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#Ockham NZ Awards MY CHOICE winner Fiona Kidman

  • Author: Dame Fiona Judith Kidman DNZM OBE (1940)
  • Title: This Mortal Boy
  • Published: 2018
  • Genre: historical fiction
  • List of Challenges 2019
  • Monthly reading plan
  • #AWW2019 
  • @AusWomenWriters
  • Trivia: 2019 Winner of The New Zealand Booklovers’ Prize for Fiction
  • Trivia: 2018 Shortlisted for the NZ Heritage Book Awards
  • Trivia: 2019 Shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards
  • #TheOckhams will be awarded 14 May 2019.
  • @PenguinBooks_NZ



  1. On 05 December1955
  2. …New Zealand’s second-last execution occurred.
  3. The victim was a young Irishman,
  4. Albert (Paddy) Black…a bog-trotter.
  5. He knifed a man, Johnny McBride…bit of a rough diamond,
  6. in a bar-room brawl 26 July 1955
  7. …called the “juke-box murder”.
  8. Public revulsion at his execution was a major force
  9. abolishing the death penalty in 1961.
  10. Black was convicted of murder and executed.
  11. Yet there were clear signs that his trial
  12. …was a severe miscarriage of justice.
  13. Main characters:
  14. Albert (Paddy) Black Irish, aka Shaun Donavan (killer)
  15. Alan Keith Jacques English, aka Johnny McBride (victim)
  • Setting change: 1955 Belfast Ireland
  • Flashback: Belfast, parents, childhood, WW II, sailing to life in NZ
  • Setting: NZ Aukland, Wellington, Auckland Parliament House
  • Mt Eden Prison NZ (arrested awaits trial),
  • Ye Olde Barn cafe (crime scene)
  • Setting: Station Hotel Aukland NZ (where jury is staying during trial)
  • Setting: Aukland Court house – jury’s decision (ch 19)
  • Setting: Mount Eden Prison…execution



  1. This story is based on facts that are in no way
  2. sentimentalized by the author.
  3. This Mortal Boy reads like a Greek Tragedy
  4. …we know what is going to happen in the last act.
  5. The platform on the gallows will actually be a trapdoor.
  6. The book is a stark report about a young boy who
  7. made a mistake and paid the ultimate price, his life.


  1. Strong point:
  2. Research
  3. Dame Fiona Kidman has studied the trial transcripts
  4. …read copies of Albert Black’s letters to friend his Peter
  5. ..and visited Ireland to research the public records in Belfast
  6. (births, marriages, deaths).
  7. Chapter  27  is and eyewitness report  of the execution by J. Young.
  8. (…a very confronting read)
  9. Trial witnesses, lawyers and members of the jury are fictional.


  1. Strong point:
  2. Kidman examines history with a fine tooth comb.
  3. She supports her story with references
  4. to Australian politicians, The Mazengarb 1954 (report on moral delinquency)
  5. …and  the hanging of Fred Foster July 1955 for the ‘Milk Bar Murder’.


  1. Strong point:
  2. The jury
  3. In chapter two Kidman takes time to
  4. …introduce the reader to the 12 men on the jury.
  5. At first I thought Kidman was being too detailed.
  6. But later I realized  why it is important to know the
  7. social class (job, education) of these men.
  8. Only then can we understand the decision making
  9. process about Albert Black:
  10. guilty or not guilty.
  11. Three jurors add doubt to the arguments for guilty.
  12. I was captivated and drawn in as these jurors  try to
  13. remain staunchly against a guilty verdict.
  14. You will read what happened
  15. ….that pushed the verdict to guilty!


  1. Weak point of audio book:
  2. The singing!
  3. I’d rather read that someone is humming or singing a song
  4. …than to actually hearing it. #Distracting.


  1. Strong point:
  2. Ch 14 –  Oliver Buchanan, lawyer
  3. We imagine that the case is open and shut but…
  4. Buchanan works tirelessly to help his client
  5. …avoid the death penalty.
  6. There is something missing  in this case
  7. …but he cannot find the piece.
  8. Buchanan is interested in
  9. what happened before Paddy stabbed Johnny
  10. …that can prove that this crime was based on an accident.
  11. Buchanan quotes Thomas Hardy:
  12. “…for every bad..there is a worse.”


