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8
Feb 12

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua

When Amy Chau’s ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ was first published in 2011 and an excerpt appeared in the Wall Street Journal, a huge media backlash began, condemning Amy for her Chinese parenting techniques and seriously questioning the concept of the ‘Tiger Mother’.

I had my own opinion on the matter and wrote on my blog about how shocking it all was and why I would never be a ‘Tiger Mother’ myself. But I hadn’t read Amy’s book. Now, having read the paperback edition which is published by Bloomsbury, my opinion has changed slightly.

‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’, apart from anything else, is an excellently written, humorous, intelligent and, at times, self-deprecating  memoir. Amy’s writing is sharp, her account of family life is brutally honest and yet she isn’t afraid to laugh at herself and point out her own flaws.

From the outset, Amy paints a revealing picture of family life with her husband Jed, her daughters Sophia and Lulu (and the dogs who eventually join the family – Amy’s Chinese Mother approach to ‘parenting’ a dog is part insanity, part hilarious account of how she recognises she cannot always be in control).

Of course, Amy’s approach to raising her daughters is vastly – and sometimes shockingly – different to the approach taken by the majority of ‘Western’ parents. And yet, having read ‘Battle Hymn’, I’m not angry with Amy, as I expected to be. I don’t despise her, I don’t even condemn her. I actually applaud her unbelievable self-discipline and drive, even if I cannot understand it and certainly don’t feel that there would be a place for it in my own home.

Her continual, and often very dramatic, battles with her daughters over piano and violin practice may be extreme, but there is a part of me – the coaxing my children to eat their dinners part – which completely gets where Amy is coming from, as a mother, putting herself into an unpleasant situation in the belief that you are trying to do what you believe is best for your children.

There are some very painful low points between Amy and her daughters, but these always seem to be countered by the most amazing high points as they reach a seemingly unattainable goal and shine in their public performances, playing the piano or violin. Amy’s pride and absolute love for her girls, at these times, is hard to deny.

From the gasp-inducing episode of the ‘Birthday Card’, to the relentless pursuit of excellence which involves booking the grand ballroom of the hotel they are staying in while on holiday so the girls don’t miss out on any piano practice time, to dealing with two family illnesses, to the final showdown with her youngest daughter in a restaurant near Red Square, this is an account of family life which I couldn’t put down.

With the paperback edition comes a post script from Amy, which gives us an additional insight  into her reaction to the media storm which followed the initial publication of the book. Her re-telling of just one of the many interviews she experienced is hilarious. We also have the letter written from Sophia which was posted in the New York Post: ‘Why I love my Tiger Mother’. This, perhaps above all else, tells the real story of ‘Battle Hymn’.

Perhaps all parents face their own battles when it comes to raising children. ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ certainly makes you think about your own parenting style. Ironically, I read the closing chapters of the book as I sat sipping a coffee, waving occasionally to my children as my husband played with them in the swimming pool. I could almost feel Amy breathing over my shoulder admonishing me for my shockingly lazy parenting techniques!

Amy Chua’s battle is definitely one to open your eyes – and one which you simply cannot offer an opinion on until you’ve read the book.

‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ is published by Bloomsbury.


20
Jan 12

Even Better Than The Real Thing?, Martina Reilly

‘Even Better Than The Real Thing?’ is based around the life of Eve Cole, a single girl and artist who specialises in painting fake Van Goghs. An interesting, and very original concept which had me intrigued from  the outset – especially with the tantalising prologue which is set ten years in the past and sees two men selling a painting in clearly dubious circumstances.

Eve’s life is complicated: her father died a few years before we meet her and Eve and her mother are now looked out for by their father’s good friend, Robert. Eve lives in a half-built apartment block, sharing her building with the Party People downstairs and Larry, an ex-con (albeit a very handsome one) who lives in the apartment opposite hers.

When Eve is commissioned to paint an original piece for a wealthy art collector, she starts to doubt her ability – she only deals in fakes, right? But this crisis pales into insignificance when ten million euro is discovered in one of her late father’s bank accounts.

Under pressure to explain how this money got there, Robert confesses to Eve that he and her father sold one of her fake Van Goghs as the real deal. Terrified that she will in some way be implicated in this crime, Eve sets out to get the fake painting back – and neighbour Larry steps in to help.

Moving the setting from Dublin to Florida, where Larry discovers the painting is now held, Eve and Larry become Evelyn and Michael (a wealthy art collector and her adviser), the plot thickens as we follow Eve’s paranoia and suspicions that all may not be as it seems with Larry.

For the die-hard romantics, there is plenty of love interest in the novel, with Eve struggling to deal with her attraction to bad-boy Larry and he, seemingly, playing on her vulnerability. And who is he emailing from Florida and who is the little girl in the photo he takes everywhere with him?

I won’t spoil the ending here, but suffice to say that Martina Reilly provides a satisfying, clever, detailed, intricate unravelling of the truth behind the painting and behind Larry.

Even Better Than The Real Thing? was inspired by the exploits of the author’s favourite con artists, such as former confidence trickster Frank Abagnale (as portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can). This is a fresh, witty, well-plotted novel which tackles a tricky and very original subject matter extremely confidently.

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Martina Reilly started writing when she was eleven years old – and hasn’t stopped since! She wrote several highly acclaimed teenage books before turning to adult fiction ten years ago. Martina lives in Ireland with her husband and their two children.

