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Dubray Review

How does a person who has had to harden their heart against years of suffering and loneliness find happiness and a way to trust? Lila is a child, neglected and dying, when she is saved by a young woman known only as 'Doll'. Together they spend many hard years wandering through the heartland of America. Years later, the adult Lila arrives alone in the town of Gilead and is drawn into a faltering love affair with Rev. John Ames (narrator of Robinson’s 2004 Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead). Brimming with intelligence and suspicion, and haunted by her life of hardship, Lila must reconcile her past and present so that she might have the possibility of a better future. This stunning novel showcases the hardscrabble lives of those who live on the margins of American life in way that is worthy of the best of Steinbeck or Twain. In Lila, Robinson has created a character for the ages and her story of suffering and redemption has the makings of a genuine American classic.

- Robbie Hinkson, Blackrock|Tiger Milk tells the story of what might be Nini and Jameelah's last summer together. The book's title stems from their signature cocktail, a heady concoction which whets the teenagers' curiosity about downtown Berlin. We follow them as they explore the red light district and deal with difficult issues such as immigration, teenage pregnancy and violent acts. Their relationship makes them invincible; once they're together, nothing can harm or come between them. But one night they witness a horrific crime that sees the wrong person accused. Only they know the true course of events and the decision to do the right thing will test their friendship and cause their once promising summer to crumble. This coming-of-age novel is tenderly funny, refreshing, bold and gritty. The author's vivid imagery draws you deep into downtown Berlin and captures a present-day teenage perspective.

- Danielle O’Reilly, Bray|Elizabeth Pringle has lived the entirety of her 95 years in her beautiful house on the Scottish island of Arran. As her days draw to a close, she makes the extraordinary decision to bequeath that house to a woman she never actually knew, Anna Morrison, who once pushed a letter through her door inquiring if the house would be for sale. Anna is now in a care home, suffering from dementia, so the bequest falls to her daughter, Martha. Pondering her new inheritance, Martha travels to Arran. As she begins to unravel the story of Elizabeth Pringle, with all its joys and sorrows, Martha discovers how to leave her own past behind and step into her new life. Characters shine off the page as their lives unfold and the natures of their relationships are revealed. The tale of the intertwined lives of two women who never meet, this book is simply and beautifully told. Quiet, beguiling and wondrously descriptive, it is an elegant joy to read.

- Mary Esther Judy, Galway|The war is over. Marguerite Carter stands on the threshold of her new life after having what they call "a good war". Her experiences in France with the Resistance lie deep in her memory: she never speaks of it, but it has shaped her view of humanity.  She becomes an inspirational teacher and is determined that her girls will grow up confident and strong. A dedicated activist, she marches in support of CND, women's rights, the miners, and gay rights. As the decades pass, her fights against prejudice and narrow-minded bureaucrats get her into trouble and bring her into contact with people who aren't doing so well in the brave new world. But her faith in the possibility of a fairer, more open society with equal opportunities for all never falters. We follow Miss Carter through her life and right up to old age. She is a most appealing character and you are with her all the way. This is a splendid first novel from the redoubtable Sheila Hancock.

- Olivia Clear, Stillorgan|Nora has been a mother, a wife, a sister and a daughter but now, without her beloved Maurice by her side, she has to redefine herself as a widow. Who is she when she’s not minding the house, checking on her boys, or looking out for her daughters? How can she make decisions on her own, perhaps work again, learn to enjoy life? It’s hard when, for the hundredth time, she’s waylaid by a neighbour or a friend wanting to offer their condolences and express their sorrow at her loss when she wishes they would just leave her in peace. But Nora is made of stronger stuff than even she realises: she finds her own voice, makes a whole new set of friends, and discovers joy in music. This is a simple story that demonstrates the inner turmoil felt when it seems everything has been lost, and the pleasure in finding a new way to live.

- Mary Burnham, Dun Laoghaire|Nora has been a mother, a wife, a sister and a daughter but now, without her beloved Maurice by her side, she has to redefine herself as a widow. Who is she when she’s not minding the house, checking on her boys, or looking out for her daughters? How can she make decisions on her own, perhaps work again, learn to enjoy life? It’s hard when, for the hundredth time, she’s waylaid by a neighbour or a friend wanting to offer their condolences and express their sorrow at her loss when she wishes they would just leave her in peace. But Nora is made of stronger stuff than even she realises: she finds her own voice, makes a whole new set of friends, and discovers joy in music. This is a simple story that demonstrates the inner turmoil felt when it seems everything has been lost, and the pleasure in finding a new way to live.

- Mary Burnham, Dun Laoghaire|The Thing About December covers the course of a year in Johnsey's life as he tries to deal with the grief of losing his father while observing his mother's own grief overcome her. Throughout the year, while people around Johnsey bully, dismiss or, worse, pity him, he retreats further into his own head and the safety of what he knows: his farm. Johnsey's uncanny ability to understand what people truly want and mean, combined with his inability to reconcile this with what to do, result in his alienation even from those who may help him. As Celtic Tiger greed, lies and betrayal gather at Johnsey's door, we can only watch the undoing of an innocent, caring young man. Ryan writes with an acute understanding of small village life, and the politics that rule it. With lyrical, evocative and often beautifully simple prose, this novel will envelop you in the beauty of the familiar, while tearing you apart with the heartbreak of reality.

