Anne Cunningham of First Chapter book reviews.

This week: a new Temperance Brennan novel from Kathy Reichs

This week there are three novels for younger readers. For adults, firstly there’s a book that explores how we talk and how our conversations affect our lives. There’s also a thriller set in the Vatican within Nazi-occupied Rome and there’s a new Temperance Brennan novel from the blockbusting Kathy Reichs.

For the Youngsters

Grapefruit Moon, Shirley-Anne McMillan, Little Island, €10.99

This is not a book for early teens, it’s firmly Young Adult fiction, featuring characters in their final school year and including elements like revenge porn, sexual abuse, teen pregnancy and the awful lengths some kids will go to just to ‘fit in’. The only thing wealthy Charlotte and hard-up Drew have in common is toxic Adam, a member of the elite Stewards club (of bullies) who is making life difficult for them both. Although from opposite sides of the tracks, Charlotte and Drew will eventually find common ground and consolation in each other as each of their stories unfold. And it’s not all grim. There’s the heat and colour of Spain, there’s an influential drag queen and a love of poetry thrown into the mix in a heartfelt and often humourous novel.

The Light Thieves: Search for the Black Mirror, Helena Duggan, Usborne, €9.99

In her second book in The Light Thieves series, Helena Duggan has the earth tilting on its axis. The days are becoming shorter than they should be and tech billionaire Howard Hanson has convinced the world, through a relentless campaign of fake news, that it’s the children who are to blame. But, apparently, if enough people buy into the idea of moving to the Tipping Point, the planet will eventually ‘tip’ back over to where it should be. There’s some serious skullduggery afoot and friends Grian, Jeffrey and Shelley smell a rat. They realise they must find a mysterious black mirror to make things right again. An eco-themed thriller full of adventure for the 9+ age group.

Land of Butterflies, David Lyons, Raven Crest Books, €4.99 (Kindle)

Young twins Chet and Cecily have their lives upended when their father dies in a road accident. Up until that, they’ve lived by the seaside in a modest but charming home with the beach in their back yard. Their shoemaker father had not been doing as commercially well as he let on, and the only way of paying his posthumous debts is to sell everything they can and move home. They end up living near a disused coalmine and their grandfather Maximilian, a well-seasoned traveller and teller of tall tales, finds a pair of gold butterfly wings embedded in a piece of coal from the mine. When the twins merge the wings together, they are transported to a charming world 300 million years old. This is a gorgeous flight of fancy from Westmeath author Lyons, aimed at the 9-12 age group.

For the Grownups

City of God, Michael Russell, Constable, €16.99

Garda Inspector Stefan Gillespie has been sent to Nazi-occupied Rome, charged with the task of recovering some politically sensitive documents from the home of Charles Bewley, the former and now disgraced Irish ambassador to Rome. (Bewley was a prominent anti-Semite and close associate of Josef Goebbels.) Since Ireland has been declared neutral, Gillespie can’t risk being caught on his secret mission. The work is highly dangerous and not everything in Rome is as it seems. Meanwhile, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, already being watched by the Nazis, is busy trying to transport Jews and Allied POWs to safety. Their paths will cross when O’Flaherty helps Gillespie trace the killer of a young Irish priest in Rome.

Readers of Joseph O’Connor’s My Father’s House won’t be able to resist this novel. But it’s a very different book and although O’Flaherty is a character in the story, this is a fictional plot. That said, Russell, in his eighth Gillespie novel, magically weaves fact and fiction together as if they were one, and you can’t be sure where one ends and the other begins. For atmosphere, he can’t be beaten, bringing to mind novels in a similar vein by John Banville and William Ryan.

Talking Heads: The New Science of how Conversation Shapes Our Worlds, Shane O’Mara, Bodley Head, €19.99

Opening with the story of an ‘experimental’ brain operation on a young epileptic man in America in the early 1930s, and his resulting loss of short-term memory, Prof Shane O’Mara’s book explores both memory and human connection through conversation, neither of which is terribly useful without the other. It is in talking to each other, in telling each other about how we are, what we’ve done, what we’d like to do, that we develop not just as individuals, but as communities, societies and even nations. From the chatter inside our heads to the carefully chosen (and sometimes not so carefully chosen!) words used by the ruling classes to address the world at large, our history as a species, and our future, lies in what we relate to each other and how we do it. O’Mara is particularly good in expanding his theme from the minutely personal to the global, in a manner that’s culturally informed and thankfully light on the science-spiel, producing a book that’s accessible to all as well as a fascinating read.

The Bone Hacker, Kathy Reichs, Simon and Schuster, €14.99

In Reich’s 22nd Temperance Brennan novel (an ironic name if ever there was one, Temperence being fond of a wee drop or four), the forensic anthropologist finds herself leaving a job in mid-flow in Montreal to travel to Turks and Caicos, a favourite destination of scuba divers. But she’s not looking at divers, she’s looking at several bodies of young men, all found recently, all with their left hands removed. She quickly suspects that she’s dealing with a group of ritual, sacrificial killings of some sort. And then she discovers she’s on the killer’s radar.

The local police are baffled and now Temperance herself is in danger. But this is a Kathy Reichs mystery and therefore she can’t kill off her darling. Or can she? The tension endures from early on and is maintained, with huge skill, to the end.


Meath’s spooky Púca Festival kicks off next month in Athboy and Trim, from October 22 to Halloween, and you won’t want to miss out. See for programme and tickets.