The Last Children of Tokyo by Yoko Tawada


This is a most unusual dystopian novel.

There is little or no violence. There is a heartfelt sadness that is like a sob, suppressed as a lump in the throat. Yoshira and Mumei are great grandfather and young son. The exploration of their relationship is gentle and thoughtful. In this damaged world the old live extraordinarily long lives while the children often do not reach adulthood. The pleasures in life such as food and being in the natural world are absent. Language is perverted, renaming things to make reality appear less awful.

Tawada makes us think about a horrific future which we the responsible adults might have to live with. It is a thought-provoking novel and that is always good.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

summer book

This is a most unusual  and enjoyable read.

It focuses on the relationship between a grandmother and her grand-daughter.

There is no big plot, no great character development and yet it is comforting in its gentle observation of life on a tiny island in Scandanavia.

The unusual aspect is that it deals with the important events of real life in a subtle, gentle way.

The reader comes away from this understated book with a real sense of privilege.

It is very special to be given an insider view of the importance of the relationship in this physical location. It is like the reader accepts the island as a integral part of the story, an unassuming trio of two people at opposite ends of life and small island which gives them the space to explore their relationship in a natural way.

An unusual read certainly, but worth it absolutely.

Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronán Hession


This is a rare gem of a book. I enjoyed every gentle moment with it.

The skill of the author is to engage the reader with ordinary people doing ordinary things.

Both Leonard and Hungry Paul are unassuming and unlikely heroes. They speak their truth quietly and calmly.

They accept lifes limitations and challenges. They have known grief and misunderstanding, they have balanced their lives with solidarity and the joy of feeding the birds.

Finding meaningful work, meeting a partner and a family wedding are all part of their gentle tapestry.

Ultimately this is a feel good read which allows kindness to exist in the world.

Treat yourself to this well written story of everyday life being lived with kindness.

A Lover’s Discourse by Xiaolu Guo


An excellent novel which explores how language shapes relationships.

It is very current, set in Brexit and post-Brexit England with many locations, London, Berlin, China and Australia.

A couple negotiate the cultural and linguistic barriers to a relationship. The two characters allow us to laugh at misunderstandings and pause at serious gaps of meaning. There are many divides to be bridged, the sexual differences, the cultural norms and the language barriers.

We explore what it means to have a home, to have roots in a place or society.

Guo writes in a staccato style, a snipet of conversation here and there. A fast change of location to bring us from accademia to factory workers in China, back to middle class Berlin and hippy style barge living in London. This style helps to underline how language is delivered in small parcels must be unpackaged slowly to have meaning revealed.

In 2013 Guo was Granta’s best young British novelist, do not let her novels pass you by. “A Lovers Discourse” could be the one for you.

Get Lucky by Katherine Centre

get lucky

This is a modern romance. It deals with modern issues: surrogacy, exploitation of women, divorce, blended families and the morality of the advertising industry.  The author approaches these issues with a light hand, and so we can get carried away with the humour while the issues are gently teased out.

“Get Lucky” has some of the elements of the classic romance: girl meets boy, problem occurs, all is resolved. The modern element allows the characters to move through problems and be happy to cope with the new life situation.

I had a problem with some of the extreme characterisation. The sequin wearing, line dancing deep southern divorcee and the ultra fit, super tanned “man eating” Barni are over the top in my opinion.  The writer is American so maybe, big and bold are beautiful and credible to her readers at home. I could have coped with a little subtlety.

This book is worth a read, it may not be a keeper but it has a freshness  and energy which is engaging.

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora


This is a very emotional read. I found myself gasping at the cruelty inflicted by one human on another. The cruelties are on many levels, physical, emotional and spiritual.

The story revolves around Rue, herself a victim on multiple layers and how she works through the most awful times of the American civil war.

The novel started well with an introduction to Rue and her role in society of the day.

Then we are brought back to slavery times.

