Book Gift Guide: Irish Authors Part 1

Forgive me for going all out patriotic but well…with the quality of writing that was released by Irish authors this year, they really needed their own posts. You can find my first gift guide that focused on some amazing cookbooks here!

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I have read some of these books but the majority are going onto my wishlist and into the stockings of family and friends!

The Gospel According to Blindboy

The Gospel According to Blindboy is a collection of surreal parody and thought-provoking short stories. One half of the Rubberbandits, through various interviews and social media posts Blindboy has shown himself to be a critical thinker and a voice for the youth of Ireland, targeting mental health, the patriarchy and the hypocrisy of the status quo. Trust Ireland to need a young man with a plastic bag over his head to make a point! This book has garnered amazing reviews from some of the best authors Ireland has to offer, claiming it to be a wonderful yet twisted reflection of the Ireland of today. I’m definitely picking this up for my boyfriend, although I think it’s suitable for anyone who loves that macabre surrealism that Blindboy does so well.

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For fans of thrillers Cat Hogan has written There Was A Crooked Man is a wonderfully tense follow-up to her first novel They All Fall Down. It’s a wild ride into the mind of a psychopath running a vicious crime ring, who is hellbent on revenge, whatever the cost. Evocative writing brings you on a journey from the streets of Marrakesh to the winding alleys of Dublin, and keeps you reading until the very last page! My sister is going to love this duo of books, I think I’ll give to her on Christmas eve to keep her entertained until Santa comes!

The Woman at 72 Derry Lane

Reminiscent of Maeve Binchy this is a really heart-wrenching book examining relationships, friendships and how we can create jails for ourselves that are difficult to escape from without help. A seemingly crazy neighbour might be the friend that the narrator needs to help rescue her from her apparently wonderful life…The Woman at 72 Derry Lane is a wonderful tale that you won’t forget in a hurry. My partners mom is a huge Binchy fan so I’m looking forward to gifting her this!

The Heart's Invisible Furies

John Boyne is well-known for his heartfelt stories but this may be the most beautiful yet. An adopted man tries to figure out his place in the world; from Ireland in the 1940s to present day it we follow Cyril as he lives his extraordinarily ordinary life and all the trials and tribulations that come from not quite knowing where you fit in. Funny, sad and everything in between this novel is just sheer perfection. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is sure to find a way into the heart of whomever you gift this to this year.

Atlas of the Irish Revolution

This next one is a bit of a chunkster…weighing in at 5kg it’s a tome of epic proportions! The Atlas of the Irish Revolution is a non-fiction book chronicling Irish history in beautiful detail. It boasts of over 300 detailed maps and over 120 scholars have submitted work from a range of disciplines to give a well-rounded look at the formation of the Irish republic, from home rule in 1912 to the end of the civil war in 1923. This is a genuine showstopper of a gift, and the price is really reasonable considering the breath, scope and ample size of this book!

Oh My God What a Complete Aisling The Novel

If you’re after something quintessentially Irish then Oh My God What a Complete Aisling is the very thing. The tale of a culchie girl making her way through the big shmoke and all that being a sensible country girl in the city entails. Covering the essential long earrings and jersey combo (that can take you from work to a night out and inevitably coppers), and the worries about Daddy and the farm at home, it delves into the responses  you get when you dare to change your life and challenge everyones expectations. There are some really poignant scenes in this book that really hits home, you’ll be a mess of tears (deffo stock up on the tissues), there’s more where you’ll be laughing yourself silly and in the end you’ll find the bit of Aisling that’s inside us all. Getting this for several friends this Crimbo and I know they won’t be disappointed!

A Line Made By WalkingSara Baume is one of my favourite authors and her second book A Line Made By Walking totally lives up to the standard she set with Spill Simmer Falter Wither. Exploring the fragility of our existence and our grip on nature, art and the meaning of our lives through an unexpected medium: the photography of dead animals. Seeking internal peace means having to come face to face with our inner struggles and demons and in this story Frankie is no exception. If you have ever had feelings of depression, anxiety and just generally being overwhelmed in a world where you struggle to find a niche and a happy medium between everything that is expected of you…this is the book for you.

