The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

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From the cover which incorporated William Morris Fabric Design on, I was Enthralled  by this book. It could have been written by Henry James or Bram Stoker – it even had a Dickensian feel to it, set as it was in late Victorian times, when everything was changing socially and scientifically.

It had everything passion not romance, love which is not always straight forward,   adventure with an occult undertone. The scenes of teeming London and idyllic Essex on the Blackwater Estuary were so beautifully evoked that I want to go there. Reading about Colchester even reminded me of my childhood favourite by John Masefield, The Box of Delights. I always feel its an added bonus if a book has tidbits of interesting trivia about everyday words  and objects which make you smile and say” fancy that” and this book has it in spades. Recommended.

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

Live By Night by Dennis Lehane

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This is a prohibition-era story of Joe Coughlin, the youngest son of a corrupt Irish-American police captain. Joe, a late addition to the family has taken a different path to his brothers and along with his childhood pal Dion, has moved from petty crime to more serious heists for local gangster Tom Hickey. On one such robbery of an illegal gambling den Joe meets Emma Gould, the mistress of a rival gang boss and their affair leads, indirectly, to prison time for Joe. Meanwhile Emma disappears, missing,  presumed dead. The son of a police officer is a vulnerable figure in jail and pressure is put on Thomas Coughlin to help out an Italian-American mobster who is threatening his son. Despite this Joe makes contacts while incarcerated which lead to a new life as a crime boss in Tampa on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

The book is a well-paced, period thriller covering the twenties to thirties era bootlegging and criminality in Boston and Florida with and also deals with our anti-hero’s complicated relationship with his father Thomas Coughlin. It’s the second part of a trilogy of novels about Joe Coughlin but the books read well as stand-alone stories.

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

Straight Man by Richard Russo

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This novel by my much loved author Richard Russo has perhaps the funniest prologue to a book I have ever read! While explaining to us how he is not in fact a Straight Man,  Russo’s protagonist William Henry Devereaux gives us a wonderful anecdote about his stubbornness as a child, now a middle aged man he is the chairman of the English Department of a run down and underfunded college in Pennsylvania. He bumbles along without really caring taking potshots at his overly zealous and to his mind ridiculous colleagues.

In the course of a week after his wife goes away, he gets himself into all kinds of off the wall situations. Free to be the anarchist he will always be at heart. Russo paints a picture of small town American life like no other. He is often hilarious but also very tender in the treatment of his subjects. He explores relationships of all kinds in his customary thoughtful and humorous style. In short, Straight Man is classic Russo–side-splitting and true-to-life, witty, compassionate, and impossible to put down.

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

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

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I avoided this booker prize-winning tale of the building of the Siam-Burma railway during the Second World War when it first came out; it’s a story which has been covered before e.g. in the classic movie “Bridge over the River Kwai” but this novel is more wide ranging and perhaps a more realistic telling of the story.

The central character of the book, Alwyn “Dorrigo” Evans is a bright, recently qualified surgeon from rural Tasmania, the first of his family to make it through school to a university education. He’s made the right connections both personally and professionally and is destined for greatness. WW2 intervenes and Dorrigo enlists and is sent to Adelaide for training. A chance encounter in a bookshop there leads to the most important relationship of his life. The war then intervenes and after a relatively uneventful campaign in the Middle East, Evans is sent to Java where his battalion is captured by the Japanese. We then get a harrowing and explicit account of the physical decline of the Australian P.O.W.s as they are mercilessly driven building the railway for the Japanese Empire. We also get the story and future destiny of the Japanese and Korean prison guards.

I found this a well-written interesting book, the story of a life set in an eventful period of history with an interesting twist in the end.

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

5 New Literary Fictions

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Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta (12 Jan 2017)
Meadow Mori and Carrie Wexler grew up together in Los Angeles, and both became film-makers.

Meadow makes challenging documentaries; Carrie makes successful feature films with a feminist slant. The two friends have everything in common – except their views on sex, power, movie-making and morality. And yet their loyalty trumps their different approaches to film and to life.

Until, one day, a mysterious woman with a unique ability to cold-call and seduce powerful men over the phone – not through sex, but through listening – becomes the subject of one of Meadow’s documentaries. Her downfall, and what makes her so extraordinarily moving, is that she pretends to be someone she is not.

Heart-breaking and insightful, Innocents and Others is an astonishing novel about friendship, identity, loneliness and art.

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Transit by Rachel Cusk (17 Jan 2017)
In the wake of her family s collapse, a writer and her two young sons move to London. The process of this upheaval is the catalyst for a number of transitions personal, moral, artistic, and practical as she endeavors to construct a new reality for herself and her children. In the city, she is made to confront aspects of living that she has, until now, avoided, and to consider questions of vulnerability and power, death and renewal, in what becomes her struggle to reattach herself to, and believe in, life.

Filtered through the impersonal gaze of its keenly intelligent protagonist, Transit sees Rachel Cusk delve deeper into the themes first raised in her critically acclaimed novel Outline and offers up a penetrating and moving reflection on childhood and fate, the value of suffering, the moral problems of personal responsibility, and the mystery of change.

