What’s hot – and what’s not – on today’s Celtic literary landscape!
The Pull of the Stars
By Emma Donoghue
Little Brown & Co. / 288pp / $23.99
After a dozen dazzling works of fact and fiction, Irish Canadian author Emma Donoghue takes her game to the next level with The Pull of the Stars, a terrific tale of Nurse Julia Power and her medical charge at a Dublin hospital during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Over three days, Power and two orphaned young women create unique and lasting bonds in the facility’s “lockdown” ward, sharing past pains, present challenges, and future hopes against a backdrop of disease and despair. By turns tender and tough, the moving and memorable narrative will both break and warm reader’s hearts. Given the stunning parallels with the current global COVID-19 pandemic, and the daily stories told by frontline workers, the story feels all the more familiar.
After the Silence
By Louise O’Neill
Riverrun Press / 374pp / $22.95
With glowing accolades and acclaim from the likes of fellow scribes Marian Keyes, Liz Nugent, and Lisa Foley, Irish scribe Louise O’Neill’s latest work After the Silence lives up to the hype with a barn-burning, page-turning tale of psychological suspense. When a documentary film crew arrives on the Emerald Isle to investigate a ten-year-old murder case, the residents of the small island community of Inisrún off the coast of Cork watch their decade of deceit and cover-ups stripped away. As layers of truth are laid bare, the dark underbelly of secrets come to light with surprising, and often disturbing details. Driven both by plot and characters, the book’s narrative arc is so engaging and enjoyable that readers will be yearning for more at tale’s end.
By Marianna Armata & Tom Langlands
Independent / 24pp / $20
A quirky, creative, and colourful collaboration between Montreal visual artist and photographer Maranna Armata and Scottish poet and photographer (and long time Celtic Life International contributor) Tom Langlands, Macro Aliens has found a forever home on my office bookshelf. Like a good and healthy marriage, Armata’s magnificent macro images merge beautifully with Langlands powerful poetry – each independent of one another, and yet stronger together in their interdependent relationship. As such, the sum experience of the parts is greater than the two particular puzzle pieces. Entertaining, educational, and eccentric, this unique project is sure to stir reader’s souls and challenge the way in which they perceive the world. Hopefully, this is not a one-off pairing and the dynamic duo will flesh-out the concept moving forward.
The Riotous Passions of Robbie Burns
By John Ivison
Ottawa Press and Publishing / 149pp / $14.95
Subtitled “The Imaginative Retelling of a True Story” – and released just in time for Burns Day 2021 – The Riotous Passions of Robbie Burns is a fun and fantastic piece of magical realism from one of Canada’ foremost freelancers, John Ivison. Born and raised in Burns’ hometown of Dumfries, Scotland – and now residing in Chelsea, Quebec – the author cut his teeth over three decades for a number of prominent publications, including as a regular contributor to Canada’s other major daily newspaper, the National Post. This unusual novella is narrated by Burns’ friend John Bruce and recounts a number of brief encounters over several days in the life of the renowned Scottish bard. Humorous and heartfelt, the work is surely worth a Google.
By Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish
Quercus Press / 352pp / $32
Subtitled Whisky, Warfare and a Scottish Adventure Like No Other – and paired with the forthcoming STARZ television series of the same name – Clanlands features the fun and fascinating forays of Outlander’s leading men as they make their way across their home country via camper van, boat, bicycle and motorcycle. With a moving forward by author Diana Gabaldon, the book chronicles Heughan’s and McTavish’s journey into the heart of Scottish history, exploring everything from the country’s landscape and culture to its people and their rich heritage. Along the way, readers are treated to tasty tidbits of trivia, stunning scenery, a few heated discussions (they are Scots after all) and loads of laughs – a true testament to the joys of two friends traveling together.
By Jamie Ferguson
Hardie Grant – Chronicle Books / 224pp / $55
As a huge fan and follower of fashion, how this one slipped through my fingers when originally published late last year is beyond me. Still, better late than never to review and then, er, review. This Guy (Portraits of Modern Men’s Style) features the inspired imagery of renowned Canadian-Scottish photographer Jamie Ferguson, whose work has adorned the pages of many magazines-au-couture and look books. Instead of presenting a singularized portrait of the modern male, however, the scribe succeeds at laying out a variety of vital and vibrant visages for the consideration of readers. While design trends come and go, Ferguson attests to the ages-old maxim that true style sense is never out of fashion. A bold and beautiful book that defines, redefines, and refines men.
By John Farrelly
O’Brien Press / 144pp / €8.99
As per this book’s back cover, “Irish history isn’t boring…it’s deadly! Deadly Celtic heroes! Deadly Celtic warfare! Deadly Celtic art!” As part of Dublin-based O’Brien Press’ new “Deadly Irish History” series of chapter books for young readers, The Celts features the work of Co. Down freelance caricature artist John Farrelly. Inspired and insightful, and filled with down ‘n’ dirty details about the nomadic tribes that settled along the Emerald Isle’s stunning west coast, the slender tome includes sections on storytelling, art and culture, architecture, weaponry, law, religion, food, and more. Presented with bullet points and animated illustrations, the series debut is designed to engage easily distracted audiences (i.e.: young readers). A companion book by the same author, titled The Vikings, is equally entertaining and educational.
The Little Village of Comely-on-the-Marsh
By Alan Simons
Baronel Books / 58pp / $12.95
This is exactly the kind of narrative my mother would love; set in southern France, The Little Village of Comely-on-the-Marsh tells the terrific tale of the daily comings and goings of a small and strange Welsh community. Chock full of irresistibly quaint and quirky characters, and touching on themes of love, diversity and inclusion, the tiny-but-mighty tome highlights the often-hilarious discrepancies between English and French cultures. Kudos should go out to the author for never hitting his audience over the head with the obvious. Instead, his sense of subtlety leaves room for readers to fill in the blanks with their own imagination. Awash in Welsh warmth, wit, and wisdom, the story would work well as a sitcom. My mom would love it, so would yours.
By Marian Keyes
Michael Joseph Books / 656 pp / $31.95
There has been so much popular and critical acclaim about Marian Keyes’ latest effort, Grown Ups, that there has been the very real threat that the publicity will outperform the plot. Thankfully, that hasn’t been the case, as the Irish author has pieced together a novel of epic proportion. At 656 pages, the work isn’t so much a singular storyline as a complete immersion into the lives of the Casey family. By turns tender and touching, the massive narrative will have readers in stitches on one page and in tears on the next. Charming, irresistible, poignant and profound, it is – without doubt – a leading candidate for a number of literary awards and, more importantly, a worthwhile investment of the audience’s time and attention.
By Roddy Doyle
Viking Press / 336 pp / $27
After the overwhelming success of his debut novel The Commitments (1987), it would have been all-too easy for Roddy Doyle to call in the rest of his career. Instead of sitting on his literary laurels, however, the Dublin-based scribe took his writing to new and amazing places over the course of more than three decades and a dozen works of different genres. His latest effort, Love, tells the tale of two old friends who reconnect in a pub after years of not seeing one another. Over a few pints, each opens up to the other, sharing the triumphs and trials of their lives. Hilarious and heartfelt, the work is an insightful and inspiring look at the many perks and perils of men amidst mid-life crisis.
A Thousand Moons
By Sebastien Barry
Penguin Books / 256 pp / $27
There must be something special in the waters of the Irish sea that brings out the gift of gab in the country’s authors. And while Eire has long been a hotbed of storytelling and song, the sheer volume of verbiage that has emanated from the Emerald Isle in recent years is staggering. However, as evidenced with Dublin author and playwright Sebastien Barry’s latest narrative A Thousand Moons, it is not a case of quantity over quality. The story of one woman’s fierce determination to build a life for herself in the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War, the new work weaves and winds its way through the American south, touching on themes of love and redemption – two matters that the Irish are well-versed in.
By Lesley Choyce
Nimbus Publishing / 173 pp / $18.95
Author, poet, publisher, professor, performer, hard-core surfer and Celtic Life International contributor, Lesley Choyce recently published his 100th book (!), Saltwater Chronicles. More a myriad of mid-life musings than a memoir, the soft-cover selection of stories is filled with the warmth, wit and wisdom that readers across the globe have come to know and love. The Earth has become smaller for the scribe in recent years, having traded in his telescope for a microscope, finding truth, meaning and beauty in the tiny details of everyday life. The result is a collage of vibrant and vital vignettes that paint a portrait of a man at peace with himself and with the world. Kudos to Choyce for retaining his youthful ideals and for sharing them with us.
Scottish Myths and Legends
By Daniel Allison
House of Legends / 322 pp / $19.95
In our April 2020 edition we profiled Scottish shanachie Daniel Allison, detailing his love of bringing old stories to new audiences. With his latest literary effort, Scottish Myths and Legends, the young storyteller takes his craft to new and magical places with 24 terrific traditional tales that will inspire readers of all ages. Imaginations are sure to soar with these bite-sized bits of lesser-known lore, which include contemporary takes on classic fables such as The Silkie Wife, Taming the Kelpie, The Mermaid Bride and The Knight of the Red Shield. Kudos to the author – and popular podcaster – for putting these ancient anecdotes to paper, and for translating and transcribing these timeless tales into a body of work that is engaging, educational and entertaining.
Wolf of Clontarf
By Thomas J. Howley
Moonshine Cove / 278 pp / $15.99
Despite only recently being released, there has been a lot of love for this sweeping Irish/Viking saga since its publication last month, with a mega melange of media coverage, including feature articles, author interviews and glowing reviews. In most cases, and though understandable in an already-over-saturated marketplace, that kind of hype speaks more to the muscle of a marketing team and, perhaps, less to the merit of the actual work. Thankfully, that isn’t the case here, as Howley twists and turns tradition into an epic tale of power, fortune, family and love. While Wolf of Clontarf doesn’t break any new storytelling ground, it is told better than most in its genre with well-crafted characters, absorbing dialogue, a minimum of detailing, and a soaring narrative arc.
The Weight of Love
By Hilary Fannin
Penguin Books / 352 pp / $29.95
With the likes of fellow scribes Anne Enright and Marian Keyes singing your praises, Irish author Hilary Fannin must be thrilled with the critical and popular acclaim for her debut literary effort. Set back and forth between Dublin and London, The Weight of Love is by turns a tender and tough take on the complexities of modern love. After Sid, son of Robin and Ruth, relocates to Germany, the couple finds themselves lost in the aftershocks of empty-nest syndrome. Into that void steps Joseph, a childhood friend of Robin, whose love-mark on Ruth leaves a lingering and lasting impact on the couple long after his exit. Heavy and often heart-wrenching, the book triumphantly heralds the unveiling of a new, powerful, and poignant Irish literary heavyweight.
The Definitive Guide to Canadian Distilleries
By Davin de Kergommeaux and Blair Phillips
Random House / 320 pp / $32
Although I am not a drinker – I put down the bottle almost 30 years ago – I was curious about this collection given all of the buzz surrounding craft distilleries in Canada over the past ten years. Subtitled The Portable Expert to Over 200 Distilleries and the Spirits they Make (From Absinthe to Whisky, and Everything in Between), the 320-page tome is more than a mere listing of Canuck spirit-makers; instead, the authors’ expertise gently guides readers from idea to implementation to process to product, spicing things up with not-so-trivial tidbits along the way. Beautifully illustrated with colourful imagery, and spotted with suggestions, the hardcover edition will make a gorgeous gift for both seasoned connoisseurs and those looking to take their first taste tests.
