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Lorna Sixsmith’s second book, How to be a Perfect Farm Wife, is an excellent follow-up to her 2013 debut, Would You Marry a Farmer? 

HTB Perfect Farm WifeThis time, she looks at the transition from being carefree and single to being a farmer’s spouse. (The book mainly looks at women from outside the farming community marrying farmers, but Sixsmith says her advice should work as well for men marrying into a farm — however, they might want to pass on the patterned wellies.) It appears to be a change akin to marrying somebody who speaks a different language, and How to be a Perfect Farm Wife attempts to be a tongue-in-cheek primer to understanding your farmer. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s a wonderful thing to wake up, make a cup of tea and devote your morning to an engrossing book without a thought to the dishes in the sink or other household chores. I had such an opportunity over the July 4th weekend, and devoured Nuala O’Connor’s brilliant novel Miss Emily.

Miss Emily by Nuala O'Connor

Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor (US cover)

Nuala O‘Connor is one of Ireland’s greatest writers of short stories and flash fiction, but she’s also an excellent poet and novelist. Raised bi-lingual, O’Connor — who publishes under her Irish name, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, in Ireland — has a great ear for the playfulness of language, for double meanings, and the layers that get lost in translation. She brings that same perceptiveness to her understanding of her characters and the nuances of their dilemmas, which is especially useful when telling tales of people crossing borders or boundaries from the known to the unknown. Read the rest of this entry »

Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours is a biting look at our cultural attitudes towards and treatment of women.

Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill (US cover)

Set in what appears to be a private school in a future Europe, we see a world in which young women trained from birth to be beautiful, subservient, and always available for men’s pleasure. Although it’s suggested that the society that created this school is now failing, and not as powerful or wealthy as it once was, order is maintained not by armed guards and coercion, but by the girls themselves. Indoctrinated in a ruthless social code that questions nothing, and strives only to be ever more beautiful, toned, coiffed, made-up, and stylish, the brainwashed girls maintain a rigid hierarchy based on an online popularity contest — they are rated weekly by the pool of men who may choose one of them for a mate when they turn sixteen. Read the rest of this entry »

Belfast has a bright new star in writer Laurence Donaghy, whose Folk’d trilogy (Folk’d, Folk’d Up, and Completely Folk’d) is creative, gloriously weird, and irreverently funny.

Folk'd by Laurence Donaghy

Book 1: Folk’d

Laurence Donaghy’s Folk’d trilogy riffs off the old myths of the Tuatha dé Danann and transports us to modern Belfast, where Danny Morrigan has got his girlfriend Ellie pregnant, and together they are struggling to keep mind and body together as they deal with being new parents before they even took one step on the career track.

If you have any notion of the legends of the Tuatha dé, you know the Morrigan is the goddess of war, and you assume Danny’s name will turn out to be more than mere coincidence. Read the rest of this entry »

Books IrelandThe May/June issue of Books Ireland magazine appeared in my mailbox the other day, and by midnight I’d read all but a couple of reviews (of books I’m planning to read).

That got me wondering, why don’t we review magazines routinely? Maybe not every issue (that would get ridiculous in the case of something published weekly) but we could occasionally write something a little more in-depth than a tweet about how we loved or hated this week’s New Yorker short story? Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Black Lake is the first novel by Irish author Johanna Lane, the tale of a family tying to keep their “big house” and estate solvent.

Black LakeThe plot, as much as there is one, concerns the current owners of a once-grand house and large estate in remote Co. Donegal. Dulough (meaning “black lake”) was built by a Scottish industrialist in the 1800s, and initially the family had plenty of money to support it. However, over the generations, the house was willed to the member of the family most interested in living there and continuing the family legacy. Consequently, these were the family members least interested in making the vast amounts of money required to keep such a large house in good repair. Read the rest of this entry »

Congrats to the European Space Agency, who successfully landed a probe on a comet yesterday!  The plan was actually to harpoon the comet in order to anchor the spacecraft. Oddly enough, the ESA scientists are not the first to think of employing seafaring tactics to snare astral bodies.

The Bosun and the Bob-Tailed Comet by Jack B. Yeats

The Bosun and the Bob-Tailed Comet by Jack B. Yeats (Photo credit: Tavistock Books)

The painter Jack B. Yeats’ short career as a children’s author has been largely overshadowed by his brother’s Noble Prize-winning poetry, but deep in the archives of a few libraries and antiquarian book shops it is possible to find copies of his children’s book The Bosun and the Bob-Tailed Comet.

At least one contemporary critic predicted great things for Yeats’ “quaint and uncommon story” (The Bookseller, 1904) — however, to my eyes this review looks more like pre-publication puffery, than an honest critical opinion. While modern academics praise the “exuberant drawing with their superbly rhythmical use of line and masterly compositions,” they tend to dismiss Jack B. Yeats’ plays and books for children for “manipulation of all the cliches of childhood adventure” and “a disturbing juxtaposition of the ebullient and the macabre” (when they’re aware of them at all). So, it’s no surprise that the books have not stood the test of time. (Quotes from Robin Skelton’s 1990 book Celtic Contraries.)

The central plot of The Bosun and the Bob-Tailed Comet concerns a sailor who encounters a “playful comet,” contrives to capture and tether himself to it, then go for a ride. Inspiration for the ESA’s comet capture? Thanks to Villanova University’s digital library, you can judge for yourselves…  Read the rest of this entry »

‘Tis that time of year when people start making lists of potential gifts for their friends and/or family and publishers launch new books to appeal to every personality type and disposition. One of these gift books is Who’s Fecking’ Who in Irish History by Colin Murphy (with hilarious illustrations by Brendan O’Reilly).

Whos Feckin Who in Irish HistoryWho’s Feckin’ Who is the latest installment in a popular series of humorous books about all aspects of Irish life. It comprises hilarious biographies of famous and infamous figures from Irish history.

To start with, I should point out that the title is not as scandalous as the unfamiliar might think. Feckin’ is not an exact synonym for a much more-well-know and internationally used four letter word. While feckin’ is a gentle curse — one your Granny might use when discussing politicians — it isn’t used as a coarse description of the act of love. So, the title of the book does not refer to who’s getting it on with whom in Irish history — that might be a very interesting book, but it’s not this one. (With notable exceptions for Charles Stuart Parnell and Katherine O’Shea, as well as Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan, whose stories, like their lives, are entwined.) Read the rest of this entry »

Colm Tóibín returns to the Wexford of his youth for his latest novel, Nora Webster, a tale of a widow in 1970’s Ireland reinventing herself.

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin

Nora Webster (US paperback cover)

I was a bit concerned when pre-publication interviews with Tóibín suggested a slightly depressing tale of emotional distance and maternal absence, but the actual experience of reading Nora Webster is completely different; it’s an uplifting and profoundly inspirational novel. Read the rest of this entry »

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