Monday, July 15, 2013


I was asked to East Coast Radio to come up with some book suggestions for summer reading.  I was wondering why summer reading should be any different from reading at any other time of year.  I mean, the books you like are the books you like... you're hardly going to change genre just because the sun in shining.

Do those who like violent thrillers turn to soft romances just cause the sun in shining or they are lounging by the pool?

So here are a selection of the kind of books I like - there is a bit of variety and I have also included some Irish Women's Fiction (used to be called 'chick lit').

This is a great read... the story of a woman called Bernadette Fox – a strong woman, but who develops an allergy to Seattle and to people so that she becomes agrophobic. 

Her daughters fabulous results in school means that she claims her promised reward of a family trip to Antarctica.  But Bernadette by now is having her life run by a virtual assistant in India.... so  a trip to the end of the earth is problematic.  So she disappears.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.
It all starts on the one-hundredth birthday of Allan Karlsson. Sitting quietly in his room in an old people’s home, he is waiting for the party he-never-wanted-anyway to begin. The Mayor is going to be there. The press is going to be there. But, as it turns out, Allan is not… Slowly but surely Allan climbs out of his bedroom window, into the flowerbed (in his slippers) and makes his getaway. And so begins his picaresque and unlikely journey involving criminals, several murders, a suitcase full of cash, and incompetent police. As his escapades unfold, we learn something of Allan’s earlier life in which – remarkably – he helped to make the atom bomb, became friends with American presidents, Russian tyrants, and Chinese leaders, and was a participant behind the scenes in many key events of the twentieth century. Already a huge bestseller across Europe, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is a fun and feel-good book for all ages.

This is on my to read list.. it comes recommended by a good friend in the US and as over the last 6 months so many of us in Ireland fell in love with Cmdr Hadfield I am dying to read this.....

As America's Mercury Seven astronauts were launched on death-defying missions, television cameras focused on the brave smiles of their young wives. Overnight, these women were transformed from military spouses into American royalty. They had tea with Jackie Kennedy, appeared on the cover of Life magazine, and quickly grew into fashion icons.

Together with the other wives they formed the Astronaut Wives Club, meeting regularly to provide support and friendship. Many became next-door neighbors and helped to raise each other's children by day, while going to glam parties at night as the country raced to land a man on the Moon.

As their celebrity rose-and as divorce and tragic death began to touch their lives-they continued to rally together, and the wives have now been friends for more than fifty years. THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB tells the real story of the women who stood beside some of the biggest heroes in American history.

I haven’t read this yet but it comes highly recommended by my mother and some friends whose judgement is rarely wrong.

After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby. 

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them. 

M. L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss. 

The Light Between Oceans is exquisite and unforgettable, a deeply moving novel.

I loved this book... I flew through it... but it moved me like books rarely do.

Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn't know is she's about to lose her job or that knowing what's coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he's going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn't know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they're going to change the other for all time.

This is a (older) young adult book... and a debut from Dawn O Porter... documentary maker, journalist and married to our own Chris O Dowd.

You could read it in one sitting.. but for anyone who has once been a girl this book will resonate with you – even if your girlhood was two decades before the characters in the book.

Set in the mid-1990s, fifteen year-old Guernsey schoolgirls, Renée and Flo, are not really meant to be friends. Thoughtful, introspective and studious Flo couldn't be more different to ambitious, extroverted and sexually curious Renée. But Renée and Flo are united by loneliness and their dysfunctional families, and an intense bond is formed. Although there are obstacles to their friendship (namely Flo's jealous ex-best friend and Renée's growing infatuation with Flo's brother), fifteen is an age where anything can happen, where life stretches out before you, and when every betrayal feels like the end of the world. For Renée and Flo it is the time of their lives.

