Mayo Library’s Books of the Year 2018

Posted in Connect on December 17, 2018.

For the year that’s in it, we couldn’t let this list slip by without a little bit of Brexit and a little bit of Trump – two of the main talking points in life, as in books, for much of the year. So, without further ado, may we present, the Mayo County Library Books of the Year annual spread for your delight and delectation (and debate).

by Barbara Kingsolver

Willa Knox is trying her best to hold everything together, but something just has to give. After years of moving around, she and her husband have finally landed in Vineland, New Jersey, where they’ve inherited a house. He’s landed a poorly paid position at a nearby college, she’s just learned the house is literally in danger of falling down around them, and their son has suffered a traumatic loss that will see them caring for his newborn son. They’re also caring for her old, sick and very racist father-in-law. Engrossing from start to finish.

The Ruin
by Dervla McTiernan

He’s had a 20-year career as a detective in Dublin, but Cormac Reilly never forgot one of his first cases in Galway: dealing with the body of a woman and her traumatised young children. Now he’s back in the west of Ireland, and a recent suicide may or may not be linked to that long-ago case. Not sure who among his colleagues he can trust, and struggling with other issues, he tries his best to shed light on the things people would far rather forget. It’s a brilliant and exciting debut from a new Irish writer – and better still, book two is on the way.

Washington Black
by Esi Edugyan
Washington Black, a field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, has been taught to keep his head down and stay out of trouble. When the eccentric brother of his master requests a personal servant to help with his latest project, Washington finds himself learning to use cutlery and adjusting to work indoors for the first time in his short life. A compelling voyage of discovery that deserved its place on the Man Booker Prize shortlist.

The Invisible Crowd
by Ellen Wiles
Overworked barrister Jude Munroe knows she should have left work earlier to get home to her young son, but when a case from an asylum-seeker lands on her desk she is struck by the observation that they share the same date of birth. Yonas Kelati made it to England from Eiritrea by the skin of his teeth, and there has been no shortage of people just waiting to make his life more difficult every step of the way. The fascinating weave of characters and stories that forms this gentle and beautiful novel makes it all but unputdownable.

by Steve Cavanagh
Eddie Flynn is one of the most engaging characters to emerge in a crime series in recent years. Part huckster, part defence attorney, he has an ability to roll with the punches and still serve the knockout blow in his many court battles. Set in New York City, which Belfast native Steve Cavanagh has absolutely no problem capturing authentically, this is a series that just keeps getting better. Fans of Harry Bosch will love Eddie Flynn.

The Cactus
by Sarah Haywood

Susan Green loves cacti, which is quite fitting really as she is more than a bit prickly with just about everybody in her life. She keeps her family, particularly her waster brother, at arm’s length, and she is decidedly non-compliant when it comes to work nights out, or collections for the newly engaged. Naturally, for the sake of the story, Susan can’t be left alone to enjoy her organised solitude. The Cactus is a very engaging and enjoyable debut novel.

The Leavers
by Lisa Ko

Deming Guo’s mother, Polly, an undocumented Chinese immigrant in New York City, is hugely ambitious for her only child. “I don’t want you to be like me,” she tells him. “I didn’t even finish eighth grade.” It is the story of immigrants the world over – she pushes, he pushes back; but everything she does is with his best interests at heart. One morning, she goes to her job at a nail salon, and never comes home. The reader hears the story from the perspectives of both Deming (now Daniel) and Polly. In this Trump era, it’s all the more alarming.

An American Marriage
by Tayari Jones

Celestial and Roy haven’t been married that long, and they are still learning to negotiate their way with each other’s families and to find out where they both stand on the big life questions. On a visit to his parents in Louisiana, Roy is arrested for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. He is sentenced to 12 years in prison, in a devastating blow for the two families. When Roy’s conviction is overturned after five years, he returns to Atlanta to reclaim his wife. But is she willing to be reclaimed? A beautifully written novel focusing on relationships, underpinned by a searing look at race and what it means to be black in America.

