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12
Apr 13

Land of Dreams, by Kate Kerrigan

land of dreams

 

1940s Hollywood. A new life. A new love.

Land of Dreams is the stunning third novel in the Ellis Island trilogy by author Kate Kerrigan and deals with a mother’s love, a woman’s ambition and a Hollywood romance in a time of war.

It is the 1940s and Ellie Hogan is living as a celebrated artist against the beautiful backdrop of Fire Island, Long Island Shore, New York with two adopted sons she adores. Life is good – and a far cry from the poverty of her Irish roots. But then her idyllic, bohemian family lifestyle is shattered when her eldest son, Leo, runs away to Hollywood to seek his fame and fortune. Ellie is compelled to chase after him, uprooting her youngest son and her long-time friend and confidante Bridie as she goes.

Ellie fashions a new home amongst the celebrities, artists and movie moguls of the day to appease Leo’s star-studded dreams. As she carves out a new way of life, Ellie is drawn towards intense new friendships. Talented composer Stan is completely different to any other man she has previously encountered, whilst kindred spirit Suri opens Ellie’s eyes to a whole new set of injustices.

Ellie soon sees beyond the glitz of 1940s Hollywood, realising that the glamorous and exciting world is also a dangerous place, overflowing with vanity and greed. It is up to Ellie to protect her precious family from the disappointments such surroundings can bring and also from the more menacing threats radiating from the war which is raging in Europe.

Land of Dreams is another wonderful novel by Kate Kerrigan, in which she returns to her character, Ellie Hogan, who we first met in Ellis Island in the 1920s. For those who have read Ellis Island and City of Hope this novel provides a very satisfying conclusion to female protagonist Ellie’s turbulent life, allowing her to move on with a new phase of her life and to new relationships in 1940s Hollywood, without her ever forgetting the Irish roots or her first husband, John, which still ground her and influence her decisions.

It is always fascinating to follow a character through a trilogy and Kate Kerrigan has done an excellent job of developing Ellie through three decades. Now a mature woman, who has lost two husbands, Ellie is driven by the love for her two children and it is the interests of her two sons which are always at the forefront of her decision-making. Ellie’s relationship with her old friend Bridie, also adds a real sense of warmth and compassion to this novel – and some lovely touches of humour and Irish wit, which the author evokes so well in her writing.

Land of Dreams takes the reader on an exciting journey to the glamour of 1940s Hollywood, which Kate Kerrigan depicts wonderfully: the movie studios, the palm trees, the  movie stars and the extravagant parties. And yet, there is always an undercurrent of human dilemma to the narrative and to the characters, which ensure that this novel never becomes frothy or frivolous and is always rooted in the motivations of our, very real, heroine and her very real relationships: as a mother, a woman, a friend and a lover. The impact of war is also handled very sensitively in this novel.

Reaching the end of a trilogy is always bittersweet: a combination of satisfaction at completing the journey with a character, yet sadness at not really wanting to leave them behind. Kate Kerrigan has done such a great job with her character Ellie Hogan that I am sure many of her readers will be sad to leave her but, I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what Kate does next.

About the author

Kate Kerrigan is an author living and working in Ireland. Her novels are: Recipes for a Perfect Marriage which was shortlisted for Romantic Novel of the Year in 2008 and has been translated into 20 languages; The Miracle of Grace, which has been adapted as a film script with funding from the Irish Film Board; Ellis Island, the first of a trilogy which was selected as a TV Book Club Summer Read in Britain and launched in the U.S. with Harper Collins in July 2011; City of Hope the sequel to Ellis Island and Land of Dreams the final part of the Ellis Island trilogy.

Land of Dreams is Eason’s book of the month.

Visit Kate’s website at www.katekerrigan.ie or her Facebook page or say hi on Twitter @Kate_Kerrigan.


22
Feb 13

The Dressmaker,by Kate Alcott

The Dressmaker

The tragic sinking of RMS Titanic in the early hours of the morning of 15th April 1912, with the loss of 1,503 passengers and crew, is an event which continues to fascinate and 2012 saw the centenary of the Titanic tragedy being marked with many touching, commemorative events across the globe. It is then, little wonder, that this historical event continues to inspire authors, documentary and film makers over and over again.

