Group Read Number 5 – Owl Song At Dawn by Emma Claire Sweeney



Maeve Maloney is a force to be reckoned with. Despite nearing eighty, she keeps Sea View Lodge just as her parents did during Morecambe’s 1950’s heyday. But now only her employees and regular guests recognise the tenderness and heartbreak hidden beneath her spikiness.

Until, that is, Vincent shows up. Vincent is the last person Maeve wants to see. He is the only man alive to known her twin sister, Edie. The nightingale to Maeve’s crow, the dawn to Maeve’s dusk, Edie would have set her sights on the stage – all things being equal. But, from birth, things never were.

If only Maeve could confront the secret past she shares with Vincent, she might finally see what it means to love and be loved – a lesson that her exuberant yet inexplicable twin may have been trying to teach her all along.

This group read is a little different as we will be using a brand new set of books sent to us by Legend Press; in return we are going to try and generate as many reviews as we can by circulating the set around our Readers Groups. As you can imagine people are keen to support this new initiative, so all of the eleven copies that I have available for this group have been snapped up! Don’t worry though as we have ordered a copy for library stock so you can have a read and add your own comments to the discussion. As with all of our group reads; they never close so you can read along, follow the discussions and add your input whenever you want.

Happy reading,





29 thoughts on “Group Read Number 5 – Owl Song At Dawn by Emma Claire Sweeney

  1. The story of Maeve, a woman nearing her eighties who has selflessly devoted her life to the care and welfare of others, in doing so sacrificing her own needs. The narrative constantly dips into glimpses of her past, slowly revealing heartache and loss as her present day life begins to mirror the events of the past and with the arrival of Vincent, she is forced to confront those memories she had buried deep inside herself.
    Sensitively told, poignant, heartbreaking at times, but with moments of happiness and positivity this is a thought provoking 5 star read for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Rehana, Thank you for joining the group. I’m glad that you enjoyed the book and thank you for your review. Did you have total sympathy for Maeve? Do you think she could have found a way to deal with her past earlier? What does everyone think? The Reader Development Team.


      1. I think that looking at things from the outside is very easy to do. So I was frustrated with Maeve for ruining her happiness by not dealing with issues, and not forgiving herself. However, having thought about it more, I think this is one of the things that made it ultimately believable, as many of us have regrets that we never deal with as it seems undoable ‘in the moment’.


    2. This is a book about guilt and disability in Morecambe, stretching from the early 1950s to the present day. I believe this is the author’s first and only novel, though she has since edited a book of disabled peoples’ poems, as well as co-writing a book about friendships between female authors (A Secret Sisterhood). She has twin sisters herself, one of whom is severely disabled, so she knows what she is talking about.

      The central location of the book is a Morecambe guesthouse, which specialises in hosting disabled guests. This appears to be because of central character Maeve’s guilt at – she feels – failing to properly look after her twin sister Edie (who had Downs Syndrome) by putting her own needs first. Eventually her sister dies in a convent nursing home from a convulsion.

      The book is also about male/female relationships, some successful (e.g. Dave & Zenka, Steph & Len), and some unsuccessful, especially that between Maeve and her fiancé Frank, who left her at the altar after best man Vince (who loved Maeve and knew that Frank was having an affair) said in the church that he could not go through with the ceremony. Maeve remained a spinster, while Vince married and lived in France. Eventually, after Vince’s wife dies, he and Maeve get together in their eighties, so a happy ending at least.

      Not an easy read, but worthwhile to understand that disabled people also deserve a fulfilling life, and to realise how they can contribute to the happiness of others, despite the often wearing effect of their disability on all those around them.


  2. Owl Song at Dawn by Emma Claire Sweeney.

    I really enjoyed this book yes poignant but also uplifting. I thought the book was well written and would not have thought it was the authors first book. I was totally immersed in the trials and tribulations of Maeve Malonney and indeed her parents how amazing they were. I am so pleased she found love and companionship and peace in the end. I look forward to Emma’s next book. Thank you Nich for asking me to read this book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Margaret,

