Category Archives: friendship

The Watch House by Bernie McGill

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The Blurb:
In the vein of Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, The Watch House by Bernie McGill is the story of the modern world arriving on Rathlin, a remote Irish island, at the very end of the nineteenth century, with dramatic consequences for a young woman named Nuala.

As the twentieth century dawns on the island of Rathlin, a place ravaged by storms and haunted by past tragedies, Nuala Byrne is faced with a difficult decision. Abandoned by her family for the new world, she receives a proposal from the island’s aging tailor. For the price of a roof over her head, she accepts.

Meanwhile the island is alive with gossip about the strangers who have arrived from the mainland, armed with mysterious equipment which can reportedly steal a person’s words and transmit them through thin air.

My Review:
“The Watch House” by Bernie McGill is an intriguing novel.

Set on Rathlin island, just off the coast of Ireland, it tells the story of Nuala Byrne and her search for love and family. Her parents emigrate to Newfoundland, leaving her with her grandparents, but with the promise that they will send for her. However, the promise is not fulfilled and Nuala finds herself with the possibility of having no home. She accepts the proposal of the Tailor, a man much older than she is, and moves in with him and his sister, Ginny.

Nuala’s dull, loveless life is changed when several men, including Italian Gabriel Donati, arrive on the island at the behest of Marconi. They are there to experiment with wireless communication and Nuala is employed to cook for them. From this time onwards, Nuala’s life takes a different course.

I found this novel to be very interesting. The author had obviously researched the subject of Marconi’s experiments thoroughly and her love of the landscape of the island is plain to see from her descriptions. However, this isn’t a novel that is merely a vehicle for explaining facts. It tells a very moving story of a young woman finding and losing love; of deep friendship and of loyalty. Well worth reading!

I am grateful to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this novel.

Meet the Author:
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Bernie McGill lives in Portstewart in Northern Ireland. Her first novel The Butterfly Cabinet was published in the UK and Ireland in August 2010 by Headline Review and in the US by Free Press in July 2011. It is available in an Italian translation – La donna che collezionava farfalle – published by Bollati Boringhieri and in Dutch – Charlotte’s vleugels – published by De Fontein. A new edition including new material on the origins of the story appeared in Autumn 2016 by Tinder Press. Bernie’s new book The Watch House was published by Tinder Press in 2017.

Sleepwalkers, Bernie’s first collection of short stories, was published in May 2013 by Whittrick Press and shortlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize 2014. The title story was first prizewinner in the Zoetrope: All-Story Short Fiction Contest (US) and the collection includes ‘Home’, a supplementary prizewinner in the 2010 Bridport Short Story Prize and ‘No Angel’, Second Prizewinner in the Seán Ó Faoláin and the Michael McLaverty Short Story Prizes. Her work has been anthologised in The Long Gaze Back and in the forthcoming The Glass Shore. She is the recipient of a number of Arts Council Awards including an ACES Award in association with the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s University, Belfast and an award from the Society of Authors.

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Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

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The blurb:

Colm Tóibín‘s sixth novel, “Brooklyn”, is set in Brooklyn and Ireland in the early 1950s, when one young woman crosses the ocean to make a new life for herself.

Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America — to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood “just like Ireland” — she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind.

Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future.

My review:

It seems to me that “Brooklyn” by Colm Toibin is a novel that you either think is very good or quite unimpressive. Looking at reviews, opinion seems to swing from one extreme to the other with regularity.

Personally, I think that this is a wonderful novel! Why is this my opinion? To begin with, Colm Toibin’s writing style suits me completely. He is able to paint pictures with his words, which feed my imagination. His writing flows in a way which made me want to read on and on. His characters seemed very real to me and they evoked a variety of emotions.

I liked the simplicity of the plot, which tells the story of young Eilis Lacey and her emigration to America from a small town in Ireland. This had not been part for her future until her sister, Rose and a priest, Father Flood, came up with a fully-fledged plan for Eilis to seek a better future in New York. Eilis settles in Brooklyn and then her story unfolds. I will not say more about the plot, as I don’t like spoilers, but she learns a lot about life in a very short time.

I was moved by several episodes in the novel, as they touched on experiences in my own life. The emotions described by the author were so authentic – homesickness, extreme grief, falling in love.

This is not a showy, sensational novel; it is just a very good one that I shall remember for a long time.

One Quiet Woman by Anna Jacobs – Blog Tour!

