New Short Book Reviews – April 2017

Bless me gods of all literature, it has been 2 months since my last post  of reviews and in that time I have read…

Lisa McInerney – The Blood Miracles

If you remember how much I liked her debut The Glorious Heresies then it may not come as an enormous surprise to find that the continuing story of Ryan and those that surround him in Cork is just as compelling. Fast, elegantly written in a world of drugs, amorality and dance music but an expansion on the first book that’s far more than a sequel – you end up so much more invested in these characters than you ever were in TGH.

Genuinely, I’d forgotten how much I’d enjoyed her first novel and how I had to restrain myself from barrelling through it too quickly rather than slowing down and savouring what was on offer.

She has told the legendary “second album syndrome” to go feck itself here and I can’t wait for more.

An absolute must-read for me.

Michelle Tea – Black Wave

Now this was an unexpected (for me at least) and thoroughly entertainingly mind-bending read. Part (sort of) impending apocalypse book, part ramble through gay life and drug culture in 90s San Francisco and beyond, part hallucinatory story in which one Michelle steps in and writes about Michelle the character, mostly just fantastic and with prose in places that’s just edible.

Hard to explain so I’m not going to try, I just think you should grab it instead.

Samer – The Raqqa Diaries – Escape From Islamic State

Simply out, this is the non-fiction book I most want to put into the hands of complete strangers this year. It’s about the life of one young man living in Raqqa in Syria and the unimaginable fate that befalls him, his family and friends as ISIS take over his city and proceed to drag it back into medieval times before his escape to a refugee camp.

It is one of those books that could completely change your view on a whole part of the 21st century world and beautifully illustrated too.

Ciarán McMenamin – Skintown

As I said when I made it one of my books of the month over on the ROSBC this month Skintown is a debut novels set in the 90s in Enniskillen where a couple of young lads get caught in a huge drug deal on the rave scene between provisionals of both stripes just after the IRA ceasefire.

I read the first page of this and was immediately hooked. It’s rattlingly written, hugely immersive, funny too. Adored it. Cracking stuff.

Daniel Levitin – The Organised Mind

Not a new book but nonetheless The Organised Mind is one of those texts you need to read if you want to understand how the human mind works in an age of information overload that it was never genetically designed for. Yes, a small amount of skimming may be required as it’s a little dense in places but thoroughly worth your time and might even change the way you try to use (and organise) your brain.

Dave Rudden – The Forever Court

Did you, like me, read and really enjoy the first in this series Knights Of The Borrowed Dark? This, second book in the series, is a bajillion times better. And I don’t use that term lightly. Denizen is now fully in the world of the KOTBD, we’ve gotten all that messy introduction stuff out of the way and Dave now has free rein to, gloriously, let his extraordinary imagination fly.

People have (lazily) compared the first book in this series, a little, to Harry Potter. I loved Harry Potter, but when was the last time J.K. Rowling wrote a sentence so beautiful you had to re-read it three times? That’s what you’re getting here. Incredible visual descriptions, ideas and conceits that start to drag this world into more YA territory (think Empire as opposed to Star Wars).

Book three. Now please.

Arja Kajermo – The Iron Age

What a little gem.

It’s a short, evocative novel of growing up in 1950s Finland in cold, miserable, hard conditions that one of the characters refers to as not being unlike “The Iron Age” before the family move to Sweden and attempt to assimilate in what seems like another world.

Now I know this could seem grim but, weirdly, I broke into smiles on a fairly regular basis as it’s wryly funny in quite a few places. The illustrations too are wonderful, just as evocative but with a hint of the strangely unsettling.

An unexpected joy from the current home run hitting champions of Irish independent publishing.

Laline Paull – The Ice

As with two of our other titles here, The Ice is a second novel from an author (here’s your reminder of how much I adored The Bees, her debut) but unlike the others it’s not second in a series but a completely different book altogether.

It’s the near future, the Summer Arctic ice has melted, opening up trade routes and a cruise, desperate for a glimpse of an almost extinct population of polar bears takes a route usually forbidden up a fjord. They witness a huge cleaving of ice and, in its wake, a corpse in the water. It’s the body of a man missing in an accident years previously and from there a narrative of love, friendship, money, politics and commerce unfolds into murkier and murkier waters…

China Miéville – The City And The City

Why, oh why has it taken so long for me to finally get my arse in gear and read China Miéville? This is, at its core, a crime story starting with a dead body being found under a mattress in an anonymous crappy Eastern European city and working through the investigation across two cities when it turns out the dead woman was killed in one and dumped in the other.