@MartinaReilly

http://www.tinareilly.info/

 


21
Nov 11

Finding Mr Flood, by Ciara Geraghty

The opening line of a book says a lot about what’s to come. It sets the tone, captures our attention – makes us want to read on, and the opening line of Ciara Geraghty’s ‘Finding Mr Flood’ does just that….‘Dara Flood always said that the most interesting thing about her happened before she was born.’

Intrigued? I most definitely was and read on, and on and on. In fact, I couldn’t stop reading this excellently written, brilliantly plotted book.

The issue of ‘Finding Mr Flood’ is the dilemma which runs through the heart of this book; Mr Flood being the father of Dara Flood, a father who, before she was born,  went out for a packet of cigarettes one day and never returned. With Dara’s sister Angel now suffering from ‘end stage renal failure’, Dara sets out to find her father, in a final, desperate hope that he may be a match for her sister. It’s a fascinating hook and one which is further developed through the reluctance of anyone to discuss Mr Flood, let alone find him.

Dara Flood isn’t your usual heroine. She isn’t a ‘girly-girl’, lives at home with her mother and sister, works at a dog-pound and likes cooking, salsa dancing and pizza with her two work colleagues. That is about as exciting as Dara’s life gets, being somewhat consumed with worrying and caring for her sister.

‘Finding Mr Flood’ is mainly set in Dublin, but with scenes which take us to other parts of Ireland and eventually to Paris. With brilliantly observed dialogue and accent and meticulously observed character traits, Ciara Geraghty creates an impressive and credible cast list – not only in her principal characters of Dara and the unsuspecting, unexpected romantic male lead, Stanley Flinter, but also in those who surround Dara and Stanley’s lives: Mrs Flood, Angel, the next door neighbour Miss Pettigrew, Dara’s work colleagues Tintin and Anja and even the numerous dogs who each have their own starring roles. Everyone has a unique voice, a unique appeal and a part to play in the path Dara eventually takes to start to track down her father.

This is by no means a predictable novel, with the author taking the reader on several twists and turns, yet constantly (and very cleverly) reminding us of what is at stake here and what it is that drives the main characters to act as they do. With enticing snippets of first person dialogue from an unknown character dotted throughout the book, we are never quite sure what the outcome is going to be and of course, with Angel’s condition worsening all the time, there is an ever-present sense of frustration and urgency.

Ciara Geraghty has been hailed by some as the new Marian Keyes. With this excellent novel, she is definitely a worthy contender to that crown.

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Ciara Geraghty lives in Dublin in a house with one husband and three children and an imaginary dog called George (who can roll over, play dead and shake paws with visitors). It is a noisy house which is why she had to become a writer. Writing is a perfect excuse to leave the noisy house and hole up somewhere quieter (like Dublin airport) to get some work done. In this way, she has managed to write three books and some short stories. Hobbies include giving up cigarettes, looking at the pictures in recipe books and reading brilliant books, mostly because they’re brilliant but also because they make her want to be a better writer.

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Finding Mr Flood is published by Hachette Books Ireland. Ciara’s previous novels are ‘Saving Grace’ and ‘Becoming Scarlet’, also published by Hachette Books Ireland.

You can contact Ciara on Twitter @ciarageraghty and on Facebook


7
Nov 11

Any Dream Will Do, by Maria Duffy

Sometimes, a novel comes along which is timed perfectly to tap into modern culture. Maria Duffy’s debut novel ‘Any Dream Will Do’ is one such novel, exploring our obsession with social media and how we can sometimes be fooled by what we are seeing on those screens in front of us.

The novel is told through the honest, witty voice of single thirty-year-old Jenny Breslin. With an emotionally distant/deranged mother (who acts more like a teenage rebel than a mother), a boring bank job, an awful boss, a lacking love-life and friends who seem to be living the perfect family life, Jenny turns to Twitter for company, where she establishes stronger friendships and a better social life than she has in the ‘real’ world. Far from fiction, this is something which happens every day and through her characters, Maria Duffy explores the implications of social networking on our relationships and friendships.

When Jenny drunkenly invites three of her Twitter friends to spend a few days with her in Dublin to meet up in person for the first time, her assumptions about the people she has got to know ‘virtually’ are turned completely upside down, leading her to re-evaluate her own life and realise that perhaps it isn’t that bad after all.

Any Dream Will Do is a funny, heart-warming novel which sparkles with rich Dublin wit throughout. With Jenny Breslin, Maria has created a Bridget Jones for the social networking generation – Jenny’s disastrous love-life, endless, toe-curlingly embarrassing incidents, the brilliant Mammy Delaney and the anticipation of a white Christmas keeps the pages turning and the plot building to a surprising climax.

From the seasonal, eye-catching cover to the touching personal acknowledgments at the end, this is a debut of which the author should be very proud.

*

Maria Duffy

I spoke to Maria about the novel and how it feels to be a debut novelist.

Where did you get the inspiration for ‘Any Dream Will Do’?

Any Dream Will Do was born from my ever so slight… okay, okay… my massive addiction to Twitter! Since I joined the Twitterverse two years ago, I’ve been hooked. I love the brevity of the tweets and the immediate interaction with others. I knew that I wanted to write a book that had a connection with twitter as I am fascinated by the relationships we form on social network sites and I find it interesting that we can be whoever we want to be. So, I suppose I’d have to say that Any Dream Will Do is a twitter inspired book.

