Sunday, August 07, 2022

For nostalgia: The Amusements by Aingeala Flannery

Nothing says ‘summer’ more than the waft of popcorn, the pulse of the Waltzers music and the buzz of the caravan sites as they fill for the summer months. ‘The Amusements’ harnesses the nostalgia of the summer of Tramore in the 90s, and the coming of age narratives of friends Helen and Stella develop a solid novel exploring escapism and dreams. It is a novel primarily about the regrets that come with roads not taken, and a crackling portrait of life in a summer town.


For a replacement for Derry Girls: Factory Girls by Michelle Gallen

If you have been missing Michelle Mallon, Erin Quinn and the other Derry Girls from your screen, Michelle Gallen has gifted us a worthy replacement this summer in the outrageously funny ‘Factory Girls.’ Maeve Murray is every inch the replacement we needed for Michelle Mallon, and we watch as she works in a factory ironing shirts after school in order to save money to escape to London. The problem with that plan is that the factory employs both Catholics and Protestants, and Maeve doesn’t know how to behave around a Protestant, particularly as marching season begins to raise tensions in-house. In the same gentle way as we saw in Derry Girls, history is explored around the lives of the main characters as they go out, date, and worry about their exam results. The end result is a vital piece of literature, witty, sharp, very funny, and necessary in so many ways.


For a wholesome summer love: Life Before Us by Roisin Meaney

This book was, like almost everything Roisin Meaney writes, filled with hope, warmth and love. We meet George who adores his daughter Suzi. Unfortunately for George, part of him also still adores Suzi’s Mum who now gives all that love to someone else. We also meet Alice, a little further down the road and not quite in George’s life yet. She returns home to her birthplace, jobless, boyfriend-less, and more than a little bereft. It is almost instantly obvious what course this novel will take in terms of direction but that doesn’t take away from its charms by any means. There are farmhouse egg deliveries, good news newspaper columns, and hearts which heal through the promise of a second chance. It’s everything a summer read should be, and much more.


For sun, sea, and surf: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I think I was in the minority where this book was concerned because I really wasn’t blown away by it, but the follow-up, ‘Carrie Soto is back,’ is due out at the end of August and it would make no sense at all to read that without reading ‘Malibu Rising.’ Set in the 1980s on the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, the night spirals out of control and by midnight the Riva mansion will have been licked and destroyed by flames. All four siblings of the famous fictional Riva family bring their own secrets to the table and if you’re looking for an atmospheric, but forgettable summer read, this is the one for you. There are tans, sun-bleached hair, surf boards, and wealth, but not much beyond, and maybe that’s enough for the escapism we crave from June to August.


For learning self-worth: It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover

A little darker, but in the interests of reality, relationships aren’t always healthy and positive, and sometimes we emerge from the experience of them a little damaged and in need of a reminder regarding our self-worth. At this risk of giving this book too much responsibility, I think it helps to remind us what our self-worth is and how easily it can be dented. Lily moves from Maine to Boston where she starts her own business. The jigsaw pieces seem to slot together perfectly when she meets Ryle, a very confident and stubborn neurosurgeon who consumes Lily’s thoughts. On paper, he is everything she looks for, but his utter aversion to relationships together with his arrogance gradually overwhelms her. When her first love, Atlas, becomes a link back into the past, Lily is forced to face the darkness which existed in her parent’s relationship and she realises that this a theme which has followed her to Boston. Heartbreaking, riveting, and consuming this summer.


For a darker take on Irish rural families: The Saint of Lost Things by Tish Delaney

This novel is included because in my house, a summer read list must include a literary fiction title, even better if it’s an Irish title. Lindy Morris finds herself trapped in a generational chasm in rural Ireland of female stereotypes and tensions over land. Granda Morris is a complicated, toxic man who resents women and Lindy is the daughter of her late mother and her father who left at the first opportunity. Lindy lives a life of unfulfilled dreams, paying the price of her birth, and doing it all within a community where she is not respected or valued. It is darkly funny at times, devastating at others, but always well-written with a gentle encouragement to the reader to seize their lives by the horns and to never be subservient or inferior to any version of Granda Morris.

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Dymphna Nugent contributes reviews to the Irish Examiner, the Irish Times, and the Waterford News & Star

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