Five Favourite Reads Archive
Ann Riordan - Romantic Novels
Paul Cussen - Graphic Novels
Phil works for a media planning agency in London. Apart from reading he likes darts, Tottenham Hotspur, walking, and his cat, Panther. These are 5 of his favourite books:
Teresa Harte was the winner of Blackpool Library's Favourite Reads for Summer competition during summer 2012. These are her five favourite reads:
The Summer Without Men
An easy read by a complicated person. A blend of contemporary life with the age old dilemma of fidelity and commitment.
A brilliant range of dazzling, perfect stories by a great Cork person
Master of stories, beautiful, pared down words and immediately understood by a beating heart. Stunning bite by bite chapter/story to chapter/story.
Changing My Mind
One can dip in and out of each topic and feel uplifted by Smith's intelligence and outlook.
A great story, well told. Chilling at times for any parent. A blockbuster for the precious week off or holidays.
Rebecca Crichton is an avid reader, and she works for Cork City Libraries.
Anne of Green Gables
A gorgeous story set in late 19th century Prince Edward Island about lovable orphan Anne Shirley and the adventures she gets into in her small rural village. It’s a heart-warming tale of love and friendship between family, friends and neighbours. Though the style of writing might be a little old-fashioned for today’s readers the descriptions of the island are so mouth-watering as to make you want to book a trip there to see it for yourself. Has stood the test of time for generations of readers both young and old.
Harry Potter series 1-7
I was captivated from the very 1st line of the 'Philosophers’ Stone' and queued at midnight to get my hands on 1st editions as they were published. JK Rowling had me guessing right up to the very end as to whether professor Snape was one of the 'good' or the 'bad' guys. In terms of humour, adventure and good old-fashioned story-telling the HP series will remain one of my all-time favourites.
Pillars of the Earth
I literally couldn’t put this book down from the minute I started reading. Set in 10th Century England around the building of a great cathedral, it has everything you could want in a great escapist read...adventure, magic, politics, scheming, romance. Historical fiction at its best.
The Handmaids Tale
This is a dark tale set in the near future, in an America where a fundamentalist anti-feminist right wing is in control of society. It’s written in diary style and gives the point of view of a woman who has lost her freedom and is enslaved as a type of surrogate mother to a wealthy family. Although ultimately positive, its gives a frightening view of a possible world future where freedom (religious and personal) in no longer a human right.
The Fifth Sacred Thing
Another futuristic novel, this is set in a California of the mid twenty first century. It presents two possible futures for humanity, one very dark and dystopian, the other a type of eco /spiritual paradise. The characters are very appealing and show a world that you could really believe in. Richly descriptive and full of researched information on mythology, ancient cultures and eco-living, this is a book that I found very thought-provoking as well as being a great page-turner!
Laura Gee is 26 years old, and works in London for a Direct Marketing Agency. Enjoys travelling, museums, culture and of course reading. Recently went over to the Kindle and hasn’t looked back since.
George RR Martin
Game of Thrones Series
The ultimate medieval fantasy book, hard to keep up with all the characters at first but once I got used to the different houses I was hooked on the books for weeks!
Hunger Games Trilogy
A brilliantly written fast moving trilogy that I couldn’t put down.
Life of Pi
Difficult to get into but worth it for the ending which then leads you to read it again to understand its full meaning.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Half of a Yellow Sun
Written about the Civil war in Nigeria this book gives the reader insights into the brutal period of history through three different views all being affected by the same disaster.
The God of Small Things
Beautifully written tragic story which transports you to an amazing culture.
Ann Riordan - Favourite Romantic Novels
There is a perception that librarians only read great literature and frown on the more popular novels. I have always been a fan of a good story well told, whether it be popular, romantic or classic literature! After all, just because one appreciates a good romantic novel doesn't mean one can't also appreciate the latest IMPAC winner. These five novels are my guilty secret - stories with characters that tickled me, stories that made me feel.
Ann Riordan is Executive Librarian with Cork City Libraries
The Glass Lake
Although I credit (and blame!) Maeve Binchy's Light A Penny Candle with kick-starting my secret love of romantic bestsellers, I think The Glass Lake is her finest. It is a story of a woman who chooses love over family and the far reaching repercussions of this choice. Binchy portrays the passion and the desperation of being unhappy in love with great skill and subtlety.
After You'd Gone
None of O'Farrell's subsequent novels compare to this delicate, intense and utimately tragic love story.