This is your debut novel – can you describe how you are feeling about becoming a published author?
I feel wonderful, fabulous, excited,delighted, terrified – there’s a myriad of emotions running around in my head at the moment. I worked in a bank for fifteen years, got married and had four children and adore being a mother, but still dreamed of writing a book. Now that the day has come when I can hold my book in my hands, I feel overwhelmed. My publishers can confirm that, as they have to follow me around with copious amounts of tissues as I blub tears of joy every time I see the book!

Can you describe your main character Jenny – what do you love about her most?
If I had to describe Jenny in three words, I’d say she’s fun, feisty and fabulous! She’s the quintessential girl next door –  not glamorous or fashionable, nor is she politically correct. She spends half her life with her foot in her mouth and the other half trying to get it out again! On the surface, she’s far from perfect, but as we begin to dig a bit deeper as the book progresses, we find she has layers and layers underneath.

Are your characters and plot purely fictitious, or are any elements based on real people or real experiences?
The plot and characters are completely fictitious, but real life experience definitely comes into it. I think that writing about something you’ve actually experienced will always come across as more authentic. For example, Jenny in Any Dream Will Do has a spectacular, knickers-on-display, fall in a restaurant. I was that soldier!

Writing your ‘Stars in the Twitterverse’ blog for Hello has led to some interesting encounters. Which celebrities have you been most excited to meet, and why?
Oh that’s a difficult question because I’ve honestly loved every single interview I’ve done for various reasons. Mikey Underwood and Angellica Bell stick in my mind because they were the first ones I interviewed and were just so lovely and willing to give of their time. Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford were fantastic too and have been really supportive. Oh and I’d have to mention the mad-as-a-box-of-frogs Jedward. It was the most crazybut strangely enjoyable interview I’ve ever done!

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading something that’s a little different for me at the moment. It’s a book called ‘Click, Click’ by Joyce, June and Paula Kavanagh. It’s a true story of three sisters whowere abused by their father throughout their childhood. It’s a harrowing story but also inspiring, heart-warming and even peppered with humour.

What can we look forward to next from you?
I’m just finishing my second book at the moment,which should hit the shelves in time for summer next year. I’ve loved writing it just as much as Any Dream Will Do so I hope readers will enjoy it too.

And finally……all Jenny wants for Christmas is some snow. What’s on your Christmas wish list?
My dream wish-list would consist of things like an extra 12 hours in a day or to grow an extra hand! But realistically, all I want for Christmas is to have time off to relax with my husband and children. The last year has been a whirlwind for me and I’ve been non-stop busy. I try to get the balance right between home and work but sometimes, when there are deadlines to meet or the words aren’t coming quick enough, something has to give.We didn’t have a family holiday this year so I’ve just booked for all six of us to go toNew York in February. I can’t wait! So Christmas this year will be lots of sleep, lots of family time and gearing myself up for another busy year! Here’s hoping!

Any Dream Will Do is published by Hachette Ireland. Thanks to Joanna Smyth for sending the review copy and images onto me.


13
Oct 11

Lola’s Secret, by Monica McInerney

‘Lola’s Secret’ is the latest novel from bestselling international author Monica McInerney. It is a sequel to Monica’s 2003 release ‘The Alphabet Sister’s’ and is set in the searing heat of Christmas in the Clare Valley region of South Australia. This is a charming, witty novel in which Monica’s assured writing sparkles and which, when you reach the end, will leave you feeling like you’ve been given a huge, warm hug.

Lola Quinlan, the central character, is brilliantly observed and immensely enjoyable to read. She’s certainly not your usual eighty-four-year-old woman; dressing  flamboyantly, preferring a G&T to a cup of tea and spending her spare time surfing the internet. She also doesn’t hold back when dishing out advice to her family members – advice which her squabbling granddaughters Carrie and Bett seek constantly.

In addition to the usual issues and dramas experienced among families, Lola and her family are also trying to come to terms with the death of her third granddaughter, Anna, the person who Lola always turns to for help in her own hour of need.

As Christmas looms, Lola encourages her extended family to head off and leave her ‘home alone’ in the sweltering heat at the Valley View Motel. But her protestations that she will be perfectly fine on her own are not strictly true. In secret, she uses her time on the internet at the local charity shop she volunteers at, to advertise a Christmas break at the motel. The bookings she receives are not entirely straightforward however and as Christmas gets closer, Lola, her family and her intended guests come to realise that Christmas really is a time for families to be together – whatever emotional obstacles or distances have to be overcome to get there.

Monica McInerney deals with a number of themes in ‘Lola’s Secret’ – grief, sibling rivalry, depression, ageing, motherhood and empty-nest syndrome. Her dialogue is witty and touching in equal measures, her characters are richly drawn and the plot moves smoothly and assuredly between Lola and her family and the lives of the guests who are intending to travel to her motel.

It is only towards the latter stages of the novel that we are introduced to Alex, a man who Lola once loved and hasn’t seen or heard of for many, many years. This is a wonderful, and unexpected, sub-plot and pulls the entire novel together to a moving and satisfying conclusion.

Ideally, this is a novel to be read sitting out on a verandah, sipping a G&T and overlooking the stunning Clare Valley vineyards. If that’s a little too far to travel, curl up on the sofa, pour a glass of red and escape to the heat of an Australian Christmas while the rain lashes at the windows and the wind howls outside.