With her sixth novel The Dressmaker author Kate Alcott (pen name of Patricia O’Brien) wanted to tell the ‘other’ side of the Titanic tragedy: the story of the aftermath and what happened to the survivors. It is an intriguing perspective of a well-known event and is a fascinating read because of that. Already a New York Times Bestseller, the novel is published in the UK at the end of this month.

The Dressmaker centres around Tess Collins, a young maid who dreams of being a dressmaker. On the docks at Southampton, she has a chance encounter with renowned couturier  Lady Lucile Duff Gordon, who is about to board Titanic with her husband and sister. Overhearing that Lady Duff Gordon is in need of a maid, Tess makes an impulsive decision and joins the Duff Gordon’s on their voyage to New York, hoping that, once there, Lady Duff Gordon will help to turn her dressmaking dreams into reality .

While including reference to many well-known protagonists of the Titanic disaster, and covering the actual sinking with real pathos, Alcott moves the action on quickly to the survivors on the Carpathia and to the focal point of this novel – what happened in Lady Duff Gordon’s lifeboat? Did she and her husband refuse to go back for survivors? Did they bribe the occupants of their lifeboat to protect themselves and if so, were they justified in doing so? It is this moral dilemma which sits at the heart of the following Titanic Disaster Hearings in Washington which Alcott covers with compelling, dramatic scenes.

Tess finds herself thrown into the middle of the court proceedings, and her loyalties to her employer are tested to the limit. Lady Duff Gordon’s unpredictable temperament doesn’t help to endear her to Tess and, despite her promise that she can help Tess achieve her dream of being a successful dressmaker, Tess soon regrets ever getting involved with Lady Duff Gordon and begins to mistrust her and her motives.

In addition to writing in the real individuals of this event (including the ‘unsinkable Molly Brown, Captain Smith and Bruce Ismay), Alcott adds many fictional characters into the mix, including two very different love interests for Tess and a wonderfully written press reporter Pinky Wade. All serve to add another interesting dimension to the plot and the narrative and remind us that this is not just a novel about a well-known disaster, but is also a novel about human relationships, trust, loyalty and ambition.

At its heart, The Dressmaker reflects on the split-second decisions we make which can change our lives dramatically. It is pacy, well-written, full of drama, atmosphere and dilemma and is sure to fascinate anyone who is interested in the Titanic as well as anyone who enjoys quality historical fiction.

The Dressmaker is published by Sphere and is available from Monday, 25th February.

Visit Kate’s Facebook page for more updates.


1
Feb 13

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed

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At the age of twenty-six, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s rapid death from cancer, her family grew apart and her marriage soon crumbled. With seemingly nothing to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to walk eleven-hundred miles of the west coast of America – from the Mojave Desert, through California and Oregon, and into Washington state – and to do it alone. She had no experience of long-distance hiking and the journey was nothing more than a line on a map. But it held a promise – a promise of piecing together a life that lay in ruins at her feet. Strayed’s account captures the agonies – both physical and mental – of her incredible journey; how it maddened and terrified her, and how, ultimately, it healed her. Wild is a brutal memoir of survival, grief and redemption: a searing portrayal of a life at its lowest ebb and its highest tide.

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I always know a book is special when I read it in two days. From the intriguing walking boot with the pink laces on the cover and the gripping description on the back cover of Wild, I knew it was a book which was going to be hard to put down. Of course, there was the other factor: the subject matter being very close to my heart, having, like the author, lost my mum to cancer when I was in my early twenties. This wasn’t going to be an easy read.

Half afraid of the emotions Cheryl Strayed’s words were going to stir within me, I sat down and started to read. I was hooked immediately. For two days I ignored my family and felt as though I walked every step of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) with the author. Yes, it is that powerful.