Last thoughts:

  1. Capital punishment…is such a contentious issue.
  2. While reading this book I was forced to think
  3. about the consequences of this policy.
  4. #Heartwrenching
  5. MY CHOICE to win Ockham 2019 for Fiction.



  1. Juror – Arthur university lecturer discusses… life? or death ?
  2. “…are you all so far beyond reproach
  3. that you have a right to make this decision?
  4. I’m not sure that I am.”


#Ockham NZ Awards shortlist Lloyd Jones


Why did I read this book?

  1. The Cage is shortlisted for Ockham Book Awards (New Zealand)
  2. I wanted to see why the jury selected this book.


Why after reading 20% of the book I was ready to call it quits?

  1. Usually a book starts out slowly and gets better and better.
  2. This book did exact the opposite.
  3. I slogged through chapters 1-8. (20%)
  4. The reader is presented a bizarre hotel that
  5. decides two strangers are too ‘other’ and should
  6. be caged in the backyard of the hotel.


What did I do differently after ch 8?

  1. I realized if I stop short I’ll risk missing something incredible.
  2. Resisting the impulse to stop midway also teaches the reader strength.
  3. I read the book as a fable
  4. Forget the bazaar framework of a hotel
  5. …and it’s eccentric owners who have caged two guests.
  6. Look for the observations that Lloyd Jones is making
  7. …to teach us a moral lesson.
  8. He wants us to see
  9. …strangers (refugees) from another perspective
  10. ….not just staring or gazing at them  on a TV screen.
  11. He uses animals that mimic human traits
  12. …and humans that treat others as animals


Strong point:

  1. Lloyd Jones uses the
  2. ….fable, a literary device.
  3. The author made lets animals teach a moral lesson.
  4. There are some  powerful images in the book:
  5. Narrator compares strangers to sheep:
  6. Sheep: spectacular single-mindedness
  7. …they eat in response to coming famine
  8. during the day they hardly know what to do with themselves
  9. Strangers: (refugees …like sheep)
  10. look forward to each new day
  11. it may bring release.
  12. It passes.
  13. There is another endless night to get through.


Strong point:

  1. Observations…and there were many excellent
  2. descriptions of the plight of refugees...
  3. that will pierce your soul.
  4. Once your soul has been pierced then you are able to help others.
  5. Example observation:
  6. Pressed around their eyes is a bruising confusion.
  7. They stand mesmerized by their circumstances
  8. …where just a moment ago, in their minds at least,
  9. they were in their kitchen at home.
  10. Example observation:
  11. Strangers (refugees) pace…
  12. they do it to alleviate a feeling of
  13. ..helplessness when rain is falling.
  14. They do not wish to be cooperative like grass
  15. …or submissive like mud.
  16. Example observation:
  17. Trustee (authority) Mr Bennett:
  18. “They are not incarcerated, they are temporally caged.”
  19. Viktor (cook in the hotel): “And the difference?”


Strong point:

  1. Best chapter  for moral lessonCh 11 Setting:  Zoo
  2. Lesson: The animals (strangers, refugees) don’t hate us
  3. …they alternate between bewilderment and boredom.”
  4. Core message book Ch 21 Setting: Hotel backyard
  5. Trustees authorities)  no longer go down to the yard
  6. …the narrator must transcribe what he sees.
  7. The Trustees are only interested in the facts
  8. they don’t get the fuller story of life inside the cage”


Weak point:

  1. The book is too long!!  (43 chapter and just 263 pages)
  2. After reading 50 % of the book
  3. …my interest seriously wavered.
  4. Note: I noticed around chapter 22
  5. ….the narrative repeats itself 
  6. over and over
  7. with observations, food for the strangers at the feeding hole,
  8. narrator playing the clarinet,
  9. visits to a zoo, strangers pace in the cage,
  10. sit on log or huddle in the back against a stone memorial wall…
  11. relieving  themselves in a newly dug hole.
  12. The strangers, visitors or Trustees (owners of hotel)
  13. keep  asking “ Is there any news?