Big Stone Gap
I am a big fan of Trigiani's Big Stone Gap trilogy. The characters and real and warm, the plots are simple but life-affirming. There is real humour and faith in the stories of the place and the people. Of course, being a librarian, I can't help being amused by the character of the librarian who breaks hearts while travelling Virginia in the mobile library!
Don't let the cover put you off, there is substance as well as sentiment in this romantic story about second chances.
A Crack In Forever
A real weepie - have tissues on stand-by!
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Paul Cussen - Favourite Graphic Novels
This is a list of five graphic novels that I would not be without. There are more than five on my list of favourites but if it were desert island discs time these are superb.
Paul Cussen works for Cork City Libraries. To see 5 more of Paul's Favourite Reads visit our Five Favourite Reads Archive.
The story of Art and his father showing the normal father and son frustrations as Art is told of how his father wound up in Auschwitz. Jews are portrayed as mice, Poles as pigs and Germans as cats and there is nothing childish about it. The depth and the mixture of pictures and story make this remarkable work well worth a read.
Ed the Happy Clown
Chester Brown is sick, twisted, surreal and one of the funniest guys on the planet. This is an interdimensional trip from when Ronnie Reagan was president of the U.S. The book is absurd, extraordinary, intelligent, offensive and unusual.
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
If you haven’t read this then you’re missing out although only one girl from my book group liked it. This is a gem which asks that ever pertinent question, who watches the watchmen? Terrific!
Harvey Pekar was a hero of mine. He worked as a clerk in a Cleveland hospital for years. He reviewed jazz records, wrote articles for the Comics Journal and had a vast array of artists illustrate his ongoing tales of ordinary life. American Splendor stands alone and is one of the greatest autobiographical pieces ever written. Harvey was a curmudgeon but he was all about truth and his work is almost equitable with Pepys.
Frank Miller and Klaus Janson
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
If you only ever read one Batman read this one.
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Charles de Lint
The Mystery of Grace
On the Day of the Dead, Altagracia Quintero, a tattooed mechanic who specializes in Ford hotrods, meets and falls in love with artist, John Burns. Altagracia quite literally vanishes from John´s apartment after spending the night. He tries to track her down and discovers that Altagracia died two weeks before they met. This is a book about knowing when to resolve unfinished business and when to let go.
The Hunger Games Series
The three books tell the story of Katniss Everdeen and the post-apocalyptic world she inhabits, where every day is a battle for survival, and that´s before she is selected to represent her district – District 12 - in the Hunger Games, a reality TV battle-to-the-death. Katniss must face the prospect of killing or being killed by her co-competitor and friend from District 12 should they both survive to the end. Unputdownable.
The Secret in Their Eyes
Set in Argentina, the story is narrated by young policeman Benjamín Espósito, sent to the scene of the murder of a young woman. Subsequently two immigrant workers who were close to the scene become fall guys for the murder, and have false confessions savagely beaten out of them. Benjamín rails against corruption in the force and manages to get the two men released, bringing disciplinary actions against a fellow police officer who turns out to be extremely well connected. Benjamín´s action backfires and hampers a solution to the murder. Meanwhile, the young victim´s husband, Ricardo, pursues the case obsessively. The book spans 25 years and parallels Benjamín´s obsession with his boss, Irene, the killer´s obsession with the victim, and the widower´s obsession with the killer.
The Cellist of Sarajevo
As the people of Sarajevo go about their lives as best they can, they are in constant fear and danger of snipers in the hills that overlook the town. The cellist is a backdrop to the story - a man who simply decides to defy his fear and go out into the street every day for twenty-two days to play. He quickly becomes a symbol of determination, endurance and resilience. We meet three main characters: Kenan, who must risk his life to collect drinking water for his family and an ungrateful neighbor, Dragan, who loses his nerve and simply cannot cross the road to get to work, so paralaysed is he by fear; and Arrow, a highly talented Sarajevan sniper, engaged in taking out the snipers in the hills as they reveal their location to take a shot at the citizens of the town. Arrow also tries to protect what the cellist has come to represent.
The Houdini Girl
Master magician, Fletcher “Red” Brandon uses his talents to seduce Rosa, a tough young Irish woman. She moves in right away and they spend a year together in which time Red falls in love with Rosa, and yet fails to really connect with her, so tough is the shell she has encased herself in. When Rosa is killed in mysterious circumstances, Red is devastated. This devastation grows as he discovers layers upon layers of a Rosa he never knew. The police become involved and Red himself becomes a suspect. The trail of what is now a murder investigation takes us to Amsterdam, to the underbelly of a world that was Rosa´s for five terrible years. Gritty but realistic – can´t wait to read more by this writer.
