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Posts Tagged ‘Ireland’

birds art life mug

We’re halfway through April and I’m really counting on this whole “April showers bring May flowers” thing. But the showers are bringing good books. (Above: the endpapers of Birds Art Life, and a mug I love, from Obvious State.)

Here’s my latest book roundup:

‘Round Midnight, Laura McBride
June Stein never expected to end up a casino owner’s wife in Las Vegas. But that’s where she finds herself, and her story intertwines with those of several other women in surprising ways. McBride tells a compelling, heartbreaking story of four women deeply affected by the El Capitan, the casino June owns with her husband, and the evolution of Vegas from the 1950s to the present. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 2).

Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation, Kyo Maclear
I picked up Maclear’s luminous, quiet memoir at Idlewild Books in the West Village. She chronicles a year spent watching birds in and around her home city of Toronto, while dealing with her father’s illness and generally feeling unmoored. Melancholy and beautiful, with insights on bravery, marriage, noticing the small things, and making a world where birds (and humans) can thrive.

Ashes, Laurie Halse Anderson
After years of searching, Isabel Gardener has finally found her sister Ruth, who was kidnapped by their old slave mistress. But more trials await the sisters and their friend Curzon as the American Revolution drags on. Compelling, heartbreaking YA fiction (the third volume in a trilogy) with a sharp-tongued, brilliant protagonist. (Set during and around the Battle of Yorktown, so you can guess what was in my head the whole time.)

Becoming Bonnie, Jenni L. Walsh
Bonnelyn Parker has always been a good girl: working hard in school, helping her mama, working at a diner to earn extra money. But when she loses her job and her best friend Blanche convinces her to try bartending at a speakeasy, Bonnelyn may be on her way to becoming someone else: Bonnie. A really fun historical novel of the woman who became one half of Bonnie and Clyde. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 9).

The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois
I’d never read this seminal work on the plight of black people in the U.S., and I figured it was long overdue. Du Bois is eloquent, passionate and thoughtful (though some of his language feels a little quaint, 100 years later). Of particular interest: his notions of the Veil and the double life led by black Americans. I also love his thoughts on the “sorrow songs” and their place in black history.

The Kind of Brave You Wanted to Be: Prose Poems and Cheerful Chants Against the Dark, Brian Doyle
More prose poems from Doyle: keen-eyed, thoughtful, wide-ranging, humorous and occasionally so luminous they make me cry. (Besides, April is always a good time to read poetry.) My favorites include “Your Theatrical Training” and “The Western Yellowjacket: A Note.”

Girl on the Leeside, Kathleen Anne Kenney
Since her mother’s death in an IRA bombing when she was just a toddler, Siobhan Doyle has lived a quiet life with her uncle Keenan, working alongside him in their family’s pub, the Leeside, and writing poetry. She’s content with her sheltered existence until the arrival of an American professor, whose visit makes her ask all sorts of questions. A lovely, lyrical coming-of-age novel, set in a quiet corner of Ireland. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 20).

Saints for All Occasions, J. Courtney Sullivan
Sisters Nora and Theresa Flynn came to the U.S. from Ireland together as teenagers. When Theresa ends up pregnant, both sisters must make a choice that will have far-reaching consequences for their family. Sullivan writes with warmth, sensitivity and keen observation about family, regret and love in her fourth novel. (Set in Boston’s Irish and Irish-American communities – vividly and accurately rendered.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 9).

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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maisie paris planner red books

Winter is the perfect time to hunker down with lots of books. As the snow swirls outside, here’s what I have been reading:

Journey to Munich, Jacqueline Winspear
After a stint working as a nurse in a remote Spanish village, investigator Maisie Dobbs returns to England. But the Secret Service taps her for a sensitive mission: retrieving an engineer imprisoned by the Nazis. I adore Maisie and her supporting cast, and found the setting (Germany in 1938) fascinating. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 29).

The Shepherd’s Crown, Terry Pratchett
Pratchett’s final novel follows Tiffany Aching as she continues to serve as the witch for her home district, amid multiple challenges. I like Tiffany and her fellow witches, though the plot (and the magic) wandered a bit.

All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, Rebecca Traister
There are more single women in the U.S. than ever before; they are gaining in power, but they still face numerous challenges. Traister explores the history of single womanhood, how single women have agitated for social change, and how far we still have to go. Keenly observed, well-researched and whip-smart. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 1).

Move Your Blooming Corpse, D.E. Ireland
Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins are off to Ascot – where they find themselves in the thick of another mystery. I liked watching them try to solve multiple murders, though I guessed the killer before they did. Fun, but not as good as its predecessor.