      Thank you so much for taking part in our group. We are so pleased that you have read along with us and taken the time to post your comments. It will be interesting to see how our other members found the book – reading is such a personal experience after all. I’m glad that it looks like you have found a new author to follow. Best Wishes The Reader Development Team.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. what a unique book, I have never read anything like it. I loved the characters and found they all had real depth, including details that really brought the characters to life, for example Len’s love of snowdrops. The relationships between the characters were realistic, flaws and all. Although this book is ultimately uplifting, for me it was a lesson in ‘you are always your own worst critic’ and for Maeve this changed the entire course of her life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Dawn. You sound like you enjoyed the book. Do you think Maeve could have been kinder to herself earlier? Do you think the people around her could have helped more? Would she have gone on to have such a positive impact on peoples lives – running the guest house for people with special needs – if she had resolved her issues earlier? We would love to hear everyone’s thoughts. RD Team.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. For me, a book of two halves. I found Maeve’s past far more interesting than the present where I felt there were far too many characters often initially mentioned in conversation without any details as to whom they were and how they fitted into the story until several pages later.
    I also found it quite shocking that Maeve would still refer to her god-daughter and boyfriend using medical terminology unheard of in the past fifty years. 3/5

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for this. I totally agree that the terminology was harsh, I missed that it was still used by Maeve in the present – well spotted – I suppose this enhances the image of Maeve being ‘stuck in the past’?
      Totally shocking, harsh words that thankfully have little place in the modern world. These children were seen as objects, mistakes and inconveniences – thank goodness that Maeve’s parents were strong enough to battle the system.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I loved this book. I agree with Dawn’s comments in the respect that I have never read anything quite like it. The pace, structure and style of the writing all reflect a life that has been placed on hold after a tragic accident.

    This isn’t a tale of shocking revelations or cliff hangers but the full facts aren’t always given to the reader in order; I enjoyed the questions this style posed whilst I read on and came to know the characters better. I was shocked by how the authorities handled families with disabled children in the 1950’s; small touches like the ward sisters whispered words of support on Eddie’s discharge from hospital restored my faith in human kind, a little! Maeve still held Social Services at an arms length with Steph and Len’s care but the social worker’s enforced assessments seemed to be in the couples best interests. I don’t believe that Maeve felt that anyone could care for Steph and Len as well as she could; to me this was her chance to get things totally right this time around.

    I think Maeve was on a journey, she had to deal with the trials that she had faced in her youth, in her own time. I’m not sure she could have addressed any of the issues sooner; I’m just happy that by the end she seems to have found the possibility of a new life. Not once did she sound bitter, aggrieved, jealous or down trodden; I am left with the impression of a strong woman from a caring family who made mistakes in her youth but who carved out a life for herself that, whilst not the one she imagined, was full of purpose and caring.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A poignant read in places, especially the narrative concerning Maeve’s past – the writer was quite skilful in contrasting the cold, unfeeling presence of the authorities with the tenderness and love showed to Edie from her family and the character of Vince. The special bond Maeve had for her twin sister was vividly brought to life through a clever use of second-person narrative and made me feel that Edie was forever in Maeve’s thoughts; at times it felt like Edie haunted Maeve’s present life. These aspects of the novel really lifted it from being quite a mundane narrative for me. For example, I thought the characterisation in the early part of the book lacked subtlety and depth, particularly Maeve’s – I found it hard to visualise her and couldn’t really feel her ‘spikiness’. It was only toward the end of the novel where I began to see the ‘present day’ Maeve more clearly and this was probably down to the physical descriptions (thick head of hair, no yellowing in her eyes like most elderly people!!!). At this point in the story it seemed an afterthought, as if the author had to make Maeve into a ‘believable’ heroine fit for a romantic happy ending. So … good and bad for me!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. ‘Owl song at dawn’ by Emma Claire Sweeney,

    ‘Maeve runs Sea View Lodge in Morecambe. Nearly eighty years old, Maeve has lived there all her life. A guest house that once catered to civil servants in the war, builders afterwards and now specialises in accommodating travellers with disabilities, Sea View Lodge is filled with a history that Maeve has done her best to keep locked in the shed.’

    I found this book had many layers, I liked the location being in the North West and the way the story would flow from the present day to the past.
    The main character Maeve is strong and kind and doesn’t stand for any messing. But she seems to be punishing herself repeatedly about past mistakes. There is a sadness about this story, could she had done anything differently?
    She is a strong woman and needs to let the past ago and open her eyes to a new beginning, with help of a old friend she just might be able to do that.

    Topping Fold Library


  8. I’ve never read anything quite like this before – although I know that things have changed drastically over recent decades, the way that Edie was perceived by those in authority is still shocking when you are confronted with it in black and white, and I find myself cheering inwardly at her family’s support for her.
    It is lovely to read a novel set in Morecambe, and it is so refreshing to see life from the points of view of the characters who stay or work at the hotel, who don’t often get a mention in general fiction (perhaps this is the last great hurdle in the changes in society’s perception? Well done to the author for jumping it). Maeve really does punish herself for her past, I only hope as I continue with the book that she learns to forgive what she sees as her past mistakes and sees that she too deserves to be as happy as those she fights so hard for.


