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Posts Tagged ‘ireland’

Book Review: Tara Road by Maeve Binchy

September 28, 2016 2 comments

Book Review: Tara Road by Maeve BinchySummary:
Ria lived on Tara Road in Dublin with her dashing husband, Danny, and their two children. She fully believed she was happily married, right up until the day Danny told her he was leaving her to be with his young, pregnant girlfriend. By a chance phone call, Ria meets Marilyn, a woman from New England unable to come to terms with her only son’s death and now separated from her husband. The two women exchange houses for the summer with extraordinary consequences, each learning that the other has a deep secret that can never be revealed.

Review:
Is “two women swap houses and their lives change” a subgenre of women’s fiction? Because I feel like it should be. I have a real soft spot for house swap stories, starting back when The Holiday came out (one of my favorite romcoms). I was excited to see one featuring both Ireland and New England (Connecticut, specifically), and I sensed that the drama would be pretty high in this story. I wasn’t disappointed.

I learned a lot about recent Irish history from this book. For instance, I had no idea that divorce wasn’t legal in Ireland until 1995! The whole culture, too, wasn’t just that divorce wasn’t legal but that young marriage was expected. This directly impacts Ria’s life and her decisions. Learning this recent Irish history through Ria’s eyes helped make it more real and reminds the reader that these cultural norms and laws have a real impact on real people.

The settings were beautifully rendered. From Tara Road to the home in Connecticut, I felt completely present in each. I could hear the noises and smell the cooking at Tara Road and feel the cool pool water in Connecticut. The rich settings helped me take the perhaps at times ridiculous plot with the grain of salt such a story warrants.

Many issues are covered without ever feeling like the book was written just to talk about them. Rather, the issues exist because they just happen to in real life so why wouldn’t they in this book. Among the issues: alcoholism, domestic violence, grief, infertility, and more that I can’t mention without being plot spoilery.

Still, though, in spite of the strong setting and interesting plot, I did feel that it ended a bit too abruptly. I felt as if I was left hanging, wondering what ultimately was going to happen with these women. Being left wanting more isn’t necessarily a bad thing but after investing so much into these two women, I would have enjoyed at least an epilogue.

Overall, a strong entry in women’s fiction. It’s a house swap story that stays unique with the house swap not being about romance but rather about dealing with personal issues and where you want your life to go.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: The Last to Know by Melissa Hill

Book Review: The Last to Know by Melissa HillSummary:
Eve has been patient with Liam. They’ve been together nine years and have two children but he has yet to marry her and gets defensive anytime the topic comes up. Her sister, Sam, has never liked Liam and has become suspicious about all his business trips outside of Ireland, particularly the ones to Australia.

On the other side of the world in Australia, Brook is dating an Irishman who’s frustratingly periodically unavailable, in spite of what she thinks are their strong feelings for each other. She tries to distract herself reading a new manuscript that’s been left for her, but the manuscript might be less about a book deal and more about making sure she’s not the last to know something….

Review:
If you have ever seen Futurama, you’ll be aware of the utterly campy and ridiculous robot soap opera named “All My Circuits.” It’s known within the world of Futurama in particular for its over-the-top plot twists and yet somehow still being something entertaining that you can’t stop watching. When I read a book that goes a bit off the rails, I refer to it as being very All My Circuits. That is this book. If you love campy soap opera plots and ridiculous situations and twists that make you audibly gasp, you’re going to love this book.

I was suspicious of at least one upcoming twist from the very beginning from the description and set-up alone. The narration alternates between Brook’s life and the manuscript that’s been submitted to her for a while. At a certain point, it moves to include some thoughts from the person (or people) who wrote the manuscript. Brook is likeable. Eve and Sam are likeable. They’re all three well-rounded women with very different goals in life and life situations. Any reader of chick lit will be able to relate to one of them. I think that’s really all that a potential reader who doesn’t want spoilers needs to know about the book. If you are intrigued and don’t want spoilers, go on and pick it up! Those interested in the delicious ridiculousness of the twists should read further.

