Searching for dead people

When I’m not reading, I like to research and write up my family history, or when I mention it to young people that I work with, I look for dead people.

Over the past while particularly, there have been some large gaps between books. These have occurred when I attempt to pull together the research on various branches of mine or my partner’s family into some sort of readable document or narrative to share with other family members.

So far I’ve managed to collate the research on my partner’s family which stretches to page 159, and my father’s side of my own family which currently sits around page 128 waiting to be finished.  I’m also nearly half way through my mother’s side of things, on page mid ’60s.

I should point out that there aren’t volumes of pedigree that need to be collated, nor is there any famous people amongst the DNA of either of our ancestors, but if you put in the time and effort there is a good body of information that can be found.

My research has shown me that even the most ordinary of families generally reveal some remarkable moments, even if that accomplishment is surviving, living through harrowing times.

I’m not an author, but my aim when writing is to lift the information beyond a set of names, dates and places. I like to try find some background information that might cast a light on who these people were or how they might have lived.   In places I’ve succeeded. Not as much as I’d like, but enough to add encourage me to keep going.

When I get a chance, I might try add some of those stories here and let them find a small life beyond my laptop

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Belated February Books

Not as busy as January, but I managed to read some absolute gems.  I read four books during February. The Library Book is written about elsewhere, and then I read ‘Blackfish City’, ‘In our Mad and Furious City’ and ‘When all Is Said’.

Blackfish City by Sam J Miller

I started this with a sense of anticipation.  I had spotted it’s appearance in a number of American  ‘best of’ lists at the end of 2018 and immediately put it on my to watch list. I wasn’t expecting to find it in Ireland for a while, but lo and behold it was in Chapters for the reduced priced of €6.99.  Not the first time that has happened (Lab Girl by Hope Jahren the other) .

Anyway, in short, it’s a humdinger.  I love when I stumble on something a little different.

The action takes place in a dystopian future on a floating city in or near the Arctic Circle. This is how humans now live on after some catastrophic climate wars.   The city is ‘ruled’ by artificial intelligence, but there are also layers of human hierarchy separating the richest and poorest, including a set of ‘shareholders’ and organised crime gangs.

We follow 4 main characters whose fates intertwine, along with a mysterious woman who apparently arrived to the city on the back of a whale accompanied by a polar bear. The story explores a range of social issues, with gay or gender neutral characters featuring and themes of power, ownership of resources, property etc, eeking their way in to the narrative.

I don’t want to give anything away. Its not just a world building political novel, there is plenty of action to enjoy, especially once introductions are done, and it builds brilliantly.  There are also a few plausible futuristic advances to satisfy those that watch for that kind of thing.

Great sci fi, well worth its place among the best sci-fi of 2018 (or 19 in my case) .

I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads
Image result for Blackfish city

 

In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne

Oh, this one is plucked at the ‘unfairness of it all’ emotions. If I was looking for a book to encourage the disaffected young men I have worked with at different times to read, especially in the UK, this one would be on the short list.

The main story is told from the perspective of three young men, friends that live in a North London housing estate.   There is so much in this fairly simple story.  Young men, in working class estate in London, throw  in a bit of Caribbean, Pakistani, and Irish heritage, add a dash of ‘underclass’ with athletic or creative aspiration, then mix with some current alt-right/islamophobia/Tommy Robinson type racial tension flavoured with historical racial and political conflict and leave to stew.

The story is an old one. Young men in a tough situation look at where they are and consider  their respective ways out. We also hear from older characters, parents, reflecting on how they got where they are.   But all is coloured by the political dimension of the times they live in…modern London.

This one should make you as angry as the title suggests.

I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads
Image result for in our mad and furious city

 

When All Is Said by Anne Griffin

I think we Irish like our music and stories imbued with a streak of melancholy. If that’s the case then this feels like a very Irish story.

84 year old Maurice Hannigan settles himself at the bar of a local hotel and raises 5 toasts to people important to his life.

This is a novel of loss guilt and lonliness, but also about a sort of old reserved Irish kind of love. I loved it.
Maybe there’s more to be said about the style etc, but most of all it just a gorgeous story, well written.

Warning: There may be tears.

