Friday, January 13, 2017

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

An enchanting story of a young violin prodigy sent violently hurtling back in time to 1776 at the whim of a cruel and controlling family of time travellers. Etta must find a coveted astrolabe while her mother is held prisoner by the Ironwood family. She is aided in her frantic race against time by Nicholas Carter, a young sailor also entangled with the Ironwood family. This is a romantic, action packed page turner perfect for fans of fantasy and historical fiction.
This is the first in a series and I can't wait for the second book. 
Perfect for fans of Outlander and Sarah J Maas.

I reviewed this book for the Inis Reading Guide 2016 published by Children's Books Ireland 

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers first book A Long way to a Small Angry Planet was one of my favourite books of 2015. In fact probably one of my favourite books of all time. So I was very eager to read a copy of her follow up A Closed and Common Orbit. It isn't exactly a sequel as it doesn't continue the story of the crew of the Wayfarer however it is a companion novel as it is the story of Lovelace formerly the artificial intelligence system of the Wayfarer who in the final moments of the events of A Long Way... was transfered into a new body. In the new book Lovelace wakes up in her new body travelling with Pepper to her home planet. Pepper worked hard to reinstall Lovelace who renames herself Sidra and she helps her to adjust to her new life. In tandem with this is the story of Jane who escapes a cruel childhood and as you will no doubt quickly work out grows up to become gutsy mechanic Pepper. As in the previous book the writing is full of character development moments and wonderful learning experiences as various diverse species come into contact with each other, although with little space travel involved there is less of the Space Opera feel but the book is no less enjoyable because of this in fact Sidra's story is if anything even more compelling than A Long Way...
Those looking for pulse pounding action, war and explosions will be disappointed, but this book offers something much better than that, it's a masterclass in writing characters and in world building through a character's eyes.
Available now in hardback from Hodder.

Thanks to Hodder for a reading copy of this book. 

Coffin Road by Peter May

I am a huge fan of Peter May having devoured The Lewis Trilogy last year in just a few days. Coffin Road is a stand alone novel that sees the author return to the Hebrides. I love anything set in Scotland especially the Highlands and Islands so I was sold on this book within seconds and I love the fact that the name reminds me of another great Scottish novel Iain Banks' The Crow Road. The book opens with a man stumbling around a beach having been apparently washed ashore. He has no memory of how he got there or even of who he is. The first part of the novel sees our mystery man trying to figure out what on earth is going on as he fakes knowing neighbours, friends and even lovers and the reader is right there with him. I found myself flying through the pages desperate to know, what next?
The other major characters in the novel are a rebellious Edinburgh teenager desperate to find out what happened to her father and a seasick detective determined to unravel it all.
I can't say too much about the plot as it will spoil any potential readers enjoyment all I will say is that this is the perfect introduction to May if you haven't read him before and if like me you've only read The Lewis Trilogy then go now immediately and buy this book, you won't be disappointed.
This was one of the first books I choose when I was asked to pick my favourites for a radio interview I did recently in my capacity as a bookseller. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Perfect for fans of James Oswald, S K Tremayne and Elly Griffiths.

Relativity by Antonia Hayes

Antonia Hayes is an Australian novelist now living in San Francisco and Relativity is her debut novel. It's a book that explores, love, forgiveness, family and physics. It's a departure from my usual type of book as it's contemporary although there is an attempt at time travel. The book is about Ethan; an incredibly bright twelve year old boy with a passion for physics, his mum Claire a former ballerina and devoted single mum and his dad Mark who has reentered their lives for the first time since Ethan was a baby.
We learn early on that Ethan is a special child and that his brain works differently to other children, it seems he can see physics all around him, while Ethan is overjoyed at his savant abilities Claire knows that Ethan's brain is different because it's damaged and gradually it is revealed that Mark is no longer part of their lives because when Ethan was a baby he hurt him and Ethan's seizures and unusual brain activity are a result of shaken baby syndrome. Relativity is a powerful, compelling and emotional novel. All the more so because it is based on the author's own experiences. Antonia Hayes was just nineteen when she became a mum and when her baby was six weeks old he was a victim of shaken baby syndrome at the hands of his own father. There followed years of developmental delay and tests and Antonia's own struggles with PTSD before a move to Paris to live near her own mother saw Antonia address her literary ambitions. She took a workshop with Jeannette Winterson who advised her students to "write from the wound" and the result of that was a story and a meeting with a literary agent and once the book was ready there was a bidding war among all the major publishers. This book is deserving of any hype you may have heard it is beautifully written and incredibly compassionate. Perfect for fans of Matt Haig and Maggie O'Farrell.
Relativity is published by Corsair in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 19th.
Thanks to Clara Diaz for a copy. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Herstory is a cultural movement aiming to bring into the public focus amazing Irish women from the past; scientists, writers, artists, activists, sportswomen, rebels and much more to rescue them from the dusty forgotten corners and restore them to the forefront of history where they belong. The mission of all involved is that no longer will people say "I've never heard of her." You can find out more about this project at the herstory website and you too can get involved. There will be events all over the country and the project will tour internationally in 2018.