Walk on Earth a Stranger, Rae Carson
Leah “Lee” Westfall has a secret: she can sense the presence of gold. When her parents are murdered, Lee runs away from her greedy uncle, disguising herself as a boy and joining a wagon train headed for California. A sweeping historical YA novel full of vividly drawn characters (with a hint of magical realism). I loved Lee, her best friend Jefferson and many of their compatriots on the trail. This is the first in a trilogy and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, Rachel Held Evans
I’m a longtime reader of Rachel’s blog and I liked her first two books, Faith Unraveled and A Year of Biblical Womanhood. But this book is far and away her best yet. An account of Rachel’s complicated relationship with church, told through the lens of seven sacraments, it is sensitively and beautifully written (though the last sections felt rushed). I found myself nodding my head often, saying, “Me too.”

The Trouble with Destiny, Lauren Morrill
Drum major Liza Sanders knows her band has to win a performing arts competition on their spring break cruise or they’ll get the ax due to budget cuts. But once they board the Destiny, everything goes wrong: power outages, flaring tempers, misunderstandings galore. I found the romantic storyline predictable, but Morrill hits all the right notes of the band nerd experience. Fun.

Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War, various
The Armistice came on Nov. 11, 1918 – but it didn’t end the war for everyone. Nine authors explore the hope and grief of the war and its end through an anthology of short stories. A bit uneven, but a compelling (and heartbreaking) mosaic of the experiences shared by soldiers, nurses and those who loved them. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 1).

Brooklyn, Colm Toibin
This quiet novel follows Eilis Lacey, who emigrates from her small Irish town to Brooklyn in the 1950s. She works in a department store, takes bookkeeping classes and even falls in love. But when she is unexpectedly called home, she must choose between her old and new lives. Lovely and well drawn.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History, Lewis Buzbee
A rambling, charming account of the author’s passion for books, his time working in bookstores, and a brief history of publishing. I dipped in a few pages at a time and really enjoyed it. Found at Book & Bar in Portsmouth.

The House on an Irish Hillside, Felicity Hayes-McCoy
I read about this memoir on Sarah’s blog ages ago. The author describes the western Ireland peninsula of Corca Dhuibhne, near Dingle, and the process of making a second home there with her husband. Filled with bits of history and folklore, with lovely meditations on community and finding one’s place in the world.

A Hundred Summers, Beatriz Williams
As the cream of New York society summers in Seaview, R.I., old secrets bubble under the surface. Lily Dane must confront her feelings for the man who’s now married to her (vicious) best friend – and a massive hurricane will upend more than just buildings. Deliciously scandalous, lushly described. Smart beach reading.

The Secret Life of Violet Grant, Beatriz Williams
When Vivian Schuyler receives a suitcase belonging to an unknown great-aunt (the titular Violet), she starts digging into Violet’s complicated past. Vivian is bright and sparkling but didn’t seem entirely real, and Violet seemed hopelessly naive. Still a compelling (if often uncomfortable) narrative. (I was glad to see Aunt Julie and Lily from A Hundred Summers again.)

Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo
Orphans Alina and Mal grew up together – best friends against the world. But then Alina discovers a power she never knew she had, which will change not only their lives but the future of their country. Fascinating, romantic YA fantasy with a setting based on Imperial Russia.

Siege and Storm, Leigh Bardugo
This sequel to Shadow and Bone finds Alina and Mal on the run, then returning to Ravka (their homeland) to gather an army and fight the Darkling. Meanwhile, Alina grapples with the implications of her power to summon the sun. Deeper, faster-paced and even more exciting than the first book.

International Night: A Father and Daughter Cook Their Way Around the World, Mark Kurlansky and Talia Kurlansky
Kurlansky and his 13-year-old daughter spin the globe and cook a meal from whatever country they land on. Each meal is prefaced by Mark’s thoughts on that country (he’s been to many of them). Delicious-looking, fairly straightforward recipes – lots can be made with/for/by kids. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 19).

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris, Jenny Colgan
When Anna Trent loses two toes in a freak factory accident, she ends up in Paris apprenticing with a high-end chocolatier. A really lovely story of recovering from trauma, opening up to love, and (of course) falling in love with Paris. (Should be paired with good chocolate.)

Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Triangle, Dorothy Gilman
Mrs. Pollifax and her new husband head to Thailand on holiday and agree to do a “little job” for the CIA – which, of course, ends up being bigger than they thought. Another fun, fast-paced, twisty adventure.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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Enough is plenty

Our bodies are designed to tell us when we’ve had enough of something. And in a sane world we listen to the message and we stop. But we live in a world in which extremes are good and saying you’ve had enough is just pathetic. So the more our bodies send us warnings the more we find ways to reject them. […] We do it because we’ve bought into the idea that we’re morally required to ‘challenge’ ourselves. So we give ourselves lectures about how we ought to be, instead of listening in silence to see how we are.

When I first came to Corca Dhuibhne I heard a proverb that means ‘enough is plenty.’ […] If I thought about its meaning at all, I assumed it applied to food and drink. Now I think it applies to all the appetites, including our appetite for work and for personal challenge. Too much or too little of anything means lack of balance. The Celts believed that the health of each individual affects the health of the universe. I don’t know if that’s true. But I do know that the essence of health is balance. And I think the route to finding it is awareness in stillness.