Weak point:

  1. Flashbacks that
  2. made no sense  to me in the narrative!
  3. Narrator…
  4. flies in a plane with his father
  5. travels on a particular road with his father
  6. visits a lighthouse with his mother
  7. recalls a snorkeling holiday!


Weak point:

  1. Strange threads in the narrative…
  2. Note: I don’t really understand the symbol of the narrator playing his clarinet all the time. Is it just to make music “to sooth the savage beast?” (strangers, refugees)
  3. Note: constant thread in the book: narrator is serving breakfast ( eggs, toast, jam, coffee etc) to strangers through a feeding hole.
  4. Note: woman in the hat…demented neighbor who visits the cage or a asylum representative or just a vision?


Weak point:  useless chapters…just useless ( filler?)

Ch 25  Stangers receive a plate warmer…Trustees celebrate with a sparkling glass of wine and the narrator plays a song on his clarinet. What is the point?

Ch 26 Descriptions of nightmares ( Mr. Bennett and the Mole), strangers attempt to stand on the plate warmer and  piling stones against the cage as a wall. Narrator brings the strangers some toilet paper…then he plays a song on his clarinet. What is the point?

Ch 27 Katie (little girl in hotel) wants to feed them (strangers).  Strangers asleep in the dirt. Strangers are encouraged to grow own vegetables – Katie and narrator visit zoo again. What is the point?



  1. Criticism should be like a rain
  2. … gentle  enough to nourish growth
  3. …without destroying the roots.
  4. I have found many strong points in this book
  5. …but I think the author could have trimmed
  6. his manuscript in ch 22 – 35.
  7. With a little less clarinet…wallowing in the dirty cage
  8. coffee, toast and eggs in the feeding hole
  9. …it would  give this book extra polish.
  10. #JustSaying
  11. Yes this book is confronting.
  12. No….unfortunately…not my choice
  13. for the Ockham NZ Book Award 2019.



#Dublin Award shortlist 2019 Kamila Shamsie

  • Author: Kamila Shamsie
  • Title: Home Fire
  • Published: 2017
  • #DublinLiteraryAward2019
  • List of Challenges 2019
  • Monthly plan
  • PREDICTION:  this book is MY choice for Dublin Literary Award 2019!


  1. Man Booker Prize Nominee for Longlist (2017)
  2. Costa Book Award Nominee for Novel (2017)
  3. Australian Book Industry Award (ABIA) Nominee for International Book (2018)
  4. Women’s Prize for Fiction (2018)
  5. Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fiction (2017)


Shortlist: 4/10 ( not wasting my time on 6 selected books, sorry)


  • Reservoir 13 – J. McGregorREAD(…review Lisa)
  • Home Fire – Kamila ShamsieREAD (immigrants…review Brona)
  • Exit West – M. HamidNOT reading (review Lisa, Brona) (..enough of Middle-Eastern city)
  • Lincoln in the Bardo – George SaundersREAD (review Brona)
  • Midwinter Break –  Bernard MacLavertyREAD  (review Brona)
  • Compass –  M. Énard NOT reading – Prix Goncourt 2015  (review Reese)
  • Idaho –  Emily Ruskovich NOT reading (family epic, rugged Idaho)
  • A Boy in Winter –  Rachel SeiffertNOT reading  (WWII, review Lisa)
  • History of Wolves –  Emily FridlundNOT reading(review Lisa)
  • Conversations With Friends S. Rooney  NOT reading (…had enough of Rooney)


MY SHORTLIST  …books I think should have been shortlisted 0/6

  • Brother –  David Chariandy –  (Powerful, bold and timely, Canadian)
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine –  G. Honeyman  (review Reese)
  • The Hate U Give –  A. Thomas –  (..must read this, NYT Bestseller YA novel))
  • Tin Man –  Sarah Winman –  (review Lisa)