I gave it 5 stars on Good reads

Image result for when all is said

 

As mentioned, I already wrote about The Library Book by Susan Orlean, so I’m not going to repeat that except to say, that its well worth your attention.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Spoiler alert – this one is about a library. Also, it’s a joy.

Actually, to describe this as being just a book about a library would be like describing it as a collection of words. This book is a paean to all things library.

library book

 

Susan Orlean, starts telling us about her early memories visiting her local library with her mother. Then explains her mother’s decline into dementia and being inspired to write about libraries as a sort of tribute to her mother.

She then discovered that Los Angeles Central library suffered a catastrophic fire in 1986 and that event is a central plank of the book. Around details of the fire, the investigation and the chief suspect we learn the history of the library and about various librarians including the swashbuckling Charles Lummis.. She also tells us about the different departments in the library and where the library service fits into the communities that it serves, and the many ways that non-members wouldn’t expect. If that sounds a bit dry, trust me, it’s not. She weaves it all into a narrative that just engages and tickles, and leaves you warm and satisfied like a happy memory.

Also a book that ostensibly is about a library, shouldn’t be one that you would expect to tug your emotions, but the description of the fire in particular is heart wrenching.

I’m a member of a few libraries in Ireland and the UK. I think 7 public libraries, (if the National Library in Dublin counts as 1) and I value them and see them as more than a place full of books, but could probably never say exactly what it is I like about them. This book manages to articulate what makes them special places, and places that should be loved and treasured.

 

I felt I should have stopped and marked passages for the purpose of sharing, but I’ll cheat and find a quotes online, but there are so many times you just want to stop and re-read.

“In Senegal, the polite expression for saying someone died is to say his or her library has burned. When I first heard the phrase, I didn’t understand it, but over time I came to realize it was perfect. Our minds and souls contain volumes inscribed by our experiences and emotions; each individual’s consciousness is a collection of memories we’ve cataloged and stored inside us, a private library of a life lived.”

“librarians should read as a drunkard drinks or as a bird sings or a cat sleeps or a dog responds to an invitation to go walking, not from conscience or training, but because they’d rather do it than anything else in the world.”

“Every problem that society has, the library has, too, because the boundary between society and the library is porous; nothing good is kept out of the library, and nothing bad.”

“People think that libraries are quiet, but they really aren’t. They rumble with voices and footsteps and a whole orchestral range of book-related noises—the snap of covers clapping shut; the breathy whisk of pages fanning open; the distinctive thunk of one book being stacked on another; the grumble of book carts in the corridors.”

January Reads

Its been a great start to the reading year. 8 books read in January and not a dud among them.

I started the year finishing the last of my 2018 reads, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, which I briefly reviewed in a previous post.  It was a great twisty homage to Agatha Christie (if she had written her characters as some sort of futuristic prisoners trapped in one of her novels and jumping from character to character trying to solve her latest whodunnit.

  I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads

 

In the same post I wrote about Dervla McTeirnan’s The Ruin. Its a brilliant Irish crime novel. A real page turner that had me up till 3am in order it finish it. Its set in Galway and introduces us to Cormac Reilly, about whom we shall undoubtedly read more.

I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads

 

Those two books were part of my Christmas Pressie haul.  By then showing absolutely no self control, and acting as if I didn’t have a massive ‘to be read pile’,  I had made a journey to my local bookshop to spend some book tokens I had received.

sister serial killer

The first of those purchases that went straight to the top of the aforementioned TBR pile was ‘My Sister the Serial Killer’ by Okinyan Braithwaite.  Not really sure what I was expecting. A crime novel maybe.  Set in Lagos, Nigeria, it starts with the protagonist Korede, goes to clear up the crime scene of her sister’s (Ayoola) latest killing.  As this is not the first of her sister’s boyfriends to come to an unfortunate end, Korede begins to wonder just how accidental her boyfriend’s deaths were. But this isn’t a crime novel. It’s really about the sisters and family and loyalty and sibling rivalry and a love story and how men are and women are.

It’s really funny, a bit dark, a bit sad. I really enjoyed it.

I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads.

 

My next read was ‘Take Nothing With You’ by Patrick Gale.