This is a brilliantly written memoir which takes an incredible experience and, in the safe hands of an extremely talented writer, allows the reader to follow that experience and journey with her. Strayed doesn’t hold back. She shares the deepest, darkest moments from this period of her life, not only talking about the harrowing circumstances of her mother’s death, but how this caused the rest of her life to fall apart as she spirals into a destructive cycle of heroin use and casual relationships. Ultimately, the experience leads to the breakdown of her marriage and the decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail – alone.

Cheryl-Strayed-200x300

From terrifying encounters with bulls, bears and snakes, to peaceful moments of quiet, heart-wrenching reflection, to the physical challenge of lifting her monstrous backpack, to meeting other hikers on the trail who become both her inspiration and her friends, this is a memoir which moves at pace and keeps the reader turning the page. Although it is an extremely personal, private story, Wild never feels like naval-gazing, or preaching, as so many memoirs can and, like any good story – real or imagined – you are always rooting for the central character.

Wild touches on many aspects of life – relationships, marriage, grief, being in the wilderness – and readers have been drawn to, and moved, by Cheryl’s experiences for many different reasons. Undoubtedly, one of her most famous ‘fans’ is Oprah Winfrey who, after reading the book, was so moved that she decided to re-start her book club. With Oprah’s endorsement, the book soared to No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list, where it stayed for 9 weeks. Wild is currently being published in 30 countries worldwide.

Yes, I cried like a child, but there are also moments of gentle humour and gritty determination in Wild which made me laugh and smile. This is a book you don’t want to end, but when it does, you simply cannot help but stand up and applaud Cheryl Strayed, the bereaved daughter, for reaching the end of her incredible journey, and Cheryl Strayed, the writer, for typing ‘The End’.

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Cheryl Strayed is the author of Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar (which will be published in the UK and Ireland in May 2013) and the novel Torch. Her stories and essays have appeared in numerous magazines and journals. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Wild was selected as the first book choice in Oprah’s Bookclub 2.0 and was a number one New York Times bestseller. It is now available in Ireland and the UK from all good bookshops. See www.cherylstrayed.com for more information and for a fascinating trailer for the book, narrated by the author.


22
Aug 12

Before I Met You, by Lisa Jewell

It is always a pleasure to read a novel which takes you somewhere new; a country, a city, an era you are not familiar with. It is a wonderful feeling to become so immersed in these unfamiliar settings – brought so skilfully to life by the author’s writing – that you feel you are right there with the characters. Before I Met You is one such novel.

Written in time-slip format, the narrative moves between London in the 1920s and the 1990s. We follow the lives of the beautiful and charismatic Arlette Lafolley and Betty Dean, Arlette’s granddaughter, who leaves her sheltered life in Guernsey to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and embark on a new life in London. As Betty settles into London life, she is driven by the urge to make some sense of her grandmother’s past: who was the mysterious man she had written a letter to and who is Clara Pickle, the benefactor of her grandmother’s will?

I particularly enjoyed the chapters which were set in the 1920s. The style, the glamour, the hedonistic atmosphere is captured brilliantly by the author, drawing you into the life of The Bright Young People and their seductive lives in the underground clubs of Soho. This was an age when women were ladies and jazz musicians had stage names like Sandy Beach and it makes for wonderful reading! The introduction of the characters of the rock star, the market trader and the interesting neighbour who Betty meets in Soho, ensure that the novel remains fresh, fun, and contemporary.

The mystery of Arlette’s life in London and Betty’s determination to discover the secrets of her grandmother’s past give the novel pace and intrigue. There is also plenty of love interest for the romantic die-hards.  The past and the present are interwoven seamlessly – and cleverly – bringing the novel to a satisfying end.

With Before I Met You Lisa Jewell has written a wonderfully atmospheric, entertaining and very touching  novel. It is a novel about first loves and last wishes; about discovering the past and finding a future and I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed it.

Bravo Ms Jewell. More! More!