Life After Life

A memoir by an Irish man wrongfully convicted of an act of terrorism in 1970s London who spent 15 years behind bars in a horrific miscarriage of justice. Paddy Armstrongs Life after Life brings you into his world and the terrifying reality of having your freedom wrongfully denied to you and the hardships of living in the aftermath of such injustice. This is a traumatic but an utterly powerful read and I think many English and Irish people would get a lot out of this book.

In White Ink

A series of eleven short stories In White Ink centres around parenthood, marriage, sensuality, perversion and sexual violence. This book isn’t for everyone but for those that like dark and twisted tales this is the collection for you. There’s so many diverse characters and they all have a story to share that hits you hard and makes you really consider what matters in life.  I’ll pick two that illustrate the mix of stories on offer; one tale centres around a wife coming to terms with the signs that were apparent during their honeymoon about her husbands paedophilia, while another story focuses on a bereaved father at the wedding of his late daughters friend. (I told you they were hard hitters!)

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A fictional biography of Stan Laurel of Laurel & Hardy fame, He recreates Hollywood of old and the entirety of Laurels life. It’s totally engrossing, looking at the various loves, losses, comedy career and iconic partnership, all served up in short easy to read chapters (some more like flash fiction). John Connolly has done his research and really brings you on a journey to the dizzying heights of fame and the quick descent into obscurity, through the great joys and the hardship and pain that people experience throughout life. This book would make a wonderful gift for the person you don’t know what to get as it’s a wholly unexpected ride from beginning to end,

 

Let me know if you’re planning on picking any of these books up and if you’ve already enjoyed (or hated!) any on this list!

 

 

*cliffs of moher creative commons image courtesy of Malte Baumann

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My Absolute Darling : Gabriel Tallent

This book quickly worked its way into my best reads of 2017, it’s got everything I love; twisted dark family dynamics, a compelling story, well paced and beautiful writing.

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My Absolute Darling follows Turtle a young teenage girl living with her daddy, the man whom she both adores and hates (with good reason). She understands that she’s the thing he loves most in the world. She is petrified by his presence yet she craves his attention, perhaps because it’s all she has. He’s taught her how to use all the guns in their sparse and ‘rough and ready’ home, all the better to face the impending doom facing society. Change is coming however, Turtle is about to connect with people outside the family and make friends…

I really love how Tallent has written this novel, the coarseness of the language used by Turtle and her father was the ideal contrast to the beautiful lyrical descriptions of the environment in which they live. It is such a powerful way of dragging you into the story, you really get a feel for the harshness of the world that surrounds Turtle. The world she inhabits with her daddy is dilapidated and sparse, militaristic, strict and distinctly lacking in home comforts, while the area in which she lives is filled with luscious plant life and beautiful land and seascapes, both rugged and beautiful.

It’s little wonder that Turtle is fascinated by the flowery language that her friends wax lyrical, they care about things like literature and movies, things that Turtle hadn’t even considered to matter before making their acquaintance. She likes to look after objects, but the moment her daddy feels she likes something more than he thinks she should, he sets about to destroy it, and her, wholly.

There are scenes of base depravity and horrific abuse in this book, but it doesn’t reduce Turtle to a one note victim, she is a complex character with conflicting and confusing emotions. She only knows this life, but is smart enough to know it’s not a regular upbringing, she doesn’t know how to feel about it and she struggles to hide it from those around her. She’s fiercely loyal to her daddy and her grandfather, and you see how dysfunctional families can still function somewhat normally. You really feel like you’re there with her, struggling to know yourself and your feelings; bouncing between self hatred and internalised sexism, between being the bully and being the hero. Simultaneously you’ll be absolutely disgusted and angered by the events that unfold and root with all your heart for Turtle.