Chasing Ghosts: An Arctic Adventure
By Nicola Pierce
O’Brien Press / 320 pp / €8.99
One has to admire Northern Irish author Nicola Pierce; along with diving deep into the region’s battle-weary history with past works – Kings of the Boyne, Behind the Walls, City of Fate, and The Spirit of the Titanic – the scribe’s latest literary effort takes on the real-life tale of two Arctic-bound ships, intertwined with the story of tragedy and intrigue for a Derry-based family. Set in the mid-1800s, the fictional narrative is driven by solid characters, strong dialogue and a swift narrative arc, weaving plotlines back and forth, and inviting readers on an emotional journey through hope and darkness – two subjects that the author knows something about, having recently battled cancer with two operations, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, working all the while. Admirable indeed.
One Good Reason
By Séan McCann & Andrea Aragon
Nimbus Publishing / 222 pp / $29.95
Although there are many good tell-all books on the market about recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction, husband and wife Séan McCann & Andrea Aragon share both sides of the story of the ex-Great Big Sea singer/guitarist’s descent into personal hell and his subsequent rise from the ashes. More than a confessional, or a self-help guide of sorts, the couple share their experience, strength and hope with readers, perhaps paving a path for those struggling with substance abuse issues. And while McCann’s story might sound familiar to some, it is Aragon’s account of the highs and lows of living aside an alcoholic that will tug the heartstrings. Speaking with great courage, poise, and purpose, she is a comforting voice for the silent and still-suffering majority.
By Robert Minhinnick
Seren Books / 180 pp / €9.99
The third – and final – offering in Robert Minhinnick’s stirring Sea Holly trilogy, Nia, has only been on bookstore shelves for a short while, but it has already enjoyed strong critical reviews and has been longlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize. With over a dozen works to his name, the prolific Welsh author and poet is no stranger to the art of storytelling. Here, the scribe succeeds at fleshing-out the voice of a young mother and her colourful inner life. After she and two friends explore a local cave system, Nia experiences a series of surreal dreams that open the door to her past, revealing truths that the likes of psychoanalyst Carl Jung would feast upon. A powerful work for readers of all ages.
By Laurence Wareing
Birlinn Publishing / 96 pp / £7.99
This little gem by Scottish freelance writer and editor Laurence Wareing almost slipped through the cracks. Let me explain; usually I abhor digital review copies, as I spend enough time in front of a computer screen each day. Call me old-fashioned, but I like the sensation and scent of real books. I do, however, understand and appreciate the convenience of the digital format. After all, reading is reading, no matter the medium. Thus, Celtic Blessings – a small selection of 1,000-year-old proverbs and maxims from Celtic saints and their disciples – has been open on my tablet since receiving it. The ancient wisdom is apt, given the current state of global affairs, and will keep readers on an even spiritual keel during these tumultuous times.
Causeway Coastal Route
By Seth Linder
O’Brien Press / 128 pp / €12.99
If you have never driven the Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland, then be sure to put it on your bucket list. Consistently named one of the world’s top road trips, the 212-kilometer trek weaves and winds its way from Belfast to Derry along the region’s rugged Antrim coastline. Chock full of stunning coloured photographs, and peppered with text and tidbits of trivia, this table-top tome touches on the area’s rich and robust heritage, tackling topics such as topography, history, culture, cuisine, language, sports, and more. Author Seth Linder does well to avoid politics and religion, instead pointing to the poignancy of the place and its people and hopefully inspiring those with a passion for travel to explore the finest gem in the British Isles.
By Peter Finch and John Briggs
Seren Books / 192 pp / €14.99
Riffing on his past works on Cardiff, author Peter Finch takes readers on a rousing ride through the main streets and back alleys of one of Europe’s most underrated cities. More than a general guide to the sights and sounds of the Welsh hub, the book explores both the robust history of the area’s quaint and quirky neighbourhoods and the unique individuals that inhabit them. Accompanied by John Briggs gorgeous photographs, Finch brings a poet’s eye for the beauty of everyday details to the forefront, reminding readers why they should put Cardiff on their itineraries. And you have to admire someone who (in 2015) had the guts to write and release a book titled The Roots of Rock – From Cardiff to Mississippi and Back!
The Hungarian Adventures of Angus and Edmond
By Gunna Dickson & Suellen Crowley Weaver
Self Published / 72 pp / $24.95
The fantastic felines return with their latest foray of fun! Having previously sniffed around Scotland, Spain, Italy and Key West, the furry friends now find themselves exploring the Hungarian capital city of Budapest. As always with this pair, mischief is never far, and a day trip to Vienna opens the door to more shenanigans. Audiences will enjoy author Gunna Dickson’s clean and clear narrative, which is entertaining, educational and engaging all at once. Beautifully illustrated by American artist Suellen Crowley Weaver, the work will also likely inspire younger readers to initiate an interest in European history. With so many tales under their tails, Angus and Edmond are racking up the air miles as they make a name for themselves in the world of children’s literature.
A Feckin’ Tour of Ireland
By Colin Murphy & Brendan O’Reilly
O’Brien Press / 256 pp / €12.99
Once upon a time, Colin and Brendan were at the pub enjoy a few pints of Guinness when one turned to the other and offhandedly asked, “Hey, you know what we should do?” After listening to the idea, the other obviously replied “That’s a feckkkkin’ great idea!” Well, guess what? They actually did it, and the result is exactly what you might expect from a book with this moniker. Subtitled 50 Must-do Things, this tome is part handy-dandy travel guide and part Irish-Kerouac On the Road, meaning that the drinking likely didn’t stop with the initial idea. Au contraire, the work is so casually composed that you will feel like you are raising a glass or two with the boys themselves. An absolutely brilliant read.
By Linden MacIntyre
Harper Collins / 384 pp / $32.99
True to his Cape Breton roots, Canadian journalist and author Linden MacIntyre might be one of the finest storytellers that this country has ever produced. His latest effort, The Wake, certainly goes a long way towards cementing that legacy. After an earthquake shook Newfoundland in 1929, a massive tsunami swept over the shores of the province’s Burin Peninsula leaving 28 people dead, with hundreds more dying in the years to follow. An economic and ecological disaster, the tragedy was made worse by the ensuing exploitation of area fisherman who were desperate to find work and feed their families. More than a mere portrait of people and place, The Wake serves as a timely, relevant reminder of the evil that lurks in the heart of humanity.
Wild Atlantic Way
By Giles Norman
O’Brien Press / 160 pp / €35
For those who have traversed Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, the stirring hues of the country’s plush western shores are obvious; the great greens of the land and the deep blues of the sea are a kaleidoscope of colour, rich in texture. Award-winning Irish photographer Giles Norman brings readers another perspective of the region, capturing the stunning scenery in shades with this bountiful barrage of black and white images. Peppered with notes and text – and covering 2500 kilometers of rugged coastline from Kinsale to Donegal – the table-top tome captures and conveys the sheer physical beauty of intimate inlets, towering cliffs and windswept beaches. Look close enough and you will see and feel the wild spirit of those who have inhabited the land for generations.
Bruised, Never Broken
By Phil Coulter
Gill Books / 304 pp / $22.99
A modern Renaissance man, legendary composer, arranger, producer and performer Phil Coulter can now add author to his resume. The native of Derry, Northern Ireland retraces his steps from a child growing up amidst the Troubles of a war-torn town to his early years plying his trade as a struggling musician. After writing a string of hits for the likes of Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard and the Bay City Rollers, Coulter hit full stride, firmly establishing himself as one of the finest artists of his times. Gratefully, and unlike so many other biographies, this memoir keeps a healthy distance from dirt and hearsay. Instead, the scribe simply shares his story, humbly downplaying the huge influence and impact he has had upon generations of younger musicians.
Murder and Other Essays
By David Adams Richards
Penguin / 320 pp / $32.95
David Adams Richards is my favourite Canadian author, and with good reason; rich, robust, dark and dense, both his fiction and non-fiction works are thought-provoking and challenge readers’ perspectives. Such is the case with his most recent release, Murder and Other Essays. Poignant and powerful, this collage of conceptual visages covers a number of topics, including (obviously) murder, marriage, traveling, nature and even his beloved sport of hockey. Though the pieces sit well independent of one another, the scribe masterfully weaves the thread of truth through the tome, tying seemingly loose ends to one another to create a complete read. As a bonus, the book includes a number of the Richards’ poems, offering further insight into the mind, heart and soul of a literary lion.
Flight of the Highlanders; The Making of Canada
By Ken McGoogan
Harper Collins / 368pp / $32.99
Bestselling author, and regular Celtic Life International contributor Ken McGoogan, deep dives into the historical horror of Scottish Highlanders in this terrific and timely tome. Spanning over a century, the scribe chronicles the terrible injustices brought on to families and communities by the British following the 1746 Battle of Culloden. While the cultural genocide of the Clearances showed the Brits at their worst, it brought out the best in the Scots, with tens of thousands of them setting sail for the New World and settling into new lives. More than a mere lesson in history, Flight of the Highlanders showcases the spirit of a people who sacrificed everything to preserve their culture and who were at the very core of constructing a new national identity.
Broken Man on a Halifax Pier
By Lesley Choyce
Dundurn / 320pp / $21.99
Fellow Celtic Life International contributor Lesley Choyce might well be the most prolific author in Canadian history – and perhaps in all literary history – having written almost 100 books across a variety of genres. His latest effort, Broken Man on a Halifax Pier takes its title from Stan Roger’s epic song Barrett’s Privateers, and is equally moving and melodic in both its sweep and scope. The story of a chance encounter between a down-and-out middle-aged man and a younger, wise-beyond-her-years woman, the Nova Scotia-based narrative takes a number of interesting twists and turns as the pair revisit his small hometown. Introspective and revealing, the novel is reminiscent of Hesse’s seminal work Steppenwolf in both its medium and message. A poignant, powerful perspective on life.
As Time Goes By
By Alice Taylor
O’Brien / 240pp / €19.99
When Irish author Alice Taylor turned 80 this past January, she marked the occasion with a series of personal and profound musings and reflections. The resulting effort, As Time Goes By, is a selection of sweet and savoury short stories that succeed at capturing and conveying the mixed emotions that come with approaching one’s twilight years. Warm, witty and wise, the work is more than a journal or personal diary; instead, the scribe details the world around her – particularly the people that populate her tiny home village of Inishannon – and, in the process, paints a stirring portrait of life in the Emerald Isle’s quant countryside. Though Taylor shows no signs of slowing down, the book could close her career with a convincing coda.
Noel Cunningham’s Guide to Modern Irish Manners
By Noel Cunningham
O’Brien Press / 208pp / $29.99
I love quirky books, and I wish to extend my heartfelt thanks to the good folks at O’Brien Press for a.) having the wherewithal to publish this tome and b.) making it magically appear in my mailbox. Renowned hotelier, media darling, and Donegal native Noel Cunningham brings manners to the masses with this modern-day take on etiquette. Subtitled ‘Navigate Irish Life with Style’ – though fitting for folks from all walks of life – this guiling guide covers everything from what to wear for all occasions, proper protocol for travel, popping the question, at-home hospitality, multicultural customs and more. True to form, the author does so in fine style, with grace, dignity, and a homespun humour that will keep readers smiling from Éire to ear.
The Fire Starters
By Jan Carson
Doubleday / 304pp / $19.95
Given the threat of renewed violence in Northern Ireland with the advent of Brexit, the timing could not be better for this captivating work of magical realism. Set 16 years after “the Troubles” amidst the political and spiritual vacuum of Loyalist East Belfast, The Fire Starters tells twin tales – one of a man’s difficult relationship with his activist son, and the other of father’s bizarre back-and-forth with his newborn daughter. Surreal in scope and scale, the narrative does well to explore the ideas of both personal and community identity – as parents and as members of a time-honoured tribe. Like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carson challenges readers’ perspectives, enticing us into a brave new world with a compositional style that is both bold and unique.