Before I Met You is published by Century. Find Lisa at http://www.lisa-jewell.co.uk/ or on Twitter @lisajewelluk

Lisa Jewell


9
Aug 12

The Terrace, by Maria Duffy

The Terrace is Maria Duffy’s second novel and, like her debut Any Dream Will Do, is set in Duffy’s home town of Dublin. However, Duffy is by no means giving us more of the same. WithThe Terrace, she bravely moves into entirely new territory, leaving behind the single-thirty-something angst of her debut’s heroine and taking us into the intriguing lives of the many and varied residents of St Enda’s Terrace.

In essence, The Terrace is about a small, close-knit community who practically live in each other’s homes; a nostalgic look back on days when borrowing a cup of sugar or knocking on the neighbour’s door for some tea and sympathy was the norm. It is also about what happens to those comfortable relationships between friends and neighbours when, as a lottery syndicate, they can’t find their missing – winning – ticket. Add in the fact that a US-based TV company have just arrived in St. Enda’s to make a documentary about the wonderful community spirit in this unique street, and there is already plenty to keep the reader turning the pages.

Through her lead characters of Maggie, Lorraine and camper than camp Marco (whose designer dog, Mimi, deserves a novel all of her own), and with the addition of other characters who all contribute to a strong cast list, Duffy creates some intriguing and realistic personal dilemmas. Essentially, she asks us to consider what we would really find if we could pull back the net curtains on the people we live next door to.  Do we really know these people as well as we think we do? Can we trust the people we see every day of our lives – especially when everyone seems to have a clear motive for wanting to keep the winnings to themselves?

In The Terrace, Duffy demonstrates, once again, her ability to incorporate sharply observed humour into her writing. It is a raw, honest, Dublin wit which those who live there will recognise instantly, and which those who don’t, will appreciate anyway. Duffy also ups the ante from her first novel by writing in the occasional ‘bedroom’ scene. Although not quite ‘Fifty Shades’ territory, I suspect we may see more of this in Duffy’s future novels. There are also some great plot twists thrown into the mix.

Duffy seems to have an uncanny knack of tapping into what’s current with her writing. With Any Dream Will Do it was the phenomenon of Twitter. With The Terrace it is a resurgence of community values – or at least a desire to have a little bit of something which we remember our parents having. This is, therefore, a perfectly timed novel.

Pack The Terrace in your beach bag this summer. It is a great read – full of warmth and humour – and you never know; it may make you think twice about those living on your own street!

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The Terrace is published by Hachette Ireland.

Follow Maria on Twitter @mduffywriter or on Facebook


27
Apr 12

The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman

 ‘This is the story of right and wrong, and how sometimes they look the same.’

Synopsis

1926. Tom Sherbourne is a young lighthouse keeper on a remote island off Western Australia. The only inhabitants of Janus Rock, he and his wife Isabel live a quiet life, cocooned from the rest of the world.

Then one April morning a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a crying infant – and the path of the couple’s lives hits an unthinkable crossroads.

Only years later do they discover the devastating consequences of the decision they make that day – as the baby’s real story unfolds…

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The Light Between Oceans is the stunning debut novel from M.L Stedman.  From the very first chapter, we are taken into the heart of the story: who are the man and the baby washed ashore in the boat and what will Tom and Isabel do? It is this very dilemma which propels the story throughout, and makes for very compelling reading.

With wonderful descriptions and intricate details, M.L.Stedman takes us right into the fascinating and unusual world of lighthouse keeper Tom Sherbourne and his new wife Isabel. The simple, remote life they lead on Janus Rock seems idyllic, but we soon learn of the private battles they are facing. Tom is struggling to come to terms with the aftermath of fighting on the Western Front in the First World War and Isabel is desperate for a child.

After suffering traumatic miscarriages and a stillborn baby, Isabel retreats into a dark despair; her life empty without the children she so longs to share it with. Tom deals with their losses by throwing himself into his work; the methodical rhythms of the lighthouse giving him a sense of purpose and perspective. Only the regular visit of the supply boat from the mainland brings any sense of the rest of the world to the young couple.

