O Come Ye Back to Ireland - Our First Year in County Clare

O Come Ye Back To Ireland by Niall Williams and Christine Breen

Travel memoirs are some of my favourite books, especially those about moving to a distant place, full of observations about the new country and the people and way of life there. I've come across very few that weren't wonderfully entertaining. 

Niall had lived in Ireland as a child, and Christine's family had history there as well. Uprooting from New York and settling in rural Ireland would be a dramatic change of lifestyle, but to both it felt like "going home" in some ways. On arrival the practicalities of life were quick to displace any romantic idea of country life they'd carried with them, but through all the ups and downs - and there were such downs -  their determination and the generous help of their salt-of-the-earth neighbours, carried them through.

From learning how to cut peat for their winter's fuel, dancing at a ceilidh and starting a local theater group, to raising (and having to slaughter) their own chickens, they paint a picture of Irish country living that made me alternatively envious and dismayed. But, oh, the wonderful people. You could live anywhere and face anything with good-hearted people like that around you.  

Persistent heavy rain and fog darkened their first summer (the worst summer in decades, the radio told them), and I admit to finding those chapters of rain after rain after rain a bit tedious in the reading, at the same time feeling guilty for even thinking that. I had only to read it while they suffered real hardship that summer. The only excuse I can offer is that similar dreary conditions outside my own window the entire time I was reading this book had me longing for sunshine somewhere.  

I did enjoy spending this time among the lovely people and places I've always wanted to visit. Though my travel book shelf is already crammed and I have to be picky about what can stay and what must go, this one will stay.

Demon Copperhead and Wuthering Heights

 Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

This is a contemporary re-telling of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, with many parallels to the original but told with so much swearing and salacious language that it got tiring. I have a reasonably high tolerance for vulgarity, probably higher than it should be, but this one is a bit much. I've always found good writers able to get their point across without resorting to detailed descriptions of sex and constant cursing. Barbara Kingsolver is an excellent writer, and as a member of my book club put it, “She’s better than this.” I’ve heard the argument that such language makes the story realistic, and maybe it does, though I’m sure people in Dickens’ time swore like sailors and he made David Copperfield painfully realistic without it.   

Demon’s story is heart-wrenching for sure, and a tragic picture of what kids in the foster system can endure. The story is great, I just got tired of the cursing and sex talk. Call me old-fashioned – I’ll take it as a compliment – but I don’t like my reading this gritty. Life is more than gritty enough as it is.


Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I read this years ago and remembered it for its good writing and dark tone. Lately it’s become quite popular again – or maybe it always has been and I just haven’t been paying attention – and I’m hearing people say what a beautiful story of romance it is, it’s their favourite book, they read it every year, etc. My memory of it was so completely different I thought I’d better read it again.

 I am completely baffled. Where is the romance, the beauty? Catherine and Heathcliff are in love, yes, but it’s more of a selfish obsession than anything. They are both awful people who do awful things to everyone but each other. His cruelty and abuse of others would land him in prison today. 

There are a few romantic (when taken out of context) quotes, but only a few, and everything in between is great writing of a horrible story. How anyone can see it as a beautiful love story or want to read it every year is beyond me. But, then, many things are beyond me, and isn't it our differences that make people, and life, and reading so interesting?

 "In literature as in love it is astonishing what is chosen by others." 
  Andre Maurois

The Null Prophecy

 The Null Prophecy by Michael Guillen

A science fiction novel with an interesting premise but  characters who come across as not quite real.

Scientists are predicting the sun will soon experience a solar storm so intense the EMP will cause blackouts, damage to technological infrastructure, and even disruption of essential services. But it gets worse...with large gaps now in the earth's magnetosphere, certain spots around the globe are unprotected and could suffer horrible loss of life and property. (I didn't check the science on any of this, just accepted it as a reasonably credible scenario for disaster. Have no idea if it actually is.) 

There are skeptics who deny it all and insist there is no danger, but others who believe it a such a momentous event that it will herald no less than the Second Coming of Christ. One man, who believes himself responsible for the damage to the earth's magnetic shield, hopes he and his super-powerful new machine/boat/thing, which he's named "Hero", can save the day. He can't stop the sun from erupting, but just maybe, he, with the help of an intrepid reporter and her unwavering faith, can at least limit the damage.

This book's dramatic style of dialogue sometimes made me think of tv shows from the 50s and 60s, shows like The Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, not a bad thing at all. They were good shows. But in places it felt forced, and the characters lacked relatability, never developing into more than made-up people in a story.

It builds tension with each chapter heading counting down the days and hours left, so I had to finish it to see how it would end, but with writing that is mediocre at best I can't say it's a great book, just not bad.

Beatrice and Croc Harry

 Beatrice and Crock Harry by Lawrence Hill

Beatrice, age 11, wakes up in a treehouse knowing only her first name. She has no idea how she came to be there, where she's from, or what her life was like before. As she explores the forest outside the treehouse she meets Croc Harry, a huge, turquoise - "the favourite colour of any reasonable person" - crocodile; an annoying speckled rabbit called Horace Harrison Junior the Third; Fuzzy, a bright blue tarantula; Killjoy, a lemur hairdresser/ dentist; and Ms. Rainbow, a rainbow who talks. In the Argilia forest all creatures can talk.

From Ms. Rainbow, Beatrice learns that she must pass several tests to get out of the forest and back to where she came from. But first she has to find the hidden clues, making her way through adventures comical, fantastical. and sometimes perilous.

The story begins in a fairly light tone, then weightier elements are introduced as Beatrice's memories start to come back. The last few chapters are darker as the awful truth of what happened to her becomes clear. In the end though, wrongs are righted and all turns out well. Sort of - I still have questions about some of it.

Themes of social justice, racial prejudice and reconciliation are prominent, handled I think in a way appropriate for most children. Beatrice learns to stand up for herself, and for others who are being treated unfairly, and she forgives the one who has done her great harm, making of him a friend rather than an enemy. 

What I love about this story - which was written for Middle School age - is that it's full of book references and wonderful, wacky words. In Beatrice's treehouse there is a large dictionary called "The St. Lawrence Dictionary of Only the Best Words, Real and Concocted", a portion of which is included at the back of the book. Some of these words are used and mulled over by the characters, but be sure to read through the rest of it because it's a lot of fun.

Lawrence Hill, an exceptional writer, has written a children's book both light-hearted and serious, entertaining and educating. I can't say I loved everything about it, but my few hesitations aside, it's an imaginative story with a number of opportunities for talking to children about difficult, but very current, realities.