Friday, 22 December 2006

Lisey's Story by Stephen King

Lisey's Story
Stephen King
(Hodder & Stoughton €??)

THIS monstrous and glorious book is the culmination of horror icon Stephen King's work.

It is the story of writer's widow Lisey (rhymes with Cee-Cee), who is finally, two years after her husband's death, tackling his papers.

She's going to donate them to the tribe she calls the Incunks, the academics who devour incuncabilia – writes’ leavings such as manuscripts and letters.

Soon she's dealing with the swarming stories of her life with Scott, her husband; stories weaving and flashing like shoals of sheer skill.

Scott always lived in two worlds: the real world, and the parallel universe where he went to heal from his childhood of abuse and terror.

This was a place he called Boo'ya Moon, safe in daylight, but at night haunted by horrors.

The book is all the more powerful for being told in the intimate family-joke language of Scott and Lisey's marriage.

It flashes back to his childhood and occasionally hers, and into the life of her own edgy family of sisters.

In his childhood, Scott’s mad father tells him that they belong to a family that can go one of two ways. Some turn 'gomer', descending into catatonia. Others become inhabited by the 'bad-gunky', turning into homicidal maniacs.

Scott’s father had a way of helping his little boys: he cut them, and himself, to free them from the harm by releasing the blood.

“A spring was winding, a well was filling, a wheel was turning,” King writes at one stage, using the language of magical tales.

And having wound up the story of Scott, his strange family, and how he found healing with Lisey, King turns the spring tighter.

Now, widowed Lisey has to face her own horrors, as she is stalked by a sadist set on by an Incunk, who is gleeful at finding an excuse to hurt her.

King lost the plot here, because Lisey immediately decides to tackle the loony herself. While she calls the cops, she doesn’t have any real intention of depending on them.

So the ending is weakened. It’s also weakened by the lack of a genuine feeling of threat – Lisey’s too capable a woman. You know she’s going to win when she fights any form of bad-gunky.

But still and all, this is high-quality Stephen King, and you keep turning the pages till the story’s over, then close the last with a sigh of regret.

Friday, 17 November 2006

Temptation by Douglas Kennedy

Douglas Kennedy
Hutchinson €??

Lucille Redmond

FAILURE David Armitage gets his big chance: one of his scripts is bought for TV and he’s suddenly the creator of a hit series.

So what does he do? He walks out on his wife, of course.

She’s a failure too – an actress trying to make it while minding the kid. But Happy Dave leaves both of them in the lurch.

Soon he’s got a new home, a new babe and a new high-flying lifestyle.

Wait for the crash, eh?

Kennedy – once a Dublin resident who ran the Peacock Theatre – sells books by the zillion across Europe, but hasn’t yet really cracked the US market.

His annoyance – in a recent Independent interview he said his books were published in 17 languages, “but the one country I am shut out from is my own” – may have provided tinder for the crackling fire of Armitage’s rage as he’s dropped like a rock by the people of the glamorous world he craves.

But redemption is Kennedy’s game, and having watched Armitage’s catastrophic fall, we get to see him crawl back out of the slime of his life and into his own good books again.

Before redemption, though, there’s eerie stuff going on: plagiarism by a billionaire, and accusation of plagiarism by David himself.

It all reflects some of the creepy embarrassments of the last couple of years, when a succession of writers were discovered to have – unconsciously, they swore – reproduced verbatim or nearly the work of earlier authors.

David finds himself at the mercy of Hollywood’s literary researchers, who go through his work with a finecomb and find lots and lots of, well, hommages.

Soon he’s being asked to give back fees, under the contract clause that the writer guarantees the work is his alone.

And not long after that he’s knocking back the doubles and being paparazzi-ambushed as he attacks a catty journo.

Temptation is a pretty funny portrayal of the temptations of fame, but it could have done with a razor-sharp editor who’d take a slash-hook to the philosophical moments.

But in the hilarious descriptions of a screenwriter’s life bathing in the pool of Hollywood sharks, Kennedy is superb.

And his gossipy insider’s picture of the life of the horribly wealthy is enough to cheer anyone up as they wait in the rain for the 19A bus.

