Thirty-Two Words for Field by Manchán Magan

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This is a very complex book. It covers so much, it reflects that wonderful mix of language, custom, heritage, beliefs and tradition which we call culture.

Everyone who reads this book will learn so much. I am pleased to know the difference between “damhsa” and “rince” . I love the linguistic broadness which can help me see the links to Arabaic and Indian language and culture.  The chapters on placenames, curses, seaweed and Witches Hill (Loughcrew) are full of easily accessable information.

Even meeting, at one remove, the people like Cáit Ní Chatháin, the Brahmin priest and Mick Tobin is a privelege.

My disappointment is with the lack of sources. Magan cites studies on the effect of sound on primitive seeds, but leaves me hanging as I can not look up the report. He falls into the same generalist trap with the DNA evidence for a lost ancestor and laboratory testing which shows how low sound waves affect the brain .

This book is well worth reading and re reading. That I am uncomfortable when the author strays into vegetarianism, buddhism and new age beliefs is minor flaw.

Do pick up this book, it is an excellent read.

The Christmas Party by Karen Swan

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It has been unfortunate Christmas this just passed. So why not read about another Christmas. Read about family difficulties, money worries, forbidden affairs, dark secrets, falling in and out of love, and lots of glitz and glamour,

Karen Swan gives an alternative Christmas, set in a castle in a remote corner of Ireland. The locals are there, the old misunderstandings, the shared stories and traditions all make this novel so easy to read.

The three sisters are very different, but all share a passion for their home which just happens to be a crumbling old castle, in need of massive amounts of money and energy. The sisters don’t have the money but they each have a part to play in the fate of the old pile.

This is light Christmas reading that does what it says on the tin, entertains, amuses and leaves us in a better place for having read it.

The Runner by Stephen Leather

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When you need a fast paced thriller reach for “The Runner” by Stephen Leather. The main draw for me in these novels for is becoming invested in the principal character.

I was smitten by the lowly M15 operative Sally Page. She had all the aspects a heroine needs, realistic life with disappointments and valid oponions and one amazing ability.

The story bursts onto the page and just keeps on exploding. There are some over the top aspects but that is part of the “thriller” style. The mix of military terms and criminal angles kept the story tightly packed. The plot, while complex, is still easy to follow.

Stephen Leather delivers a real page turner which I highly recommend to you.

Wild Silence by Raynor Winn

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I approached this book with caution. I loved The Salt Path, it was the book of 2018 for me.

Sequels do not have a good reputation with me, I always remember the huge disappointment of Franny and Zooey after The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger.

Wild Silence is both a sequel and an insight into how The Salt Path came to be written.

We get to know more of Ray, she is a shy, socially unsure female not the driven focused person on the Path.

The back story to Moth and Ray is full of insights that explain their connectedness to the natural world. The lure of Scotaland and its wild places is such a contrast to the Cornwall where they now live and the Iceland where they continued their guided walk.

The central theme of nature and books set against an unfailing deep personal connection is beautiful to read.

Raynor Winn deals with the mundane as well as the global in the course of a day. Allow the mice to escape and feed the owls, while tilting the balance back in favour of the natural world.

It is essentially a positive book, nature does recover if in the hands of sensitive people like Moth and Ray. Health can be restored with contact to the natural world. It is not all “happily ever after” but so worth the effort to those who are committed to a more natural lifestyle.

The supporting roles of Julie and Dave, Sam and Rachel, and Sarah and the Polruan friends help to show how interconnected we are and how ordinary people can form a support system for extradordinary people like Ray and Moth.

This is an excellent sequel for many reasons, it has the same quiet passion and insights as The Salt Path. This is a sequel which does not disappoint.

A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler

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This is a writer at the top of his game. I read this book in awe of the simple style, the gentle revealing of his character and the clarity of the  prose.

It is an almost sad story of a lonely life. There is no drama about the tradegies which happen, only a gentle coming to terms and acceptance which  allows contentment.