I felt like this book looked at how misogyny can corrupt and twist a person into a hateful husk of a human. Within the first few chapters you see how much hostility there is towards not only women but any outsider and how this has shrunk the world around Turtle. This atmosphere of distrust puts you constantly on edge, there’s a permeating feeling of unease and you can feel an unspoken threat hanging over you throughout your reading.

The uneasy feeling only helps to heighten the tension that the constant presence of guns and weapons creates. It feels to me that the gun culture in America fetishises not only the guns themselves, but the power that wielding a gun gives you. The fact that guns are so freely and readily obtained by someone who readily admits to being a survivalist with a strong distrust for society should have sent alarms bells ringing in some quarters, but not so in this novel. This approach appears to be par for the course in some parts of the states, and maybe this book in its own way is saying we should question why this is so.

There are of course some small criticisms, in places Tallent can be overly descriptive to the detraction of the story itself, and some of the support characters are very two dimensional. The friends she makes are too perfect, their prose too polished and their personalities very vaguely fleshed out. The teacher is the worst character in my opinion, she’s just simply good, sporty and concerned, I couldn’t connect to her at all because there wasn’t much to connect to. The only other criticism I can level is that the final scenes were highly dramatic but a bit drawn out, I felt like in places it was written more for cinematographic effect than to further the story.

However I loved the actual ending, you leave on an unresolved and unsettled note. wanting to know more, which isn’t a bad way to leave a book at all!

4.5/5

Closed Casket : Sophie Hannah, Agatha Christie

I’ll start off by admitting that I am an ardent Agatha Christie fan. She has written some of my favourite murder mystery books, and I feel like I’m coming home when I read one of her stories. This book…well it didn’t feel like coming home.

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It’s easy to tell that this wasn’t written by Dame Agatha herself, but it is a close approximation to her writing style, and it’s got a good pace and a nice flow. The character of Poirot isn’t quite right in my opinion, he’s not as concieted and confident (or arrogant as Hastings might say!) and he isn’t as involved as he is in a Christie novel.

The character of Catchpool is a bit odd, I feel that even though he’s the narrator I didn’t get to know him very well. His personality is slightly rounded in his kindness in going to the aid of a crying soul, and his confusion in his dealings with the cook and Poirot, but he felt like an unfinished character, Sophie Hannah gave me some sense of who Catchpool is but for me, he wasn’t fully realised.

I did enjoy the placement of the mystery in town near me, Clonakilty, at the beginning of the Irish Free State, but very little was mentioned of the ongoing civil war (which was quite a big thing around Cork in general). Maybe I’m simply nitpicking as I have an interest in Irish history and love to have historically accurate settings in books.

The setting of the big house and the limited cast of characters is a tried and true Christie device and it works yet again for this mystery. The owner of the house Lady Playford is well depicted and her novels sound like a lot of fun! (On a side note, if Sophie Hannah wanted to write the actual Shrimp Seddon mysteries I would be more than happy to read them!)

I liked the characters of Dorro and Kimpton as they felt the most realistic to me, they both had some backstory, and were presented as flawed but believable humans, they felt significantly more fleshed out than the two dimensional son Harry and the devoted Sophie for instance.

The plot ends up being quite convoluted and a bit stretched in places, but it’s an enjoyable romp all the same. I don’t want to give any of the story away other than the ending was a bit disappointing to me, and the “experiment” that was carried out was -to me- a cheap way of creating a mystery.

Over all I’d give this a rating of 2/5, it was good but far from great. It’s worth reading to be reminded of the joy of an Agatha Christie mystery. As a stand alone book, Closed Casket is fairly good general murder mystery story, but it’s not a wonderful addition to the Christie collection.

I definitely wouldn’t want it to be someones first Poirot, for that I’d recommend The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Murder on the Orient Express, Five Little Pigs or The ABC Murders. Those are some of my favourite Christies and would make excellent Christmas gifts for the uninitiated!

