Northern Ireland – The Silent Dead – Clare McGowan

Silent Dead TPB.indd

1980s/1990s: A haunting and thought provoking portrayal of life in Ireland, before and after the Troubles


Northern and Southern Ireland – so near and yet so far apart. A Missing Persons Unit is set up to find people on both sides of the border. This time they are tasked with finding a body – that of Mickey Doyle – a member of the infamous Mayday Five, a group who is suspected of having planted a bomb which killed sixteen people. The group has been in the news a lot recently and tensions are high since they were found not guilty. But now they have seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth.

So it would seem that someone is really not happy with the official verdict and is in the process of ensuring that ‘justice’ is served. But the authorities are on to them..

Place and setting

Screen shot 2015-12-15 at 10.46.59
BAllyterrin is fictiona but may be inspired by the author’s home town of Rostrevor. Omagh and Enniskillen are two places noted for events which took place during the Troubles and are referenced in the novel.

Northern Ireland during the troubles. This is not an easy situation in any shape or form and neither is it to read about in fiction. The tensions are palpable and the communities are in pain as they try to come to terms with life on the edge if that is ever possible in such circumstances.

Emotions are raw and brutal. Imagine those who were left with the aftermath of the Mayday five bomb – the victims families. The tension and raw grief of these people is clear, heartbreaking and heartbreaking. Their relationship with the police is understandable if not a sad tragic outcome. Who killed Mickey Doyle and can there ever be a real valid reason?

The Troubles

This is a grim but ultimately realistic and chilling picture of what the Troubles represented on a day to day basis for the ordinary people in a community. The picture painted is complex, well rounded and chilling on so many levels and an eye opener for a sense that by reading this, you have peered between the headlines you may have seen and read before.

The idea that this community, these people are living with the consequences of that day, that everyone knows someone involved with the disaster, and that the suspected killers have been living within the community until their disappearance….is very cleverly evoked via each page.

How does a community move on? Is it possible to move on from evil?

The Troubles and the Good Friday agreement are tough  subjects to faceand even many years later, the ripples of that are still being felt.

A complex and raw setting on so many levels.


Despite this being the third in a series, it works well as a standalone although Paula is easier to understand if you have read the earlier novels.

She has had a very troubled life and her mother went missing when she was younger which has understandably left a huge impact on her. In this novel, she is pregnant and  doesn’t know who the father is which gives her another set of issues to deal with. On a professional level, things take a really dramatic turn too so there were plenty of emotions and huge gasps made during the reading of this novel? I’d never read or indeed imagined a heavily pregnant woman trying to carryout an investigation  – you have to imagine the gritty determination of such a woman!

Although this is a difficult subject to read about – the rights and wrongs and the grey space in between, Claire really does set things out well and clearly to showcase the situation and really make you think. Who is right or wrong and can you honestly say that in the same situations you wouldn’t feel or react the same?

It’s a complex story but very accessible and very very powerful. This book makes you think – of everything you think you know and challenges you to reconsider and stand in someone else’s shoes. And there’s not many books that do that.


Wicklow, Ireland – The Heart of Winter – Emma Hannigan

ireland 2

Why a booktrail?

2000s – Back to Wicklow, Ireland and the busy home of the Craig family and the Huntersbrook estate.


Huntersbrook is the estate of the Craig family which has been in the family for years. It might not be the full estate it once was but it is still the house of memories and nostalgia for the siblings who have grown up there. There are plans to relaunch it however and the Christmas wedding of a popular actress should help get the place back  on its feet.

But plans have a way of being scuppered. The siblings should see to that. What with Pippa’s  raucous and reckless life spiralling out of control,  brother Joey’s personal struggles with his partner and business and then Lainey, poor Lainey who is dealt the most cruel blow of all. Does any of them have the chance to save their home as well as themselves?

Place and setting

Wicklow Wicklow Mountains Huntersbrook House is fictional but Russborough House near the Blessington Lakes is a close second we think!
Wicklow Mountains
Huntersbrook House is fictional but Russborough House near the Blessington Lakes is a close second we think!

Huntersbrook house in Wicklow Ireland, is the the country estate you will want to visit. The cover shows it in its charming winter setting and as you open the cover and walk inside, the buzz of the places comes to life in exquisite detail.

It has a gate lodge, the two bed bungalow to the right of the entrance which reminds Pippa of the cottage from the novel Hansel and Gretel. Drive up the gravel path to the house itself however and the stunning Georgian facade, the Craig family jewel shimmers in the cool, crisp, Irish air.

