Friday, 30 January 2015

Colette McBeth - The Life I Left Behind - Blog Tour!

 Today we're delighted to welcome Colette McBeth as part of the blog tour for her latest psychological thriller - The Life I Left Behind - sharing her thoughts on what she would like to change in her life and how she'd like to be remembered....  
What I’d like to leave behind… 

There’s a passage in The Life I Left Behind, one of the few from the after world, where Eve recalls discussing her regrets with the others who are in limbo with her. ‘Mainly it was the mundane preoccupations people would change. I wouldn’t, for instance, have agonised for weeks over which shade of white to paint my kitchen.’

I did wonder when I wrote those lines if Eve was talking directly to me. I’m a sucker for a paint chart. I’ve probably spent an annual salary on those little tester pots. In truth, it’s unlikely I’ll stop. But if Eve was talking to me she should know I haven’t ignored her completely. Writing her made me realise how fragile life is, that we don’t get to choose the moment we’ll go. If she’s taught me anything it’s how to get things in perspective; the unfinished interior projects, the laundry pile, the kids dressing like they’ve been shopping blindfolded at TK Maxx. They don’t matter. Not really.

If you allow them to, and I often do, there are millions of trivial worries that can consume you. Sometimes my head feels like one throbbing, ever changing to -do list. So in Eve’s honour I’m trying to care less about them because if I go what I’d like to leave behind is this; a live well lived. Not a list ticked off. I want to free up space in my head to enjoy the moment, allow my children one last kick of the ball in the park and silence the ticking clock in my head that screams ‘It’s almost tea time, we’ve got to go home.’ I don’t want to lose sleep about school costumes, or present I’ve forgotten to send. Finding time for a friend, making her laugh, smiling at a stranger in the street, talking to an old lady because I might be the only person she’ll talk to all day, all week, that’s what matters.
I’ve often thought I’d like to leave behind letters to my children, doling out sage advice when they come of age. If I was organised I’d write them now, tell them how much I love them, tell the boys to remember to change their clothes occasionally, that deodorant doesn’t count if you haven’t washed, that even when their heart is broken it will repair. Tell my daughter she is beautiful, that she can do anything she wants, urge her to stand out, not follow, that when she’s older she doesn’t have to wax everywhere if she doesn’t want to.
But knowing me I’ll never get around to it. So instead I’ll try to change a little bit every day. Because if I do go, inconveniently and before my time, that way they might remember me not as an angry clock watcher, cajoling them to get in the bath, get out of the bath, do their homework, go to sleep. They might remember me as someone who loved life enough not to give a shit.  And they might do the same.
If that’s all I could leave behind it would be enough.

To find out more about Colette McBeth
visit her author website
            publisher website
check out Maryom's reviews The Life I Left Behind 
                                             Precious Thing

Thursday, 29 January 2015

As Good As It Gets? by Fiona Gibson

review by Maryom
16 years ago, pregnant Charlotte was abandoned by her boyfriend Fraser and left to bring up their daughter Rosie alone. Since then she hasn't seen Fraser once, but found love and happiness in a new relationship with Will to whom she's now been married nearly 15 years. Recently though things have hit a dull patch, companionship has replaced romance, and recently redundant Will seems to be having a mid-life crisis. All fun seems to be reserved for the younger generation, particularly Rosie who's just landed a modelling contract with a top agency. Charlotte feels that somewhere, somehow, she's missing out and life is passing her by. Is this as good as it gets? When Fraser suddenly turns back up on the scene, Charlotte begins to wonder if life with him would have worked out better ....

I first discovered Fiona Gibson last year with Take Mum Out a laugh out loud look at dating for the slightly more mature, and although I didn't find as many laughs in As Good As It Gets? this is still a light-hearted chick lit style tale for the mid-life crisis age group. After all the romance and happy-ever-afters of romantic fiction come the long years of juggling housework, jobs, childcare, with no time any more for romantic dinners for two - and this is where Charlotte and Will find themselves. With a husband who is alternately moody and secretive or trying to live it up by partying all hours with the new neighbours, it's not surprising that Charlotte might start to wonder about the choices she's made in life! Poor Will certainly comes in for some prat-fall moments - 'dirty dancing' at the neighbours' party, dusting down his leather trousers to appear young and hip - and then having them eaten, in strategic places, by an escaped rabbit. How can he hope to compete with Fraser who, by his absence has remained forever young in Charlotte's imagination?

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Harper Collins (Avon)

Genre - adult, romcom/chick lit, humour

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Favourite Irish Books #IrishFictionFortnight

  BleachHouseLibrary blog is currently holding an #IrishFictionFortnight focussing on, well you've guessed, Irish writers and their works, and I've been visiting regularly, discovering new writers and entering some of the giveaways. It all started me thinking about my favourite Irish writers and books ..... and the list kept growing...

