Plainsong by Kent Haruf

plainsong

Well, this book is just gorgeous.  It tells the story of teacher Tom Guthrie, his two young sons, high school student in trouble, Victoria Roubideaux, and the two elderly McPherson brothers.  The McPhersons have lived a solitary, hardworking life on their farm since the death of their parents forty years previously.  The chapters in this book are short and we take it in turns to follow the characters as they go about their business in the small town of Holt, Denver.  Another character, Maggie Jones, doesn’t get her own chapters but is really the link between all the characters.

I love slow moving books about small-town America especially those as well-written as this.  The language is simple yet evocative and full of affection for the characters.  The author lets the words and actions of this characters speak for themselves – we never go inside their heads so we meet them as we would meet a person in the real world.  There is a timeless quality to this book – I spent a while trying to figure out when this book was actually set but eventually gave up because it doesn’t really matter (for the record, I think it was probably set around the time it was published -1999).

This is the first in a trilogy of books set in Holt.  Part of me wants to remember these characters as they are in Plainsong and give them the futures I want them to have.  However, I doubt I’ll be able to resist visiting Holt again.  The second book in the Plainsong trilogy is called Evensong and the third book is Benediction.

You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

5 New Graphic Novels to Watch Out For

or comics, or books about comics, you know what I mean:

harvey pekar's clevalnd
Harvey Pekar’s Clevland (14 Jul 2016)
A lifelong Cleveland resident, Harvey Pekar (1939-2010) pioneered autobiographical comics, mining the mundane for magic since 1976 in his ongoing American Splendor series. Harvey Pekar”s Cleveland is sadly one of his last, but happily one of his most definitive graphic novels. It combines classic American Splendor autobiographical anecdotes with key moments and characters in the city”s history as relayed to us by Our Man and meticulously researched and rendered by artist Joseph Remnant. With an introduction by Alan Moore too boot!

bobs
Bob’s Burgers: Pan Fried (21 Jul 2016)
Feast your eyes on new mouth-watering stories of the Belcher family, the stars of Fox Television’s fan-favorite animated sitcom! Written and illustrated by the fine folks at the Emmy Award-winning studio Bento Box Entertainment, the continuing comic book hijinks of parents Bob and Linda and ragamuffins Tina, Gene, and Louise will surely satisfy fans of all ages. You’ve never seen daydreams quite like those of the Belchers, as Louise finds herself sucked into a videogame, Gene’s rhymes climb to new heights in Jack and the Gene-stalk, and Tina takes a fateful trip to Tinagan’s Island… and that’s just for starters!

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Lovf: An Illustrated Vision Quest of a Man Losing His Mind (21 Jul 2016)
Jammed with cartoons, mad schemes, psychedelic portraits and notes from the road, Lovf is a travel journal and a mirror of the post-traumatic dream-world its author can’t escape from, a Kerouacian meltdown of cross-hatching, spattered marker, crayons, glitter, tape, nail polish, white-out, finger-painting, rain, wine, stickers and word balloons.

comics as art
Comics as Art – We Told You So: An Oral History of Fantagraphics (21 Jul 2016)
Comics As Art: We Told You So tells of Fantagraphics Books’ key role in helping build and shape an art movement around a discredited, ignored and fading expression of Americana the way insiders share the saga with one another other: in anecdotal form, in the words of the people who lived it and saw it happen. Comics historian and critic Tom Spurgeon and long-time Comics Journal editor Michael Dean assemble an all-star cast of industry figures, critics, cartoonists, art objects, curios and ground-breaking publications to bring you 40 years’ worth of insight.

invader zim
Invader Zim Volume 2 (27 Jul 2016)
Volume 2 of the hit comic series (based on the hit Nickelodeon TV show) INVADER ZIM starts off with a BANG! I mean a BANK! As ZIM takes on the immense task of getting a business loan. From there, things get steadily worse. Then better, then worse yet again. In this collection, ZIM will face foes like those never seen before! (And also Dib. But everyone’s seen Dib before.)

