Posts Tagged ‘Ireland’

The Book of Killowen by Erin Hart

March 18, 2013

Pathologist Nora Gavin and archeologist Cormac Maguire have been called by the police to a small farm in Killowen, Ireland to examine the remains of a body found in a bog. Like most bog bodies, this one has been in the ground for a long time.  What’s unusual is that this body was found in the trunk of a car. And when removed, a second body was found underneath it.  The first man turns out to have died 1000 years ago, while the second has been dead less than a year.  Both men, however, have been murdered.

Nora and Gavin stay at a local farm while they examine the bodies. The farm is an artist’s retreat, with many people living there on a long term basis, all contributing to the farm work while also practicing their art or craft.  As the investigation proceeds, Nora and Gavin identify the earlier victim as a monk who may have also been a scribe.  The police find that the most recent victim was Benedict Kavanagh, a prominent philosopher well known to the general public as the host of a national television program.  Kavanagh was fascinated by the ancient books produced in Ireland’s early monasteries and was searching for a long lost book of philosophy. The artists at the farm turn out to have known Benedict personally.  In addition, his wife frequently stayed on the farm.  Is it possible that Kavanagh’s murder was related to the bog man?  Can Nora and Gavin solve either murder before they become targets?

I love the idea of tying a current mystery to historical events, and Ireland is a wonderful setting for this.  The Book of Killowen is the most recent in a series of mysteries starring Nora and Cormac, and it was especially good.  But you may want to start with the first one, Haunted Ground.

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Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2012: Pam W.’s Picks

December 17, 2012

I like to read from just about every section of the library, although I am especially partial to mysteries. I also tend to re-read books that I have enjoyed a lot. This list covers a little of everything and includes books I discovered for the first time this year as well as a few favorites I read for the second (or third) time. — Pam W.

The Last Child by John Hart
Johnny Merrimon was only 13 when his twin sister went missing. He has never given up the belief that she was alive somewhere but no one seems to be looking for her anymore, so Johnny decides to find her himself. What Johnny doesn’t know is that the officer in charge of the investigation has also never given up on Alyssa. He is keeping an eye on Johnny as well to make sure nothing happens to him. When another child disappears, Johnny and Detective Clyde Hunt find themselves mixed up with the worst elements of their town. This was an absolutely riveting book and the best one by Hart so far.

Magic Time by Doug Marlette
Marlette tells two stories in this book, one set in the racially charged days of 1964, and one set in the present day. Carter Ransom has gone back to his hometown in Mississippi after suffering a break down, only to find an event from his past has come back to haunt him. In 1964 several civil rights workers were killed in when a church was burned down. Carter’s girlfriend at the time was one of those killed. To complicate matters, Carter’s father was the presiding judge in the trial of the man accused of this crime. The trial took place in the 1980’s and the man was not convicted, but the trial is now being reexamined. Bringing up the past is painful, and possible dangerous, for everyone who was involved.

When I Married My Mother: A Daughter’s Search for What Really Matters-and How She Found It Caring for Mama Jo by Jo Maeder
Jo Maeder had lived in New York City for years when she found out that her mother was ill. The two had not been in contact for a number of years and Maeder was appalled when she found out the horrible living conditions her mother had been reduced to. Her mother was suffering from dementia and had been hoarding so much stuff you could barely walk in her house. Maeder did not know how they would get along living together, she only knew that she had to take care of her, so she left her job and moved in with her mother down south in the Bible belt. Her “marriage” to her mother truly changed her life. Maeder’s story is not new, but her story is told with humor and true compassion. I found it very compelling and not depressing at all.

Faithful Place by Tana French
French’s series about the Dublin murder squad is different than many mystery series’. Instead of following one detective through a number of different investigations, French switches focus in each book. Faithful Place, the third book in the series, is my favorite. It follows Detective Frank Mackey as he investigates a body found in an old building in the neighborhood he grew up in. When he was a young man, his girlfriend disappeared on the night they were going to run away together and Frank always thought she left without him. Now, he finds out she was murdered, and he is determined to find out who did it. This is fascinating look at family dynamics and loyalties.

An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor
Fans of All Creatures Great and Small or Maeve Binchy’s books will love this book set in Northern Ireland in the 1960’s. Barry Laverty has just finished medical school and has taken a job in the small town of Ballybucklebo, which is so small it barely shows up on the maps. He is not sure what to make of his new boss, who seems very gruff and old fashioned. He also finds the locals eccentric and difficult to understand. Gradually, Barry starts to fit in and learn how closely everyone in the town cares for one another. This is a heartwarming story told with lots of humor.

City of Bohane by Kevin Barry

February 28, 2012

Profane, cinematic, hilarious, elegiac, brutal, poetic, original. I found City of Bohane to be all these things and more. The language is amazing. It took me a chapter or two to adjust to the vernacular Kevin Barry’s characters employ, but it was well worth the effort.  (You can view the author reading from the book here.)