Today, I’m delighted to be hosting Anna Jacobs’ book “One Quiet Woman” as part of a blog tour.

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The Blurb

1930, Lancashire:
Leah Turner’s father has been killed in an accident at the laundry, and since her mother died years ago it falls to her to become sole provider for her little sister. But women’s wages are half those of men and pawning the few belongings she has left will only keep their vicious rent collector at bay for a few weeks, so even if she finds a job, they’ll lose their home.

Out of the blue Charlie Willcox, the local pawnbroker, offers her a deal. His brother Jonah, an invalid since being gassed in the Great War, needs a wife. Charlie thinks Leah would be perfect for the job.
The idea of a marriage of convenience doesn’t please Leah, but she finds Jonah agreeable enough and moving with him to the pretty hamlet of Ellindale may be the only chance of a better life for her sister.

But other people have plans for the remote Pennine valley, and the two sisters find themselves facing danger in their new life with Jonah. Can the three of them ever look to a brighter future?
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An Extract from the Book:

There were two pawnshops in Birch End now, two! That was a sign of the hard times that had hit Lancashire since the Great War.
‘No need to look at me like that. People need pawnshops in times like these, Miss Turner, and some need them at other times too.’
She shrugged.
‘Can we go somewhere private to talk?’
That surprised her. ‘Why?’
‘You need a job. I might be able to help you.’
It wouldn’t hurt to find out what he was offering. Working in a pawnshop wouldn’t be any worse than working in the laundry, especially if it paid more. She set the bucket to one side and gestured to the front door. ‘Come inside,
then.’
He gestured to her to go first. He was polite, at least. She had to give him that. She led the way down the corridor, hearing his steps behind her.It was strange. Some men made you feel uncomfortable walking behind you, but he didn’t. He might have looked her up and down, but it hadn’t been in that rude way Sam
Griggs had with women.
‘Please sit down, Mr Willcox.’
He took the chair she indicated at the kitchen table and she said it again, ‘I can’t offer you a cup of tea, I’m afraid, because I’ve none in the house.’
For the second time that day a man said, ‘That bad, eh?’in a sympathetic tone of voice, which surprised her. Pawnshop owners weren’t usually known for being sympathetic towards people in trouble. That was how they made their money, after all.
He was studying the room now. ‘You keep the place clean.’
‘Of course I do. Now tell me what you want. I’m sure you’re a busy man.’For the first time he looked less confident.
‘Um, you’ll have heard that I have a brother who got gassed in the war?’
‘I don’t know much about you and your family because I don’t waste my time gossiping. All I know is that you’ve got an invalid brother.’
‘His name’s Jonah. He used to be a big, strong fellow, but he doesn’t breathe very well these days so he isn’t able to work full-time, especially not physical work. He helps out in the shop, though, does the accounts for me. He’s really good with figures.”
He paused, seemed to be fumbling for words.
‘Jonah’s been living with me, but I’m about to get married and my fiancée doesn’t want him sharing the house. So I’m looking for a wife for Jonah as well. I’m told you’re a good housewife and I can see for myself how clean you keep this place, even now.’
She looked at him in puzzlement. Had she misheard him? Surely he didn’t mean that he wanted her to marry his brother? He ran his fingertip round his collar as if it had suddenly become too tight.
‘I um, think you might make a good wife for Jonah.’
He had meant it! ‘Why me?’
‘Women gossip in the shop and when your father was killed, I heard about you being left to bring up your little sister. I’m sorry about your father, by the way. Everyone seemed to think well of you, and it made me think. So I checked out a few things. You did really well at school.’
‘Why does it matter how well I did at school?’
Mr Willcox grinned at her. ‘Our Jonah always has his head in a book. He’d not be happy married to someone who didn’t read and take an interest in the world.’

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My Review:

I have to admit, I haven’t read a family saga novel for a long time; many years ago, they were my staple diet, alongside historical novels. So, when I was asked if I would like to review “One Quiet Woman” by Anna Jacobs for a blog tour, I wondered if I would enjoy this genre again.

This novel, the first in a new saga by this author, is set in the 1930s in Lancashire, so I suppose it would fall into the historical genre as well. Anna Jacobs had obviously researched this between the wars era thoroughly and the poverty and despair that were prevalent in many parts of the country, especially the north, are well depicted. Many families had to make do with very little food and men, unable to find work locally, would “go on the tramp”.

