The Libraries NI Book Blog
December 12
The Innocent of Falkland Road by Carlo Gebler

the innocent of falkland road

Carlo Gébler was born in Dublin but at a young age moved to London which provides the setting for his latest novel. 

Falkland Road is a comparatively wealthy residential area close to the River Thames where Ralph, the twelve-year-old “innocent” of the title, is exposed to the increasing liberalness of the mid-1960s. The storylines are set during a pivotal year for Ralph when his divorced mother is working abroad and he is being looked after by the hired help, Doreen and Tom. While Ralph may be naïve, this is purely due to inexperience and he quickly works out what is going on when he accidentally witnesses infidelity. Similarly, he takes in his stride the complicated relationships that result from the “open marriage” of the parents of his best friend, Benedict. Towards the end of the novel Ralph proves to be inherently sensitive, caring and intelligent when his actions help resolve a difficult situation.

Although written as a third-party narrative, Carlos Gébler, provides insights into Ralph’s innermost thoughts; a technique which is particularly effective for relating Ralph’s reflections on the book he is reading at school, Lord of the Flies. Ralph is immediately drawn to the character who shares his name and his own experiences resonate with William Golding’s themes of civilisation and power. Indeed, Ralph frequently speculates how he and others would act if stranded on an uninhabited island.

It is possible The Innocent of Falkland Road is semi-autobiographical because the characters and storylines are so believable that Carlos Gébler’s account of adolescence will resonate with most readers. 

Submitted by David

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December 04
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

eleanor oliphant is completely fine

Meet Eleanor Oliphant. She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully time-tabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. 

When her computer at work stops working she meets Raymond from IT. An easy-going guy, Raymond is intrigued by Eleanor, but she's just not interested. She's busy trying to re-create herself for the man of her dreams. But after work one day Eleanor and Raymond come across a man who has fallen on the sidewalk. Together they help the man, Sammy and so begins a friendship along with the start of many changes in Eleanor's life. She is prodded into forsaking her routines, stepping outside of her comfort zone once Raymond and Sammy enter the picture. She begins to feel noticed in a good way, and begins to try to believe in life, in goodness. Believe in someone besides Mummy.

Eleanor Oliphant shows us the significance of kindness, the consequence of the absence of kindness, and the magnitude of even a small gesture of kindness. 

A wonderfully uplifting debut novel.

Submitted by Pete

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November 30
The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

the silent companions

Newly married, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge.

With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. For inside her new home lies a locked room, and beyond that door lies a two-hundred-year-old diary and a deeply unsettling painted wooden figure – a Silent Companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself.

I absolutely loved the creepy feel to it and I was immediately drawn into this story right from the very start. There is an underlying sense of foreboding throughout this whole story that had me questioning whether the events that were happening were supernatural, menacing or manipulation.  

Laura Purcell delivers a clever, atmospheric, and well-written read here with an intense storyline, the perfect Victorian setting, and great characters.  The tension slowing builds from chapter to chapter with an ending that definitely took me by surprise.

Submitted by Pete

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November 30
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

the picture of dorian gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is one of those novels I think everyone should read at least once, although there is so much to it you can read it over and over again without getting bored! This novel is a classic for many reasons and will appeal to so many different kinds of readers. 

The plot follows Dorian Gray, a man with everything on his side, youth, beauty and wealth. However, tempted by the idea of a life where he will be eternally youthful, he sells his soul so that a portrait of him will grow old instead. What ensues is Dorian leading a life of pure pleasure, where every temptation is yielded to but only his portrait is tainted by his sins. These Gothic elements of the novel, the portrait growing increasingly grotesque to reflect Dorian’s own behaviour, makes for a suspenseful reading experience as you wonder at every turn when Dorian’s actions are going to catch up with him, or when people are going to realise that he isn’t getting any older! The relationship between Dorian and Basil, the man who painted Dorian’s portrait, is particularly interesting to read nowadays because this novel was written at a time when homosexuality was illegal, yet throughout the story there are subtle suggestions that Basil’s interest in Dorian is more than just artistic curiosity.  

The Picture of Dorian Gray encompasses all the genres you could want in a great classic novel: romance, fantasy, horror and tragedy, so whether you like to read a good story about grisly murders or passionate love affairs, this novel has something for everyone! Once you’re immersed in Dorian’s world of darkness and desire you won’t want to close the page!

Submitted by Michelle

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November 28
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

the miniaturist

This much acclaimed and well researched 2014 debut novel , an international best seller, was the focus of a bidding war at the 2013 London Book Fair.