  1. Home Fire is a contemporary
  2. re-imagining of the Greek tragedy Antigone
  3. …in 5 acts…locations.
  4. Setting: The novel is set in five locations:
  5. London; Amherst, Massachusetts,
  6. Istanbul,  Raqqa, Syria and Karachi, Pakistan
  7. Structure: The book is divided into 5 parts.
  8. Characters: In each part one character
  9. Isma – elder sister, raised twins when their mother died
  10. Eamonn – son Home Secretary, lover Aneeka
  11. Parvaiz – twin, jihadi
  12. Aneeka – twin,  law student
  13. Karamat Lone  – Home Secretary
  14. speaks to the  reader
  15. …we are the chorus in a  Greek play!
  16. Theme: The theme is resistance.
  17. Aneeka refuses to obey the law
  18. Aneeka defies British Home Secretary Karamat Lone
  19. …who stated that a jihadi may not return to UK …dead or alive.
  20. Climax: Aneeka keeps vigil by her brother’s coffin in public park – protest!
  21. Symbol: soil
  22. With a dust mask on her face, dark hair a cascade of mud
  23. onlookers hear a deep howl…a howl Aneeka
  24. calls up from the earth through her into the office of the Home Secretary
  25. …watching on the TV
  26. She scrapes some dirt with her fingernails
  27. to properly bury her brother.
  28. Aneeka choose her dignity and
  29. …that of her brother above her happiness.


Last thoughts:

  1. The novel tries to stay close to the original plot of Antigone.
  2. Shamsie has been able to include the
  3. theme of civil disobedience
  4. into a modern setting with
  5. …explosive political (jihad, ISIS) undertones.
  6. The book has been reviewed by
  7. …so many readers it is impossible
  8. to add more praise than it has accrued.
  9. Strong point: IMO  Act 3 Parvaiz was the most impressive.
  10. Shamsie revealed why how Parvaiz was groomed to
  11. leave his home to answer the call of Jihad.
  12. Two years after publication
  13. this book is still very confronting.
  14. The so-called caliphate of Islamic State, also known as Isis,
  15. in Iraq and Syria is defeated but remains a threat.
  16. Countries must engage in a delicate balancing act between
  17. legal obligations and political correctness.
  18. Strong point: thought provoking
  19. …I had to think long and hard….
  20. how families must feel
  21. losing their children to the Islamic state.
  22. #Devastated



#Dublin Award shortlist 2019 Jon McGregor


Shortlist: 3/10 ( not wasting my time on 6 selected books, sorry)

MY SHORTLIST …books I think should have been shortlisted 0/6



  • Reservoir 13J. McGregorREAD(…review Lisa)
  • Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie – (immigrants…review Brona)
  • Exit West – M. Hamid – NOT reading (…review Lisa, Brona) (..enough of Middle-East city)
  • Lincoln in the Bardo – George SaundersREAD (review Brona)
  • Midwinter Break –  Bernard MacLavertyREAD  (review Brona)
  • Compass –  M. Énard NOT reading – Prix Goncourt 2015  (review Reese)
  • Idaho –  Emily RuskovichNOT reading (family epic, rugged Idaho)
  • A Boy in Winter –  Rachel SeiffertNOT reading  (WWII, review Lisa)
  • History of Wolves –  Emily FridlundNOT reading – SHORTLIST (review Lisa)
  • Conversations With Friends S. Rooney  NOT reading –  (…had enough of Rooney)


MY SHORTLIST  …books I think should have been shortlisted

  • Pachinko –  Jin Min Lee – (500 pg saga, review  Sue and Brona)
  • Brother –  David Chariandy  (Powerful, bold and timely, Canadian)
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine –  G. Honeyman  (review Reese)
  • The Hate U Give –  A. Thomas –  (..must read this, NYT Bestseller YA novel))
  • Tin Man –  Sarah Winman –  (review Lisa)
  • Taboo Kim Scott (Indigenous Australian) –  (review Lisa and Brona)