The changes in life are in stark contrast to the ancient landscape against which the novel is set. The majestic mountains bring joy and a lively hood in many guises, while remaining constant and unchanged. It is a powerful story to savour.

MOLOKA’I by Alan Brennert

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Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven year old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-coloured mark appears on her skin, and her life changes forever. She is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka’i. Here her life is supposed to end- but instead she discovers it is just beginning.

The book opens with Rachel’s memories of a warm, loving childhood home where she eagerly awaits her father’s return from his months- long voyages abroad. He always has a gift for her, usually a doll from some far off exotic country, and tales which inspire her own travel fantasies. Life is normal for Rachel, school, playing and bickering with her siblings,  rare treats from the bakery. Then one day Rachel’s mother discovers a cut on Rachel’s leg, a wound that won’t heal and that Rachel cannot feel. Her mother tries various remedies, she bandages it hoping to conceal it, but it is her sister who will unwittingly change their lives forever.

This book is all that I find wonderful about fiction. It is beautifully written, set in a country and a time that is unfamiliar to me, with an engaging central character you are constantly rooting for. And through this captivating story I learned of the existence of an island called Moloka’I , to which people ,stigmatised with Leprosy (now known as Hansen’s Disease), were shipped, and in effect left to fend for themselves with minimal government aid.

The story is full of wonderfully vivid and individual characters – amongst them, Rachel’s uncle Pono, who preceded her to the island and is the only family she can cling to, his partner Haleola, practical yet deeply spiritual and in touch with nature and tradition, her father who visits sporadically and whose larger than life presence sustains her, and the nuns who are charged with the care of these young girls but who have their own inner struggles and demons.

A novel is by definition a work of fiction, but this particular novel is set in a real place where real people lived and died-people to whom I felt accountable as I tried to tell a story that would also be true to their stories.

So writes Alan Brennert in the author’s note at the end of this book and for me he achieved this.

As well as wanting to know the fictional Rachel’s fate as the story unfolds I also wanted to know more about Hawaii itself and its struggle with the American government. I read the author’s note searching for glimpses of the people these characters might have been based on- these fictional characters who were brought so wonderfully to life in the book and who had been sent to an island to die, yet managed to forge some kind of normal life together in their isolation. I wanted to believe that life on the island for those banished people actually had some of the spirit, hope and humanity of the novel.

 At times the novel had echoes of another novel I have read, “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter Sweet” by Jamie Ford” which is set in America during the Second World War and is about Japanese Americans who are rounded up and forced to live in detention camps.  I was amazed at how apt this feeling was as the novel nears its end.

This book was recommended to me and I must admit that I put off reading it as I feared it would be a grim read, particularly this year – it turned out to be one of the best, most uplifting books I have read and one I wholeheartedly recommend.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

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Who, in Ireland, would want to read a novel based on the family life of William Shakespeare? We have done Shakespeare to death in our school system. As adults some feel obliged to read, watch or go to his plays. Please leave the baggage at the door and come in to experience life in rural England in the fifteen hundreds with the Bard’s family.

Essentially the author uses a few facts from William Shakespeare’s life to bring us to a new appreciation of how people deal with tragedy. We meet Agnes (Ann) his wife, a strong woman of great insight and herbal knowledge. We meet his brutish father and his siblings. We feel the confines of family and village life.

The “contact tracing” of the spread of plague is very current, as it reminds us of the randomness of infection and the role of dumb luck for those who avoid it.

The loss of a child is always a dreadful blow. Just because one person goes into classic grief does not mean that the other person is not affected just as deeply. Shakespeare the writer uses his personal tragedy to resonate through his most famous tragic play. This is a very rewarding read because it may allow the reader to return to the works of Shakespeare with even greater insight into “the Bard”.

Maggie O’Farrell is a great story teller, blending serious research and imagination to keep you glued to the pages of this remarkable novel.

