Review: Beyond Derrynane

02_beyond-derrynaneBeyond Derrynane
by Kevin O’ Connell

Publication Date: July 7, 2016
Gortcullinane Press
eBook & Paperback; 348 Pages

Series: The Derrynane Saga, Volume 1
Genre: Historical Fiction

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Wed in an arranged marriage to a man nearly fifty years her senior, sixteen-year-old Eileen O’Connell goes from being one of five unmarried sisters to become the mistress of Ballyhar, the great estate of John O’Connor, one of the wealthiest and most influential men in Ireland.

When O’Connor dies suddenly seven months into their marriage, Eileen must decide whether she will fulfill her brother’s strategic goals for her family by marrying her late husband’s son.

Headstrong and outspoken, Eileen frustrates her brother’s wishes, as, through the auspices of her uncle, General Moritz O’Connell of the Imperial Austrian Army, she, along with her ebullient elder sister, Abigail, spend the ensuing richly-dramatic and eventful years at the court of the Empress Maria Theresa in Vienna.The sisters learn to navigate the complex and frequently contradictory ways of the court–making a place for themselves in a world far different from remote Derrynane. Together with the general, they experience a complex life at the pinnacle of the Hapsburg Empire.

Beyond Derrynane – and the three books to follow in The Derrynane Saga – will present a sweeping chronicle, set against the larger drama of Europe in the early stages of significant change, dramatising the roles, which have never before been treated in fiction, played by a small number of expatriate Irish Catholics of the fallen “Gaelic Aristocracy” (of which the O’Connells were counted as being amongst its few basically still-intact families) at the courts of Catholic Europe, as well as relating their complex, at times dangerous, lives at home in Protestant Ascendancy-ruled Ireland.

In addition to Eileen’s, the books trace the largely-fictional lives of several other O’Connells of Derrynane, it is the tantalisingly few facts that are historically documented about them which provide the basic threads around which the tale itself is woven, into which strategic additions of numerous historical and fictional personalities and events intertwine seamlessly.

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My Review:

Beyond Derrynane is the first novel of a very compelling new historical fiction series. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Mr. O’Connell took us to Ireland, France and Austria and each place seemed so very real and wonderful. The characters are alive and vibrant. Eileen is a strong woman who never forgets who she is and will never be taken for granted.

There are two very distinctive parts of this book. First, we see Eileen’s tumultuous marriage to John O’Connor. Their marriage began in violence and ended with a mutual fondness. Eileen’s strength gave her the courage to overcome incredible abuse and take control of her life. She refuses to be the damsel in distress. She will save herself. She is an amazing character who I would like to see more of. Next, we see her life in Vienna where she tries find a different path.

The Court of Maria Theresa was truly magnificent. I really appreciated that Mr. O’Connell did not dwell on the drama and negativity of a royal court. It was fresh and robust. Eileen’s relationship with the future Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. I’m really looking forward to see how Eileen’s relationship with her will continue once she goes to France.

Beyond Derrynane is a very good start to a very compelling series. I look forward to the next installments. I want to know how each character develops and discover where their journeys take them.


About the Author03_kevin-oconnell

Kevin O’Connell is a native of New York City and a descendant of a young officer of what had—from 1690 to 1792—been the Irish Brigade of the French army, believed to have arrived in French Canada following the execution of Queen Marie Antoinette in October of 1793. At least one grandson subsequently returned to Ireland and Mr. O’Connell’s own grandparents came to New York in the early twentieth century. He holds both Irish and American citizenship.

He is a graduate of Providence College and Georgetown University Law Centre.

For more than four decades, O’Connell has practiced international business transactional law, primarily involving direct-investment matters, throughout Asia (principally China), Europe, and the Middle East.

Mr. O’Connell has been a serious student of selected (especially the Eighteenth Century) periods of the history of Ireland for virtually all of his life; one significant aspect of this has been a continuing scholarly as well as personal interest in the extended O’Connell family at Derrynane, many even distant and long-ago members of which, especially the characters about whom he writes, he has “known” intimately since childhood.

The father of five children and grandfather of ten, he and his wife, Laurette, live with their golden retriever, Katie, near Annapolis, Maryland.