Once inside the story of the siblings and the house itself warms your heart, and life seems to be centered in the busy bustling kitchen when the family comes back in order to save their history. Lainey lives in a house next door and she has always felt as if she ‘s never left home.

Told in alternate chapters through the eyes of Lainey, Pippa and Joey, their lives away from Huntersbrook will show the house and their view of it in a new light. How one house can unite a family, break it apart and fix it again. Home is where the heart is after all.


The Craig family are back after we first met them in Driving Home for Christmas and this is the latest installment in their story. Now all adults, the siblings have led very different lives and have a very unique view and experience of their childhood home. How differently three people can turn out despite having had the very same start in life!

I hadn’t read Driving Home for Christmas before reading this installment in the Craig family story but I wished I had as although this did read as  a standalone I wanted to know these people more  and felt I had come to the party a little late.

I enjoy novels like this where the home, and the family home is at the centre and seems a really apt setting and story for Irish set fiction. I know Huntersbrook now and I would love to go back there and be a part of the family unit. The Christmas scenes in particular were heartwarming and I can honestly say that the word saga was written for this family as there’s plenty of it!

And I can’t finish without mentioning the gloriously sparkly cover! Aaah.

Susan (now living at Huntersbrook please Miss Hannigan!)

Manchester – Vermont – Ireland – The Letter – Kathryn Hughes


Why a booktrail?

1930s, 1970s – Manchester. Two women living decades apart in Manchester are united by one very important letter which was never delivered.


A novel of love and hope across the decades.

1930s/40s –  A letter written on 4th September 1939 will have consequences which reach out across the decades hoping that one day an answer will come and the truth will be discovered. For the letter from a young man named Billy to a girl Christina was never delivered but found in the pocket of an old suit, left in a charity shop.

1970s Manchester – Tina finds this letter and starts to try and find who wrote it and what happened to the people it speaks of. It is a a moving letter, full of heartbreaking emotion and the pull of curiosity is just too great to leave alone. Tina suffers from an abusive marriage and recognises the sentiments of feeling trapped, longing to escape one’s past. She feels that by communicating with a stranger in the past, she can make sense of the future and escape her own reality.

Place and setting

Manchester, Vermont and Ireland - all featured in a heartbreaking story! Manchester Central Library The bulk of the novel is set in Manchester and without giving anything of the plot away, Central Library in St Peter’s square plays a pivotal part.
Manchester, Vermont and Ireland – all featured in a heartbreaking story!
Manchester Central Library
The bulk of the novel is set in Manchester and without giving anything of the plot away, Central Library in St Peter’s square plays a pivotal part.

Manchester 1970s

– Ireland and Vermont are also mentioned in the novel but the main action is set in and around Manchester –

Tina Craig is married to Rick, a drunken yob who tries to control her at every turn. He steals her escape fund and her life is one of daily drudgery and violence. The moment she finds a letter in the charity shop where she works, her world becomes a bit more hopeful and wider. 1973 is the year of the Grand National and Rick is depending on a win. Red Rum to win for Tina knows what is coming if the horse does not come in.

This letter introduces her to another woman across the years and soon she parallels her life to that of Chrissie from the 1940s also suffering at the hands of a brutal man, this time her father who thinks he can control everything she does. The link between these two women stretches out against a bleak yet hopeful Manchester setting.

Manchester in the 1940s was not the place where women could go out freely with men and when if your parents didn’t like who you were dating, things could get very messy indeed. Girls were not expected to get pregnant outside of wedlock and men were expected to sign up to the war effort.

Manchester in the 1970s – Turns out history can repeat itself as social boundaries and personal freedom can be just as restrictive as they once were. Abusive marriages or the constraints of a father who ousted you from the family home for bringing shame on the family are both signs that what a person wants and what society sees and expects are not always the same thing.

The detail of the 1970s – evoked via tins of peaches, Carnation cream, and power cuts is crisp and clear. The fate of women in both the 1940s and 1970s are frightening and raw. Emotional on every level and a time to sit and think how times have thankfully changed for the better.


Next time you go inside a charity shop, take time to look in the pockets of a coat because if there’s the chance it sets you off on an adventure like this then count me in! This is one heck of an emotional ride mind. It reminded me of the story of Philomena in some respects with a child born out of wedlock and the resulting torment it brings. Abusive relationships and the feeling that history can put things right – or at least try to, is explored with full effect.

I did find the portrayal of domestic violence hard to read and Chrissie didn’t really have it much better – the abuse she suffered from her father was inexcusable. But this was a different time – still wrong though.

I felt so emotional for the two women. Hated what was happening to them and willed that letter to be found and read out. Oh take tissues with you when you read this, it’s heartbreaking and so sad. There is an event which happens later on to Tina which made me really angry and I had to stop reading such was its powerful effect. Brilliantly portrayed and evoked.

