Brilliant Book Titles #90


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

A star-struck, naïve 17-year-old country bumpkin leaves her mum, her cat, her budgie and her 16ft caravan home in Oxfordshire and catches a coach to a near-mythical land – London and the Swinging ’60s. Days later, mascara running, itching in her prickly suit and stammering from shyness, she turns up for a job interview with the UK’s first ever pop magazine, Fabulous (later Fab 208). On the strength of a letter she invents on the spot, she is miraculously hired and begins the job of her dreams.

In Keith Moon Stole My Lipstick – which, of course, he did – Judith Wills reveals her remarkable story. She sang with Freddie Mercury, got high with Jim Morrison, had a strange encounter with David Bowie, babysat Kate Beckinsale, accompanied Billy Fury to a christening, went hiking with Mr Spock, starred at the Albert Hall with Tom Jones, lunched with George Best, graced the red carpet with Peter Sellers, got chased by Andy Williams, had the Book of Mormon read to her by an Osmond, and met – and sometimes had to fight off! – just about anyone who was anyone in the day.

Later to become a respected food and health author and journalist, one day Wills decided to return to her time of pop heaven and hell and tell the true – and sometimes shocking – story of those years.

Brilliant Book Titles #24


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

‘I return to Paris in five days. Stop washing.’ So wrote Napoleon to Josephine in an age when body odour was considered an aphrodisiac. In stark contrast, the Romans used to bath for hours each day. Ashenburg’s investigation of history’s ambivalence towards personal hygiene takes her through plague-ridden streets, hospitals and battlefields. From the bizarre prescriptions of doctors to the eccentricities of famous bathers, she presents us with all the twists and turns that have led us to our own, arbitrary notion of ‘clean’.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett


For over ten years,I balked at the idea of reading this book. Its sheer size put me off, despite many recommendations by library users returning it. “You’ll love it”, they’d say. Eventually I did read it and I did love it.  Who would have thought that a book about building a cathedral in medieval England could be so absorbing?

The plot has many twists and turns, there are lots of characters, but the underlying theme of good versus evil, drives the story, like an engine. From the first page we are hooked, Follett makes it impossible to turn aside from a poor family, cold, hungry and wandering in the woods.

After that you are on a rollercoaster of a tale with ups, downs, murder, mayhem, rape, treachery, revenge and saintliness and goodness. All of human life is literally there and I defy you to not get sucked in.

Though the cathedral is the focus of the activity in the novel, it is the strength of the characters that you remember, their resilience and humanity and you are cheering for the “good guys “, all the way.

Follett wrote two more in this series, but for sheer vitality and spectacular story telling this one is hard to beat. Forget the boxed sets, put a long weekend aside and immerse yourself in the Medieval world, and the fictional location of Kingsbridge.


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

Patrick Pearse: The Triumph of Failure by Ruth Dudley Edwards

patrick pearse

This is a biography of Pearse from the 1970’s. It covers his life from childhood, schooling at the Christian Brothers on Westland Row where his love for Gaelic Culture began, to his involvement with the Gaelic League and finally to his membership of the IRB and his leadership in the Easter Rising. His interest in the Irish language beginning in school under the Christian Brothers leads to his trips to the Connemara Gaeltacht and his experience of the poverty of the community there lead gradually to more radical political views from a more conventional middle class catholic Parnellite stance. This leads finally to membership of the IRB and his role in the Easter Rising. Pearse’s idealism comes out clearly through his promotion of modern educational methods and also the promotion of Gaelic in St. Endas. The author also makes clear Pearse’s  lack of practicality in business and combat, he fails in his attempts to maintain his father’s Stone masonry firm, the financial troubles he suffered with St. Enda’s and his ineffectuality as a military man in the rising.

I found it a very readable biography of Pearse, balanced in its analysis of the foremost of the rebel leaders and not too academic. It’s a good introduction to a figure we’re all superficially familiar with whose life has perhaps been obscured by the mythology that has grown up around him.


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

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin


This monster of a book gives a fascinating insight into Abraham Lincoln and the men he surrounded himself with, to achieve his goals of emancipation and ending the civil war.

For me, the strength of the book rests in Goodwin’s ability to make each member of the cabinet real and recognisable. We enter into the minds and motivations of the Lincoln’s cabinet, especially Bates, Chase and Seward. We are persuaded to care for each of these men and we get a huge insight into the mind of Lincoln. Goodwin unfolds the story slowly and carefully, but it never feels laboured, due to her skill. She never loses sight of the bigger picture, but she knows we need the details of each life to make us care.

Mary Todd Lincoln is portrayed in a less than flattering or sympathetic light, but history does prove that she was a fragile character. Lincoln’s “team of rivals” are drawn as very distinct individuals who disliked each other intensely. Lincoln’s skill was in bringing them together and getting them to work together for the “Chief”.

This book has to deal with the fact that we know the tragic ending, but it is a book more wonderful for that. In spite of our knowledge of the dreadful ending, we can rejoice in the journey towards that ending and marvel at the achievement of the great president and his band of enemies, who left their enmity aside for the greater goal. In this, Goodwin has written a hugely inspiring, yet eminently readable book.


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

Christendom Destroyed by Mark Greengrass


This is a substantial history of Europe from the sixteenth century to the middle of the seventeenth, i.e. from the start of the Lutheran revolt against the Roman Catholic church until the end of the thirty-years’ war.

It covers the major changes in society and the economy as a result of many factors such as the exploitation of the newly conquered territories in South and North America, the greater availability of printed materials, reformation of religious practices and developments in Science and Philosophy.

It’s a substantial book, about 750 pages but I found it quite readable, not academic and covers a very interesting period in Europe’s and the Worlds’ history from the unified pietistic society of Christendom to the emergence of the modern era and a more complex and diverse continent.


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