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, January 16
Kick Off at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, January 17
Review at Broken Teepee

Wednesday, January 18
Review at Luxury Reading
Review at A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, January 19
Review at Books, Dreams, Life

Friday, January 20
Review at The Book Junkie Reads

Sunday, January 22
Review at Carole’s Ramblings

Monday, January 23
Review at Jorie Loves a Story

Tuesday, January 24
Review at Kinx’s Book Nook

Wednesday, January 25
Review at A Bookaholic Swede
Excerpt at A Literary Vacation

Friday, January 27
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Interview at Dianne Ascroft’s Blog

Monday, January 30
Review at Beth’s Book Nook Blog

Tuesday, January 31
Review at Book Nerd


Review: Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology

26827675Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology
Written by Leah Remini and Rebecca Paley
Published on November 3, 2015 by Ballantine Books
228 pages


The outspoken actress, talk show host, and reality television star offers up a no-holds-barred memoir, including an eye-opening insider account of her tumultuous and heart-wrenching thirty-year-plus association with the Church of Scientology.

My Review:

Earlier this month I binged watched Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath and I was completely blown away. I have always been bewildered about the lure of Scientology. After watching Leah Remini’s series, I can’t believe all the abuses that happened to the former parishioners that she interviewed.  However, Ms. Remini didn’t go in great detail on the series about her own experiences with Scientology. For that reason, I quickly purchased her book and read it in two days.

Ms. Remini tells her incredible story with an easy flow that really captivates you. Her stories are really unbelievable and it amazes me that such a strong woman can be pulled into the craziness of Scientology. But that’s what a cult does…they brainwash you from a very young age. She tells of her earlier experiences with Sea Org which really wasn’t for her. Her humor flows through her stories where you don’t just cringe the entire time you are reading. There were many times that I was laughing at loud and shaking my head at the same time. From signing “billion year” contracts to paying millions of dollars to get “cleared”, she goes on and on about the audacity of Scientology.

One of the most incredible statistics Ms. Remini provided was the actual membership of Scientology. Through of its propaganda one would believe that its membership is well into the millions. No, she estimates it to be just 35,000 worldwide. This is proves how successful the Scientology propaganda machine is. I was really astounded at that low number; especially with the likes of Tom Cruise and John Travolta as members.

Tom Cruise is mentioned quite a bit throughout the book and particularly his wedding to Katie Holmes. This event was the beginning of the end of Ms. Remini’s relationship with Scientology and she only asked one simple question, “Hey, where’s Shelly?” She basically ruined the wedding with that question. But it wasn’t so simple. The Scientology leaders from that point on made it there mission to make Ms. Remini never ask that question again. To this day, no can answer that simple question. Where is Shelly Miscavige?

Leah Remini is an incredible brave person for telling her story. Others who has expressed their concerns about Scientology have been attacked via defamation and lawsuits. Her book has started much need conversations on why Scientology should be classified as a “church.” It’s a cult and should be treated as such. As she preached throughout the book, the IRS needs to take another detailed look at this organization. They shouldn’t be able to hide their abuses by claiming “religious freedom.”

Thank you, Leah Remini for braving the attacks from other Scientologists and I hope you continue your crusade!






Guest Post: In the Mood


In the Mood: How to set the stage for writing fiction by Jennifer Lamont Leo

I’ll admit it; I’m addicted to author interviews. I love to learn the stories-behind-the-stories. I keep a file of author interviews I’ve collected over the years. Every so often I pull them out and leaf through them, looking for inspiration. I’m especially interested in the little daily practices that authors use to “prime the pump” and get themselves ready to write. Some writers read a few pages of a favorite book. Others take walks, putter around in the kitchen or garden, pray, or meditate. Still others retype what they wrote the day before to get into the “voice” of their character. (If you want to read a really interesting collection of tactics used over the centuries, check out Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey.)

Here are some of my favorite ways to get in the writing mood:


Did you know that the root of the word “music” is “muse”? If your writing muse is napping, turn up the volume and wake her up!

Novelist Bret Lott opens his writing time by listening to certain music: a different “soundtrack” for every project. He prefers music that’s complex and instrumental, so that the words of the song don’t get mixed in with his own. While writing her bestselling Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon listened to Scottish folk music, “trying to grasp the cadence and charm of their language.”

My debut novel, as well as the sequel I’m working on now, are set during Prohibition. At the library I found a CD of hit songs of the 1920s, and for a while that was my writing soundtrack. Recently I discovered the wonders of Pandora and have downloaded my own selections. Now when I hear the opening strains of “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate,” I shimmy myself right back into my story.