Sunday, 22 October 2006

The Hat Shop on the Corner by Marita Conlon McKenna

The Hat Shop on the Corner

Marita Conlon-McKenna
Bantam Press price??

HATS have a special place in a woman's heart. There's something about a hat
that represents the celebration of life; they call up the happy times. You
have to live up to a hat by being happy in it.

The Hat Shop on the Corner is by the author of The Magdalen, and a series
of children‚s novels on the Famine, filmed as Under the Hawthorn Tree.But
here she‚s using a more gentle touch.

Ellie Matthews is cleaning up her late mother's hat shop on South Anne
Street in Dublin when two people come in and change her life.

One had ordered a hat from Ellie's mother, and expects to find it ready for
her daughter's wedding in a few days. .

The other is the solicitor with whom Ellie‚s mother had been negotiating -
to sell the shop to the developer who's hoping to build a multi-storey

It‚s a development that could spell the end for the lovely street of
intimate shops where generations of Dubliners have bought treats for
themselves and the people they love.

As Ellie‚s aunt Yvette says, "Naturellement the gallerias and the large
department stores bring thousands of people to shop every day, but just
look at Paris - we have the best shopping in the world, huge stores, but
many of our finest shops are small, exquisite and individual."

Somehow, Ellie ˆ who was trained as a milliner by her French mother, but is
now a textile buyer for a big Dublin company - is drawn back into running
the shop.

This is a charming story of Ellie and her customers, who run the gamut from
ladies who lunch to the highly unlikely.

Dublin's new mayor Mo Brady, a battling northsider, walks in looking for a
serious hat for her newly glamorous life - and weighs in to make sure Anne
Street‚s shops stay in business.

Tough tyke Tommy Butler wants a Memory Hat for his nan's 100th birthday,
commemorating her century of Dublin life.

The neighbourhood revives as shopkeepers and their friends help each other
to repaint and rebuild, and offer each other ideas ˆ and have lots of great

And amid the millinery Ellie finds love: unreliable but gorgeous Rory, the
roadie for a series of bands, and Neil Harrington, the serious young

This joyous book is delightful - a perfect gift, and a story to treasure.

Monday, 16 October 2006

A Place Called Here by Cecelia Ahern

A Place Called Here
Cecelia Ahern
(HarperCollins €??)

WHERE do all those socks go, that go into the washing machine and never come out, all those mobile phones and umbrellas that just one day disappear?

This is the question on the mind of ex-garda Sandy Shortt, and it’s been plaguing her since she was 10, when classmate Jenny-May Butler went out one day and was never seen again.

Sandy has always been neurotic about losing even a toothbrush. She left the Gardai to set up an agency to find missing people.

A lot of people go missing in Ireland. Over 300 children seeking asylum have disappeared since 2001 – lone children who were in the care of our State.

It’s an interesting subject for Cecelia Ahern to tackle – because quickly the reader realises that this is a fantasy novel, a huge jump in genre.

Sandy often finds the missing – until, one day, she runs right out of this world and into the world where all the missing things go.

It’s a land where people dress in clothes found in lost luggage, and trade goods that turn up in the woods around the villages.

Greens will be happy that Ahern’s ideal world has solar panels and wind turbines, with government by consensus.

Of course, Ireland is the home of the echt story of lost and found: Oisín’s journey to Tír na h-Óighe and his return and search for the Fianna. In Irish, when someone drifts around aimlessly – or arrives very late – people say that he’s like Oisín i ndhiaigh na Féinne.

But it’s The Wizard of Oz that underlies Ahern’s story, with its theme of finding heart and brain and courage.

Her missing people marry and have families (though not, seemingly, pets – all those dogs who trotted off one day, nose to the ground, and didn’t come home must have gone somewhere else).

And Sandy is able to bring these hungry lost ones news from home.

It’s a gripping story, and a moving one. The plot sags a bit in the middle when Ahern gets pulled out of synch by planning her ideal world, but returns in full force by the end.

