Saturday 3 December 2016

Novel gift ideas for bookworms

Thinking of presents for the booklovers you love? Margaret Carragher selects a variety of new fiction titles

Published 28/11/2016 | 02:30

The Memory of Music by Olive Collins
The Memory of Music by Olive Collins
Proof by Martina Reilly
Joanna Bolouri's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
It Was Only Ever You by Kate Kerrigan
One Monday Morning by Jennifer Burke

Despite their ongoing migration to online and digital formats, books remain a perennial stocking filler.

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And with so many genres in the popular fiction category there's something for everyone on the bookshelves.

Take Proof by Martina Reilly (Hachette Ireland €19.60) a crime thriller whose denouement has its roots in an event which occurred when its two main protagonists, Marcus and Sash were teenagers. Now in his 30s, Marcus finds himself on trial for the murder of Charles Hanratty, an old neighbour, who was bludgeoned to death some months previously. That Marcus is innocent counts for little when it emerges that he had both motive and opportunity, and that his prints were found at the crime scene.

As the evidence stacks up, it seems Marcus's only hope lies in the testimony of Sash. Because only she knows what happened on the night, 15 years earlier, when the pair of them broke into Hanratty's house. But much has changed between Marcus and Sash in the interim. How will she testify? Reilly is a skilled storyteller. As is Jennifer Burke, whose third novel One Monday Morning (Poolbeg €16.99) opens with one of its main protagonists, Trish Olden teetering on a cliff edge. From here the narrative rewinds to reveal what brought her there. Because Trish has a secret which if exposed could have disastrous consequences for her family.

But Trish isn't the only one keeping schtum. Having suffered abuse at the hands of his now deceased father, Stephen might have thought the worst was behind him. But when, after years of study and hard graft, Stephen is made redundant, his relationship with live-in girlfriend Lisa takes a sinister turn.

Meanwhile, champion runner Ciara's ambition is driving a wedge between her and her partner Nikki. Ciara wants Olympic gold. Nikki wants a baby. Neither wants to compromise. Then Ciara discovers that Nikki has been secretly meeting another woman.

Narrated alternately from the perspective of all three protagonists, Burke explores issues such as suicide, abortion and domestic violence with sensitivity and restraint.

From gritty realism to blithe escapism with Joanna Bolouri's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (Quercus Books €11.19). This aptly titled tale opens in the run-up to Christmas with its heroine, 38-year-old Emily Carson planning the annual visit home to her crazy, interfering family back in Scotland.

Usually this sojourn is fraught with unsought comment and analysis of Emily's perennially single status by her parents and smug married siblings. However, with her suave new boyfriend Robert in tow, Emily is rather looking forward to Christmas with the folks. But then she discovers that her 'eligible' boyfriend is in fact married with kids.

Dreading the prospect of facing home without her much-trumpeted new man, Emily promptly crawls under her duvet with a bottle of supermarket bourbon and stages a Bridget Jones-style breakdown to the strains of Backstreet Boys. When, demented by the din, her neighbour Evan Grant calls round, Emily impulsively bribes him home for Christmas; all he has to do is pretend he's Robert.

So, a scruffy, twenty-something computer geek attempting to pass himself off as a mature, designer-clad marketing executive in a houseful of canny, booze-sodden Scots - what could possibly go wrong? Funny, raunchy and delightfully daft, this is feather-light festive fare.

For something meatier, The Memory of Music by Olive Collins (Poolbeg €16.99) ticks all the right boxes. Set in Dublin, this sweeping saga charts the lives of five generations of women, perhaps none more remarkable than Betty Hopkins, whose story triggers the narrative.

Shrewd and ambitious, in 1916 Betty moves to from Tipperary to Dublin with her husband Seamus, a militant republican. With its epic span and multitudinous characters this is a hugely ambitious first novel. And while the pace might be uneven at times, this flaw is more than compensated for by the compelling storyline and informed portrayal of Ireland's turbulent political history.

Finally, for lovers of good old-fashioned romance, New York Times bestseller Kate Kerrigan is in her usual sparkling form with It Was Only Ever You (Head of Zeus €15.99) a fascinating tale of three very different women and one gifted and charismatic man. Set in 1950s New York to the soundtrack of jazz, R & B, traditional Irish melodies and rock and roll, Kerrigan's novel follows Patrick Murphy, a naive young man with exceptional musical talent, from his impoverished Mayo home to New York where he dreams of making it big as a singer.

A wonderfully atmospheric novel from an author at the top of her game.

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