Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Review & Interview | The Ludlow Ladies' Society by Ann O'Loughlin

Published by Black and White Publishing on July 4, 2017

Thank you, Ann, for joining me for an interview on my blog.

Delighted to be chatting today.

Can you tell us one thing we would be surprised to learn about you?

I asked a friend how I should answer this and she said most people would be surprised to know I manage to juggle a full time job and writing novels. The truth is I love fiction writing and I love my job as a journalist. It is a perfect combination for me. I really feel that my fiction informs my writing.

The Ludlow Ladies’ Society was published by Black and White Publishing on July 4. Can you tell us a bit about it?

American Connie Carter has lost everyone and everything dear to her. She comes to Ludlow hall in Wicklow, Ireland nursing her grief. She is also looking for answers. She never knew this mansion even existed until after her husband’s death.

In the village she meets the members of The Ludlow Ladies’ Society and reluctantly lets them back in to the Hall for their meetings. Slowly but surely, she is befriended by the women and particularly Hetty and Eve, the former owner of the Hall until it was repossessed and sold to Connie’s husband.

As the women begin to stitch memory quilts together to those they have lost, the secrets of the past tumble out. As they stitch and talk, the, sadness and bitterness is excised; the process helps heal the hearts of the women, all nursing their private grief and loss.

What shines through is the support for Connie Carter. Support and friendship of other women which gives her a chance to stitch her shattered life back together again.

I found there were several beautiful and resonating quotes within The Ludlow Ladies’ Society, but did you have a message in mind when you wrote this book?

I can’t say I had a message in mind when I wrote the book, but I did want to explore friendship among women and how women hold each other up and support each other through the toughest of times. Women are good to each other, listen and understand each other. I think we would be lost without our friends. Connie Carter, when she meets the Ludlow ladies, is drawn in to a band of women who reach out and help her through her hard times. She is all the better for the support and friendship she finds in The Ludlow Ladies’ Society.

What character in The Ludlow Ladies’ Society do you think you’d get along with the most?

I think everybody loves Eve. There she is, thrown out of her home, Ludlow Hall as the bank repossess it and she continues life in a very different way, but in a totally dignified way. I think the thing about Eve is that even though she lived in the lovely big house Ludlow Hall, she never forgot who she was, so when the worst of times came she was able to adapt to living in a small house and taking in sewing to scrape a living. There is also a well of kindness and understanding in Eve.

How did you celebrate publication day?

What a busy day getting ready for the Irish launch of the novel in the bookshop Dubray Books, Grafton Street, Dublin. But before anything I had a lovely glass of champagne with a breakfast cooked by my two children. That really was the best part of the day. After that, it was a flurry of telephone interviews and rushing about until the launch in the evening. I was so thrilled we had a packed house and that so many old and new friends came out the third year in a row to celebrate the launch of one of my novels. Afterwards, we all had dinner with my lovely agent Jenny Brown and my editor at Black&White Publishing, Karyn Millar. It was the perfect end to a perfect publication day.

What does your typical writing day look like?

I like to get up at 5am to write. I have a big comfy chair in the kitchen where I flop with the lap top. There was a time the dogs would give me an excited welcome so early, but now they know the routine and don’t budge until I have reached the first 1000 words. That is when they get breakfast. If they are lucky, we try to get a walk in before the next stint of writing. At 7am I get everybody in the house ready for whatever they are doing and I get ready for work. It takes an hour on the train to get to work, so I often read over and edit during that time.

What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

I like to read. When I am writing, I don’t read, so I have a huge TBR pile beside my bed right. Now that The Ludlow Ladies’ Society is safely on the shelves I intend to spend August soaking up the sunshine and catching up in my reading. I live beside the sea at home, so I have promised the dogs plenty of early morning walks in August. I also love to travel and grab every chance I can to do that.

The Ludlow Ladies’ Society is your third novel. Has the process from writing the first words to publication differed with each book?

It has in some ways, but it is still the hard slog of getting up early in the morning and getting the words down. When I was writing my first novel The Ballroom Café, I did not have an agent or a publisher so it was like being in a vacuum, but I kept writing, hoping someday my dream of publication would come true.

When I was writing The Judge’s Wife, my second book I knew my publisher Black &White Publishing were keen to have a first read, so that made a huge difference and of course it was the same with The Ludlow Ladies’ Society. The Ballroom Café was a bestseller on kindle and an Irish bestseller and The Judge’s Wife was weeks in the Irish bestseller charts.

But you have to put that all out of your head and write the story in you.

My wish is that the readers of The Ludlow Ladies’ Society, when they close the book feel uplifted after meeting the Ludlow ladies.

What do you enjoy the most about being an author?