Foster by Claire Keegan

foster

Just a short review of a little gem of a novella (a mere 88 pages) by Claire Keegan

Set in County Wicklow, Foster tells the story of an unnamed little girl who, as her worn out mother is heavily pregnant, is sent to stay with relatives temporarily. The Kinsella’s treat her with love and tenderness and show her a very different home life from the harried and hassled one that she has grown up in. However it becomes clear to the reader that they have suffered their own loss and heartbreak.

Kinsella evokes rural Ireland of some years ago beautifully. The characters, the day to day living, how they speak, and indeed what remains unsaid to one another.

The book is tender and moving and the prose are elegant yet simple in style. I read this in one sitting and thought it was beautiful, poignant and deeply moving. I have recommended it so many times that I may as well do it here once more!

You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Brilliant Book Titles #22

It was Peacock! In the Kitchen! With the Arsenic! In the Dumplings!

arsenic

You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Blurb:
During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries arsenic was readily available to the general public; indeed it was prescribed by doctors as a tonic to build up strength and put on weight as well as a treatment for rheumatism, dropsy and syphilis. It was also widely used to kill household vermin. So no chemist in Suffolk would have been suspicious when a small amount of grey-white powder was purchased. That is until a sudden death took place – but even then the symptoms could be confused with the English Cholera.

Brilliant Book Titles#21

It’s the @ symbol that does it for me!

@war

You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Blurb:
The spies had come without warning. They plied their craft silently, stealing secrets from the world’s most powerful military. They were at work months before anyone noticed their presence. And when American officials finally detected the thieves, they saw it was too late. The damage was done . . .

It could have been the plot of a Tom Clancy thriller: Chinese hackers break into American defence contractors and steal the plans for a new multi-billion dollar fighter jet. In fact, it is just one dispatch from the frontline of a new form of warfare.

Our wars are increasingly being fought online. GCHQ and the NSA gather vast amounts of information from the internet – and do so with the complicity of companies like Google and Facebook. The American military fields teams of hackers who can, and do, launch computer virus attacks against enemy targets. And with the majority of civil infrastructure – things like nuclear power stations, hospitals, airports and banking systems – now run across the internet, the next 9/11 could be a cyber-attack.

Welcome to the modern world of warfare.

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

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You could describe this as a Renaissance Ottoman Murder mystery set in late sixteenth century Istanbul during the reign of Sultan Murat. The cast of suspects are a group of master illustrators working under the guidance of Master Osman; craftsmen and painters who illuminate manuscripts for the Ottoman Sultan. They have been commissioned to produce, in secret, a chronicle of his life, done in the modern style of the “Frankish” i.e. Western European Artists. This change in style offends some of the group and leads to the murder of two of them. Meanwhile a scribe, “Effendi Black” formerly part of the (“School”) has returned to Istanbul after a period abroad is requested by Master Osman to question each of the miniaturists to see if he can discover the culprit. Black also harbours a passion for the married daughter of one of the illustrators from childhood and hopes to marry her as her husband, a soldier in the army is missing for a number of years.

Apart from the murders and Black’s pursuit of Shekure, another theme of the book is the contrast between traditional more idealised Islamic representational art and the realistic style of Renaissance Italy and thus between Islamic and Western cultures. Unusually, the story is told from multiple viewpoints including that of a horse and a tree reflecting subjects painted by the suspect illustrators.

The novel paints an interesting picture of Ottoman society in Istanbul at the peak of its power in the 1590’s. It’s quite humorous, particularly in the character of “Esther” a Jewish peddler. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it though I think its over-long at 500 pages.

You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue online here.

5 New Science Fiction Novels to Watch Out For

Bored of the here and now? Dream of distant planets and new technology? Try these:

river song
Doctor Who: The Legends of River Song (2 Jun 2016)
‘Hello, sweetie!’

Melody Pond, Melody Malone, River Song…She has had many names. Whoever she really is, this archaeologist and time traveller has had more adventures (and got into more trouble) than most people in the universe.

And she’s written a lot of it down. Well, when you’re married to a Time Lord (or possibly not), you have to keep track of what you did and when. Especially as it may not actually have happened to both of you yet.