There’s even a strange kind of love interest happening in parallel universes, as the brother of one of the lost seeks Sandy, while her partner is seen in flashbacks growing increasingly despondent at her neurosis.

A strange book, and absolutely one for the handbag, for a whole new audience.

Friday, 13 October 2006

Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett

Portrait of an Unknown Woman
Vanora Bennett
HarperCollins €??

Lucille Redmond

THOMAS MORE was a genius and a canonised saint, but also a bit of a loolah, with his own private Guantanamo in his garden where he tortured heretics (Protestants).

Rumour – and if you’re looking for gossips look no further than the court of Henry VIII – had it that he liked to have his favourite daughter scourge him into repentance for his sins.

He was also chancellor (minister for finance) for Henry VIII, a poet, one of the world’s first sci-fi writers (he wrote Utopia, a vision of a perfect society), and generally a Renaissance man.

One of the most unusual things More did was educating his daughters, a foible regarded as sheer madness at the time.

And in this bestseller, being gobbled up eagerly and passed between book clubs, Vanora Bennett takes a real person, More’s adopted daughter Meg Giggs, and uses her as the basis for the story of the Mores.

This is a great combination of a bodice-ripper and true history, taking in everything from the humanist thought of the Reformation to the fate of the little Princes in the Tower, murdered (maybe) by Henry VIII’s uncle.

Meg is a woman with a not unusual fate – she’s married to a man who’s a lot less intelligent than herself, but plenty ready to steal her ideas.

On the bodice-ripper angle, we have, as usual, a handsome devil, untrustworthy and gorgeous, while in the wings waits a sound, decent sort longing to pledge his love.

On the serious-history angle, we are reading a story we know, but seen through new symbols as tricky and fun as Holbein’s, making this one of the best books we’ll read this year.

Our knowledge of the More family comes partly from the sketches for a lost group portrait by tricksy Tudor court painter Hans Holbein – apart from his gift for making character apparent (that straddling portrait of Henry VIII), he famously hid a distorted skull in his composition The Ambassadors.

His tricks in the More picture included putting the family’s fool, Henry Pattison, in the centre, staring out and looking just like a dwarfish version of Henry VIII.

Bennett weaves all the tricks into a ripping yarn that has you saying to yourself: “I must put out the light and go to sleep… just a few more pages…”

Friday, 1 September 2006

The Glass Room by Kate Holmquist

The Glass Room
Kate Holmquist
(Penguin Ireland €??)

Synopsis: Louisa wakes up on her 37th birthday and ditches her womanising husband. Then she goes off to photograph a happy wedding party. It’s the start of a journey where she sets out to right all that’s wrong in her life.

SELDOM has a more unpleasant heroine been written than Louisa Maguire, who starts out this story by coolly determining to divorce her husband – and take the house that he got from his mammy.

All’s fair when love turns to war, after all.

Louisa is superwoman: brought home to philandering Ben’s dank Dalkey home from her Manhattan life, she turns it into a beautiful place. She supports herself and their children, while Ben flits around the world sleeping with everyone and selling his art films.

She lives in a media world. Louise herself is an arty photo portraitist; her best pal, Becca, is a groomer who teaches ex-IRA members and other personalities how to present themselves for TV, seminars and the newspapers.

So when Ben starts fighting dirty she’s not really up against it. Especially when a long-lost aunt leaves her an art collection and a lovely home in America.

But she’s soon having that “Daddy and I both love you very much” conversation with the kids; and a friend is not only very ill but fancies the knickers off her, making her feel really guilty. Life is complicated.

Then two figures from her wealthy, dysfunctional childhood appear back in her life. And she starts to have feelings for her childminder.

Cocaine is a ghostly presence in the story – in the sexually used younger days of Louisa, and in the new freedom of the divorced woman who’s spending her money on sexy clothes and the pulling power they purchase.

And old loves and new star in lots of sexy encounters, from the days when Louisa was ‘Pussy in boots’ to the sophisticated, hard, underconfident woman of the present.

True love appears – but how true can it be, with Louisa’s memories of her teens in the ‘glass room’ where all her illusions were shattered?

