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Book reviews: recently published books of Irish and Irish-American interest

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Recommended

The Brightest Star in the Sky is another good romp by Dublin-based writer Marian Keyes. Keyes first burst on the scene with Watermelon in 1995 and went on to write several bestsellers including This Charming Man (2008). In her latest book, Keyes uses the interesting literary device of a wandering ghost to give us an inside look at the residents of a block of flats on 66 Star Street. What’s up with the lovely couple Matt and Maeve whose hearts beat in harmonious rhythm but there’s a dark cloud lurking – could those vitamin pills turn out to be antidepressants? Will Katie marry work-obsessed Conall even though she knows he’s not a perfect fit? She’s 40, after all, and her friends are telling her not to be so choosy. Then there’s the fabulous Fionn, a handsome country boy in the city for a shot at a TV gardening show. He has fallen hard for Maeve, or has he?

It’s the basement characters who most hold my attention – two Polish immigrants, Andrei, a tough guy who secretly cries of homesickness, and Jan, who Andrei treats like a younger brother – and their nemesis, Lydia, the tiny but tough-talking taxi-driving Irish girl who shares the flat. Sparks fly between Lydia and Andrei – they claim to hate each other, but what’s really brewing underneath the surface?

Keyes, who was born in Limerick in 1963, is one of my favorite “take along on a plane ride” writers (and at 614 pages, this latest tome is better saved for a long trip!). The first book of hers that I read was Rachel’s Holiday (1998), a hilarious and moving story about addiction and recovery. Though none of her other books have hit a chord for me the way that one did, Keane knows how to spin a yarn and is always entertaining. Her characters are thoroughly believable, and the plot always has a surprising twist, or two. In fact, I wouldn’t be the first to say that Keyes is on course to inherit the mantle of the great Irish queen of romance, Maeve Binchy.

– Patricia Harty

($26.00 / 614 pages / Viking)

 

Fiction

Erin Hart is the author of award-winning mystery novels Haunted Ground and Lake of Sorrows. Her latest, False Mermaid, to be released in March 2010, is a haunting, eerie page-turner that combines a wealth of Irish mythology about mermaids, seals and selkies with archeology and the compelling forensic details of several linked murders, all set against the gorgeously rendered settings of both Minnesota and Donegal.

Ancient legends of places like Port na Rón (Seal Harbor) give depth to heroine Nora Gavin’s desperate journey to discover the reality about her sister Tríona’s murder in time to save her niece Elizabeth, for whom the five years since her mother’s death have changed her from a blissfully unaware child to a young woman painfully entering the world of adult truths. Nora is caught in a race against time. The few allies who believe her theories about Tríona’s murder include a sole police officer burdened with a troubled personal life and his own feelings for Nora. While facing dangers that become more complex and terrifying with each chapter, Nora struggles to come to terms with her own emotions in the wake of tragedy, eventually learning that “the universe had turned out to be a much stranger and more fluid place than she had ever imagined.”

– Kara Rota

($26.00 / 336 pages / Scribner)

Bill Loehfelm’s first novel Fresh Kills was hailed by the Associated Press as the “finest crime fiction debut since Dennis Lehane burst onto the scene.” High praise indeed for Loehfelm, who, like Lehane, explores the lives of “working class Irish Catholics” (as Loehfelm himself put it in an interview with USA Today).

Loehfelm has now published his second novel, Bloodroot, a thought-provoking psychological thriller that revolves around brothers Kevin and Danny Curran. The Staten Island siblings are updated versions of Cain and Abel: good and bad brothers who can’t untangle themselves from each other. Kevin is a college professor while Danny is a drug addict with a terrible childhood secret. Loehfelm masterfully portrays the complicated Curran family past, as he vividly brings to life a slice of New York rarely seen, unless tinged with disdain or sentimentality. In the end, however, Bloodroot is a triumph because of the characters and the collision courses – psychological, familial, criminal – Loehfelm sets up. The Brooklyn-born, Staten Island-reared Loehfelm now lives in New Orleans. But his literary heart remains in hidden corners of New York, which, in two books now, he has shown he owns the way Lehane owns Boston, and Ken Bruen owns Galway.

– Tom Deignan

($25.95 / 336 pages / Putnam)

 

Memoir

Julie Powell made her mark on the culinary and literary worlds by cooking her way through Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking and blogging about it, an ambitious feat that inspired the 2009 movie Julie & Julia starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. Her recent memoir, Cleaving: A Story of Meat, Marriage and Obsession, published in December, has garnered controversial reviews for its arguably sordid content and allegedly self-indulgent voice: the title’s metaphor describes the book’s focus on Julie’s dysfunctional extramarital affair, struggling marriage and sojourn to find self-worth through taking up the art of butchery. Taking place in the aftermath of her sudden success, it is part travelogue (late in the book, Powell embarks on a “Grand Meat Tour” of Argentina, the Ukraine and Tanzania), part confessional, and part cookbook (in the style of Nora Ephron’s Heartburn).

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