When the boat is washed ashore, containing the body of a dead man and a crying infant, Tom and Isabel make a life-changing decision. From that moment on, the peaceful solitude of life on Janus Rock is left behind, and Tom and Isabel’s life begins to fall apart as they struggle to find a way to contain their secret within their relationship. While Tom is wracked with guilt about what they have done, Isabel remains steadfastly resolute; certain that it was God’s will and that they have done nothing wrong. Until, that is, they return to the mainland and discover the truth about the baby.

With a wonderful cast of characters, who each add their own story to that of Tom and Isabel’s, this is a novel which has a believable plot, beautiful writing and is ultimately a book you simply can’t put down. The story is about many things: the relationship between a husband and wife, the relationship between a mother and her child and the ties that bind a family. With a haunting sense of loss ever present, there is real emotional depth to the narrative.

Although the novel is set in 1926, it never feels as though it is dwelling in the history of the post War period unnecessarily – and actually reads like a very contemporary novel with real human issues and emotions at the forefront throughout. Through her beautiful writing, M.L Stedman handles the difficult, traumatic issues which lie at the heart of the novel, sensitively and assuredly.  There is also a lovely lightness of touch in places, which brings in some tender moments between mother and daughter and a beautifully depicted innocence in the way the child’s dialogue is written.

By creating an unimaginable dilemma for her main characters, M.L.Stedman has crafted a compelling story and as the fate of the central characters moves towards its surprising conclusion, I couldn’t put it down.

In our hectic, modern lives, it often feels like a luxury to curl up with a good book, never mind treating ourselves to buy it in the first place. Our time, and money, is precious and we want the investment we make in reading a book, to be worthwhile. Reading The Light Between Oceans was not just time well spent; it was time thoroughly enjoyed. And I, for one, feel all the richer for having read it.

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I was lucky enough to meet the author recently. Here, in her own words, are her thoughts on the process of writing this wonderful book.

Where did you first get the inspiration for ‘The Light Between Oceans’?

When I write, I just let a picture or a voice or a sentence come to me, and follow where it leads. For The Light Between Oceans, I closed my eyes, and I could see a lighthouse, and then a woman at the lighthouse. At first I thought maybe the story was about her. I could tell that it was set a long time ago, on an island off Australia. Then quite quickly a man came along, and I knew he was the lightkeeper and it was really his story. Then a boat washed up, with a dead man, and I discovered there was a baby in it too, so I had to keep writing to see what happened!

Was this always the title, or did the book have a different working title?

The very earliest drafts were just stored as ‘Lighthouse Story’ in my computer, but The Light Between Oceans came up within a couple of months. I toyed with other titles, but nothing quite stuck. Publishers often change the title of books, too, so I was happy when they said they were going to keep it.

Were there any memorable high or low points during the writing process?

I started writing it in Spring 2008, and finished the first draft of the novel in June the following year. I did a few more drafts after that, but I wasn’t working on it full time, so all together it probably took a little over 2 years. High point: any day on which I got to sit down and just write for as long as I wanted. That’s my idea of heaven. Low point: having 3 irrecoverable hard drive failures on my Mac, and having to piece together my files. Fortunately, after the first one I became obsessive about backing things up.

Why did you choose this particular period of history as the setting?

It just emerged as the time in which the story was set, rather than being a conscious choice. And it’s such a rich period of Australian history that it offered a great deal of scope in exploring themes like right and wrong, loyalty and forgiveness.

What would be a ‘typical’ writing day for you?

There really isn’t such a thing as a ‘typical’ writing day for me, except insofar as I only write in the daytime – never at night. I’m rather allergic to rules about writing, and chafe against edicts such as ‘you must write at least an hour a day’ or ‘you must plot everything in advance’. My philosophy is ‘find out what works for you, and do that: everyone is different’. So I wrote this book on my sofa, in the British Library, in a cottage by the beach in Western Australia, on Hampstead Heath, and anywhere else that felt right.

Can you tell us about the research you carried out for the book?