This is the back drop to the story of Leah Turner, the “Quiet Woman” of the title and her arranged marriage to Jonah Willcox. These two likeable characters make many plans for their life together in the small village of Ellindale and I look forward to finding out how many come to fruition in future installments of the saga.

I have to say that I did enjoy this book. The opening chapter drew me in at once and there were enough twists and turns in the plot to keep me interested. All in all, a pleasant, undemanding way to spend several hours of reading time.

Meet the Author:

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Anna Jacobs has 57 novels published as of April 2012. She writes historical sagas and modern novels alternately, and in the past has written historical romances and fantasy novels (the latter as Shannah Jay).

She’s addicted to story-telling and writes three novels a year.

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

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The Blurb:

We were in the square, in the square where I’d run, holding her, carrying her, telling her to stay alive, stay alive till we got safe, till we got to Haven so I could save her – But there weren’t no safety, no safety at all, there was just him and his men…

Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss. Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor’s new order. But what secrets are hiding just outside of town? And where is Viola? Is she even still alive? And who are the mysterious Answer? And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode…

“The Ask and the Answer” is a tense, shocking and deeply moving novel of resistance under the most extreme pressure. This is the second title in the “Chaos Walking” trilogy.

My Review:

As I suspected, I liked “The Ask and the Answer” by Patrick Ness more than the first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy – and I came to like Todd Hewitt a good deal more in this novel.

When Todd carries a badly wounded Viola into Haven, they expect that their troubles will be over; that their questions will be answered; that Viola will be able to contact “her people” – colonists who are approaching the world of “Noise”. However, the young protagonists find something completely different to their expectations.

Todd and Viola are forced to separate and throughout the unfolding of this violent and often heartbreaking story, they rarely meet. However, the ties that bind them are extremely strong and their faith and trust in each other brings real life to this story. They meet many devious characters for whom power is the guiding light and Todd has to develop ways of dealing with awful situations and actions in which he had to participate.

In the first book of the trilogy, I was irritated by Todd, but the way his character developed in “The Ask and the Answer” provided much to like and admire. Although some of the things he had to do were despicable, he tried to show compassion. Viola continued to be a strong young woman, growing in strength even in the face of betrayal.

This book was written from the points of view of both Todd and Viola – I think this worked very well and helped to broaden the scope of the story. Their voices are quite different and there was no confusion for me, just added enjoyment. I have admired the work of Patrick Ness for a while now and have no reason to change my views. I think he is an extremely skillful, thoughtful writer and although the Chaos Walking trilogy is aimed at young adults, the questions that we are asked to ponder are applicable at any age.

Needless to say, I have now made a good start on the third book: “Monsters of Men”

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

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Blurb

Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee — whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not — stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden — a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.

But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?

My Review:

I was intrigued with the idea of Noise in both men and animals – the ability or disability – to be able to hear what creatures are thinking. This plays a huge part in the development of the plot of “The Knife of Never Letting Go” by Patrick Ness.

The world that has been home to Todd Hewitt is a strange one. Not only is Noise prevalent, but there are no women in the town where Todd grew up. His thirteenth birthday is approaching – the date when he will become a man – when Todd encounters a girl in the nearby swamp. He is totally amazed by this being and also, by her silence. However, this unexpected meeting has enormous consequences for Todd and he is forced to flee from all he knows.

The story centres around Todd and Viola’s attempts to reach the town of Haven, where they are assured they will be safe and learn the answers to their many questions.

I was drawn in by the plot lines, but found that I didn’t like Todd very much; maybe I will warm to him in the next two books in the trilogy. I also found the constant running rather monotonous! However, despite these feelings, I’ve moved on to the next book, “The Ask and the Answer” straight away!

About the Author:370361

Patrick Ness, an award-winning novelist, has written for England’s Radio 4 and Sunday Telegraph and is a literary critic for The Guardian. He has written many books, including the Chaos Walking Trilogy, The Crash of Hennington, Topics About Which I Know Nothing, and A Monster Calls.

He has won numerous awards, including the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, the Booktrust Teenage Prize, and the Costa Children’s Book Award. Born in Virginia, he currently lives in London.

“The Real Liddy James” by Anne-Marie Casey…..Blog Tour!

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Today, I am delighted to be host to Anne-Marie Casey‘s latest novel, “The Real Liddy James”

In my opinion, “The Real Liddy James” is a book about life and the tricks it can play on you.