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Tim O'Mahony works in Bibliographic Services at Cork City Libraries. These are his five favourite books:
Máirtín Ó Cadhain
Cré na Cille
This is my all-time favourite book and, in my opinion, the best book to come out of Ireland in any language. The corpses in a Connemara graveyard have the power of speech and memory but can only learn what’s going on above ground when a new corpse is buried. It is laugh-out-loud funny but has an underlying sadness, the sadness of narrow horizons, blighted lives and thwarted dreams. It hasn’t been translated yet but it is well worth the effort of reading in the original Irish. You don’t have to be an expert...I’m not and I have read it more times than I can remember.
The wild and passionate lives of the Earnshaws, the Lintons, and their bête noir, Heathcliff , form the plot of this novel, with its deadpan opening line ‘1801. I have just returned from a visit to my landlord’. It is the landlord’s house, Wuthering Heights, in its moorland setting, that haunts the characters and the reader. Despite the richness of landscape and atmosphere, no dramatisation does justice to the book, as the action, described by the housekeeper Nelly Dean in the same deadpan tone as the opening, takes place rather in the country of the mind and the heart.
First published in 1918, this book tells the story of Antonia Shimerda and her family, poor Central European immigrants in the American Midwest, as seen through the eyes of Jim Burden, a boy from New England who has come to live with his grandparents on the Prairies. The generous and bighearted Antonia, five years older than Burden, carries with her the memories and hopes that are the lot of all immigrants, and she becomes and remains a shining light for the practical middle- class Burden. Perhaps the reason why I find such resonance in the book is that it gives me an insight into the lives of my own emigrant grandaunts and granduncles, who are no more than shadows now in their homeland. Either way it is a lovely book.
The Lord of the Rings
This is the first and the best of the modern fantasy genre, a book which has spawned hundreds of successors. I haven’t read many of the others except for Ursula Le Guin, who is part science fiction, part fantasy (Her Earthsea trilogy, especially The Tombs of Atuan, is well worth reading). Tolkien I love. I think it is the imagined detail, the imagined geography, mythology, literature, languages and genealogies of Middle-earth that fascinate me...and the beautiful names and songs: ‘O Elbereth! Gilthoniel! / We still remember, we who dwell / In this far land beneath the trees / Thy starlight on the Western Seas’. A natural favourite for a child who used to spend his time drawing maps of imaginary islands.
Though it feels more like a novel, Bela Zsolt’s Nine suitcases is a Holocaust memoir. It was first published in instalments in 1946 and 1947 (Zsolt died in 1948 from the privations he had suffered during the war). Zsolt was a Hungarian Jew who spent most of the war as a forced labourer, a gravedigger in fact, with the Hungarian army which was then fighting alongside the Germans on the Russian front. The things he saw there were unimaginable, but horribly true, and Zsolt has something of the air of one who has come back from the dead, and can speak only of Hell. There are many Holocaust books, but this one is special, beautifully written, beautifully translated, spare but powerful.
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Sinead Feely works for Cork City Libraries. These are her five favourite reads:
Part of the “Writer and the city” series this book is a glorious companion on any visit to Paris – White takes one on a stroll through a city unknown to the general tourist – a city of bookshops, cafes, leafy avenues and shady backstreets, all evoking a sense of mystery and adventure
Lives of the artists (2 vols.)
Originally published in 1550 Vasari’s work is an invaluable reference book for anyone with an interest in Italian Renaissance art. It is much more than a history of art, as Vasari brings his subjects to life as well as giving an insight into the politics, culture and history of Italy at the time, particularly Rome, Florence and Venice.
Mirrors : stories of almost everyone
A history of the world like no other, where the dispossessed and the powerless get a voice through a series of vignettes – a fascinating book to dip into at random.
The city & the city
This novel defies genre – an edgy fantasy thriller, set sometime in the future, somewhere in a dystopian Europe – a tale of two cities which co-exist in the same space, at the same time – Mieville is an exciting new find for this reader.
Even though the world has moved on since this was published in 1998 John Pilger, always a voice for the disenfranchised, in this book examines themes of injustice and oppression, still relevant today. A long time critic of Western foreign policy, he takes on the arms and oil industries, as well as various brutal regimes around the globe; the Irish famine is in there as well as an interview with Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma while she was under house arrest.