Middle England
by Jonathan Coe

If we tell you this is a Brexit novel, it might put you off, but honestly, this was one of our favourites of the year. Warning: it’s obviously just as England-centric as the name implies, so if you’re looking for any hint of concern over Northern Ireland, you won’t find it here. But Coe’s characters, living through the eight-year lead-up to Brexit (and yes, there was plenty of foreshadowing when we stop to think about it), are just fascinating, and his seamless blend of fact and fiction is brilliant.

Notes to Self
by Emilie Pine

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much to Notes to Self, published by Tramp Press. But when you note that Tramp co-founder Sarah Davis-Goff ‘discovered’ Donal Ryan, and went on to publish Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones, you have to sit up and take notice of what they release. True enough, Notes to Self turns out to be one of the most poignant and beautifully-written Irish books this year. Starting with her father’s near-death in Greece, wending back through a childhood that had definite issues, and confronting fertility issues among other traumas, Pine gathers her thoughts coherently and engagingly, inviting the reader on an intimate journey into her head. You’ll be glad you read it.

Fear: Trump in the White House
by Bob Woodward
Simon & Schuster
Woodward touches on everything here: the memos and documents actively concealed from the Oval Office desk (there’s a whole folder, apparently), the rushed hirings and even quicker firings, the Bannon effect, and the seeming inability of Donald Trump to grasp even simple economic principles. A very apt title from a reporter whose pedigree we can’t but trust.

Game Changer
by Cora Staunton

She is without doubt the most recognised face of women’s football in Ireland, and even beyond that, she’s an iconic figure in modern GAA, full-stop. In this candid autobiography – the first by a female GAA star – she brings us right back to the beginning: the football-mad childhood and the early stirrings of a ruthlessness and determination to win at all costs that would mark her out as special from an early stage. She also touches on her stint in Sydney, and on the controversial backroom events from earlier this year. No spoilers here, though – you’ll have to read it yourselves to hear more!

The Crowded Earth
by David Whelan

As is customary, it wouldn’t be a Mayo Library books of the year round-up if it didn’t feature some home-grown books. This is the third novel by Westport-based writer and yoga teacher David Whelan, and the library connection is strong – he wrote the book in Westport Library. Centering on the life of Rupert, who as a young student sees his mother suffering after the death of his father in the Boer War, and the life-changing effects of his own service in World War I, it’s set partly in Dublin, London and Mayo.

Thomas Durcan, 1866-1927:
Mayo Merchant, Councillor and Family Man
by Patrick J.M. Durcan

Judge Patrick Durcan’s book about his grandfather – a true labour of love – sold like the proverbial hot cake at the very enjoyable launch at Castlebar Library a few weeks ago. Telling the story of a man who came from humble beginnings and went on to own a host of properties in the county town, it also traces the family history through the years – through marriages, deaths, political disputes and one very unfortunate court battle. A must-read for local history aficionados.

By Tara Westover
Tara Westover and her family grew up preparing for the End of Days in a remote part of rural Idaho. But, according to the government, she didn’t exist. She hadn’t been registered for a birth certificate and she had no school records because she’d never set foot in a classroom, and no medical records because her father didn’t believe in hospitals.  At sixteen, Tara knew she had to leave home. In doing so she discovered both the transformative power of education, and the price she had to pay for it. An engrossing read and a testament to the how grit and resilience can shape our lives.

12 Rules for Life
By Jordan B. Peterson
Psychologist Peterson is one of the most influential public thinkers to emerge on the world stage for many years, with his lectures on topics from the Bible to romantic relationships drawing tens of millions of viewers on YouTube. In an era of unprecedented change and polarizing politics, his frank and refreshing message about the value of individual responsibility has resonated powerfully around the world. In this international bestseller, he provides profound and practical principles for how to live a meaningful life, from setting your house in order before criticising others to comparing yourself to who you were yesterday, not someone else today. 12 Rules for Life offers a deeply rewarding antidote to the chaos in our lives today.