  1. Timeline: 10 years.
  2. Ch 1 : A young girl goes missing on a walk.
  3. The parents and villagers are in shock.
  4. Now in just about every chapter McGregor tells us
  5. what  the foxes,  sheep
  6. …swallows, badgers, pheasants, magpies
  7. woodpigeons, a whippet and Mr. Wilson’s dog are doing!
  8. We listen to village gossip,
  9. …spy on teenagers kissing in the  fields.
  10. We celebrate with the characters just about
  11. every holiday imaginable:
  12. Harvest festivals, Xmas pageants, May Day
  13. …Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day
  14. and New Years Eve when the fireworks go off.
  15. In the background we are told the
  16. reservoirs are silver-metallic grey
  17. …rising higher, flooding, the water resides lower,
  18. …rise again and are whipped into whitecaps.
  19. This goes on and on for another 12 chapters.
  20. …but still not real investigation about the missing girl.
  21. This story is a circle going round and round
  22. …what’s the point?
  23. First chapter was the hook.
  24. Short sentences keeping the pace and plot moving.
  25. Then…BAM!
  26. I ended up in a 12 chapter nature walk
  27. …through a quintessential English village!
  28. Huh?
  29. Where is the suspense of a missing teenage girl in the quarries?
  30. Winner of the Costa Novel Award
  31. A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
  32. Named a Best Book of the Year by
  33. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kirkus, and Los Angeles Review.
  34. WTF?
  35. Life’s too short to read long winding books like these.
  36. Clearly winning prizes does not guarantee a good book.


Last thoughts:

  1. Initially I thought I found a
  2. strong point in the first few chapters.
  3. McGregor’s writing style reminded me of episodes
  4. of BBC Broadchurch detective series!
  5. Not a narrative  filled with junk science CSI
  6. but the human side of a story based on
  7. the tragedy of a missing girl and
  8. …how it bleeds into the lives of the villagers.
  9. But the hemorrhaging….just kept on going
  10. …until there was no more life in the story!
  11. Needless to say after 7 chapters of this senseless talk
  12. I skimmed the rest of the book.
  13. How could Reservoir 13 be
  14. …shortlisted for the Dublin Literary Prize?
  15. Where’s the literature in this book?
  16.  I’ve seen recipes for boiled eggs that were more exciting!
  17. #HugeDisappointment



#Stella Prize 2019 shortlist Melissa Lucashenko

Shortlisted books: 2/6  




  1. Kerry Salter returns to her hometown of Durrongo
  2. …to bid farewell to her dying grandfather.
  3. She becomes embroiled in
  4. …the dramas of her dysfunctional family.



  1. This book was  difficult to enter…
  2. ..narrative and  the characters.
  3.  The family relations were hard to sort out because there are so
  4. many people to keep track of!
  5. Great-grandparents (‘Chinky’ Joe, Gran Ava)
  6. Grandparents (Pop Joe, Granny Ruth)
  7. Mother-father (Pretty Mary and Charlie)
  8. Brothers-sisters   “Koala” Ken, Donna, “Black Superman”, Kerry
  9. Aunts, uncles, nephews and cousins…


Weak point: Book is not filled with richly crafted sentences.


Strong point:

  1. An emotional mood/tone  cannot be measured
  2. …but it can be spoken!
  3. The writer uses a specific choice of words
  4. slang (“truesgod!”)
  5. local phrases, (Norco butter, plate of hammer and onion)
  6. misspellings ( wanna,  granny is ‘ere ta help’)
  7. profane expressions
  8. …that you can imagine are in all the chapters!
  9. These word choices express the lifestyle, viewpoint and
  10. dysfunctionality of the Satler Aboriginal family.


Last Thoughts:

  1. Amid all the bizarre images, voices and actions
  2. in this book with some very complex characters
  3. we see passion, love and forgiveness in the Satler family.
  4. Language is the culture. (Aboriginal)
  5. If you lose your language you’ve lost your culture.
  6. Lucashenko manages to find a balance
  7. between emotions and language
  8. …that really impressed me!



#Shortlist Kerry Group Irish Novel of 2019


Experiment  is a success!