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Kieran Burke is Local Studies Librarian with Cork City Libraries. These are five of his favourite books:
Alone in Berlin
Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin is an unforgettable portrayal of life in the Third Reich. It tells the story of a worker, Otto Quangel, who, angered by his wife’s grief over the death of their son at the front, leaves postcards decrying Hitler and Nazism in various places in Berlin. A police officer Escherich is given the job of finding him. The novel is genuinely suspenseful but its real merit lies in its depiction of the mendacity and brutality of Nazism and of the decency of ordinary people who dared to oppose it. One of the great European novels of the 20th century.
Godel, Escher, Bach: An eternal golden braid
Hofstadter’s meditation on the problems of self-reference in mathematical logic and its connection with the music of Bach and the enigmatic paintings of Escher might sound like a cure for insomnia. On the contrary the book is a mind-expanding exploration of some of the deepest issues in philosophy and art. An education in itself, it is a book to return to over and over again, each time finding fresh insights and delights.
What I Loved
Hustvedt’s extraordinary novel tells the intertwined stories of the artist Bill Wechlser, the art critic Leon Wertzberg (the narrator of the book) and their wives Lucille, Violet and Erica and their children. The novel is set in the world of the New York art scene and there are times when Hustvedt allows her intelligence and erudition get in the way of the story. At its heart though the novel is an elegiac meditation on love, lust, parenthood and the changes wrought by time. Not to be missed.
Greater than anything by Dostoyevsky, greater even than Tolstoy’s own War and Peace, this novel has an intelligence, profundity, surety of moral compass and humanity that place it alongside the work of Shakespeare, Homer and the Greek tragedians as one of the supreme works of the human imagination.
The sword in the stone
T.H. White’s retelling of the tale of the childhood of King Arthur (Wart in the novel) is one off the funniest, most magical books I know. The well-known tale is brought vividly to life by T.H. White who uses his deep knowledge of the natural world to great effect in the scenes where Merlin transforms the young Arthur into a fish, a goose and a badger, allowing White to make some splendidly whimsical and wise remarks about human life. The comic scenes are among the funniest you’ll ever read. Another book that repays repeated rereading.
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David is currently executive librarian at Douglas Library. These are his five favourite reads:
... because it started a series of books featuring Richard Sharpe. I have an interest in the Pennisular War 1808-1814. Cornwell's series charts the progress of the chief character Richard Sharpe in the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars. He begins in Sharpe's Tiger as a Private in the 33rd Regiment of foot, who becomes a Sergeant by the end of the book, and an Ensign in the 74th Regiment who is transferred to the newly formed 95th Rifles as a Second-Lieutenant during Sharpe's Trafalgar. He is gradually promoted through the ranks, finally becoming a Lieutenant Colonel in Sharpe's Waterloo. Real escapism action and derring do based on the true progress of the Peninsular Campaigns at the time of Napoleon and Wellington.
The Lord of the Rings
Speaks for itself really such a unique set of books.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
It's a touching tale of an odd friendship between two boys in horrendous circumstances and a reminder of man's capacity for cruelty and inhumanity. The story is an effortless read that puts you directly into Bruno's shoes you see the world as he does and yet you know it’s not real right seen as it is through the innocence of childhood. It is elegant story-telling with emotional impact and an ending that in true fairytale style is grotesquely clever.
Not Quite World's End
Not Quite World's End by John Simpson is a whopper of a book but a great read. In Not Quite World's End, Simpson looks at the worlds troubles the Middle East, global warming, population explosion and takes the perhaps surprising view that they’re actually not, nor will they be, the end of the world. His vivid prose, his clear-sightedness, and the wonderful anecdotes about the many strange people and places he has come across all add up to a richly satisfying read. Though this is nearly four years old or more it has such a sweeping coverage in the nature of the topic it can be read several times and each time he offers us all a crumb of comfort in desperate times.
Masters of the Sea trilogy
Masters of the Sea by John Stack is actually a series of three books - Ship Of Rome, Captain of Rome, Master of Rome - which should be read in sequence to get the full flavour of a maritime adventure that is based on actual events set against a backdrop of the clash of the Roman and Carthaginian empires, the battle for sovereignty takes place on the high seas as Atticus, from a Greek fishing family, and captain and later Prefect of one of the ships of Rome's coastal fleet, and his friend Septimus, legionary commander, campaign their way to victory as part of the sea borne conflict. These three books are full of sea battles, strong characters and have an easy style that makes them an engrossing read for anyone interested in a good adventure and in that period of history.