In some respects, Liddy James is a highly successful woman: she’s a sort-after divorce lawyer, she’s a writer, she has two sons, and she’s good looking, intelligent and lives in New York. My goodness, she has it all……or so, some might say.

Then, we look a little closer and we see that Liddy is herself divorced. On the surface, she and her ex-husband, Peter, appear to be on fairly amicable terms, but is this a true picture of the situation? Liddy is such a successful lawyer and writer, that she is in demand most of her waking hours. Her life is spreadsheet-organised. It has to be if she is to fit in all her appointments, have time for herself (what is that?) and time for her boys. Matty, a teenager, and Cal, at six years old, have very different needs that have to be accommodated. She has help with this in the form of Lucia, but Lucia has a life outside of the James’ household which may need attention too. It also seems that Peter has a new life ahead with Rose, living in the same house he once occupied with Liddy and Matty.

One may ask why Liddy is so driven. Partly, this is to leave behind her upbringing. Her parents are Irish, from fairly humble roots, who immigrated to America to find a better life. However, their idea of “a better life” didn’t coincide with Liddy’s, who became driven by the ambition to lead her own version of betterment. Success is also addictive; the more successful Liddy became, the more her personal life became squeezed. This is definitely one of the tricks that life can play, thinking that the more money one earns, the happier and easier life will become.

This whirlwind of a life finally unravels during a T.V. interview, when Liddy completely “loses the plot”. In the aftermath of embarrassment, puzzlement and utter weariness, Liddy is offered the chance to recover her equilibrium, with her children, in a remote house in Ireland. We wonder at this point, if the peace and quiet away from New York and all the demands of that life will help the real Liddy James emerge…..or have we met her already? You must read the book to find out!

I enjoyed “The Real Liddy James”; not my usual genre, but it made a pleasant change from some of the “murder and mayhem” novels that I read. Although Liddy’s lifestyle is a million miles from mine, I could identify to a certain extent with the juggling of work commitments, while providing a young family with the time, love and care that they need. I was surprised by some of the feelings evoked by several characters in this novel as it unfolded. Anne-Marie Casey’s writing has an easy flow to it and I was able to zip through this book with great enjoyment.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading about how women juggle the dreaded work/life balance. There are romance, humour and relationship issues within the pages – plenty to keep you interested in meeting “The Real Liddy James.”
Thank you to the publishers for providing me with the book to read and review.

Question and Answer with Anne-Marie Casey

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It’s a pleasure to welcome you to my blog today, Anne – Marie.
First of all, I have to say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading “The Real Liddy James.” She’s certainly a driven character! Is she based on anyone you know?

While Liddy is certainly based on aspects of people I know (including me!) she had a very precise genesis as a character. I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s now famous article, Why women still can’t have it all, several years ago. In personal, thoughtful and analytical prose, Slaughter articulated the challenges facing women who want a career and a family. She described how the demands of her life had become overwhelming, and in doing so she voiced the feelings of innumerable other women. Women who had come to the conclusion they didn’t want to live that way. And, more likely, they didn’t think they could.

The following year Lean In arrived. Sheryl Sandberg’s book is a powerful and challenging piece of work. I recognise its importance for women, perhaps particularly for younger women. But being in my forties at the time I read it, having a career and a family myself, having seen several of my brilliant friends have to adapt to (and their careers suffer because of) the demands of divorce, or children with problems, not enough money, or simply not enough sleep, I felt uncomfortable with, and a bit scared by, the emphasis on self-confidence and ambition rather than institutional change. I found myself to be Team Anne-Marie Slaughter all the way.

I had thought about the issues debated by Slaughter and Sandberg a great deal so, when I met my editor to talk about a new book, I said, spontaneously as I recall, that I wanted to write something about a woman “who leaned in so far she fell over”. We laughed. She loved the line and, before I could point out that I didn’t have any more than that, she told me to get started. And that’s how Liddy began.

Why did you choose New York as the setting for this novel?
From the moment I first saw the iconic skyline I have had a love/love relationship with New York City. I’ve spent a lot of time there for work and pleasure, and I guess I just thought it would be fun to inhabit it in my imagination. Also, in the process of feeling free enough to write prose I found it liberating to be so far geographically away from my real life.

Do you personally think that it is possible to create an ideal work/life balance?
NO!!!