At the center of the story is the struggle between rival gangs for control of the Irish city of Bohane, but there are also several fascinating subplots involving the personal lives of the gang members. The story takes place in 2053 or thereabouts but this is a world where people interact face to face, not electronically. Mastery of technology is not what’s important in Bohane; it’s loyalty, charisma and ruthlessness that are indispensable in the age old pursuit of power.

I can’t overstate how much I reveled in the language of this book. Two small examples:

“”Mouth of teeth on him like a vandalised graveyard but we all have our crosses.””

“”Macu, polite as the seeping of a poison””

There are many other examples but chances are they’re too bawdy or profane to post here. And be forewarned that these pages are populated by people who are not shy about employing slurs.

I would recommend City of Bohane to readers who like books by Paul Murray, Irvine Welsh, Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos.  Also recommended to lovers of Irish fiction in general and literary fiction readers for whom language is paramount.

If you think of books in cinematic terms, I would compare this novel to the films of Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, and Guy Ritchie.

So visit Bohane.  I found it an unforgettable place.  I think you will too.

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Bard: The Odyssey of the Irish by Morgan Llywelyn

April 4, 2011

St. Patrick’s Day may have just passed us a few weeks back, but that’s no reason not to rush out and read this great a book about how the Irish came to Ireland.  What? Weren’t the Irish always in Ireland?  Well, yes and no. But mostly no.  This epic historical fiction novel tells the story of Amergin, a bard, and his brothers: the sons of Milesios. This is the mythic tale of the migration of the Gaels from Iberia (modern day Spain & Portugal) to the western isle (Ireland), and how they vanquished the Tuatha de Danaan, to found the “Irish” race.

But, it’s fiction, isn’t it?  Yes, Historical Fiction is just as it sounds; a made up story based on known historical facts.  Some authors may take more liberties with history than others, but the best of them weave a highly engrossing story with actual people, places and events, seamlessly.  In the latest edition of the newsletter on her somewhat dated website Llywelyn says, “Each of my historical novels has been inspired and fueled by some specific quality of the Celtic nature which I wanted to explore. The books have been a conversation with the past: asking questions, seeking answers, then giving interested readers access to my discoveries and conclusions.”

I first read this novel way back in 1995 and quickly devoured as many books by this author as I could.  I loved (and still do) how Llywelyn combines history and story-telling, with a dash of fantasy, as well.  In fact, the bookstore for which I worked at the time kept her books in the Fantasy & Science Fiction section (although Wake County, perhaps more correctly, keeps them in general adult fiction).  If you’re interested in reading about Irish history, whether in fact or fiction, you might also try: Lywelyn’s many other novels, including Finn Mac Cool (which I reviewed when our blog first started), Frank Delaney’s Ireland: a Novel, and Thomas Cahill’s nonfiction book How the Irish Saved Civilization.

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McCarthy’s Bar: A Journey of Discovery in Ireland by Pete McCarthy

March 17, 2011
“It was half past five in the morning as I lurched through the front door of the B&B.  Mrs O’Sullivan appeared just in time to see me pause to admire the luminous Virgin holy water stand with integral night-light, and knock it off the wall. Politely declining the six rounds of ham sandwiches on the tray she was holding, I edged gingerly along the hallway to the wrong bedroom door and opened it.”

 
 It is indeed St. Patricks Day and I would be remiss in not including one of the most interesting Irish travelogue selections I have encountered penned by travel writer and comedian Pete McCarthy.

 
Prowling his mothers homeland, McCarthy revels in the amazing scenery while gleefully and enthusiastically embracing the philosophy of Never Pass a Bar With Your Name On It.” With the name of McCarthy he is surrounded with a gloriously prolific selection of pubs throughout Ireland, and he enjoys it thoroughly and his gleeful joy in his experience is downright fun to experience with him!   He enthusiastically enjoys his chats with the locals and his explorations into local hangouts till the wee hours of the morning. McCarthy also thoughtfully examines changes occurring in modern Ireland, historical sites, and goes on an unexpected pilgrimage to Lough Derg, an ancient penitential retreat.
 
Unfortunately, Pete McCarthy passed on in 2004.  In his obituary, they included a wonderful quote of his-“If you travel in hope rather than with certain knowledge,” wrote Pete McCarthy, “something interesting usually happens”  – and with Pete, something interesting always did!!Along with his fame as a renowned author, Pete will also be remembered for his contribution to alternative theatre and comedy.


 
He discovers is that “In Ireland, the unexpected happens more than you expect.” A fun choice for fans of Bill Bryson and Peter Mayle!
 

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The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes

February 26, 2010

Marian Keyes makes me laugh out loud.  My first experience with one of her books was listening to the audio book version of Watermelon.  I’m sure many drivers along my commute route thought I was insane.  I continued to enjoy the books that relate the stories of the other Walsh sisters, but her last few novels have been mediocre.  I picked up her latest, The Brightest Star in the Sky, hoping for a comeback and I got one.  Sort of.