The champagne and strawberries every morning for breakfast! I am only joking of course.

Genuinely, my favourite thing is when readers get in touch to chat about one of my books. It is a wonderful feeling to think the words you put on the page and the story you tell has touched so many people. There are some readers that regularly keep in touch through my author Facebook page @annoloughlinbooks and it really is lovely. Writing is a lonely existence and I think every writer is full of self-doubt about his or her work, so when people take the bother to get in touch to tell you they love the books, then it is really wonderful.

If you could choose one book published during the past year that you would recommend we read, what book would that be?

The House Between Rides by Sarah Maine. I was saving this for when I am on holidays in August, but I started to read it the other night and I just love it. Maine writes beautifully and I love her descriptive passages, it just brings me in to another world.

This book has captivated me. Hetty inherits a large old house in the Outer Hebrides and wants to turn it into a hotel. When a cracked skull is found under the floorboards, there is a crime of the past to be solved and long buried secrets begin to tumble out. Maine moves between timelines following the lives of two women a century apart but both connected to this big house on the island.

Is there a book you wish you’d written? If so, which one, and why?

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres.

I just loved this book. I am not surprised that the Greek island of Cephallonia had an increase in tourism after its publication and the movie release. It is such a wonderful love story. Set in the early days of World War 2 – a beautiful local woman whose fisherman boyfriend departs to fight with the Greek army falls in love with Captain Antonio Corelli in command of the Italian garrison occupying the Greek island. I particularly loved the historical detail. The movie did not do the book justice. This is a book that made me laugh and cry.

On a more frivolous note, Louis de Bernieres was able to give up work and concentrate on his writing after publication and that would a dream come true for any writer.

Finally, can you tell us anything about what you’re working on next?

In a word… No. Please don’t take offence, nobody knows or will know until those two magic words The End are typed at the bottom of the page.

Not even my agent or my publisher is let in to that secret.

It is my favourite time with any book, when nobody knows what I am writing. I live with the characters and the story. It is almost a secret world where I can retreat. It gives me time and space to think everything through and get the words on the page.

Thank you, Ann!

I’ve read both of Ann O’Loughlin’s previous novels, The Ballroom Café and The Judge’s Wife, and they were both beautifully written tales that captured my heart. The Ludlow Ladies’ Society had the exact same impact on me. I find Ann’s writing is really expressive and meaningful and each book truly feels heartfelt, which only makes me enjoy reading them even more. The Ludlow Ladies’ Society is about learning to live again, and through the power of friendship, anything seems possible. Not simply sentimental, there are some hard-hitting and shocking moments as well as plenty of humour which made this book a real treat to read.

At the beginning of the book we meet Connie. Her husband has died and whilst she is grieving, she soon learns that he was hiding something from her. Her husband has bought Ludlow Hall in Ireland. As they were living in America and this place in Ireland is something Connie has heard nothing about, she is confused as to what her husband’s motives were and why he kept something like this from her. Bravely she leaves her life in America behind to go to Rosdaniel, Co. Wicklow and see the property for herself. Ludlow Hall is not what it once was. It’s boarded up, closed down. But Connie sees the opportunity to bring the place back to life – and that’s where the Ludlow Ladies’ Society comes into it.

At Ludlow Hall, Connie meets Eve and Hetty. All three of these women are trying to deal with their own losses in their own way, and each of them have their own very individual story and background, but they bond together so well. They also all have a love of sewing and quilt making. This is a hobby that, whilst rewarding to actually do, might not sound like the most entertaining to read about but this was such a powerful part of the book. Through sewing, and making patches of a quilt, Connie, Eve and Hetty help each other through the toughest of times. Here they learn to evaluate their grief, understand how it can affect in different ways and that it’s ok to feel pain and sorrow but also, that any moments of happiness should be grasped with both hands. For anyone who has felt grief, or is still grieving, I think this is an absolute brilliant choice of book to read. Seeing the way these three women handle their grief really left an impression on me.

I absolutely loved getting to know all three characters, but Connie was just about my favourite. They were all very different and I think Eve came across as the most easily likeable of the three, but it was Connie’s character I seemed to warm to the most. Connie has been dealt a real shock at the beginning of the book but I loved how she didn’t just sit and wallow, instead going to Ireland to tackle things head on. I really admired how she came through her apprehension and worries about being judged and not fitting in, to the level where she makes such true friends in Hetty and Eve.

