The Raptures by Jan Carson
This is a really great, beautifully written, entertaining and engaging book. I truly recommend it. It has some weird supernatural stuff in it, but not in a bad way, kind of matter of fact. It’s set in Northern Ireland and involves strict religious sects and children dying BUT do not let that put you off. It’s actually quite funny as well.
The Firestarters by Jan Carson
I enjoyed “The Raptures” so much that I got this earlier book of hers out from the library. Although many of the same themes are present and it is pretty good, it’s just not as good. However, I will be running out to the shops to buy whatever she writes next.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
I listened to this on audiobook. I find that a completely different experience from reading a book and, for me, never as satisfactory. It was very interesting – with some truly shocking revelations about the treatment of black people in America – but it felt a bit worthy
Thirty Two Words for Field by Manchán Magan
Mr. Waffle bought this and I just picked it up not intending to read it. I hate Manchán Magan. He has a column in the Irish Times and he comes off as very holier than thou. Herself was rendered incandescent by a column where he said that he’s able to live a simple life and do what he wants to do by not having saddled himself with a massive mortgage as he bought a plot of land and house out in the country with a bequest from his grandmother. In fairness, I think he does live quite a simple life and is trying to live sustainably but he just seems a bit preachy. However, to my enormous surprise, I loved this book. It got slightly trying towards the end but basically he is looking at the Irish language and all the words that derive from the landscape and are specific to where we are. Very many of them are in real danger of disappearing forever. It’s a lovely, heartfelt book and I have had to reconsider my prejudices against Manchán Magan which is an exhausting endeavour at my age and stage.
Northern Protestants: On Shifting Ground by Susan McKay
I thought this was really good. Susan McKay is a Protestant journalist originally from Derry and she goes around interviewing Northern Protestants and letting them tell their stories. It’s a very interesting perspective from a community I know surprisingly little about.
Can Medicine Be Cured? by Seamus O’Mahony
The Way we Die Now by Seamus O’Mahony
I’ve already read a book by this Cork doctor and I got these two on the strength of it. He’s about 15 years older than me and went to the boys’ school up the road from my girls’ school so I feel, probably quite wrongly, that I know a lot about him already. He is a very good writer and, although somewhat cynical, pretty compelling about the problems of modern medicine. I found his books fascinating.
Free: Coming of Age at the end of History by Lea Ypi
This is a book by an Albanian woman about growing up in a very repressive communist state and then struggling when the regime collapsed. It’s very well written and very interesting and – bonus prize – relatively short. I suggested to Mr. Waffle that we might go on holidays to Albania after reading it but he remains unconvinced.
The Troubles with Us by Alix O’Neill
Another book in my Northern Ireland summer reading list. This is funny even though the story is quite dark in places. It’s also interesting. It’s a sort of Derry Girls for Belfast vibe. However, it’s unfortunately not very well written and I found that a bit jarring.
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
This was a big hit when it came out. It’s about the sexual lives of three women. Herself didn’t like it; she told me I wouldn’t like it. She was right. I thought it was a bit exploitative. Well written though.
Heartland by Sarah Smarsh
I read somewhere that this was a much better book than “Hillbilly Elegy” by JD Vance. I thought that was an excellent book, so I decided to give this a go. The themes were pretty similar, it was about, as the blurb said, “Growing up poor in the richest country on earth.” The author is much more left leaning than JD Vance (I suppose, isn’t everyone these days?) and her account is probably a bit more nuanced than his but like him, she’s someone from a poor background who ended up safely in the middle class and is trying to explain the constraints of being poor to her new tribe. She also had a strained relationship with her mother. I noticed that the book dedication was “For Mom” and that was one of the most moving things about the book once you’ve read it. In fairness, it was good but, in my view, not as good as the JD Vance book.
This Much is True by Miriam Margoyles
This actress’s autobiography was launched in a blaze of publicity and I am unable to resist a blaze. She’s a character actress. Overall it was fine with some interesting parts including her relationship with her parents but like many another celebrity autobiography as she goes through life it becomes a bit episodic and who I met at dinnerish. Grand though and undemanding.
Will she do? by Eileen Atkins
Someone on the ever-excellent Slightly Foxed podcast recommended this and I thought I would give it a try. It’s an autobiography by the actress Eileen Atkins (of whom I had never heard – she plays Queen Mary in The Crown). She came from a working class background and had basically worked on stage all her life from an early music hall start to theatre, television and film. She is quite frank about the awful times when she couldn’t get work. She can be very funny in parts. I think it was better than the Miriam Margoyles book. Although they were near contemporaries (Margoyles is seven years younger) they had very different lives and I just found Atkins’ experience and descriptions more interesting. She seems a bit more reserved and reflective than Margoyles and, ultimately, for me, that made it a more interesting book.
The Death of Stalin by Fabien Nury
The graphic novel on which the film was based. The film stuck pretty closely to the book actually. Short and mildly interesting.
Chivalry by Neil Gaiman & Colleen Doran
I thought this was sweet and Mr. Waffle thought it was nauseating – take your pick. A graphic novel for children featuring Lancelot transported to modern times.
