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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Dublin Literary Award 2018 Longlist!

I’m really excited about the release of the longlist for the Dublin Literary Award today! This years list is 150 books long, from almost 40 countries and encompasses 18 languages*! It’s diverse and far reaching and looks incredible.

The Dublin City Council in conjunction with the Dublin Public Library has been giving this international award (worth €100,000) for 23 years now, and the list is curated by taking nominations from over 400 libraries in capital cities and major cities worldwide! I love that the list is created from libraries and nominations are based on novels with high literary merit. The diversity of the nominations makes this awards long and short list releases some of the most enjoyable to look forward to each year, and always broadens my reading horizons. Suffice to say I am a huge #dublitaward fan!

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Genuinely tempted to read through the whole list during the next few months, I would be SO down for some read-alongs if anyone wanted to join me? Let me know in the comments or on twitter! 🙂

I’m going to list the books I either want to read or find the most intriguing from the long-list in another post after I have a chance to read the blurbs for all the books that hadn’t been on my radar before today! Let me know what you think of the longlist and your personal recommendations, I’d absolutely love to hear them!

Happy reading,
Lany

*every book has translated into English to be eligible for this prize!
Creative commons photo credit to Clay Banks

Christmas!

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Midnight October 31st the bell tolls to signify both the end of Halloween and the beginning of the festive period! I am a winter fanatic and a massive fan of giving gifts to friends and family. Honestly, giving someone a gift that I have chosen and seeing if they actually like it is one of my favourite things to do, it’s so satisfying to know that you’ve absolutely nailed a present!

I’ve decided that this year I’ll try to merge my two favourite pastimes together and make some blog posts about books I think would be fantastic presents.
Stay tuned for a the next few blogs to be a series of bookish gift guides (for others…and yourself!), and if that’s not your bag, tune in next week when I’ve more reviews of books I’ve read recently, and gearing up to restart my small (facebook based) online bookclub in the holidays and 2018. 🙂

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Til then; stay reading and stay happy,

Lany

 

 

 

 
Creative commons photo credits in order of appearance:
congerdesign
Daria Shevtsova

Boy Erased : Garrard Conley : Non Fiction Friday 1

As I’ve gotten older I find myself reaching for more and more non fiction and non fiction narrative/memoirs. While younger me wanted to escape the world and used books to do so, currently I want to feel more like a part of society. and to understand the social, political and religious systems that have created the world and how it came to be in it’s current (scary and sorry) state.

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I came across Boy Erased quite by accident and purchased it on a whim, not knowing what to expect. It’s a memoir by Garrard Conley, a ministers son, who upon being viciously outed by his rapist went to a Christian fundamentalist run “straight camp”. The year was 2004 and he was just 19 years old. He went willingly to the notorious “Love In Action” (LIA) group and his family supported him, with his mom travelling and staying with him during his “treatment”. The LIA really heinously group homosexuality together with pedophilia and bestiality and consider homosexuality to be a disease. He doesn’t go into detailed descriptions of the conversion therapy itself but he goes into enough detail for it to become apparent that it’s a strange bastardisation of the 12 step AA programme and how insidiously awful the LIA are.

I don’t think Garrard gets angry enough at how disgusting the ex-gay group are, he highlights the abuse, the mental torture and bullying that occurred but he falls short of entering full outrage mode; but not to worry the readers of the book do it for him! The searingly honest and simple way he’s written this book really brings out your protective instincts. You’ll be like an angry bear while reading certain parts, you’ll want to smash everything (not only the patriarchy)!

Garrard has written beautifully about love and sexuality and his prose is accessible and compelling. His take on familial love, acceptance and spirituality is interesting as it’s informed by his upbringing in a rural Southern Baptist town and a set of beliefs about an all seeing, all knowing God.He has captured his journey of self acceptance and how it interacts with personal faith and the wider faith community that surrounds him. It’s an interesting and deeply intimate self determining experience that he has chosen to share with us and it should not go unnoticed.

This memoir was undoubtedly upsetting and yet I felt it was very tender and full of hope. The poisonous conversion therapy is so distressing to read about, I don’t like imagining going through it. However in contrast the relationship Garrard has with his family is so beautiful and pure, it really gives the book such a powerful and uplifting sentiment. His mother and father have very different ways of connecting with their son, but you see that behind everything is a deep well of love. It really proves that cliché that love trumps everything.

It gives me hope that despite the fact that intolerance and hateful rhetoric still exists that somehow in the years ahead there may be a more equal future for us all.

4.5/5

PS It was just leaked that there is a film being made! Joel Edgerton will be directing it, and Garrard Conley himself is being included in the process. I am going to make a wish that the film captures the hopeful feeling that the book leaves you with!

 

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!

His Bloody Project : Graeme Macrae Burnet

This work reminds me of John B Keane’s masterpiece The Field, a rural community deftly recreated; the mistrust of outsiders, the rivalry with neighbouring towns and communities and an innate sense of us vs them. The story centres around a brutal, repulsive set of murders in a small farming village, carried out by Roderick Macrae.

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The first half of the book is a “memoir” from the accused himself, and the second half is “transcripts of the trial” and “national news coverage” of the sensational crime. I felt that this was an effective way to show Roderick to be either deliberately lying or unintentionally unreliable or misleading in various parts of his narrative, and made me question the validity of his version of events and the subsequent truthfulness of his plea at trial.

The story challenged me to examine what insanity is and if someone who is insane can recognise themselves as such. Is evil an inherent moral flaw, as the minister in the village believes? Is the loss of a positive and loving influence in ones life enough to send one into a spiralling path of depravity and madness? What is soundness of mind, is it something that can be accurately measured and pronounced before the world?

This is part historical fiction mentioning a real pioneer in the field of psychotherapy a Doctor James Tompson. With the inclusion of this character Graeme has brought into play the class differences which were thought to feature heavily in the creation of the “criminal class”. Such beliefs are now outdated and distasteful but are an accurate representation of the society in which this novel is set. There’s an obvious split and mistrust between the local crofters and spalpins and those in positions of power. Both view the other as almost a different species, and in my mind they almost mirror the divide in current day global politics with ‘rural conservatives’ and ‘urban liberals’, both looking at the other group as very “other”.

Burnet has also captured admirably the rather savage and cruel treatment of women in the 1800s, rape is just seen as an inevitable thing that happens, dying in childbirth is framed in terms of dying to atone for the families sins and pregnancy borne of wedlock brings intense shame upon a family. For me it really brings to life the dour, oppressive Presbyterian/religious atmosphere that permeated the rural communities of Britain and Ireland.

The writing flows well and is easy to engage with and absorb, but some of the characters are very two dimensional in my eyes. To name but one the defense attorney Sinclair (although there is a letter from him included in the second half) could have done with more beefing up and in my opinion an exploration of his very ‘modern’ beliefs would have been interesting. My favourite character was Kenny Smoke. He’s a villager and feminist of sorts; a fair man with an innate sense of right and wrong and he stands out as a subtly nuanced and believable character.

I’d give this a 3.5/5 rating, as I certainly enjoyed this and raced through the book, but it lacks a truly gripping protagonist. A lover of true crime and historical fiction could do worse than to wake up to a gift of this from Santa!

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