Some novels are simply very special. This is one of those novels.

Monica McInerney

I spoke to Monica about her writing career and about ‘Lola’s Secret’.

‘Lola’s Secret’ is the sequel to your previous best-selling novel ‘The Alphabet Sisters’. What was is like revisiting your previous characters?

It was great fun. I wrote ‘The Alphabet Sisters’ in 2003, but the family at the centre of it, the Quinlans, has always stayed in my mind, especially Lola, the elderly, eccentric Irish grandmother. As a reader, I often wonder after I’ve finished a book where the characters might be in five or ten years time, how their lives might have changed. Writing ‘Lola’s Secret’ allowed me to find out what had been happening to the Quinlans – the only catch being I had to write the book before I could read it!

How long does it take to write a novel like ‘Lola’s Secret’?

I usually take more than a year to write each of my books, but ‘Lola’s Secret’ took just over six months from idea to final edit. I had the idea out of the blue while I was in Australia on a book tour last October for my previous novel ‘At Home with the Templetons’. A missed flight meant I unexpectedly found myself in a motel in the Clare Valley of South Australia, my home town and the setting for ‘The Alphabet Sisters’. I went to sleep thinking about that book and the Quinlan family, and woke up at 5 am with the entire plot of ‘Lola’s Secret’ in my head. When I got back home to Dublin a fortnight later, I immediately started writing it, working seven days a week. It seemed to pour out of me. I also developed insomnia midway through the writing, which proved very helpful deadline-wise – I was able to get up and write during the night as well as the day.

Apart from unscheduled stopovers in motels, where do you get your ideas and inspiration?!

From every person I meet. I write family comedy-dramas and the wonderful thing is every person I talk to has a unique treasure trove of family memories and experiences. I’ve never met a person who hasn’t had one extraordinary story to tell from their family history, be it an adventurous ancestor, a dark secret, wonderful times or moments of great sadness.

Lola is such a brilliantly observed character – is she entirely fictional, or based on a real person?!

On behalf of Lola, thank you very much! I really loved writing Lola’s scenes and dialogue – she’s so much fun, so forthright, loyal and loving, but also, as an 84 year old, fearless with her opinions. I didn’t know my own grandmother Maude, my mother’s mother, but I grew up hearing many stories about her – she was very social, a bit eccentric and apparently also threw great poker parties. I’m sure she was the starting point for Lola, and also a way for me to invent my own fictional ideal grandmother. I’d love to have a real Lola in my life.

Coming from a large family yourself, are you naturally drawn to writing about family drama?

I know that all my books spring from my own family background. I’m the middle of seven and there was always so much going on in our house – comedy, drama, lively arguments, lots of laughter, constant visitors, teenage angst, broken hearts, just so much noise and action alongside the good times and sad times that fill everyone’s lives. We grew up in a rambling house in a small country town where we knew everybody and everybody knew us, so we were also able to roam free. We made our own entertainment, put on plays and concerts, produced an annual family magazine, spent hours playing on the roof of our house, had a menagerie of animals and generally ran amok. I like to include that sense of fun and adventure in my books too.

What three words would you use to describe your style of writing?

Family-comedy-drama.

Which other authors do you admire and which book would you most love to have written?

I admire every author, because I know how difficult it is to write a book and fight through the despair and self-doubt that comes alongside the great writing days. I’d love to have written the Harry Potter novels, not for the fame or sales, but because it’s so clear how much fun JK Rowling had letting her imagination run wild.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m re-reading ‘Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha’ by Roddy Doyle and loving it as much as I did the first time I read it, nearly 20 years ago.

What can we look forward to next from you?

I’m a quarter way into my next novel, which features a blended family, a step-brother and two step-sisters. I’m very interested in how different those relationships can be compared to a ‘traditional’ family, and especially how family members who have not grown up together cope in the wake of a tragedy.

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Monica McInerney grew up in a family of seven children in the Clare Valley wine region of South Australia.  She has worked in children’s television, arts marketing, the music industry, public relations and book publishing, and lived all aroundAustralia, and in Ireland and England.  She is the author of eight previous novels, including, most recently, At Home with the TempletonsThose Faraday Girls andFamily Baggage.  Those Faraday Girls was the winner of the General Fiction Book of the Year at the 200 Australian Book Industry Awards.  Lola’s Secret is the sequel to The Alphabet Sisters.  Monica and her Irish husband currently live in Dublin.

You can follow Monica on her Facebook page and her website www.monicamcinerney.com

‘Lola’s Secret’ is published by Pan MacMillan.


5
Oct 11

Tweet Treats: 140 Characters, 140 Celebrities, Recipes For Every Occasion, by Jane Travers

Every once in a while, someone comes up with an idea which is, quite simply, brilliant. For Jane Travers, a writer and mum living in Ireland, one such idea occured to her when she couldn’t decide what to cook the family for dinner one night!

A year in the making, this idea has now come to fruition in the form of a fantastic new recipe book called ‘Tweet Treats’: 140 Characters, 140 Celebrities, Recipes For Every Occasion.’ And what’s more, all royalties from the book will go to Medécins sans Frontières (aka Doctors Without Borders).

Edited and compiled by Jane Travers herself and with a foreword by top chef Marco Pierre White, Tweet Treats isn’t your average recipe book. Each recipe is only 140 characters in length (that’s as many characters as the first sentence of this paragraph!) and the recipes include contributions from 140 celebrities including Sarah Brown, The Script, Calum Best, Clare Balding, Philip Schofield and Tracy Chevalier to name but a few.

