Tag Archives: Ireland

Normal People by Sally Rooney

book coverBased on the hype around this novel, I had fairly high expectations. However, I don’t feel that those expectations were met. I was unprepared for the heaviness of the novel, with topics of toxic relationships, abuse, and mental health; and felt that the novel took an unhealthy side of these topics, rather than creating beneficial conversation around them. Personally, this book was not my cup of tea and I would recommend reading a few reviews before diving into it.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Sarah Gleason
Rating:  Recommended with reservations
Challenge: Book made into TV show

The Searcher by Tana French

book coverThe Searcher is the eighth book from mystery writer Tana French. I have read four of her other books, which is perhaps why I kept reading this one even when I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I expected. While her other books follow similar characters, this book was a stand-alone mystery.

I loved the other four books I’ve read by French so I kept waiting for this one to pick up, and while it did a little, I found much of the book too slow to really enjoy. The story follows a retired Chicago detective, Cal, who moves to a remote village in Northern Ireland, hoping to get away from the crime and the hustle and bustle of the big city. But like any retired detective in almost any book you’ll read, he finds a mystery where he least expects it. A young boy comes to him because his older brother is missing, and he wants Cal to help find him because no one else will. Interesting premise, but for me the story took way too long to get going. It is a slooow burn and this is not a short book by any means.

Much of the story follows Cal trying to fix up his house, his interactions with the locals, and then tidbits about the missing boy that he gleans slowly over time. It is not until about three-fourths of the way through the book that the reader starts to find out any real information about the mystery at hand. And while I ultimately enjoyed the ending, I think there was too much exposition in getting there.

Availability:  COSMOS, SMCM, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Kaylie Jasinski ’14
Rating:  Recommended with reservations

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

book coverI devoured The Guest List while on a recent vacation. It is a fun, fast-paced beach-read mystery. And I rather enjoyed it even though it was a little over the top at times. The story follows various people in a wedding party for a high-profile wedding that will take place on a remote island off the coast of Ireland. Readers hear from the bride, a woman who is a plus one, the wedding planner, the best man, the bride’s younger sister, and the groom. It is supposed to be the perfect wedding for the perfect couple: the bride is a smart and glamorous magazine publisher while the groom is a rising television star. The wedding venue is luxurious and remote and the guest list is strictly A-list. But then things start to go from bad to worse, all the more so when someone turns up dead… A few of the twists were a little over the top, like I mentioned, and the characters weren’t all fully developed, but the book kept me guessing with the interweaving story lines, changing timelines, and slow teasing out of the pieces of the mystery. An all around fun summer read.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Kaylie Jasinski, 2014
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: A book published in 2020

Santa Montefiore’s The Girl in the Castle

cover art


Santa Montefiore’s The Girl in the Castle, (republished as The Irish Girl) is both a love story and a history lesson. If you enjoy romance and intrigue set in historic Ireland, it’s a must read. Kitty Deverill grows up in a castle in West Cork following in her ancestors footsteps. She falls in love with Jack O’Leary and gets involved in the resistance movement only to find her cushy life endangered.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: M Denise Brace Lerch ’82
Rating: Must Read

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

Angela's Ashes

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt is a must read memoi. It illuminates the hard scrabble childhood the author was subjected to, yet rose above. His alcoholic father kept the family in a level of destitution that impacted the physical and mental health of all. His mother tried her best to carry the family forward on her feeble back, but was thwarted at every step. This was a poignant look at life.

Availability: SMCM, COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Denise Brace
Rating: Must Read
Challenge:Book to film

Broken Harbor, Tana French

cover artTana French is one of my top new authors – I was happy to discover her this past fall, and her books, whether read or listened too, have all been immensely enjoyable. The Likeness is one of my top books I have read in years, and for any SMCM student who made small close-knit bonds with a group of friends I highly recommend it.

On to Broken Harbor, book 4 in Tana French’s series following Dublin’s (fictional) murder detective squad. One of Tana French’s most interesting signatures is to make a secondary character in her previous novel into the protagonist narrator for her next book. Another is deep character development and her connection of all of her characters to their environments and personal and Irish history. She uses these to her advantage again. In this case we follow aging detective “Scorcher” – a turn towards a more traditional detective compared to some of her earlier and later books. She hits her stride yet again with deep character development and her excellent use of thrilling pace paralleled with thoughtful, and at times beautiful passages. It reveals a strange mystery, though perhaps in this reader’s opinion one of the many red herrings would have served as a better choice for the ultimate solution.

The audio narration itself serves the stories well. Stephen Hogan (who returns to narrate parts of The Secret Place) has an excellent voice, style, and tone – not to mention commendable ability to change his voice and Irish accents to capture various ages, classes, and sexes. Truly, her series are served well in either form. While this story would be on the lower half of my rankings for the series, it is still a good mystery and holds a fine place in the genre and general reading. Tana French has continued to impress me and has not let me down yet!

This book is good for:
1. People who want an artful mystery that goes beyond a run of the mill pulp style mystery.
2. People who love good character development and a strong ensemble of characters in a thriller.
3. A detective partnership that features two different ages and personalities.
4. Characters that are steeped in their environments, and who’s past and present are shaped by the places they visit and return.

Availability:  COSMOS, SMCM, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Nick Huber (Class of 2013)
Rating:  Recommended
Challenge: Audiobook

Time Pieces, by John Banville

Time Pieces cover

Time Pieces, by John Banville, is a delightful interweaving of memories past and present in the enigmatic city of Dublin. The author sways back and forth between hazy boyhood dream-like reminisces, young man about town Guinness fogged memories, and a more mature and sentimental revisiting of old landmarks. A unique array of characters are fleshed out and Dublin’s true beauty is revealed.

Availability: USMAI, COSMOS
Review Submitted by: M Denise Brace nee Lerch (’82)
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: Published 2018 (US)

Grace by Paul Lynch

Grace cover

In this coming-of-age novel, Paul Lynch explores the horrors of the Irish potato famine through the eyes of a young girl named Grace. Her single mother, coping with a ruined harvest and pregnant with her fifth child, turns Grace (just 14 at the beginning of the novel) out on the road “to find work and work like a man.” Joined by her younger brother Colly and disguised as a boy, Grace wanders across western Ireland. She encounters many hardships, including starvation, muggings, and attempted assaults. Near the beginning of her journey, Grace also loses Colly in a senseless accident that she continues to deny. Throughout the rest of the book, Colly persists as a constant voice in Grace’s head, protecting her from danger.

Grace works as a manual laborer, a thief, a con artist, a cow hand, and a servant. Eventually, she is reborn as a religious mystic. Her ramblings across rural Ireland explore some of the frustration and anger that poor Irish felt towards wealthy landowners who ate well while their neighbors starved. In all her wanderings, Grace seeks not just food and companionship but also inner peace.

Though distressing to read, I found Lynch’s book to be moving – at times lyrical, bewildering, and beautiful. I highly recommend it.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby-Hall
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: Book with a one word title