Book Reviews

By Irish America Staff
August / September 2019

1,000 Books to Read Before You Die

By James Mustich

If you can get past what is clearly one of the more intimidating book titles you will ever come across, this volume is a wonder to dip in and out, in small or large doses. And not surprisingly, it is loaded with Irish titles – some classics, others unjustly forgotten.

There is, of course, James Joyce (Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses) and Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot, as well as the lesser-known novel Molloy, and novella “Company”). But there’s also Lucy Grealy’s memoir Autobiography of a Face, Nuala O’Faolain’s Are You Somebody, and Irish American Bruce Duffy’s historical novel The World as I Found It. Overall, Mustich deserves credit for a mighty diverse list which includes popular and experimental fiction, history, memoir, and even hard-to-categorize works like The 9/11 Commission Report. And, of course, the whole point of a book like this is to argue about what has been left out. So be prepared for a gigantic literary hole between L and N, with nothing here by Colum McCann or Alice McDermott. Thankfully, we have the complete stories of both Frank O’Connor and William Trevor, though just one play by Eugene O’Neill (Long Day’s Journey Into Night). Still, the diaspora is well-represented, in the form of Aussie-Irishman Peter Carey (The True History of the Kelly Gang), Irish Americans Pete Hamill (A Drinking Life) and Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes), and expatriate Irish like Edna O’Brien (The Little Red Chairs). Mustich’s summaries are breezy but insightful, learned without being stuffy. For each title he also offers other works by the same author, and similar works by other authors. All in all, this is a great book to have in your library, though by the time you actually read all of the entries you may…oh, never mind.

Tom Deignan

948 pages / $35 / Workman


All the Bad Apples

By Moïra Fowley-Doyle

Following the success of her first two teen novels, Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s third book, All the Bad Apples, stays in line with the fantastical, suspenseful tone she is known for while also tackling a number of socio-cultural themes that are ever prevalent in both Ireland, the U.S., and abroad at present.

Deena, an insecure Dublin teen, reveals her darkest secret to her older sister, Rachel, and to her father, accidentally, on the morning of her 17th birthday, which results in a domino chain of reactions involving a death, a curse, a quest, a family history, a chance at love, and a shot at saving the family tree.

Fowley-Doyle draws on the troubling history of institutions such as Magdalene laundries to drive home the underlying intention of the novel: to highlight injustices committed against “bad apples” – young women thought to be on the wrong path – throughout Irish history.

The quick pacing is sure to hold the attention of today’s teens. The inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters and mystical adventure combined with motifs concerning fair reproductive rights, gender / sexual equality, and broken families situate Fowley-Doyle’s story in the thick of current discourse surrounding politically tense issues.

A great read for teens struggling to find books featuring LGBTQ+ protagonists and those who enjoyed series such as Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson but are ready for a female hero to take charge.

Gregory Chestler

305 pages / $23.00 / Kathy Dawson Books

(an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC)

Car Trouble

By Robert Rorke

Longtime columnist for the New York Post, amongst other publications, Robert Rorke’s first novel, Car Trouble, allows him ample space to display his strong skills as an author. The Brooklyn native pays tribute to his home borough’s changing landscape, architecturally and racially, in this coming-of-age novel that is easily relatable to readers young and old.

Centered around a 1970s Irish-American family, the stories of the Flynns of Flatbush are delivered to the reader through the eyes of Nicky Flynn – the family’s sole son. Between him and his mother Claire, a run-down home of four girls is cared for – insofar as they can keep Pat Flynn, the flawed patriarch, under control. Referred to throughout the novel as Himself, Nicky’s father is a meta-Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde character whose wild side is unlocked with a drink – or seven. His protective spirit and good intentions are met with his outlandish actions, unpredictable personality, and too-often missing presence from home.

The novel is sectioned around the various vehicles Himself purchases at the 69th precinct at auction and explores the generational gap of men from the 1950s vs. 1970s, the draft, white flight, and alcoholism, all without becoming too preachy about any particular issue. While the motifs are heavy, Rorke does a fine job of allowing the story to lightly deliver its message.

An easy read, but one you’ll want to pay attention to, and perhaps revisit the first section after finishing the epilogue.

Gregory Chestler

406 pages / $15.99 / HarperCollins


Children’s Corner

The Dog Who Lost His Bark

By Eoin Colfer

Illustrations by PJ Lynch

This heartwarming story is perfect for enthusiastic young readers. With large, clear font, a simple vocabulary, and an engaging story about finding one’s family, the book hits all the right notes.

“Dog” is a puppy who’s been through a lot, and his once-happy bark has faded to a whimper. Then Patrick, whom he refers to as “AWESOME PATRICK,” finds him at the pound and brings him home, and he learns to open his heart to humans again, starting a new life with a new name – “Oz” – in a new home, filled with love and music.

Oz finds that Patrick’s family is in the midst of their own life-changing journey, and that they need him as much as he needs them. He throws himself whole-heartedly into his role as Patrick’s best friend, and the two pals bolster each other to brave one’s unhappy past and navigate the other’s uncertain future.

Artemis Fowl author Eoin Colfer’s subtly sweet relation of a summer through the eyes of a dog and his boy is accompanied by detailed, evocative illustrations by award-winning Irish artist P.J. Lynch. If your family doesn’t have a dog (preferably a rescue) by the time you’ve finished reading, be warned: you may be getting one whether you like it or not.

Mary Gallagher

144 pages / $16.99 / Candlewick Press


The Sleeping Giant

By Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

Take a quick detour to Kerry, where off the coast lies a small island – or is it actually a friendly giant, sleeping off a hearty meal? Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick’s beloved 1991 children’s classic The Sleeping Giant, which tells the story of a bumbling tower of a man who awakens in the wrong century, has been re-released in paperback form.

A happy-go-lucky fellow with an earth-shaking walk, the Kerry giant crushes farmhouses and creates new landmarks with every step. When an ancient spell in his stew puts him to sleep, the people live in peace and enjoy the landscape his slumbering form creates for hundreds of years – until he wakes up! Stumbling through a land that is no longer his own as he destroys buildings and terrifies people in his wake, the distraught giant meets a little girl, Ann, who helps him find his way back to the sea where he belongs.

Young readers with an interest in funny folklore will enjoy this modern extension of Irish mythology, which is dedicated to the author’s own daughter – Ann. The story is based on legends of the island Inishtooskert, (known as An Fear Marbh, Irish for “the dead man,” because it resembles a man laying on his back). The story may not put your child to sleep, but it promises to make you both laugh.

Mary Gallagher

32 pages / €9.99 / The O’Brien Press


My Little Album of Dublin

By Juliette Saumande and Tarsila Krüse

Enjoy a tour of Dublin with your little one with this picture book of adorably illustrated city landmarks. Starting on O’Connell Street and venturing through the DART, Croke Park, and other sites, the Little Album is a young reader’s adaptation of the I Spy books, with a collection of surprises to be found in every colorful expanse in a simple, engaging game of identification and recognition.

The items hidden within each scene are arrayed on the following pages, with their names printed both in English and as Gaeilge. The simple translations make reading the book not only a fun virtual tour of Dublin (or Baile Atha Cliath), but a tool that will fan an interest and aptitude with the Irish language early on.

Authors Juliette Saumande and Tarsila Krüse, from France and Brazil respectively, have both made their homes in Dublin, and their picture book reflects the eager enthusiasm for a place that can only be held by residents who have chosen it. If you can’t make it in person, take your child on a visit to Ireland’s capital through the vividly colorful pages of My Little Album of Dublin.

Mary Gallagher

32 pages / $14.25 / The O’Brien Press

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