Some writers use objects to get into the writing mood. Kent Haruf says he writes the first draft with a stocking cap over his face, typing blind so as not to be distracted by the words on the paper. Others don a certain shirt or pair of slippers. Several writers have mentioned lighting a candle at the beginning of every writing session. I love this idea, except I tend to be forgetful, and a shrieking smoke alarm is unhelpful to the creative process. Instead, I collect old magazines from the 1920s that I find in antique shops. They’re fairly inexpensive, and the ads and illustrations are great for helping me capture the clothes, hairstyles, decorating, and even popular slang of the era. I also have an antique lipstick case that I display on my desk. It helps me conjure up an image of the “flapper” who might have carried it, back in the day.

Tastes and Smells

Catherine Palmer prepares for writing her Regency-England romances by brewing tea in an elegant china pot. Amy Tan burns incense. I don’t yet have an aroma associated with my novel, but if I did, it would probably be bootleg whiskey or bathtub gin (on second thought, I’d probably best leave well enough alone!).

How do you get in the writing mood? Do you have certain tricks, habits, or rituals that set the stage for your writing? If not, maybe give it a try. Who knows—your muse might just appreciate your lucky bowling shirt as much as you do.

03_jennifer-lamont-leoAuthor bio:

With a passion for all things historical, Jennifer Lamont Leo captures readers’ hearts and imaginations through fiction set in times gone by. Her debut novel, You’re the Cream in My Coffee, set in 1920s Chicago, was published in 2016 by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. An award-winning author, journalist, copywriter, and editor, she writes from the Idaho mountain home she shares with her husband, two cats, and abundant wildlife. Visit her at


Blog Tour: The Semper Sonnet

02_the-semper-sonnetThe Semper Sonnet
by Seth Margolis

Publication Date: April 19, 2016
Diverson Publishing
eBook & Paperback; 374 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery/Thriller


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In this stunning thrill ride, perfect for fans of Dan Brown and Steve Berry, a long-lost manuscript, written for Elizabeth I, holds the key to unlocking the past—and to eliminating the future.

Lee Nicholson is ready to take the academic world by storm, having discovered a sonnet she believes was written by William Shakespeare. When she reads the poem on the air, the words put her life in peril and trigger a violent chase, with stakes that reach far beyond the cloistered walls of academia.

Buried in the language of the sonnet, in its allusions and wordplay, are secrets that have been hidden since Elizabethan times, secrets known only to the queen and her trusted doctor, but guessed at by men who seek the crown and others who seek the world. If the riddles are solved, it could explode what the world knows of the great Elizabeth I. And it could release a pandemic more deadly than the world has ever imagined.

Lee’s quest for the answers buried in the sonnet keeps her one step ahead of an international hunt—from the police who want her for murder, to a group of men who will stop at nothing to end her quest, to a madman who pursues the answers for destructive reasons of his own.

As this intelligent thriller moves back and forth between Tudor England and the present day, Lee begins to piece together the meaning behind Shakespeare’s words, carrying the story to its gasp-out-loud conclusion.

My Review:

The Semper Sonnet is a new compelling thriller by Seth Margolis. It is captivating from beginning to the end. There is no slowing down when reading this book. The characters are strong and bring the story to life. I’m a big fan of Dan Brown and I found The Semper Sonnet to be very much in the same vein. I will say it will be very difficult to write a review without spilling any spoilers; however, I will do my best not to give anything away.

Mr. Margolis has brought Elizabethan England back to life in the 21st Century. His theories of Elizabeth I are very interesting and thought-provoking. As a person with a history degree and studied that time period, I found his storyline very entertaining and (almost) believable. He was able to create a conspiracy theory about Elizabeth I that will make your mind start spinning and wondering: Could this be true?

Lee Nicholson is the perfect character for this wild chase for knowledge and redemption. She is strong and independent; almost to a fault. I appreciated that Mr. Margolis did not focus on a romantic relationship for Lee. Her intelligence and her ability to persevere were the main tenants of her story. She accepted help but really didn’t need it. She is a true scholar with an independent mind and heart.

If you love Elizabethan history, conspiracy theories, and a fast-paced story line, you will love this book. Overall, The Semper Sonnet is fun and entertaining. At time, some of the story line seemed not very believable.  However, as a whole, the book really works and the unbelievable parts will melt away.



“Imaginative plotting and depth of character distinguish this centuries-spanning thriller…”—Publishers Weekly

“The Semper Sonnet is a wildly imaginative thriller that fans of Dan Brown and Steve Berry will love.”—Phillip Margolin, New York Times bestselling author

“This provocative and knuckle-biting thriller will have you on the edge of your seat as it careens through the hallowed halls of academia into the turbulent past. Hold tight to your farthingales: this is a roller-coaster ride of a book!”—C.W. Gortner, international bestselling author of The Last Queen

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

About the Author03_seth-margolis

Seth Margolis is a writer whose most recent novel, THE SEMPER SONNET, was published on April 19. He is the author of six earlier novels, including LOSING ISAIAH, which was made into a film starring Halle Berry and Jessica Lange.

