Thursday, 30 July 2009

If This is Paradise, I Want My Money Back by Claudia Carroll

Transworld Ireland

Dead? Not dead!
Yes, the heroine of Claudia Carroll’s rollicking new chicklit is Charlotte - generous, kind, loyal, and apparently dead as a doornail.
Wrecks the career path, that
The career - she always wanted to be a producer - was going nowhere. And now the late Charlotte is offered a new gig: guardian angel to James Kane, the TV producer who ditched her for screechy-voiced poodley-head Sophie. James also took Charlotte’s best programme ideas, giving her no credit, much less cash.
Charmer. Does she help him?
She does her vengeful best - this is a book for the box of chocolates and the Kleenex (for the tears of laughter). In the afterlife (rather like an old folks’ home) Charlotte realises her friends were right, James is a waste of space.
She’s got mystic powers, right?
Only James can hear her, so she has fun freaking him out at important moments: when he’s with the new mot, or he’s trying to pitch a script to a wealthy backer. The description of the backer is wickedly like certain Irish entrepreneurs, by the way.
So she only guardian-angels James?
She can give others dreams. Dreams of happy pregnancy for her wannabe-pregnant sister, who’s married to Perfect Paul and has a flock of sisters-in-law who hate her guts. Of the old boyfriend who’s just broken up with his wife for Charlotte’s internet-dating friend.
The author, isn’t she -
Yup, Nicola from the soap Fair City - now a full-time writer. So she knows the scene when she sets her hilarious story in the TV world, among producers, agents, actors and musicians.
Ooh, maybe this will be a movie?
Wouldn’t be surprised - her I Never Fancied Him Anyway, about a psychic agony aunt, was optioned by the producers of The Devil Wears Prada, and Oscar-nominated Robin Swicord is writing the screenplay.
TV3 interview with Claudia Carroll about If This is Paradise

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Living with Murder by Yvonne Kinsella

Gill & Macmillan

You’d be afraid to leave the house

You would that - all those druggies shooting each other, it’s like the Wild West.
But at least it’s only each other
Poor souls. But it’s often civilians too. Donna Cleary was “a gorgeous little thing, very chubby and looked like her dad”. Tough guys tried to muscle in on her friend’s 40th party. When they were politely refused they heaved the flowerpots through the window. Donna went out to clear up, and they drove up and shot her.
Was anyone charged for it?
Her suspected killer was a coke-stoked heroin fiend, a violent bank robber, according to Living with Murder. He died of a methadone overdose in a garda station.
And wasn’t there that plumber?
Anthony Campbell’s mam staggered into a friend’s house, white with shock, and said: “I’m after getting a call saying my son’s after being shot.” Anthony had tried out newspapers and stockbroking on work experience, but he plumped for plumbing, loved it. He was in a house fixing radiators, criminal Marlo Hyland sleeping upstairs without Anthony knowing. Hyland’s murders killed Anthony too.
Bloody drugs
Some people aren’t safe in their own home, either. Like the blind man in Monageer who smothered his two daughters, who had the same eye disease as himself, and hanged himself and his wife.
It leaves so many questions...
His mother swears he didn’t do it. He was in debt, terrified of moneylenders. But she’ll never know.
All so sad
A prison officer who sounds like a decent sort, Brian Stack, was executed with a shot to the head that left him quadriplegic and totally dependent for the 18 months he lived. He’d told his wife he was having hassle at work.
Not a happy read, then?
It’s a sad, sad book, especially when you look at the snapshots of people in happy times. But reading it gives you an insight into the stories in the papers.
Publisher's site

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult


Say what?

