The Libraries NI Book Blog
June 24
Music love drugs war by Geraldine Quigley

Music love drugs war.jpg

This is a powerful debut, set in Derry in the early eighties and brings to the fore the energy and emotions that were on the loose. We experience all of this through a group of secondary school kids ending their school year, and the education system without a notion of what to do or where to go next.

They hang out a lot in the local hotspot known as the Cave and fool around with each other, drugs and alcohol. Just normal teenagers. But what is not normal is what is going on in the background- Bobby Sands a hunger striker on H-block, has just been given his last rites. Living in Derry, Belfast or Northern Ireland during the 1980’s was living with a normality of extremes-violence, fear, ritual humiliation and intense claustrophobia.    

Scenes from the Cave are realistic with colloquialisms, hook-ups and rivalries. The ease with which it is possible to become “involved” is a genuine fear for parents and siblings. The brokenness of the situation and how the weight of particular choices hang heavy on the characters is what gives this novel its voice. Interestingly, Geraldine Quigley was chosen for Penguin’s WriteNow mentoring programme, which aims to nurture and publish under-represented writers. The author, who works full-time in a call centre, applied to WriteNow as a way “to get her voice – one which represents working class women – to be better heard”.



Submitted by Paula



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June 21
Nutshell by Ian McEwan



The Nutshell of the title is an unborn baby who relates events heard while in the womb. As the foetus cannot see what is happening and sometimes falls asleep at crucial points in the story, readers will keep turning the pages to see how the gaps are filled. 

The story centres round John, his wife Trudy and his brother Claude. When the book opens, John has just moved out of his valuable London family home because Trudy is having an affair with Claude. However, Trudy is heavily pregnant by John and the baby (narrator) is both unplanned and unwanted. It becomes clear that Trudy and Claude are concocting a plan which will provide them with enough money to enjoy life without John or the unborn baby. 

There are light moments when the narrator engages in existential reflections and points out ways in which Trudy and Claude’s plan could go wrong. This unexpected wisdom has been gained through the podcasts Trudy listened to when she could not sleep. As readers are “in on” the plan, part of us wants it to succeed and the clever ending reveals why the author used a foetus as the narrator.

Novels by Ian McEwan are probably amongst the most widely read literary fiction and Nutshell will captivate readers from the first chapter. It is as fresh and imaginative as any of his previous works and avoids the darkness of some of his other books by using a particularly precocious and perceptive unborn baby to tell the story.

Submitted by David

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June 19
A ladder to the sky by John Boyne

a ladder to the sky.jpg

Maurice Swift is an aspiring young writer who will stop at nothing to gain success and status in the literary world. He is simply waiting for the right set of circumstances and an opportune moment. Both present themselves in the form of an older lonely gay writer called Erich who would enjoy the male companionship on an imminent literary tour.  Add to this the fact that Erich finds Maurice “a powerful blend of vitality and impulsive sexuality” and is somewhat enthralled by Maurice.

As the tour progresses and both men are comfortable in each other’s company Maurice manages to extract from Erich a secret he has held on to for over 40 years. He then uses this secret as the subject for his own first published novel and the ensuing launch of his own career.

This is only the start of the story and to say more would spoil the tension.  Generally, with Boyne, himself a gay writer, there is humour amid the darkness. Some novelists are social commentators and John Boyne always has something of interest to say. I enjoyed how he gently satirises the publishing world, not least the vagaries of prizes, the insincerity of writers meeting on the festival circuit, and the endless array of new books requiring endorsements.

Maurice Swift is a compelling character, and  a master at deception, John Boyne is a master at character detail, and creating a tense storyline.

Submitted by Paula

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June 12
The sun is also a star by Nicola Yoon

the sun is also a star.jpg 


This is the second novel from Nicola Yoon.

It is a love story between two teenagers who fall for each other during 12 intense hours together, while each is struggling with their own dilemma.


They are both of different culture and race and the odds are stacked against them.


Jamaican American Natasha Kingsley has 24 hours until her family of four is deported to their native Jamaica, and Korean American Daniel Bae wants to be a poet but feels forced to make his parents happy and attends a college interview at Yale. She's super logical and science-oriented, while he's a romantic at heart. Add to this the different culture and race and you will understand why it is such feel good read.


The story is beautifully written and Natasha and Daniel discover a “soul-mate “in each other. They are both outsiders from immigrant families, and have literally just met yet they communicate like two people who have known each other for years.

This is an enjoyable read which refers to timely issues like immigration, race, and gender with this overarching theme of existentialism and a person’s place in the world.