How the two stories wove together was really clever and it was like placing a black and white photo underneath a colour one and seeing the two pictures form a new one. Very, very emotional.

One last thing – I love the fact that a library was at the centre of the story. The author tells us that you can actually get married in this library and when you see it, you know why. Ooh this book has introduced me to the wonder of charity shops and the fact that libraries are even more magical than I thought. And that one short letter can have such a huge impact.

The adventures of the Booktrail bus – Ireland

The booktrail bus is on the road!
The booktrail bus is on the road!

Fancy a trip around Ireland?

Not sure what you should visit?

Hop on the booktrail bus and off we go. Those on the bus today are those who entered our Facebook competition to win some Irish fiction. Oh the comments were fab so we just had to treat them all to a tour….

Think Coach Trip with books – there’s no couples on this tour – just lots of hungry booktrailers with literary locations in their eyes and novels under their arms.

There’s no voting off either – but there may well be a few tasks to enjoy…

So, we’ve packed the sandwiches, the juice boxes with those awful straws you can never open least of all get any juice out with and we’re off on the booktrail coach trip to Ireland!!! Whoohooo!

The tour around Ireland starting with the Birkenhead to Belfast part of the journey...
The tour around Ireland starting with the Birkenhead to Belfast part of the journey…

We leave from the UK and take the ferry from Birkenhead – Teresa Starr’s recommendation:

“If you’re going to Northern Ireland, consider the Birkenhead to Belfast ferry, it may take much longer than the Holyhead to Dublin ferry but the miles saved driving at the Belfast are well worth it….just bring plenty to do, if you don’t want to watch the on board films.

Also the Premier Inn in Carrickfergus and the restaurant are excellently priced and a good base for touring in County Antrim.”

Teresa brought travel scrabble so we played that trying to only have the names of book titles and book related words allowed. Teresa won with ‘Quidditch’ Think she’s played this before. Says she hasn’t but, hmm not so sure 😉

Stopped off for a morning coffee and bacon buttie at the Premier Inn as suggested (yummy!) and then set off for Shelley’s literary location of the Giants Causeway:

Shelley Jessup- “I remember visiting the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland & finding the place fascinating especially with the tales of the Irish Gods & Irish mythology”


Teresa Majury agrees – The Giant’s Causeway is a must see!

But it’s her next comment that takes us back into the city of Belfast for some lunch…..”the Cathedral Quarter in Belfast has fabulous bars for a pub crawl and great eateries too…..”   Well now….

Oh it’s great to be in Ireland. Diane Cundick is very excited – “I’ve never been to Ireland but my favourite Irish author has to be Cathy Kelly ….”

So she squeals when she realises we’re off to Cathy Kelly country after lunch…


First stop is Dublin’s pretty Golden Square, a great location in Cathy Kelly’s book ‘Homecoming’

It’s where Eleanor re-reads her mother’s comforting words and watches life unfold from her window in Dublin’s pretty Golden Square…


Fancy a piece of Watermelon? We’re all getting a bit parched here. That Dublin sun can get quite hot even in March –

Watermelon by Marin Keyes – On the day she gives birth, Claire’s husband says that he’s leaving her. Left with her new baby and a broken heart she heads home to Dublin to be with her quirky family. Her man-eating sister Helen, might be up for a bit of a party in Temple Bar Janice?

Janice Clint Atkinson – I’ve had two fantastic weekends in Dublin and my tip would be to head to Temple Bar for the nightlife and the great people.

Further Irish recommendations? Well there’ll all coming out now. A drink in the Temple Bar and we’re chatting which books set in Ireland we love –

Suzanne Smith recommends the book “One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern. “The message that everyone has a beautiful story to tell is amazing” she says.

Carol Clint Best – I have only been to Dublin and had a great time. Very friendly city with lots to do. I enjoy reading Maeve Binchy books.

County Waterford – Ardmore

Bube Petreska – “My favorite books set in Ireland are the ‘Born In’ series, The Gallaghers of Ardmore and The Dream Trilogy by Nora Roberts.”

Well Bube your luck is in today as the next stop on the tour is here – Ardmore setting of the Gallaghers of Ardmore books. This afternoon’s task is to make ‘fairie’ cakes as inspired by the book’s theme:


Bube wins the task with ease. A Mary Berry in the making we think!

