that Cass is featured heavily in this one!). I loved reading this series and it appeals to a wide age range, which is always fantastic. The content of the books are suitable for younger readers, while still being thoroughly enjoyable for older teens and adults. 

I don't think I would have picked up this series had I not been asked to review it but I am so glad that I did. I enjoyed them so much, and I would jump at the chance to read another one.