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


The visceral descriptions of how animals are transformed into cuts of meat are transfixing but not for the faint of heart, and the same can be said for the details of Powell’s personal life. However, there are passages that shine through with elegance and clarity, as gratifying as the crown roast that Powell wrestles into existence for her family’s Christmas dinner. A self-described “oversharer,” Powell pulls no punches in this sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes revolting, sometimes empowering, and unfailingly honest memoir.

– Kara Rota

($24.99 / 320 pages / Little, Brown & Company)

Cissie’s Abattoir is a memoir of growing up in Waterford in the sixties and seventies, a place author Éibhear Walshe describes as covered in tepid, grey rainwater. His saving grace from boredom and bullying is Cissie, Walshe’s sparkplug of a grandmother, who runs a family-owned abattoir and is a hotel landlady. Well-known for her chain smoking, sarcastic remarks, and glamorous outfits, Cissie’s lovable quirkiness and confidence enchant her grandson, who spends his afternoons watching her combat the mundane with flair. Their relationship is pivotal for Walshe, who vividly describes his struggle with growing up gay among relentlessly cruel peers. While Cissie is not overly affectionate, Walshe finds solace in her free-spirited indifference, and she in turn helps him by giving him a job in the abattoir when his loneliness becomes too much to handle. Despite his desire to escape his hometown, Walshe recounts both his family history and the history of Waterford’s landmarks and people in a way that is engrossing, funny, and deeply personal. From St. Otteran’s mental hospital to the sweets shops in town, Cissie shines through every page as a reminder to live adamantly as who you are, with knowledge of the pain in getting there.

– Aliah O’Neill

($23.95 / 149 pages/ The Collins Press/Dufour Editions)


Coffee Table Books

E. Charles Nelson’s An Irishman’s Cuttings: Tales of Irish Gardens and Gardeners, Plants and Plant Hunters is a collection of essays full of entertaining stories of gardeners and the plants close to their hearts. The term “an Irishman’s cutting” traditionally refers to a plant sample with roots that have formed well before being separated from its host plant, making it more likely to thrive as a new plant. Nelson considers each tale included in this book a cutting of a different sort, indicating the deep Irish roots of the gardeners and their stories. Each selection is drawn from The Irish Garden magazine, for which Nelson has written since 1992. Covering topics from historical botanic enthusiasts of the 1800s to an Irish girl who wrote murder mysteries with horticultural twists taking place in Irish gardens. Nelson’s book is filled with gorgeous photographs and delicate illustrations that make An Irishman’s Cuttings an ideal gift for any plant lover.

– Kara Rota

($54.95 / 224 pages / The Collins Press/Dufour Editions)

Dublin Zoo: An Illustrated History by Catherine de Courcy follows the fascinating history of the beloved Dublin Zoo from its beginnings in 1830 as a private society for anatomists and physicists, supported by wealthy subscribers, to its current status garnering more than 900,000 visitors a year with a professional zoo team contributing to international animal conservation programs. Split into chapters covering every few decades of the zoo’s history, including “Expansion and War,” “Growth and Decline” and “Radical Change,” de Courcy’s hefty book is filled with incredible full-page photographs of the animals that make the Dublin Zoo a top-notch destination for families centuries after its advent.

– Kara Rota

($34.95 / 368 pages / The Collins Press/Dufour Editions)