In this second book of a precise, short, yet epic cycle, Cusk describes the most elemental experiences, the liminal qualities of life. She captures with unsettling restraint and honesty the longing to both inhabit and flee one s life, and the wrenching ambivalence animating our desire to feel real.

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The Blot by Jonathan Lethem (2 Feb 2017)
Alexander Bruno is a man with expensive problems.

Sporting a tuxedo and trotting the globe, he has spent his adult life as a professional gambler. His particular line of work: backgammon, at which he extracts large sums of money from men who think they can challenge his peerless acumen. In Singapore, his luck turned.

Maybe it had something to do with the Blot – a black spot which has emerged to distort Bruno’s vision. It’s not showing any signs of going away. In fact, it’s spreading, and as Bruno extends his losing streak in Berlin, it becomes clinically clear that the Blot is the symptom of something terrible. There’s a surgeon who can help, an elite specialist, the only one in the world. But surgery is going to involve a lot of money, and worse: returning home. To the land of ‘bullying, psychosis and bad taste’ otherwise known as contemporary America.

Specifically: the garish, hash-smoke streets of Berkeley, California. Here, the unseemly Keith Stolarsky – a childhood friend in possession of an empire of themed burger bars and thrift stores – is king. And he’s willing to help Bruno out. But there was always going to be a price.

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Autumn by Ali Smith (7 Feb 2017)

From the Man Booker shortlisted and Baileys Prize winning author of How to be both: a breathtakingly inventive new novel about aging, time, love, and stories themselves that launches an extraordinary quartet of books called Seasonal.
Readers love Ali Smith s novels for their peerless innovation and their joyful celebration of language and life. Her newest, Autumn, has all of these qualities in spades, and good news for fans! is the first installment in a quartet. Seasonal, comprised of four stand-alone books, separate yet interconnected and cyclical (as are the seasons), explores what time is, how we experience it, and the recurring markers in the shapes our lives take and in our ways with narrative. Fusing Keatsian mists and mellow fruitfulness with the vitality, the immediacy, and the color hit of Pop Art, Autumn is a witty excavation of the present by the past. The novel is a stripped-branches take on popular culture and a meditation, in a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, what harvest means.

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The Good People by Hannah Kent (9 Feb 2017)
County Kerry, Ireland, 1825.

NÓRA, bereft after the sudden death of her beloved husband, finds herself alone and caring for her young grandson Micheál. Micheál cannot speak and cannot walk and Nóra is desperate to know what is wrong with him. What happened to the healthy, happy grandson she met when her daughter was still alive?

MARY arrives in the valley to help Nóra just as the whispers are spreading: the stories of unexplained misfortunes, of illnesses, and the rumours that Micheál is a changeling child who is bringing bad luck to the valley.

NANCE’s knowledge keeps her apart. To the new priest, she is a threat, but to the valley people she is a wanderer, a healer. Nance knows how to use the plants and berries of the woodland; she understands the magic in the old ways. And she might be able to help Micheál.

As these three women are drawn together in the hope of restoring Micheál, their world of folklore and belief, of ritual and stories, tightens around them. It will lead them down a dangerous path, and force them to question everything they have ever known.

Based on true events and set in a lost world bound by its own laws, The Good People is Hannah Kent’s startling new novel about absolute belief and devoted love. Terrifying, thrilling and moving in equal measure, this long-awaited follow-up to Burial Rites shows an author at the height of her powers

 

The Killing Jar by Nicola Monaghan

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A gripping, mile-a-minute debut about selfishness, self-obliteration and one girl’s perseverance. The Killing Jar tells the story of Kerri-Ann who lives on a drug-riddled estate. She doesn’t know who her father is, and her mother is a junkie.

By the age of 10 she’s selling drugs at school. By 12, she’s been beaten up by a customer, hidden stolen guns, done time in a girl’s home, and already has a taste for whiz. She is also left to care for her little brother Jon.

She has one true friend, Mark who is the one person she can trust. Friendship turns to love- but can it stand the caustic world they live in?

This book is fast-paced and, to be honest, very chilling! Once I started I couldn’t put it down.

Definitely recommended.

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

The Empathy Problem by Gavin Extence

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This is the third novel by Extence – his first, “The Universe versus Alex Wood” was a word- of- mouth success in 2013. He sets this novel in a very specific time and place. It is the height of the “Occupy” movement in the City, in London. St Paul’s cathedral grounds have been taken over by the Occupy movement which swept the world, briefly, in response to the economic collapse of the noughties. The protesters were in St Paul’s from October 2011-February 2012.

Against the backdrop of this, Extence gives us the story of Gabriel, a City trader, ruthless and aloof, completely lacking in human connection or empathy. He exists in a bubble of his own design, without friends or relationships. He is estranged from his father and uses escorts for sex but drops them when he feels any closeness developing. In short, Gabriel is a stereotype of all bankers and traders, and totally unlikeable.

