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Close to Home by Michael Magee

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Close to Home

Anaesthetised lives

With its timely publication coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, the award-winning Close to Home by Michael Magee considers the legacy left for the following generation of Belfast youth. The scars of The Troubles run deep for 22-year-old Sean, leading a precarious existence of casual employment, impecunity and thwarted dreams, his chief escape that of boozy nights out with mates and ‘baggies of white.’ When he’s found guilty of Actual Bodily Assault following yet another chaotic evening, Sean’s life looks set to unravel, unless he can come to terms with the traumas of his family and community’s past.

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The Bee Sting by Paul Murray

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The Bee Sting

What a shame

I rarely write about books I don’t enjoy but in the case of The Bee Sting by Paul Murray I feel I should as I spent the better part of my Christmas break reading the 656 pages book and I’m not sure you would want to do the same. The Bee Sting was Booker Prize short-listed and recommended by loads of people and does indeed start off in a very promising way.

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Orbital by Samantha Harvey

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A profound meditation on our lonely planet

It’s a Tuesday morning in October, and hundred of kilometres above Earth, six astronauts snooze weightlessly in their sleeping bags. The uncleared paraphernalia of last night’s dinner sits in the galley, while beyond the spacecraft’s titanium shell, ‘the universe unfolds in simple eternities.’ In the beautiful Orbital by Samantha Harvey, we spend one day and sixteen orbits of the Earth in the astronauts’ company, as they reconcile their scientific objectives with existential contemplation and the insistent human buzz emanating from our lonely planet.

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O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker

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O Caledonia

Gloriously dark outsider tale

In surely one of the most captivating opening scenes in British literature, O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker, takes us to the vaulted hall of a remote Scottish castle. Here, in a crumpled heap on the flagstones, beneath a tall stained-glass window, lies sixteen-year-old Janet, dressed in her mother’s black lace evening dress, and covered in blood. Unloved and misunderstood in life, she has met a ‘murderous death.’ Moonlight filtering through the stained-glass picks out the legend Moriens sed Invictus; dying but unconquered. In Barker’s glorious and darkly funny portrayal of an outsider heroine’s short and intense life, the truth of this proves undeniable.

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Our Favourite Reads of 2023

Well, that went fast! 2023 is coming to a close and we’ve had a look back at our best reads of the year. 2023 hasn’t been a year of many huge literary hits. Rather, we’ve poked around and found some smaller, perhaps less well-known books, that we’ve enjoyed at least as much as big best-sellers. You’ll find the full review by clicking on the titles. Happy reading and Merry Christmas!

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The Glutton by A.K. Blakemore

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The Glutton

Villain or victim?

We’re in France at the brink of the revolution. A sinister, Hannibal-Lecter-like character rumoured to be devouring everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, including forks, rats and babies, is imprisoned in a monastery. Sister Perpetue has the unenviable task of guarding him. But who is this mysterious Tarare and what is his story? The Glutton by A.K. Blakemore is one the better books I’ve read this year. A brutal story of poverty, survival and class, set against the backdrop of revolutionary France and written by a hugely talented young author. Go get it.

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Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq

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Split Tooth

Mesmerising indigenous Arctic tale

A bildungsroman unlike any other, Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq takes us to the Canadian Arctic and a landscape of boundless terrain and immense skies. It’s the 1970’s and a young Inuk girl tells of her childhood in this extraordinary environment, where deprivation and discrimination sit uneasily beside a magical northern world of nature and mythology. When puberty arrives, it will bestow a shamanic gift upon the girl and prompt her, incredibly, to seek communion with the Northern Lights.

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