  1. This is the first time I have committed to a shortlist
  2. …and finished it!
  3. I needed a kick-start to keep up my reading momentum
  4. …after 3 weeks #ReadingIreland19
  5. I find that seeing the image of the books on every review
  6. keeps me focused to write a few thoughts and move
  7. on to the next book as soon as possible.
  8. Yesterday I read the last book.
  9. Kerry Group Best Irish Novel 2019
  10. …announcement on 29 May 2019.
  11. Travelling In A Strange LandD. Park – READ #ReadingIrelandMonth19
  12. A Ladder To The SkyJohn Boyne – READ #ReadingIrelandMonth19
  13. The Cruelty MenEmer Martin – READ #ReadingIrelandMonth19
  14. Normal PeopleSally Rooney – READING #ReadingIrelandMonth19


Shortlisted books:  read 5/5


  1. Care worker Maud Drennan is assigned a  difficult client
  2. Cathal Flood…he is a hoarder.
  3. Maud finds herself knee-deep in hoarded junk and intrigue.
  4. What exactly happened to Flood’s wife years before?
  5. Why is Maud haunted by practically every saint
  6. …dishing out some fairly useless advice!



  1. It’s part Gothic murder mystery, part ghost story.
  2. Strong point: humor
  3. I loved the character of Renata (Maud’s partner in crime).
  4. Saints, Dynphna, Valentine  Rita, George, Monica, Raphael  are cleverly
  5. mixed into the narrative with their quirks and sanctity.
  6. Cats that lounge around Mr Flood’s home
  7. …are all named after  writers:
  8. Hemingway – rousing meow with half an ear
  9. Beckett – sightly bored, flicks question marks with his tail
  10. Dame Cartland – sociable Perian with matted rear-end
  11. Burroughs – dour, sneaky, hisses suspiciously in corners
  12. Strong point:  figurative language
  13. Kidd uses many references to maggots, toads trapdoor spiders
  14. cobwebs, earwigs to give the story an ultimate ‘jick-factor’
  15. The Gothic house we read…
  16. “the overgrown steps…ivy peels back from the doorframe sucker by sucker”
  17. Strong point:  similes….compares 2 different items
  18. the room “….like being inside a wedding cake…
  19. …froths of white and gold voile and sofas, plump crescents
  20. …of white leather.”
  21. Emotion:  This is the STRONGEST point of The Hoarder
  22. Kidd makes her characters people that you care about.
  23. Renata, landlady  who emerges each day as Maud walks by her door
  24. “…like a New Age Butterfly from her ground-floor cocoon”
  25. Renata is a life guide for Maud.
  26. She oozes charm in an eccentric way!


Last thoughts:

  1. If you are looking for an engaging, light read
  2. that is riotously funny...this is your book!
  3. I’m looking forward to reading more books
  4. by  Jess Kidd!



#Ireland Sally Rooney


Wrap-up  #ReadingIrelandMonth19

  1. I have had a busy month reading Irish authors.
  2. There is so much talent on the Emerald Isle.
  3. I want to thank Cathy for hosting.
  4. I will be back next year!

Books read:    List #ReadingIrelandMonth2019


Shortlisted books Kerry Group Best Irish Novel of the Year:    read 4/5

  1. Timeline: 4 years
  2. Structure: no chapter titles to indicate what we can  expect
  3. Rooney uses a chronological timeline:
  4. Begin January 2011 – End February 2015
  5. Genre: romantic tragicomedy
  6. Setting: Carricklea, Ireland and Trinity College Dublin



  1. Sally Rooney draws on elements of the social world
  2. that she  inhabited growing up in Castlebar, Ireland
  3. …and then in college.
  4. She studied English at Trinity Dublin, and
  5. …the book is very much about her
  6. …observing that  social milieu.
  7. Two star-crossed lovers:  Connell and Marianne.
  8. “…like two little plants sharing the same plot of soil
  9. growing around one another, contorting to make room.”


  1. Connell: popular, quiet, studious, sport jock, good-looking,
  2. cared what people thought of him
  3. …considered quite a catch.
  4. Marianne: unpopular, feels lonely and unworthy,
  5. secretive, independent-minded – the ugliest girl in school
  6. Connell feels “…being alone with Marianne is like opening a door away from normal life…”
  7. Marianne feels “…he bought her goodness like a gift…”


  1. How does Connell change?
  2. March 2011:
  3. Connell pretends not to know Marianne in high-school.
  4. He wants to live in two worlds…good-looking, popular
  5. …but still dating the ugliest girl in school. No one must know.
  6. January 2015:
  7. Unlike him to behave  so openly in public
  8. by embracing Marianne and saying: ”I love you”
  9. …on New Year’s Eve.