An elegant book for Celtic Tiger Ireland, Kate Holmquist’s second novel is as hard as diamonds, with the same glitzy glitter.

Monday, 28 August 2006

From Here to Maternity by Sinead Moriarty

From Here to Maternity
Sinéad Moriarty
(Penguin €??)

Synopsis: Emma and James have been trying for a baby for yonks – and as soon as they agree to adopt little Yuri from Russia, Emma discovers she’s pregnant. With a family full of eccentrics and a world that’s suddenly turned into exhaustion and fuzzyheadedness, Emma must maker her new life.

BABS, the bold younger sister, steals this story right out from under earnerst, careful, conscientious whinger Emma.

I laughed out loud reading the description of Babs making the most of a job selling bouncy fold-out beds on TV, as assistant to a musclebound Californian.

“Oh, Randy, I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun. This Slumber-Puff mattress is the best,” Babs coos, as Randy crashes down on to the bed (and Babs) to prove its durability. “I’m going to order one for myself.”

Apart from Babs, whose carefree lack of any moral standards whatsoever troubles poor solemn Emma, their mother is a consequence of the first water.

“Dear, oh, dear, Mummy’s very touchy today,” says the horrid old bag to baby Yuri (whom she ends up minding, after doing her best to persuade Emma not to adopt him). She helpfully tells Emma when her jeans are too tight and she looks like a slob.

But Emma isn’t the ma’s only target – her brother, Sean, has got himself engaged to an Iranian. Married in a mosque? “Lord save us and bless us, that Taliban crowd and your man Osama bun Ladle will be turning up next,” worries the mother.

Dubliner Sinéad Moriarty is the author of The Baby Trail and The Right Fit (also sold as A Perfect Match) – and From Here to Maternity follows the same characters through the next stage of their fertility conundrums – annoyingly moany Emma with her adoption and birth, and her friend Lucy with the opposite.

Lucy doesn’t want a baby yet (at 36!) and thinks she’s plenty of time, while her husband wants a rake of kids to join him on the rugger pitch.

When Babs is on the scene, From Here to Maternity lights up, and it’s worth the read just for her. A brilliant character, who shows Moriarty’s unexpected flair for side-splitting humour and fun.

Friday, 18 August 2006

The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory

The Boleyn Inheritance
Philippa Gregory
(HarperCollins €??)

Synopsis: Anne of Cleves arrives in England to marry Henry VIII, and is joined by Jane Boleyn and Katherine Howard. In the two years that follow, two become queen and two meet a tragic fate.

SLOW to start – her editor should have persuaded Philippa Gregory to cut great swathes of this book – this is Henry VIII as a Tudor Stalin, in a court riven with paranoia, and a country destroyed by his rule.

Henry is now far from the ‘handsomest prince in Christendom’ of his youth; now, he’s bloated, immense, diseased, limping, foul of breath and deadly of whim.

In one disastrous moment, the straightforward, intelligent Anne makes the worst mistake any queen expectant might do. Henry staggers in to the room where she’s waiting with her ladies.

He’s in disguise, and when this foul old man rushes up and kisses her with his wet lips and reeking breath, she pushes him away, wipes her mouth and spits.

For a man whose vanity has destroyed the social welfare system that the church had run in England for centuries, and two of whose three queens so far had died under him, this is not a good start.

Anne is in trouble, but it’s nothing like the trouble little Kitty Howard will have. Katherine is just 14, and an airhead who adores dancing, flirting, new clothes and seduction.

Soon enough she’ll be queen herself, displacing Anne; but the very talents that win Henry’s fickle attentions are those that will lead her screaming to the scaffold.

Jane Boleyn is there as Anne’s advisor. She seems so straight, so loving, so gentle – but this is the woman who sent her husband and sister-in-law to their execution with her testimony.

Philippa Gregory, author of the bestselling The Other Boleyn Girl, about the unlucky Boleyn family: Anne and her sister Mary and brother George.

She’s had a run of entertaining books about the Tudor women, but this time she’s lost her storytelling touch, and the book could have been chopped by a third.

Still, it’s entertaining and horrifying, and a taste of that era of immense social change, when what there was of social justice gave way to privilege and greed.