As to location, I grew up in Western Australia, so the ocean and light and wild
weather and vastness are in my blood. When I was writing, I did spend some time down in the area near where the story is set, just getting the feel of the particular place, and sitting gazing out over the ocean or exploring the dense forests in the area. As to the more technical aspects, I adored researching them. The British Library has some excellent histories of Western Australia’s involvement in the Great War, as does the Australian War Memorial, where there’s a wealth of original records accessible on line. The stories they tell are plainly told and intensely moving. For lighthouses, I read some fabulous books on the history of their development, and visited West Australian lighthouses. I also went to the Australian National Archives, and trawled the lightkeepers’ old logbooks and correspondence files. It was a very peculiar feeling to open the pages of these fragile leather registers, knowing that the person who wrote in them could never have imagined that in the next century, a writer would be looking through them. I felt enormously privileged to read about their daily lives in their own words.

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The Light Between Oceans is published today, 26th April 2012 by Doubleday. Thank you to Alison Barrow for the review copy and to the author for her fascinating insights above.

www.facebook.com/lightbetweenoceans

#lightbetweenoceans

Book trailer

 


3
Apr 12

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce

‘I am on my way. All you have to do is wait. Because I am going to save you, you see. I will keep walking and you must keep living.’

Very occasionally, I read a book which I love so much I keep picking it up to look at it again, to turn the pages in admiration for what is written on them, even when I’ve finished it. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is one of those books. Highly original, brilliantly written and utterly compelling, this is a wonderful book which I will be urging everyone to read.

Recently-retired Harold Fry receives a letter one morning from an old work colleague, Queenie Hennessy, telling him that she is dying of cancer. Compelled to write to Queenie to express his sadness at hearing this news, Harold finds he is unable to simply post his letter. Feeling that this is an inadequate response for a woman who has, clearly, had much more of an impact on his life than we at first realise, he starts to walk to her instead. There are 627 miles between them.

With this simple, yet extraordinary idea of an elderly man walking all the way from Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed in the hope that he will give his friend a reason to keep living, I was completely drawn into Harold’s life and his, seemingly impossible, journey. And yet I didn’t doubt him for a second.

Harold’s is a journey which is littered with complications – not just because of his inadequate walking gear and total lack of preparation – but by the turbulent memories of his life which his walk unlocks.  As Harold continues – against all odds – to put one foot in front of the other, the complexities of his childhood, his marriage, his working life, his connection to Queenie Hennessy and his relationship with his son  are slowly unraveled.

Meanwhile, back at home in Devon, we are drawn into the life of Harold’s wife, Maureen. As her husband walks slowly away from her, she finds herself slowly drawn back to the man she has forgotten how to love. Maureen is a wonderful character, as is the next door neighbour, Rex, who becomes Maureen’s unlikely ally in her struggle to come to terms with Harold’s journey.

Harold Fry is a richly drawn, loveable, hero –  a Forrest Gump for the 21st century. An ordinary man who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances and whose faith, determination and sense of duty to a woman who made a sacrifice for him in the past, keep him going on his unlikely pilgrimage.

With beautiful descriptions of the nature which surrounds Harold as he walks, and with some lovely touches of black comedy and fabulous insights into very real, human emotions, there is much to keep the pages turning.

Ultimately, Harold’s journey is about much more than reaching Queenie Hennessy, and there are many unexpected emotional twists and turns as the story reaches its climax and Harold reaches his destination. I, for one, wept tears of sadness and joy.

Harold Fry will stay with me for a very, very long time. I certainly look forward to reading more from this highly talented author.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is published by Doubleday,  in hardback.


28
Mar 12

The Girl Who Came Home – A Titanic Novel, by Hazel Gaynor

Reviewed by Maria Duffy who says, “I’ve always wanted to gate-crash a party, so this is probably as close as I’ll ever get!  So for one day only, it’s Maria reviewing here instead of Hazel.  You might know me better from my Stars in the Twitterverse blog but having read Hazel’s fabulous Titanic book, The Girl Who Came Home, I felt the urge to hop across the page and stick on Hazel’s shoes! So let me turn the tables and put her in the spotlight – here’s what I thought.”