TakeNothingWithYou_art-292x450

 

This is one for the feels. Eustace is a gay man in his 50’s who has been diagnosed with cancer of his thyroid which requires radioactive treatment. Around the same time he is engaged on a online relationship with a soldier abroad. The treatment requires staying isolated in a room for a day while he is highly radioactive. Instructions for entering the room are that he must take nothing into the room that he can’t leave behind (as it will be radioactive and destroyed when the treatment finishes) and its while here, listening to a mix tape of Cello music made by his lifelong fiend that he looks back on his life, his developing sexuality and his love of music.

This is a gentle novel.  A tender love note to the cello and a warm reminiscence of his coming of age and self discovery. The prose is beautiful and lyrical , witty and easy.

I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads.

 
If ‘My Sister the Serial Killer’ was darkly funny, and ‘Take Nothing With You’ was imbued with a gentle wit, the ‘My Year of Rest and Relaxation’ by Ottessa Moshfegh is humour of another breed. Occasionally savage in its satire, and occasionally along the lines of what the f***?

My year of rest and relaxation

Ottessa Moshfegh doesn’t seem to write likeable protagonists. The only other of her novels I had read, the excellent ‘Eileen’ was not one to feel a lot of empathy for.  Our narrator here (unnamed) is a basically a spoiled, well off, white girl who doesn’t appear to have the sense she was born with.

Its a bit  of a weird one this. The other characters we meet are all a bit odd in their own way, all a bit lacking.  The author takes aim at the New York art world, and the world of psychotherapy.  She takes no prisoners. Its a difficult novel to describe. Its a mix of satire and the absurd. Maybe its meant to be a sort of half dream like existence such you might imagine someone trying to basically sleep for a year might experience.  But there’s a rude awakening.

Its a strange but intriguing read, It held my attention. Made me laugh out loud. I enjoyed it and gave it 4 stars on Goodreads.

 

the-house-on-vesper-sands-by-paraic-o-donnell-nt

 

The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell is a Victorian mystery with a touch of fantasy and its a brilliant read. It starts with an unusual death/suicide. We’re introduced to a small cast of characters. There’s Gideon Bliss a young genetleman, looking for his uncle, a young woman Angie Tatton, The Inspector Cutter, a journalist, Octavia Hillingdon and some occasional others.  We find out about a bit of a mystery surrounding ‘The Spiriters’ that seems to involve some of the well to do of Victorian society and the deaths or disappearance of a number of young women.

This book has an interesting mystery, likeable characters, and some really funny dialogue.  Its an absolute joy.
I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads.

 

‘Less’ by Sean Andrew Greer won a Pulitzer Prize. It had been sitting on my TBR pile for a while, after I managed to find it for €1 in a charity shop.

Less

The Eponymous ‘Less’ is a middling author. A white, gay man who embarks on a global tour, a voyage of discovery in order to avoid the wedding of his long time partner who  after their relationship broke up, is getting married to the new man in his life.   Each country he visits allows us a chapter into his past and allows the author to poke fun at the literary world.

Less is more than he imagines himself to be, and of course his world trip allows him to discover his own goodness and role in the lives of others.

Its a heart warming, witty book.  4 stars on Goodreads

The final book I read in January was The Poppy War’ by R.F, Kuang.  This fantasy novel appears in many ‘best of 2018’ lists and deservedly so.

poppy war

 

It is set in a world that appears to be like the orient.  Reviewers have noted similarities between atrocities in the book, and real life horror that occurred during different conflict between China and Japan.  I know very little about the events in this part of the world so I can’t compare.  The Barnes and Noble review links to particular events. https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/the-poppy-war-is-a-fantasy-steeped-in-powerful-painful-historical-fact/

The books is a dark fantasy or grimdark type novel. It starts in familiar enough territory. The poverty stricken author who escapes her grim fate at the hands of her cruel step mother, by performing incredible feats of learning to qualify for a place in an elite university/military training camp.  We learn of hidden talents as our hero tackles discrimination and other obstacles to find her way to an oddball squad of misfits…sort of…  The book comes alive with the arrival of war with the Mugen, and the political intrigue that comes with it.

I can’t wait for books 2 and 3.   Definite 5 star on Goodreads.

 

 

 

 

To be read piles – How do you do yours?