—Felicity Hayes-McCoy, The House on an Irish Hillside

pei view prince edward island fields

I read this charming memoir just before leaving on vacation, where my husband and I spent several days wandering green fields and red sandy beaches, drinking in the views of the blue Gulf of St. Lawrence and patches of pink and purple lupines along the roadsides. The author is writing about western Ireland, and her words did remind me irresistibly of my own visit to the Aran Islands, long ago. But we found the same sort of deep stillness and rest on Prince Edward Island. (The photo above is the view from our doorstep there.)

As I reenter the world of commutes and email, errands and obligations, I’m keeping these words about balance in the forefront of my mind. (And picking up ingredients for a few salads, to balance out all the seafood, ice cream and pie we ate this week.) More PEI photos and stories soon.

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shoes book harvard yard

(It’s not quite warm enough to lounge in Harvard Yard with a book. But it will be soon!)

I Don’t Care if We Never Get Back: 30 Games in 30 Days on the Best Worst Baseball Road Trip Ever, Ben Blatt and Eric Brewster
The subtitle says it all. Two best friends – one baseball nut and one baseball hater – embark on an epic (some would say completely insane) cross-country baseball road trip. Wryly funny (if repetitive at times). Recommended for baseball fanatics. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 6).

Fingal O’Reilly, Irish Doctor, Patrick Taylor
A fun installment in Taylor’s Irish Country Doctor series, with all the usual colorful characters in the village of Ballybucklebo. I missed Barry, the young doctor who usually works with O’Reilly, but this was good comfort reading.

Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, ed. Jocelyn K. Glei
This short book is packed with productivity tips from 20 authors. Further inspiration to create a schedule for myself and work on blocking out distractions. Recommended by Anne.

Scarlet, Marissa Meyer
This sequel to Cinder follows Cinder’s escape from prison but focuses more on Scarlet, a French farm girl on a search for her missing grandmother (accompanied by Wolf, an enigmatic street fighter). The storylines intertwine in surprising ways. Much darker and more exciting than Cinder. I can’t wait to read Cress (book 3).

Death in a Strange Country, Donna Leon
Commissario Guido Brunetti investigates the death of a young American sergeant stationed near Venice. Brunetti is likable and thoughtful, but the plot of this mystery dragged, and the ending was downright unsatisfying.

Catching Air, Sarah Pekkanen
I devoured this book in a day. Pekkanen tells a warm, relatable (but not predictable) story of two couples who move to Vermont to run a B&B. The men are brothers with a troubled history, but the story belongs to the women, who are each dealing with big questions about children, vocation and love. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 6).

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, William Zinsser
I’ve been meaning to read this book forever. Zinsser’s practical, witty guide is packed with useful advice for journalists, memoirists and business writers – anyone who wants to (or has to) write nonfiction.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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April is National Poetry Month, so I’ll be sharing poetry on Fridays here this month (and more often if I can’t help myself).

First up: one of my favorite poems from Seamus Heaney, whose words I discovered in a college course on Irish literature.

inishmor aran islands

Postscript

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

That last line is a perfect evocation of what poetry should do. And this whole poem – its images, its Irishness, its use of simple words to convey a deep truth – is vintage Heaney.

(Photo from my trip to the Aran Islands in 2007, which caught my heart off guard and blew it open.)

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inishmor view 3

I grew up on the plains of West Texas, under vast skies that blaze orange and golden at sunset, stretching high and blue above during the day. Those plains stretch for hundreds of miles, the view broken up only by spindly telephone poles and by curving pump jacks rocking rhythmically up and down. I am used to landscapes that make me feel small.

As a native of that dry land, though, I have little experience with bodies of water bigger than a lake or a backyard swimming pool. My first views of oceans were mostly of the bird’s-eye variety: I had flown back and forth over the Atlantic Ocean half a dozen times before I found myself standing on the edge of it.

It was a bright, blustery day in September, during the year I spent studying for my master’s degree in Oxford, England. A lifelong friend of mine was spending the semester in Galway, Ireland, and I flew out to visit him for the weekend. The day after I arrived, we boarded a ferry to Inis Mór, the largest of the three Aran Islands.

Dotted with weathered, picturesque cottages and crisscrossed with ancient stone walls, the Aran Islands – Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr – float in the mouth of Galway Bay, just a few miles off the western coast of Ireland. Sparsely populated, they attract a steady stream of tourists but still remain green and quiet. We checked into our hostel, then rented bikes and rode all around Inis Mór, stopping to pick blackberries by the side of the road and occasionally pulling aside to let a horse-drawn cart pass.

Eventually, we found our way to Dún Aonghasa, a ruined, tumbled pile of stones that crowns the island’s highest hill. The tiny visitors’ center gave us an idea of the structure’s previous life as a fort, used by the islanders to protect themselves from invaders approaching from the west. We made our way out into the sunshine, eager to see the ruins and the view for ourselves.

I’m over at TRIAD magazine (run by my friend Kristin) today, writing about my experience on the Aran Islands. I’d love it if you’d click over there to read the rest of my essay.

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