- Ann-Marie Dolan, Grafton St|Connie has shocked her husband Douglas by announcing that she thinks their marriage of twenty years may have run its course. Albie, their stroppy 17-year-old son, has only the vaguest of career plans after college. With all the certainties of Douglas’s life crumbling, the family sets out on a 'Grand Tour' of the Continent, which may be their last ever holiday together. Throughout their cultural trip from London to the art capitals of Europe, the story swoops from farce to tragedy, moving effortlessly between scenes of family bickering over European buffet breakfasts to explorations of the experiences that created their tangled relationships. Peeling back the surface of a family with a sharp yet affectionate eye, every line feels infused with a rare quality of truth. Yet it is so entertainingly written you never want to lay it down. Bittersweet, full of heart and very funny, this is one of my favourite books of 2014.

- Karina Clifford, Rathmines|World War Two has ended but peace has not returned. In the depths of the Cold War, in a world once again on tenterhooks, five families battle for survival. From the corridors of the White House and the battle for equal rights, to the covert newspapers that threaten the Communist regime, the swinging music scene of 1960s London, and the forbidding Berlin Wall, this vast tale transports us all over the world. We witness some of history’s greatest events featuring the major players of the twentieth century. When superpowers collide, there is surely a great story to be told and, once again, Ken Follett has not disappointed. Passion and power, love and heartache, romance and intrigue make this final installment of the Century Trilogy a rewarding read. With its mind-blowing cast of characters, it is easy to get swept up in the action and not emerge for days!

- Olivia Bergin, Kilkenny|A world of fantasy and reality, of hopes and dreams, of struggle and triumph is waiting for you Beyond the Stars. Twenty-three of the very best Irish authors and illustrators have come together to take you on journeys of imagination and wonder.  Join the first dogs to venture into space. Encounter the enchantment that lies within a beautiful snow globe. Enter an epic battle between humans and alien monsters. Discover myths, legends, war, crime sprees...and everyday life. And the ice fairies: remember to believe in the ice fairies! Here you will find the work of Oisín McGann, Judi Curtin, Siobhán Parkinson, Celine Kiernan, Eoin Colfer, Roddy Doyle and Derek Landy – to name but a few.  A very special tale, created by young competition winner Emma Brade and illustrated by Niamh Sharkey, is the crowning achievement.

This is a book no shelf should be without. Absolutely filled from cover to cover, this is the most wondrous collection of stories. Get swept away Beyond the Stars!

- Mary Esther Judy, Galway|#Girlboss Bookclub: Dubray Books is supporting this event by offering a €5 discount on copies of #Girlboss to ticketholders - just show your confirmation email at the checkout, or email info@dubraybooks.ie to confirm your discount on online orders. See event listing for more details.
|Astra is travelling with her Mum and Dad and baby brother to their new home on Nova Mundi. Tucked up in their sleeping pods, they expect to arrive on the new planet, light years away – but trouble strikes! Astra wakes up early to discover the ship is in danger. The canteen is full of flying space cakes with beady eyes and sharp, giant teeth. Everybody loves cake, right? Not these cakes! People should eat cakes – not the other way round. Stranger still, the ship has been invaded by a gang of Poglites. Who are they and what do they want? Along with her robot friend Pilbeam, Astra must fight the mutant cakes and get the spaceship back on course for Nova Mundi. This is another splendiferous adventure from the duo that brought us Oliver and the Seawigs. You'll gobble this one right up!

- Josie van Embden, Dun Laoghaire|When her husband walks out on her, Eve rents a rather grim flat in Bray, with the upside that it overlooks a playground in the square. Determined to create an ideal life for her adored daughter, Addie, Eve sets out to integrate herself into the small disparate society of the square and especially of the playground. She also acquires a lodger, an impulsive act that she soon regrets. The playground gradually begins to take on a central and sinister role in Eve’s life and this all comes to a head when there is a terrible accident for which she is blamed. Eve finally realises that life is not a game and that the playground is no place to hide from reality. This novel is by turn both funny and sad and is beautifully written by one of the freshest voices in Irish fiction.

- Noeline Coffey, Rathmines
|In this fascinating and accessible new history, Dr. Yuval Noah Harari examines the entire span of human history through some of the most catalytic processes that have ever taken place – such as the development of agriculture, the advent of mythology, and the dawn of the scientific age. The approach is thematic rather than chronological, drawing on insights from biology, anthropology, palaeontology and economics, and the text is enlivened by images throughout. This book is for anyone who wants to better understand some of the theories behind how and why our species and societies have evolved in the way that they have. At the same time, the author never loses sight of the everyday history of ordinary people. As he says: “History is something that a very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing fields and carrying water buckets.”

- Aoife Roantree, Blackrock
|Station Eleven is a dazzling and intelligent page-turner about lives lived in the face of catastrophe. On the same night that a virulent new strain of flu starts to devastate the world’s population, Arthur Leander collapses and dies on stage during a performance of King Lear. Twenty years later, a group of actors travel between small pockets of survivors, performing Shakespeare under the motto Survival is Insufficient. When threatened by a sinister, cult-like figure known as the Prophet, they are torn apart and make their way separately to the safe haven of an abandoned airport. Unfolding brilliantly, the story returns to the effortless comfort of the years before the disaster to reveal the links between the characters – all of whom are in one way or another connected to Arthur Leander, whose death foretold the end of the world as they knew it.

- Martin Shannon, Stillorgan