For me there was too much switching between times. As a reader I can cope with assorted timelines if the characters are limited in numbers. In this story there is a full society with roles for so many characters that the centre of the novel was crowded and disjointed. Then there is the whole aspect of magic and cures, suspicion and faith, reality and perception.

The climax of the story makes it all worthwhile. In a moment of clarity Rue finds truth and is able to fulfil her role as a healer.

I can recommend this book as a valuable insight to the strength of the women who survived those terrible times.

Other People’s Pets by R.L. Maizes

other people's pets

Other People’s Pets is a lovely life affirming read.

The author takes us on a journey to discover what family means. The novel shows us that a non traditional family is different, not better not worse just different. It can serves the same purpose,support when we need it and people to celebrate with when we achieve our goals and milestones.

The main character is an animal empath, she can feel what animals feel. La La is a resourceful person who adjusts from a non traditional childhood to a regular college student.

Due to no fault of her own she has to return to her previous non traditional way of life. She has to negotiate the different moral codes and emerge as the person she wants to become.

This is an easy read, most enjoyable, a good choice to distract during difficult times.

A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa

ghost in the throat

Brilliant at times but just a little too episodic, which I found grated on my enjoyment of the narrative as a whole. The blurb describes the book as part essay, part auto-fiction but I think, in truth, diary is the best description of the book.

In this respect, naturally the book would be bound to feel episodic and while I really enjoyed the detective work on the trail of Eibhlín Dubh, some of the other events and chapters I found just didn’t really fit. It’s all wonderfully written but feels mismatched and overly digressive. Moments after a key insight into Eibhlín’s life, we detour into the personal life or some momentary observations of the author. I’m sure Ní Ghríofa was attempting to stretch out a hand across the centuries to clasp Eibhlín Dubh in bonds of kinship, but the intention to forge a link between the two writers just fell flat for me sometimes.

You can really tell Ní Ghríofa is a poet though. The prose is beautifully crafted and there are great moments of striking imagery. I just found it didn’t knit together well enough to sustain 250 pages.

The Glorious Guinness Girls by Emily Hourican


This is one of the best examples of fiction opening up a historical era. The era is the “Roaring Twenties”. We know it was a short lived and excessive time, but this book allows us to see deeper into the complex effects of political unrest, economic realities and the new roles for women.

Felicity, “Fliss”, is the fictional character who narrates the story. She is an outsider in so many ways, neither rich nor poor, Irish nor English, she is not a “Guinness” and yet lives with the family on almost equal status.

The three main characters are Maureen, Aileen and Oonagh. While on the surface they have everything a person could wish for, at a deeper level we can accept that there are fundamental issues.

The novel, while set in the twenties, is told from the perspective of the an older “Fliss” in the nineteen seventies. There is something very grounding about the starting in “Glenmaroon” outside the gates of the Phoenix Park. Almost everyone in Ireland has an affection for the “Park”.

The long list of characters at the front of the book may be a little off putting to some – please just glance at it, because this novel remains an easy engaging read.

The Witness by Nicola Tallant


Nicola Tallant, crime editor of the Sunday World, tells Joey O’Callaghan’s story of how, from the age of 11, he was groomed to work for a gangland drug dealer and how he escaped and became a witness for the state.

Joey tells us about his background and his family and sets it in the context of the time; Dublin in the 80s and 90s.  His voice is engaging. We’re delighted for the 11 year old Joey when he gets the job on the milk float that he’s been so excited about, that his mother was delighted for him to get, in their neighbourhood of Blanchardstown.

He brings us with him all the way as he gets reeled further and further into the cruel and heartless underworld of drugs and drug-dealing, always aware of his mother and what she must be feeling.

Many times in the story he refers to his heart “thundering in his chest”.  Your heart will be “thundering in you chest” as you read how brave and truthful Joey had to be to escape the world of gangland crime.

Nicola Tallant renders Joey’s voice faithfully as well as providing a very good social history of the time.