Tag Archives: Ireland

#Bookreview ‘The Girl on the Cliff’ by @lucindariley #mystery #romance

Lucinda RileyThis is a tale of complicated choices, tragedy and mental instability combined with all the bad luck life can throw at you. Told simply at the beginning, the emotional intensity of The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley tightens and tightens like a old screw turned so hard it can’t be loosened. Until finally it gives way.

Visiting her family in Ireland, Grania Ryan is running from pain. She has just miscarried and is upset with her boyfriend, Matt, for an unexplained reason. At home she sees a young girl walking on the cliffs and is curious about her. Aurora Devonshire is eight years old, she lives in the big house beside the sea, raised by an accumulation of governesses, nannies and household staff during the absence of her father Alexander. Grania is transfixed by the child, but her mother Kathleen is worried by any contact made with ‘that family’. The Girl of the Cliff is the story of three generations of women in the two families, their loves, losses, sacrifices, cruelties and grudges. And throughout it all runs the mystery of why Grania cannot return to New York to her grieving and confused boyfriend.

Read my reviews of Riley’s The Love LetterThe Seven Sisters and The Storm Sister.

If you like this, try:-
‘Butterfly Barn’ by Karen Power
‘The Crows of Beara’ by Julie Christine Johnson
‘Please Release Me’ by Rhoda Baxter

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE GIRL ON THE CLIFF by @lucindariley #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2P4 via @SandraDanby

#Bookreview ‘When All Is Said’ by Anne Griffin @AnneGriffin_ #Irish

Anne GriffinThis book stayed with me a long time after I finished it. Three words sum up When All is Said by Anne Griffin. Masterful. Emotional. Funny. It is the story of Maurice Hannigan as he sits at a bar one evening. He drinks a toast to five people and tells the story of his life. It is one of those Irish novels which makes your emotions tingle and say ‘yes, it is like that’, which makes tears prick your eyes and laughter rise in your chest. This is Griffin’s debut novel but she is an accomplished prizewinning writer who knows how to tell a story. It is unbearingly touching and will, without fail, make you cry.

Maurice is in the bar of the Rainsford House Hotel in Rainsford, Co Meath, Ireland. At the beginning we don’t know why he is there, the first few pages are an introduction to Maurice, how he feels his age, as he conducts an imaginary conversation with his son Kevin who lives in America. His first drink is a bottle of stout and as he drinks, he tells the story of his brother Tony and their childhood. A key incident in this section has reverberations throughout Maurice’s life and throughout this novel; a gentle reminder that we all may grow old, we may live in the same place or move away, but our childhood and our actions stay with us. We are introduced to Emily, owner of the hotel, and Svetlana, barmaid. Griffin has a talent with sense of place; she makes the hotel come alive.

Four more drinks follow. For Molly, a glass of Bushmills 21-year old malt. For Noreen, a bottle of stout. For Kevin, a rare whiskey, Jefferson’s Presidential Select. And for his wife Sadie, Maurice drinks a glass of Midleton whiskey. “Svetlana places my final drink down in front of me: Midleton, you can’t fault it. Majestic stuff. I look at it like she has just handed me the keys to a new harvester. It’s the autumn colours that get me. It’s the earth of it, the trees, the leaves, the late evening sky.”

As each story is told, Anne Griffin weaves in the present day so the two strands blend and the past explains Maurice’s situation, why he feels as he does, why he longs for what he longs for. This is a beautiful Irish novel about love, dyslexia, grumpiness, family, bullying, forgiveness and whiskey. I loved it and didn’t want it to end.
Read more at Anne Griffin’s website.

If you like this, try:-
A History of Loneliness’ by John Boyne
Brooklyn’ by Colm Tóibín 
That They May Face the Rising Sun’ by John McGahern

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WHEN ALL IS SAID by @AnneGriffin_ #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3Qg via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Heart’s Invisible Furies’ by @john_boyne #literary