 Even in an English school the curriculum was liberally sprinkled with Irish fiction - from Swift's Gulliver's Travels in primary school to WB Yeats' poetry, Synge and O'Casey's plays and  James Joyce and Samuel Beckett novels at secondary. After school I discovered more recent authors through my local library - Maeve Binchy, Edna O'Brien, John Banville, Colm Toibin and Roddy Doyle - but I think it's only since I've started blogging and, importantly, chatting about books on Twitter that the vast range of Irish writing has become apparent.

So.... favourites.... well, my Top Ten stretched a little to eleven recommendations, and then I asked The Mole who dominated a Top Three...

Number one spot has to go to relative newcomer, Donal Ryan - he's only two novels to his name so far, but what stunners they are! Multi-voiced The Spinning Heart and its 'prequel'  The Thing About December will wring your heart and make you laugh and everything in-between.

 I've long been aware of John Boyne but mainly thought of him as a children's writer, probably due to the publicity surrounding The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Last year though I read his latest adult novel A History of Loneliness looking at the sex scandals in the Irish church from the point of view of an innocent priest. It's hard-hitting and moving, and made me determined to read more by the author.

Hoping that place of birth qualifies her as Irish, I'd like to include Maggie O'Farrell, especially The Hand That First Held Mine and Instructions For A Heatwave
and in a similar vein of fiction, debut author Johanna Lane's Black Lake a story of a family in crisis, trying to cope with overwhelming loss.

Another impressive debut last year came from Audrey Magee with The Undertaking set in Germany and on its Eastern front during WW2.

I read a lot of crime thrillers so had to include some from both north and south of the border -
Claire McGowan's thrillers  The Lost and  The Dead Ground set in the fictional border town of Ballyterrin which mix present day crime with the legacy of The Troubles;                                                                       
Niamh O'Connor's Dublin-set Jo Birmingham series starting with If I Never See You Again
Colin Bateman's Dan Starkey series that I've just discovered with The Dead Pass
Neil Mackay's All The Little Guns Went Bang, Bang, Bang is a different, extremely disturbing, crime novel exploring how violence begets violence as two eleven year olds embark on a Natural Born Killers style spree of increasing brutality. Chilling stuff.

Time for something lighter ... I discovered Maria Duffy's light-hearted novels of everyday life through chatting on Twitter, so her novel Any Dream Will Do about virtual Twitter friends meeting up in real life seems really appropriate.

Also through Twitter I discovered Denise Deegan and her insightful teen /YA Butterfly novels dealing with a range of teenage problems from bullying to pregnancy.

So there's my picks - what would The Mole choose....

Eoin Colfer and Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian has to be my favourite! What is not to love about Artemis and Holly Short? Well actually as this is the last of the Artemis Fowl books I suppose just that - an end of series, never a happy time.

Alan Monaghan and The Soldier's Song also has to be my favourite. It is a story of the First World War and Stephen enlists as an officer in the British Army. For Stephen
it as a time of horrors and loss and the book deserved far more accolades than it got.

Brian Gallagher's  Stormclouds is set during the troubles in Northern Ireland and is a book you won't "enjoy" but may get a better understanding of the lives that the citizens of NI, particularly children, lived at that time. It's a book well worth reading but be strong and stick it out.

To find more visit BleachHouseLibrary or follow the #IrishFictionFortnight tag on Twitter

Monday, 26 January 2015

An Experiment in Love by Hilary Mantel

review by Maryom

It's 1970 and Carmel McBain is off to start a new life for herself, leaving behind her northern mill-town home and heading for London and university. Free from the constraints of the family home and filled with a wonderful sense of opportunity, Carmel embraces her new life with enthusiasm but her childhood isn't that easily abandoned as two of her school friends end up in the same hall-of-residence; Julianne with her string of boyfriends and Karina with her down to earth practicality and enormous appetite. They and the other students at Tonbridge Hall soon find that life isn't as easy as they'd expected and as with so many coming of age stories, there's heartache, disappointment and a brush with tragedy to be encountered along the way.

Mention Hilary Mantel and most people will immediately think of her long historical novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies ,so it might come as a surprise to know she's also written shorter, more contemporary novels. I first discovered them a couple of years ago with Fludd and An Experiment In Love has been sitting waiting on my TBR pile for frankly too long. What all these books share is the slipping inside another mind-set, the sharing of another person's outlook on life, whether that be an important historical figure like Thomas Cromwell or a fictitious 18 year old such as Carmel.

