Tuesday, 18 August 2015

A gentle read with a warm touch....review of The Ballroom Café at BleachHouseLibrary blog as part of Irish Fiction Fortnight.


Two estranged, elderly sisters,  a well-worn period home that is in need of major renovation and a lifetime of secrets.  A recipe for historical fiction.  But, along with these storylines, there is the added tale of forced and hidden adoption in Ireland going back decades.  It may sound like fiction, but unfortunately, it's based on true life.

Author Ann O'Loughlin has written about a formerly-taboo subject; that of the Catholic church supporting the adoption of babies to wealthy American families, without the full consent, or even knowledge in some cases, of the birth mothers.  The novel addresses the issue via the story of Debbie, an American who has come to Ireland in the hope of tracing her birth mother.  While there, she encounters Ella O'Callaghan and agrees to help her with preparations to open The Ballroom Cafe, in the older woman's home.  Ella's sister, Roberta, rattles around the old house with a bottle of sherry in her pocket and a years-old-feud with her sibling.  They have not spoken in decades and only communicate via notes left on their hall table.  Roberta does not welcome the American visitor, nor support Ella's idea to run a cafe from their old ballroom.  The rivalry simmers at boiling point and the locals, who frequent the cafe, are more than delighted to watch the tensions within the household.  
Debbie goes on national radio to aide her search for her birth mother, and the whole village listen with anticipation of scandal.  Ella is a tower of strength to Debbie, who needs all the support she can get, yet has her own secret hidden inside.  Can the women of The Ballroom Cafe really know how much pain each one is in?

This debut novel is extremely sweet, in more ways than one.  The characters are drawn with love and compassion, the Ballroom Cafe, and its surroundings, sound idyllic and dream-worthy (the descriptions of baking almost waft off the pages) and the story is one of courage, strength and changing worlds.  The writing is gentle and smooth and Ella is such a wonderfully drawn protagonist.  There is a little too much emphasis on her collection of brooches, and I'm not sure that younger readers will identify with them, but the way she deals with her difficult sister and nosy neighbours is great.  She is a woman that would be a pleasure to know in real life.  The spiraling debt of a large country house is very apt in today's financial climate and makes the reader want to rally around to protect these structures from decay.

 The treatment of young women in Ireland's past is well documented these days and never pleasant reading, yet should not be ignored.  I congratulate Ann on addressing the issue in her fiction debut and hope that it is an issue that will be delved into and dealt with accordingly, giving some peace to the the relatives and descendants of all involved. 
A gentle read, with a warm touch, considering the topic. 


Wednesday, 5 August 2015



      1.       What did you think of the ending of The Ballroom Café? The Irish Times said this: ‘Secrets emerge, there’s a whopper of a twist and this unabashed tear-jerker ends with a well-earthed, well-calculated emotional finale.’ Many have asked for a sequel. Was the ending appropriate in your opinion?
       2.      Did it work having the café as the main focus point for the novel?

3.       The Ballroom Café is often called a romantic novel, why do you think that is the case?

4.       The weather plays an important role in the novel, do you think it adds to the overall atmosphere.

5.       Do you think the issue of forced illegal adoption is examined fairly and from all sides?

6.       Ella finds solace in vintage Weiss brooches. How well do you think this works in the novel?

7.       Ella bakes scrumptious cakes for the patrons of The Ballroom Café, could you smell the baking wafting through the house?

8.       Which character changes the most during the novel?

9'.   Did the flashbacks to Debbie’s childhood in Ohio work?

10.   What was the most surprising aspect of The Ballroom Café?

11.   How do you think Irish society was portrayed? The Sunday Times said there was a skilful expose of a broken society?

12.   Did the notes show accurately the tension between the sisters Roberta and Ella?

13.   Do you think the mixture of gossip, cake, tea hand in hand with tragedy and a deep emotional issue worked?

          14.What was your favourite scene in the novel? Mine has to be when Ella O’Callaghan is facing down the snotty bank manager, who has threatened to repossess her treasured home Roscarbury Hall.
“In all my prayerful life, I have never felt so crucified. I will die before I move out of Roscarbury Hall.”

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Thrilled with this wonderful review of  The Ballroom Café in the Irish Times

"lots of human warmth and very intimate characterisation ....."

 "Secrets emerge, there's a whopper of a twist and this unabashed tear jerker ends with a well-earthed well-calculated emotional finale"...... 

Take a minute out to read the review here.