With categories covering  everything from breakfast to cocktail hour, and set out in a quick reference, at-a-glance style, Tweet Treats offers a fun, practical, innovative approach to rustling up something delicious. There are great ideas such as Sarah Brown’s Easy Vegetable Soup ‘Add chopped leek, carrot, potato to homemade chicken or veg stock, heat for 20 mins & season, yum.’ and plenty which have more than a dash of wit and humour stirred into the mix! My favourite comedy contribution has to be comedian Dara O’Briain’s ‘Mock The Wok’ recipe: Remove packaging, pierce film lid. Heat at 180c for 24 mins. Works for lasagne, shepherd’s pie, beef stew etc etc.

Tweet Treats has something for everyone – be they established chef, frazzled parent, time-short celebrity, exhausted workaholic or culinary-challenged student – and will make the perfect stocking filler this Christmas.

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I was delighted to speak to Jane about inspiration behind the book.

What is ‘Tweet Treats’ about?

I wanted to create a really usable, accessible cookbook for people who are too harried and hurried to read through long-winded recipes when they’re trying to figure out what to put on the table to feed the family. I wanted to use Twitter, because there is an art to being concise and interesting when you only have 140 characters in which to convey an idea. Since I’m not a professional cook, I wanted to tap into the great community feel of Twitter to harvest recipes!

How did the idea for Tweet Treats come about?

On a dull, wet evening in April 2010, I was standing in my kitchen staring at a packet of chicken thighs and wondering what on earth I was going to do with them. It was already 6.30pm, the child and the dogs were all eyeing each other hungrily, and I needed some recipes suggestions fast. So I tweeted. Within a minute, five perfectly formed little recipes came winging back to me from online friends, and an idea was born. How many such recipes could you write in 140 characters, I wondered? Could I get all sorts of recipes, like cakes and desserts as well? Could I fill a book, and give the royalties to charity?

Within two days I had a blog up and running and had already collected over a hundred recipes. I was on my way.

Where did the celebrity involvement come in?

Initially, I hoped to just get one or two celebrities to contribute to the book, but I was astonished and humbled by how many well-known names were interested in the project and happy to help. An editor friend suggested aiming for 140 celebrities, as a reflection of the number of characters in a tweet. By August of 2010 I had all 140 celebrities, and the last two to contribute were Rachel Allen and Boy George!

What is your favourite recipe in the book?

Tough question! There are loads of recipes I love, some because they’re from people for whom I have a very high regard (like Neil Gaiman), others because they manage to express so much of the donor’s personality even within 140 characters (wait till you read the one from Paula Abdul!). However, the recipe I keep making over and over again is from Maria Duffy (@mduffywriter) and is the best recipe for banana bread ever.

The royalties from the book are going to Medécins sans Frontières. Can you tell me about the organisation?

Medécins sans Frontières (aka Doctors Without Borders) are a group of medical professionals – doctors, nurses, etc – and volunteers who give freely of their time and knowledge to bring medical care to parts of the world where it is needed most. When the earthquake hit in Haiti, MSF were already on the ground there, and were able to start helping casualties straight away. They are working in Pakistan, Somalia, and anywhere stricken by war, famine or natural disaster. They are completely unbiased in their approach, and don’t discriminate by ethos, political affiliation, religion, etc – if someone needs help, they give it.

One of the things that I admire most about MSF is that they don’t blow their own trumpet. In fact, while working on Tweet Treats I was astonished to find that many people were unaware of their existence. If I’ve helped to make more people aware of the work that MSF do, then I’m very proud of that.

So, where can people buy Tweet Treats?

Loads of places, I’m pleased to say! Amazon.co.uk, Book Depository, Waterstones, Eason, Dubray Books, O’Brien Press and all good bookshops.

And what are you working on next?

I have lots of writing interests. I’ve written a novel (women’s fiction) and I’m working on a Young Adult paranormal romance at the moment. I also wouldn’t rule out the idea of another Twitter-based book in the future.

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Tweet Treats is published by O’Brien Press.

You can follow Jane on Twitter @janetravers and visit the Tweet Treats blog to follow the progress of this excellent, innovative, fun book.


29
Sep 11

The Generation Game, Sophie Duffy

The Generation Game is author Sophie Duffy’s debut novel and follows the extraordinary life of forty-year-old Phillipa, from when she was a young girl growing up in Devon, right up to the present day where she has just become a mother.

We follow Phillipa through an extraordinary mixture of experiences as she grows up above a sweet shop in Torquay – abandonment by her mother, forming childhood friendships, a traumatic death, unplanned pregnancy and trying to figure out her place in the world.

Reading ‘The Generation Game’ is like stepping back in time. Sophie creates some extremely memorable characters in Phillipa and Helena – and in all the people who influence and surround her throughout her life. The small details of the various decades the characters move through are brilliantly observed – if you were born around the late sixties, early seventies, this will almost feel like you are reading your own diary – the events, trends, celebrities and popular TV programmes of the time come leaping off the pages and stir up long-forgotten memories.

This is an immensely readable book, which hooks you in right from the start. The juxtaposition of the story of Phillipa growing up as a child and her present day thoughts and concerns from hospital as a new, single mother, is an interesting perspective – and of course we want to know what was in the Blue Peter time capsule that her close friend creates before his untimely death.