Seth lives with his wife, Carole, in New York City. They have two grown children, Maggie and Jack. Seth received a BA in English from the University of Rochester and an MBA in marketing from New York University’s Stern School of Business Administration. When not writing fiction, he is a branding consultant for a wide range of companies, primarily in the financial services, technology and pharmaceutical industries. He has written articles for the New York Times and other publications on travel and entertainment.

For more information, please visit Seth Margolis’ website. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Blog Tour Schedule

Thursday, December 1
Blog Tour Kick Off at Passages to the Past

Friday, December 2
Spotlight at The Never-Ending Book

Saturday, December 3
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews

Monday, December 5
Review at A Bookaholic Swede

Tuesday, December 6
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Spotlight at The Lit Bitch

Wednesday, December 7
Review at Kinx’s Book Nook
Spotlight at What Is That Book About

Thursday, December 8
Interview at Author Dianne Ascroft’s Blog
Spotlight at Susan Heim on Writing

Friday, December 9
Review at Trisha Jenn Reads

Monday, December 12
Review at 100 Pages a Day
Review at Queen of All She Reads

Wednesday, December 14
Review at JulzReads

Thursday, December 15
Guest Post at JulzReads

Friday, December 16
Spotlight at Books, Dreams, Life

Monday, December 19
Review at Beth’s Book Nook Blog

Wednesday, December 21
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation

Tuesday, December 27
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective

Wednesday, December 28
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews

Thursday, December 29
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Friday, December 30
Review at Broken Teepee


Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – The Original Screenplay

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – The Original Screenplay
Written by J.K. Rowling
Published by Scholastic Books on November 18, 2016
280 pages


A time and place where the actions of a handful of people… and creatures… will determine the fate of the many. Magizoologist, Newt Scamander, newly arrived in town, intends his stay to be just a brief stopover. However, when Newt’s magical case is misplaced and some of his fantastic beasts escape into the city, it spells trouble for everyone…

My Review:

I loved this movie and this book! Now that’s a strong opening line for a review. But I can’t sugar coat it. My family and I saw the movie last weekend and I finished the screenplay shortly thereafter. Fantastic Beasts continues the wonderful story of the magic world. Ms. Rowling’s imagination has no end and I’m very happy about that.

The magical world in the America is a very different world than in England. I think Ms. Rowling’s opinions shined through into her screenplay (which I appreciate). Witches and Wizards can have no contact with No Majs (muggles). There is some very strong discrimination throughout the story which is pretty prevalent in America today. The American magical community is viewed as very closed-minded and isolated. As I was watching and reading Fantastic Beasts, I kept thinking “Newt, please take Tina, Queenie and Jacob back to England with you and lived happily ever after!”

My favorite characters have to be Queenie and Jacob. I loved their sweetness and acceptance of each other. Jacob’s realization that there is a magical world is so funny and brings a lot levity to the story. Queenie’s use of legilimency would make someone feel uncomfortable; but, she is so sweet and empathic it really didn’t seem untoward. I really loved Queenie and Jacob’s budding relationship. I hope it continues and flourishes in the movies to come.

As I was reading the screenplay, I could vividly see the movie playing out in my head. I really like this format; it makes for fun reading. Like the play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Fantastic Beasts is fast-paced and quick to read. But make sure you see the movie first; it makes the screenplay so much more fun to read.



Guest Post: Researching a Story

I am very pleased to have Mr. Stuart Harris on my blog today. He is the author of The Northeast Quarter, a wonderful piece of historical fiction. He will be discussing how he researches for his stories. Please enjoy!

Did you research for the backdrop of your story or any other part of it?

I researched for some of the technical or historical details, but most of it came from first person accounts of people who were alive at the time the story takes place. A major part of The Northeast Quarter came from a promise to my mother. My parents grew up between 1918 and 1929, the time in which the story takes place. This period, between the end of WW1 and The Great Depression were years of tremendous economic upheaval in the rural areas. In fact, one might say The Depression crept into these rural areas with foreclosures, poor harvest and high interest rates while city people were enjoying The Roaring Twenties and dancing the Charleston.  My mother saw these events up close and developed a fear of what would happen to her family if America ever went through a second depression.  How would they survive it?