My TBR (To Be Read) collection has been on my mind recently due to two things.  Over the Christmas hols I updated my Goodreads tbr shelf and it settled on a large number. Then I noticed a lot of chat on Twitter about Marie Kondo and her book/Netflix show, ‘The Life-Changing Habit of Tidying Up’ where she apparently advocates throwing out books that don’t bring you joy.

 

Added to this, at this time of year you hear the New Year’s resolution most often heard among readers – the promise to make a dent in the TBR (To Be Read) pile. With fingers crossed we solemnly promise not to buy new books until the tbr pile is gone, or significantly reduced to a manageable size.   We have no intention of sticking to that, and soon it’s, “I said new books, so the pile of charity shop/second hand shop discoveries don’t count” or “I didn’t buy these, I got them from the library”.

So, I got to contemplating. Just how normal is my collection of books that I have not read?  Am I just hoarding?

 

robert jordan set

 

Why have so many?

Simply put, I like having a choice.

I read across genres, and sometimes I like to switch things around. I enjoy flicking through my shelves, reminding myself what I have, weighing up options and making my choice.  I enjoy browsing in bookshops, I enjoy browsing at home. Is that weird?

I don’t keep every book I buy. I buy with others in mind sometimes. When I’ve read, I often pass it on. I thin out the shelves now and then. Some books that I’ve had for a long time get set free, either to a better home or a charity shop, or now and then left in a public place with a note for the finder.

The probable reason that there is so many waiting to be read is the number of charity shops in my local town that sell a decent selection of books.  One of those often has a selection of new books that they sell at €1 each, 3 books for the price of 2.  Books are cheap and I’m supporting a charity.

If I’m Dublin I’ll normally have a mooch in the huge second-hand section in Chapters, where I’d normally pick up my second hand sci-fi/fantasy

I also buy new books, normally with book tokens I’ve been given. The ones I buy are normally books from an author I like, or ones I’ve heard or read a lot about so and regularly skip to the top or near the top of the queue to be read.

I don’t have an e-reader, so my tbr pile is physical. No electronic books involved. Plus, I’ll occasionally borrow from the local library, but they wouldn’t be added to any tbr list.

tsundoku

I have seen the cartoon/image with the Japanese word Tsundoku for the practice of buying books piled up waiting to be read.  I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a number of articles declaring (or reassuring) us that keeping a large pile of unread books is actually a sign or positive mental health.

I don’t get the minimalist lifestyle. Only a very small number of books on a single shelf or something. There is something comforting about having books. I’ve created and lost 2 other small libraries through moving and life changes. Losing books doesn’t make me distraught or anything, and there is always more books to be read and they let you have them for free from libraries.  But, there is ‘something’ about having your own collection. I found this quote on the Tsundoku Wikipedia page when I was checking the spelling. It probably sums it up best. Its be Alfred Edward Newton.

Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity … we cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access reassurance

End of year – start of year reads

This Christmas’s selection of books gifted to me turned out to be a brilliant selection. So taking advantage of a bit of time off they all went straight to the top of the   ‘To Be Read’ pile and are now finished.

Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

 

sabrina

 

I read this first, picking it up on Stephen’ s Day and it still comes to mind from time to time. Its a fairly downbeat read, but it’s very much a though provoking one. Especially when I’m skimming through Twitter.

Sabrina of the title is a missing person. Her boyfriend Teddy is the principle character we follow, although Sabrina’s sister and Teddy’s friend Calvin are other prominent characters.  Its not a whodunnit. I’m not even going to try explain the story, other than to say, Sabrina goes missing in Chicago, Teddy moves in with his friend Calvin in Colorado to get his head together, and then a video is released claiming to be her murder.

The dialogue is sparse, and the graphics aren’t exactly jammed with detail, but the author has a lot to say and gets it across really really well. The story is unsettling. I really didn’t know what I felt about the different characters .  If you find yourself looking at the world around you thinking a version of ‘WTF is going on in the world’, then Sabrina will resonate.

Definite 5 star book. Not for the paranoid.

 

Normal People – Sally Rooney

 

normal people

I approached this with a little trepidation as I didn’t really enjoy her highly acclaimed first novel, Conversation with Friends.  Normal People came with similar high praise, had been longlisted for the Booker Prize, and probably nominated or won other prizes I don’t know about.

First things first I enjoyed Normal People much more that Conversations With Friends.