With graphic content and some scenes of a sexual nature, PAPER AEROPLANES is a gritty, poignant, often laugh-out-loud funny and powerful novel. It is an unforgettable snapshot of small-town adolescence and the power of female friendship


The Captains Table by Muriel Bolger
No matter the problem, a Mediterranean cruise is the perfect solution – at least, this is the opinion of a group of solo travellers who enjoy dinner together at the Captain’s Table during their first night on the ship.
When a group of solo travellers meet for dinner on the first day of a luxury cruise, alliances are quickly formed. But as the ship makes its way through azure Mediterranean waters, it becomes clear that some of the passengers have their own reasons for wanting to escape their everyday lives . . .

The Letter by Maria Duffy
Just launched... the letter is the story of Ellie Duggan is getting married in seven weeks. But just before she sets off for a fun-filled New York hen party weekend, she finds a letter addressed to her sister Caroline.Dated only weeks before Caroline died in a tragic accident, it contains some startling information which forces Ellie to face some truths about herself, Caroline's death - and even her forthcoming marriage.Ellie has spent the three years since Caroline's death running from the truth. But as the weekend in New York comes to a close, she makes a drastic decision. As Ellie finally lays old ghosts to rest, she realises that the truth can set you free. But will she be willing to take the risk?

The Land of Dreams by Kate Kerrigan
 Land of Dreams is the stunning third novel in the Ellis Island trilogy. Ellie's idyllic and bohemian family lifestyle on Fire Island is shattered when her eldest son, Leo, runs away to Hollywood to seek his fame and fortune. Ellie is compelled to chase after him, uprooting her youngest son and long-time friend and confidante Bridie as she goes. Ellie fashions a new home amongst the celebrities, artists and movie moguls of the day to appease Leo's star-studded dreams. As she carves out a new way of life, Ellie is drawn towards intense new friendships. Talented composer Stan is completely different to any other man she has previously encountered whilst kindred spirit Suri opens Ellie's eyes to a whole new set of injustices. Ellie sees beyond the glitz of 1940s Hollywood, realising that the glamorous and exciting world is also a dangerous place overflowing with vanity and greed. It is up to Ellie to protect her precious family from the disappointments such surroundings can bring and also from the more menacing threats radiating from the war raging in Europe.

5 Peppermint Grove by Michelle Jackson

 Ruth Travers is leaving Ireland like so many of the Irish Diaspora who have gone before her. But, instead of a coffin ship, she's travelling business class on a Boeing 777 and will be landing in sunny Perth, Western Australia. Leaving behind her married boyfriend of ten years, Ruth hopes to make a fresh start. Her mother Angela, who lived in Perth in the seventies, is distraught when she hears that Ruth is Australia bound. It is only when Ruth discovers a sealed airmail envelope, with 5 Peppermint Grove, Perth, scrawled across it in her mother's handwriting, that she wonders what else Angela may be hiding. Her best friend Julia Perrin gently orchestrated the move to Perth for her friend's own good. She is a successful businesswoman with her own travel company and so busy fixing everybody else's life she sees no need to do so with her own . . . until she visits Ruth in Perth! Sunshine, sandy beaches and barbeques abound but there may be more than Angela's secret waiting for them in Peppermint Grove . 

Thursday, July 11, 2013


Last night I toddled off to bed way too late after staying up to watch ‘Tonight with Vincent Browne’ followed by Primetime on RTE.  Both programmes were on much later than usual to give us an insight into the workings of our Parliament as the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill was being voted upon.  Twitter was as usual great craic particularly as the team on TV3 kept rolling out pairs of TDs to be interviewed outside Dail Eireann by Vincent who was in studio.  There was Fidelma Healy Eames who faced sideways to camera and kept her finger in her ear the whole time and better still was Peter Matthews who kept his eyes fixed on the floor.  All of this to the distant chants and prayers of protesters gathered at the gates of Leinster House.  The subject being discussed in the chamber was serious but the theatrical element of this late night sitting was captured beautifully especially by TV3.

As I bid farewell to Twitter at about 2am, I did wonder about what kind of Banana Republic has a Parliament sitting until 5am.  It’s not like war had just been declared and there was a fierce urgency to their deliberations.  I wondered if the Dail Bar was still open – Gerry Adams had referred to the number of staff that were being kept late by this rather melodramatic approach to serious legislation.  As I climbed under my very light sheet I wondered why a workplace has a bar anyway.