Scottish Island Bagging
By Paul and Helen Webster
Vertebrate Publishing / 256pp / £17.99
While the title alone is worth the price of admission, Scottish Island Bagging is a must read for anyone with an interest in exploring both the best known and least travelled of Scotland’s many gorgeous islets. Husband and wife team Paul and Helen Webster share their passion for perusing the picturesque with this terrific tome of travel, trails and tales. Detailing regional history and topography, with tidbits on flora and fauna and trivia on local characters and cuisine, and generously peppered with stunning images and colour illustrations, the work takes readers along for a wild ride, reminding us that there is far more to “ye’ old country’ than the urbanity of Edinburgh or Glasgow. An inspired read that will be sure to inspire future visitors.
By Claire Mahoney & Haydn Denman
Dovetail Communication / 152pp / £25
Perhaps the finest work to detail the Mod movement of the 1960s since The Who’s masterful Quadrophenia, Welsh Mod is more than a mere retrospective indulgence. Subtitled “Documenting the Roots and Revival of the Subculture in Wales,” this table-top tome is a powerful, profound and poignant portrait of a people and place in transition. Author Claire Mahoney and photographer Haydn Denman have succeeded in capturing a culture at a crossroads as this Celtic nation came of age in the mid-20th century – a clash of identity that opened the door on the reinvention of a nation. As it is in neighbouring England, Ireland and Scotland, those reverberations are still being felt today. As such, Mod is living proof that style is never out of fashion.
By Joan & Ray Stagles
O’Brien Press / 240pp / £17.99
On a rare clear day, you can see the beautiful Blasket Islands off the plush southwest coast of Ireland. The view is both spectacular and surreal, inspiring the imagination to soar with lore of yore. Authors Joan and Ray Stagles have gone further, detailing the history and culture of a people that once inhabited the long-abandoned locale. Well written, with accompanying images and illustrations, the work brings to mind the fragility of community, and that – as Great Blasket Island did in 1952 – homesteads and histories can be dropped and left for dead anytime. Thankfully, as is the case here, those memories can be kept alive for future generations. An important work, and an essential read for those with a passion for Eire’s past.
By Kimberly Jordan Reeman
Authorhouse / 732pp / £8.99
Truth be told, upon completion of Coronach – the new paperback reissue of the terrific 2007 tale of Scotland’s Highland genocide – I struggled for words. I could describe the novel’s soaring and sweeping storyline. I could outline the historical, political, military, and socio-cultural context within which that storyline unfolds. I could detail the larger-than-life lives of those who inhabit that context. I could characterize the scribe’s writing as clean and clear and concise. I could signal the significance of the work for modern audiences. I could explain why a book such as this is a worthwhile investment of time and headspace, or why it will tug on heartstrings. Truth be told, however, upon completion of Coronoch, I struggled for words. Except, perhaps, one; EPIC.
By John McClintock
Shanway Press / 396pp / £8.99
Those with an abiding interest in the Troubles, or those who are simply searching for a solid summer read, need look no further. Set against the shaky backdrop of Northern Ireland following the 1998 Peace Accord, Finding Arthur is the fictional story of one man’s efforts to keep the goodwill going despite all odds. When a gang of political murderers are released from prison, they effort to extract revenge from the journalist responsible for their internment. DI Quinn is assigned to keep watch on the ex-cons. Weaving and winding its way through the main streets and back-alleys of Belfast and the countryside of County Down, the pulp-fictionesque narrative provides a powerful and poignant portrait of a people and place caught in the crossfire of conflict.
By Gregor Adamson
Neil Wilson Publishing / 208pp / £14.99
Arran Water refers to whisky distilled illicitly on the Isle of Arran during the heydays of smuggling in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Scotland. The product, practice and period have all long been lost in the shadow of the country’s whisky giants. Until now. Author, historian – and Isle of Arran native – Gregor Adamson has done remarkable research, rooting through the region’s records to reveal the rise and demise of the illegal industry. Along with a deep dive detailing of economic, political and cultural conditions of the era, the scribe outlines the bitter conflict between the smugglers and government taxmen. More than a spirited history lesson, the book offers insight into the spirit of a people who would not be broken.
By Archie & Anne MacEachern
Whittles Publishing / 208pp / £18.99
Subtitled The Life and Times of a Scottish Lightkeeper – and illustrated with 25 colour photos, eight drawings and water colour sketches, 40 black and white photographs, and a detailed regional map – Archie’s Lights chronicles one man’s 67 years of service by the sea, the last of three generations of family lighthouse keepers. A selection of short stories, personal musings, unique observations and more, the quirky work covers everything from astounding accounts of shipwrecked sailors and WWII espionage to lively encounters with both locals and local livestock. All the while, MacEachern dutifully manned his post and raised a family. Warm, witty, wise and wonderful, the book is akin to sitting by the home hearth listening to Grandfather’s tall and terrific tales of bygone eras.
By Vawn Corrigan
O’Brien Press / 168pp / €12.99
Subtitled History, Tradition, Fashion, Irish Aran is the first in a new series of pocketbooks published by O’Brien Press that celebrate the country’s rich and robust heritage. Like the world-renowned sweater itself, the hardcover work is solid, steady, sturdy, and ready for everyday use. Woven with tidbits and trivia, dates and places, old and new photographs, and a sweeping overview of the tradition and cultural significance of the famed pullover, the narrative offers a fascinating insight into the history of both a people and a place. As such, and like the plush cluster of islands off Eire’s western coastline, the book is timeless in its exploration of a customary craft. As is said in those parts, the Irish don’t just write poetry, they knit it.
Searching For Hope
By Caroline M. Smart with John E. Walsh
Price-Patterson / 110pp / $19.95
Drawing upon the loss of two of her own sons by suicide, author Caroline M. Smart seeks some sort of silver lining from the sadness with Searching For Hope. Subtitled Survivors of Suicide Break Their Silence, the powerful and poignant paperback shares personal stories, professional opinion, statistics and a slew of available resources for those left behind in an effort to end both the pain and the stigma attached to the horrific and senseless act of self-murder. En route, Smart opens up about her own experiences, before, during and after the events that shook her world decades ago. Informative, inspiring and an invaluable source for survivors, the work is a reminder that courage is not an absence of fear, but rather a resistance to it.
Traditional Irish Cooking For Today
By Brian McDermott
O’Brien Press / 80pp / €9.99
We have featured the food philosophy and recipes of Eire’s Brian McDermott in our publication many times, and with good reason; no one better sources and prepares fresh, local ingredients than the Donegal chef extraordinaire. His latest collection, Traditional Irish Cooking For Today, brings old-school gastronomy to new places with fresh ideas for breakfast, brunch, breads, soups, salads, fish, meat, dairy and desserts. Combining classic and contemporary cuisine, McDermott not only pieces the plates together, but provides some historical context to each. The result is more than a cookbook; the work is a testament to the country’s appetite for culture. And, if the mouth-watering recipes don’t get you, the scrumptious colour photographs will surely whet your whistle. This is “food porn” at its very finest.
Commander Gander Goes to Come From Away
By Dawn Baker
Flanker Press / 36pp / $14.95
Inspired by a trip to New York City to see the multi award-winning musical Come From Away, Newfoundland author and illustrator Dawn Baker relays the enthusiasm of her experience in this short and sweet tale of one penguin’s (or puffin’s) recounting of the efforts of the residents of Gander, NL, who hosted thousands of re-routed airline passengers during the attacks of 9/11. Along the way, our protagonist – Commander Gander – revisits the event with a revised perspective and renewed sense of gratitude for his hometown. One of the most accomplished visual artists to come from Atlantic Canada, Baker colourfully captures and conveys the spirit of both the “The Rock” and “The Big Apple” with a work that will appeal to readers of all ages.
From the Air ~ Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way
By Raymond Fogarty
O’Brien Press / 96 pp / €9.99
Though weighing in at just 96 pages, From the Air doesn’t pull any punches with this overland overview of the Emerald Isle’s 2500-kilometer route along the country’s gorgeous western coastline. From Cork in the south to Donegal in the north – and all points in between – the tiny tabletop tome serves up a swath of unique, high-altitude looks at Eire’s mostly untouched landscape. Along with stunning photographs of both well-known and out-of-the-way spots, author Raymond Fogerty doles out tidbits of trivia, historical information and travel tips that will entertain, engage and educate readers. This is an ideal introduction and invitation to the region for those who have yet to visit, and a reminder to those who have of what the area has to offer.
Reconstructions; The Troubles in Photographs and Words
Words by Steafán Hanvey / Photographs by Bobbie Hanvey
Merrion Press / 155 pp / €19.99
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a single word can bring a thousand pictures to life. Such is the case with Reconstructions, a collection of powerful and poignant portraits and poetry inspired by the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Father and son Bobbie and Steafán Hanvey have done well to capture and convey the violence, anger, sorrow and suffering brought on during the 30-year civil war. Credit the duo for their non-partisanship; both the stark words and dark images detail the devastation done to communities on both sides of the political and religious divide. Given the recent difficulties brought on by Brexit, the work is a chilling reminder that those who do not learn from the past may be doomed to repeat it.
Just Help Yourself
By Vernon Hopkins
Seren Books / 376 pp / €9.99
Originally published in 2013, this tell-all account of Welsh singer and sex symbol Tom Jones’ early years in the music industry is well-deserving of the reissue. As the bass guitarist and founder of Jones’ first band The Senators (later The Squires), author Vernon Hopkins takes readers backstage and behind-the-scenes, from the group’s early days playing rough ‘n’ tumble Pontypridd nightclubs to later successes strutting their stuff during London’s “swinging sixties” era. Along the way, the band fall prey to the pitfalls of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, until the bottom falls out completely. By turns tender and tough, funny and unforgiving, the tale of minor-league excess is more than a memoir; it is an important and in-depth look at a magical time and place.
Claimed by the Highlander
By Anne Morrison
Kindle / 576 pp / $.99
Given the immense, and well-deserved, popularity of Diane Gabaldon’s Outlander book and television series, it should come as no surprise that the marketplace is now awash in copycat Highlander pulp. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but I am pretty sure that the highly-esteemed Ms. Gabaldon would not appreciate this complete waste of 99 cents, time and headspace. Let me be even more blunt; while author Anne Morrison may enjoy some popular appeal, Claimed by the Highlander is terribly written, with a pathetic plotline, brutal narrative arc, insufferable dialogue, embarrassing character development, and might be the biggest pile of shite that I have ever laid my eyes upon. And the worst part of it is that I couldn’t put the damn thing down.
Being New York, Being Irish
Edited by Terry Golway
Irish Academic Press / 210 pp / $29.99
Like the Italians and Jews, the Irish arrived in New York City with little other than the clothes on their backs. More than a century later, those of Irish descent are now firmly entrenched in the city’s vast human ecosystem. With contributions from both sides of the Atlantic – and from the likes of renowned writers Seamus Heaney, Colm Tóibín, Alice McDermott, Colum McCann, Dan Barry and more – Being New York, Being Irish is a collage of contemporary stories, essays, poems and the like that merge to mold a modern perspective on The Big Apple. The result is a brilliant and bold book that may be long on longing, but short on nostalgia. Alas, that ache from afar continues to flow in both directions.
By Nuala O’Connor
G.P. Putnam’s Sons / 384 pp / $25
How or why this warm and witty novel ended up on the bottom of my book pile is beyond me. Perhaps I already knew that the story of a Victorian-era feminist in London would sweep me away for hours of engaging reading. Maybe I foresaw getting caught-up in the tale of two bohemian sisters who take the city by storm with their daring double dancing act. Perhaps I predicted pangs of jealousy as the novel’s pretty protagonist Belle falls for a high-society Viscount, later troubled by her hardnosed father-in-law’s efforts to stifle her spirit. It is possible that I knew, in advance, that once I picked the book up I would not want to put it down or to end. Turns out I was right.