Gregory has constrained herself by telling the story in a series of first-person accounts by Anne, Katherine and Jane, but her touch with Tudor life and values is sure.

Tuesday, 8 August 2006

Whitethorn Woods by Maeve Binchy

Whitethorn Woods
Maeve Binchy
(Orion €??)

Synopsis: ST ANN’S well in Whitethorn Woods is the centre of controversy – the holy well that gives everyone their heart’s wish is due to be obliterated by a big tarmac bypass. Maeve Binchy tells the stories of the people of Rossmore, the town being bypassed.

I’VE OFTEN wondered what would have happened if the occupying British had decided to drive a huge road through Tara, ancestral home of the High Kings.

There would have been holy murder.

Maybe Maeve Binchy was thinking of the same road when she wrote about Whitethorn Woods, where a shrine to St Ann, grandmother of Jesus, draws troubled people to ask the saint for help.

A bypass for the town, badly needed, is planned. Traffic is mad, a child has been killed.

People are taking sides – “pious, old-fashioned, superstitious people standing in the way of progress, the old Irish rooted in history and
traditions against the good modern Ireland which wanted to improve life for everyone”, as one character puts it.

Now, Maeve Binchy doesn’t do dark. You can confidently take a bet that you’ll never read the phrase “a frenzied stabbing attack” in one of her books. Bold little girls aren’t slapped by their mother then snatched by a mad man with a Rapunzel complex and jailed for 10 years, no remission, in a purpose-built cell.

Her stories are, in essence, fairytales with happy endings. Good things happen to the good, and only the bad, greedy, selfish people are sent to Hell, though even that is an angry, envious Hell of their own making.

Rossmore’s best person is Neddy Nolan – “not the sharpest knife in the drawer”, but sweet and slow and intelligent with the warm, uncalculating wit of someone who isn’t chasing ambition.

Neddy simply doesn’t see his brother’s crookedness, at first, and inadvertently reveals a scam to his boss on the buildings in London.

He’s kept home then to keep house for the brother and the other builders, and over the years of doing odd jobs and minding people, he saves a fortune, so he’s able to buy the family farm. And he’s so nice that the lovely local teacher marries him.

Another character wakes up in the horrors after getting too drunk the night before her big interview. She’s convinced that she’s taken the taxi driver home to bed, all because the man she loves fancies someone else. But instead, the taxi driver has taken her drunken advice – and both of them get their wishes.

The young curate does the work of the parish and tries to mend all the broken hearts and broken lives around him, while minding the doting parish priest with the help of a Latvian man.

They’re not all wonderful people: there’s a lazy, crabbed doctor who drives out a young competitor; there’s a mad woman who persuades a suicidal friend to take her lover’s new mot with him when he goes – and there’s her mother, who then steals her conman lover.

But the stories as a whole are as warm and cosy as a turf fire, just right for toasting your toes and holding off the cold reality of winter outside.

Maeve Binchy was born and brought up in a big happy house in Dalkey, eldest of the four children of loving parents.

She went to Holy Child in Killiney, then UCD, and worked as a teacher – in one Jewish school the grateful parents gave her a trip to a kibbutz, which is echoed in one of the threads in Whitethorn Woods.

Her parents sent her letter home from the kibbutz to the Irish Independent, and after it was published she kept writing, beginning a column for The Irish Times and becoming the paper’s London corr, where she met and married another writer, Gordon Snell.

Her fans’ (including me) greatest favourites were her gossipy stories of things overheard, vignettes like the one about the lad, watched by fascinated queues, who checked his appearance in the bank’s one-way glass before coming in and joining the longest queue – for the clerk he obviously fancied like mad...

Whitethorn Woods is another feast for all those who love Maeve Binchy’s books.

Saturday, 5 August 2006

Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan

Saving Fish from Drowning
Amy Tan
(Harper Perennial €??)

Synopsis: Bibi Chen, found gruesomely dead at the start of the story, accompanies her tour group in ghost form. Described in Bibi’s waspish commentary, the group wreak havoc through China and Burma, then disappear without trace.