    1. Thank you for your comments. I think everyone who has read the book was shocked by the harshness of the authority’s approach to supporting Edie’s family. You are quite right, this novel examines characters who are overlooked in more general fiction – this stle can only help to educate and bring down barriers. Enjoy the rest of the book. RDT


  9. Wouldn’t have chosen this but the storyline looked promising. Struggled with the first half because I found some parts confusing and I couldn’t quite accept that a 79 year old woman could run a B&B including cooking etc. and be responsible for two live-in employees with special needs.
    I preferred the chapters where Maeve and Edie were young. It would have been nice to read more, and less of present day. The second half was easier to read as Maeve’s story unfolded.


  10. Thought provoking with loveable characters who came alive on the page. I found the story very moving and heart-warming. I really enjoyed the Morecambe setting as it is a place I have visited many times over the years.


  11. High prise to the author to write a book about disabilities and showing others how people through no fault of their own were treated in past times. In terms of how the book was written, I found it slow, and going from present to past, I personally find it hard to enjoy a book fully that is written in this way.

    The history about her parents and what they overcame and went against was very uplifting, however in terms of Maeve I became frustrated with her quite early on, stopping her sister from doing things for herself, questioning those who didn’t see her sister’s disability, but her as a person and helping and encouraging her to pursue the things she wanted to do. I was most shocked at how she talked about people, even in modern society. Getting angry when her sister had obviously found happiness, just because of past choices that Maeve made, neither sister is to blame.

    I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to others, I look forward to reading other novels by this author.


  12. A lot of the story is reminiscing with Maeve’s younger days growing up with mum and dad and twin sister, Eddie, in a guest house in Morecombe. The book tells the story of past family life and the difficulties coping with the demands of Eddie’s disabilities. Their loving relationship was uplifting and I admired how they all pulled together to ensure Eddie had the best life they could offer despite the advice from social services. I did enjoy these chapters of Maeve’s earlier years especially her teenage life but found the chapters on present day a little repetitive in trying to get us to feel sorry for her.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Owl Song at Dawn by Emma Claire Sweeney
    This is not my usual choice of book but decided to read it as it is based in Morecombe a place I have been many times. Maeve, a lady in her twilight years runs the Sea View hotel. Maeve is a strong person and she has had to be as she looks after her sister Edie who is disabled. Vincent an old flame turns up on the doorstep of Sea view after many years and at first Maeve doesn’t want to know him because the past is too painful, but gradually she comes round. The book is about the struggle with her sister’s disability , the pain of lost love and the happiness of love rekindled. The book also shows very starkly the difference on how we dealt with disability in the 1950s as to how disability is looked at today. The love Maeve has for her sister shines through the book and the stress of having to deal with social services through the years must have been very stressful for Edie’s family. Although I did enjoy the book I found it a couple of chapters too long. I would recommend the book as there are some very thought provoking and uplifting moments.


  14. Owl Song At Dawn is a quiet, sensitive book that will linger with its readers, unsentimental yet moving. Its 80 year-old protagonist is a flawed but kindly person, easy to like – and with her first person narrative, easy to identify with. The story of her disabled twin sister is slowly revealed over the course of the modern-day tale of her two young ‘adopted grandchildren’ who see Downs Syndrome as no impediment to their marriage.
    I recently read The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards, a multi-million bestseller which touches on similar themes – the struggle to provide a quality family life for a disabled child around the middle of last century – and betrayal and misunderstanding. I found Owl Song At Dawn a more satisfying read, perhaps because it left more to the reader’s imagination. A phrase such as, ‘All’s well when Mum is here,’ says so much more than pages of description of the mother’s care.
    Ultimately I puzzled as to why Maeve, the protagonist, took almost sixty years to re-evaluate what had happened in her youth – and what was the catalyst for her change of heart. But if we let too much logic into a story it can sometimes defuse its poignancy, so I choose instead to focus on the hopeful tone of the book, a pleasant change from so many stories of elderly people with dementia.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I found this book interesting, but not very easy to read. The central character, Maeve,l seems embittered about social services and the NHS. Even Nazi Germany and eugenics are brought in.

    She leaves her sister, who has cerebral palsy, alone in the bath, her family seems to neglect both the sister and the mother by not getting medical help, and Maeve expects her fiancé, Frank, to live with her family and help to care for her sister after they are married.

    It is a disjointed read with continual flashbacks which make it hard to follow. There is a happy ending of sorts, which I didn’t find very convincing.

    However, it is a good book for reading groups as it is dense and multi-layered.



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