Spanning such a lengthy time-period and involving so many characters, the author manages to successfully pace the story so you never feel overwhelmed or lost. She also manages to bring the plot neatly together at the end of the novel, without saccharine-coating everything and everyone.

This is a brave, bold, warm, rich, amusing, engaging novel which sits well alongside more established authors like Kate Atkinson’s ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’.

I am sure we will see much more from Sophie Duffy in years to come.

About the author

Sophie is a novelist and short story writer living on the south coast of Devon with her family. She was awarded the The Yeovil Literary Prize in 2006 for The Generation Game as a work-in-progress – which was judged by award-winning novelist Katie Fforde. Sophie went on to win the Luke Bitmead Bursary for the novel earlier this year.

The Generation Game is published by Legend Press and is available in bookshops and on Amazon.

Read more about Sophie on her website or follow her blog.


22
Sep 11

Say Her Name, by Francisco Goldman

Award-winning writer, Francisco Goldman, married a beautiful young writer named Aura Estrada in the summer of 2005. The month before their second anniversary, Aura died from injuries sustained in a body surfing accident while they were on holiday. Blamed for Aura’s death by her family, and blaming himself, Francisco wanted to die too. Instead, her wrote ‘Say Her Name.’

In this extraordinary autobiographical novel, Goldman tries to make sense of Aura’s death by reflecting on her life and his memories of her. He writes with incredible detail about Aura’s childhood, about how they first met, about their life together as a married couple – all the time returning to his unbearable sense of loss. At times, Goldman writes as if he is speaking directly to his wife, at times he is a meticulous observer, painting a picture of her which is so vivid that, on these pages at least, he does manage to bring her very much back to life.

There is also an additional dimension to these tragic events, in that Aura’s mother Juanita, blames Goldman for her daughters death. He writes, ‘If I were Juanita, I know I would have wanted to put me in prison, too. Though not for the reasons she and her brother gave.’

The final chapters, which recall the terrible and frustrating events which led to Aura’s death, are incredibly challenging to read because, unlike most novels recalling such events, these are not a work of fiction. These are real events which happened to real people and as readers who already know how the events unfold,  the words on the pages become even more poignant.

Sometimes you may choose to read a book for escapism, for fun or for a moment’s distraction. With ‘Say Her Name’ you read because you are immediately drawn into the tragedy of this man’s grief, because you are mesmerised by the life of this couple, and because you care. It isn’t easy reading though, because as we discover the depth of Goldman’s love for his wife and get to know the amazing woman Aura was – and was destined to become – we are, of course, aware of how the story tragically ends.

I found ‘Say Her Name’ to be a compelling, moving novel which manages to weave in moments of  humour among the sadness. It is a book which is well worth taking the time and effort  to read this autumn.

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Francisco Goldman is the author of four books – three works of fiction (The Long Night of White Chickens, The Ordinary Seaman, and The Divine Husband) and one work of non-fiction, The Art of Political Murder.

 

His fiction and journalism have appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, The New York Review of Books, Outside, and many other publications. He lives in New York City and Mexico City.

Read more about Francisco Goldman at http://www.franciscogoldman.com/

‘Say Her Name’ is published by Grove Press UK.


26
Aug 11

‘Me and My Sisters’ by Sinead Moriarty

‘Once upon a time there were three sisters……and a brother who lived in a tree’

So starts ‘Me and My Sisters’ – the excellent new novel by international bestselling author Sinead Moriarty. Fans of Sinead’s writing will know that they can expect honesty, humour and great story-telling and this latest offering, Moriarty’s seventh, certainly does not disappoint.

From the opening chapters we are introduced to Julie, Sophie and Louise – the three sisters through whom the story is told. Their lives couldn’t be more different – Julie is a frazzled stay-at-home-mum-of-four, battling with her weight, a husband whose salary keeps getting cut and her self-esteem. Sophie is a glamorous, yummy mummy to her little Princess, Jess – her husband earns an absolute fortune and she leads a privileged life of shopping, beauty treatments and coffee with the girls. Louise is a successful senior partner in a Dublin law firm and can think of nothing worse than having a child to mess up your business suits and career potential.

But, of course, we know that these women’s lives are going to have to change and with the background of the recession looming over all of them, a series of events unfolds which leads them all to re-evaluate who they are and what they want from life.

When Julie suspects her husband of having an affair her world is completely turned upside down. Louise reveals that she is pregnant and despite her intentions to raise her daughter from behind her glossy, corporate desk, she soon realises that motherhood isn’t quite as easy to control as a business takeover. For Sophie, a life of fancy cars, designer clothes and diamonds comes crashing down around her when Jack loses everything they own on a bad investment. Through their individual troubles, the sister’s pull together and come out on the other side much more appreciative for what they have.

With the additional, excellent ‘cameo’ characters of Julie’s hilarious neighbour Marian (who deserves a novel all of her own!) and the tree-hugging escapades of brother Gavin and his Angelina Jolie lookalike girlfriend, not to mention corporate rat Dominic, there is plenty to keep the reader hooked and engaged in these three women’s complex, yet very believable lives.

With pacy writing, plenty of humour, well-observed characters, action that moves between Dublin and London and great insights into corporate law and designer clothing, Sinead Moriarty has produced a great read – and one which many, many women will relate to.