So far so ordinary, except that the two cities occupy the same place in space, that you can see from one into the other in certain areas and that both populations have trained themselves to ignore anything they might see in the other city for fear of being disappeared by the mysterious Breach.

Hands down one of the best SF novels I’ve read in forever. Intelligent, sweeps of Orwell, Kafka, North Korea and just a bloody great cop story too.

I’m always nervous about TV adaptations – the BBC have one of this coming out next year and the casting of David Morrissey is a great start…

 


More reviews from me and 6,999 others over in the Rick O’Shea Book Club:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/therickosheabookclub/

April ROSBC Books Of The Month

I’m glad so many of you guessed one of these and pretty much no-one guessed the other! Our two reads for April are very, very different but both *very* worthwhile.

CIarán McMenamin’s Skintown is a debut novels set in the 90s in Enniskillen where a couple of young lads get caught in a huge drug deal on the rave scene between provisionals of both stripes just after the IRA ceasefire.

I read the first page of this and was immediately hooked. It’s rattlingly written, hugely immersive, funny too. Adored it.

Our second choice is the non-fiction Raqqua Diaries written by an anonymous 24 year old Syrian who documents life in Raqqa under Assad, with the civil war and when ISIS bring what can only be described as a medieval death cult to his home.

I genuinely think this needs to be read by everyone. Everyone who wants to in any way understand the impossible situation the regular people of Syria have been put in and have another view of why so many of them flee their homes and become refugees.

It’s heartbreaking.

Our friends at Dubray Books are offering the usual 10% online discount if you use the code RICKAPR17.

Now, who’s in?

https://www.facebook.com/groups/therickosheabookclub/

Tracy Chevalier, Alan Cumming And More…

It’s been one of those days…

Two announcements to make – one ROSBC and one not, but a brilliant, brilliant couple of nights to be had.

Firstly, our next Book Club event is May 9th with Tracy Chevalier in Dubray Books, Grafton Street. I’ll be interviewing her and she’ll be signing. We may even have drinks afterwards 🙂

The FB event is here – mark yourself as “going” to get any updates.

The second one is a monster.

I’m genuinely thrilled to announce that I’ll be interviewing Alan Cumming at this year’s Listowel Writers’ Festival on the June Bank Holiday weekend.

Tickets are from their website:

https://writersweek.ticketsolve.com/shows/873571451

There are more events to come too…

http://www.thebookclub.ie

#ReadWomen – International Women’s Day 2017

A thought after something was mentioned in the ROSBC (you can join my book club HERE) and as a result of it a one-stop shop of brilliant books written by women that I’ve read in the last 3 years or so that you might not have stumbled on from every possible genre.

All have full reviews if you click on the title.

Shirley Jackson – We Have Always Lived In The Castle

Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale

Naomi Klein – This Changes Everything

Susan Cain – Quiet – The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking

Emily St. John Mandel – Station Eleven

Laline Paull – The Bees

Sara Baume – Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither

Lisa McInerney – The Glorious Heresies

Louise O’Neill – Asking For It

Sarah Crossan – One

Anakana Schofield – Martin John

Jess Kidd – Himself

Liz Nugent – Lying In Wait

Rose George – Deep Sea And Foreign Going

Becky Chambers – A Long Way To A Small Angry Planet / A Closed And Common Orbit

Maggie O’Farrell – This Must Be The Place

Hanya Yanagihara – A Little Life

Chimanda Ngozi Adiche – Americanah

 

EDIT – Don’t forget all the action regarding books is happening on the Rick O’Shea Book Club these days. We had member number 6,000 last night…

8 Short Book Reviews

 

Sara Baume – A Line Made By Walking

There is always a trepidation when you are handed the second novel by an author whose first one you came across, read and were genuinely astonished by. You hope against hope that the author isn’t a one trick pony and that they’ll disappoint you with a just average second time out.

I needn’t have worried.