  1. How does Marianne change?
  2. March 2011:
  3. Marianne feels like an observer…be it an awkward one.
  4. January 2015:
  5. Marianne feels dependent upon another human being
  6. …for the first time in her life.


Last thoughts:

  1. I have seen 1 star reviews….and 5 star reviews about this book.
  2. For a long time I pushed Normal People to the bottom of my TBR.
  3. The book has been nominated for many prizes and
  4. has been reviewed on blogs, magazines and in  the newspapers.
  5. When a book gets so much exposure….I recoil.
  6. Now I have to read it for Kerry Group Irish Novel shortlist.


  1. I read pages of teen-age sexual relationships, parties, boozing
  2. dysfunctional family including Denise… Marianne’s  mother
  3. …and a jealous and violent  brother Alan.
  4. One of the highlights in the narrative was a minor character
  5. who played a major role:  Lorraine, Connell’s mother.
  6. Life for a millennial is not easy
  7. ….and Sally Rooney has articulated the
  8. …stress and strains of growing up and falling in love.


  1. Was I impressed?  No.
  2. Lorraine is the only character that saved this book.
  3. The narrative has an emotional impact
  4. that resonates with many readers.
  5. It is a very easy read and lacks depth.
  6. By that I mean…symbolism, metaphor, images.
  7. This book may be interesting for other millennials
  8. …but I found the plot uninteresting
  9. …on/off romance between two college students.
  10. It was a very average book about
  11. #NormalPeople.

#Ireland Emer Martin

Shortlisted books:  read 3/5


  1. Magdalene laundry survivors are honoured.
  2. Atlantic, children are wrenched from their parents and put in cages.
  3. Both the laundries and the systematic practice of harvesting children
  4. to feed labour requirements of industrial schools
  5. …carried out by the “Cruelty Men” of the title.



Strong point:

  1. Honest, raw, brave look at dysfunctional Irish society 1930s-1960s.
  2. Writer is talented and knowledgeable about the effects
  3. of religious and industrial institutions on the lower class.
  4. She also blends Irish myth, folklore, and landscape
  5. …into a witches (Irish hag) brew.


Weak point:

  1. I think Emer Martin wants to squeeze
  2. so much shock and awe
  3. into the narrative to  that the
  4. pain of reading the book overwhelmed
  5. the pleasure of reading it…in my case.
  6. I had to put the book down in disbelief.


Last thoughts:

  1. Some may like this book….some may not.
  2. Martin explores difficult topics with a touch of Irish surrealism.
  3. The beginning of the book was meant to ‘hook’ me
  4. …and nudge me further  into the novel.
  5. The first chapter just baffled me.
  6. You’ve been warned.
  7. It took my unshakeable resolution to finish
  8. reading this shortlist (foto)
  9. …that prevented me from closing the book after 100 pages.
  10. Will it win Kerry Group Best Irish Novel of the year?
  11. I think that there are better books on the shortlist.
  12. I hope you take the time between now and 29 May 2019
  13. …to read the shortlist and choose your winner!
  14. Dark side…of Irish history.




#Ireland John Boyne

Shortlisted books:  read 3/5


  1. The story of one man’s cut-throat path to literary stardom
  2. starts impressively but then the author loses his way.
  4. “When the gods wish to punish us
  5. …..they answer our prayers.” (pg 124)


Part One: Before the Wall Came Down:

  1. Maurice’s journey through 8 cities
  2. …with mentor Erich Ackermann (66 yr)


Interlude: The Swallow’s Nest

  1. Maurice’s vist with Gore Vidal.
  2. The title of this chapter refers to Gore Vidal’s villa in Ravello ‘La Rondinaia’
  3. The Swallow’s Nest’ was built in 1925 on the Amalfi coast
  4. Vidal bought the villa 1972.

