Monthly Archives: December 2015

Pretty Good Year

So. This past year, for me, saw a book deal and a baby. 2015 was a stressful and, at times, scary twelve months – but in other ways it was the very best of times.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas (if celebrating it is your thing), and I wish everyone the happiest of new years as 2016 dawns. May the next year bring you happiness, success and peace of mind, and may there be words, and books, and wine, and laughter, and love. And music. May there always be music.

My resolutions? Blog more. Find time to write. Be the best mother and wife I can possibly be. And remember to take a moment every day to step back, smile, and remind myself how dang lucky I am. Thanks for spending another year hanging out here, and I hope to see you all back in this neck of the woods in 2016.

Book Review Saturday – ‘One’

Sarah Crossan’s One is a novel I fully expected not to like. I hope, if the author sees this opening sentence, that she isn’t offended; it will come as some comfort, no doubt, that I soon learned the error of my ways. I’m not convinced by novels written in verse, you see. I appreciate the effort it takes and the precision of language and even the pretty layout on the pages, but still. Something in me wonders if it’s necessary.

Well. One is such a beautiful story – and so deeply emotionally engaging – that the format in which it’s told hardly matters. By saying this I don’t mean to undermine Sarah Crossan’s artistry and achievement; the book is a piece of finely crafted writing. What I mean is, it soon won over even this hardened anti-poetry cynic. Eventually I forgot I was even reading. The story played out in my mind as though someone else was narrating it, or I was watching it on a screen. I think this effect was probably due to the skill with which the words were laid out on the page. In some ways it’s sparse, and in others so rich and rewarding that it ensures One is a book which lingers.



One tells the story of twins Tippi and Grace, named for Hitchcock’s favourite actresses. They are pretty, intelligent, interesting and loving girls who do well at school and who have dreams of happiness, crushes on boys, and desires for their lives. They are also conjoined, their bodies united below the waist. They have two hearts and two sets of lungs, but only one pair of legs. Their life is a constant tension between how they see themselves – as a pair of individuals – and how some others see them, as a unit. As the book opens their family is facing financial ruin, and the girls’ medical treatment, which is expensive, is eating away at their resources. So, for the first time, the girls have to go to public school – and they also have to make a choice which will mean some money coming in, but which will also take away the last vestige of their privacy.

In a book like this, of course the plot is going to be somewhat predictable. We have a pair of conjoined twins; naturally, the idea of separation is going to arise. It’s not necessarily something the girls want (though of course it’s something they’ve thought about), but it gradually becomes evident that it is something they need to consider, and fast. The story then takes us in an unexpected and heartwrenching direction – but I’m not going to be drawn on that.

The book’s power is in the way it depicts the relationships between its characters. Everyone in Grace and Tippi’s family has something going on, including their sister (who suffers from an eating disorder, and who I would have loved to read more about, and their father who struggles with alcoholism), and I really enjoyed that Crossan doesn’t make Grace and Tippi the ‘odd ones out’, the token disabled people in an otherwise perfect family. I loved the way she describes the girls’ nascent longing for love and romantic connection, their complete integration with one another, their deep and unfathomable love for one another, the depth of the decisions they must face and how there is, in truth, no right answer to any of their complex challenges. I’m still not quite sure what the poetry brought to the story, but I just know that I loved it, and that the book will live with me for a long time. I happened to read it as I sat in hospital just beginning the process of labour (my child was born the following day) and this gave it a deep resonance for me, too. I could connect powerfully with the ideas of fetal development and birth, touched on at the book’s start, and the feelings of the girls’ mother both as she learned the truth of her daughters’ condition and what it would mean for them, long-term, and also the reality of the situation they find themselves in during the course of the story. The truths in this book (including the difficulty of dealing with medical complications, the effects it has on other members of the family, the reality of alcoholism, unemployment and family dysfunction) are fantastically well realised, and the whole is saved from bleakness and despair by the wonderful characterisation and the strength of the sisters’ connection.

In short, this is a book which doesn’t take long to read, due to its form, but which will live long in your mind and memory. It’s affecting, emotional, beautiful, and above all true, in the sense that all good literature is true. It encapsulates life in all its complexity and unpredictability, in all its joys and sorrows, and it is beautiful.  A definite recommendation.

Books for Christmas! (Or, just because!)

The main problem I had compiling this post was one of space. I’ve often said it before, and I’ll say it again: for fans of children’s literature, this is a golden age. There are so many excellent books to choose from this year that any round up of ‘the best’, besides being entirely subjective, will have to be far too short.  The following list is a good one to look over if you have someone to buy books for as a Christmas gift (or a birthday gift, or just because you love ’em), but it’s by no means comprehensive.

So. Here is my list of top choices, ranging from picture books to YA, published within the last couple of years:

Picture Books

Shh! We Have a Plan (Chris Haughton)

Chris Haughton has a wonderful, unique visual style, and his books are immediately recognisable. Like my other favourite of his, Oh, No George!, this lovely little story (about a bunch of unscrupulous hat-wearing hunters who plot to capture a beautiful bird) has eyecatching font and art and a pleasing colour palette – and it’s huge fun.