Its a love story. It’s about being young and in love, about class and social difference.  One told over a number of years as Marianne and Connell’s relationship develops and lapses through the years as they also change, meet new people and find themselves in different situations.

There are some questions left unanswered, especially about Marianne’s family and **SPOILER ALERT** we never find out if they grow old and live happily ever after. It is after all a story of young love.

It is also beautifully written, and one to read for the pleasure of reading.

4.5 stars on my Goodreads (pretend they do half stars)

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton.

 

seven deaths

Well, this one was an unexpected gem.   ‘Agatha Christie meets Inception’ I read somewhere.   A fairly good description.  The author adds a note after the end explaining his desire to write an Agatha Christie style novel.

Basically Evelyn Hardcastle (her of the 7 deaths  – or 7 and half if you get a different version) is destined to die at 11pm. The location is an isolated country manor, filled with well to do society and various servants.  So far so typical ‘whodunnit’.  Our detective has 8 days to solve the murder.

The twist is that our detective and  narrator has woken up with no memory and no idea about who he is, but we soon find out that he is Aidan Bishop, and that in each of the 8 days he will wake up in a different body (or host) with their predilections, and all their strengths and weaknesses. If he doesn’t solve the crime, his memory will be wiped and he will start over and over again trapped in this ‘other world’ which he has already been in for an indeterminately long time.

He is given this information by a shadowy masked figure whose allegiance is unknown, especially when he discovers he has rivals in among the host of characters.

So if you can keep track of who is who, and where he is, then you’ve got a really enjoyable twisty detective story.  If you are one who likes to guess who did it and how, you’ll really enjoy this. Its good fun, and will keep the little grey cells well exercised.

5 stars on Goodreads

 

The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

 

cover-au-the-ruin-lg

 

For some reason I don’t read a huge amount of Crime fiction, but I heard a lot of good things about The Ruin so on my Christmas list it went.  It is an absolute cracker. A must read for any crime fans.

In the prologue we are introduced to a very young police officer in the West of Ireland, investigating a call out to an isolated house. He finds a dead woman and two neglected children.  Skip forward 20 years, the young police officer is a detective sergeant moved from a big deal unit in Dublin to a Galway station filled with resentful or taciturn colleagues who seemingly want nothing more than to take him down a peg or two.

So far so familiar.  Our detective is set to investigating cold cases, one (you can guess which) has links with a current case being investigating.  The story zips along, but not without having a few digs at the Irish social care system, the Catholic Church and the police, and managing to create some genuine emotional moments along the way.

This was a real page turner. The beauty of some time off was that I was able to give time to just read my way through it in some long sittings, culminating in a 3am finish.

Another 5 star on Goodreads. I loved this.

 

Children of Blood and Bone by Toni Adeyemi

 

childrenbloodbone

Before I started on my Christmas list I was finishing this one off.  It features in many end of year lists as a top Young Adult read, and deservedly so

It has elements of a traditional fantasy but set in Africa, in Nigeria. Magic is gone from the land, and the people that once had it are oppressed, with the tyrannical King actively trying to destroy those that once used magic.

We’re introduced to young magi Zelie, and her brother, along with Princess Amari and her brother.  You’ve got a bit of love hate romance, a bit of power and injustice (modern comparisons?) and some good old fashioned fantasy tropes.

Enjoyable YA fantasy in a different setting. Excellent.

4 stars on Goodreads for me

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in orbit

I keep coming back to this like some sort of comet with an irregular orbit.  Long time since I wrote last, and as before New Year seems to be the catalyst for giving it another go. 

With the realisation that this is just a shout into the void, I’ll keep trying to write short reviews of the books I’ve read. I’ve found I like looking back at what I write just after finishing particular books. Especially with my memory starting to fray at the edges.

Over the Christmas I updated the TBR pile which now measures over 280 books according to me Goodreads shelf. I know I’ve no intention of reading all of those (or attempting).  I’ve had  funny (peculiar) year of reading, with lots read early on, the a lengthy hiatus while I worked on some genealogy projects and some work stuff, but finishing with a flourish. reading year

 

My reading year according to Goodreads

https://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2018/32344686

 

 
With that the next post is a look back at Christmas and New Year reads, all which have been brilliant in their own way.