The story focuses on the residents of a Dublin house subdivided into four flats and an assortment of their friends, family and significant others.  It begins ominously with a countdown from Day 60.  Reading Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger tainted my view of this book.  I almost never do any research about a book before I read it – I don’t read the summary or anything if it’s an author I know I like, or if it is one that ‘everyone is reading’.  This sometimes has disastrous effects — like wanting to throw The Story of Edgar Sawtelle across the room when I came to the ending because I didn’t know it was a retelling of Hamlet.  I forgave myself though because I really loved the beautiful way the author was able to create a sense of silence around the main character.  But I digress. For those who have not read Her Fearful Symmetry I refer you to my co-blogger, Katrina, and her review of it.  There is a similar ‘presence’ that lurks in the beginning and periodically throughout the chapters of The Brightest Star in the Sky.  It seems sinister and I began to worry about the characters.  A voice in my head reminded me: “this is Marian Keyes- her books are hilarious chick-lit”.  But the same voice also whispered “Yes, but she also wrote Rachel’s Holiday and Anybody Out There?

There are parts of this book that had me laughing out loud again.  When a harried mother is justifying allowing herself to employ a hunky gardener she internally rages against her teenage daughter.  Apparently, she use to allow herself 1 sleeping tablet a night to get a blissful night’s sleep, until her 15 year old daughter decided to steal the bottle and overdose to get some attention.  From this she launches into a rant about how teenage daughters steal everything: “You could have nothing with a teenage daughter in the house, not mascara, not ankle boots, not breadknives, not sedatives; they took everything, selfish little bit**es!”   My poor mother had three teen-aged daughters in her house at the same time and not only did we steal from our mother, we also stole from each other what one sister had already stolen from my mother and then had the audacity to go crying to Mom about it.

This is what Marian Keyes does so well – her characters could be real people.  The best part of this book for me is the way you get to know all of the characters.   Bits of their lives intersect and intersperse until gradually you realize you know them.  Not until the last part of the book are many of them seen in the same scenes, but by then you have their history and motivations firmly in place.  Despite the hokey premise, I had fun reading this book and I am encouraged to keep reading anything Marian Keyes publishes.

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In the Woods by Tana French

November 17, 2009

I don’t generally read many mystery books, but this one was recommended to me by our Whodunit Book Club, a group that has been reading mysteries together for about six years. They were unanimous in their assessment of this book – it’s a fabulous read with great depth that will interest those who aren’t the traditional mystery reader.

In 1984, two children disappear in a Dublin suburb leaving behind the third of their group – a boy who was with them on that summer afternoon but was found, alive but covered in blood, with no recollection as to what had happened to himself or his friends. Fast-forward to the current day when Detective Rob Ryan, the little boy whose friends were never found, is investigating the murder of a twelve-year old in the same small town that he grew up in. Similarities between the disappearance of the two children nearly two decades before and the new case are striking, but Ryan’s personal interest in the case leads to his slow decline as an investigator.

I’d highly recommend this debut novel. I’ve also been meaning to check out French’s second book, The Likeness, which could roughly be considered a sequel to In the Woods, but actually follows the story of Detective Ryan’s partner, Cassie Maddox.

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Finn Mac Cool by Morgan Llywelyn

November 6, 2009

Finn Mac Cool is a man who became a legend, whose life story grew beyond the realm of history and into myth itself.  Finn has been described as “the mightiest of all Irish heroes.”  He was born as one of the lowest members of ancient Irish society, raised by foster parents and apprenticed to a local poet.  He grew to become the legendary leader of the first army of Ireland – and much more.

For fans of Historical Fiction, Morgan Llywelyn’s books are must reads.  Her works span much of Ireland’s rich history and heritage, with many early novels focusing on ancient times, kings and heroes, while some of her later ones deal with the 20th Century.  I’m a big fan of the former, and her story of mythic warrior poet Finn Mac Cuhuil.

Alongside plenty of action with Finn leading the Fianna (army) throughout the country dealing with roaming bandits, there are family struggles and a touch of the magical as well.  At one point Finn offends the Sidhe (people of the hills, a.k.a. faeries) and his wife and son are taken away from him.  Finn succumbs to madness for a while, but eventually regains his senses and falls in love with the High King’s daughter, Grania, who elopes with the handsome Diarmait.  But the happy couple won’t be happy for long, and neither will Goll Mac Morna, the man who slew Finn’s father, when revenge is sought by our hero.

When I first discovered Morgan Llywelyn’s writing, I devoured just about everything she had written, even special ordering several titles which were not readily stocked on the bookstore shelves.  Previously, I had read mostly Sci-Fi & Fantasy, so Llywelyn was one of my first encounters with Historical Fiction (along with James Michener, who focuses on places rather than people).  It may not be St. Patrick’s Day anytime soon, but this throughly researched novel is sure to transport you back to ancient Ireland.

If you enjoy this book, you’ll also like Llywelyn’s Bard: the Odyssey of the Irish, and Lion of Ireland.  Llywelyn’s forthcoming novel (February 2010) Brendan, is about Brendan of Clonfert, one of Ireland’s most beloved saints.  Two other authors you may enjoy are Stephen R. Lawhead and Edward Rutherfurd.

Click here to find this book in our catalog.


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