First Chapter book reviews: this week there’s all kinds of self-help on offer
This week there’s all kinds of self-help on offer, with all kinds of different messages. There’s one telling us that slowing down is the only way, another that tells us maybe we should be doing more, and probably the most practical one tells us how we can look after our money in our over-priced, over-gouged little republic. There are also two novels, one loosely based on the author’s grandmother and her adventures in Dublin in troubled times, another set on a fictional island off the Cork coast, where the protagonist is suffering a particular kind of trouble.
Glow, Georgie Crawford, Hachette, €19.99
At just 32, Georgie Crawford was diagnosed with breast cancer, in 2017. The devastating news was to turn her life around. If she survived it (and, of course, she did), she was going to change everything about the way she lived. She had been working in radio and TV, putting in long hours and living precariously. That, she felt, had to go. And so, she shifted gears into health and life coaching. Much of the wisdom she has garnered in this new career is contained in her book, targeted at young busy mothers who are doing way too much. In a recent interview about the book, she said a super-supportive partner is a real essential on this journey. Hmmm…
The 4-7 Zone, Dr Colman Noctor, Gill, €18.99
The author, who’s an experienced psychotherapist, says he has found that many of his patients were doing way too much of one thing and not enough of other essential things, a state of disproportion in their lives that contributed to their negative emotional states. There’s a balance to be struck and this book promises to help the reader reach it; the sweet spot he calls the 4-7 zone on a scoreboard of 1 to 10. He rightly notes that we have become ‘a culture of anxiety’ and examines in detail how we arrived here. Then he offers solid advice on how to be somewhere in the 4-7 zone, addressing a variety of topics from parenthood to work balance to sleep and technology. In this three-part book he advises the reader on how to become their own therapist; how to spot creeping anxiety; how to address it; and how to stop it in its tracks. It’s solid advice from a concerned professional.
Caz Mooney’s Budgeting Planner, Gill, €18.99
All the self-help books in the world won’t enable the reader to take control of their physical, mental or emotional health if they don’t have the spondooligs to do it. And living in a country where the price of everything has recently struck stratospheric heights, while our incomes remain static, is proving too much for most people. Enter Caz Mooney, who has been on Insta for a while now, bursting with ideas on how to save money. In 2018 she and her husband managed to clear some eye-watering credit card debt, save €15,000 and amass a deposit for a house. No mean feat with three growing kids. She has poured all of her knowledge and experience into this book.
She examines every life detail, from food shopping to membership of clubs, and offers some great tips around putting budget limits on everything and sticking to them. She’s also keen on ‘no spend days’, where nothing at all gets spent and yet nobody goes without what they need. A great book for the struggling – probably most of us.
The Woman on the Bridge, Sheila O’Flanagan, Headline, €17.99
The War of Independence and the Civil War were to have seismic effects on young draper’s shop assistant Winnie O’Leary, who regarded herself as a pacifist. When a stone comes through the shop window where she works and Joseph Burke appears, all apologies for the breakage, something happens. The two youngsters fall in love, but Joseph’s republican activities thwart their romance. Winnie is to meet Countess Markievicz on the run and hiding out in a convent, before her full induction into the ‘cause’ is to happen. But it does, and she proves herself to be a brave and reliable messenger in the thick of the armed struggles. Winnie is actually the author’s grandmother and this work of fiction based on fact is O’Flanagan’s first foray into the realm of historical fiction. She may have felt she was taking a risk here, but O’Flanagan fans – and they are legion – have confirmed already that they’re fully engaged.
The Island of Longing, Anne Griffin, Sceptre, €16.99
To lose a child is probably the biggest threat imaginable to any mother. To have a child go missing must be even worse. Anne Griffin’s third – and best – novel explores that terrible loss in Rosie Driscoll, whose 17-year-old daughter goes missing just outside her home. We meet Rosie eight years afterwards, when her father’s ailing health brings her back to her childhood home place, the fictional Roaring Island off the coast of west Cork. Rosie’s dad has been the skipper of the ferry that runs from the island to the mainland and Rosie takes the reins from her father, temporarily at first but it’s looking more open-ended as the story unfolds.
Her marriage back in Dublin is wilting, her only other child has moved on. Everyone, it seems, has moved on and no longer holds any hope for Saoirse’s return. Except for Rosie. And it’s when she goes back to her island homeland that the numbness of the last eight years swells to an avalanche of grief and some very reluctant acceptance. To say more would be to spoil, but Anne Griffin’s gift for storytelling has deepened and expanded with every novel. The emotional heft is this story is considerable, yet there’s room for the tiniest spark of hope. A remarkable story, beautifully and sensitively told, about love, loss and putting the pieces back together in a broken life.
This year’s Body and Soul festival takes place in Ballinlough Castle from June 16 to 18 with lots of music but also embracing sustainability, art, culture, wellbeing and food. Full details and programme on bodyandsoul.ie.
The Dalkey Book Festival takes place from June 15 to 18 and while lots of events are already sold out, you might get lucky, depending on who you’d like to see. See dalkeybookfestival.org for details.