I’m A Girl! (Yasmeen Ismail)

An Irish picture book maker of renown, Yasmeen Ismail is another of my ‘reliable’ authors. I love recommending her work. I’m a Girl! is a story about being yourself, no matter what the world tells you you should or should not like, and I just love that message.

The Day the Crayons Came Home (words: Drew Daywalt; art: Oliver Jeffers)

The sequel to The Day the Crayons Quit, I just love this book. The idea of crayons having personalities and leaving messages for their owner – and, in this case, getting lost and describing their adventures under the sofa and in the dryer, among other places – is so cute and heartwarming. Plus, anything drawn by Oliver Jeffers is worth checking out.




Irelandopedia (words: John Burke; art: Kathi (Fatti) Burke)

It is what is sounds like: an encyclopedia of Ireland! Packed full of interesting and unusual facts and dotted liberally with lovely illustrations, this book is a gorgeous gift for readers of any age.

Shackleton’s Journey (William Grill)

A stunning depiction of Ernest Shackleton’s journey to Antarctica, this book’s beauty is matched only by the depth of its research. I’m fascinated by polar exploration anyway, but for any adventure-loving young reader, this lovely book is sure to be a hit.

Thing Explainer (Randall Munroe)

A book about how things work, and why, in simple language and with a humorous twist (Randall Munroe also writes the very funny comic xkcd), this is a great gift for an older reader.

Middle Grade/Older Readers

Once Upon a Place (various authors; compiled by Eoin Colfer; art by P.J. Lynch)

A beautiful and lavishly-illustrated collection of stories and poems, all based around locations in Ireland, this is truly beautiful.

Darkmouth: Worlds Explode (Shane Hegarty)

The sequel to Darkmouth, this book sees Finn entering the realm of the Legends and hoping – just hoping – to get out of it alive and in relatively few pieces. Fun and fast-paced, this is an appealing book.

The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow (Katherine Woodfine)

Edwardian, elegant, gripping, and lavishly presented in beautiful covers (and with line drawings by the cover artist, Julia Salda) this is a fantastic mystery with a well-drawn cast of characters. Its sequel, The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth, has just been released, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

The Wolf Wilder (Katherine Rundell)

Katherine Rundell’s writing is always gorgeous, and this book is no exception. Her swooping, beautiful prose tells the story of a young girl and her mother who live in the Russian wilderness, teaching wolves to be wild, and who come under threat from the forces of the Tsar. And it looks gorgeous too.

wolf wilder


The Lie Tree (Frances Hardinge)

It’s Frances Hardinge. What more do you need? If you have never read her, start. (Though I counsel beginning not at the ‘beginning’, with her first published novels, but with this book or Cuckoo Song or A Face Like Glass, all of which are works of genius).

Phoenix (S.F. Said; art by Dave McKean)

A beautiful, epic journey through space illustrated wonderfully by Dave McKean, Phoenix is a memorable and monumental book. Gripping to the end, and wide in imaginative scope, it’s a definite favourite of mine.

The Black Lotus (Kieran Fanning)

Ninjas! Death-defying stunts! Time travel! Superpowers! This book has it all, and a kick-ass cover, too. I loved this debut from Irish author Kieran Fanning.

The Book of Learning (E.R. Murray)

Ebony Smart is a girl unlike any other – and it’s up to her to save not only her family but their entire way of life before it’s too late. Set in Dublin and Cork, its evocative places are as much a character in this story as any of its (memorable) human players.


One (Sarah Crossan)

I read One while in hospital, just beginning the process of labour as I gave birth to my child. For that reason, it will always be special, but it is a wonderful book besides that. Telling the story of a pair of very special twins, it is deeply moving and uniquely written, and I love it.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here (Patrick Ness)

One of the best, funniest, smartest and most moving books I read this year, The Rest of Us Just Live Here is just what you’d expect from Patrick Ness: epic greatness. Following the ‘ordinary’ kids through a near-miss with the apocalypse, it’s clever and full of flawed characters, and it’s fabulous.

rest of us


The Dead House (Dawn Kurtagich)

Written in a ‘found’ style – pieces of diaries, transcriptions of video and audio footage, newspaper reports, and suchlike – this book tells the story of Carly Johnson, a pupil at Elmbridge High, which burned down twenty-five years before the story opens. Among the papers found in the school’s ruins is a diary belonging to Kaitlyn, Carly’s twin sister – but did she exist at all? Creepy and psychologically unsettling, this is a great read from my fellow Greenhouser, Dawn Kurtagich. Great for dark nights!

The Accident Season (Moira Fowley-Doyle)

A lyrical, unique and memorable book about a family which seems cursed to suffer accidents and injuries every October – some of them fatal – and their journey to uncover why they are burdened in this way. Coupled with a search for a girl whom nobody but this family seems to remember, and Cara’s feelings for her sort-of-ex-stepbrother, it is one of the best books I read this year.

Alors, mes anges. There you have it. A semi-cobbled-together-on-no-sleep list of great books which you might consider purchasing for the readers in your life – though, really, you can’t beat walking into a good bookshop and asking the advice of a knowledgeable bookseller. So, that’s my real recommendation. Ask an expert. And try to buy offline, if you can at all. Let’s keep our bookshops the way they should be – open, and solvent.

And happy Bookmas!