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Dubray Review

Meet Primrose Leary, aged 16, post-Junior Cert and ready for summer. No longer obsessed with putting moustaches on babies (as she was aged 12, in Prim Improper) or with a never-ending glossary of unusual words (as she was aged 14, in Improper Order), Prim is now facing impending adulthood (ish!) without the company of her beloved rat, Roderick, or her best friend, Joel. But hilarity is never far from Prim’s life, whether in the form of her own mishaps or of those around her – or when the Big Things in life can no longer be avoided.

- Helen Corcoran, Grafton Street

 

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Tommy is more than just the new boy at school: he's the new boy who wears a different balaclava to school each day. As a result, no one has ever seen his face or knows exactly what he looks like – or even why he wears the balaclavas. It doesn't take long for the students of Grade Four to claim they know the real reason but their sometimes sneaky attempts to find out why take a back seat once the Grade Five bullies finally notice Tommy. His classmates soon come to understand that it's not really that important why Tommy wears the balaclava. However, none of them are prepared for what they hear once Tommy tells them the truth!

Balaclava Boy successfully deals with serious topics like fitting in, bullying and deciding not to follow the crowd, and does so both with humour and without preaching. It's brilliant for readers aged 7 and up.

- Helen Corcoran, Grafton Street

|The girls of The School have been perfectly designed to become the breeding companions of the boys known as The Inheritants – if they are lucky. Otherwise, they are destined to become concubines or consigned to banishment Underground. To them, beauty is everything, so much so that both their breeding and obsessive attention to perfection has left little room for diversity. Now sixteen, Frieda embarks on a tense and competitive final year as she and her classmates approach the Ceremony in which their fates will be decided. Looks are everything, difference is feared and competitive pressure dominates the lives of young women. There is an eerie familiarity about Frieda’s world but this is not simply a satire on the more disturbing elements of our own culture; it is a fantastic debut that is sure to keep you glued until the final page.

- Josie Van Embden, Dun Laoghaire
|‘If you go back and look at your life, there are certain scenes, acts, or maybe just incidents on which everything that follows seems to depend.’ For Adele, going to college is a release – from her working class Liverpool background and from her reckless father and stifling mother. It is a chance to reinvent herself and to embrace her intelligence. She forms friendships with others just like her, desperate to shed their awkward teenage selves, to become mysterious, glamorous and sexually ambiguous adults. Forty years later, Adele looks back on her twentieth birthday party, when everything in her life changed, searching for answers to questions that have haunted her for four decades. Linda Grant has deftly captured the intensity of hastily-formed college relationships, those friends that we cling to out of loneliness and necessity, that can sometimes shape our whole lives.

- Anita Power, Kilkenny
|Casi is the son of Columbian immigrants, a hotshot public defender who has never lost a trial and is the most entertaining and memorable character you'll meet this summer. Entrenched in America's War on Drugs, Casi’s commitment to morality sees him champion liars, criminals and menaces to society. He finds himself unravelling when his friend Dane, a maverick attorney obsessed with perfection, puts forth the makings of a flawless heist. The novel's title refers to the dense core of a black hole, reflecting Casi’s descent into a world in which right and wrong become indistinguishable. Featuring many humorous digressions into quantum physics and observations on how the law actually creates crime, this monster of a novel is a gripping page-turner. Ambitious, infectious and intelligent, it is sure to appeal to fans of TV series such as True Detective and The Wire.

- Saskia Vermeulen, Bray
|Marriage to Johannes Brandt is an escape to Amsterdam for Nella from her own quiet village but she hasn't reckoned on her husband’s domineering sister, the tight-knit closeness of the household servants, or on Johannes’ constant avoidance of her in private. The biggest insult comes when Johannes presents her with a miniature cabinet of their house, which Nella considers an unsuitable gift for a wife. She makes the best of things and hires a Miniaturist to furnish the cabinet but the Miniaturist's replicas are eerily similar to reality and Nella fears that whatever secrets the house might hold will have fatal consequences. Jessie Burton has written a stunning novel, lavish and atmospheric, set in a period of Dutch history when Amsterdam, though still a jewel of trade and commerce, possessed a rotten core of religious hypocrisy and judgemental superiority.

- Helen Corcoran. Grafton Street
|On her first day working for a prestigious New York literary agency, Joanna is given The Talk about ‘Jerry’ by her boss. She must never give out his address or phone number, never engage him in conversation, never talk to him about writing. Nodding in agreement, it is only on exiting the office that she notices the walls are exclusively lined with editions of J.D. Salinger’s books – ‘Jerry’ Salinger is the agency’s only client. Joanna answers the many fan letters sent to Salinger and, because they feel so intimate, she chooses to send more personalised replies than the form letter she’s given. This book captures vividly the reality of being a young woman in 1990s New York: passionate about the world of books, searching for direction and struggling to reconcile the competing claims of desire, love and family.

- Karina Clifford, Rathmines
|Born in 1800 to parents eminent in the world of science, Alma Whittaker's experience of childhood is unusual. Her ruthlessly successful father and her severe mother regard her as a vessel in which to pour their considerable store of scientific wisdom and, consequently, Alma develops a formidable intellect and an insatiable curiosity about the natural world. Her life expands beyond the confines of her childhood home when finally she lifts her head from her beloved plants to notice the wider world. The Signature of All Things is peopled with striking characters – mad scientists, missionaries, abolitionists and sea captains – all memorable characters but none as unforgettable as Alma herself. This is a big book full of big themes such as botany, exploration and desire. Elizabeth Gilbert has accomplished something extraordinary with this clever, funny and exuberant story. I can't praise it highly enough.