This book is generally written for the young adult market, however, it will bring a smile to your face and your heart will feel lighter for it, whatever your age.


Submitted by Paula


Available as a paperback. Reserve your copy here​

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June 05
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

googbye vitamin

When Ruth’s fiancé moves in with another woman, she resorts to spending Christmas with her parents but ends up staying until the following Christmas to help look after her father, a history professor who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. "Goodbye, Vitamin" are the words he utters before swallowing the health tablets they hope will slow the progression of the Alzheimer’s but the title also acts as a metaphor for Ruth’s farewell to the father she knew.

The novel is structured as a chronological series of journal entries in which the thirty-year-old Ruth tries to make sense of her father’s illness while reflecting on her fiancé’s betrayal and her underachievement at work. Ruth’s father reveals he has a notebook in which he had written down things he wanted to remember about her childhood and it becomes evident they had always been close. Clearly, he is concerned for his daughter’s welfare and during moments of clarity encourages her burgeoning relationship with his former colleague, Theo. However, Ruth is not blind to her father’s less redeeming attributes and fails to understand why her mother has tolerated his extramarital affairs. At the same time Ruth is confused and hurt by how distant her mother has become, particularly while remaining close to Ruth’s bother, Linus. 

Goodbye, Vitamin is recommended as a believable and engaging account of a young woman who is trying to rebuild her own life as she watches her father’s mental decline. The novel depicts family life with a mixture of humour, anger and pathos which reflects the variable nature of Alzheimer’s and Ruth’s fluctuating moods. 

Submitted by David

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June 04
Gone so long by Andre Dubus III

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Danny Ahearn and Linda Dubie grow up in the same town north of Boston. As teenagers, Danny is   an ugly boy, hook-nosed, with narrow-set eyes, and unattractive, while Linda is “the most beautiful girl on the strip”.  Danny rose to stardom on the strip, as a DJ as he possessed “big pipes” and became known locally as Danny “The Sound” Ahearn. Fatal attraction turns in to wild jealousy and a constant fear that Linda will leave him.  He has allowed his own insecurities to dominate their relationship, and gets in to scraps and fights with other people.

Linda for her part does not always take his side and this only adds fuel to his rage.

In a moment of utter madness Danny fatally stabs Linda in the presence of Susan their three-year old daughter. Danny goes to prison and Susan is raised by her maternal grandmother, Lois.   Lois herself is a strong character but who remains very bitter about her daughter’s tragic death. Decades later when Danny who now prefers to be known as Daniel, is dying, he seeks solace in the presence of his daughter, who he has not had contact with since that tragic day decades earlier. Susan, now a lecturer at a University is married to Bobby who is kind and understanding but is not fully aware of all of what Susan has struggled with, and her memories of that day.

The author, Andre Dubus III, fills in the back story with plenty of flashbacks about Susan’s promiscuous youth and Danny’s life in prison, and Lois’s hardened attitude to life. He paints with perfect clarity an alarming moment, a mistake when all three parties are just too frightened or too weak to make things right again. Edging the reader to the cliff, Dubus weaves a hypnotic spell in this richly detailed story of an elderly woman carrying the ghost of her dead daughter, the father who regrets his crime and the disenchanted granddaughter desperate for forgiveness but not quite knowing why.

Though the entire cast is vividly drawn, perhaps most impressive is how Dubus elicits sympathy in the reader for Danny, whose life effectively ended the moment he picked up the knife.

This is a compassionate and wonderful novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. At almost 500 pages it is not a novel to be rattled through.


Submitted by Paula

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June 03
This Is Going To Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay

this is going to hurt

Adam Kay worked as a junior doctor in the NHS for six years until a crisis at work in  2010 led to him resigning from the medical profession.  As a student he had been part of a comedy group and he returned to performing at events including the Edinburgh Fringe.  The book, based on the journal all junior doctors are required to keep, was prompted by the opprobrium heaped on junior doctors, when they went on strike, by the government and the media. He set out to put on record the reality of working as a junior doctor: the brutal hours and the immense responsibilities of the job.

As a performer he had to keep his audience entertained and a rich vein of humour runs through the book.  In places the book is laugh out loud funny.  He describes himself as a medical Anne Frank - but with worse accommodation.  His specialism is Obstetrics and Gynaecology, or ‘brats and twats’.  Absurdities abound in the behemoth that is the NHS.  Seeking information on the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology website he finds the IT department has blocked it as ‘pornography’. The foibles of those who work in the NHS and those treated by it fill the book.  There are doctors who have difficulty telling left from right, many can’t spell caesarean, one of the commonest procedures;  a health care assistant registers a pulse of 60 for every patient by counting the seconds in a minute.  Signs of the times are patients texting while having an internal examination and the operating table having to be replaced because a mother exceeded the weight for an ‘obese table’. The accounts of patients landing in hospital as a result of misguided romantic gestures such as inserting objects in various orifices or covering parts of their anatomy in chocolate should have an 18 certificate.  There is pain and heartache too:  the difficulty  of consoling the parents of a still born baby, a moving conversation with a terminally ill patient.