The Rest of Their Lives by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent

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Oh dear, what to read? There is a pandemic going on and on. I don’t want anything sad or difficult. I don’t want anything long and heavy, I haven’t got the concentration for that now. However, I do not want to read frivilous nonsense. I am a difficult reader to satisfy in the current circumstances.

Why should I read “The Rest of Their Lives” by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent? It is funny and sensitive and it deals with death in a suprisingly gentle humane way. The main characters Manelle and Ambroise carry baggage in their young lives which helps to ground the novel. Rash decisions regretted, grief poorly dealt with, family communication broken down.

They are sensitive souls living in a harsh modern world where life seems to be undervalued. They each have a laugh in their separate spheres: the clown moment, the buying cheap sweets in a local shop. It is when they meet that the larger issues come to the surface. The value of life at all its stages and the importance of love emerge as the central themes of the novel.

How does the author pack such big issues into a very quick read – light and easy, yet serious and lasting? Didierlaurent is a prize winning french short story writer and he knows his craft. Give this slim volume a chance to make you laugh, to make you admire our carers and to reassure you that life is precious.

You Don’t Know Me by Imran Mahmood

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It’s easy to judge between right and wrong – isn’t it? Not until you hear a convincing truth. Now it’s up to you to decide…

You Don’t Know Me tells the story of  an unnamed man in court on charges of murder. Just before closing speeches he fires his barrister and, as a final attempt to plead his innocence, decides to tell the jury the truth even if it harms his defence. There are eight pieces of evidence against him and he relays and explains each of them one by one to the court.

In short, this book was amazing. I put on the audiobook, not expecting much, just to pass the time on a long drive. When the drive was done I had my headphones on for the rest of the day because I had to hear the whole story. I’ve read other reviews since that say this is a book that needs to be listeded to rather than read, and I would whole-heartedly agree. From when the accused man starts talking, it is impossible not to listen to him and become engrossed in his story.

This is essentially the a story of a young black man trying to grow up in an urban estate in London, with gang activity and related social problems. Told entirely in the man’s voice, and from his perspective, there are some graphic scenes described, some heartbreaking moments and some darkly funny ones. The author has some brilliant ways of describing things, My favourite was that that someone “didn’t have the anger that only a lot of life can can give you”. I really loved, and felt, that line. And the ending…just perfect.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for something entirely different. And if you can please do listen to it, just be prepared to do nothing else for seven hours!

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You can reserve a copy on our eBook service, Borrowbox, here.

The Trophy Child by Paula Daly

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Karen Bloom is a Tiger Mother. This is a title she not only accepts, but revels in. Her youngest daughter Bronte’s day is crammed full of activities; piano lessons, harp lessons, dancing lessons and tutoring. Her older son Ewan is her “failure” as he did not succeed in getting enrolled in a prestigious private school and now spends most of his time smoking in his room with his friend Dale. Her quiet, well-behaved step-daughter Verity is enrolled in the school but is currently going through counselling and is being drug-tested at school. Why? Because she violently attacked and tried to strangle Karen. Her husband and Verity’s father has become a borderline alcoholic who has extra-marital affairs. Not at all ironic given that their relationship began as an affair.

Bronte goes missing one day while out with Verity and from here we start to see Karen’s true colours. Rather than immediate concern for her daughter’s whereabouts she turns on the police investigating and turns on Verity for losing her sister. Then, all of a sudden, Bronte arrives home completely unharmed but unwilling to tell anyone where she had been. This is the start of several twists and turns within this story.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed in this book. As a fan of psychological thrillers, I expected something more disturbing and, well, psychological. There seemed to be a focus of having lots of twists to the story rather than the actual story itself. The character’s didn’t seem to be very developed and I would love to have learned more about Ewan’s friend Dale and how/why he came to be nearly part of the family, he could have been a very interesting character. That said, if you’re stuck for something to read, this is grand but it’s not what it could have been

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You can reserve a copy on our eBook service, Borrowbox, here