By Beth Macy
This book takes us into the heart of America’s opioid epidemic. From distressed small communities to wealthy suburbs and once-idyllic farm towns, this powerful and moving story illustrates how a national crisis became so firmly entrenched. Macy argues that overtreatment with painkillers has now became the norm in the US. This is an essential book for anyone trying to understand the harrowing realities of Trump’s America.

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think
By Hans Rosling
It turns out that the world, for all its imperfections, is in a much better state than we might think. But when we worry about everything all the time instead of embracing a worldview based on facts, we can lose our ability to focus on the things that threaten us most. Inspiring and revelatory, filled with lively anecdotes and moving stories, Factfulness is an urgent and essential book that will change the way you see the world. The perfect Christmas gift: a message of hope for our troubled times.


Mayo’s Forgotten Famine Girls – From Workhouse to Australia (1848 – 1850) and Convict Journal
By Terry Reilly
Between 1848 and 1850, over 4000 Irish orphan girls, aged mainly from 14 to 18, were sent from overcrowded disease-ridden workhouses to Australia. There, men outnumbered women 8 to 1. As one critic put it, they were like ‘Circassian beauties sent to Turkish towns’……destined to become wives and mistresses of bushmen or savages’. Over 600 were from Connacht, and of those, 137 were from Mayo. They did not have a voice, their opinions were rarely if ever sought or entertained. Now Terry Reilly has allowed these girls to speak for the first time in this important book on a forgotten episode of our history.

On the Edge
By Diarmaid Ferriter
In 1841, there were 211 inhabited islands off Ireland with a combined population of 38,000; by 2011, only 64 islands were inhabited, with a total population of 8,500. And younger generations continue to leave. The islands have long been a source of fascination, seen as repositories of an ancient Irish culture, they have attracted generations of scholars, artists and filmmakers looking for a way of life uncontaminated by modernity or materialism. But the reality for islanders has been a lot more complex. They faced poverty, hardship and official hostility, even while being expected to preserve an ancient culture and way of life. Ferriter’s book is a treasure trove of new research on the economies, cultures, survival strategies, evacuations and extraordinary people who inhabited places held up to us as the cradle of Gaelic civilisation.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century
By Yuval Noah Harari
How can we protect ourselves from nuclear war, ecological cataclysms and technological disruptions? What can we do about the epidemic of fake news or the threat of terrorism?
Yuval Noah Harari takes us on a thrilling journey through today’s most urgent issues. The golden thread running through this exhilarating book is the challenge of maintaining our collective and individual focus in the face of constant and disorienting change. Are we still capable of understanding the world we have created? Fascinating, compelling and … scary.

The Boy on the Shed
By Paul Ferris
This wonderful memoir of a footballer who has endured every kind of setback in life has been named both The Times and The Sunday Times Sports Book of the Year. And for good reason.  After a childhood scarred by his mother’s illness and sectarian hatred in Northern Ireland, at 16, Ferris became Newcastle United’s youngest-ever, first-team player. When his tilt at stardom turns sour, Ferris decides to go into management- with unfortunate consequences. Written with brutal candour, dark humour and consummate style, this is a riveting and moving sports biography.

Tiger Woods
y Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian
In 2009, Tiger Woods was the most famous athlete on the planet. A transcendent star of almost unfathomable fame and fortune living what appeared to be the perfect life, Woods was the first billion-dollar athlete. But it was all a carefully crafted illusion. Woods had been living a double life for years. Benedict and Keteyian tell his exhilarating, moving and ultimately tawdry story in all its detail. Rightly named The Guardian and Daily Mail Book Of The Year.

And last but not least … our Mayo County Library Book of the Year … (drum roll) …

Normal People
By Sally Rooney

Marianne and Connell have known each other for years. Both are intelligent, well-read, and academically gifted. They get on reasonably well and can chat easily about all manner of things. But at school they ignore each other. He’s a popular jock, she’s an excluded weirdo; and that teenage obsession with never stepping outside your circle keeps them decidedly apart. With a lightness of touch that is to be admired in one so young, Castlebar writer Rooney expertly brings her main characters to life – introducing weighty themes in the process – to the extent that the reader can see and hear them, and really understands what makes them tick.

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