Tag Archives: book review

sleepless in surprise

“I’m about to start a new book”

“Hmm” (translated as “Why are you telling me this?”)

“It’s by- listen, you do know this name- John Gordon Sinclair.”

So before I got to start reading we shared a few moments talking about Sinclair, the film Gregory’s Girl and oh, yes, Clare Grogan. A clip from the film was featured in the Olympics opening ceremony, and we had “aaahed” then also.

Who of my age from the British Isles doesn’t have a soft spot for John Gordon Sinclair? It’s as if we think he is actually gormless Gregory, and we want to will him on to good things. Yes, it seems I paid money to cheer on a fictional character from 1981.

It’s a crime novel. That’s good; I read lots of crime. I hope it’s not too bad.


Oh. Oh dear. It opens in Newry. It’s going to be about “The Troubles”. That’s not promising. It could be patronising/ glorifying violence or just 50 shades of wrong.

Apart from the necessities of life- sleeping, eating and watching Borgen- I didn’t put the book down. It was I who was wrong. There are a few clunky moments, but I was hooked.

It has assassins, spies, American gangsters, pretty girls, humour, cartoon violence, IRA men, underground warrens, army and policemen. Not for the first time, I considered what a gift the real life Freddie Scappaticci has been to fiction. Brotherhood and forgiveness- there’s a Butch and Sundance vibe going on. It has some of the most gross violence I’ve read. That was a surprise. Psychopathic violence to chill your bones. Keep me awake sort of violence.

Sinclair is working on a sort of follow up, and I’m hoping that some of the women (grieving mother, stoic widow, reluctantly caught up in the madness local girl, quite enjoying being caught up in the madness American barmaid), or Niamh, the child, get starring roles in that. Seventy Times Seven is about the legacy of violence in a society and a family; I’m curious about how Niamh turns out.

I’ll read it, without the Gregory background, without worrying about any galmourising of our patheic history. I’ll read it because Seventy Times Seven was a powerful read.

the civilised bookclub

We’re a group of eight women on our ways through life. The age range is about 25 years. There are children and grandchildren, pets and peeves. Every month or so we gather together.

There may be flowers. There will be food (sometimes expertly catered by one of us, sometimes expertly heated up). There will be drinks.

Chat will be about families, holidays, fundraising, gossip, bereavements, health, work woes, shoes, event planning, handbags, gladrags, and caravans. Life’s bothers and boons. Eventually we’ll get to the book.

Our most recent subject was Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility. We did not all choose this book because we liked the cover. Honestly. (Although you never know with the graphic designer in the group).

Katy tells us the story of her 1938, from her 1966 perspective. This was the year that everything changed for her; the decisions she made that year shaped her whole life. There was money and opportunity, friendship, glamour and hard work. Men to love and lose. One man whose impact lingered, despite his very different choices. There are late nights in jazz bars, shared rooms and clothing, some mysteries. Not all is as it seems.

This is more than ‘immigrant girl makes good by falling in with the right people’. It’s not just about the style and the parties. It’s a story of reinvention, defying expectations and, somehow, finding one’s niche.

Ending up with friends, fun and support…

the obituarist

People! We know this guy! Paul A. Waters (I don’t know, but I’m thinking Anthony or Aloysius- feel free to add suggestions below) is our bloggy buddy Blackwatertown. I enjoy his writing and his company, and am not so secretly chuffed that he referred to me as a ‘health campaigner’ on twitter. ‘Health campaigner’ sounds more impressive than ‘mouthy lay-about’, don’t you think?

The Obituarist is full of derring- do, tall tales and an underlying tension. Straight backed army chaps with twirly moustaches, double barrelled surnames and stiff upper lips contrast with the up and coming journalist. There’s drink, and its effects.  There’s jealously, a friendship of sorts, and the wondering- who is going to pull a fast one? It’s crime, black humour, and old fashioned good fun. Conveniently for those of us with a Kindle, it can now be downloaded from amazon and other ebook retailers.

Buy. Read. Enjoy.

saved by cake

You’ll know I love the cake. You’ll know I love Marian Keyes; her warmth, her humour, her ability to deal with weighty issues- addiction, bereavement, abuse, infertility- in a friendly, funny, fearless manner. No better way to spend the money then, than this…

I’m not baking these days, to ensure I am not tempted away from the path of righteousness and smugness and healthier eating, but that’s no reason not to buy a baking book. Especially this one.

I can’t imagine too many bakey or cooky books start with “Medically speaking, there’s no such thing as a nervous breakdown. Which is very annoying to discover when you’re right in the middle of one.”… “I was diagnosed with depression, but it didn’t feel like depression. Granted I had lots of the symptoms: I couldn’t sleep; I couldn’t breathe; I couldn’t eat; I couldn’t read- by the time I came to the end of a sentence, I’d forgotten the start. Time had slowed down and each second took an eternity to tick by. Everything looked pointy and ugly and scary, even babies and flowers and Mulberry bags.”

She talks about being afraid, and the feeling that she’s living in a parallel universe; about being defeated by paperwork and hovering on the brink of suicide. “My challenge-everyone’s challenge- is about living through today and I find that baking passes the time. To be perfectly blunt about it, my choice sometimes is: I can kill myself or I can make a dozen cupcakes. Right so, I’ll do the cupcakes and I can kill myself tomorrow.”

I bought the book for the introduction- to have a readable, witty, searingly honest account of depression to hand. Ideally one that didn’t make me cry. I’ve never felt as bad as Marian and too many others have, but I recognise a lot of what she says. It’s oddly comforting.

But the introduction is only four pages of text, and two of pretty pictures, so I supposed I’d better have a look at some of the rest of it.

Really folks, I don’t care if I never bake anything out of it; it’s a wonderful read, full of humour, warmth and practical advice for the beginner (me).  Marian learned to bake from scratch only recently, so she knows what we need to know, and how to explain it in human language. There’s an equipment list (“I didn’t own a single baking accoutrement the day the urge to bake came ‘at’ me, literally not a thing. I had to get in my car and drive to the local supermarket…”) and some basic rules.

My favourite is rule 7. “Also, if you were planning on having a temper tantrum and doing a lot of stomping and door- slamming in the kitchen region, now might not be the best time. Cakes are sensitive little flowers and are easily distressed by loud noises. Could you hold off until your cake is done?”

I’m not going to rewrite the whole book, so you’ll just have to get it yourself. Now, not for your Kindle- you need to see the colours and the patterns and the crockery and the edible glitter. It might be ok on an iPad, I suppose- those of you with access to such techiness can advise. I’ve been dipping into the book, and enjoying the the stories and the descriptions, but haven’t considered trying a receipe yet. The reviewers on amazon are more domestic than I, and seem happy. Even those who know how to bake, and think of this only as a receipe book.

So what are you waiting for? Go get it.