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With the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic almost upon us, it’s only right that we’re reminded of one of the most awful maritime disasters in history. Hazel Gaynor’s beautiful novel, The Girl Who Came Home, is not only a reminder of the actual disaster, but it’s an exploration of human emotions – a gut-wrenching before and after look at lives that were forever changed on that momentous day.  Hazel has based this novel on a true story of the Addergoole Fourteen, a group of men and women who left their small village in County Mayo inIreland to board the Titanic for its maiden voyage.

In Chicago in 1982, Grace Butler is looking for a story to write in order to revive her journalism career.  She needs something big – something that will tap into the readers’ emotions and get her noticed.  But never in a million years was she expecting her great grandmother, Maggie Murphy, to be the one to provide her with what she’s looking for.  Maggie has kept a secret for seventy years and decides that now is the time to open up and share it with her great granddaughter.

And so the story takes us back to that rural Irish village in April 1912 when seventeen year old Maggie Murphy is preparing to sail on the Titanic, along with her aunt Kathleen and two of her best friends, Peggy and Katie.  In all, fourteen men and women from the village are packing up their lives in hope of a better one over in America.

Maggie is excited about her impending voyage, but devastated to be leaving behind her beloved Seamus.  She hopes he’ll be able to join her soon in America but in the meantime, he’s written a selection of love letters to keep her company on the journey ahead.  These letters form part of this amazing story, where we learn what’s going through the minds of some who have been left behind.  Maggie also keeps a private journal during the sailing and it allows us a glimpse into her innermost thoughts.

Hazel’s depiction of the characters in this novel is beautiful.  She brings us right into their lives and we become invested in them.  Although we know the fate of the ship, we’re left rooting for the people we’ve come to know and hope that there’s a way out for them.  We also see the stories of some of those waiting on the other side – the relatives and friends who have gathered to hear news of the ill-fated ship.  How unbearable it must have been to have to check a list of the dead, praying you wouldn’t see your loved one’s name on it.

Through all the mayhem on the ship, we follow Maggie and learn her fate, but it’s only as the full scale of the disaster unfolds that we begin to learn the fate of the rest of the Irish group.  Hazel manages to weave plenty of twists and surprises into the story and I have to admit to shedding a tear on a few occasions.

Forward to 1982 and Maggie and her great granddaughter decide to take a trip back to that little village in Ireland where it all began.  Seventy years on, she feels it’s about time she made peace with her past.  It’s an emotional scene as the past mingles with the present and we’re left reeling as some unexpected plot twists reveal themselves.

If you’re a lover of all things Titanic, you’ll love The Girl Who Came Home, but if you just like a great emotional read with amazing, relatable characters, this is also the book for you.  Hazel has managed to take a story that we’ve all heard a million times and give us a new perspective.  Her attention to the detail of the ship made me feel I was there and her ability to portray the innermost thoughts of the characters meant I was fully invested in them and their safety.  It’s a thoroughly enjoyable read and I’d highly recommend it.

The Girl Who Came Home is available to download at the following link on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk Download to your Kindle reader, or download the free Kindle app for PC, iPad, iPhone or Android before downloading the book.

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Hazel Gaynor is an author and freelance journalist, writing regularly for press, magazines and websites in the UK and Ireland. Her award-winning parenting and lifestyle blog, ‘Hot Cross Mum‘ was published in 2011 as an ebook ‘Hot Cross Mum: Bitesize Slices of Motherhood’. Hazel’s writing success has been featured in The Sunday Times Magazine and Irish Times and she has also appeared on TV and radio.

Hazel writes ‘Off The Shelf’: a book review blog for hellomagazine.com, reviewing books by, and interviewing authors such as Jojo Moyes, Katie Fforde, Melissa Hill, Monica McInerney, Maria Duffy, Amy Chua and others.

‘The Girl Who Came Home – A Titanic Novel‘ is Hazel’s first novel. Originally from North Yorkshire, England, she now lives in Ireland with her husband, two young children and an accident-prone cat.