I’ve said it before, but Ann O’Loughlin is a real favourite author of mine. I always look forward to her new book and I don’t believe they will ever disappoint. I love the beauty of her storytelling and how each layer of her books is full of emotion and honesty and characters who feel like close friends come the end of the book. The chapters in The Ludlow Ladies’ Society are quite short and impactful. Because of this and because of how much I was enjoying the book, I never once put it down, something I cursed when the book was over so soon, but it was a real pleasure to read. Full of emotion, secrets, intrigue and friendship, this book has it all and I loved every moment of reading it. I am looking forward to reading the next book by this author, but The Ludlow Ladies’ Society will prove a difficult one to top!

Monday, 24 July 2017

Giveaway | The Freedom Broker by K.J. Howe

Published by Headline on July 27, 2017

Good morning. Today I'm really happy to be kicking off the blog tour for The Freedom Broker by K.J. Howe. For my stop on the blog tour, there's a giveaway to win one of five copies of the book, which is out this Thursday. The giveaway is open to UK residents only and will end at the end of July. Good luck!

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Saturday, 22 July 2017

Giveaway | The Things I Should Have Told You by Carmel Harrington

Good morning lovely readers. It's the start of the summer holidays for lots of you so I hope you all have a great summer, and fingers crossed plenty of reading time. The winner of last week's giveaway was announced on Twitter last night, but today I have the perfect summer holiday book for you to win from one of my favourite authors.

Today's giveaway is for a copy of The Things I Should Have Told You by Carmel Harrington.

This week's prize includes: 
Copy of The Things I Should Have Told You by Carmel Harrington
Camper van pencil case
Paperchase Wishlist notebook

Giveaway begins on the 22/07/2017 and ends at 23:59 on the 28/07/2017. 
Prize is as pictured above. 
Open worldwide.

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Friday, 21 July 2017

Review | The Summer of Serendipity by Ali McNamara

Published by Sphere on July 13, 2017

The Summer of Serendipity is the first book I have read by Ali McNamara but it won’t be the last. This was a really magical, summery treat of a read, combining romance and mystery in an enthralling fashion, and I really settled into Ali’s storytelling like I’d been reading her books for years.

Serendipity, or Ren as she prefers to be known as, is introduced to us at the beginning of the book alongside her friend Kiki. Ren is a property seeker and is looking for the perfect home for her latest client. In the small Irish town of Ballykiltara, it doesn’t take long before she has found the perfect home. Except nothing is ever that simple. Known as “The Welcome House”, the place Ren has found is a big part of local legend and it is a welcoming place for all. The owner is unknown and therefore the house is not for sale, but Ren isn’t a quitter and she begins to ask question after question until she can get to the bottom of the Welcome House.

I really loved seeing Ireland revealed right in front of my eyes through Ali’s words and through the way she described Ireland and brought Ballykiltara to life, it was evident that Ireland has meaning to the author and this shone through in her writing. I loved getting to know the place and found the Welcome House gave it another, absolutely fascinating edge that had me hooked trying to learn more about it. Ali’s descriptions and scene setters are charming and full of character. From the woodland walks to the welcoming feel to the place, there was so much to love about Ballykiltara. The scenery sounded absolutely exquisite and contributed to the appealing feel to the book.

Though it took me a few chapters to really settle into this book, this was made easy because the characters of Ren and Kiki drew me in straight away. I loved the dialogue and interactions between them from the start. At first we know little about them. The most evident thing is that Kiki mixes up her words a lot and that complicates matters at times. But only a few chapters in, when one seemingly harmless comment from Kiki sees Ren snap, we begin to see signs that Ren is guarding herself and has a few demons in her past to deal with.

Kiki and Ren were fun characters, kind and entertaining and they made this book a joy to read. Kiki had me laughing many times throughout this book, not just when she gets her words muddled but in general she’s a funny character. Ren is likeable in a different sort of way but I really enjoyed getting to know her character. She is offered one big hunk of a distraction in the form of hotel manager Finn. Of course I also loved getting to know him too. The characters in this book were warm and engaging and overall had The Summer of Serendipity sparkling with feel-good factor.

I’m not sure which I preferred more – the mystery behind the Welcome House or the blossoming romance. I was dying to know more about the Welcome House just like Ren except there seemed to be a whole lot more questions than answers. I loved learning a bit about the history and the folklore. This is not really something I expect to see a lot of in this genre but the author beautifully entwines every aspect of the book to make it fit seamlessly, something which felt special and a bit magical.

If, like me, you have never read a book by Ali McNamara before, then this is definitely a great book to start with as I am now eager to discover Ali’s other books, some I know are already sat on my bookcase. If you have already read Ali’s books than I’m sure you are sold on this one already as her storytelling is a delight to read. I fell in love with Ireland through this book alone and the way the author builds up the sights and places she has created, inspired by real sights in Ireland. The Summer of Serendipity is a wonderfully romantic and atmospheric read – and it is a must-read this summer.

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