Continuing our campaign to see that receives at least one book as a Christmas present this year (and every year), we have two more ‘Top Five’ recommendations from leading Irish writers. Dave Kenny puts forward his top five Non-Fiction books from this year, including memoir and compelling real-life experiences. We have a Top Five YA Fiction from Angel Kiss author Laura Jane Cassidy, with stories spanning from Dublin to New York. Click the links to read part one and part two of our authors recommends series
Dave Kenny’s Top Five Non-Fiction Books
I’ll Tell me Ma – Brian Keenan
Former hostage, Brian Keenan, is best known for his non-fiction masterpiece, An Evil Cradling. This has tended to overshadow his other work, including the magnificent novel, ‘Turlough’. Here, he crafts one of the most beautifully-written explorations of childhood you’re ever likely to read.
Keenan paints a vivid picture of 1950s Belfast, where hawkers sold coal and bleach on the cobbled streets and herders drove pigs along the flourishing quaysides. This was a time of movie houses, Airfix planes and street fights. Of bonfires and simmering tensions – both sectarian and domestic.
What sets I’ll Tell Me Ma apart from other memoirs is Keenan’s gift for forensic self-examination. Like the man himself, the book oozes integrity. Engrossing and poignant, it will leave you asking yourself the question: ‘why the hell can’t I write like that?’
In 1961, 11-year-old Terry Jo Duperrault’s parents rented a luxury sailboat to go exploring the Caribbean for six months. They had the holiday of a lifetime … for all the wrong reasons. The boat’s sociopath skipper, Julian Harvey, slaughtered Terry Jo’s family and left her for dead. The terrified girl escaped on a tiny cork raft as the boat went under. She survived for four days alone in the ocean, without food or water.
Okay, so it’s not exactly something you’re going to read at the table on Christmas Day, but this is a compelling – and ultimately uplifting (the hero survives) – story nonetheless.
Former Mountjoy governor, John Lonergan, is a man who divides opinion. Some see him as a soft-spoken do-gooder, others see him as a maverick prison reformer. Whatever your opinion of the man, one thing is certain: he has a unique story to tell.
Lonergan spent 42 years in the prison service, 26 as Ireland’s most senior officer. Here he tells of his journey from idyllic childhood in rural Tipp to the ugly stone-and-steel realities of prison life. He recounts his early battles with officialdom and the bureaucrats who treated the prison system as a political catspaw. He also tells of the Bugsy Malone child gangsters; the Provo jail Generals; and the prisoners themselves – a lost sub-strata of Irish society for whom the prison gate is a revolving door.
Lonergan’s book is a fine addition to the canon of Irish prison memoirs. While his story is told from the other side of the bars, The Governor can take its place on the same shelf as O’Donovan Rossa’s Years in English Jails and Behan’s Borstal Boy. An entertaining and enlightening read. You can read our interview with the Governor here
Ian Fleming’s wife once described him as a “chocolate soldier” as he spent most of WWII behind a desk. She was being a bit harsh on the man who created James Bond. While Fleming was certainly deskbound, it was unlikely that he would have, ahem, ‘melted’ under fire. In fact, as Rankin points out in this ripper of a book, Fleming’s contribution to Germany’s defeat was far greater than most people (including his wife) gave him credit for.
In 1942, Fleming created a special commando unit (30 Assault Unit) with the aim of stealing German naval intelligence. It had a dodgy start, getting its backside whipped at Dieppe in 1942 and suffering high casualties in the Greek islands in 1943. However, it got into its stride during the North Africa landings when it captured an Enigma machine and two tons of documents. By 1945 the unit’s contribution to the war effort had proved invaluable. Rankin recounts their various scrapes here in an entertaining and engaging manner.
Fleming was a man-of-action. According to Rankin, he found running 30AU’s operations from an office highly frustrating. Luckily for us, this frustration ultimately worked its way out of his system and into his Bond novels.
Fans of 007 will enjoy tracing the wartime experiences that created fiction’s greatest spy. Everyone else can enjoy it for what it is: a rattling historical read.
If you believe that the years from 1916 to ’22 were the noblest in our history, then demand Santa brings you a copy of O’Ruairc’s wonderful Revolution. It’s a pictorial record of Ireland’s struggle for independence which is bursting at the spine with iconic images. IRA volunteers cheerily facing execution? Check. Dramatic military raids in Dublin? Check? Heroic-looking characters in Sam Brown belts? Check.
In other hands, this might just have been a very handsome coffee table book. O’Ruairc’s authoritative commentary, however, ensures that Revolution will never be stained with coffee mug rings. It’s an absolute gem and worth pride-of-place on any history buff’s shelf.
You can read our interview with Revolution author Padraig O’Ruairc here
Dave Kenny is a journalist, broadcaster and author of The Trib; Erindipity The Irish Miscellany; Erindipity Rides Again; The Brilliant Irish Flute (The Inish Turk Beg Sessions); and The Little Buke of Dublin or How To Be A Real Dub.
Laura Jane Cassidy’s Top Five Young Adult Fiction Books
‘A romance blossoms when strangers Dash and Lily start communicating through a red notebook left in various places around New York city. Set against the backdrop of the festive season, this book is a perfect Christmas read for teens’. A film adaptation is currently in the works for Dash and Lily’s story but if experience has thought us anything, it is that the book is always better than the film
A Greyhound of a Girl – Roddy Doyle
‘Another stunning novel from one of Ireland’s greatest storytellers. It’s a heartwarming, tear-jerking story about 4 generations of a family that will stay with you long after you’ve finished it. A book that can be enjoyed at all ages’.
‘A charming, hilarious story set in Dublin. Rebecca’s Mum is an author who has recently branched into teenage fiction. Everybody in school thinks she’s writing about Rebecca, so Rebecca is determined to show people who she really is’. This book was the winner of the senior award for Best Childrens Book at the Irish Book awards in November.
And For Your Information– Denise Deegan
‘The second book in the Butterfly Novels series which follows the lives of students in a private school in Dublin. Denise has the enviable ability to write completely addictive stories that also have real depth. Teens are sure to be up reading this late into the night’. You can read our interview with Denise Deegan here
‘The latest offering in the Amy Green series from our queen of teen. Everyone in Amy’s life seems to be loved up, but then she discovers that her best friend Mills’ love life is in serious trouble. Adorable characters, important issues and hilarious laugh-out-loud moments combine to make this a must-read for Irish teens’.
© Dave Kenny and Laura Jane Cassidy, December 2011.