These are just a few of River Song’s exploits, extracted from her journals. Sometimes, she is with the Doctor. Sometimes she’s on her own. But wherever and whenever she may be, she is never far from danger and excitement.

This is just a tiny portion of her impossible life. But it will reveal more than you’ve ever known about the legend that is River Song.

the nightmare stacks
The Nightmare Stacks: A Laundry Files Novel by Charles Stross (23 Jun 2016)
Alex Schwartz had a great job and a promising future – until he caught an unfortunate bout of vampirism, and agreed (on pain of death) to join the Laundry, Britain’s only counter-occult secret intelligence agency.

His first assignment is in Leeds – his old hometown. But the thought of telling his parents he’s lost his job, let alone their discovering his ‘condition’, is causing Alex almost as much anxiety as his new lifestyle of supernatural espionage.
His only saving grace is Cassie Brewer, a student from the local Goth Festival who flirts with him despite his fear of sunlight (and girls). But Cassie has secrets of her own – secrets that make Alex’s night life seem positively normal . . .
James Bond meets H. P. Lovecraft in the latest occult thriller from Hugo Award winner Charles Stross, in a series where British spies take on the supernatural.

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The Big Sheep by Robert Kroese (28 Jun 2016)
Los Angeles of 2039 is a baffling and bifurcated place. After the Collapse of 2028, a vast section of LA, the Disincorporated Zone, was disowned by the civil authorities, and became essentially a third world country within the borders of the city. Navigating the boundaries between DZ and LA proper is a tricky task, and there’s no one better suited than eccentric private investigator Erasmus Keane. When a valuable genetically altered sheep mysteriously goes missing from Esper Corporation’s labs, Keane is the one they call.

But while the erratic Keane and his more grounded partner, Blake Fowler, are on the trail of the lost sheep, they land an even bigger case. Beautiful television star Priya Mistry suspects that someone is trying to kill her – and she wants Keane to find out who. When Priya vanishes and then reappears with no memory of having hired them, Keane and Fowler realize something very strange is going on. As they unravel the threads of the mystery, it soon becomes clear that the two cases are connected – and both point to a sinister conspiracy involving the most powerful people in the city. Saving Priya and the sheep will take all of Keane’s wits and Fowler’s skills, but in the end, they may discover that some secrets are better left hidden.

Kroese’s” The Big Sheep” is perfect for fans of Philip Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” Terry Pratchett’s “Guards! Guards!, “and Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War.”

long cosmos
The Long Cosmos by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter (30 Jun 2016)
2070-71. Nearly six decades after Step Day and in the Long Earth, the new Next post-human society continues to evolve.
For Joshua Valienté, now in his late sixties, it is time to take one last solo journey into the High Meggers: an adventure that turns into a disaster. Alone and facing death, his only hope of salvation lies with a group of trolls. But as Joshua confronts his mortality, the Long Earth receives a signal from the stars. A signal that is picked up by radio astronomers but also in more abstract ways – by the trolls and by the Great Traversers. Its message is simple but ts implications are enormous:

JOIN US.

The super-smart Next realise that the Message contains instructions on how to develop an immense artificial intelligence but to build it they have to seek help from throughout the industrious worlds of mankind. Bit by bit, byte by byte, they assemble a computer the size of a continent – a device that will alter the Long Earth’s place within the cosmos and reveal the ultimate, life-affirming goal of those who sent the Message. Its impact will be felt by and resonate with all – mankind and other species, young and old, communities and individuals – who inhabit the Long Earths…

life debt
Star Wars: Aftermath – Life Debt by Chuck Wendig (12 Jul 2016)
The Emperor is dead, and the remnants of his former Empire are in retreat. As the New Republic fights to restore a lasting peace to the galaxy, some dare to imagine new beginnings and new destinies. For Han Solo, that means settling his last outstanding debt, by helping Chewbacca liberate the Wookiee’s homeworld of Kashyyyk.