The story follows young Petronella Oortman as she arrives and becomes part of her new home in Amsterdam in 1686, after being wed to an older, wealthy merchant named Johannes Brandt. The new household, consisting of Brandt’s sister Marin, maid Cornelia and manservant Otto, is very unwelcoming to Nella’s small town sensibilities. Nella begins receiving miniatures that seem to know everything that is going on in her house. She investigates this curious happening, and throughout the novel gradually matures into her role as head of a powerful household in Amsterdam.

The writing is very eloquent and atmospheric, with Ms Burton herself being something of a miniaturist with her loving  attention to detail. The first third of the novel capture a darkly ominous atmosphere in a strange and stuffy house . Brandt is a distant and mysterious husband who avoids consummating their marriage and presents her instead with an extravagant wedding gift, a miniature replica of their own home. There is a brooding sense of secrets spilling out, and betrayals are bringing danger close to our young heroine. Nella becomes increasingly obsessed with the cryptic almost-presence of the miniaturist…..who remains  mysterious and other-worldly. But then the revelations start coming fast and furiously. The remaining majority of the book builds to a series of climactic revelations.

Burton’s placing of the story in Calvinist Amsterdam provides a fascinating backdrop to some very topical issues of feminism, interracial relationships and acceptance of human sexuality. Beautifully written and a gripping read.

Submitted by Lorna

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November 28
The Good Father by Noah Hawley

the good father

A discourse in the ongoing debate of children being damaged by the actions of their parents. This fascinating book has been described as,  ‘We Need To Talk About Daniel’, in a reference to the cult book by Lionel Shriver, ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ .The narrator is Paul Allen, the head of rheumatology at Manhattan’s Columbia Presbyterian hospital, happily married to Fran and the father of boisterous twins, Alex and Wally. The story opens with  the happy family eating dinner, when a television newsflash announces that Jay Seagram, likely to be the next President of the United States, has been shot and killed. The prime suspect is 20 year old Daniel Allen, a fact Fran notices as the Secret Service knock on the door. ‘I am his father, you see’, Paul notes simply. ‘He is my son’.

So the narrative is then shaped by Paul’s obsessive need to understand how his remote but seemingly normal child could join Lee Harvey Oswald and John Hinckley on the roster of creepily unassuming American assassins. Simply unable to believe that his son could be guilty, his quest is to uncover the truth, which becomes increasingly unpalatable, as he questions to what extent he himself was culpable for the death of Seagram, by his dysfunctional parenting. Almost obsessive in his belief in his son’s innocence, he starts to believe that his son has been brainwashed, and pursues with fervour his own conspiracy theories. The ironical and heart breaking result of this quest is that he is once again repeating the pattern of being disconnected from his young family.

Both father and son are portrayed as decent, ordinary, fairly unremarkable people, which serves to pack a bigger emotional punch than portraying them as monsters. In the end,  the most moving aspect of the story is a father finally accepting his son, for better or worse!

Submitted by Lorna

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November 24
David Bowie - The Life by Dylan Jones

David Bowie - The Life

There is only one word to describe this biography of David Bowie and that is ‘Epic.’

The book was extra special for me because of the format. It is made up of reflections on the life of David Bowie drawn from over 180 interviews with people who knew David directly at different phases in his career. 

It charts his rise to fame and eclectic style evolution from ‘David Jones’ to iconic superstar ‘David Bowie.’  It has  never heard before details  from a wide range of  artists, musicians, photographers and film-makers including  Mick Jagger, Kate Moss, Moby, David Bailey and Baz Luhrmann.

The format is easy to dip in and out of and features quotes from friends, lovers, rivals and contemporaries in the music industry. It is a treasure trove of information with lots of exclusive details known only by those close to him.

It gives great insight into his childhood. I found particularly interesting his relationship with his brother Terry who was also an artist who inspired him a lot, but un-fortunately had Schizophrenia. His madness had a profound effect on Bowie as an individual and on his artistic output.

I think this book would appeal to David Bowie fans. It is epic in proportion and scale so I think you have to be a die- hard fan to embrace it. (Which Luckily I am!)

The book documents his troubled relationship with Angie Bowie. She was a muse and inspiration to Bowe in his early phase but their life together was chaotic in the extreme. His life became charmed in later years when he literally lived a happy ever after life of domestic bliss with Supermodel Iman.

My only real criticism of this book was that it had no photographs!

I found that truly disappointing in an otherwise amazing book.  I mean no photographs in a biography of David Bowie!!  Un-forgivable! The visuals were really needed.