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Travels with Charley
While the Grapes of Wrath is surely Steinbeck's best novel, this breezy travelogue is my favourite of his many fine books. Towards the end of his life, the author set out in a camper, accompanied by his poodle, Charley, to reacquaint himself with an America that he had once known so well, a country that, by the early sixties, was in the throes of change. Steinbeck's powers of description are wonderful, and while this might be considered a somewhat minor work among his oeuvre, it is in many ways his most intimate and personal offering. It is also a joyous read.
Less a novel than a series of linked stories and vignettes, the result is a wonderful and lushly descriptive coming-of-age work about a 12-year-old boy wallowing in the last innocence of childhood and understanding, in the fullest meaning of the word, what it means to be alive. The scattershot approach to form is a perfect fit for the story, and Bradbury, a man of immense imagination, has penned a wondrous summer read that I have been revisiting every year since my teens.
The First Forty-Nine Stories
A master of things left unsaid, the settings of his tales are frequently exotic, and the situations often fraught with danger, but the real action unfolds on an internal level and offers stunning insights into the human condition. Hemingway wrote many great novels but it is his stories that reveal new depths with each reread, small but fully realised masterpieces that took my breath away as a teen and which continue to do so now after copious rereads.
The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll
This incredible book is actually a collection of seven novellas, which can be read in parts or as a whole, and charts the escapades of one of fiction’s most captivating characters, the vagabond sailor, Maqroll. Again a work that succeeds on many levels, with an entrancing narrative that floats on subtle philosophies and never falters in its intent to tell a good story, Mutis deserves a readership as wide as his countryman, the brilliant Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Lonesome Dove is a western. It is also one of the finest American novels of the twentieth century. Epic in scope, detailing the adventures of two retired Texas Rangers on a cattle drive to Montana, this tale, in large part because of the achievement in characterisation, goes far beyond the boundaries of the genre and stands as an important reflection on friendship, love, aging, living and dying. Over fifty years, McMurtry has produced a massive body of work, and several of his novels deserve to be called classics. But Lonesome Dove, the definition of a masterpiece, exists on a different plain.
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Paul Cussen works for Cork City Libraries in the Blackpool branch. He spent many years working for Waterstone's. He has chosen, in his words, 'Five Speculative Fiction titles that are absolutely amazing.'
Winner of both the Hugo and the Nebula prizes, this book is in a class of its own. Bruce Sterling called it ““the quintessential cyberpunk novel”. Set in the dark future this is basically a crime caper. It’s unfortunate that Gibson didn’t anticipate the mobile phone but he coined the phrase “cyberspace”. Ten years after its publication Gibson admitted that he would not have had as much crime in the book but it was written in the early eighties when urban decay and a violent future were all that we expected.
The Forever War
Time travel in stories never appealed to me. It was always very tv and Bill and Ted but Joe Haldeman kicks it all into touch here with his Hugo and Nebula winning book. Imagine joining the army, going off to fight and coming home to a world changed by time where hundreds of years have gone by for everybody else when it’s only been a few months for you. This is a work of staggering genius.
Classic Gaiman mixing myth and reality, this book is another winner of both Hugo and Nebula awards. Shadow is released early from prison, goes to his girlfriend’s funeral and travels around the States with Mr. Wednesday. The old gods are dying out as people don’t believe in them any more and new gods are rising.
Set in a dystopian future where books are illegal and must be burned this is a short novel, almost a diatribe about how easily influenced we are by television and the media and how afraid we are to question what we are told is obviously the truth. Disturblingly close to the world we live in nearly fifty years later.
Stranger In A Strange Land
Fifty years ago this book was published and has never gone out of print. This is very readable speculative fiction. Valentine Michael Smith was brought up on Mars and comes back to earth with an open mind. Awesome in its scope.
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Ian O'Sullivan works for Cork City Libraries in the Hollyhill Library. He is a musician in his spare time. These are five of his favourite books in no particular order.
The Lord of the Rings
Drawing on his wealth of knowledge of European mythology and linguistics, Tolkein managed to create an epic fantasy which defined the genre as we know it.
The original and best vampire tale and arguably the best horror novel ever written. The scene where newly un-dead Lucy is confronted in the graveyard will truly make your skin crawl!
George R.R. Martin
Song of Ice and Fire series
If you don’t like fantasy then this is the fantasy series for you! Murder, suspense, political intrigue, bloody battles and a smattering of fantasy and horror thrown in for good measure, Martin manages to fit it all into his epic masterpiece.
