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Friday 16 February 2024

Latest Book Reviews

 Is This Mutton's latest book reviews include the acclaimed Deadly Animals by Marie Tierney and Where They Lie by Claire Coughlan.

Dear friends. I'm spoiling you this month with the most amazing selection of books.  Highlights include a quirky 13 year old who helps find a murderer; miners leaving their homes in the early morning mist;  a collection of unforgettable short stories, and the return of Aisling, "Ireland's answer to Bridget Jones."  They're all available now. Enjoy! I certainly did. 

Deadly Animals by Marie Tierney - 5 stars

Is This Mutton's latest book reviews including Deadly Animals by Marie Tierney and  Sisterhood by Cathy Kelly

Extraordinary. Will be one of the books of the year! 

Thirteen-year-old Ava Bonney is unlike other children. Exceptionally bright, she has an obsessive interest in the rate at which dead animals decompose. The nearby motorway regularly offers up roadkill, and in the dead of night Ava likes nothing better than to creep out of bed and study her latest find in her roadside den. But one day she stumbles across the body of a fellow pupil. 

Ava's ability to mimic adults and her local knowledge make her an asset to police, particularly as it becomes clear a serial killer who hunts young men is on the loose. And what a serial killer! Totally unforgettable.

I took Ava, and Det Sgt Delahaye, with whom she forms a surprising bond, to my heart. This book features in The Times' Best Thrillers of February list. 

After a Dance by Bridget O'Connor -4 stars

This collection of short stories is an exquisite tasting of a talent that was extinguished too soon. Bridget O' Connor was an author and playwright who shone humour into dark corners. She died in 2010 aged 49.  

Heavy Petting is surreal but hypnotizing. A goldfish is hooped at a fairground, brought home to join a menagerie of other pets, and named Godfrey. Godfrey watches and swims for his life as a family disintegrates. Majella, a promising student, turns to drugs. Mum is on medication and becomes obsessive about making soup, even using Godfrey's bowl as a receptacle. Dad is a shadow of his former self, on painkillers.

Pity by Andrew McMillan   - 4 stars

Set across three generations of a South Yorkshire mining family, Andrew McMillan’s debut novel is a lament for a lost way of a life as well as a celebration of resilience and the possibility for change. 

Middle aged brothers Alex and Brian live in a northern town decimated by the mine closures in the 1980s. The loss of a key industry, and what has replaced it, is one of the key themes. Alex's son Simon works three jobs, one in a call centre, plus sex work and drag queen in local clubs.

Where the story excels is in its portrayal of the work carried out by miners, a mile beneath our feet. Several times McMillan, also a poet, uses repetition to show the utter grind of the miners' daily routine. The dust, the dust, and the dark, figure large in the visceral descriptions of back breaking, filthy work in extreme heat. 

There's a very evocative description, used several times, of doors opening and men emerging to walk to the mine, before sunrise. Some of them stop to pause, needing to catch their breath. No-one waits for them. 

Aisling Ever After Audio Book - 4 stars

The delightful Aisling is back. I've read all the books in the series. This time I had an audio book, courtesy of Bolinda Audio. I enjoyed the narration by Amy McAllister. She brought Aisling and the other characters to life.

There were plenty of amusing moments and laughs, along with a few sad and bittersweet moments. Aisling has been described as an Irish Bridget Jones, but she is less introspective and obsessive.

The Fury by Alex Michaelides - 3 stars

This thriller has a retro feel, a bit like an Agatha Christie. She is mentioned several times by the grandiose and self obsessed narrator Elliot. I was getting frustrated with the slowness of the start but Elliot then switched to some action, and this was a device used throughout the book that ensured I read to the end. It was cleverly plotted, but I can't say it kept me gripped as it all seemed like a stage performance, which was perhaps the intention.

Sisterhood by Cathy Kelly - 4 stars

Lou is at a crossroads. Her 50th birthday party has been a disaster with her mother telling her a devastating secret that changes everything she knows. 

Along with her confident TV presenter sister, Toni, who is facing her own crisis, the two women set out on a life-changing journey to get some answers. It takes them through Ireland’s wildest coastline and to Sicily’s sun-baked rocky shores. 

I enjoyed Sisterhood immensely and found it a soothing balm: grounded, gentle and uplifting.

Where They Lie by Claire Coughlan  - 5 stars

Dublin, 1968.  The remains have been discovered of actress Julia Bridges, who mysteriously disappeared in 1943.  The local Garda inspector is convinced that Julia died at the hands of Gloria Fitzpatrick, who went on trial for facilitating the abortion of another woman. 

Journalist Nicoletta Sarto resolves to solve the mystery of what happened to Julia and gradually unravels a complicated story.

Nicoletta is a determined and memorable heroine, grief stricken from a family tragedy, and more or less estranged from her mother. 

Very evocative of the 1960s. It's like stepping back in time. Beautifully written and nuanced, this book was included in The Times' list of the best new thrillers for February.  

Roses for the Dead by Jenny O'Brien -4 stars

A cracking good read from Jenny O'Brien. It's the second in the Detective Garda Alana Mack series, and all the characters are starting to gel.

A killer is on the loose, targeting women and leaving their broken bodies scattered across Dublin's Dart train line. The victims appear to have no connection to one another, but their murders bear the same chilling hallmark – identical single red roses left at each of their crime scenes. 

To make it even more difficult for the detectives, every trace of the women’s lives has been extinguished from their homes. Their bedding has been replaced with pristine white sheets and photos of loved ones and precious keepsakes have been eradicated.

A Sign of Her Own by Sarah Marsh - 3 star

Ellen Lark is on the verge of marriage when she and her fiancé receive an unexpected visit from Alexander Graham Bell. Ellen is deaf, and for a time was Bell's student in a technique called Visible Speech, or lip reading. 

There's a heady swirl of side plots around patents and conspiracies, plus the involvement of a deaf friend of Ellen's, Frank, whose motives aren't clear.  The plot gets quite confusing. I persevered and liked the overall theme with Ellen and the deaf community being given a voice. But it could have been so much better. 


Tracing Your Marginalised Ancestors - A Guide for Family Historians by Janet Few

Many TV shows and books about geneology tend to focus on the people who found their ancestors were royalty or landed gentry, and no challenge at all to research.

Far more interesting to many of us is this book about marginalised ancestors. These were people who were poor,  sick, illegitimate; lawbreakers, or just people who were discriminated against. 

I was particularly interested to read it because in my family tree I have a few marginalised ancestors who were illiterate, ended up in workhouses or alms houses, or had unmarked graves because they were poor.  I was interested to read Janet Few's tips on how to find their stories. 

It's a fascinating book. Each chapter ends with the story of a marginalised person. I now have more reference sources to flesh out the notes in my family tree on some of my long forgotten ancestors.   You can pre-order this book which is published on Feb 29. Thanks to NetGalley and Pen & Sword for the advance copy.

I hope you enjoyed the reviews and can find at least one book to get your teeth into. 

Joining the southern hemisphere bloggers for #WOYBS. 

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1 comment

  1. An interesting selection, I’m curious to learn more about Deadly Animals

    Wishing you a happy reading week


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