I woke this morning to another fabulously sunny, hot day; nothing like it to put a smile on your face and banish all negativity.  But then I turned on my phone and found that my Twitter feed was a blaze of anger and indignation over what had, by about 8:30am, become known as #lapgate.

You all know the details.  During a break in the early morning proceedings, TD Tom Barry (FG) grabbed his female colleague Aine Collins and pulled her onto his lap.  Barry has since issued a sincere apology for the incident and apparently Ms Collins has accepted it.

So – should that be the end of it? 

No I don’t think so.  This kind of casual, sexist behaviour is an appalling abuse of male power and strength.  To be a woman on the receiving end of such boorish attention is humiliating and intimidating.  It is also against the law and has no place whatsoever in the workplace.  The fact that this workplace was our national parliament – the seat of our democracy and cradle of our legislation makes it even more offensive.  Dail Eireann by its very nature has to be a place where the laws of the country are upheld with transparency and vigour.

I was angry when I viewed the recording of the incident last night.  I accept that there was no malice intended... but that is not the point.  Tom Barry’s actions undermined the natural equality and dignity all women in the chamber.  But also have a look at the men around at the time... no one looks shocked or perturbed. 

As the firestorm on Twitter took flight this morning a Fine Gael spokesperson was quoted as saying that it was all a bit of horseplay and nothing more.  It was the polished version of ‘calm down girls and get a grip’.  This is far more worrying.  At a time when our Government is committed, through the system of quotas, to recruiting more women into politics, the main Government party thinks grabbing a female colleague and forcing her onto a lap is just a bit of nothing.

Journalist Colette Browne wrote recently of her own experience of this kind of everyday sexism in The Examiner.  As I read it I slowly became aware that I too had encountered just such ‘abuse’ in my past.   I have a vivid memory of when I was about 14 walking home from school alone, in my school uniform in bright summer sunshine.  I passed a workman involved in roadworks nearby and as I did he casually put his hand right up my skirt.  He said nothing and walked on by.   At the time I got a shock but, said nothing.  Told no one.  When I read Colette’s account of her own experiences I realised that for generations of young women being subjected to this kind of predatory behaviour and violation was commonplace.  We accepted it. That’s the tragedy.

And it is that silence which is now deafening from the women TDs of Dail Eireann. 

Individually some have posted comments on Twitter but I am very dismayed that there is not an organised statement from these women, across all parties calling for an assurance that no women (or man) will be subject to such humiliation in the future. 

I have to admit I was late to this party.  Having been out of the workforce for ten years, and having always worked in female dominated industries I can honestly say that I never experienced sexual discrimination or harassment in the workplace.  I am also 6 feet tall which probably provides me with some protection from being grabbed and man- handled at the whim of a passing stranger or colleague.

I have always believed that the world is largely as we find it and if you want to look for problems you will find them.  As women we are lucky that our rights as equal citizens are enshrined in law so we can be reasonably sure that we cannot be discriminated against in any overt way. 

But I am now realising that sexism is alive and well and thriving just below the radar.  It is just as wrong and possibly more damaging not only to women but to our society.  It is time that we all call it out whenever we see it happening.  And it starts at the top – in Dail Eireann.

Thank God the cameras were rolling.... cos to me it sure didn’t look like anyone who was present was much disturbed by what they saw.  

Note:  later in the day Fine Gael changed their tune and issued a statement which described the behaviour of their TD as unacceptable.  

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


I am writing this on the 26th of June; an auspicious date in Irish history.  It was on the 26th of June in 1963 that John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States of America touched down in Dublin Airport to begin his four day visit to Ireland.  It was also on the 26th of June (1996) that journalist Veronica Guerin was murdered on the Naas Road. A less well known event occurred on the 26th of June 1920 when my maternal grandfather, George Power was involved in the kidnap of a British General who was fishing on the banks of the River Blackwater just outside Fermoy in North Cork. 

