“A Short History of Everything” by Bill Bryson
I love Bill Bryson. Everything he writes is beautifully written, funny and bursting with his trademark enthusiasm. I must say though, I found the physics and chemistry bits easier going than biology (possibly because I studied chemistry and physics to the end of school but gave up biology at 15; this was not on the basis that I disliked biology but rather because my parents said that I needed physics and chemistry but could always pick up biology later. I regret to say that neither of these statements has proved to be true – until now, I suppose.) I now know everything. Go on, ask me anything.
“The Hounds of the Morrigan” by Pat O’Shea
This is a children’s book. The Princess was given it by her aunt who loved it when she was a child. The aunt suggested that I read it too: “It’s set in Cork, or maybe Galway.” Dublin people and their knowledge of the rest of the country. It’s set in Galway. It’s about these two children who are on a mission in a land of the fairies and being chased by the hounds. It’s a bit too magical realism for me and horribly long but it may just be one of those books you have to read at the right age.
“Family Romance” by John Lanchester
This is a family biography by one of the last children of the empire. His father was born and grew up in the far east and so did he. His mother was Irish. Usually in these kinds of stories, the Irish mother is Anglo-Irish but this woman was not and he was clearly fascinated by her. She was born into a poorish farming family in the West of Ireland. She spent many years in a convent (before emerging and marrying his father) and he spends much of the book looking at her life and motivations. It’s an insider’s outsider view of an Irish life and, for an Irish person, a really fascinating slightly disorientating view. At the centre of the book (spoiler alert) is the fact that his mother lied to his father about her age. I think that this is viewed by Irish people and English people in quite a different way. He is appalled by this and worries about the affect of this life of deceit on her. But Irish people have a long tradition of lying about their age. When the state pension came in, there were armies of people who changed their age. My own great aunt’s age was only known when she began drawing the pension having seen no need to tell people (including her husband) that she was nearing 50 when she married.
It made me determined to write down as much as I know about the history of my own family. Written so far: nothing.
“Tamara Drewe” by Posy Simmonds
A modern story of writers’ retreats, affairs and celebrity culture told in the form of a graphic novel. Quite appealing.
“Madams, Murder and Black Coddle” by Terry Fagan
A look at Dublin’s poor in the notorious Monto district in the early part of the 20th century based on oral history from older people. Really interesting for a range of reasons. I found the tales of children searching through the rubbish heaps nearby for cinders and anything else useful quite extraordinary. It seems amazing that in the empires second city there were children picking through the rubbish dumps.
“Three Houses” by Angela Thirkell
I am reading anything by Angela Thirkell that I can get my hands on, fiction for preference. This is not fiction. It’s a story of her youth, looking nostalgically at her own house, and those of her grandparents, in town and by the sea. She was related to all sorts of people through her grandmother (Rudyard Kipling, Stanley Baldwin) and her grandfather was Edward Burne-Jones so she has lots of people to draw and she has a fund of charming anecdotes. She’s a bit of a snob but that doesn’t intrude too much. This is a bit slight but very appealing.
“Death of a Dentist” by M. C. Beaton
Oh how the mighty are fallen. The first time I read one of my sister’s MC Beaton detective books, I poured scorn upon it: poorly written and bland. But yet here I am addicted. Yes, since you ask, I quite enjoyed this.
“Tanith Low in the Maleficent Seven (Skulduggery Pleasant)” by Derek Landy
A novella with the characters from the ever-popular skeleton detective series. As you might expect.
“Light: A Gone Novel” by Michael Grant
This is the concluding volume in a series about children who are cut off from the outside world by a transparent dome. It’s more exciting than that makes it sound but the author was right to cut it off here, it was running out of steam.
“Last Stand of Dead Men” by Derek Landy
Another outing for the skeleton detective and his sidekick. The penultimate in the series. For my money, too many fights and not enough intricate plotting or exposition. Also, the premise is particularly ludicrous (yes, even allowing for the fact that it is a series about a skeleton detective).
“The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain
The story of Hemingway’s first wife as imagined by the author. It’s fiction not biography but based on fact. Lots of people loved it but I found it dull.
“For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway
I loathed this book. I found Hemingway’s style irritating and the action tedious. Anything that was interesting, he had clearly taken from stories he was told when he was in Spain. I know I am in a minority here, but there it is.
IF you ask me, Faulkner is a far superior writer in every way; they’re not even in the same league. We can lay that literary feud to rest now, I have pronounced my view.
“Dancehall Days” by George O’Brien
Oh God, a bildungsroman about a young man in Dublin in the 60s. My mother-in-law pressed this upon me. Her tastes and mine do not generally chime but she had lent me the John Lanchester book which I so enjoyed, that I was willing to give this a try. A mistake. The following is one of the few lines I enjoyed in the book:
As for the Hemingway, it obscenetied in the milk of impatience and I couldn’t be bothered to finish it..
“Bonk : the Curious Coupling of Sex and Science” by Mary Roach
Oh the disappointment. Mary Roach is a terrific writer. This sounds like a fascinating subject and there are some great anecdotes in the book but, overall, it’s a little dull.
“Intuition” by Allegra Goodman
This about cancer researchers and nature of truth. It’s a very enjoyable, easy read yet the themes are interesting and the characters are well drawn. I would go for one of Ms. Goodman’s books again.
I have also recently re-read all of the Noel Streatfeild books I could lay my hands on when in Cork. I think Apple Bough is still my favourite.