The River Shannon; Ireland’s Majestic Waterway
By Carsten Krieger
O’Brien Press / 176 pp / €24.99
Irish photographer Carsten Kreiger cut his teeth capturing the Emerald Isle’s lush landscape over the course of half-a-dozen critically-acclaimed table-top tomes. His latest hardcover effort is another sojourn of sorts, this time a backdoor, behind-the-scenes stomp along Eire’s famed western waterway. Between the stunning imagery and the tidbits of text and trivia, the work frames both the life of – and life on – the 360km-long River Shannon, from its source at the Cavan-Fermanagh border to its mouth by Kerry Head. Along the way, readers pass through small, time-stand-still villages where locals and their families have resided for generations. Unlike many of his contemporaries, however, the artist has little interest in the Ireland of yore, instead offering a fresh look at the country’s rural beauty.
Walk East Until I Die
By Mike Pinnock
YPD Books / 330 pp / €9.99
Subtitled A Trek Through Irish History and Beyond, Walk East Until I Die details the fascinating foray of one man’s efforts to hike Europe’s E8 path. At the age 0f 67, retired engineer Mike Pinnock began his earthly expedition on Dursey Island, Co. Cork, Ireland. Accompanied only by his wife in the couple’s campervan, the author wove and wound his way to Dublin, all the while recording his impressions of the Emerald Isle. The end result is more than a first-foot account of Irish history and culture, however; by journey’s end, Pinnock bares his soul, uncovering a rich inner empire of thoughts, memories, moods and emotions. With the goal of reaching Istanbul by the age of 87, readers have much more to look forward to.
Bold, Brilliant and Bad
By Marian Broderick
O’Brien Press / 304 pp / €16.99
Most know better than to mess with an Irish girl; their gentle veneer and charming disposition often guise the heart of a fierce warrior. That feisty spirit is showcased is spades with Bold, Brilliant and Bad. Subtitled Irish Women from History, this terrific tome shines the spotlight on over 120 of the Emerald Isle’s finest fiery females, from artists and athletes to activists, politicians, religious figures and more. Peppered with photos and tidbits of trivia, the work is a visage of biographical threads, well-spun into a tapestry of social revolution. Author Marian Broderick does well to pick up where she left off with her previous effort, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives from History, making it another must-read for those with a passion for Eire’s history.
By Richard O’Rawe
Irish Academic Press / 270 pp / €14.99
Although little good came from The Troubles in Northern Ireland, the 30-year conflict did leave vapour trails of creativity in its horrific wake, including brilliant music, powerful visual art, and a litany of excellent literature. Former IRA man Richard (Ricky) O’Rawe has enjoyed both critical and popular acclaim for his three previous works of non-fiction, including the bestselling In the Name of the Son: the Gerry Conlon Story. His debut novel, Northern Heist, is the stirring and surprising story of a Belfast bank robbery, and the desperate men who made it happen. Interestingly, with a deluge of detailed twists and turns, the narrative reads more like fact than fiction. Who better to tell the tale then, than someone who has been there and done that?
And Life Lights Up
By Alice Taylor
Brandon Press / 208 pp / €19.99
Bestselling author and Irish celebrity Alice Taylor stays close to home with this thoughtful treatise on mindfulness and gratitude. Through a series of personal observations taken from her daily life, the author invites readers to renew their perspectives on the people, places, and things that define who we are. These are not first-time lessons designed to awaken long-dormant thoughts and feelings, but rather gentle reminders on how to stay in the here and now to better develop a deeper appreciation of life. The work brings to mind the ages-old adage that “the past is history, the future a mystery, and today – well lived – is a gift, and that is why we call it the present.” My mother is going to love this book!
Big Tom; the King of Irish Country
By Tom Gilmore
O’Brien Press / 256 pp / €19.99
Often called “the Johnny Cash of Irish country music,” Big Tom McBride entertained audiences at home on the Emerald Isle and abroad for more than 50 years. With over two-dozen live and studio recordings to his name, as well as several concert DVDs, many credit him with single-handedly bringing the twang to Eire. The Castleblaney, Co. Monghan native – who passed this past April – finally gets his due with this entertaining and engaging biography. Drawn from interviews with the man himself, as well as with his family, friends, peers and musical luminaries, the work does well to paint a portrait of a talented, and sometimes troubled, artist who lived as he sang, with passion and purpose. An insightful look at one of Ireland’s inspiring individuals.
In The Region of the Summer Stars
By Stephen R. Lawhead
Tor Books / 336 pp / $25.99
Fans of Lawhead’s previous series of historical fiction have been waiting with bated breath for his much-anticipated Celtic fantasy chronicles, Eirlandia. Readers will be thrilled to know that Book 1 in the new series doesn’t disappoint. All of the elements of epic storytelling are in place here; hero/protagonist, attacks from invading armies, curses, the supernatural, suspense, drama, etc – think Game of Thrones on steroids. Some critics may complain that the soaring narrative arc and vividly descriptive characterizations and passages might be a bit over-the-top, but as most readers will agree – with fantasy literature of any sort, obviousness is an asset. This is a quick and fun read, with real possibilities for spectacular sequels. Hopefully, this will one day make it into movie theatres. ~ SPC
Brian McDermott’s Donegal Table
By Brian McDermott
O’Brien Press / 192 pp / €19.99
If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be Donegal on Ireland’s stunning northwest coast; lush landscape, warm and wonderful people, and the finest and freshest food on the planet. Chef McDermott does well to capture all of the above –abetted with a wry Irish smile and sense of humour – with this terrific table-top tome. As one of twelve children, McDermott knows his way around the kitchen, and the lessons imparted from his mother have served his career well; local produce, combined with simple and traditional homespun recipes, equals meals that are both tasty and healthy. More than ‘food porn’ or pseudo-hipster cuisine, however, the book is a profound portrait of a people that have mastered fare from both sea and land. ~ SPC
Testimonies of Transition
By Marjory Harper
Luath Press / 224 pp / £16.95
Those with an interest in roots, routes and resettlement will enjoy Dr. Marjory Harper’s latest look at migratory patterns. Subtitled Voices from the Scottish Diaspora, the author goes beyond academia to explore the all-too-human side of emigration in the 2oth century. While the facts and figures are in place – indeed, they are essential – it is Harper’s recounting of the stories of men, women and children who have left ‘ye’ old country’ that leave the greatest impression; and though those tales of transition might differ from person to person, the emotional impact of their displacement sounds very similar. The book is filled with beauty, joy and hope, however, especially amongst ‘returners’ who have successfully navigated their way home after years of longing and lament. ~ SPC
The Boy Patrick
By Patrick O’Brien
Celtic Collective / $20
A unique multi-media project from multi-disciplinary artist Patrick O’Brien and The Celtic Collective, The Boy Patrick shares the story of the young saint in a variety of formats; the short graphic novel features 10 chapters that capture and convey major events in the child’s life, while the companion, 10-song CD features a who’s-who of Irish musicians – many whom have performed with Riverdance – playing a myriad of traditional instruments. The result is a ‘holistic’ experience that would serve as a wonderful learning tool for educational institutions, or parents, looking to bring their young ones up to speed on a vital figure in Eire’s rich history. To that end, the project opens the door for further interesting and interactive studies of the country’s rich past. ~ SPC
Follow the Old Road
By Jo Kerrigan & Richard Mills
O’Brien Press / 304 pp / €16.99
Journalists for both the Irish Examiner and the Evening Echo, Jo Kerrigan and Richard Mills were each born and raised in quaint West Cork on the Emerald Isle. Their first-hand experience with the country’s rich and robust heritage is on full display in this terrific tome. With a strong balance of text and photographs, the prolific pair captures and conveys the spirit of the island’s past – and its people – finding the essence of each in both Eire’s better-known spots and its many quirky nooks and crannies. The result is more than a look back at ‘ye’ old country’ – instead, as the past permeates the present, readers are reminded why Ireland is what it is today. A wonderful work that will surely inspire.
Ireland’s Pirate Trail
By Des Ekin
O’Brien Press / 368 pp / €16.99
More history lessons here from the folks at O’Brien Press in Dublin. This time, Northern Ireland journalist Des Ekin hops in his car and tours the Irish coastline looking for pirates. Drawing from local and area records, empirical evidence, passed-down oral accounts and more, the author does well to piece together a puzzling part of the country’s swashbuckling past. Equally engaging is Ekin’s personal touch; at times, the work reads like a diary of sorts, chronicling the scribe’s own insights, opinions, impressions, and emotions – as good travel writing should – inviting readers along for the ride. While the Emerald Isle enjoys a tremendous mythology of pirating both at home and away, much as it was for the buccaneers themselves, the journey is the destination.
Ràithean airson Sireadh / Seasons for Seeking
By Lewis MacKinnon
112 pp / $15.99
Nova Scotia’s Lewis MacKinnon has done more to preserve and promote the Gaelic language than anyone, single-handedly carrying the torch of cultural tradition via a variety of mediums. His latest effort – and fourth book of Scottish Gaelic poetry – Ràithean airson Sireadh / Seasons for Seeking is a beautifully blended and bilingual selection of the scribe’s own stanzas mixed with interpretations of the work of 13th century Persian poet and mystic Rumi. The clever collage comes across like a spiritual smorgasbord of sorts, with ideas and emotions jumping out at readers from each page. Neither for the faint of heart nor the empty of head, the well-crafted collection will certainly challenge audiences to reconsider their perspectives on the value of language, poetry, and life.
Celtic Cosmology and the Otherworld
By Sharon Paice MacLeod
McFarland Books / 277 pp / $39.95
Although the ethereal nature of the subject matter might leave some with questions or flat-out doubt, there is simply no denying author Sharon Paice MacLeod’s qualifications; the Harvard-trained Celticist has taught Celtic literature, mythology, and folklore in universities for many years, and she is a renowned expert on Celtic religion and belief, early Irish and Welsh poetry and wisdom texts, cosmology, and visionary traditions. Using the most recently available research and linguistic translations to update readers – both everyday and academic – the scribe takes a fresh look at the beliefs and practices of the Celtic peoples during the Iron Age. Those with a passion for creation myths, cosmology, deities, priests, priestesses, and the rites of ancient magic will find the tome both insightful and illuminating.
By David Adams Richards
Doubleday / 420pp / $34.99
The ‘Bard of the Miramichi’ is back with his best novel is more than a decade. Exploring the larger themes of power, loss, remorse, conscience, and redemption, Canada’s finest scribe (and newly-appointed Senator) David Adams Richards takes readers from the slums of South America to the east coast tributaries of his native New Brunswick. When a young boy is found dead in Mary Cyr’s hotel room in Mexico, the trail of justice uncovers the dark and murky depths of her family’s fortune. En route, Officer John Delano – familiar to readers from the author’s previous works – uncovers corporate corruption, and wrestles with the demons of his own past. A stirring and powerful narrative that further cement’s Richard’s legacy as the country’s finest literary craftsman.
Beyond The Pale
By Clare O’ Donohue
Midnight Books / 360pp / $15.99
It’s been a creative whirlwind for Irish-American author Clare O’ Donohue since the release of her debut novel in 2008. The past decade has seen success for both her ‘Kate Conway’ and ‘Someday Quilts’ mystery series, with each book outselling the previous as her following flourishes. Her latest work, Beyond The Pale, signals the start of a new series. In the book, two college professors are recruited by Interpol to secure a valuable manuscript in Ireland. A simple assignment quickly twists and turns for the worse, however, as the pair are tracked by an unknown assailant. As with the author’s previous efforts, the strong narrative arc carries readers along for the suspense-filled ride. Look for this one atop the bestseller list in the coming months.