Enjoy this book and then pass it onto your sisters, mum and friends – I’m sure everyone will recognise a little bit of themselves, or their family, somewhere among Moriarty’s well-written pages.

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I spoke to Sinead about her latest book and her writing life.

Where did you get the idea for ‘Me and My Sisters’?

I’ve always been fascinated by identity – what defines people, how they figure out who they are and how much you change as each decade comes to a close. I suppose turning forty, myself, made me more reflective and I was interested in exploring the issues of identity. For example, Julie in the book feels she has lost her identity since having children – along with her waistline!  She feels invisible and has no idea who she is anymore. Or, like Sophie in the book, having your identity defined by what you drive and the size of your house and the carat of your diamonds. I wanted to look at what happens to someone when all that is taken away. Who are they? And then the other type of identity I explore is Louise’s, whose entire self-esteem is wrapped up in her very successful career. What happens when that career is threatened by an unwanted pregnancy? Can you really be a single parent and still break the glass ceiling? These are the key themes in the novel, with lots of fun and comedy mixed in along the way.

Do you base your characters on people you know, or are they figments of your imagination?

They are figments of my imagination, but I’m sure that some characteristics of people I know slip in. There is also part of me in all my characters – male and female.

As a mum of three, I’m sure you can relate to all the three sisters in the novel – do you find that as a working mum, you have to be especially well organised when it comes to your writing?

Definitely! I’ve always been very organised so I suppose it has just been taken to another level! I don’t find it difficult to be disciplined about my writing because I love it so much. And as a mother of three small children, it’s a privilege to be able to switch off for hours every day and immerse myself completely in my creative world.

Who is your favourite character in the novel and why?

Interestingly, Julie started out as my favourite and Sophie as my least favourite. But by the end I really liked Sophie, I understood why she acted the way she did and how deeply she fought to hide her insecurities. The most fun character to write was Marian, Julie’s outspoken, ballsy, slightly unhinged neighbour. I love Marian; she says things I wish I had the courage to say!

If you could choose any celebrities to play the three sisters in a movie version of the book, who would you choose?

That’s a difficult question. Probably Cate Blanchett for Louise, the career driven sister, maybe Sandra Bullock for Julie, the sister with four small sons and Gwyneth Paltrow for the glamorous Sophie.

What is your favourite ‘writing/author’ moment to date?

Finishing each novel. The sense of achievement is indescribable. It feels as if you’ve climbed the highest mountain.

Which author do you most admire?

I admire every single author out there – published and unpublished. To have the courage and discipline to sit down a write a novel – instead of talking about it – is a huge achievement.

What are you working on next – any details or juicy insights to the next novel?!

My next novel is about abduction. It’s about the moral dilemma of seeing a neglected child and deciding whether to leave it in danger or kidnap it to save its life. It’s about judging someone on one momentary view of their lives, it’s about making mistakes, it’s about heart-wrenching loss and unconditional love, it’s about motherhood, marriage, dysfunctional families and relationships and it’s about forgiveness.

What three words would you use to describe your writing style?

Funny, poignant, pacy.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve just finished a wonderful book that I came across by accident. It’s called ‘Mornings in Jenin’. It’s a novel told from the view of a Palestinian refugee and is incredibly powerful.

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Sinead Moriarty was born and raised in Dublin where she grew up surrounded by books. While working as a journalist in London in her thirties she began to write ‘The Baby Trail’ which went on to be an international bestseller.

‘Me and My Sisters’, Sinead’s seventh novel, is published by Penguin Ireland. For more information about Sinead, her books and her writing, check out her lovely website at www.sineadmoriarty.com or connect with her on Facebook.

Thank you to Patricia McVeigh at Penguin Ireland for the review copy of ‘Me and My Sisters’ and to Sinead for her time in answering my questions.


28
Jul 11

‘Lessons in Laughing Out Loud’, by Rowan Coleman

‘Lessons in laughing out loud’ by Rowan Coleman is one of those books which ticks all the boxes, combining a clever mix of wry humour, raw honesty, brilliantly imagined characters, romance and a little bit of magic. I couldn’t put it down and read it in a matter of days (which is no mean feat with young children demanding your attention 24/7), but I digress……

Willow Briars is a size 18, divorced thirty-something whose life seems to be going nowhere, fast. Preferring to spend a night in watching a movie in her bra, with a bottle of wine for company, Willow’s social life isn’t exactly sparkling either. Her self-confidence is at an all time low and her life mainly revolves around keeping her terrifyingly ruthless boss happy and trying to suppress her feelings for her good friend Daniel. Willow reminds me a little of Bridget Jones, Ugly Betty and a voluptuous Sophie Dahl all rolled into one.

From the very start of the novel, we understand that Willow’s life has taken a very different path to that of her size 10, happily married mum of two, twin sister, Holly, but we’re left guessing as to why and this is just one of many clever plotting devices which keeps us reading to the end.

When Willow’s boss (a brilliant character who truly rivals the horror of Miranda Priestly in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’) asks her to hide a young actress in her apartment until a PR storm surrounding her affair with an A-List Hollywood star dies down, Willow’s life is thrown into turmoil. Things get even more complicated when Willow’s fifteen-year-old step-daughter Chloe arrives on her doorstep announcing that she is pregnant and has left home. The ensuing dilemma Willow faces and the dynamic between the three women in one small apartment is played out brilliantly. There are some touching scenes between Willow and Chloe as they gradually let their guards down and open up to each other about their lives before and after Willow’s divorce from Chloe’s father.