All of these events are playing on my mind as I attempt to formulate my thoughts on the revelations contained in the Anglo Tapes which were made public by the Irish Independent last week.  Let me begin by saying that I am angry.... again.

Over the last five years there have been many times I have been angry.  I have watched from my corner of suburbia, without the benefit of a university degree or even much understanding of economics, as this country was brought to her knees and I was angry.  I watched as the previous Government stumbled along through their last days as if punch drunk from the events that seemed to be overwhelming them and I was angry.

Each so called ‘austerity budget’ since has renewed my anger as I witness some of the most vulnerable in our society being stripped of allowances to which they are entitled and which they need in order to live.  I have been angry at how women seem to have borne an unfair portion of this austerity through cuts to carer’s allowance, child benefit, lone parent allowance, tax on maternity benefit etc. 

Almost five years of anger and this week I am angry all over again.  I have spoken to my neighbours, my friends and colleagues and without exception all are furious.  All found listening to the cavalier conversations of some very well paid senior bankers in Anglo Irish Bank as they discussed pulling a master stroke on our Government to be truly nauseating. 

The truth is that they pulled a master stroke on US, the people of this country.  What kind of schools, I wonder, produce this type of caricature of a man - overly macho, arrogant, insensitives who seem to be so removed (or perhaps insulated) from the effects of their irresponsible banking practices.  Their supercilious, self important guffawing turned my stomach. 

As I wrestled to make sense of how Ireland has come to this point in her history I thought of my grandfather, George Power and the ordinary men and women who almost a century ago managed to secure freedom from what was then probably the most powerful empire on earth.  I think of their bravery, of the risks they took in the years leading up to 1922.

I think of the women who ran messages, who operated as undercover agents within the British administration securing vital information for Collins, I think of the people of towns such as Fermoy who were subjected to looting and rioting by British Troops in retaliation for IRA activity.  I think of the families who risked their lives by providing safe houses for men on the run and of how they hid and smuggled arms to keep the push for freedom going forward. 

Last week has also brought the visit of JFK to Ireland in 1963 back into focus with the 50th anniversary celebrations last weekend in New Ross.  President Kennedy made a wonderful speech when he addressed the joint houses of the Oireachtas.  In it he referenced George Bernard Shaw when he said
“It is that quality of the Irish, the remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination that is needed more than ever today. The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by sceptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask, why not?”

These words are only 50 years old but where the hell is that combination of hope, confidence and imagination now?  Where are these men and women who can dream of things that never were and ask, why not?  The men and women who were to the forefront of Ireland’s fight for independence were certainly capable of dreaming of things that never were and must have seemed impossible.  They were surely very antithesis to the lily livered bankers we are hearing on the Anglo tapes.

So how has Ireland gone from a being a nation of courage, imagination and action to a passive place where a cohort of greedy immoral bankers can break us and suffer very little consequences for doing so?  And more importantly why has the anger I sense in the community not translated into action?

Just 17 years ago this country got very angry at the murder in broad daylight of journalist Veronica Guerin.  We got angry and we let the heat of that anger be felt by Government.  Within days action had been taken to seize assets of the criminals and the breaking of criminal gangs began in earnest.  Arrests were made and the search for Veronica’s killers was relentless. 

Veronica Guerin, President Kennedy and George Power and his comrades all knew that (to quote Kennedy again) “problems... cannot be solved by sceptics or cynics of those whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities.” 

It is beyond time for clear and imaginative leadership.  I am very unconvinced that such is possible in the current government but the very least we, the people of Ireland, can do is to make our anger felt.  We owe it to ourselves and more importantly to our children to insist that action is taken now to prosecute those who gambled our entire country.  I am not sure of how this can best be achieved, no more than those who protested Ms Guerin’s murder dreamed of the Criminal Assets Bureau  .. but that is what we elect and pay our TDs for.  It is our job to ensure it happens.