VERY, very funny, a cutting satire on Americans abroad, edgy and completely impossible to stop reading, even at 3am with your eyelids propped up by matchsticks, Saving Fish from Drowning will be passed from sister to sister until the cover falls off from too much loving.

Accompanied by the furious, opinionated ghost of their tour organiser, a bumbling group of middle-class Americans set off on a journey through China and Burma.

Powerless to make her many opinions felt, ghostly Bibi shouts in their ears as they make one cultural boo-boo after another.

It’s all going to end badly, especially when a man with prostate problems mistakes the sacred shrine of the female genitalia for a useful outdoor urinal, and the whole group is cursed, and their children after them.

Our group includes Moff – the hippie entrepreneur who started by growing a screen of bamboo to shelter his marijuana plants from prying official eyes, and ended up making his fortune from decorative bamboos.

Moff’s son, Rupert, is a perfectly ordinary American kid – until seen with the desirous eyes of a beaten-down Burmese tribe who have been waiting for the risen Christ for generations.

The love interest: Harry, the doggy behavioural scientist whose TV programme, The Fido Files, is a worldwide craze with pet owners, and elegant Marlena Chu, Shanghai-born, Sorbonne-educated, from a millionaire family who lost it all in the flight from China and were now just comfortably off in America.

But this is a bedroom farce, with doors opening and closing and the gods and demons ready to bedevil all hopeful lovers.

And when the 11 go missing, both the vicious Burmese regime and the international media see an advertising opportunity. Could Moff have been a heroin dealer? Who’s the political activist stowed away amid the group? Have they gone into hiding with the Karen underground?

Amy Tan, as always, brings the otherworlds into her story. The Nats, or irritable undead spirits that cause everything from car crashes to diarrhoea, are, as a Burmese journalist attests “a big problem here”, and make themselves known by leading everyone into trouble.

It’s always good to see a new Amy Tan, and this is one of her best. Absolutely hilarious.

Saturday, 29 July 2006

Hard to Choos by Pixie Pirelli

Hard to Choos
Pixie Pirelli
(New Island €??)

Synopsis: Charlotte hates Paris, so when she wins a trip for two to the fabled capital of romance, she hands it off to her two best girl pals, and goes instead with her two best boy pals to a classy country house hotel. Cue confusion, madness – and lurve.

FLIRTY, funny and sexy, Hard to Choos is the perfect book to pack in your beach bag this summer.

Pixie Pirelli – new author, hmm? Well, Kate Thompson fans may remember that her last book, Sex, Lies and Fairytales, included a character by that name, author of a bestseller called – yes – Hard to Choos.

Thompson is having some fun here, writing in the persona of English Pixie (real name, confusingly, Jane Gray).

But enough about the author – what about her protagonist?

Charlotte Cholewcyk (pronounced Ho-lev-chick) is a disaster on teetering heels. Sweet and funny, she’s a magnet for all life’s straying pratfalls.

It’s not helped by her habit of talking too fast when she needs to explain her way out of trouble.

Imagine Charlotte, dressed all in the sultry Coco de Mer underwear she’s helped friend Alex buy for his actress girlfriend – now his ex-girlfriend, thanks to one of Charlotte’s misunderstandings. And now the ex is demanding her birthday Coco-threads back.

Imagine Charlotte swimming in bra and pants across the country home hotel’s lake – only to be confronted by the sight of the aristocratic goats munching her floaty white dress and flowery hat back on shore.

Imagine her trying to reclaim her threads from the same goats, then leaping into the lake when she proves strangely attractive to the devil-eyed caprines.

Imagine her, too tender-hearted to eat a turbot when its dead, flat eye is staring her in the face, trying to convince her hostess that she has a terrible allergy to the cat that’s purring its way into the handbag where she’s concealed her fish dinner.

Imagine her in borrowed bling light-up shoes, flash-flashing her way across the drawing room of the hotel where all the guests are dressed in the best of all possible taste.

And amid the chaos, imagine dishy Alex – closer than a brother, Charlotte’s buddy since childhood and the kid who accompanied her through every scraped knee – suddenly transmuting into Mr Right.

