Reviews of some Irish books in the stories...just in time for the holidays.iStock

The Pocket Irish Pub Cookbook: Over 110 Delicious Recipes

By Fiona Biggs

The Pocket Irish Pub Cookbook: Over 110 Delicious Recipes.

The Pocket Irish Pub Cookbook: Over 110 Delicious Recipes.

Here's that rare thing, a cookbook that completely delivers on its promise. In "The Pocket Irish Pub Cookbook" Fiona Biggs has selected genuinely delicious comfort food dishes from Ireland and presented them in easy to follow, unpretentious recipes that run from traditional to the more sophisticated.

Biggs’ book succeeds because it takes familiar favorites and tweaks them just a little for maximum flavor and presentation. Starting out with soups to warm you on a cold day, of which there are many in Ireland, the emphasis is on food that warms and cheers.

Best of all, this handsomely illustrated, pocket-sized how-to is as portable and handy as the meals it will inspire you to prepare. Biggs knows that the pub is one of the community centers of Ireland and that the days of uninspired pub fare are long over. Home made soups and breads are a staple these days, as are locally produced soda breads and scones.

What started out as mostly simple drinking establishments with the odd – sometimes very odd – sandwich option, have in many cases throughout Ireland become culinary destinations in their own right.

Roasts, potato dishes, breads and scones all factor, as do hearty stews and soups followed by signature Irish desserts like banoffee, apple pie with cream, sherry trifle, and chocolate whiskey mousse tart.

Biggs has put her passion for Irish cooking into this book and it shows. It's an ideal primer for traditional Irish cooking that's as modest and lovely as the meals it showcases.

Dufour $9.

Guilty But Insane: J.C. Bowen-Colthurst, Villain or Victim

By James W. Taylor

Guilty But Insane: J.C. Bowen-Colthurst, Villain or Victim.

Guilty But Insane: J.C. Bowen-Colthurst, Villain or Victim.

Few things have enraged the English like the persistent Irish refusal to be dominated. It's at the root of the unending squabble that played out between the two nations over the centuries, losing none of its intensity in the process. It's the wallpaper behind every discussion or skirmish held between the plantation and partition

In his study of J.C. Bowen-Colthurst, captain with the Royal Irish Rifles in 1916, author James W. Taylor (fellow of the Royal Historical Society) paints a more complex picture than the murderous military functionary he is more commonly portrayed as.

Scholars of the period know Bowen-Colthurst as the man who shot the remarkable (and wholly pacifist) Francis Sheehy Skeffington. Skeffy, as he was known, had spent the day demanding the poor of Dublin desist from the business of looting during the Rising. But the poor of Dublin had simply jeered at him and lampooned his grand remonstrance.

Later Skeffington was picked up by a group of anxious British soldiers led by Bowen-Colthurst, who shortly afterward – and inexplicably – ordered him shot dead.

Taylor argues that Bowen-Colthurst was probably suffering from a severe form of post-traumatic stress picked up in the Great War, which some argued had driven him half mad. He saw Irish insurrection everywhere he looked and his response was to quash it, even if it made no sense.

Court-martialed for this shooting – and five other unarmed Irish civilians during the Rising – he was found guilty but insane and served just 18 months in Broadmoor criminal lunatic asylum.

At the time, and to this day, his short sentence signaled to critics that British justice took a holiday when the men and women killed were Irish. But Taylor suggests that Bowen-Colthurst was more troubled than has heretofore been conveyed.

The tragedy behind the tragedy is that it is hard to imagine two nations more temperamentally at odds than Ireland and our near neighbors to the east. For centuries our uninvited guests often explored the darkest recesses of their own natures there, independent of our wishes and usually impervious to our pleas. Taylor's book reminds us how completely we have often misinterpreted each other, and how fatally too.

Dufour, $27.


The Drowned Detective

By Neil Jordan

The Drowned Detective.

The Drowned Detective.

Writer and director Neil Jordan's brilliantly atmospheric new novel tells the story of a detective in a falling down city that at times resembles the grey but oddly unforgettable Dublin of the 1980s.

The tale begins straightforwardly and compellingly but soon takes an unexpected turn when the missing persons case his detective is working on leads him into a disorientating nightmare world.

The recurring elements of Jordan's best films – the realistic starting points that quickly lead on to darker and more unsettling themes and segues – are present in this new tale too, a hugely suspenseful police procedural that becomes larger and more mysterious as the book progresses.

It's hard to discuss the story without revealing the densely crafted plot so suffice to say Jordan has crafted a bewitching tale about failure and redemption, faithlessness and faith, imagination and logic, that will keep you guessing right to the final page.

Bloomsbury, $26.