Hazel is represented by Sheila Crowley of Curtis Brown, London.


5
Mar 12

Stories of Motherhood, Everyman’s Pocket Classics

Stories of Motherhood  is a lovely collection of short stories which celebrate motherhood and is the latest title in Everyman’s Library Pocket Classics series.

I thoroughly enjoyed the stories in this anthology, which gathers together more than a century of short fiction writing about motherhood and mothers – having, leaving, loving and losing them.

The collection includes contributions from a diverse range of authors – some of whom I knew of such as Amy Tan, Edith Wharton, Aimee Bender and Colm Toibin and others who were new to me,  including Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Munro and Willa Cather.  Every author brings their own voice and their own take on motherhood which keeps the collection interesting and varied.

The short stories cover a wide range of themes, from young mothers and their newborn babies in Lydia Davis’ ‘What You Learn About The Baby’, adult children grieving for their lost mothers in Colm Tobin’s ‘One Minus One’, the forging of a bond with an adopted infant in Ron Carlson’s ‘Blood and Its Relationship to Water’ and overlapping pregnancies between a mother and daughter in Barbara Kingslover’s ‘Islands on the Moon’. Some stories will make you laugh, others will make you cry and some are just pure, literary escapism. There really is something for everyone and I am sure that any mother will relate to, and enjoy, these intriguing insights into motherhood.

Stories of Motherhood is a unique, hardback gift book which is published in time for Mother’s Day on 18th March (make a note in the diary!). It would make a wonderful addition to any classic literature collection. My suggestion – buy it for yourself if you don’t think the kids are going to be forthcoming – you won’t be disappointed!

About Everyman’s Pocket Classics

Everyman’s Library Pocket Classics is a series of anthologies in pocket size editions. Other titles include Christmas Stories, Bedtime Stories, New York Stories and Stories of the Sea. Founded in 1906, Everyman’s Library was re-launched by David Campbell with Random House UK and Alfred A. Knopf US in 1991. It has since published more than 500 titles and sold more than 20 million books.


27
Feb 12

Diving Belles, by Lucy Wood

Diving Belles, by Lucy Wood is like nothing I have ever read before – and that’s a good thing!

I’d heard a lot about this book and had read the very high praise it was receiving so was intrigued to see what all the fuss was about. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The jacket sleeve alone is enough to wax lyrical about, with it’s enticing  imagery and wonderful colours.

Diving Belles is a collection of twelve short stories, all of which are set around the Cornish coast and which, to offer a simple explanation, combine Cornish folklore with the everyday. But these are not simply stories about tin mines, pixies and fishermen. Far from it and I’m sure Lucy would wince at the thought!  These are intriguing, magical, other-worldly, truly original stories which really defy genre or description.

As the blurb on the inside of the book states: ‘Along Cornwall’s ancient coast, the flotsam and jetsam of the past becomes caught in the cross-currents of the present and, from time to time, a certain kind of magic can float to the surface….Straying husbands lured into the sea can be fetched back, for a fee. Magpies whisper to lonely drivers late at night. Trees can make wishes come true – provided you know how to wish properly first.’

It doesn’t feel quite right to say here what Lucy’s stories are ‘about’ – I think each reader will decide that for themselves – but I will admit to particularly enjoying ‘Countless Stones’ and the title story, ‘Diving Belles’.

This is certainly a book for lovers of words and imagery, for readers who want a book to immerse them in another place completely, to whisk them away from their suburban sitting room and deposit them among the standing stones, underwater worlds and soaring clifftops of Lucy’s creation. It is, perhaps, the best sort of fairy tale book for grownups.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lucy’s stories and while I was certainly taken into the world of Cornwall’s ancient coast, I suspect Diving Belles could become even more magical if read while sitting on a bench on a windswept coastal path.

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Lucy Wood has a Master’s degree in Create Writing from Exeter University.  She grew up in Cornwall. Diving Belles is is her first work.

Diving Belles is published by Bloomsbury in hardback. Many thanks to Eleanor Weil for sending the review copy.

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