Part Two: The Tribesman (best-seller)

  1. Maurice’s marriage to Edith and the 8 months
  2. leading up to the publication on his best-seller.


Interlude: The Threatened Animal

  1. 10 years later
  2. …1 child (Daniel), 2 new books published
  3. Maurice is founder and editor-in-chief
  4. …of a  NYC literary magazine.
  5. Backstory: Maurice’s childhood
  6. The story kicks into high gear!
  7. This chapter is the turning point!
  8. Maurice has married Edith
  9. ….but she is about to tell him the ugly truth!
  10. Can Maurice find redemption
  11. …or does he continue with his relentless pursuit of fame?


Part Three: Other People’s Stories

  1. Maurice’s meetings in 6 pubs
  2. with the thesis student,Theo Field
  3. …and Daniel’s ghost. (his son)
  4. Part 3: “Other People’s Stories” was a tour de force!.
  5. John Boyne uses  a clever maneuver (technique)
  6. in handling a difficult situation
  7. while giving the novel a satisfying ending
  8. ….a sense of justice.
  9. Extraordinary!
  10. Title: A Ladder in the Sky is a metaphor for the
  11. Main theme:  ambition
  12. “…it’s like setting a ladder to the sky
  13. …pointless waste of energy.” (pg 304)


Strong point:

  1. Character:
  2. Boyne developed a complex, ambitious writer…Maurice Swift.
  3. Boyne creates a push and pull in the story.
  4. Maurice bounces off characters
  5. …who are generous and loving.
  6. This is the tension that starts the problems
  7. …drives the plot with twists and turns
  8. …and makes this book a page-turner!
  9. The ultimate resolution…a feeling of closure.



  1. This book WILL WIN the prize
  2. ….Kerry Group Irish Novel of 2019!
  3. I am a difficult reader to please when it
  4. comes to contemporary fiction.
  5. But I did NOT SKIM one word of the story.
  6. The reader will be mesmerized by
  7. …devastating effects of ambition.
  8. This book is absolutely brilliant!


Last thoughts:

  1. John Boyne is the discovery of my #ReadingIrelandMonth19.
  2. He wrote  the best-seller Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in 2006
  3. …but I was more impressed by the story
  4. instead of investigating the author.
  5. Boyne has continued to write 5 star books!
  6. The Ladder to the Sky was excellent
  7. …my best 2019 read so far.
  8. Pay close attention to what you’re reading
  9. …and even closer attention
  10. …to what you may be missing.
  11. #SupriseEnding

#Ireland David Park

Shortlisted books:  read 1/5



  1. Tom, the narrator, is travelling from Belfast to Sunderland in
  2. heavy snow to collect his son from
  3. Sunderland university for the Christmas holidays.
  4. It proves to be a very emotional journey.



  1. Weak point: David Park is trying too hard…..
  2. Park’s writing is interesting, but a bit belabored.
  3. There are more words and images
  4. ….there than you really need to make the point.
  5. Example: “Ice-up car the words have nowhere
  6. to go and so they hang until frozen in silence”.
  7. Weak point:  the backstories felt like a chunk of events
  8. the author is simply trying to get out the way.
  9. Flashback scenes, dream sequences or piece of dialogue
  10. were dishwater gray…..recap information
  11. purely for the reader’s benefit…did not add tension to the story.
  12. The gimmick of a child asking father silly riddles got on my nerves.
  13. The use of a another gimmick…a the car’s navigational voice
  14. (satnav) as a constant thread in the narrative
  15. …was annoying.
  16. I tried to stay focused but after 30% of the book my
  17. mind was drifting snow, blinded by Park’s white-out of
  18. never ending references to winter.
  19. Sometimes …less is more.
  20. In short…this book was not in sync with “my personal satnav.”
  21. It was all I could do to ‘hold on to the steering wheel’
  22. and at least finish the book.


Last thoughts:

  1. This book is just not my cup to tea.
  2. But this does not diminish the book’s merit
  3. …in any way.
  4. I don’t think this will win the
  5. 2019 Kerry Group Irish Novel of the year
  6. …perhaps I’ll be proven wrong.
  7. #Read the book and….form your own opinion!