Instead of the intrigues of the Tudor court, here the reader is introduced to the behind the scenes secrets of a university hall of residence; with just as many hidden agendas and deceptions - from stretching the meagre grant and all-night studying, to boyfriends, unwanted pregnancies, eating disorders and quick-burn resentments.

In style and length it's reminiscent of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and Fran├žoise Sagan's Bonjour Tristesse; a bitter-sweet, first person narrative of the lives of young women on the cusp between child and adult, at a time of life so full of possibilities, but which could easily tip into tragedy.

If you've loved Wolf Hall, or been daunted by its sheer scale, don't miss this. At a personal level I found this to be an unexpected trip down memory lane; although I'm several years younger than the character of Carmel, her childhood echoed mine and brought back things I'd long forgotten from the strange headgear of boys in the early '60s to comics with stories that gripped me.

Is it an adult novel or young adult? Well, in the time it's set, back before YA existed, I'd have read it as a teenager - and Carmel probably would have done too! One for all ages over 16.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher -
Fourth Estate
Genre - YA/adult fiction

Friday, 23 January 2015

Unthology 6 edited by Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones

Review by The Mole

Let's admit it... I am a fan of short stories and a particular fan of the Unthology series. This, the latest offering, is a slightly different - but still fantastic - collection.

The first story creeped me out a bit but, yes, it was funny when you get past that. The second story contains a paradox which is both funny and thought provoking. The third story had me wondering "why" but understanding at the same time. And so the collection goes on. Funny, sad, thought provoking, creepy (yes, Jonathan Pinnock!) and frequently a combination of all of them.

I don't normally have a favourite but this collection contains one that really did reach me big time... Stalemate by Simon Griffiths - the story of an older man who is still as sharp as a knife but watching all his friends ageing and dying around him. He is befriended by one of the male nurses who still credits him with everything he is and ever was. A brilliant story amongst a collection of other most excellent stories (even Jonathan Pinnocks! I'm not fond of bees).

Yet another truly fabulous collection compiled by these two editors who, for me, don't seem able to put a foot wrong. Many are a coffee time read but some may take a little longer - but you deserve a longer coffee break.

I have read the previous 3 books in the Unthology collection and you can read their reviews here:- Unthology 3, Unthology 4, Unthology 5

Publisher - Unthank Books
Genre - Adult short story anthology

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Salvage by Keren David

Review by The Mole

Aidan and Cass are brother and sister, separated when very young and taken into care. Cass was adopted quickly by a well to do family and has all the breaks. Aidan was rejected and put into care, fostered, fought over and again rejected and has had nothing but the bad breaks in life.

Under the rules they are denied access to each other and so have completely lost touch. When Cass's parents split up it becomes public knowledge as her father is a government minister and Aidan then sees Cass's photo in the papers. Searching Facebook he finds her...

Although I found fault with each character I did find myself caring enough to find that fault. Cass is too compliant - what her parents want her to be then that's what she'll become. Aidan means well but is always sure that he will fail in everything.

The end brings about many solutions that I hadn't expected - as well as many issues that came as a surprise - and rounded the story off excellently. Is the story optimistic? Well, yes but is that such a bad thing? There are many positives in there for youngsters - and parents - to take away with them and that makes the whole thing worth while.

Keren David has a way of writing that holds your attention - if she wrote the shipping forecast then the ratings would go up no end! An excellent and enthralling read that seems all too short when you turn the last page.

Publisher - Atom Books
Genre - YA

Monday, 19 January 2015

Sweet Home by Carys Bray

review by Maryom

This book first came our way nearly two years ago, but short story collections usually end up with The Mole so he reviewed it then and it was only after reading the author's debut novel A Song For Issy Bradley that I thought of reading it for myself. What a delight I'd missed!

These stories all relate in one way or another to home and family, but none really live up to the expected idyll of  "Home, Sweet Home"; rather they explore the stresses and strains of everyday life, and the gap between expectations and reality. Even if they've never been in precisely the same circumstances, parents will find much to relate to here - the tiresomeness of following the 'rules' of good motherhood, a father's fears of accidentally hurting his fragile baby, another's desperate attempts to save his drug-addict son, or the understanding that comes too late of why parents' behaviour can seem so mean to a child.  I hope I'm not making this sound like a collection filled with doom and gloom - it's far from that; laughter bubbles through, sometimes, especially from children, in the most inappropriate of moments. 
 There are also new twists on the Gingerbread House from Hansel and Gretel, and the Russian folk tale Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden, and a wry look at what you might actually purchase in the supermarket's 'baby aisle'.

I think it's fair to say I loved each and every story in its own way, and, with a blend of the literary and accessible, Carys Bray is fast growing into one of my favourite authors, for short or longer fiction.

 Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Salt Publishing

Genre - Adult literary fiction, short stories