From the first sentence I was entranced. The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne starts with such an opening sentence, full of conflict, hypocrisy, resentment and hope, it made me want to gobble up the pages and not put the book down. I wasn’t disappointed. John BoyneThe Heart’s Invisible Furies is the life story of one man, Cyril Avery, but also of a country and its attitudes to sexuality. The story starts in Goleen, Ireland, in 1945; a country riven by loyalty to, and hatred of, the British, at the same time in thrall to its Catholic priests whose rules were hypocritical, illogical and cruel. Cyril narrates his story, starting with how his 16-year old mother was denounced in church by the family priest for being single and pregnant. She was thrown out of church and village by the priest and disowned by her family. On the train to Dublin she meets a teenager, Sean, also heading for the big city. Wanting to help someone so obviously alone, Sean offers to let Catherine stay at his digs until she finds lodging and a job. These first friends she make are some of the most important in her life, and re-appear at important times also in Cyril’s life. Catherine gives birth and, as she carefully arranged, her baby is taken by a nun and placed with a waiting adoptive family. We the readers therefore know the identity and story of Cyril’s birth mother from page one; he doesn’t. As he grows from quiet boy to quiet teenager, falling in love at the age of seven with Julian, Cyril begins to lead a life of lies and shame forced on him by Ireland’s attitude to homosexuality and his inability to be true to himself. Cyril negotiates the first 30 years of his life, trapped between lying in order to stay safe or being truthful and getting arrested. Then he finds himself at the marriage altar. What happens next changes his life in so many ways, ways in which don’t become fully apparent until the last third of the novel.
This could be a depressing novel. It isn’t. It is charming and funny, but can turn on a sixpence and make you gasp with anger, despair or sadness. The characterisation is masterful. I particularly enjoyed Cyril’s adoptive mother Maude Avery, a chain-smoking novelist who detests the growing popularity of her books; his adoptive father Charles Avery who starts off being an awful snob with a talent for unintentional insults; and Mrs Goggin, who runs the tearoom at the Irish parliament with a rod of iron.
I loved this book. Honest, sad, laugh-out-loud funny, touching, with paragraphs I just had to read out aloud to my husband. It is about being true to yourself, the need for honesty in relationships, and the power of love. My favourite book of the year so far.

Read my reviews of these other novels by John Boyne:-

If you like this, try:-
‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara
‘How to be Both’ by Ali Smith
‘Tipping the Velvet’ by Sarah Waters

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#BookReview THE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES by @john_boyne https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3iJ via @SandraDanby

Book review: The Crows of Beara

Julie Christine JohnsonThe Crows of Beara by Julie Christine Johnson is a sensitive tale of two lost souls from opposite sides of the world who are in such pain they are unable to recognise a fresh chance for happiness. Annie Crowe, recovering addict and corporate PR specialist, flies from Seattle to Ireland to promote a new copper mine. When she meets Daniel Savage, an artist with a troubled past, both start to hear a mystical Gaelic voice whispering words of poetry.

The west coast of Ireland is a bleak, beautiful, empty place. Jobs are thin on the ground so when a new copper mine is announced, the locals are divided: the economy, or nature. Annie arrives, determined to make a success of this last chance to get her career back on track. When she discovers the mine will endanger the nesting site of the Red-Billed Choughs, she must tell lies in the name of PR. She doesn’t expect it to make her acknowledge the lies she has been telling herself; about her failed marriage, her failing career, and her alcoholism.

Annie, flawed but vulnerable, is an easy character to like. Weighed down by her addiction and the knowledge she did shameful things she can’t remember, she moves forward step-by-step. You will her onwards. She soon falls in love with the beauty of Beara and the openness of the community. This causes a professional problem, how can she promote a copper mine which will damage this exquisite nature. As she wrestles with her conscience, she must also resist the temptation to pick up a glass of alcohol. In Annie and Daniel, Johnson has created two wounded characters who are not sorry for themselves, who face up to their pasts and their grief, who try to look forward. This is an uplifting story on so many levels.

As with In Another Life, Johnson’s debut novel, there is something mystical going on in The Crows of Beara. A skeleton of myth and legend underlies the Irish setting and runs throughout the story. The west coast of Ireland is certainly an extra character here; the descriptions of the Beara Peninsula, its mists, its cliffs, its Red-Billed Choughs [the crows of the title] are so beautifully written you will be getting out your hiking boots and googling hotel accommodation.

Read my review of Julie Christine Johnson’s debut novel, In Another Life, and how she researched the Cathar history in Southern France.

If you like this, try:-
‘Himself’ by Jess Kidd
‘The Little Red Chairs’ by Enda O’Brien
‘Nora Webster’ by Colm Tóibín

‘The Crows of Beara’ by Julie Christine Johnson [UK: Ashland Creek Press] Buy now

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Book review: The Good People

Hannah KentThe Good People by Hannah Kent is a powerful second novel from a writer whose debut was outstanding. It is a tale of rural people in a poor community where superstition and folklore become entangled with one woman’s grief, with tragic results. Conflicting systems of thought come into play – folklore, religion, medicine and legal – and fail to make sense of what happens to Nóra Leahy. The power of the story lies not in black versus white, or logic and education versus peasant superstition, it lies in its characters.

County Kerry, Ireland, 1826. An isolated village, where gossip goes around and around, where people survive on milk and potatoes and burn turf on the fire. A place where petty grievances are not forgotten, there is no money to pay the doctor, but there are still random acts of kindness. In such a poor community, what happens when the unthinkable happens, where the doctor and priest have no explanation or solution?

The Good People is based on true events, a court case which did happen. In the same year in which her daughter died, Nóra’s husband drops dead in the field leaving her alone to care for her four-year-old grandson Micheál. He cannot walk or speak and neither the doctor nor the priest can offer hope. So Nóra keeps him hidden from the village gossips in the fear that his deformities may be an indication of fairy interference. Unable to cope alone, Nóra employs 14-year-old Mary to milk the cow and fetch the water, and principally to care for Micheál. Soon Mary hears the whispers at the well, that the unnatural child of Nóra Leahy is to blame for the poor harvest, the hens not laying, the thin milk. So Nóra asks Nance Roche for help. Nance is the wise woman of the valley, she knows the plants, the cures, and she talks to the Good People… the fairies.