Sara Baume’s new book (after the all-conquering Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither) is a similar and yet different beast. Just as beautiful in language, just as hypnotic in the internal monologue of an outsider and their life, and something that will deserve just as much acclaim as her first.

It’s impossibly easy to get lost in the quiet, damaged, hermit-like life of Frankie and, just lie last time, whole paragraphs demand that they are re-read.

One that falls into the “I’ll be buying this for friends and insisting they read it” category.

Stewart Lee – Content Provider

How much you like this depends on how much you like the work of Stewart Lee, naturally. For me this collection of his columns is a genuinely very funny, scathing, nasty and just plain right assessment of modern Britain seen through his surreal, blade-like lens (I particularly like the comments from online that he’s included after most columns from people who clearly don’t get his tone).

Yeah, he does repeat topics a few times but it’s a small price to pay for the book I’ve laughed at most in the last 12 months.

Grayson Perry – The Decent Of Man

Look, I love Grayson Perry and I’ll read, attend and watch anything he’s involved in. This is the companion and expansion piece to his super Channel 4 series on the same topic where he went into ultra-masculine worlds (MMA, stock trading, former coal mining towns) and attempted to deconstruct the role of traditional masculinity in a world that is increasingly not in need of it anymore.

His humane, outsider-yet-insider take on all of this is illuminating (if not so much as his last book about the commodification of modern art).

Edouard Louis – The End Of Eddy

I can see why there’s been such an international fuss about this. Edouard Louis’s brutal, autobiographical novel is an insight into a rural French life in the late 90s and early 2000s that wouldn’t seem out of place decades prior.

His story of growing up gay in a small industrial town in Northern France dominated by the local factory and filled with hard-drinking, violent men is at times hard to read (emotionally, not literally), eye-opening and genuinely unbelievable.

Very, very worthwhile. Read it.

Alan Connor – The Joy Of Quiz

I appreciate that a book all about the history of quizzing and the intricacies from where the phenomenon comes from, how they’re all put together right the way up to the best quiz shows of today (and written by the question editor of the brilliant, but possibly baffling to outsiders, BBC2 quiz Only Connect) may not be for everyone. For me it was the best decision I made with my Xmas book tokens.

If you love this book then we get each other, if you don’t then I’m not sure we are really friends…

Hannah Kent – The Good People

Her second novel after the all-conquering (and fairly unmissable) Burial Rites is another story of rural historical poverty, misery and murder set in an isolated community somewhere in western Europe; this time Kerry in the 1820s.

I thought her grasp of tone and dialogue was fairly spot on, her unpatronising take on the superstitions of the population of the time (and the dark wells that sometimes lead them into) and the tension between ancient superstition and Catholicism trying to assert a final authority all play out well but I think ultimately it suffers from being in the shadow of a similarly set and better previous book.

Still worth your time though.

John Boyne – The Heart’s Invisible Furies

I’m tempted to just review this with the one sentence “I adored this book and I’m not sure how I could have liked it more” but just in case that’s not enough…

John Boyne’s monster of a novel is the story of one man’s life starting in 1945 and reflecting the entire history of post-war Ireland, what it was like to grow up gay in it, and how so much has changed by the time we finish out in 2015.

Cyril Avery winds his way almost Forrest Gump-like from his mother’s expulsion for being pregnant and unmarried in West Cork to an almost Royal Tenenbaums childhood and on into what might be considered a dull, average life were it not so extraordinary by turns of fate.

Really one of the best things I’ve read in such a long time.

I’ll be interviewing John at the Ennis Book Club Festival this weekend…

Sarah Crossan & Brian Conaghan – We Come Apart

If you read and adored Sarah Crossan’s “One” as I did then this might be for you. Written in association with one of the other current heavyweights of YA-Lit Brian Conaghan it’s also in blank verse like “One” but tells two stories that intertwine in the middle – one of a working class teenage girl from North London with trouble at home and one of a teenage Romanian immigrant who end up doing the same community service after separate acts of shoplifting.

It’s insightful, lyrical, human and, above all, a beautiful story to put into the hands of your kids after you’ve finished it yourself, of course… I ate it up in one sitting – it’s an example of the high watermarks that are being created in contemporary YA books.

 

 


 

For more book-related bits and pieces you can join my Book Club just as we start closing in on member number 6,000…

https://www.facebook.com/groups/therickosheabookclub/