Fleischmann is in trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
This was the novel of the summer when it was published in 2019. I come to its joys three years later. Topical. Mr. Waffle loved it, really enjoyed it. I thought it was grand, a bit long and a bit plot free. It’s about a New York couple splitting up and there are lots of details about trying to get their children ahead, her job (she is the main breadwinner and has her own showbiz agency) and his (he’s a senior doctor) and the resentments and unhappinesses of life. He is a bit superior and annoying about all the things their money can buy and that is kind of funny. Ultimately I found the absence of plot unsatisfactory but it is very of the moment (where the moment is summer 2019 – I have to say, I am curious about these characters might have navigated the pandemic).
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
This was a big hit and lots of people whose views I respect really enjoyed it. It’s about a research chemist who makes a career for herself in television. It’s basically a feminist fable and I assume is not really meant to be believable. I didn’t love it myself but it’s a runaway best seller and an easy read so I give you that.
Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley
I really enjoyed this slight novel. It’s, I think, his first novel. It’s set over a weekend in a country house and there’s no particular plot. It just pokes fun at all the characters. Apparently it’s a roman à clef but even if you were only vaguely aware of Ottoline Morrell and had never heard of Garsington Manor (your correspondent), it’s still very enjoyable. Mind you, it’s a bit savage, I’d say that the originals on whom the characters were based were not delighted; in fairness, he’s probably hardest on the character who is clearly our young author himself. It reminds me a bit of Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies. Really recommended and, if science fiction is not your thing, fear not, despite Huxley’s later fame in this field, this book is a science fiction free zone.
Echoes by Maeve Binchy
I have enjoyed Maeve Binchy novels in the past. I didn’t like this one. Very readable as all her books are but there was something sanctimonious about the characters here that put me off.
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
This is the first installment of a young adult fantasy series about demon killers. I picked it up from a basket in a shop saying “Free Books” (so dangerous). The writing is really poor and quite jarringly so. However, I am forced to confess, that I flew through it and quite enjoyed the pacy plot. I am judging me, feel free to join in.
City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
So I got volume two out of the Library. This was really poor, much less good than book 1.
City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
I was going to stop after book 2 but I got book 3 out of the library at the same time. Better. People, I’ve ordered book four.
The Candy House by Jennifer Egan
I find Jennifer Egan a bit hit and miss. I’ve read a number of her books and I don’t always go for them. However, a kind friend gave me this one at the start of my break from work and I thought I should give it a go. I am pleased to report that I enjoyed this one very much. Like Fleischmann, it’s very much of the moment. I found the thinking around online lives and where they are going really interesting. Like all her books there were loads of different plotlines all of which I found good. Recommended.
Climbing the Stairs by Margaret Powell
Another free book from the basket of books. Curses. This book apparently inspired both Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey. It’s a bit odd but not uninteresting. This woman went into service in the 1920s and then ended up writing a number of books about her life. This is the second. It’s a bit episodic and peculiar but quite a range of insights.
The Black Dress by Deborah Moggach
This is full of twists and turns. It’s about an older woman whose husband leaves her and how she manages. Well written and not too demanding. Good holiday read.
Grey Bees by Andrey Kurkov
Oh God, I got this out from the library to try to round out my knowledge of things Ukrainian. It’s tough going. Literary fiction about a man from Dombas who ends up on a trek around Eastern and Southern Ukraine. You’d want to be in the whole of your health. Mr. Waffle enjoyed it but he likes hard books.
What Abigail Did That Summer by Ben Aaronovitch
A children’s book from the Rivers of London series about magician policemen. I quite enjoyed this and, in contrast to the books from the series aimed at adults, I mostly understood what happened.
The News from Waterloo: The Race to Tell Britain of Wellington’s Victory by Brian Cathcart
Daniel got me this for Christmas. I thought I would read it in tandem with “A Civil Contract” a favourite Georgette Heyer novel part of the plot of which turns on how long the news took to get back from Waterloo to London. I took about two days to reread the Georgette and nine months to read this book so not exactly an in tandem experience. To be honest, the author is lucky to get a whole book from this but it skips along reasonably entertainingly. It struck me forcibly that a lot of Irish men were involved in the story: Wellington (though you will recall the stable remark), Stewart, Castlereagh and the Knight of Kerry all have big roles. They all have a hybrid Anglo-Irish identity which was much easier then than it is now, of course. The author comments that Wellington and Castlereagh knew each other from Dublin but like they were just passing through (which in some ways they were) but not noticing or commenting on the fact that they were Irish. The text of the original Waterloo dispatch is included and by the time you get to the end of the book, you’re pretty keen to read it. It was a great victory but the losses were really immense. I am a bit reluctant to say this but the author tackles the battle much more effectively than Georgette does. She sets at least one novel in Brussels at the time of the battle and it is dire and the descriptions of the battle are very confusing. This book is relatively clear; not sure that military history is really my thing but this was pretty readable.