However, in a plot development that gives the novel a parable-like structure, Gabriel is faced with his own mortality and he changes radically, and not quite believably, into a feeling compassionate human being, much to his own bewilderment and discomfort. The fairy-tale nature of the story gathers pace, as Gabriel comes to some life changing decisions, which affect him, but also those around him and the world he inhabits.

I enjoyed this book very much. Extance’s style is readable and descriptive. His portrayal of London is instantly recognisable to anyone who has been there. The language is pared back and precise, however, I struggled with the unfolding of the plot, as it was hard to believe the transformation taking place. The ending was particularly difficult, as it had the feel of a Disney movie. In spite of this I would recommend this novel, as fresh, original and thought-provoking.

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

Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett

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[Editor’s Note: No, your mind is not playing tricks on you – we did have a review of this book previously, but given that we’ve eight contributors, I figured that this would not only happen eventually, but be interesting to see how the reviews compare and contrast]

This book by an American author I hadn’t heard of before is on the surface a modern tale of conflict between a nouveau riche investment banker blow-in from Boston, Doug Fanning and a retired liberal schoolteacher, Charlotte Graves.

Fanning, a high-flying ruthless amoral executive in the eponymous bank has built a trophy home next door to Graves’ run-down farmhouse after buying a site formerly owned by her family which had been donated to the local town, Finden, Massachusetts as parkland in perpetuity.  On the surface it seems a hopeless fight for Graves, now very eccentric, who seems to spend a lot of her time having political discussions with her two dogs. Everyone has a past, however, and Fanning, Graves and the bank are all connected to the local town either directly or indirectly. The fact that Charlotte’s brother Henry is a federal bank regulator who also is investigating Union Atlantic perhaps stretches coincidence too far. I think too many links to current issues are introduced, for example rogue trading and the US wars in the Middle East which aren’t developed.

I found this a reasonably engaging tale of modern America, though perhaps the author over-complicates the history of his main characters, neither of which are particularly likeable, though perhaps their complexity gives a feeling of realism to the novel. Still, worth a read.

Eleven Hours by Pamela Erens

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Pamela Erens packs a huge emotional punch into this short novel covering the labour of a young women in a busy New York hospital, the eleven hours of the title.

The evolving relationship between Lore, the single, unaccompanied woman and her midwife, Franckline is beautifully drawn. Erens has an astonishing talent for description and the passages on the physical progress of the labour are totally absorbing. She moves effortlessly between Lore’s story and that of Franckline, the immigrant midwife, and makes us care about them and their life journeys.

The author is skilled, in the things she suggests, as well as those things she describes and there is a sparseness and economy in the writing that is refreshing. I could say that there is not a superfluous word used and this conveys the urgency and intensity of the birth process.

I would have to say that this is one novel that would definitely appeal more to women readers, as it deals with the momentous and profound act of giving birth. I particularly like the way the novel ended, with all possibilities left open and nothing defined. The best recommendation, I can give this novel is that I am now rushing out to read Erens’ other two previous titles.Verdict- a tour de force.

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

Unbreak My Heart by Nicole Jacquelyn

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Blurb:

What do you do when your soul mate marries your best friend?

If you’re Kate Evans, you keep your friend Rachel, bond with her kids, and bury your feelings for her husband. The fact that Shane’s in the military and away for long periods helps-but when tragedy strikes, everything changes.

After Rachel, pregnant with her fourth child, dies in a car accident and the baby miraculously survives, Kate upends her entire life to share parenting duties. Then on the first anniversary of Rachel’s death, Kate and Shane take comfort in each other in a night that they both soon regret.

Shane’s been angry for a year, and now he feels guilty too – for sleeping with his wife’s best friend and liking it . . . liking her. Kate’s ability to read him like a book may have once sent Shane running, but their lives are forever entwined and they are growing closer.

Now with Shane deployed for seven months, Kate is on her own and struggling with being a single parent. Shane is loving and supportive from thousands of miles away, but his homecoming brings a betrayal Kate never saw coming. So Kate’s only choice is to fight for the future she deserves – with or without Shane. . .

Review:

This book gutted me so badly! I woke this morning with a Book Hangover, I just couldn’t put it down. I cried my ass off and had a consent ache in my heart throughout. But that just made this book even better. It sucked me right in.

“For the past couple of nights when I’d lain down beside her, after she’d fallen asleep and I knew she couldn’t hear me, I’d promised her that she’d never have to forgive me again if she could do it one last time.”

If you’re questioning picking this book up to read, don’t! Pick it up and read it! It was one of the best reads so far this year for me and I’ve read some great books this year let me tell you!

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Author Bio:

Nicole Jacquelyn is the mom of two little girls and a full time college student. She hasn’t watched television in well over a year, she still does things that drive her mother crazy, and she loves to read. At eight years old, when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she told people she wanted to be a mom. When she was twelve her answer changed- to author. By the time she was eighteen, when people asked her what she wanted to do with her life, she told them she really wanted to be a writer- but the odds of that happening were so slim that she’d get her business degree “just to be safe”. Her dreams stayed constant. First she became a mom, then she went to college, and during her senior year- with one daughter in first grade and the other in preschool, she sat down and wrote a story.

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