But if you had a child with a dangerous illness, and you could choose the genetic makeup of a new baby so the blood from its umbilical cord could save her, would you do it?
Oh, that’s a tough one
The trouble for Anna Fitzgerald, the little girl in My Sister’s Keeper, is that it didn’t stop at that first donation. For years her parents have used her as a replacement parts factory for her sister - blood, bone marrow - and now they insist that she donates a kidney.
What, without asking her?
She’s a kid - by definition, her parents are the ones who decide what’s right for her. Until she asks a lawyer to sue them for the right to her own body.
Sounds fair enough
Yeah, but her sister Kate is very sick now; unless she gets one of Anna’s kidneys, she’ll die. And Sara, the girls’ mother, is absolutely focused on getting Kate better.
Sounds like one of those conundrums from religious education class
Unfortunately, that’s a bit how it’s written. Picoult generally takes an ethical problem and plays it out with stock characters - heroic people in tough circumstances, a troubled teen - and she’s done that here.
‘Now a major film’, it says on the cover?
Starring Cameron Diaz, Alec Baldwin; in cinemas now. The novel has more twirly bits - the lawyer has a service dog and there’s a whole subplot involving him; Anna is a hockey star in the book and losing a kidney will stop her playing, and so on.
I sense a certain muted withdrawal?
The book badly needs an operation to cut away some flab. It could have been really good if the writer had co-operated with a brilliant editor to sharpen and tighten it.
So I could skip this one?
It’s a grand beach read, and Picoult is a good writer. But it’s not her very best. Go to the picture instead. Oh, wait - it only gets 44% on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer. Hmm.
Author's page

Flagging the Therapy by Dr Harry Barry


I am not mentally ill!

Just a little, maybe? Think about it - maybe a downer is the mental equivalent of a nasty head cold? Maybe we’re all mentally ill sometimes, the same as we’re all physically ill sometimes.
And you have a solution?
Harry Barry’s Flagging the Therapy - he’s a Louth doctor, a director of Aware, the anti-depression charity. He has a bunch of stuff you can do to fight it.
Ack, it’s a huge book
Not so huge. But annoyingly, there’s no index. Luckily, I’ve read it for you, and can tell you to cut to the chase and turn immediately to page 216, where the good doctor outlines his master plan.
Which is?
I’m getting to it… Exercise, take Omega 3 oils, lay off the sauce if you’re depressed -
What? But drink is the only thing that keeps me sane

Apparently not when you’re depressed. He warns against drink, dope, cocaine - Irish women especially are using wine to deal with stress, it seems.
Life would be a dark, empty room
He says you should share your distress with someone you know and trust - ideally a professional in the area. And so on. Actually he has good guides to the various types of depression we may suffer from - bipolar or unipolar, anxiety, etc - and what approach helps them.
I’ve tried everything already
Oh yeah, and he warns that some therapies have a shallow foundation. But if we can learn to accept and love ourselves…
You’re joking, surely?
And you should organise a proper healthy diet - eating fish and eggs and greens and grains and good things keeps you on a steady keel. I don’t want to sound like Miss Thistlebottom, but a hearty meal -
Give the guy a break, he’s trying to help you. And he’s right - when you’re huddled in a cold black fog and you can’t get up or wash the dishes, it really helps to go out and go for a good fast walk. But you really should read the whole thing.
Maybe I will
Publisher's site

The Corner by David Simon and Ed Burns and The Wire by David Simon


They wrote The Wire? I love The Wire!
The Corner, and Homicide, A Year on the Killing Streets are two books of classic journalism by reporter (and now fiction maven) David Simon and former cop and teacher Ed Burns, who together wrote the cult series The Wire.
True life stories, eh?
The two lads spent a year on the streets of Baltimore with low-level drug dealers, and Simon spent another year with the homicide squad. The Corner is basically about a family, the McCulloughs, falling to pieces as the drug world reaches out and sucks them in.
Lucky it’s not here
Oh, it will be. They write about “the slow, seismic shift that is shutting down the assembly lines, devaluing physical labour and undercutting the union pay scale”. That’s happening here too, in the Dublin and Limerick inner cities, places that used to be homes to factories and docks and skilled work.
Who are these McCulloughs?
Serious working-class people, descendants of slaves, who work two and three jobs each to make money and keep the family decent. Later, addicts and dealers whose life is a ruin, whose friends are gunmen and knifemen.
And Homicide? Same as the TV series?
Homicide, Life on the Streets was based on these real cases - the woman accused of killing a series of husbands for insurance, the cop blinded in a shooting, the 11-year-old disembowelled on her way home from the library.
Not nice
And characters: the Fish Man, suspected child murderer; cops like jokey Jay Landsman and steadfast Tom Pellegrini. Shocking twists, inside gen on cop work.
Not a chicky giggly book?
Affirmative. Deeply sad, very male, an incantation to the dying working class and the end of the unions, the schools, the law, the newspapers.
But still...
If you like The Wire and you’re gripped by Generation Kill, you’ll love these two books.