*spoilers*
It completely seems in both the description and the beginning of the book that the twist is going to be that Brook’s boyfriend is Eve’s baby daddy, and Eve’s author sister Sam is revealing this as gently as possible to Brook via the manuscript. HOLD UP THOUGH. Partway through the book, you find out that Liam has a thing for Eve’s best friend who is in a relationship with Liam’s best friend. I can’t for the life of me remember these characters’ names, so I’m going to call them EBF (Eve’s Best Friend) and LBF (Liam’s Best Friend). EBF is considering leaving LBF but then she finds out she’s pregnant and decides to stay and have a family with him. They have a baby girl. Then Liam DIES IN A CAR ACCIDENT ALONG WITH BOTH OF EVE’S CHILDREN. At this point the reader is like hold the fucking phone, Brook’s boyfriend isn’t dead so wtf. Wtf is the connection with Brook?

Eve finds out about the feels between EBF and Liam and in her grief becomes convinced that EBF’s baby is actually fathered by Liam and not LBF. For some unearthly reason, LBF and EBF ask her to babysit while they go to a wedding, and when they get back she and the baby are gone. Eve decided in her grief that she deserved this baby, so she absconds to Australia. So Brook is EBF’s baby. And she was raised by Eve. If you’re wondering how they pulled this off, the explanation is that the manuscript has been taking place decades ago so it was easier to run off with a baby then. Especially around the world.

Guys, I gasped audibly when I figured out where this story was going. Seriously. whoa I just really did not see those plot twists coming! Really did not. I was irritated at myself for never figuring out that the Ireland in the manuscript was from decades ago and not present-day. (I did keep wondering why it was such a big deal for women not to be single moms and why no one seemed to have a cell phone but I brushed over it). I thought that Brook dating an Irish guy was a bit too cute for the red herring, but I’m willing to let it slide. I wasn’t looking for great literature here. I was looking for All My Circuits. And oh man did I get it!
*end spoilers*

Overall, if you’re looking for a light-hearted yet drama-llama read full of plot twists that just might make you gasp out loud, this is the read for you. A few plot devices are a bit convenient and might make the reader eye-roll but not enough to detract from the enjoyment.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Won in a giveaway

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Book Review: Addicted by S. A. Archer and S. Ravynheart (Series, #2)

August 13, 2012 2 comments

Woman with short hair standing in front of a city skyline and the moon.Summary:
If a human is touched once by a Sidhe, they become addicted….heroin addict level addicted.  Since London’s Sidhe died, she now has to periodically put her private investigator for paranormal clientele job aside in order to seek out more Sidhe for a fix. This time, a bunch of young vampires say they know where she can have a changeling teleport her to an enslaved Sidhe….for a price.

Review:
Series of fast-paced novellas are becoming more popular in urban fantasy and paranormal romance.  I know I enjoy them as a kind of single-serving of ice cream.  Fun and delicious and able to get through in those 40 minutes your bread is in the oven or something.  I read the first book in the Touched series, and since I enjoyed it, Archer, one of the authors, was kind enough to send along the next entry in exchange for my honest review.  It was still fun, but not quite as well-written as the first.

The world of the paranormal in the UK and Ireland that Archer has created continues to be creative and engaging.  While some of her paranormal creatures are typical (such as the vampires) others are more unique, like the changelings and fairies.  For instance, having a changeling run the whole come party and suck the blood or touch a Sidhe thing was pretty unique!  In other series, that would definitely be the sort of thing run by vampires.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find the characterizations as good this time around.  London comes off as a bit flat, as do the vampires around her.  Most distressing to me, though, as an American reader is her American character she put in.  London meets a guy when doing a job for the changelings.  She can tell he is American because, I kid you not, he is wearing a flannel shirt and a cowboy hat. Erm, ok.  More annoying though is the fact that this American dude twice says, “shite.” Americans don’t say “shite,” except perhaps for some 20-something hipsters who are trying to be ironic.  This 40-something mercenary is definitely not a hipster. He would say “shit.”  If you are going to have a character from a country besides your own, you really need to fact-check how they speak, and especially how they swear.  He’s not a major character, and I probably would have noticed it less if this was a book and not a novella.  He was a lot more noticeable since he was present for most of the novella.

