New Short Book Reviews – June 2017


Late as usual, life (and festivals, events, work etc.) getting in the way, but here are my latest very short reviews of stuff I’ve read recently.


David Sedaris – Theft By Finding

As someone who has read and loved him for years this is just brilliant. His actual diaries from 1977 right the way through 2002. Fascinating and funny in and of themselves, I do wonder though if you’d find them as interesting if you’d never read any of his collections. I loved it though.


Sally Rooney – Conversations With Friends

This highly anticipated debut novel was the subject of a seven way bidding war between publishers. Frances is a 21 year old college student, Bobbi is her best friend and ex-girlfriend. They meet older couple Melissa (a photographer) and Nick (a semi-famous actor) and soon the four lives start to intertwine.

No thrills, no big bangs, no plot twists, just a story of people. Loved it. May even have teared up a little at the end.


Min Jin Lee – Pachinko

A chunky (700 pages plus) epic span of the story of one poor Korean family living under Japanese occupation in the early 1900s, then moving to Japan just before the war, right the way up until 1989. Depends on your interest in the countries and the period I suppose (I have both) but I enjoyed the vast majority of it.

Full of large and small detail, things I didn’t know, and wonderful painstakingly put together drawings of one normal extended family’s extraordinary journey through a century.


Alan Cumming – You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams

If you read his very moving and fascinating Not My Father’s Son, this coffee table book is nothing like that. Well, it’s a bit like the sections of the devoted to his showbiz life…

It’s part fantastic candid photography, part incredibly entertaining stories of his work, celebrity friends (I got him to retell the Liza Minnelli and Liz Taylor stories at our recent event) and loves, always worth your time.

He told me during the interview we did at Listowel Writers Week this year that he’s in the process of writing a new book full of more of the same. I’ll be first in the queue for it.


Sinead Crowley – One Bad Turn

Book three for one of the foremost writers in the new Emerald Noir wave (or is it grip-lit? Or is there a new name since last week???) this is also the third DS Claire Boyle book. Darker and more complex than the last two, unfolding a decades-old story between two friends that ends in violence and kidnap.

This is definitely one for that oldest of clichés at this time of the year – the sun lounger.


Sarah Winman – Tin Man

One of my favourite books of 2017 by a long way. A small (in both senses of the word) story of one man’s life, marriage, loves, history, solitude and the places we should have ended up and maybe still can.

It describes itself as an almost love story, and it is, and more. I don’t want to spoil any of the detail for you as I read it cold. Keep an eye out for it.

(Out July 27th)


Laurent Binet – The 7th Function Of Language

I loved HhHH, I threw this across the room after 100 pages. At times impenetrable, dull, slightly interesting, wanky and full of bizarre philosophy name-dropping. No.


Shigeru Mizuki – Showa 1926-1939 A History Of Japan

Not for everyone, this is the first in a series of manga on the history of the Showa era in Japan. Part actual history as it happened, part the story of the author’s life growing up. Really liked it and I’m on the hunt for the next one.


Nick Laird – Modern Gods

I actually don’t want to tell you too much about this, especially the first three, explosive (literally) pages. Read it and you’ll want to read the rest. Set in Northern Ireland and New Ulster in Papua New Guinea it’s lyrical, full of head-tilting moments and poetic turns of phrase (not surprising, given who he is) and deals with youth, love, religion, conflict, power and much, much more. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

I’m interviewing him next week in Dublin. Come along –


Mark O’Connell – To Be A Machine

This, to my eternal shame, has been sitting on my shelf for months even though it’s right up my alley.
Finished it in a day and it is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in a very long time. Elegant, insightful, wonderfully intelligent and a door to the possible future of the whole human race.



Elan Mastai – All Our Wrong Todays

The story of one man from the 2016 we should have had (flying cars, endless clean energy, bases on the moon!) who, through some improper use of a time machine, ruins it all and ends up in our 2016, warts and all. How clever and lovely and human and brilliantly put together on the time travel bits.

I’d add it to your list for going on holliers…



To chat about all these and more come over to the Rick O’Shea Book Club –