Brilliant Books and Beyond!

Last weekend the weather sucked big time. We had snow, gales and isobars of grumpy! I was fed up wearing the same thing every day – either PJs or yoga gear (fraudulent yoga gear that is rarely used for yoga at the minute) beneath layers of fleece and copycat-gortex. I long to exchange my hiking boots (which I wear for walking the country roads) or my wellies (which I wear for gardening) for sparkly high heels – of which I have exactly three pairs – gold sparkly, black/silver sparkly and red sparkly. I used to have pink sparkly but they have long since died a death of dropped sequence and worn-down heels! Maybe I’d feel better if I had pink sparkly wellies… now there’s a thought!

So there is little to get dressed up for these days, but there were two shining stars on my calendar that pulled me through the week – book launches by friends who had reached that special moment in a writer’s life – releasing their words into the wild – and what words they were!

One of the best things about being a writer is having talented writer friends. Unfortunately they both had to have zoom launches which is such a shame, but that’s what we’re having to doing … for now. When the pandemic is over perhaps we could have one huge festival – the Festival of Lost Launches!

I met Ellie Rose Mc Kee through Women Aloud NI. We were both at the John Hewitt Society Summer School. It is such a great festival for networking. I was drawn to Ellie’s gentle but wry humour. She writes with depth and sensitivity that oozes off the page. Ellie has also read at Flash Fiction Armagh.

Full Term is a young adult crossover story that depicts the hardships faced by sixteen-year-old Mya who has grown up terrorised by an abusive stepfather. When she finds herself pregnant, she doesn’t know who to turn to and hides the pregnancy. The story begins with with Mya going into labour in maths class. Now that’s what I call an impossible problem to solve! It’s a fabulous hook. Here’s the book blurb:

Sixteen-year-old Mya Byrne has three problems: her long-term boyfriend broke up with her over a stupid misunderstanding, her step-dad’s a psychopath who might just try and kill her, and–oh, yeah–she’s just gone into labour two weeks early in the middle of maths class.

As Mya navigates her first month of being a new mum, she resolves to fix her relationship, keep herself and her baby safe, and hopefully get her step-dad put behind bars.

Not too much of a tall order, right?

My 5* Review on Goodreads: From the first paragraph, this book pulls you in and keeps you reading. The characters are engaging and I was captivated by the story. While the plight of the main character is heartbreaking, Ellie Rose McKee does a fantastic job of keeping a hopeful slant on the story. I found it a gripping read – I couldn’t put this book down. Well written and good pacing.

You can read the first chapter of Full Term over on Jo Zebedee’s blog by clicking here.

Two days later, Sue Divin launched her amazing young adult crossover book Guard Your Heart.

This is a Romeo and Juliet style story, set in 2016 Derry about two eighteen-year-olds from opposite sides of the political divide falling in love. It is very much a story of our times and of our place. It spotlights how that generation is still working through the legacy of the Troubles. Here’s the book blurb:

Derry. Summer 2016. Aidan and Iona, now eighteen, were both born on the day of the Northern Ireland peace deal.

Aidan is Catholic, Irish, and Republican. With his ex-political prisoner father gone and his mother dead, Aidan’s hope is pinned on exam results earning him a one-way ticket out of Derry. To anywhere.

Iona, Protestant and British, has a brother and father in the police. She’s got university ambitions, a strong faith and a fervent belief that boys without one track minds are a myth.

At a post-exam party, Aidan wanders alone across the Peace Bridge and becomes the victim of a brutal sectarian attack. Iona witnessed the attack; picked up Aidan’s phone and filmed what happened, and gets in touch with him to return the phone. When the two meet, alone and on neutral territory, the differences between them seem insurmountable.

Both their fathers held guns, but safer to keep that secret for now.

Despite their differences and the secrets they have to keep from each other, there is mutual intrigue, and their friendship grows. And so what? It’s not the Troubles. But for both Iona and Aidan it seems like everything is keeping them apart , when all they want is to be together …

My 5* review on Goodreads: This story really starts with a punch and keeps the reader hooked all the way to the end. I read the book in two days. Couldn’t put it down. I loved the characters. My heart broke for Aidan as he tries to pull his life together against the odds. Iona is a shining star in his crazy world, a strong, independent, intelligent young woman. The backdrop of Derry was really cool and it was nice to see this part of the world in a modern story. Heartrending, compassionate and told with integrity this is definitely a timely read, with universal themes. Highly recommend it.

You can read the start of Guard Your Heart for free on its Amazon page.

Little Acorns Bookstore in Derry, No Alibis Bookstore in Belfast, and The Secret Bookshelf in Carrickfergus already stock author-signed copies you can purchase (buy local – support your local bookshop).

Sue is an amazing writer. We met through Flash Fiction Armagh and she is also a member of Women Aloud NI. Her stories carry a strong message of equality and tolerance. I can see how she uses her experience as a peace worker to give her ethos a voice. Her mission is to instil empathy so we can build a better community on both a local and global level. But the best way to understand how she accomplishes this is to watch her interview with Bernie McGill for the launch of Guard Your Heart.

Both of these wonderful books are a fabulous accomplishment and a gift to the world. They both have important messages about tolerance and how we need to build a better world for the youth of today. I’m grateful for their contribution to literature and for the wonderful hours I spent emersed in their books. If you think I’m biased because these wonderful women are my friends, I challenge you to decide for yourself. Read the free samples you get in the previews. I am certain each book will hook you in so you’ll want to read more. Don’t forget to write a review too – it’s a great way to support writers and as you can see from my reviews, they don’t have to be long-winded. Plus it makes an authors day to get a great review – spread happiness and it comes back to you!

And the beyond bit… just a little reminder that there is an online Book Club event for Rejuvenation where we’ll be discussing the trilogy and answering questions about it on 25th April 2021 at 7.30 pm. To register click here.

I hope that’s you all sorted for reading over Easter. Wishing you a peaceful weekend and hope you get an opportunity to spend some much missed and valued time with loved ones. The end of the pandemic is in sight but until then keep reading, keep your distance and keep safe.

Byddi Lee