I am interested in learning more about the pioneering women writers of Ireland and so I have planned a project of my own to rediscover the female Irish writers from the past with a new blog post each week.  I aim to collect a whole series of Madwomen in the Attic.

The Shogun's Queen

The Shogun's Queen is the latest novel from the amazing Lesley Downer and it serves as both a stand alone novel and as a prequel to the previous trilogy of The Last Concubine, The Courtesan and the Samurai and the Samurai's Daughter. The book is a masterly study of the Japanese court and culture in the mid nineteenth century just as the American's were making their aggressive overtures to Japan and forcing a trading relationship. Okatsu is a defiant, confident and strong young woman trained in the arts of the samurai she knows how to fight and to ride an horse and carries a dagger at all times. Okatsu is well versed in court intrigue and it is her intelligence as well as her beauty that sees her raised up from her relatively provincial life in Satsuma province and adopted first by Lord Nariakira and then by Prince KonoƩ before becoming the bride of the weak and ineffectual Shogun Iesada Tokugawa. The arrival of the Americans was known as the time of the Black Ships. Lord Nariakira asked Okatsu to act as a spy and a political ally and to use her influence over the Shogun during this dangerous era. The book is bursting with characters and rich in detail but it is an immersive and all encompassing read that doesn't overwhelm. At 470 pages this is a book that takes time but the effort is well worth it. As Okatsu strives to assert herself as Queen she faces daily battles with the ghosts of past Queens and with her formidable mother in law. Much of the detail in the book is factual and based on Lesley Downer's impeccable research. I absolutely loved being immersed in this beautiful and detailed novel and came away feeling I had a much greater understanding and knowledge of Shogun-era Japan.
Read this if you love Lian Hearn or Christina Courtenay.
Out now in hardback from Bantam Press. Thanks to Hannah Bright at Penguin Random House for a copy. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Kings of the Boyne by Nicola Pierce

Nicola Pierce's latest novel follows the story of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 through the eyes of a variety of characters. The book can be read as a stand alone tale or as a sequel to her previous book Behind the Walls which dealt with the siege of Derry in 1689, as two characters from Behind the Walls also feature in the new book; brothers Robert and Daniel Sherrard. Also featured in the book are a young cavalry man Gerald O'Connor, his Parisien friend Jacques, their companions Michael and Joseph and a County Down farmer Jean Watson as well as King James and King William and their various advisors. Through the winter and spring of 1690 we see the young friends camping out and travelling wherever they are sent by the leaders of their armies as the day of battle draws ever closer, we learn of their fears and worries as they talk and write letters home and we see how they are changed by army life as they are forced to make decisions they never thought they would have to make including taking horses and livestock from hungry families and turning their backs on loved ones.
Finally the day of battle approaches and we learn the fate of all the characters we have grown close to. Nicola Pierce is a fantastic storyteller and here she condenses a number of complicated political and military events and makes them brilliantly readable and enjoyable. Her gift for bringing characters to life through their dialogue, interactions and quirks is uncanny and in a fantastic scene with Jacques, his girl Nancy and our young hero Gerald the three youngsters visit a bookshop in Drogheda. Gerald is a great lover of books and determined to purchase a gift for his sister but short of money he fears he will have to leave his chosen book behind, his friends however insist on helping him out. It's a wonderful little aside which beautifully demonstrates the author's skill at building characters that readers cannot help but root for. However that said there are also scenes which depict the ordinary soldiers on the other side of the battle lines. Throughout the author remains completely impartial in her storytelling. Even when it comes to describing the blunders and misjudgement of the leaders the story unfolds without judgement. This book is published by O'Brien Press for children aged 9 and upwards but I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Irish and British history.
Thanks very much to O'Brien Press for sending me a copy to review.