Adam Kay’s account of working as a junior doctor at the sharp end of the NHS has been a runaway success, deservedly so. 

Submitted by Vidya

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June 03
Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan

machines like me

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan is a new novel by one of Britain’s best-loved novelists. It follows the story of Charlie and Miranda, a young couple living in 1980s London whose lives are changed with the arrival of a new companion: a robot. I am not usually very interested in scientific or fantasy fiction, and so I was not sure how much a story involving a robot would appeal to me, but when I read the blurb, I realised that there was much more to this novel than light sci-fi entertainment.

One of the things that I think is the most interesting about this story is that it is not simply set in the 1980s London of our past, but an alternate 1980s London. I think that this was a brilliant idea because it meant that McEwan was able to push the boundaries of what we normally consider to be possible—as a reader you are able to suspend your sense of reality and fully believe in this world that McEwan has created. 

It is a world where synthetic humans have been developed and Charlie purchases one. Together he and Miranda design the personality of this robot, named Adam. But then, problems ensue. Adam is attractive, intelligent, and forces Charlie and Miranda to confront some big and complicated questions about love and ultimately what it means to be human. Can an artificial being feel the same emotions as a human? And if so, what makes us so different from the technology that we create?

Although this story is set in the past, it is incredibly timely for our age of social media and voice-activated home assistants. It made me reflect on my dependence on technology and any novel that is both entertaining and thought-provoking is definitely worth a read! 

Submitted by Michelle

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June 03
I am, I am, I am: Seventeen Brushes With Death by Maggie O'Farrell

i am i am i am

Maggie O’Farrell has written a memoir with a difference as indicated by the subtitle: Seventeen Brushes With Death. The book is divided into seventeen chapters, each dealing with an experience in Maggie O’Farrell’s life which could have resulted in death. The chapters are not in chronological order and some events could not really be considered a brush with death. For example, O’Farrell relates how she volunteered at a circus only to find herself on the receiving end of a blindfolded knife thrower. However, most chapters do relate near death experiences and collectively paint a picture of a young women who is game for anything and determined to live life to the full, even to the extent of repeatedly placing herself in dangerous situations.

In the more memorable chapters, O’Farrell deals with life threatening illness, a botched caesarean and multiple escapes from drowning. In fact, the book’s title is taken from the scene in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar when the protagonist Esther Greenwood could have drowned but instead rediscovered her zest for life, ‘took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart, I am, I am, I am’. Most poignantly, the final two chapters deal with the nightmare of parents – the impact on Maggie’s own mother and father when she suffered a life-threatening illness as an eight-year-old and then her own daughter’s ongoing battle with acute anaphylaxis. 
Do not be put off by the subject matter because O’Farrell clearly intended her memoir to be a life affirming read.
Submitted by David

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May 31
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

wolf hall 
Wolf Hall tells the tale of how Henry the Eighth managed to secure his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, marry Anne Boleyn and throw England into a period of mass upheaval.

However, the viewpoint character is Thomas Cromwell, the chief minister to the King. Wolf Hall documents his journey from humble beginnings in Putney, to serving under Cardinal Wolsey to becoming a Member of Parliament.

The three main characters- Cromwell, Henry and Anne Boleyn - compared to most portrayals are multi-faceted and it is easy to feel sympathy towards them. Their personal tragedies, impressive achievements and fascinating lives are demonstrated aptly through Mantel's superb storytelling.

The book's greatest achievement is its consistent historical accuracy; it is a fictional story married into true historical events. From the process of how government was maintained to how Henry the Eighth infamously divorced his first wife, the book pays close attention to every detail. It contains huge facets of interesting information about the Tudor family as well as Henry himself, rather than being a one-note portrayal of him. This aids in making the book entertaining to read. Mantel also pays a great deal of attention towards Cromwell; traditionally portrayed as an amoral lawyer, the book gives a far more balanced view of him as a man who, while morally ambiguous, works for the betterment of the country and has unique relationships with everyone around him.

From beginning to end, this attention-grabbing book is packed with intrigue, suspense and vulnerability. It fully deserved the Booker Prize, a testament to Hilary Mantel's attention to detail and style.  

Submitted by Joshua

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