Overall, then, the world is interesting but the characters could use a bit of work.  If you’re just looking for some light, quick urban fantasy to brighten up your day, though, it might be worth your 99 cents.  Personally, though, I won’t be continuing on with the series.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Previous Books in Series:
Cursed (review)

Book Review: The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Boy's legs dangling from a branch.Summary:
Christy is a Traveller, what Irish gypsies call themselves, in the 1950s.  He’s eleven, and his family is about to stay in one town for a whole 40 days and 40 nights for Lent so he and his cousin, Martin, can get ready for confirmation.  Christy has always thought his mam died giving birth to him, but when his grandda dies, he finds a newspaper clipping that shows his mam holding him when he’s months old.  Thus begins a quest to find out who he really is.

Review:
The particular copy I read I won on a book blog somewhere (I’m afraid I didn’t write down the name), but I also received an ARC during one of the holiday swaps one year.  It’s interesting to me, then, that this book wound up on my tbr pile both because I was interested and because someone else thought I would enjoy it.  And of course I did.

It is honestly, immediately abundantly clear that Christy’s mother isn’t a Pavee (a Traveller).  I was thus skeptical that the story would hold my interest, since predictable ones don’t tend to.  I am pleased to say that I was wrong about this on both counts.  Although it’s true that Christy’s mother isn’t a Traveller, everything else about her and Christy’s history is actually quite surprising and moving.  I’m glad I stuck with it.

The book examines many different issues, some universal and others specific to Irish history.  There of course is the issue of identity.  Who we are and what makes us that. Is it nature or nurture?  The often tough relationship between fathers and sons during the son’s adolescence is also wonderfully presented.  Of course a book about gypsies also addresses prejudice, stereotyping, and the norm.  Cummins doesn’t sugar coat things.  She shows the positive and negative aspects of Traveller culture, which is as it should be.  No culture is all perfect or all bad.  What the book does a great job of doing is showing how kids learn prejudice and how multiculturalism can enrich everyone’s lives.  Some people are one way and some another, and neither is necessarily bad.  The book also touches on the animosity between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland, as well as the very real issue of Irish society stealing babies from single mothers in that time period.  I know that sounds like a lot, and honestly I’m surprised now that it’s all listed out at how much was touched upon.  Cummins strikes the perfect balance of touching on real issues without ever seeming pushy or forced.

Although the storyline and characters are good, it didn’t 100% draw me in.  I think it moves a bit too slowly for me in the first half or so of the book.  I also, honestly, struggled to like Christy.  I eventually came to understand his viewpoint and choices, but I still find him kind of annoying.  His father, on the other hand, is incredibly interesting and wonderful, and I kind of wish we had a book about him instead of about Christy.  But, some readers enjoy more slowly paced books and others might relate better to Christy than I did.  It just personally is what made it a book I liked but didn’t love.

Overall, this book is an interesting entry in historic Irish fiction.  It looks at Ireland in the 1950s through the eyes of a small band of gypsies, which is certainly a unique viewpoint.  The writing is fluid, if a bit slow-moving, and the plot is not as predictable as it seems at first.  Recommended to fans of historic fiction and works set in Ireland.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Won on a book blog (If it was yours, let me know, and I’ll link to you!)

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Book Review: Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier

January 17, 2011 3 comments

Brunette woman looking in a mirror.Summary:
This retelling of the classic fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast, is set in a medieval Ireland facing the constant threat of Norman invasion.  Caitrin, an Irish lass trained in the trade of a scribe by her now deceased father, runs away from an abusive situation and stumbles upon the mysterious Whistling Tor.  The crippled lord of the area lives in Whistling Tor and seeks a scribe.  The local villagers warn Caitrin against taking the summer job due to a fear of the host living on the hill, but Caitrin sees no other choice.

