BOOK REVIEW/BLOG TOUR: Bittersweet Tapestry by Kevin O'Connell

Publication Date: November 1, 2019
Gortcullinane Press
eBook & Paperback
Series: The Derrynane Saga, Book Three
Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis

A dramatic decade has passed since sixteen-year-old Eileen O’Connell first departed her family’s sanctuary at remote Derrynane on the Kerry coast to become the wife of one of the wealthiest men in Ireland and the mistress of John O’Connor’s Ballyhar – only to have her elderly husband die within months of the

marriage.

Unhappily returned to Derrynane, within a year, under the auspices of their uncle, a general in the armies of Maria Theresa, Eileen and her sister, Abigail departed for Vienna and a life neither could have ever imagined – one at the dizzying heights of the Hapsburg empire and court, where Abigail ultimately became principal lady-in-waiting to the Empress herself, whilst Eileen, for nine momentous years, served as governess to the Empress’s youngest daughter – during which time Maria Antonia, whom Eileen still calls ‘my wee little archduchess’, has become Marie Antoinette, Dauphine of France, though she continues to refer to her beloved governess as “Mama”.

As Bittersweet Tapestry opens, it is the High Summer of 1770. Having escorted the future Queen of France from Vienna to her new life, Eileen and her husband, Captain Arthur O’Leary of the Hungarian Hussars, along with their little boy and Eileen’s treasured friend (and former servant) Anna Pfeffer are establishing themselves in Ireland.

Their ties to Catholic Europe remain close and strong; in addition to Abigail and her O’Sullivan family and General O’Connell, his wife and young daughter in Vienna, their brother Daniel is an officer in the Irish Brigade of the armies of Louis XV, whilst their youngest brother, Hugh, is studying at École Militaire in Paris, his path to a commission in the Dillons’ Regiment of the Brigade. His gentle Austrian friendship with Maria Antonia having inevitably waned, Hugh’s relationship with the strikingly-beautiful young widowed Princess Marie Thérèse Louise of Savoy is blossoming.

Though happily ensconced at Rathleigh House, the O’Leary family estate in County Cork, being prominent amongst those families which are the remnants of the old Gaelic order in the area, Eileen and Art find that the dark cloud of the Protestant Ascendancy hovers heavily, at times threateningly, over them.

Bittersweet Tapestry
is a tale of stark contrasts – between Hugh’s life of increasing prominence amidst the glitter and intrigue of the French court and Art and Eileen’s in English-occupied Ireland – especially as the latter progresses into a dark, violent and bloody tale . . . ultimately involving an epic tragedy, which along with the events leading up to it and those occurring in its dramatic wake, will permanently impact the O’Learys, the O’Connells – and their far-flung circle of family and friends in Ireland and across Europe.

With his uniquely-descriptive prose, Kevin O'Connell again deftly weaves threads of historical fact and fancy to create a colourful fabric affording unique insights into the courts of eighteenth-century Catholic Europe as well as English-ruled Ireland. As the classic story unfolds amongst the O’Learys, the O'Connells, their friends and enemies, the tumultuously-dangerous worlds in which they dwell will continue to gradually – but inexorably – become even more so.

Bittersweet Tapestry
joins O’Connell’s well-received Beyond Derrynane and Two Journeys Home as The Derrynane Saga continues – an enthralling epic, presenting a sweeping chronicle, set against the larger drama of Europe in the early stages of significant – and, in the case of France – violent change.

My Thoughts

It has been some time since I’ve read the first two books in this wonderful saga, but I can still hear the lilt of Irish voices and see ‘Dark’ Eileen O’Connell striding across the landscape or through the halls of the Hapsburg palaces as if it was yesterday.

In Bittersweet Tapestry, the tale continues with the O'Leary's back in Ireland adjusting to life on their estate after the opulence of the Viennese court. This novel is still very much Eileen's story, although it alternates with that of her younger brother, Hugh O'Connell, in France.

The Irish Gaelic aristocracy and the situation in Ireland during the latter part of the 18th century is not a subject I knew much about until reading this saga. While the first two novels focus on the halcyon days in Austria, Bittersweet Tapestry exposes the harsh reality of Catholics in Ireland living under English rule and how one man's vendetta resulted in one of the greatest tragedies in Irish history. This sad event and its aftermath is portrayed in such an emotive way that it would move the hardest of hearts.

This ability to capture readers' emotions and engage with the characters is what makes these novels stand out. Kevin O'Connell is an excellent storyteller and world builder. He is also a master of description. His depiction of the landscape, the palaces, sumptuous court apparel and regimental uniforms, and the mundane, such has how goods were packed and shipped, infuse this book with the sort of detail and images that make it a compelling read.

The characters, both historical and fictional, are so well developed that they feel like old companions. But it is the indomitable Irish spirit; the joy that the O'Connells, their extended family and friends find in each other's company, and in life in general; and the support they have for each other that leave a lasting impression.

While Bittersweet Tapestry can be read as a standalone, I recommend reading the books in order. I'm not sure where the next installment will take us, but I have no doubt that it will be an exciting and entertaining conclusion to the story of the O'Connells and their friends.






Bittersweet Tapestry is available on Amazon

About the Author

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 much of his four decades-long legal career, O'Connell has practiced international business transactional law, primarily involving direct-investment matters, throughout Asia (principally China), Europe, and the Middle East.

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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Blog Tour Schedule

Friday, November 1
Review at Gwendalyn's Books
Sunday, November 3
Review at Carole's Ramblings
Monday, November 4
Review at Locks, Hooks and Books
Wednesday, November 6
Interview at The Writing Desk
Feature at Chicks, Rogues, and Scandals
Friday, November 8
Feature at Maiden of the Pages
Monday, November 11
Interview at Passages to the Past
Wednesday, November 13
Review & Guest Post at The Book Junkie Reads
Friday, November 15
Guest Post at Before the Second Sleep
Sunday, November 17
Review at A Darn Good Read
Monday, November 18
Review at Books and Zebras
Tuesday, November 19
Feature at What Is That Book About
Wednesday, November 20
Review at Al-Alhambra Book Reviews
Friday, November 22
Feature at Historical Fiction with Spirit
Monday, November 25
Review at Hooked on Books
Tuesday, November 26
Review at Red Headed Book Lady
Review & Guest Post at Nursebookie
Wednesday, November 27
Review at CelticLady's Reviews
Friday, November 29
Review at Broken Teepee
Excerpt at Coffee and Ink

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