In the middle of her crisis, Willow discovers a junk shop in a hidden alleyway and leaves with a pair of shoes and a fur coat which seem to have called out to her, her life starts to turn around. When she wears these items, she feels better about herself, and people start to notice; the love interests of Daniel, ‘Serious James’ and her ex-husband, Sam, included.

With the help of her shoes, as Willow’s confidence rises, so does her sense of purpose and with her sister Holly’s help, Willow returns to visits her estranged mother at the family home and finally faces up to the dark and shocking secret of her childhood; a process she realises she has to go through in order to enjoy her life again – and to be able to laugh out loud.

This is a terrific read which never stops throwing up surprises, crackling dialogue and laugh-out-loud moments. Rowan also isn’t afraid to tug at the heart-strings and there are plenty of scenes where the reader will be hard-pressed not to empathise with Willow and wish for a happy ending for her.

I would highly recommend this book – it is a wonderfully engaging, well plotted and brilliantly delivered tale of hope and courage. Oh, and after reading it, you will, undoubtedly, all want a pair of Willow’s ‘magic’ shoes.

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Rowan Coleman grew up in Hertfordshire secretly longing to be a writer despite battling with dyslexia.  After graduating from university she worked in bookselling and publishing for seven years before winning Company Magazine Young Writer of the Year in 2001.  Her first novel ‘Growing Up Twice’ was published in 2002.

Rowan has gone on to write eleven novels for women, including the bestselling ‘The Accidental Mother, The Baby Group’ and ‘The Accidental Wife‘ and eight novels for children and teens including the paranormal adventure novels Nearly Departed and Immortal Remains under the name Rook Hastings. Her books are published around the world. She now lives in Hertfordshire with her family and standard Poodle, Polly.

When did you start writing – and why?

I’ve always been a story teller, as my mother would tell you, I often came home from school with tall tales. But being an undiagnosed dyslexic for most of my childhood meant I didn’t really have the tools to write confidently until I was in my early twenties, and then it just seemed like the most natural thing in the world for me to spend a few hours writing, when ever I had time.

What is the best part of  life as a writer?

You do get to go to some wonderful parties, most recently I was a beautiful party at Kensington Roof gardens sipping champagne amongst the real live flamingos and celebrity spotting. For me, the most exciting part about being a writer is actually seeing your book in the shops. That thrill never goes away.

And the hardest part?

There is a lot of solitude, so you have to be good at being on your own. And you have to be very resistant to knock backs and rejection. For every success you experience there will be at least five failures, and if you can’t take it on the chin, get up, dust yourself down and start again, then you shouldn’t try and be a writer. A tough skin is essential.

Which three words would best describe your writing style?

Engaging, Emotional, Unexpected.

Other than your own novels, which book would you love to have written?

Oh, where do I start? I’ll stick to my own genre to narrow the field down and say anything by Marian Keyes, she blends humour, romance, darkness and emotion with the finest of touches.

If you could choose a celebrity to play any of the characters in your latest novel, which celebrity and which character would it be, and why?

Brilliant question, we writers think about this all the time. Willow, my lead character if one of a set of twins, which might prove tricky to cast because although they are identical, Willow is a size 18 and her sister is a 10. In my head she is very much like Jo Joyner (Tanya Branning in Eastenders) to look at, but a little fuller figured and a bit posher.

Do you base your characters on people you know, or are they a figment of your imagination?

Its really a blend of both. Although we don’t look alike physically, Willow is like me in many respects, she is perhaps the most personal character I’ve written since my first novel. On the whole though, my characters tend to come mostly out of my imagination so fully formed I feel like I know them. I do sometimes base the way they look on someone I know or admire, particularly the romantic leads…. it helps with the kissing scenes!

Does the junk shop in Bleeding Heart Yard really exist? If so, are the shoes still there?!

No, sorry. It doesn’t exist and neither does that particular Bleeding Heart Yard – although there is at least one in London, I saw it from a taxi which is where I got the name. The shoes are a figment of my imagination entirely, I didn’t even try and find a picture to describe, I wanted them to be what ever the reader imagined them. I would really like a pair though…

Have you ever spotted anyone famous reading your novels?

A long time ago someone told me they saw Amanda Holden reading The Accidental Mother, which made me wish she’d buy the films rights because she’d be perfect as the lead character, Sophie. But then she got Britain’s Got Talent and that never happened! I can tell you I’ve sent it out to a few famous ladies, in the hopes they might read it….but we’ll have to watch this space. If I hear anything I’ll let you know.

Are you working on your next novel and if so, can you tell us anything about it?!

I am beavering away on it at the moment, its about a woman called Rose who has fled her marriage and run away to Cumbria, to her estranged father who she hasn’t seen for over twenty years. I still need a title for it though, I’m thinking of running a competition on my facebook page if inspiration doesn’t strike me soon!

What are you reading at the moment?

I can’t read anything until I’ve finished this book, I always worry I’ll accidentally mix up plots, but first on my pile is ‘The Hand that First Held Mine’ by Maggie O’Farrell.

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‘Lessons in laughing out loud’ is published by Arrow Books. Find out about Rowan and her other books on her website or Facebook page or say hello on Twitter @rowancoleman

With thanks to Marissa at Random House for arranging my review copy and to the lovely Rowan for taking the time to answer all my questions!

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