Anne Cunningham, First Chapter book reviews, selecting her next title.

This week: a novel about putting mobsters away, from a man who used to put mobsters away

This week there’s a novel about putting mobsters away, from a man who used to put mobsters away. There’s a new novel by Danielle Steel, possibly her millionth? ‘Make do and mend’ is the motto of a sewing circle, and a novel, set in a small English village during WWII. Handling midlife crisis and emerging all the wiser for it, and also making sure that one’s home life is a source and comfort and joy, make for two very different books on personal development. And a novel set in Australia, England and Ireland sweeps across continents and generations to reveal some long-held secrets.

Central Park West, James Comey, Head of Zeus, €16.99

Nora Carleton has spent years building up a case against New York mob boss Dominic ‘The Nose’ d’Amico, but as she prepares for the eventual trial, she’s dragged into another case involving the murder of disgraced Governor Tony Burke. Everyone thinks Burke’s wife murdered him, but in exchange for leniency, The Nose says he’ll expose who Burke’s real murderer is. And it’s not the wife. The Nose is shortly afterward found dead, leaving Nora with a ‘hot mess’, as they might say in New York, on her hands.

If the name James Comey is familiar, it’s because he was the head bottle washer in the FBI until Trump very publicly fired him. Not a man to sit on his laurels, Comey firstly wrote a memoir about life in the Trump days (it wasn’t good) and now he’s produced a crime fiction novel, the first in a planned series. Seems he has a knack for fiction, because this book is nothing if not a tense page-turner, extremely readable and spookily credible.

The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle, Jennifer Ryan, Pan, €10.99

Cressida Westcott is an acclaimed London fashion designer whose house and premises are bombed during a WWII blitz, leaving her in 1942 with nothing except the clothes on her back. She has no choice but to leave London and return to Aldhurst, the village she fled as a young woman. With her niece Violet and the local vicar’s daughter, Grace, they set up a small enterprise recycling wedding dresses for wartime brides. They start local but word soon spreads. Not only does the business develop, but so do the characters as they navigate the difficult war years, emerging strong and independent women, decades before the feminism of the late ’60s and early ’70s. This story wears its very considerable research lightly and is a clever mashup of historical and ‘uplit’ fiction, a charming companion for a soggy summer’s evening.

Wise, Elaine Harris, Gill, €19.99

Elaine Harris, wife of football manager Damian Duff, was approaching menopause when Covid lockdowns struck and, like most people, her work was badly affected (she’s a yoga teacher and life coach). It gave her time to reflect on her life, her goals, her plans for dealing with menopause and emerging the other side. And she’s written a book, a manual of sorts to help people through the midlife years, which can be difficult for some. While primarily aimed at women, it’s not exclusively so, and her tips on dietary health, exercise and wellbeing can be adopted by anyone.

If you’re experiencing difficulties with keeping your spirits and your health up to optimum level during the tricky middle years, this book is for you. It’s sympathetic but also practical, focusing on what we can gain in midlife rather than on what we lose.

Home is Where the Start Is, Richard Hogan, Sandycove, €16.99

In his introduction, the author describes vividly an appointment made for him with a psychiatrist when Hogan was just 16 years old. Just as he was on his way in to the doctor’s office, his mother whispered to him: “Don’t tell him about Dad, because he knows him.” And his heart sank. His anticipated recovery could not involve even mentioning The Big Family Secret; that his father was an abusive alcoholic. But it also lit a fuse in him, one that aspired to help families in trouble. He’s been doing that for a long time now and his experience is contained in this book.

The fact that who we are and how we interact with the world is based on our early family experiences is hardly breaking news. Breaking the cycle of dysfunctional family dynamics isn’t news either, but Hogan’s particular slant on the subject is refreshing and encouraging, and his writing is engaging. This is a book for everyone who’s interested in simply living better, with a little less stress and a little more joy.

The Challenge, Danielle Steel, Pan, €10.99

Danielle Steel needs no introduction from me, she’s still churning out several books in a year and her massive legion of fans never feel they’ve been sold short. She delivers yet again in this story about a group of teenagers gone missing in Montana’s Beartooth Mountains. A disparate group of individuals in the local small town band together to help save these kids. The press descends like a plague of locusts on the town and local tensions bubble to the surface, bringing an aftermath of old secrets being exposed, new love getting some oxygen, and a community forced to reconsider and re-evaluate some of their old ideas.

The Moon Gate, Amanda Geard, Headline Review, €16.99

Following a triple timeline, 1939, 1974 and 2004, as well as locations in Ireland, England and Australia, this is Geard’s second novel and a fat, generous tome it is. On the eve of WW II, heiress Grace Grey travels from England to Australia, to a kindly uncle with a shrew of a wife. In 1975, Willow Hawkins and her husband Ben discover they’ve been bequeathed an old house in Tasmania by an anonymous benefactor. The couple set out to find out who the benefactor is. In 2004, Libby Andrews is in London investigating the mystery around her father’s death. She writes to Rose McGillycuddy, who lives in Kenmare, seeking information. That information is not forthcoming. Past secrets are uncovered and a mystery holding three generations in its grip is finally put to bed in this ambitious, sweeping and beautifully rendered family saga.


If you’d like to get rid of some of your books and maybe get some others to read, but your budget’s a bit strapped, then The Great MoLI Book Swap might be worth visiting on August 19 and 20 in Dublin’s Museum of Literature Ireland. Admission is half price if you use the code bookswap. All details on