This prophetic vision of a dystopian future is as relevant today as when it was penned at the dawn of the Cold War while the world was still reeling from the fallout of WWII. The novel is so powerful and shocking that the term ‘Orwellian’ is used in modern parlance to describe a totalitarian society.
Early Irish Myths and Sagas
This collection of translated tales from Manuscripts as old as the 8th Century is part of a corpus of work which comprises the oldest collection of vernacular literature in Western Europe. These stories, sometimes bloody and other times deeply romantic, where gods walk the earth and fantastical beasts and magic abound, have fuelled the imaginations of writers the world over.
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Thomas McCarthy is a poet and novelist. He works for Cork City Libraries. He has chosen his five favourite works of fiction.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude
This novel by the Aracataca journalist and Nobel Prize-winner, Marquez, is a great family chronicle set in the mythical jungle village of ‘Macondo’ in Colombia. It tells the story of the Buendía family, José Arcadio, Colonel Aureliano and seventeen young Aurelianos, Pilar Ternera and Remedios the Beauty, as well as a host of gypsies, fortune-tellers, cock-fights, armies and hapless railroads. The novel is an earthquake of energy with a spectacular descriptive pace and a real sense of verbal urgency. It is a wonderful read.
This is one of the most romantic books ever written and I can never get beyond that feeling of being first overwhelmed by its timeless subject matter – the hopeless love of a Russian soldier-poet for the beautiful and impulsive Larissa Fyodorovna, the immortal ‘Lara.’ As the Great War and the Russian Revolution change the Russian landscape forever, the lives of all the characters, Yura, Lara, Pasha, Misha, Tonya and Uncle Kolya, are also churned and reformed in the great dust bowl of Russian history. The narrative is finally compressed into a chapter that’s simply a series of poems; one of which ‘Daybreak’ says “You meant everything in my destiny. Then came the war...’ It is a beautiful book.
‘I felt the kind of admiration for it that’s exhilaration, really...I knew I had a masterpiece in my hands,’ the writer Eudora Welty wrote to Molly Keane from Jackson, Mississippi, after she’d read this book in the summer of 1981. I love this novel more than any other, for personal reasons: I saw at first hand how late literary success can transform old age. The book is the story of an Anglo-Irish woman, Aroon St Charles, and her family home, Temple Alice. It is the story of decline, collapse, alienation and a kind of hopeless fortitude in the face of disasters, both social and personal. The characters are unforgettable and the quality of the prose is beyond belief.
Giuseppe di Lampedusa
This novel, published as Il Gattopardo by Feltrinelli, Milan, in 1958, took the aging Duke of Palma and Prince of Lampedusa twenty five years to write. He died before it was published. It is a work of art and one of the finest examples of what happens when a writer is in complete command of his material as he sets to work. It is the story of Fabrizio, Prince of Salina, who rules over thousands of acres and hundreds of tenants just at that moment in history when Garibaldi lands in Sicily to abolish all aristocracy and set up a Republic. As a picture of society it is a masterpiece, but it is also a complex personal story told with great authority.
The Last September
This is the best Irish political novel ever written. It’s unlikely ever to be bettered because the conditions that created it will never come again. ‘It must be because of Ireland he was in such a hurry; down from the mountains, making a short cut through their demesne’ – such are the thoughts of Lois, the niece of Sir Richard Naylor of Danielstown as she encounters an IRA man among her uncle’s rhododendrons. It is a shrewd, understated, explosive narrative of the Troubles disguised as a 1920s coming-of-age novel. I’ve read this novel six times and I’ll probably read it again by the fire next Christmas Eve. It is a perfect book, a prose-poem of history. Read it, for goodness sake.
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Angela comes from a long family line of theatrical and musical people. She is founder of Chattyboo Productions.
'Okay here goes, it's really hard to narrow down.The sign of a good book to me is one you can't put down, one you can't wait to get back to and one you can't stop thinking about for weeks afterwards. That is why I have chosen these 5 books.'
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
An amazing series, but this was the first one I read and I got hooked. I got lost in Harry's world - Quidditch, Hogwarts, his friends and Magic, just Magic. What's not to love!
Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders
Another whole series that I really enjoyed. I adore Oscar Wilde and read anything that has his name in the title. These books are a mixture of my two favourite things, Oscar Wilde facts and a good old Victorian Mystery
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Another writer I adore. I have wonderful memories of my Dad reading this to me as a child and every chocolate bar I have opened since, I have secretly hoped to find a golden ticket inside. Roald Dahl had an amazing imagination and wrote so descriptively I could taste all of the sweets from Willy Wonka's Factory.