Review:
Fantasy is one of those genres that I have never been able to get into, but I do love fairy tales, so I thought maybe a retelling of a classic would work for me.  When will I ever learn that I just don’t like fantasy?

Marillier does all the elements of a fantasy book well.  She sets up the mysterious, old land of Ireland with just enough description to place the reader there but not so much as to slow down the action.  Gothic mystery seeps through every page.  The idea of the non-human servants and household members of the castle are creatively handled, as is the lord’s beast-like qualities.  The members of the host who could so easily have flowed together are artfully individualized.

Additionally, the romance between Caitrin and the lord of the castle is one I actually approve of for once in a YA book.  They both are flawed and have issues to work on, but love each other and have good hearts.  Thank you.  That’s what a relationship is supposed to look like.  I would be entirely comfortable seeing a teenage girl reading this.  It’s a healthy, realistic relationship.

Still, though, I had to force myself to slog through the book.  I was bored a lot of the time.  I don’t like long descriptive passages of a forest.  I don’t like reading about dull politics of various areas of Ireland.  I’m not interested in explanations of the other-worldly figures.  The most interesting part to me was the mirrors all over the household, and they were not addressed fully to my liking.  In spite of being able to recognize this as a well-told story, it failed to draw me in.  I don’t particularly know why.  My best guess is that it is fantasy, and fantasy has always bored me.  I was hoping venturing away from the more typical knights in shining armor and dragons style fantasy would solve the problem, but I was wrong.

Thus, this YA fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast is creative and well-done.  I recommend it to those who know they enjoy a good fantasy story, but those who do not should probably skip it.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Movie Review: Shrooms (2006)

August 3, 2010 6 comments

Skull in the forest.Summary:
Five Americans–two straight couples and one single gal–go to Ireland with two sole purposes: take shrooms and land their Irish pal as a boyfriend for the single gal.  Their friend takes them into the forest and aids them in gathering the shrooms.  As they are making the tea, the Irishman tells them the tale of the Black Brother and the Lonely Twin, an evil priest and the boy he tortured at a now abandoned school for troubled youth nearby.  As the night wears on the next day comes, the friends are left wondering if the horrors they are now seeing are the result of an open portal to the supernatural or just a bad trip.

Review:
This was a fun twist on the slasher flick norms, obviously not too heavy on characterizations as I can’t remember most of the character’s names.  I do know the annoying jock guy was named Bluto, because that’s just a hilarious name.  Anyway, the story is told from the perspective of the member of the group who ate a bad shroom and is now having premonitions about people’s deaths.  That part is rather like Final Destination, only in this case we know the person having the premonitions is high, so her believability is even more questionable.

The Black Brother is deliciously creepy.  He alternates between moving on what appear to be broken feet, floating, and crawling down from the trees.  His face is always obscured by his monk-like robe.  The cinematography is pretty good for a B-level horror flick.  The premonition and supernatural bits are just wobbly enough to give the viewer a bit of a high feeling themselves without being too distracting from the story.

The acting is typical of what you find in B level movies.  The actors all have their shrieking down to a science.  They’re good at being scared, which is all that really matters.  Unfortunately, the actor who plays the Irish guy is completely incapable of an Irish accent and manages to just sound British the entire time.  That’s a bit distracting, but oh well.

There is one scene early in the movie that sold it to me right away as a slightly laughable but still creepy slasher flick.  It involves a hallucinated cow who warns Bluto that he’s about to become a “dead fucker.”  I mean, a creepy talking cow?  Total B-movie win!

What really moved Shrooms up from a 3 star to a 4 star level for me though was the ending.  I can’t tell you what it is, obviously, but I can tell you that I didn’t figure it out, and it was legitimately creepy.

If you enjoy B-level slasher flicks with a sense of humor, such as Final Destination, you’ll definitely enjoy Shrooms.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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