However, I painted the pictures in my mind as best I could and overall I loved the book and highly recommend it as a great read!

Submitted by Aine

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November 24
The Big Fight by Sugar Ray Leonard

The Big Fight

Sugar Ray Leonard’s autobiography details the personal life, the ups and downs and his battles inside and outside the ring. The boxing legend describes how he escaped his poverty stricken childhood in Washington, USA, to become one of the greatest boxers of all time. He highlights the racial tensions and the prejudices that a black man would face and the determination needed to succeed. Leonard details how he first got into boxing and how it kept him away from other distractions such as crime and drugs. He details the challenges of succeeding as a boxer from being a gold medal winner in the 1976 Montreal Olympics to become a five weight World professional Boxing champion. Leonard discusses in detail fights that he had, how he watched video tapes of his opponents to develop a strategy before a fight. In addition, he discusses the need to have the right trainers and management team to ensure success in the ring and that his financial interests were looked after. In detail, Leonard recalls the legendary fights in the ring in the 1970s and 1980s with Roberto Duran, Tommy Hearns and Marvin Hagler. While this is a book for boxing fans highlighting the pain and dedication needed to succeed in the sport, it also focuses on Leonard’s personal life, the challenges and temptations he faced outside the ring.This account of Leonard’s exploits inside and outside the ring with the former boxer admitting that he did not always make the right choices and displays a brutal honesty when detailing his weaknesses as a husband and a father, his battles with drink and drugs.

Submitted by Anthony

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November 24
The Dress by Kate Kerrigan

The Dress

This novel is a tale told throughout two generations of women linked by the most beautiful dress ever made. It will tell you the story of how a garment can make or break you.

Lily Fitzpatrick loves vintage clothes, made all the more precious because they were worn and cherished by another woman. Thousands follow her fashion blog and her daily Instagram feed. One day Lily stumbles upon an extraordinary story.

Joy Fitzpatrick not only shares Lily’s surname she is a fashion legend, famed for her beauty and style in 1950’s New York. For her 30th birthday she is said to have commissioned a dress so beautiful that nothing in couture would ever be able to match it. She turned to a young Irish seamstress called Honor Conlon to create her sublime vision.

The Dress interweaves the passionate and surprising stories of three women Joy and Honor, whose destinies are linked not only by a piece of timeless fashion, but by the ruthless love of a man, and Lily, determined to find out if the legendary dress still exists and if it does , to bring it back to glorious life.

The author shared her love of fashion through beautiful story telling. I felt I was not only on a journey through time but also travelling to all those places that made each piece of the dress.

The point in time is also the dawn of the Feminist movement and Honor and Joy’s tale is a real testament to that period.

However what I felt really came through is the notion of a woman's happiness and freedom, what it was back then and what it is now. The truth is, its essence has remained the same, freedom to be, freedom to choose and remaining true to oneself.

This is a fabulous and moving story. Glamorous, gripping and  moving. I just loved it and now that I have finished reading it I actually miss it!!!

Submitted by Lisa

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November 24
Fingers In The Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham

Fingers In The Sparkle Jar

Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is an autobiography with a difference, both in terms of content and for quality writing which matches most literary fiction. While most people are familiar with Chris Packham as a presenter of nature programmes, it is less well known that in 2005 he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome following a period in therapy after he considered taking his own life. Consequently, Chris shares how the world is experienced by someone with a milder autism spectrum disorder. 

The book flits backwards and forwards in time, even when covering the same event, but focusses primarily on poignant recollections of a withdrawn and isolated boy who suffered physical bullying and exclusion - the latter continuing at University. As a result, Chris immersed himself in his love for nature and, in accounts of his therapy sessions, explains why his preferred companions are animals. 

Probably uniquely for an autobiography, some sections are written as third-party narratives. Perhaps tellingly, Chris uses this technique to recount his time in therapy and to describe his first experience of ‘depersonalisation’ following the death of his beloved pet kestrel. Interestingly, given one of the symptoms of Asperger syndrome, Chris includes sections where he imagines the feelings of other people when observing his actions. 

The book’s title refers to physical containers used when the young Chris adds to his nature collection and acts as a metaphor for the older Chris who considers his life to be fulfilled because ‘I’ve had […] these fingers in the sparkle jar’. This powerful autobiography will appeal to those interested in nature or in Chris as a TV personality but the primary reason to read Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is to better understand how the world looks to someone on the autistic spectrum.

Submitted by David

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