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

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 GrĂ¡inne 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

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

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

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
You can find out more about the author here

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