Right back on the bus you lot! Off to Cork. Just a short distance. What about some music? Maria Ellis has a suggestion –

“A few years ago went to Ireland on holiday and hired a bright purple Astra and drove round Southern Ireland listening to The Riverdance tape – every time I hear it now it takes me back to that wonderful holiday”

So the music of those of the fastest moving legs in history goes on and by the time we reach Cork, there could well be a small mutiny on this bus….

But look what I see!

It’s only the famous Blarney Stone and Castle!

The end of the trip but what a highlight!
The end of the trip but what a highlight!


The music of Riverdance ringing in our ears,  the group disperses to have a wander around. The task is to find something green to wear from the gift shop and then go and kiss the stone. Well, you always get one don’t you – someone who wants to be different…hehe

After the trip Gwen Carter’s lasting memory?

“One of my best memories of visiting Ireland was being suspended upside down kissing the Blarney Stone”

She almost fell in. We had to pull her out and bring her round with smelling salts. But we all made it back on the bus in one piece and back to the UK with books in our hands and Ireland in our hearts.

thanks to all our participants and of course our guides – 

Cathy Kelly @cathykellybooks

Marian Keyes @MarianKeyes

and Nora Roberts 

For more information on our trip and things we did, please visit these lovely people as they know everything there is to know about the Emerald Isle – 

Juno and Juliet – Galway, Ireland – Julian Gough

juno and juliet

Why the booktrail?

University life in Galway makes for a nice literary journey. Especially if you were going to go there but didn’t – now you can!

Story in a nutshell

A romantic comedy, this novel features the characters Juno and Juliet, 18 year-old blonde twin sisters, who arrive at university in Galway from their Tipperary home, and each set off on a romantic odyssey.

Place and setting

The National University of Ireland in Galway Eyre Square - where they have arrived at the start of the book off the bus The bedsite in New Road Renmore - suburb of Galway where Mrs Flannery lives a mile from the docks
The National University of Ireland in Galway
Eyre Square – where they have arrived at the start of the book off the bus
The bedsite in New Road
Renmore – suburb of Galway where Mrs Flannery lives a mile from the docks

Aah those university days – perfectly captured here in the witty tale of two sisters who attend university and head straight first into their days of independence and freedom –

“We spent out first night in Galway in sleeping bags on the living room floor”

Galway is a small town with a large university so many people turn up to find a place to live. Juno and juliet turn up a week before and apparently that is late. Yes, well,  that sounds very familiar indeed. The bit with the sleeping bags too. Oh and the classic line –

A lucky few had parents with the foresight to give birth to them in Galway

The feelings of panic, sheer disbelief at being away from home and knowing that this will be home for the next however many years. The sheer number of people milling about looking as if they know what they are doing and you’re the only one that doesn’t. The tea and sympathy given to the who sisters is in very great demand.

The moment they find the flat will elicit a cheer as it’s been quite a journey and this is only the very first step.

The love affair with Galway begins and everything is seen through the eyes of two young sisters who cannot wait to start really living and really enjoying their new city.

St Patrick’s Day Read – Ireland – County Cork – Lucinda Riley

girl on the cliff

Why a booktrail?

Travel to Ireland with Lucinda Riley in this tale of family secrets over the years. Stunning locations and settings and a saga spanning decades.


A secret from 1914 has caused years and years of heartache but why?

Grania Ryan has returned to her native Ireland following a tragedy in America where she lived and worked. She needs her family right now for comfort and is glad to be home with them and amongst the gorgeous setting. One day she meets a young girl, Aurora who will change her life and her families in ways none of them could ever have expected. For she soon discovers that her family and Aurora’s are strangely and deeply entwined . . .

Will Aurora and Grania be able to reunite the families, unlock the chains of the past and solve the mystery that has been haunting the two families for many years?

Place and setting


Dunworley Where the novel opens and a place so vital to the story Cork - where Grania and Aurora go shopping Mary wanders on the cliff near the house and Sean takes her to Rosscarberry or Clonakilty
Where the novel opens and a place so vital to the story
Cork – where Grania and Aurora go shopping
Mary wanders on the cliff near the house and Sean takes her to Rosscarberry or Clonakilty

The small figure was standing perilously close to the edge of the cliff. Her luxuriant, long read hair had been caught by the strong breeze and was flying out behind her

And we are immediately transported to the cliff in Ireland where we meet Aurora with the scene set with such passion and evocative writing that you can also feel the wind in your hair and concern that the child is too near to the edge of the cliff. but then this is Lucinda Riley’s writing – as she not only takes you to the story and the characters but the setting is also a character in itself.

“The West Cork sun was akin to a temperamental diva”

London in war time is grim and dangerous, the West coast of Ireland, rural and carefree and New York painful to remember. Each location draws on the story and reveals secrets about the characters and the importance of belonging.