The Wolfe Tones Phenomenon
By Alex Fell
Choice Publishing / 194pp / €20.00
It is almost incredulous that a proper telling of the role of one of the Emerald Isle’s greatest folk bands hasn’t been told until now. With over two dozen live and studio recordings of Irish rebel music to its name the Dublin-based band continues to influence countless artists both at home and abroad. Thankfully, author Alex Fell has written more than a simple biography, instead placing the sometimes-controversial band and its vast volume of work within the context of Eire’s social, political, and economic upheaval of the past half-century. The result is an insightful, important work that is both academic and accessible, and can be enjoyed by readers young, old, and in-between. More pertinently, perhaps, the tome will inspire audiences to revisit the group’s music.
Heaven Help Us
By Jo Macleod
TellWell / 418pp
Self-described as “a modern day ghost story, inspired by true events,” Heaven Help Us is proof that truth is stranger than fiction, and that the best stories contain both. More than magical realism, the other-worldly tale of two Irish siblings and their mother meeting in the after-life – and an ensuing ‘spirit rescue’ with the help of a modern-day intuitive – is a masterly woven tapestry of supernatual threads. Canadian author Jo Macleod – who was born in Scotland and later studied spiritualism on the Isle of Man – draws upon her own experiences to construct and connect the dots between the physical and metaphysical, inviting readers to suspend their disbelief as they venture into the paranormal. A work that is both beautiful and evocative.
In the Name of the Son; the Gerry Conlon Story
By Richard O’Rawe
Merrion Press / 252 pp / €13.99
After fifteen years of wrongful imprisonment for the 1974 bombing of the Guildford Pub, Gerry Conlon blew almost €1 million of British government compensation money in just five years. Broke, broken, addicted, alcoholic, and suicidal, the former Falls Road resident hit rock bottom. Before dying of lung cancer in 2014, Conlon rebuilt his life, becoming a leading civil rights activist both at home and abroad. Though his legal struggle was masterfully told in the 1993 film In the Name of the Father, Conlon’s childhood friend Richard O’Rawe gives us a stirring glimpse of the man behind the myth. More than a rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches story, and forwarded by Johnny Depp, the book paints a powerful portrait of a people and place during Northern Ireland’s most troubled times.
By E.M. Reapy
Trafalgar Square Publishing / 364 pp / $22.95
First published in 2016 to great critical and popular acclaim, and recently released in North America, Elizabeth Reamy’s first full length novel follows the trials and tribulations of three Irish ex-pats in Australia as they drift from job to job, and from place to place, in search of identity and belonging. The Mayo-born, Belfast-educated author does well to capture and convey both ideas and emotions, as the trio comes to terms with a horrific act of cruelty in the arid outback down-under, leaving them shattered and longing for the comforts and familiarity of the Emerald Isle. Despite the wild ride, this isn’t a comely Celtic version of On The Road; instead, the award-winning, coming-of-age narrative explores the seedy underbelly of transience, vice, guilt, and shame.
By Berhard Maier
Edinburgh University Press / 392 pp / €19.99
A professor of Religious Studies and the European History of Religions at the University of Tubingen, and former professor in Celtic at the University of Aberdeen, Bernhard Maier is the world’s foremost authority on Celtic history. Originally published in 2000, and newly available as an updated second edition, the voluminous tome remains the definitive document on the subject. Divided into three parts, and accentuated with maps, sketches, photos, chronologies, footnotes, and more, the author draws on archaeological, historical, literary and linguistic evidence to offer readers a comprehensive overview, from past to present. Though not for the faint of head or heart, the work is an essential read for anyone wishing to better understand the Celtic people’s profound impact and their place in the world today.
Living the Dream
By Daniel O’Donnell
O’Brien Press / 256 pp / €19.99
Although younger listeners likely have no time, nor appreciation, for Irish crooner Daniel O’Donnell, there is no denying his immense vocal talent – nor, apparently, his writing skills. While many musical autobiographies are chock full of ego and self-promotion, Living the Dream is – like the man himself – humble, honest, heartfelt and humorous. From modest roots to the biggest stages, O’Donnell focuses less upon himself, and more upon the people and places that have had a profound impact on his profession. When he does share his thoughts and feelings, it is fashioned in the most Irish of ways; with warmth, wisdom and wit. Hardcore fans will welcome the work, and young readers will develop a new appreciation for both the man and his music.
Kerry: The Beautiful Kingdom
By John Wesson
O’Brien Press / 160 pp / €24.99
No visit to the Emerald Isle is complete without a trip through time in Kerry. Eire’s southwestern-most county is plush with fields of green, peppered with history and heritage, and rimmed by a rugged coastline. Photographer John Wesson, a native of Kerry, does well to capture and convey the breathtaking beauty and timelessness of the ancient land and its people with this stirring selection of both colour and black and white images. Touched up with tidbits of text, the table-top tome does more than reveal a wild, windswept landscape – it weaves its way into the area’s many lesser-known nooks and crannies to uncover the minute, though equally stunning, details that too often go unnoticed. The result is a bigger picture of the beautiful kingdom.
UVF: Behind the Mask
By Aaron Edwards
Irish Academic Press / 420 pp / €17.99
A Senior Lecturer in Defence and International Affairs, author Aaron Edwards brings his military and geo-political expertise to The Troubles with this terrific 420 page tome. While the Irish Republican Army (IRA) may have heralded most of the headlines during Northern Ireland’s three decades of civil war – not to mention the majority of support from ex-pats around the world – the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) were equally efficient and effective as a fighting force. Thankfully, Edwards goes beyond the policy and rhetoric of the conflict, instead exposing the humanity of the hostilities through a cast of characters driven by pride and faulty logic; men and women who were more at home teaching schoolchildren or driving a cab than behind the barrel of a gun.
By Matthew Barlow
UBC Press / 249 pp / $85
Montreal’s inner-city Irish Catholic neighbourhood of Griffintown has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts over the last decade. Despite gentrification, the area has not lost its old-world charm. Professor and author Matthew Barlow goes beyond the newly buffed veneer, however, digging deep into the soul and soil of ‘the Grif’ to explore its Irish roots. History and heritage come to life via oral accounts, timeless photographs and a detailed index, to reveal a working-class people whose lives, and environs, were shaped by family, friends, church and community. More than a microscopic account of one particular time and place, the narrative speaks to the plight of the Irish Diaspora who settled and set up shop in spots across the eastern seaboard of the New World for generations.
By Greta McLaughlin
376 pp / $15.95
I am always impressed with authors who self-publish; the time, effort and expense involved in getting one’s work into the market shows real confidence in their narrative. In the case of American author and professor Great McLaughlin, that belief is justified. Set in turn-of-the 20th century Ireland, Celtic Country tells the tale of Katherine O’Keefe of Co. Mayo, and her love affair with a British soldier during the years leading up to Irish independence. As expected, the romance is frowned upon by family and friends, and when he leaves for Scotland she follows her heart across the water. By the time the couple jaunts off to Paris, Cornwall and London, readers will be entwined with patchwork threads of history, both of families and of nations.
A Short History of Irish Traditional Music
By Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin
O’Brien Press / 208 pp / €8.99
Those with a passion, or even a passing interest, in Celtic music will want to pick up this pocket-sized portal into the popular genre’s past. Drawing upon a solid selection of sources – including musicologists, folklorists, historians, and homespun heritage – Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin does well to connect a diversity of notes into a simple, sonic symphony. Along the way, the author details the origins of various instruments and their impact upon the creative palate of both the Emerald Isle and the world – from early settlers gathered round the hearth fires to the global sensation that is Riverdance. More than a mere lesson in Irish musical history, however, the work succeeds in showcasing the country’s political and sociological influence on its melodies, and vice-versa.
Italian Lives, Cape Breton Memories
By Sam Migliore and A. Evo Dipierro
CBU Press / 475 pp / $27.95
First published in 1999 to strong regional acclaim, Italian Lives, Cape Breton Memories has been updated and re-released for a new generation of readers. Much has been documented about Nova Scotia’s strong Celtic roots, particularly the history of Scottish and Irish settlements across the province over the past 250 years. Lesser known is the impact that Italian immigrants have had upon Atlantic Canada, particularly in Cape Breton where they were, and remain, a vital and vibrant voice on the region’s cultural landscape. Spanning 150 years, seasoned with personal tales – equally tragic and triumphant – and spiced with poignant family photographs, the coffee table tome is both a powerful portrait of a people and province in transition, and an important chronicle of Canada’s immigrant experience.
House of Names
By Colm Tóibín
Simon & Shuster / 288 pp / $26
Country Wexford writer Colm Tóibín’s latest effort, House of Names, signals a departure of sorts from his previous, bestselling works Nora Webster and Brooklyn. A contemporary retelling of the Greek tragedy of Clytemnestra and her children, the new book is burning up bestseller lists around the world. And while both the idea for the story and its execution are strong in the hands of the Irish scribe, something simply doesn’t translate from the days of yore. Perhaps it is the thematic overplay of murder, jealousy, revenge and betrayal – or maybe it is the remote and cool nature of the characters. Likely, it is both. As a result, the four-part narrative never quite develops the same level of intimacy found in his past novels. Disappointing.
The Imperial Irish
By Mark G. McGowan
McGill-Queen’s University Press / 429 pp / $39.95
A professor of history at the University of Toronto, and Principal Emeritus at nearby St. Michael’s College, Mark McGowan is a powerhouse in Canadian academic circles. His third full-length work The Imperial Irish; Canada’s Irish Catholics Fight the Great War, 1914-1918, is by turns scholarly and accessible to everyday readers. Extensively researched, and peppered with graphs and detailed end-notes, the hefty tome examines the role played by Irish Catholic Canadians in WWI, both at home and abroad. While there is little doubting the work’s historical and sociological significance, the book’s true buoyancy is found in the personal stories of the individuals involved, and the impact that the early-20th century conflict had upon their lives, those of their families, and the Canadian identity as a whole.
The Fortunate Brother
By Donna Morrissey
Random House / 272 pp / $24.95
One of Canada’s finest writers, Donna Morrissey, returns with her sixth full-length narrative The Fortunate Brother. Though she now resides and works in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Morrissey draws upon her rural Newfoundland roots yet again for this troublesome tale of one family’s tragic loss of their son and sibling, and suspicion surrounding the brutal murder of a local thug on their property. Set in the 1980s, alcohol, illness, and guilt all take leading roles in this dark drama, which will surely do more than merely entertain and engage readers. A teacher by trade and by nature, the acclaimed author succeeds at shedding light on a people and a place that remain suspended, away from the Canadian mainland and mainstream, where time and life stand still.
The First Prince of Wales?
By Sean Davies
University of Wales Press / 176 pp / £14.99
Historian and former BBC journalist Sean Davies brings the past to present with this fresh perspective on one of Wales’ most brilliant leaders, Bleddyn ap Cynfyn, king of Gwynedd and Powys. Through six chapters, the author argues that his subject was more involved with events in England in the years prior to, and following, the Norman invasion of 1066, than was first believed. Through detailed research, and citing new sources, Davies paints the portrait of a master-tactician who skillfully maneuvered his enemies and allies in an effort to restore the kingdom of Wales. An academic by trade, the scribe does well to keep the narrative fluid with maps and other images, providing readers with a more holistic understanding of a powerful man in dangerous times.
Where the Rivers Meet
By Danny Gillis
MacIntyre Purcell Publishing / 276 pp / $19.95
With the likes of Frank MacDonald and Ian Colford praising his work, Nova Scotia journalist, editor and author Danny Gillis is well on his way to establishing himself as a master storyteller and a strong regional voice. Set in a fictional Cape Breton community, Where the Rivers Meet is a powerful, poignant tale of one man’s struggle with religious and racial conflict. Credit the author for capturing local dialect and nuance, bringing a quirky cast of characters to life, and setting a climactic stage with a soaring narrative arc. Like renowned New Brunswick wordsmith David Adams Richards, Gillis skillfully weaves threads of moral dilemma into a fine fabric of intrigue and injustice, allowing the story to tell itself without crossing the fine line of over-dramatization.