I know that you are also a screen writer and a playwright, as well as a novelist. Do you have any preference? What has been your most satisfying work to date?
I am not one of those people who always knew they would be novelists or, like the Brontes, spent endless hours of their childhoods writing miniature books in tiny script to satisfy their relentless urge to tell stories. In fact, writing fiction was never an ambition of mine.

Through my twenties, I worked in Film and TV in London as a producer, but then I fell in love, got married and, with our first baby in tow, my husband and I moved to Ireland where I became a TV writer. (Fortunately I could do it, it was a life that suited me, AND I earned a living from it.) For several years I sat at my desk happily writing scripts that mostly never got made, but then the recession came and bit hard and the two shows I had been working on were cancelled abruptly. What was I to do? I didn’t want to go back into production, and I suspected that production would not want me – by this time I was a working writer, too used to wearing pyjamas all day and mostly talking to myself, and occasionally the dog, to return to all day human interaction. After a couple of days under the duvet, I decided there was nothing for it. I would have to try and write (and sell!) a novel.

When I began writing my first book, I tried to apply the same tools I used when writing a screenplay. There is a rigorous purity in the process of development from storyline, to scene breakdown to script that comes naturally to me. And I love deadlines! I love them so much I give them to myself! (Occasionally I give them to my teenage sons with dispiriting results.) However, to my dismay, I found this didn’t allow me to explore the characters and situations in the way I needed to. In fact, it turned out that the only way I could write a novel was to throw all that planning out, sit down, start writing and see what happened.

Actually I don’t recommend it as an approach, aside from the unoriginal resulting stress dreams, it means I almost always over write and have to self-edit rigorously, but the great surprise to me in becoming a novelist (and two books in I feel okay about calling myself one) is that it has been the most satisfying work I’ve ever done.

Are there any authors or books that have influenced your work?
I’ve been an avid reader my whole life, and I studied English at University, so it’s almost impossible for me to be specific on this – however here are four books that influenced this novel.

The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank.
This is a very important book for me as it was the novel that inspired me to try and be a writer of fiction. The memory of how I felt when I read it, (the sense of emotional connection to the main character, Jane) and my admiration for the simplicity yet boldness of the structure gave me a model of what I sought to achieve.

Little Women and Good Wives by Louisa M Alcott
I came back to these books, which I adored as a child, in 2011, when I adapted them for the theatre and, of course, re-reading them as an adult, I felt an even stronger sense of why they have endured as iconic classics for so many generations of women. As an adult, and a working writer, I find Jo March’s struggle to provide for her family through her work inspirational, as well as her burning desire to marry for love and retain her independence of spirit, most unusual in the context of 19th century literature.

Heartburn by Nora Ephron
I always assume that everyone has read something by Nora Ephron, but if you’ve only seen the movies, get this book. It’s got everything; laugh out loud humour, intense emotional punch and recipes. I read a piece by Lena Dunham in which she said that Ephron “called bullshit on a whole host of things including…the idea that one’s writing isn’t fiction if it borrows from one’s life.” I couldn’t have put that better.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.
I was thinking about late 19th century novels when I was writing certain sections of my new novel and it was pleasure to go back and re-read several of Wharton’s. If you haven’t read any, I think this is the one to start with (although I have a huge affection for The House of Mirth). I was struck once again by two things about this novel; the emotional complexity of the characters and plot, and yet the readability. That is extremely hard to achieve, yet Wharton makes it seem effortless.

Do you follow a strict routine when you write?
I try to. Without self-discipline nothing gets written, and I have a busy life, so as I am starting a new novel at the moment I have imposed the 1000 words a day rule on myself. As I haven’t written a book for well over a year it is like pulling teeth at the moment so I’m trying a tip a writer friend gave me and I tie my leg to the chair with a belt until the work for that day is done!

What about the future? Do you have anything in the pipe-line that you can tell us about?
I have just finished a screenplay adapted from the novel ‘The Master’ by Jolien Janzing about Charlotte Bronte’s time in Brussels and her doomed affair with her Professor, Constantin Heger. It is the secret love story that inspired Jane Eyre and I’ve really enjoyed writing it. I am also working on a touring version of my stage adaptation of Little Women for the Everyman Theatre in Cork. And I’m tying my leg to a chair most days!

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions, Anne-Marie. It has been a real pleasure to read your novel and also your interesting answers to my questions.

You can buy this book on Amazon:

You can also follow the author on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnneMarieCaseyAuthor/
and on her website:
http://www.annemariecasey.com/