Even Paris changes its tune, until by the end, tootsies tucked into the perfect Choos, hand-in-hand with the man of her dreams, Charlotte finds true happiness in the city of love. Very satisfying.

Friday, 14 July 2006

Gone with the Windsors by Laurie Graham

Gone With the Windsors
Laurie Graham
Harper Perennial
Price ??

Synopsis: The hilarious diary of wealthy young American widow Maybell Brumby, who moves to England in the 1930s, where she flirts and dances on the sidelines of the abdication scandal as her old school pal Wallis Simpson captures the Prince of Wales.

DELICIOUSLY funny and so gripping you can't put it down unless you drop it from laughing too hard, this is the book of the season.

Laurie Graham's first book, The Future Homemakers of America, wowed readers and gave her the setting she loved best - Americans in Britain in the years around WWII.

She’s on top form as Maybell observes the Wallis Simpson events.

She's a typical upper-class girl. "The King of Belgium died," one diary entry reads. "We didn't know him."

She's living in perilous times. In Germany, there's vicious street fighting ("The Communists are behind it, of course, picking on the National Socialists.") In Britain, one must decide what to wear.

Maybell’s sister Violet is married to Scottish Lord Melhuish, whose three children, Ulick (sickening prig), Rory (sweetie) and Flora (untamed sprite) are minded by Maybell's other sister, Doopie (short for Stupid), who lost her mind after a fever, or maybe didn't and just went deaf.

There are fabulous characters here: the hard-bitten Wallis and her intimidated but adoring prince live in a whirl of real people with whom author Graham has great fun.

The Morgan girls - Gloria Vanderbilt is one of them - flit from side to side of the Atlantic. The Boss Crokers come and visit. Mr Hitler is always in the background, and the creepy acquiescence of the upper classes to Nazism is perfectly reflected.

Maybell, who sees herself as a cynical sophisticate, is such a softie really, and a bit of a blonde. Invited to a party, she's astonished to find that, democratically, a man who runs a news agency is coming. Apparently his little shop is called Reuters, but no one seems to know where it is.

Get the flu immediately so you can stay in bed and read this book. More fun than a barrel of monkeys.

Apparently Graham's next book is about the darker side of the Kennedys. My oh my.

Saturday, 3 June 2006

Past Secrets by Cathy Kelly

Past Secrets
Cathy Kelly
(HarperCollins €)

EVERYONE has a house that lives somewhere behind their dreams, the perfect house where they’d live in a perfect world.

In the touchy-feely religion, if you visualise this house strongly enough it’ll come to you. So somewhere in the world there’s a stone house on a mountain by a waterfall looking down on the sea waiting for me, with the weather always just right – drifting cloud, mist boiling up from the cove, forgiving sunlight.

In Cathy Kelly’s dream, perfection is a curving street of warm redbrick houses. “If a road could look welcoming, then Summer Street had both arms out and the kettle boiling,” Past Secrets begins – a sentence that brings a lump to the throat.

Summer Street is full of secrets, but it’s full of goodwill too. At its centre are the Devlins – especially Christie, the art teacher who knows all about every kid in the neighbourhood – but also knows how to mind her own business and trust the kids.

Christie knows that gorgeous, talented teenager Amber Reid is mitching. Amber is the daughter of secrets – her mother hasn’t told her the truth about her father, and chickens are stretching their wings, preparing to come home to roost.

Across the country in Galway (oddly, 300 miles from Dublin, rather than the 135 it is on my odometer!) Maggie Maguire of this parish is about to find out the truth about the gorgeous guy she lives with.

And unnoticed by most people, a notice is flapping on the lovely old pavilion in the park, saying that developers would just love to build some nice clunky building there.

In Summer Street Café, everyone meets and chats and shares help and confidences and troubles.

This is the perfect book for the flu – high praise; you need a great story and a book long enough to last you three days for the flu. It’s also a book to give a friend going through a break-up, with its warm, cuddly feeling that things will come right in the end.

It’s like the street at its centre – welcoming, full of stories and secrets, and great to come home to. Another hit from Cathy Kelly.