The Three Coins
By Christopher Lohan
Friesen Press / 162 pp / $18.99
Every once in a while, a little book will move me in ways that most do not. Forty years in the making, The Three Coins is one man’s love letter to his ancestral homeland. Born in Dublin in 1930, author Christopher (Bob) Lohan moved to Canada at the age of 21. His first work, published at age 86, is a warm, witty tale of two men whose paths cross upon returning to their native Ireland to solve a twenty year-old mystery. An impressive debut, the scribe spins a simple yarn that speaks to both human nature and to the rugged past of two countries. More than that, the work is a moving legacy for a father of five, grandfather of eleven, and great-grandfather of ten.
By Kate Forrester
Chronicle Books / 176pp / $22.95
Illustrator Kate Forrester has done a fantastic job of condensing and conveying these classic Celtic fairy tales and stories of enchantment for readers of all ages. Born of Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Brittany, the 16 ancient yarns are broken down into four core sections; Tricksters, The Sea, Quests, and Romance. Beautifully translated and told, the vignettes coalesce into a collage of mythology over the arc of the work, revealing the deep aural and oral customs of our ancestors. More than a blast from the past, however, the anecdotes set the stage for our contemporary storytelling traditions. Animated and accessible, and an ideal bedtime read for those looking to promote and preserve Celtic culture with their children, the book will ignite the imagination of younger generations.
Dan Daddow’s Cornish Comicalities
By Alan M. Kent
Ryelands Publishing / 496pp / £12.99
Set in the seedy, steamy underbelly of 19th century Cornwall, Dad Daddow’s Cornish Comicalities is the curious account of an impresario’s efforts to thwart off his competition by assembling a rag-tag troupe of has-been performers to bring about greater glories. The results are – as with all great theatre – both comic and tragic, as the clumsy cast of quirky characters find themselves embroiled with the shadowy and sinister side of Victorian-era Europe. A master storyteller, Alan M. Kent brings so many twists and turns to this often-morbid, over-the-top narrative that readers may find themselves doubling back for clarity. Part-Goth, part-Steam punk – and all Broadway Danny Rose – the work is a must read for anyone with an abiding passion for the performing arts. ~SPC
Rather Be the Devil
By Ian Rankin
Orion Books / 384pp / £12.99
I have always wanted to interview Scottish scribe Ian Rankin, if only to uncover how he manages the mélange of complexity and simplicity in his work. Case in point; his latest Inspector John Rebus thriller Rather Be the Devil. On the surface, the straight-up story of an ages-old murder, abuse of power, organized crime and deception makes for an easy and effortless read. Swirling below, though, is a mix of multifarious mental and emotional states, each a murky mass of mood. Perhaps this is at the core of the author’s enduring appeal; by tapping into the dark heart of the psyche, Rankin reveals our shadow self. Like Rebus, we are characters of huge contradictions. Unlike us, however, Rebus embraces, and even welcomes, his many inconsistencies. ~ SPC
VAIR: Ann’s Story
By Gunna Dickson
Virtual Bookworm / 294pp / $14.95
When Scottish-American journalist and author Stewart Dickson passed away in 2011 he left a lasting literary legacy with his first, and only, full length work of fiction. A tale of love, loss and political conspiracy, VAIR screamed out for a sequel. Bravely, the author’s wife gives the narrative – and its many bold, brash characters – a second life with her debut novel. Blond actress Ann Powell, jaded FBI agent John Taylor, beautiful Cuban special agent Emelina Calderon and other familiar figures from VAIR find themselves rewoven like threads into the fabric of international intrigue. Dickson does more than pay homage to her late husband here, however; with Ann’s Story she establishes her own voice, making a place for herself as a great American storyteller. ~SPC
Principles to Live By
By David Adams Richards
Doubleday / 336pp / $32
The ‘Bard of the Miramichi’ is back with perhaps his darkest and densest work in a decade. And while his new narrative is a challenging chew at times – chock full of choice-cut characters, platters of plot twists, and morsels of moral outrage – readers will be both full and fulfilled by novel’s end. Driven by the death of his only child, Officer John Delano sets out to solve the disappearance of another youngster from years past. En route, taking him from Toronto and New York City to the backwoods of New Brunswick and the jungles of Rwanda, the protagonist encounters hyperbole and hypocrisy at every step. Delano maintains his ethical footing on the slippery slopes of justice, however, making this a damn fine read.
Written in My Heart
By Mark Traynor, Emily Carson & Fuchsia MacAree
O’Brien Press / 96pp / €7.99
Hot on the heels of Bloomsday, when the world celebrates the life and love of novelist James Joyce – and the protagonist anti-hero from his epic narrative Ulysses, Leopold Bloom – a trio of Irish writers and illustrators have pieced together the ultimate guide to following in the footsteps of Eire’s greatest bard – literally. Written in My Heart traces the scribe’s daily outings through Dublin, stopping at significant signposts along the way to engage, educate and entertain readers (walkers?) with charming and curious tidbits of historical trivia. Easy-to-read trail maps and imagery accompany bite-sized chapters and paragraphs to shine a light on the acclaimed author, the magnitude of his work, and what it meant to a city on the cusp of a cultural revolution.
The Scottish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook
By Emily McEwan
Bradan Press / 95pp / $12.99
Given the huge popularity of Celtic/Gaelic body art in recent years, McEwan’s helpful handbook couldn’t be better timed. Though a mere 95 pages, the author successfully runs the gamut, covering topics such as translation, pronunciation, spelling, fonts, accents, apostrophes, alphabet, and more. Subject matters, including military service, nationalist sentiment, and love for a partner, are all on the agenda as well. Most pertinently, perhaps, McEwan examines the history and description of the language, along with its current status. A long-standing proponent of Gaelic survival and revival, she continues to make a compelling case for the inclusion of the idiom in everyday affairs. To that end, and as stated, her book could not be better timed, especially for younger people looking for ink about body ink.
Welsh Rugby in the 1970s
By Carolyn Hitt
Gomer Press / 98pp / €7.99
With the recent hooliganism on display at Euro 2016, the adage that soccer is a gentleman’s game played by thugs while rugby is a thug’s game played by gentlemen is more pertinent than ever. It takes the first woman to win the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame Journalist of the Year award, however, to flesh out the essence of that country’s greatest passion, rugby, during its greatest era. Profiles on the game’s finest fly-halfs, centers, wings, and backs – including Gareth Edwards, Barry John, Gerald Davies, Phil Bennett, and Mervyn Davies – are accented with text on tours, national and international play, scores, and colourful photographs. What Hitt does best, however, is capture and convey the unbreakable spirit of a people during an unspeakably harsh time.
Discovering the End of Time
By Donald Harman Akenson
McGill-Queen’s University Press / 548 pp / $39.95
End-of-times advocates and conspiracy theorists will want to get their hands on Akenson’s latest effort of academia, which explores the origins of ‘apocalyptic millennialism.’ Tracing the movement’s roots back to southern Ireland of the early 1800s, the author puts together a detailed – and often disturbing – snapshot of the father of evangelical dispensationalism, John Nelson Darby. A member of Eire’s religious elite, Darby laid the groundwork for Christian Fundamentalism, a set of traditional beliefs adhered to by millions of America citizens. The timing is particularly poignant given the circus-like atmosphere surrounding the ultra-conservative element of the GOP in this U.S. election year. Though dry at times, the work is well worth wading through if only to better understand the dirge of doomsday prophets.
By Rachel Allen
Harper Collins / 320 pp / $29.99
Subtitled ‘Recipes Inspired By Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Coast’, this 320-page tome follows Irish celebrity chef Rachel Allen as she weaves and winds her way up and down Eire’s rugged west coast. Part cookbook, part travel diary, this is more than a mere collection of ingredients, instructions, and individual insights; Coast is peppered with fantastic photos and revealing details that capture and convey the full flavour of a hearty land and its people. In particular, the closing chapter on Donegal – seasoned with regional recipes for Grilled Salmon, Pan Fried Gurnard and Fish Gratin – will leave you salivating for both the local landscape and cuisine. As well, her conversations with area farmers and fishermen offer powerful perspectives on the past, present and future of traditional industries.
Irish Legends; Newgrange, Tara and the Boyne Valley
By Eithne Massey & Lisa Jackson
O’Brien Press / 64 pp / €12.99
Of the seven Celtic nations, Ireland is the richest in legend and lore. After centuries of storytelling, mythology remains at the core of Irish culture today. Thanks to author Eithne Massey and illustrator Lisa Jackson, eight of those magical tales – originally put to pen by medieval Christian monks – will be preserved and passed along to another generation. As the Japanese discovered with anime, vibrant colours and text engage, entertain and educate young readers better than any other medium. Here, imaginations will ignite with stirring stories of The Origin of the Boyne, Aonghus and the Swan Maiden, The Hag of Loughcrew and more. Recommended for youngsters aged 7 and up, this is a fantastic way to introduce children of all ages to classic Celtic culture.
By Susan Hadley Planck
Moonscape / 364 pp / $24.99
Does the skirl of the bagpipes stir your soul? Are your Scottish or Irish roots calling to you? Have you ever wondered what a bagpiper’s life is like? Do you like unusual travel? These questions, and more, are at the heart of bagpiper and storyteller Susan Hadley Planck’s quaint and quirky memoir Piping Hot! A late bloomer on the instrument, Planck made up for lost time by taking her pipes on the road. The resulting tales of travel to the Great Wall of China, Mt. Fujiyama in Japan, South America, Scotland and across the United States, are both amusing and memorable. The author does well to bring readers behind the scenes with a bagpipe band, detailing the unique personalities that carry on the musical tradition.
1916: The Rising Handbook
By Lorcan Collins
O’Brien Press / 240pp / €14.99
With a glut of literature flooding the market in advance of Ireland’s centennial Easter Rising commemorations, there is no shortage of options for those looking to look back on the seminal events of 1916. Thankfully, Irish author, historian and lecturer Lorcan Collins sums it all up neatly with this slim volume of forensic facts, true timelines, listings, and biographies of all involved. Accented with maps, drawings, photographs and newspaper clippings, the bite-sized details are easily digestible, and, added-up, are more than filling for either hardcore readers with a passion for the past or those simply looking to see what all the hype is about. Either way, the author has pieced together the puzzle of an historic time and the people who made that history happen.
O’Brien Press / €14.99
This stunning and stirring 16-book series from Ireland’s foremost publishing house goes well beyond the events leading up to Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising. With individual titles on Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, Michael O’Hanrahan, Edward Daly and twelve others, the collection digs deep into the psychology – and in some cases the psychosis – of the movement’s main players. The idea to have different authors for each book was brilliant, giving the collection a greater sense of variety and vibrancy, as if the writers developed personal relationships with their subjects. With pictures, and more, peppering each edition, the total experience is certainly greater than the sum of its parts. To that end, 16 Lives is addictive, and will bring new meaning to the term “binge reading.”
The K Club Cookbook: Producer to Plate
By Finbarr Higgins
Attic Press / 299pp / $53
Weighing in at 5.5 lbs, and measuring 11” across by 12” high, The K Club Cookbook is 299 pages of pure awesome and delicious. With recipes drawn from a quarter century of exquisite dining at Ireland’s elegant hotel and country club of the same name, this towering tome is a foodie’s delight; along with simple and seasonal instructions and ingredients, author and renowned Irish restaurateur Finbarr Higgins serves up a proper plate-full of photographs that will leave readers drooling and coming back for more. If the main dishes don’t get you, then the desserts most likely will. While not necessarily designed for the kitchen counter, this delectable collection will definitely look great on the coffee table. This is food porn at its absolute finest folks!