- Olivia Clear, Stillorgan
|In 1811, the coastal city of Cádiz is besieged and being ruthlessly shelled by the French army. Police Comisario Rogelio Tizón is investigating the baffling and brutal murders of three young girls, fixated on the theory that the murders seem to be connected to the locations of recent bombings. Elsewhere, a mysterious taxidermist goes about his business; a charismatic shopping heiress becomes involved in a new line of business; corsairs ply their trade in the densely-populated waters of the bay; and a French artillery Captain and former Professor of Physics is obsessed with increasing the range of his weapons. Arturo Pérez-Reverte is known for his complex thrillers and this new novel is no exception. The detail and intricate plot draw the reader into the vividly rendered city of Cádiz and the author dazzles with a wonderfully developed and diverse cast of characters.

- Aoife Roantree, Blackrock
|A survivor of the Burma Death Railway, Dorrigo Evans has reluctantly become an object of public veneration and an unwilling hero of a brutal war. Now in his seventy-seventh year and in the midst of this unwanted and perhaps undeserved celebrity, he finds himself increasingly troubled by those hellish years spent as a prisoner-slave. And, while these war-time memories haunt him still, he suffers a similar torment when recollecting his many love affairs. In this account of one man’s struggle to glean an ounce of meaning from a life thus far suffused in suffering and marred by missteps, Richard Flanagan has crafted a masterful novel of unique beauty. This book is sure to leave any reader with a sore neck as every page will have you shaking your head in wonderment or otherwise nodding in approval of the author’s staggering skill.

- Leon Hickey, Galway
|Irish-born Robbie and his friend Fran, a Vietnamese orphan adopted by Irish parents, are unlikely companions. They meet at Luton Polytechnic in the 1980s, drawn together by mutual curiosity and a love of music. Along with twins Trez and Sean, they form a band named Ships in the Night. The fledgling band busks, tours and sleeps rough together but, when chance helps them reach the dizzying heights of success, Robbie and Fran are too busy fighting their personal demons. Trez and Sean, hugely talented songwriters and musicians, sacrifice a lot to keep the band together. The story of The Ships is a very human mixture of similarities and differences, loves and disappointments – a test of how far a friendship can be stretched before the cracks appear. It is also a celebration of music and musicians and is Joseph O’Connor at his very best.

- Aileen Smyth, Rathmines
|This imaginative, dystopian novel from the author of the Wool trilogy is set in a lawless world covered in sand. The oppressed citizens struggle to survive and to forestall the ever-encroaching sand. Civilisation has adapted to this intriguing new world, diving through sand as if it were water and discovering lost relics buried deep beneath the surface. The story focuses on a family dynamic in which the main characters are siblings left to fend for themselves, their father having abandoned them and their mother now neglectful in his absence. The dysfunctional family must somehow find a way to work together in order to save their town from a second sinister force that threatens to become catastrophic if left unchecked. Hugh Howey has created a compelling scenario that I was irresistibly drawn to delve into, leaving me eagerly anticipating a sequel.

- Lisa Gahan, Stillorgan
|The Homesman was first published in 1988 and is soon to be made into a film. It has everything I demand from a good book: it is well written, full of atmosphere, alive with vivid characters and set in the wilds of the American outback.  It will transport you back to the 1850s, a time when intrepid men and women travelled hundreds of miles into unknown territory to claim enough land to farm, build a house, and start a future together.  These pioneers faced the kind of hardship we can only imagine and sometimes it was too much for the womenfolk, who were often escorted back across the harsh terrain to a place of safety by the ‘homesmen’ of the title. Journey with The Homesman and their precious cargo and you will find it impossible to forget them once their duty is done.

- Mary Burnham, Dun Laoghaire
|This stunning debut novel, set in Las Vegas, weaves together the lives of four seemingly unconnected individuals: an injured American soldier, a young Albanian boy, a social worker, and a woman whose marriage is coming to an end. They are thrown together following a shooting and, by the time their paths cross, the reader is already wondering how any of them can possibly pull through. Each tries in their own way to deal with the devastating impact of the shooting, in difficult circumstances that are fraught with pain and tension. Their spirits are damaged but not broken and, as the story inches closer to a resolution, our hope is that their faith in the human spirit will be rewarded. They are ‘called to rise’. This is a story of love, hope and the belief that maybe, just maybe, everything will be all right.

- Sally Kingston, Bray
|Set in Fremantle, Western Australia, Eyrie is the story of Tom Keely, a washed-up and disillusioned environmental campaigner. Divorced and living in a dingy flat on the top floor of a tower block, Keely exists on a diet of over-the-counter pills and cheap red wine. It is not until he meets his neighbor, Gemma – a woman deeply rooted in Keely's past – and her grandson, Kai, that Keely finds a reason to sort out his life. By looking after the boy while trying to protect Gemma from Kai's drug dealer father, he is able to find a new purpose in life and so begins to re-engage with the world. Bleak but also darkly comic, Eyrie is a novel about family and society, failure and disillusionment. Ultimately, it is the story of one man's quest to find redemption – come what may.

- Brian Blacker, Grafton St