The settings themselves are wide ranging and deeply descriptive – we are taken to World War I and II, contemporary Ireland and New York and meet a large cast of characters from a variety of social backgrounds along the way.

But it’s the spirit of Ireland that looms large and captures your mind as it does the hair of Aurora on the book’s cover. This is the spirit of Ireland, the way it gets under your skin and ultimately inside your heart –

..the wind that had been whistling around them as they’d climbed up the cliff suddenly calmed. This was due to a thick hedge of brambles and the wild fushia West Cork was famous for, which stood sentinel around the house, protecting it and its occupants as best it could.

Bookish musings

Ireland is certainly a character in this book and what an evocative read. I really now want to go to Cork and feel the wind in my hair and to see the cliffs that Aurora and the others saw. what a rural yet vivid landscape.

The story was like a thread woven in and out of each page. The journey iof Aurora, the enchanting little girl who is the link between the two feuding families and a catalyst for change is an interesting story. She holds the key to the mystery of the families there and the developing relationship between Grania and the girl is lovely to see. Aurora is enchanting and playful and fresh – in every way.

As we start to discuss Aurora’s backstory, this is the most enchanting part of the novel but the story of her mother and Grania’s mother is the most upsetting part of the whole story. Yet, just like the war time setting where we meet another figure, it is  yet another thread in the overall weave of a history and past that is important to present day.

An historical jigsaw puzzle with the enchanting girl on the cliff at the centre of it all.

Deadly deeds in darkest Dublin 1841

This is the  fictionalised yet utterly fascinating and intriguing account of a real life murder case which rocked Victorian Ireland.


– John Delahunt was hanged in 1842 for the murder of a young boy Thomas MacGuire.

On a cold December morning, a small boy is enticed away from his mother and his throat savagely cut.

The killing causes an outcry even in a city already ridden by violent crime and unrest in all its forms. Yet, Delahunt seems not to feel any kind of revulsion or guilt – in fact  he feels no regret at all.

As he sits awaiting execution in Kilmainham Jail, he starts to write an account of events leading up to his incarceration.

Kilmainham jail - image courtesy of Wikipedia
Kilmainham jail – image courtesy of Wikipedia

My warder is a  man named Turner, an old Kilmainham guard with a grey moustache stained yellow and one eye turned inward. He treats me well enough because of my refined manners and clean habits. The details of my conviction don’t seem to bother him.

It’s set among Dublin’s dark alleyways, taverns and tenements and you can almost feel the wet cobbles underneath your feet and the smells of the dark and dank streets as you follow John around as he creeps and hides in the shadows –

Map of central Dublin  - Google maps showing the castle (A) and the streets around Merrion Square, St Stephens Green and Castle Street
Map of central Dublin – Google maps showing the castle (A) and the streets around Merrion Square park, St Stephens Green and Castle Street

Despite the hour, shadowy figures walked along the footpaths. We skirted the enclosed park, tall houses and grand public buildings , then turned right into York Street.

He led the way through sloping cobbled streets, still slick from the evening showers…..

The character list reads like something straight out of a Dickens novel – there are plenty lowlives and blackmailers hiding around every corner not to mention  the sinister agents of Dublin Castle. Delahunt is an informant and in the pay of those at the Castle. As one of the agents himself says –

‘I know there’s some stigma attached to the Castle’s methods, but it’s undeserved. As if we live to skulk in the shadows and pry into the business of honest men.’

But almost in his next breath, he commiserates with the fact that Delahunt has reported a death ‘too early’ as if he had waited another day, then he would have received a bigger reward as 

‘Murder,’ he said. ‘That’s where the money is.’

Murder is not far behind – for on one cold December morning, a small boy is enticed away from his mother and his throat savagely cut.

The entire novel is laced with dark humour, and you can almost smell the alcohol and the damp taverns as you turn the page. This is a gripping historical thriller about a man who betrays his family, his friends and, ultimately, himself. It’s a world of predators, every man for himself. The raw descriptions of life on the streets and hiding in Dublin’s underbelly makes, at times, for a difficult and gut churning read.

All the more shocking that it is based on true facts.


You won’t want to visit this kind of Dublin for real, but in the literary setting of this debut novel, then it is quite a journey. Thank goodness for being able to visit this side of Dublin from the comfort of an armchair. Yet, within a few lines, the soft furnishings had turned into a hard wooden chair, in a dark dank tavern with the stale smell of beer imbued in the pages.

As John Delahunt says himself –

Nothing delights the general public so much as the trial of a murderous woman.

Replace ‘woman’ with ‘a man called John Delahunt’ and oh the irony…