My Celtic Journey
By Gerald Herter
Independent / 138pp / $6.99
Suffice to say that American author, journalist – and Celtic Life International contributor – Gerald Herter has never been busier. Since retiring from a successful business career, he and his wife Lori – also a published author – have been pursuing their passion for all things Celtic by way of travel. Here, Herter recounts visits to Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Canada, and across the USA, with warmth, wit, wisdom and a prevailing sense of wonder. Mixing insight, opinion, perspective with emotion and ideas, the author crafts a collage of “Celtisisms” that is both clever and quirky, inviting audiences along for the ride. Along the way, readers come to know the couple personally – something that is often sorely lacking in the wide world of travel writing.
With Our Blessing
By Jo Spain
Quercus / 544pp / $15.99
All of the hype and hoopla surrounding Jo Spain’s debut novel are well deserved. The Irish author hits the nail on the head with this historical thriller that has spent months atop Ireland’s bestseller list. Based upon revelations surrounding the “Magdalene laundries” scandal that haunted the Emerald Isle for generations, Spain has woven threads of fact and fiction into a tight, dim cloak of murder, mystery and intrigue. Characters leap off the page over a soaring narrative arc, where the most miniature of details carry great weight and meaning. Solid dialogue and a quickly paced plot will only heighten readers’ needs to turn the page. Both entertaining and educational, With Our Blessing opens the door on a dark past that can never be closed again.
By Emma Byrne
O’Brien Press / 192pp / €24.99
Multi award winning graphic designer and artist Emma Bynre has a flair for the beautiful. The Co. Wexford native brings her passion for colour, design and tradition together with this warm and wonderful coffee-table tome. Alongside simple and stunning photographs of Irish homes – past and present – tidbits of trivial text recount the history and heritage of both the structures and the area in which they sit. What becomes clear is that Ireland has done well to preserve its past, as evidenced by the growing number of visitors who come to the Emerald Isle each year in search of authentic experience. More than an architectural exercise, Irish Thatch is a series of snapshots into the country’s rich traditions, and the people who lived them.
George Best Will Not Be Playing Today
Edited by Mark Campbell, Jonathan Hamill, Barbara McNarry
Ulster Historical Foundation / 176pp / $49.95
Fans of the “beautiful game” will know that Belfast-born George Best was one of its most beautiful players. Also well-documented were his off-field antics, which were often forgiven for his on-field prowess. On the tenth anniversary of his passing, the Ulster Historical Foundation has pieced together this compelling collection of tributes to a colourful and complex man. Chock full of rare family photos, quotes and notes from friends and fans, sporting memorabilia, and other meaningful mementos, the 176-page hardcover edition offers up a collage of curiosities from those who knew and loved the man. The result is a unique and intimate portrait of a father, son, brother, friend and professional footballer whose lust for life was evident, and sadly, eventually got the better of him.
No Ordinary Women
By Sinead McCoole
O’Brien Press / 320pp / €16.99
With Ireland celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 2016, the spotlight on the individuals and events of that time has never been brighter. While the heroics of Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, Tom Clarke and other revolutionary male figures are well documented, there were as many – if not more – brave women and girls working behind the scenes for the cause. Thankfully, author and historian Sinead McCoole gives them their proper due with this updated series of engaging and enlightening profiles, reminding us that the seeds of Irish independence would not have been sown without the unsung efforts of these female fighters. Most prolific, perhaps, is that the likes of Mary Colum, Maire Nic Shiubhlaigh and Molly O’Reilly pulled double-duty as mothers and housewives.
By Andy Scott
Freight Books / 224 pp / €25.00
The world took notice last year when Scottish sculptor Andy Scott unveiled his two 30-meter, 300-tonne steel horses in Falkirk. For those who have yet to visit Europe’s newest, and largest outdoor art installation, Freight Books gives you the full tour with this terrific table-top tome. With contributions from a number of reputed writers, and generously garnished with a strong, and often surreal selection of both colour and black and white images, the hardcover takes readers behind the sculptural scenes, exploring both the mind and matter of the artist, and placing the work within a larger cultural context. While it’s almost impossible to capture and convey the glory and grandeur of the massive monuments, the work does well to examine the undertaking from all angles.
Reeling Roosters and Dancing Ducks
By Heather Sparling
CBU Press / 357 pp / $19.95
I love that this book was launched at a small fire hall in the remote Nova Scotia community of Christmas Island. After all, where is one more likely to hear Puirt-a-beul – Scottish Gaelic mouth music? And kudos to author Sparling for coming up with a title that is as catchy and quirky as its subject; the toe-tapping, tongue-twisting genre of Gaelic song is as unique a cultural experience as you will find both in ‘New Scotland’ and back home in the Scottish motherland. Years of research, an array of historical references and interviews with Gaelic singers around the world result in a work that is engaging, entertaining, and educational, and one that will be enjoyed by those with a passion for revisiting their roots.
Saint Andrew; Myth, Legend and Reality
By Michael Trb Turnbull
Neil Wilson Press / 186 pp / $16.95
A lot has happened in Scotland since this book was first published in 1997. In this updated edition, educational consultant Michael Trb Turnbull offers up fresh opinions and perspectives on the country’s Patron Saint. From Andrew’s time fishing the Sea of Galilee to modern-day celebrations in his name, the work traces the life of both man and myth, detailing the cultural icon’s impact both at home in Scotland and across the Diaspora. Arguing that both the Saint and Saltire are the country’s most recognizable symbols, the author makes the case that each can be further used as “brand ambassadors” to drive Scotland’s social and economic growth. It might sound heady and academic, but the book is well written and researched, and verily accessible to all.
By Lewis MacKinnon
CBU Press / 120 pp / $14.95
Long a champion of Gaelic history and heritage both in his home province and beyond its shores, author, scholar, musician – and Executive Director of both Nova Scotia’s Gaelic College and its Department of Gaelic Affairs – Lewis MacKinnon brings the language to life with his latest collection of poems. Accompanied by English translations, the forty+ works are equal measure rhyme, rhythm and romance, inviting readers into a culture that is both classic and contemporary at once. Particularly moving are his tender tribute to Irish scribe Seumas Heaney, a kindred homage to Rodney King, and the stirring 3-part “Soul Trilogy.” More than a collage of colourful Gaelic vignettes, however, Intangible Possibilities is a thoughtful and deeply personal exploration of the spirit of a modern Gael.
A Book of Death and Fish
By Ian Stephen
Saraband / 576pp / €18.99
Scottish author, poet and playwright Ian Stephen employs all elements of scribery in his epic debut novel. The tough and tender tale of one middle-aged man’s look back on life after a terminal cancer diagnosis, A Book of Death and Fish explores the bigger themes of love, loss, reflection and regret, through a series of smaller, personal vignettes. And while the protagonist (Peter McAuley) hovers over what was and what could have been via interactions with family members and friends, the author skillfully avoids being over-sentimental. The result is much more than a mere trip down memory lane; the work offers up powerful and poignant perspectives on the modern world, and in particular, Scotland from the 1960s to today. An excellent, enjoyable and engaging read.
The Last Word
By Diarmaid Ó Muirithe
Gill & Macmillan / 304 pp / €19.99
A senior lecturer emeritus at the University College of Dublin, Ó Muirithe is best known as a longtime columnist for the Irish Times. A wise and witty wordsmith by trade, he has penned a number of bestselling books about the use and abuse of the English, Irish and Scottish languages. The Last Word carries on where his previous works left off; exploring the constantly changing linguistic landscape. Traditional British and American English are in danger of extinction he says – albeit with a lighthearted hand – however, it is his examination of the growing continental drift between Irish and Scottish Gaelic that will be of most interest to readers. As always, Ó Muirithe approaches the issues with flair and fancy that is unmatched on the Emerald Isle.
Like Any Other Monday
By Binnie Brennan
Gaspereau Press / 224pp / $27.95
A cellist with the Nova Scotia Symphony Orchestra by trade, Halifax native Binnie Brennan is making beautiful music on the side as a scribe. After her debut novella (Harbour View) and follow-up short-story collection (A Certain Grace) struck chords with both readers and critics, Brennan reaches for the high notes with her first full-length narrative. The story of two failing vaudevillian performers who meet by chance and put together a touring act in early 20th century Canada, Like Any Other Monday explores the dynamic, and often distressed relationship between creative types. Set upon a series of stages, the work does well to transport readers back to the pre-talkies era, when Chaplin and Keaton ruled the entertainment roost with their unique brands of pure physical comedy.
The Irish Beef Book
By Pat Whelan & Katy McGuinness
Gill & Macmillan / 256pp / €18.39
Perhaps more than anyone, the Irish have learned to do more with less – and anyone who grew up in an Irish kitchen knows that no scrap of food was ever to be wasted. That same mindset has gone into The Irish Beef Book. Billed as the definitive guide to buying, preparing and cooking beef, the tasty tome covers all angles from stable to table, nose to tail, with no recipe left unturned. Chapters on proper butchery, culinary culture, history and breeding make for fascinating reading, and the accompanying, mandatory ‘food-porn’ will be sure to make mouths water. Traditional fare takes the day here, though there are contemporary recipes that better reflect the country’s more recent transition to a multicultural society. Definitely not for vegans.
Written in My Own Heart’s Blood
By Diana Gabaldon
Doubleday / 864 pp / $39.95
What’s not to like about the latest installment in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series? Like the previous seven tomes, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood has all the elements for a great read; action, history, romance, mystery, familiar characters and a soaring narrative arc. And where lesser authors might grow weary with this kind of winning formula, Gabaldon thrives as she brings something new to the table with each work; mainstays Claire and Jamie have grown over time, because the author’s ability to tell a great story has evolved. And while much can be said in 864 pages, it is in the things left unsaid where the novelist shines this time around, inviting her loyal and growing audience to fill in the blanks with their imaginations.
Scotland’s Referendum: A Guide for Voters
By Jamie Maxwell and David Torrance
Luath Press / 128pp / €5.99
Having grown up in Montreal during Quebec’s referendum years (1980, 1995), something like this would have come in handy. Scottish journalists Jamie Maxwell and David Torrance examine the coming independence vote from all angles – political, economic, social and cultural – to produce a well-rounded, balanced and objective perspective on what’s at stake on September 18. While facts and figures don’t lie, the most revealing element of this work is the authors’ treatment of the intangibles; the heart-felt desire of a people to stand alone versus the creature comforts of keeping within the confines of the UK. While post-vote outcomes are speculated upon, credit the duo for allowing readers both at home and away to better understand the grey areas that exist between black and white.
Beautiful Landscapes of Ireland
By Carsten Krieger
O’Brien Press / 144pp / €12.99
Those looking to visit the Emerald Isle will want to pick up a copy of Kreiger’s latest effort. Unlike his previous coffee-table sized collections, however, Beautiful Landscapes of Ireland is portable; the paperback edition has been designed specifically for travelers and will fit into any backpack or purse. Awash with amazing and inspiring colour photographs from across all regions of Eire, the book showcases the spectacular and diverse physical beauty inherent to the landscape. In particular, chapters on Donegal, Galway and Kerry are sure to lure visitors to the west coast. With a forward by Dr. Peter Harbison, and text by noted travel writer Muriel Bolger, this might be the only book you need to wind and weave your way through the countryside and coastlines.
Celtic Threads: A Journey in Cape Breton Crafts
By Eveline MacLeod and Daniel W. MacInnes
CBU Press / 176pp / $24.95
Journey is the keyword here, and authors MacLeod and MacInnes have done well to capture, convey and condense centuries of history and heritage into 176 pages. Under the guise of crafting, the authors examine the past and present patterns of Cape Breton customs – including its roots, traditions, tools of the trade, meanings, etc – weaving individual yarns into a vivid temporal tapestry. Accompanied by both colour and black and white photographs, and peppered with sketches, the work’s warm tone welcomes readers into the homes of those who kept the Island’s textile traditions alive. More than a treatise on weaving, however, Celtic Threads is an engaging, enlightening and entertaining examination of culture in Cape Breton, and an insightful look at the rich lives of its people.