We also had Huey Long’s rise to power in Louisiana and Hitler beginning to emerge in Germany. In both cases, governmental power was getting easily out of control. Mother began to consider various ways to protect her family in the future.  Right or wrong, she envisioned a second Depression and the possibility of an executive order, which declared that no person could own land unless he lived on it.  She focused on one piece of property, which I’ll call Section Ten. Throughout my life she would say,

“Never sell Ten.  Promise me you’ll never sell it.  Promise me you’ll keep Ten for you and your family.”

Her strategy was that if there were ever another economic collapse, I could always go to Iowa, rent a camper and live on the property until the crisis had passed. This request for re-affirmation of my promise continued repeatedly. The last one was on her deathbed.

Mother passed away in 2006 and I own Section Ten. The crisis she envisioned never occurred, but the story of keeping her promise provided the springboard for the plot of The Northeast Quarter.

About the Author


Stuart M. Harris began writing for the theater professionally in 1991 when he was invited by the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York to attend a summer conference. The experience led the native Californian to move to New York to become a playwright. Several of his plays have been produced Off Broadway and around the country, among them. Oona Field produced by Diverse City Theater Company and Colleen Ireland, about a 90-year-old retirement home resident and her great granddaughter, that played in New York, Spokane and other cities, including Hamilton, OH, where it won ‘Best Play’ at The Fitton Center One-Act Playwriting Contest. A follow-up to Colleen was Spindrift Way, the first of ten more plays in the series. The Northeast Quarter began as a full-length play developed by the Works in Progress Theatre Lab at Manhattan Theatre Club Studios. Harris put playwriting on hold in order to weave the story of generations of Iowan farmers into his new historical novel. He lives in Brooklyn.

9781627873765-Perfect.inddDo you want revenge or do you want your land back?”

Winfield, Iowa. 1918. Colonel Wallace Carson, the ruler of a vast agricultural empire, asks Ann Hardy, his ten year old granddaughter and eventual heir, to promise she will safeguard The Northeast Quarter, the choice piece of land from which the empire was founded.  Ann readily accepts – little knowing what awaits her.  When The Colonel is killed unexpectedly the same afternoon, the world around Ann and her family begins to fall apart.

Against the background of America sliding from a post-war boom into The Great Depression, The Northeast Quarter tells the story of Ann’s struggle to keep a promise no matter what. She witnesses the remarriage of her grandmother to Royce Chamberlin, the seemingly humble banker who institutes a reign of terror over the household and proceeds to corrupt the entire town.

Over the next ten years she matches wits with Chamberlin, enduring betrayal, banishment and even physical violence.  She grows from a precocious child into a tough-minded young woman – watching, observing her enemy and waiting for the moment to make her move.

And when the moment comes in July 1929,  life in Winfield will never be the same.


Reveal: November Muse Monthly


It’s that time of the month where I have received my much anticipated Muse Monthly book subscription. Once again, it did not disappoint. The book looks really interesting and the tea looks delicious.

I love the packaging. It’s like opening a Christmas present! Here is what I received!


Mortifications By Derek Palacio

Derek Palacio’s stunning, mythic novel marks the arrival of a fresh voice and a new chapter in the history of 21st century Cuban-American literature.

In 1980, a rural Cuban family is torn apart during the Mariel Boatlift. Uxbal Encarnación—father, husband, political insurgent—refuses to leave behind the revolutionary ideals and lush tomato farms of his sun-soaked homeland. His wife Soledad takes young Isabel and Ulises hostage and flees with them to America, leaving behind Uxbal for the promise of a better life. But instead of settling with fellow Cuban immigrants in Miami’s familiar heat, Soledad pushes further north into the stark, wintry landscape of Hartford, Connecticut. There, in the long shadow of their estranged patriarch, now just a distant memory, the exiled mother and her children begin a process of growth and transformation.

Each struggles and flourishes in their own way: Isabel, spiritually hungry and desperate for higher purpose, finds herself tethered to death and the dying in uncanny ways. Ulises is bookish and awkwardly tall, like his father, whose memory haunts and shapes the boy’s thoughts and desires. Presiding over them both is Soledad. Once consumed by her love for her husband, she begins a tempestuous new relationship with a Dutch tobacco farmer. But just as the Encarnacións begin to cultivate their strange new way of life, Cuba calls them back. Uxbal is alive, and waiting.

Breathtaking, soulful, and profound, The Mortifications is an intoxicating family saga and a timely, urgent expression of longing for one’s true homeland.

Wight Tea Company: Sage Rose White Tea

I love white teas and I cannot wait to start brewing it. Yum! Yum!

It was another fun and great month of Muse Monthly!