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Best-Loved Oscar Wilde Edited by John Wyse Jackson (O'Brien Press)

Best-Loved Oscar WildeEdited by John Wyse Jackson (O’Brien Press)

Who’d be the editor of a volume of selected prose from a famous author? You get nothing but abuse for leaving out someone’s favorite poem or story, or for including something that’s not as strong as something else, or expressing conclusions about the author’s motivations or themes that vary from the accepted wisdom. It’s a mug’s game, but one that John Wyse Jackson has embraced nonetheless with what appears to be a genuine labor of love, his new book Best-Loved Oscar Wilde. Read the rest of this entry »

Anna Sweeney’s novel Deadly Intent is an atmospheric murder mystery set on the Beara peninsula in Co. Kerry.

downloadThe story opens with an unconscious woman found on an isolated path in the country. The woman, Maureen, is a guest at a high-end guest house run by Nessa, a former journalist from Dublin, and her husband Patrick, a political refugee from Malawi. Although the initial suspect is Maureen’s husband, an unstable man named Dominic, the case gets complicated quickly as there is a suggestion that she may have been having an affair with another guest, the rich industrialist Oscar Maldin, who has now vanished. Read the rest of this entry »

Wicklow is a great corner of Ireland if what you love is rugged scenery and outdoor pursuits. The mountains are picturesque, windswept, and just crying out to be the backdrop for your own romantic adventure. Helen Fairbairn’s Dublin & Wicklow: A Walking Guide will ensure you don’t get lost on your trek, nor (if you follow her advice) will you find yourself hopelessly out of your depth.

Dublin & Wicklow: A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn

Dublin & Wicklow: A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn

Beginning in Dublin, the routes Fairbairn details take you more-or-less gradually further and further into Wicklow, which is useful if you intend to follow the Wicklow Way for several days, or string a couple of paths together for a longer hiking experience. (Note on jargon: Americans go hiking, the Irish go walking. I use them interchangeably.) Each walk is graded for difficulty, so you can quickly find hikes appropriate for your party’s fitness level. Read the rest of this entry »

Darragh McKeon’s All That is Solid Melts Into Air is simply one of the best novels I’ve read this year. Using the Chernobyl meltdown as a prism through which to view the collapsing Soviet society of the late 1980s, McKeon weaves an incisive and deeply humane tale of powerless people dealing with corruption and change to the best of their abilities.

Two story lines converge in the shadow of a shattered nuclear plant. Dr. Grigory Brovkin is a rare honorable man amid a society of widespread corruption. He still cares for his ex-wife, Maria, a former-journalist now working a dull job in a factory. Maria wrote some articles in underground newspapers, and although supposedly anonymous, she lost her job and was forced into a divorce in order to protect Grigory’s career. While Grigory is whisked off to Chernobyl to treat the dying, Maria remains in Moscow, dealing with her precarious legal limbo. Read the rest of this entry »

What if alcoholism was a competitive sport? How would the professional drinkers differ from small-town drunks? That’s the provocative premise of Belfast novelist Jason Johnson’s new comic novel Sinker.

Sinker by Jason Johnson (Liberties Press)

Sinker by Jason Johnson (Liberties Press)

Baker Forley is a young man from Derry with an unusual talent, he can drink more than most people and remain upright without puking (instant disqualification during a competition). After failing at conventional life, he attempts to perfect this one skill. To this end, he finds a manager in Ratface, a retired American competitive drinker, or “Sinker” in the slang of the pro-drinking circuit. After initial success as a newcomer, and having gained the nickname “The Reactor” for reasons that only make sense to the inebriated, he is invited to an exclusive event in Mallorca, featuring only the best sinkers in the world, “The Bullfight.” Read the rest of this entry »

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! The new novel by Roddy Doyle, The Guts, has just been released in the US, and it’s a treat comparable to hitting the town for Paddy’s Day drinks — but without the sore head in the morning!

The Guts by Roddy Doyle (US hardcover: Viking)

The Guts by Roddy Doyle (US hardcover: Viking)

One of the best antidotes to homesickness for the recently (or not-so-recently)  emigrated Irish person is a Roddy Doyle novel. Told almost entirely in dialogue, reading Doyle is like stepping into your local for a quick one (or at least into a local in Dublin) the sights and sounds of messy, noisy Dublin life surround you, and you can hear each voice distinctly.  Read the rest of this entry »

Celtic scholar Juliene Osborne-McKnight’s novel Song of Ireland is a very enjoyable dramatization of the arrival of the Celts in Ireland and their clash with the Tuatha de Danaan.

Book Review: Song of Ireland by Juilene Osborne- McKnight

Song of Ireland by Juilene Osborne-McKnight (paperback, Tor)

To start off, Osborne-McKnight does a wonderful job of drawing the ancient Celts as a people with a nomadic spirit, moving around Europe and as far as Egypt as mercenaries, attracting respect and riches wherever they went. The life of Amergin, son of warrior king Mil, is vivid and she gives a real sense of their beliefs, social, and religious structure. As a founding myth, the idea of the Irish being fundamentally nomadic in our core puts a more positive spin on decades of emigration, and is a valid reading of our history.  Read the rest of this entry »

Distinguished historian Graham Robb is the latest to contract Celtomania, coming up with a fascinating theory that the ancient Celts possessed advanced knowledge of surveying and astronomy in his new book.

In The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the lost World of the Celts (published as The Ancient Paths in Europe), Graham Robb (author of Parisians and The Discovery of France) proposes a new theory that the Celts built their communities in Gaul and Britain (less so in Ireland) along precisely aligned solar pathways. Some of these ancient paths could have been formal roadways, but many may have only ever been well-worth tracks or simply maps in a Druid’s head. When the Romans conquered Gaul, they seem to have paved these pre-existing roads and traditional paths in Roman fashion, and over time a complex system of Celtic self-organization was obscured.  Read the rest of this entry »

And in the Indies Choice YA category, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book overcame Cory Doctorow’s excellent Little Brother. Here’s how I handsell The Graveyard Book:

In this colorful tale — essentially a reworking of  The Jungle Book — a young boy is  raised by ghosts in a graveyard. As he grows, he discovers that certain ghost skills (like invisibility and haunting) are very useful in the real world, while others can be unhelpful. The Graveyard Book is one of the most-inventive novels of the year, a picturesque coming of age story that will appeal to both imaginative children and their parents.

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In case the endorsement of knowledgeable booksellers from all over the US wasn’t enough, The Graveyard Book was recently awarded this year’s Newberry Medal by the American Library Association.

The inaugural Indies Choice Book Awards winners have been announced, and one of my favorites took the top fiction spot,  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

Here is my quick handselling spiel for Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

In order to keep their sanity during WWII, a group of islanders form a book club, and soon become closely entwined in each other’s lives. After the war, a female writer strikes up a correspondence with the group, and the resulting mosaic of letters teases out an illicit wartime romance, reveals a cache of unknown letters which may be by Oscar Wilde, and angers the local moral majority. This is an upbeat, entertaining and clever novel that will have you staying up late to finish. It’s  romantic, quirky, and a quick read with tons to ignite a good book club discussion.  Simply perfect summer reading.

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