When Nance suggests the screaming, fitting, feeble child is not really Micheál but a changeling left in his place by the fairies, the three women become embroiled in cures to banish ‘the fairy’. The darkness of the cures attempted on a disabled and sick child is disturbing and, ultimately tragic. The events unfold slowly through the stories of Nóra, Mary and Nance. The writing is beautiful and every page is steeped in the folklore of rural Ireland, this bleak village where poor people live at the edge of survival. It is impossible not to connect with the three women, each so different, while at the time seeing the inevitability of what is to come.

A little historical context. In 1801 the Act of Union was enacted which ended a separate parliament in Dublin with government switching to Westminster. In 1823 in Ireland, Daniel O’Connell began to set up Catholic associations around the country, seeking a repeal of the Act of Union. In 1826 an ‘old woman of very advance age’ known as Anne/Nance Roche was indicted for the wilful murder of Michael Kelliher/Leahy at the summer Tralee assizes in Co. Kerry.

A compelling read.

The Good People is Hannah Kent’s second novel. Read my review of her debut, Burial Rites.

Visit Hannah Kent’s website here.

If you like this, try:-
‘Master of Shadows’ by Neil Oliver
‘All the Birds, Singing’ by Evie Wyld
‘The Penny Heart’ by Martine Bailey

‘The Good People’ by Hannah Kent [UK: Picador] Buy at Amazon

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THE GOOD PEOPLE by @HannahFKent #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2×7

Book review: Butterfly Barn

Karen PowerReading this book was like sitting down with a crowd of girlfriends for a long-delayed get-together. In Butterfly Barn by Karen Power, Ireland leaps off the page, present in the speech of the characters, the scenery and the ‘feel’ of the book.

This is an easy book to read in that the pages turned quickly, but it deals with difficult topics: infant mortality, grief, betrayal, guilt. Like many Irish authors, Karen Power writes with a connection to the Catholic faith and – though I am not in the least bit religious – this did not interfere with my enjoyment of the tale. It is a women’s novel, about women, their strength, their suffering, their mutual support and above all the way they deal with what life throws at them.

On a transatlantic flight, Grace gets talking to the lady in the next seat. A friendship is forged which sees them re-united in Bayrush, Ireland, where Grace’s best friend Jessie is expecting twins. Grace is engaged to Dirk and all looks happy, until Jack – a teenage crush – returns home from Dubai.

This is the first of a series of this wide cast of characters, at times a little too wide for me. I admit to losing track of some of the more distant relations of Grace, Jessie and Kate, but I look forward to the next instalment.

For more about Karen Power’s Butterfly Barn series of books, click here for her website.

If you like ‘Butterfly Barn’, try these novels which deal with grief:-
‘The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes’ by Anna McPartlin
‘The House at the Edge of the World’ by Julia Rochester
‘Somewhere Inside of Happy’ by Anna McPartlin

‘Butterfly Barn’ by Karen Power [UK: Comeragh Publishing] Buy now

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#BookReview ‘A History of Loneliness’ by @john_boyne #literary

The History of Loneliness is a depressing title – it has to be about loneliness, doesn’t it? Yes, but it’s about so much more. This novel by John Boyne is about the soul of a boy growing up in 1960s Ireland and becoming a priest, it’s about guilt and responsibility and honesty [with oneself, with others]. And, given its setting and time, it is about the Catholic church in Ireland and child abuse. John BoyneBut it is not a depressing novel. It is the story of Odran Yates’s journey from childhood to seminary to adulthood, via Rome where he serves tea to two Popes, back to Ireland where he watches from the sidelines as one then another trusted Irish priest is convicted of child abuse.
It is an unexpected page turner. Boyne drops hints at ‘things that happened’, enough to make you want to know what. He maintains the suspense by telling Odran’s story in disparate chunks – the first four chapters move from 2001 to 2006, 1964 to 1980 – answering some questions and asking new ones, and weaving in the story of Odran’s sister Hannah and her family. Some bits made me chuckle, some made me laugh out loud, others brought a lump to my throat. A favourite was the discussion with Katherine Summers, a neighbour of the Yates who cycles by wearing short skirts to the horror of all the Catholic mothers, about the naughty bits in The Godfather.
Most of all, this book tells the story of the priesthood from the 1960s when the word of the priest was God, to 2008 when a stranger spits in Odran’s face because he is a priest wearing a black suit and a white plastic collar.

Read my reviews of these other novels by John Boyne:-

If you like this, try:-
Brooklyn’ by Colm Tóibín
Himself’ by Jess Kidd
The Pull of the Stars’ by Emma Donoghue

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
An honest, harrowing novel: A HISTORY OF LONELINESS by @john_boyne #bookreview via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1dm