I enjoy travel books but found this one funny and more entertaining then any other I had read. It was really interesting to read about what Pete thought about the places and people of Ireland. I was proud to be Irish after reading it. We have the gift of being able to laugh at ourselves and he captured that ability beautifully.
Kate Westbrook, ed.
The Moneypenny Diaries
A gift, that I wasn't expecting to love. Kate guides you through the diaries of her aunt, the actual Miss Moneypenny. Its a wonderful view into the world of 1960's espionage and the role that this amazing woman played. I can't wait for the next one to come out. Hurry up Kate....
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Liam Ronayne is City Librarian with Cork City Libraries. He is also chair of the board of the Triskel Arts Centre.
'While it’s impossible to reduce the books I love to just five, I could recommend these to anyone.'
Ulysses by James Joyce
The Good Solider Švejk and his fortunes in the World War by Jaroslav Hašek
I always think of these two novels together, and not just because I first read them around the same time. I go back to both of them regularly, usually during summer holidays when I can dive deep into the worlds they create. They were both published soon after WWI and between them perfectly frame the 20th century in both the personal and public spheres: easy hatreds and lazy stupidities lead to disaster, as Bloom puts it “force, hatred, history, all that. That’s not life for man and woman”. The answer he says is “Love”.
The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford
This is the third novel of the Frank Bascombe trilogy and you would really need to read the other two - The Sportswriter and Independence Day - as well! For middle aged men, at least, they provide both a solace and a guidebook on how to face life’s disappointments and various sadnesses – what not to do as well as what to do.
Sketches from a Hunter’s Album by Ivan Turgenev
This collection of 25 sketches of life in mid-nineteenth century Russia, often moving stories of peasants and landowners, women and men, old and young tell us so much about the Russian character and the Russian ‘soul’. We meet the arrogant and the gentle, the cruel and the noble – the raw materials for Turgenev’s later masterpieces.
Chronicles Volume 1 by Bob Dylan
Dylan’s memoir – named for the book of the Bible that deals with history rather than prophecy – is a surprisingly candid account of some key stages in his life, especially the early 1960s. Equally surprising is how generous he is to those he learned from, and his debts to books, and to the New York Public Library. Whether there’ll be Vols 2 and 3 is anyone’s guess.
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Jamie O'Connell's first collection of short stories That Ample Past is being published in March 2012 by Bradshaw Books. His work has been published in a number of journals including A Curious Impulse (2009) and The Bell (2009); he has been shortlisted for the Wicklow Writer’s Short Story Award (2008) and won the Thomas Harding Literary Award (2008). He has written for the Evening Echo, The Cork Independent and The Herald. He has an MA in Creative Writing from University College Dublin and a BA in English Literature from University College Cork.
A perfectly structured composition. Few books are so flaw free; the writing is lean and well edited. There is a strong humanity that runs through the work, a controlled emotional resonance that bides its time to hit the reader at the right moments; full of beautiful lines that powerfully sum up the human experience; I found myself reaching for the highlighter so I could locate them again afterwards.
House of Mirth
A perfect example of classic high-society novel; incredible wit and humour mixed with tragedy. I was blown away how Wharton transformed the protagonist Lily Bart from someone who is initially unlikeable into a true heroine.
A supreme example in characterisation; the book held me, not due to any striking narrative, but through the formation of a family situation so convincing it felt like my own. Extremely well crafted and edited.
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
I mention this particular short story collection, though I find all of Munro’s work brilliant. I love her slow quiet style of writing, carefully edited so it flows from line to line. Though Canada is the backdrop to these stories, the universality of themes, family relationships, death and love, made it something immediately relate-able
In Search of Lost Time
Though my all-time favourite book, it requires perseverance. I first completed it by listening to the six volumes as audio-books. But the rewards are enormous, as it’s a complete summation of the human experience, with large reflective passages on memory, human jealousies, death, art, childhood, nature and human relationships. The work is so enormous in its scope, it left me thinking ‘can there be anything else left to write about?’.
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Ber Carroll is the Cork-born author of five novels. She now lives with her husband and family in Sydney, Australia.
