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.

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Monday, January 16
Kick Off at Passages to the Past

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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

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Review at The Book Junkie Reads

Sunday, January 22
Review at Carole’s Ramblings

Monday, January 23
Review at Jorie Loves a Story

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Review at Kinx’s Book Nook

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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