Meanwhile, Norra Wexley and her band of Imperial hunters pursue Grand Admiral Rae Sloane and the Empire’s remaining leadership across the galaxy. Even as more and more officers are brought to justice, Sloane continues to elude the New Republic, and Norra fears Sloane may be searching for a means to save the crumbling Empire from oblivion. But the hunt for Sloane is cut short when Norra receives an urgent request from Princess Leia Organa. The attempt to liberate Kashyyyk has carried Han Solo, Chewbacca, and a band of smugglers into an ambush―resulting in Chewie’s capture and Han’s disappearance.

Breaking away from their official mission and racing toward Kashyyyk, Norra and her crew prepare for any challenge that stands between them and their missing comrades. But they can’t anticipate the true depth of the danger that awaits them―or the ruthlessness of the enemy drawing them into his crosshairs.

 

 


 

An Affair With My Mother by Caitríona Palmer

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This book is of interest to anyone who is part of the “adoption triangle” but is written from the perspective of the adopted child.

I am in two minds about this book, it is curiously intriguing and ultimately frustrating. The author gives us tantalising glimpses into her psyche but pulls back when she is on the point of confronting any darkness.

I confess an interest in the adoption process and its effects on all involved. The title caught my attention and it is an apt description of the relationship that developed between the author and “Sarah”, her birth mother.

Palmer is at her best when she is    dealing with the way the adopted child adapts her behaviour when relating to others, but this is not fully explored. At times the writing is painfully honest, but I was somewhat uneasy with the level of revelation about others which was on show. This was hard to fathom as the secrecy aspect was so important to Sarah and though she is not identified directly, there are many clues to be found for those who wish to follow them. On the other hand, the author’s life outside her adoption search is shadowy and vague.

On the whole, this is a worthwhile addition to the literature on adoption. The longing for a feeling of completion, is well conveyed and the difficulties of adoption are by no means sugar-coated. However, I was left with a sense of something incomplete and that I was somehow wishing for more.

You can reserve a copy on South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue online here.

Brilliant Book Titles #20

Long time 4AD fan and this title sums up their alternative stance and path perfectly!

Facing-the-Other-Way

You can reserve a copy of South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Blurb:
The first official account of the iconic record label.

An NME Book of the Year 2013 • A Rough Trade Book of the Year 2013 • A Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year 2013

This Mortal Coil, Birthday Party, Bauhaus, Cocteau Twins, Pixies, Throwing Muses, Breeders, Dead Can Dance, Lisa Germano, Kristin Hersh, Belly, Red House Painters.

Just a handful of the bands and artists who started out recording for 4AD, a record label founded by Ivo Watts-Russell and Peter Kent in 1979, a label which went on to be one of the most influential of the modern era.

Combining the unique tastes of Watts-Russell and the striking design aesthetic of Vaughan Oliver, 4AD records were recognisable by their look as much their sound. In this comprehensive account concentrating on the label’s first two decades (up to the point that Watts-Russell left), music journalist Martin Aston explores the fascinating story with unique access to all the key players and pretty much every artist who released a record on 4AD during that time, and to its notoriously reclusive founder.

With a cover designed by Vaughan Oliver this is an essential book for all 4AD fans and anyone who loved the music of that time.

Brilliant Book Titles #19

diplomatic

You can reserve a copy on South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Blurb:
When Sunday Times fashion journalist Brigid Keenan married the love of her life in the late Sixties, little idea did she have of the rollercoaster journey they would make around the world together – with most things going horribly awry while being obliged to keep the straightest face and put their best feet forward.

For he was a diplomat – and Brigid found herself the smiling face of the European Union in locales ranging from Kazakhstan to Trinidad. Finding herself miserable for the first time in a career into which many would have long ago thrown the towel, she found herself asking (during a farewell party for the Papal Nuncio): was it worth it?

As this stream of it-really-happened-to-me stories shows, it most certainly was – if only for our vicarious bewilderment at how exactly you throw a buffet dinner during a public mourning period in Syria, remain viable as a fashion journalist when taste-wise you are three seasons out of it and geographically a world away, make people believe that there are actually terrible things going on in paradise, be a good mother AND save some of the finest architecture in Damascus and Brussels from demolition – seemingly all simultaneously.