By Stewart Dickson
VBW Publishing / 444pp / $15.95
Leith-born writer Stewart Dickson was both world-renowned and well-respected for his contributions to journalism. His experience and eye for detail serves him well in his first and only work of fiction, Vair, a political-historical thriller that takes readers on a wild ride from the Vatican to the USA, the UK and beyond. Engaging, entertaining and educational, this is a thinking-man’s The Da Vinci Code, blurring the line between fact and fiction, and challenging the audience to consider an array of angles and ideas. With solid character development, strong dialogue and a soaring narrative arc, those looking for a great story won’t be able to put it down. The only shame here is that, with the author’s untimely passing in 2011, there will be no sequel.
The Books That Defined Ireland
By Bryan Fanning & Tom Garvin
Irish Academic Press / 274pp / €17.95
Reading more like a fireside chat between friends than the academic exercise of seasoned scholars, The Books That Defined Ireland is a fascinating foray into the psyche of the Emerald Isle. Covering thirty fiction and non-fiction works, and spanning more than 375 years of writing, Fanning and Garvin examine the cultural, social, political and economic evolution of Eire as witnesses to the witnessing of history. Of particular interest are the chapters on Wolfe Tone, James Kavanagh, and Mary Raftery’s seminal work Suffer the Little Children, which helped to blow the lid off the physical and sexual abuse in the country’s industrial school system. Not for the faint of head or heart, but an excellent read for those looking to better understand where they come from.
The Demon’s Call
By Kim Gravell
Troubador Books / 391pp / €9.99
Fans of Diana Gabaldon, Game of Thrones and J.R.R Tolkein will enjoy this haunting jaunt into the paranormal, the first installment of Welsh scribe Kim Gravell’s Dark Places series. Drawing heavily upon Celtic myth and lore, The Demon’s Call is the story of young Aiden Morgan’s adventure into the Unseen Realm, a supernatural domain inhabited by evil entities. Seeking host bodies to carry them over into the Mortal World, the demons prey upon unsuspecting victims in which to dwell. Although listed as adult fantasy fiction, the work is easily accessible to younger readers. A strong debut, and it will be interesting to see where the author can take the storyline from here. It likely won’t be long before we see it on the big screen.
Reading the Gaelic Landscape
By John Murray
Whittles Publishing / 240pp / €16.99
My Uncle Michael, a renowned cartographer and historian, would love this little treasure trove of a book. The author, a Director of Landscape Architecture at the University of Edinburgh, makes full use of maps, charts, diagrams, photos, portraits, poetry, historical data – along with a couple of good yarns – to highlight the rise and fall of the Gaelic language in the Scottish Highlands. Though a wee bit dry at times, the work succeeds at putting a few missing pieces back into a very complex cultural puzzle, bringing the bigger linguistic picture into focus. And, with the renewed interest for the once lost-language in Scotland, Ireland, Canada, the USA and Australia, the work is invaluable for teachers hoping to pass traditions along to younger generations.
By Robert Crawford
Edinburgh University Press / 288pp / £19.99
With Scotland’s referendum on independence only months away, opinions and perspectives are pouring in from all four corners of the globe. Robert Crawford, Professor of Modern Scottish Literature University of St. Andrews, comes out with a unique look – and a resounding NO – in his latest work, the thought-provoking Bannockburns. From the infamous battle of 1314, through the medieval, romantic and industrial ages to today, the author examines the interpretations of the conflict via the pens of poets, novelists and dramatists. Arguing that Scottish scribes have often idealized independence, and thus created a false sense of hope in the collective consciousness of their people, the scholar concludes that a YES vote this September will have a negative impact on Scotland’s economic and cultural landscape. ~ SPC
Lessons From the Northern Ireland Peace Process
Edited by Timothy J. White
University of Wisconsin Press / 264pp / $26.95
Just as the history of Ulster is complex, so was the process of bringing peace to the war-torn region. Thankfully, Professor of Political Science at Xavier University, Timothy J. White, sums it up with simplicity in his latest effort Lessons From the Northern Ireland Peace Process. Drawing upon an assortment of sources, the author approaches the matter holistically, offering unique – and sometimes differing – opinions on both issues and procedures. Readers not so familiar with the myriad of concessions and back-room deals will find fascination with the socio-political maneuvering, while others with knowledge of the events will enjoy the inside perspective from those who were involved with the negotiations. And excellent and important read, and essential for better understanding the ‘terrible beauty’ that is Northern Ireland.
War in the Shadows
By Shane Kenna
Merrion Press / 432pp / £17.99
Almost one hundred years before Northern Ireland exploded in violence, their Emerald Isle forefathers were wreaking havoc elsewhere. In the 1880s, Irish-American Fenians – known as the Dynamitards – launched a five-year bombing campaign upon London. A Doctor of Modern History, author Shane Kenna takes a detailed look back at the operations, arguing that the advanced methodology of madness laid much of the groundwork for today’s terrorist activities. Kudos to Kenna for covering both the conspiracy and the counter-conspiracy, with chapters devoted to the evolution and response of the British Secret Service and its network of spies, agent-provocateurs and informers. Engaging and enlightening, War in the Shadows both evokes and suggests the spirit of the times, proving again that truth is always more amazing than fiction.
Prayer For a Mill Town
By Ken McElroy
Blue Blossom Press / 68pp / £4.99
A bittersweet selection of poems and short stories from one of Ulster’s finest scribes, Ken McElroy, Prayer For a Mill Town is a warm, witty and wise series of snapshots chronicling daily life in Gilford, Co. Down. The author’s gentle reflections on linen mills, childhood, family, friends, and ‘the Troubles’, paint a poignant, poised, and sometimes pained portrait from one man’s memories of times past and present. Balladic in style, simple in structure, lyrical in tone, and ripe with nostalgia, this charming collection captures and conveys the heart, mind and soul of a land and her people. Like his other works, including the brilliant two-man theatrical production The Rare ‘Oul Times, the work finds its truest voice in the spaces and silence between the words.
Diary of a Cornish Fisherman
By Trevor Simpson
The Manuscript Publisher / 194pp / €14.99
After leaving the Royal Navy, Trevor Simpson shipped on as a crewman aboard a small lobster boat in the cozy seaside town of Newquay, Cornwall. From 1962-1967, he kept a journal of his daily activities, recounting his seafaring adventures and chronicling his observations on Cornish life. The result is a warm, witty, wise and poignant portrait of both a people and a place with feet firmly footed in the past, yet aching to catch up to the times. Along the way, readers will fall for the many quirky characters that come and go, bringing colour and flavor to generations of routine. Well peppered with grainy photographs, the work is entertaining and engaging, and will appeal to both landlubbers and sea-lovers of all ilk and ages.
ClanDonnell; A Storied History of Ireland
By David K. McDonnell
Burrowing Owl Press / 928pp / $34.95
Readers are well-advised to put aside some serious time for this terrific tome; at 928 pages, ClanDonnell; A Storied History of Ireland is the epic tale of the Emerald Isle told through the lives of McDonnell Clan members and their descendants. Thankfully, the work is well-worth the emotional and intellectual investment, as author David K. McDonnell connects the dots between his namesake Clan and Ireland’s evolution; bringing the past to life through colourful characters, an array of excellent images and illustrations, superb and succinct writing, and a soaring narrative arc to the present day. You don’t have to be a member of the Clan Donnell to enjoy this grand journey, though you may want to sign on after savouring this larger-than-life slice of Irish life.
The Naughty Little Book of Gaelic
By Michael Newton
CBU Press / 96pp / $9.95
Renowned Celtic scholar and author Dr. Michael Newton lets his hair down with this kinky volume of vile verbosity. Subtitled All the Scottish Gaelic You Need to Curse, Swear, Drink, Smoke and Fool Around, the work delivers as promised, with chapters covering everything from basic four-letter words to insults, hexes and sex. The author does well to place the foul-language within historical and everyday context, citing sources that could lead willing readers down a dirty-minded trail. Fun and fascinating, and layered with gorgeous illustrations from Nova Scotia artist Arden Powell, the book is much more than a mere encyclopedia or dictionary of expletive expressions however – it is notice that we really aren’t that far removed from our potty-mouthed ancestors as we like to think.
The Irish Dancing
By Barbara O’Conner
Cork University Press / 192pp / €39.00
Subtitled Cultural Politics and Identities, 1900-2000, The Irish Dancing is a critical study of the impact that Irish dance has had upon the Emerald Isle. Based upon empirical evidence and in-depth discussions with dancers themselves, the author makes the chronological case that the art/sport/pastime has shaped the way Ireland sees itself, as well as the manner in which the world views Ireland. In particular, O’Conner examines themes of ethnicity, gender and social class and the influence they have on both stereotyping (negative) and the passing along of cultural tradition (positive). Though dry at times, and reading like a thesis of sorts, there is enough here to qualify the work as important. However, only those with an interest in Riverdance and the like will take note.
Fighting Back; the Chris Nilan Story
By Chris Nilan
HarperCollins / 336 pp / $32.95
NHL enforcer Chris Nilan certainly earned his nickname “Knuckles” during his 13 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins and New York Rangers; his 222 on-ice fights and 2,248 penalty minutes still rank among the league’s highest. However, it is Nilan’s off-ice conflicts that are featured in this bruising biography. Born and bred in Beantown, the Irish-American enforcer’s roots eventually led him down the pathway of self-destruction. And while the book chronicles that descent, it is his road to recovery that reads so well, with redemption coming both personally and professionally in recent years. Unlike other salvation stories, however, Fighting Back is chock full o’ humility and gentle wisdom, endearing the tough-tender boy from Boston to readers. Even non-hockey fans will enjoy this spirited effort.
By Thomas Hennessey
Irish Academic Press / 496 pp / $42.95
Subtitled Margaret Thatcher’s Battle with the IRA, and based on recently declassified documents, this gripping tome bears witness to the test of wills between the ‘Iron Lady’ and the ‘Provos’ during the tensions of 1980-81. Intrigue and suspense take centre stage, as backdoor deals and political posturing by both the British Government and the Bobby Sands-led H-Block hunger-strikers sought to sway the already divided communities of Northern Ireland. Particularly poignant are the details of Sands’ offer to end his stand in an effort to reach a deal that would see his fellow prisoners granted special status. More than an historical retrospective on ‘the troubles’, Hunger Strike is an intimate study of time and place, and an insightful, informative and engaging examination of power and personality.
By Carol Moreira
Fierce Ink Press / 280 pp / $11.99
Nova Scotia author – and former Celtic Life International editor – Carol Moreira pieces together a ripping good Young Adult yarn with her sophomore effort Membrane. Dissatisfied with herself, sixteen year-old Tanya meets an alternative version of herself in a parallel universe. Themes of teen-angst, bullying, romance and insecurities come to the forefront, as the protagonist and her double – now confidently called P for Princess – wind their way through a series of sci-fi twists and turns. Moreira does well to keep the plot moving along at a good pace; solid dialoguing, strong characterization and a swift, smooth narrative arc ensure that readers of any age will be engaged and entertained. A terrific tale for young adults, and for parents looking to better understand their hormonal offspring.
The MacHugh Memoirs
By James L. McWilliams
History buffs and those interested in military records will want to pick-up the two volumes of creative non-fiction that make up this compelling collection; the Fugitives and Black War Bonnet. Canadian author, historian and piper James L. McWilliams fleshes out the daily details in the life of young Roderick Gaspard (Rory) MacHugh, from his days on the Canadian prairies to his service overseas in Egypt and Europe. En route, readers are treated to tidbits of hardship and glory, and a unique perspective on the impact of the Scottish Diaspora. Harkening back to an era when stories were passed down to younger generations by word of mouth, McWilliams leaves just enough space between the lines so that readers may fill in the blanks with their imagination.