Costa 2016 Shortlist Announced

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The shortlist was announced on November 22nd this year, and it’s an interesting group!
The competition is female dominated, with 14 of the 20 works nominated written by women. This is noteworthy merely because had it been 14 men not a single eyebrow would have been raised.

Thrillingly the novel shortlist features three former winners (Maggie O’Farrell, Rose Tremain and Sebastian Barry) which makes this years competition particularly compelling!

I’ve found myself always really enjoying the books that win, but this year I’ve decided to challenge myself somewhat. I’m going to borrow from my library the four books in the novel shortlist and hopefully, time permitting also will read all four nominated for the first novel prize (and if I succeed then continue to read the poetry shortlist) and give my honest opinion here on the blog before the winners of each category is announced on Jan 3rd.

I’m planning on reading The Essex Serpent first, which I think promises to be a pleasingly gothic victorian tale about a monster terrorising a town.(I coud be wrong I have’t read too much about any of the books so as not to spoil any surprises!) The Gustav Sonata is my second in line, mainly because it’s the one I’m least convinced I’ll enjoy and I’m hoping that the momentum I build up will carry me through it. Hopefully I can then get my hands on This Must Be The Place, I’ve never read any Maggie O’Farrell before but the basic synopsis I’ve read has already got me wanting more, so I’m looking forward to getting stuck into this one. The book with the longest waiting list in my local library is Days Without End so fingers crossed I’ll get to it before the start of January!

Novel Award

Days Without End -Sebastian Barry

This Must Be The Place -Maggie O’Farrell

The Essex Serpent -Sarah Perry

The Gustav Sonata -Rose Tremain

First Novel Award

The Good Guy -Susan Beale

My Name Is Leon -Kit de Waal

The Words In My Hand -Guinevere Glasfurd

Golden Hill -Francis Spufford

Poetry Award

Let Them Eat Chaos -Kate Tempest

Falling Awake -Alice Oswald

Sunshine -Melissa Lee-Houghton

Say Something Back -Denise Riley

Children’s Book Award

Orangeboy -Patrice Lawrence

The Monstrous Child-Francesca Simon

The Bombs That Brought Us Together -Brian Conaghan

 

Time Travelling With A Hamster -Ross Welford

Biography Award

The Return: Fathers, Sons And The Land In Between -Hisham Matar

I’m Not With The Band: A Writer’s Life Lost In Music -Sylvia Patterson

Dadland: A Journey Into Uncharted Territory -Keggie Carew

Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years -John Guy

 

 

Don’t want to be a book collector I want to be a reader!

What a to do! The reasons for blogging my reading journey.

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Reading was my lifeblood for a long time, then somewhere along the line I got caught up in the drudgeries of life and forgot how to enjoy my favourite hobby. I became a book collector rather than a reader, and my aim is to rectify that.
My name is Lany and I am a recovering reader!

a small bookcase with some of the unread collection hanging about

I’ve made a libib account to scan all the unread books in my house and there’s over 500 languishing on shelves scattered around the place. It’s incredibly obscene and is creating a rapidly increasing feeling of guilt for obtaining these publications and not getting around to enjoying them (or not, as the case may be)!

This is an early new year resolution, to try to get at least 70% of the unread list…well, read!
There’s a wide variety to choose from; literary fiction, light reads, murder mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, comedy and non-fiction…certainly have got all the bases covered!

one of many...this one houses a lot of our discworld collection!

Hopefully this blog will be a record of my thoughts and feeling about the various reads and probably some reflections about the collected works of authors or various themes. It would be fun to document my ponderings on books I own, but also on books I borrow from the local library, especially as those are more “transient” books, and I may forget reading them if I don’t keep a record somewhere. Possibly some of my bookish friends will be willing to set pen to paper (as it were) and write a few posts now and then too!
Only time will tell, but I (like Dickens, ho ho!) have great expectations of myself as I set out on this endeavor.

Wish me luck! 🙂