Visit her website at http://www.bercarroll.com/
The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCollough
Mum borrowed this book from the library, and I ‘borrowed’ it from her bedroom (without her knowledge, of course!). As an innocent and very impressionable ten-year-old, this book changed me on a number of levels. Firstly, it taught me the facts of life (the love scenes were so much more comprehensive than Mum’s woman-to-woman talk!). I also credit the book with planting in my young mind the idea that I might live in Australia one day.
The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle
Paula Spencer has a foul tongue and a violent husband who feeds off her pain. She roars at her children more often than she kisses them, and despairs that they see her life as their future. She can’t remember the 80’s because she spent most of it ‘walking into doors’. Her voice resounds as you read. It’s tough, vulnerable, funny, and utterly honest. I’ve always enjoyed dialogue more than long paragraphs of descriptive prose, and I don’t think anyone does dialogue as well as Roddy Doyle does.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief came highly recommended by a friend but the cover – with its image of the grim reaper – and the reference to Nazi Germany on the back led me to believe that it wasn’t my kind of book. Still, though, I felt rather annoyingly compelled to read it, and with a certain amount of reluctance I began. My first impressions were way off the mark: The Book Thief turned out to be one of the most beautiful and uplifting books I’ve ever read. Now I operate to a simple rule: if someone cares enough to recommend a book, then I will put my prejudices about covers, subject matters and genres aside, and read it.
Anybody Out There? by Marian Keyes
I love all of Marian Keyes’ books. This is her eighth novel, and she expertly melds comedy with loss, despair and a grief that scrapes away until the reader is hurting every bit as much as the main character, Anna. I can’t read a Marian Keyes’ novel without feeling grateful, for the great read, of course, but also because Marian has forged the way and proven that female fiction is not all about fashion, shopping and happy endings. This book is an excellent example of tone, characterisation and pace, and deserves literary acclaim for those reasons.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling
This book was the first full novel I read to my children, and seeing their delight with the plot, the highly imaginative setting and the wonderful characterisation gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. While reading, I kept stopping to point out to the kids just how clever the author was, and what an amazing way she had of describing something she had created wholly in her imagination, but they didn’t want me to analyse, they just wanted me to ‘read on’. Witnessing them step away from simple chapter books and into the wonderful world of novels was a special moment for me, both as a parent and a writer.
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Ann Riordan has worked for Cork City Libraries for 20 years. She is currently executive librarian in the Hollyhill branch library. These are her five favourite reads in no particular order.
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
A powerful and grand, sweeping story of a boy, his odd friend, and the notion that you cannot escape destiny. Set in New England of the 50s, the story follows the childhood and adolescence of narrator, Johnny, and his friend Owen Meany, up to the Vietnam War and onto modern day, as Johnny looks back and reflects if anything has changed. This is my favourite of Irving's novels because of the sheer scope of the tale, and the way everything fits together in the end. The reader is told the ending right from the start, but we are always hoping that it doesn't come to pass. I love the first lines: 'I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice. Not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God. I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.'
Bluesman by Andre Dubus III
A gentle coming-of-age story about a teenage boy in the USA, at the outbreak of the Vietnam War. The relationship between the boy and his his musician father is described in a tender and understated way. Dubus describes the passion for music beautifully, and the passage where the father makes meatloaf made me want to go out and cook meatloaf straight away!
A Solitary Blue or The Runner from the Tillerman saga by Cynthia Voigt
The seven books of the Tillerman saga are widely classed as teen fiction, but I think adults would enjoy them too. The first book tells the story of a family of children travelling on their own to find their grandmother, after their mother has a breakdown. Over the course of the seven books Voigt goes on to tell the stories of their friends and extended family, past and present. A Solitary Blue is a tale of a boy's relationships with his reticent professor father, and his beautiful but unreliable mother. When he spends a summer with his mother and she inevitably lets him down, his pain is heartbreaking. The Runner goes into the past to tell the story of the Tillerman children's uncle Bullet, who died in the Vietnam war. Altogether a lovely series of books about family relationships, repercussions from the past, and overcoming adversity.
The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
Anyone who has ever been let down by friends will love this novel. Atwood takes the theme of toxic friendships she first covered in Cat's Eye and develops it. The Robber Bride is the story of three women and the friendship they have at various points in their lives with the toxic, chameleon-like Zenia.
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
A heartwarming novel of love, loss and luna moths. Although Kingsolver's other novels, The Poisonwood Bible and The Lacuna come in for more praise, I prefer this tale of three intertwining lives in the mountains of Kentucky.
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To see what other constant readers chose as their Five Favourite Reads, visit the Five Favourite Reads Archive