A Look Back in Books 2018

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Staff Picks logoA selection of staff favourites from 2018.

One of the great things about working in a library is seeing all the wonderful new books as they arrive in. It probably won’t surprise you to hear that we do love our books in Dublin City Public Libraries, and so we’ve drawn together a selection of titles that we enjoyed in 2018. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did.


We’ll start with the following from our colleagues in Drumcondra Library:
Normal People: throughout 2018 I’ve had the same few books recommended to me by library patrons. Turns out they all have a common theme – women who don’t fit in, who don’t necessarily do anything wrong, but who people find strange. Women who are not normal, shall we say. In spite of myself (why did they think these books would appeal to me?!) I read them.
‘For all we talk about modern society and individualism, anyone who doesn’t try to fit in can expect to be meddled with, coerced, and ultimately banished from the village’

Convenience Store Woman - Sayaka Murata

Thirty-something Keiko has, post university, been a Tokyo convenience store worker for 18 years. She dons a uniform, emulates colleagues’ behaviour, and acts her role out to the letter of the store manual. She thrives on its conformity, its predictable routines, and its regular custom. Through anecdotes about her past and exchanges with her family and friends, we see that without the anchor of work Keiko is at sea in wider society. Pressured by rigid societal expectation to either ‘take care’ (get married, have children) or ‘take charge’ (be a career woman), she attempts to inhabit a new role. But will Keiko who seems a happy ‘abnormal person’ be fulfilled as an unhappy ‘normal person’.

Milkman [Man Booker Prize winner] - Anna Burns

Another woman whose individuality causes discomfort in society is ‘middle sister’ in ‘Milkman’ by Anna Burns. Set during the troubles in Northern Ireland a young woman of eighteen comes to the attention of a much older and dangerous man. Rather than putting value on religion, culture, violence, or sex, as if she was above all that, she values literature. Lacking interest in societal norms, she is setting herself ‘outside the pale’. She is somehow ‘other’ and not to be indulged. In a claustrophobic world of either/or allegiances, anyone not participating or identifying draws attention to themselves.  But there are others beyond the pale - maybe they can find solace in each other, or take courage, and ultimately hope for something different?

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman

Hope for a brighter future is something that compels Eleanor Oliphant. She’s a relatable eccentric living on society’s fringes as a consequence of the dark sins of her mother. Her social awkwardness and comically superior stance make her the focus of judgement and ridicule. But Eleanor is aware that she may need to meet society’s standards or risk being ostracised. Eleanor strives to reach beyond her reclusive self and her lonely existence. Through happenstance and the kindness of strangers, Eleanor takes tentative steps to ‘have a life, not just an existence’. But will it be life on her terms or those she tries to emulate?

Cover of Convenience Woman          Cover of Milkman           Cover of Eleanor Oliphant

Notes to Self: Essays  - Emilie Pine

‘Notes to Self’ is perhaps the memoir of a lonely misfit. It’s a collection of essays written with great honesty on self-loathing and self-discovery. As with our fictional protagonists, this covers themes of societal norms, gender roles, otherness, relationships, family, sex, birth, work, death, self-worth, purpose and acceptance. Its potential to shock some might just highlight legacy values obstinately holding fast in the modern world. As Emilie Pine puts it, ‘I am afraid of being the disruptive woman. And not being disruptive enough. I’m afraid but I am doing it anyway’. Maybe to get along in the outside world, we need to first concentrate on and to value the inner world?

Normal People - Sally Rooney

Much like Connell and Marianne in ‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney, all these tales are of people figuring out how to relate to each other, how to engage with each other, on an acceptable set of terms in modern society and at the same time to realise, value and not compromise, ‘expurgate’ or ‘fix’ the ‘self’.

A Place for us - Fatima Farheen Mirza

This book is an astonishingly tender-hearted novel of identity and belonging. It tells the story of a couple, Rafiq and Layla, their arrival in America from India, and the struggles that they and their children go through as an Indian-American Family. It’s a rich and layered tale about family and assimilation.


Cover of Notes to Self         Cover of Normal People        Cover of A Place for Us


And next, a wide selection of favourites from our colleagues in the City Archives, Phibsboro, Donaghmede, Ballymun, Cabra and Raheny Libraries:

A Ladder to the Sky - John Boyne

Shortlisted by RTE Radio 1’s The Ryan Tubridy Listeners’ Choice Award 2018 and Eason’s Book Club Novel of the Year 2018, ‘A Ladder to the Sky’ documents the rise of an aspiring author who will allow nothing or nobody to get in the way of his success. John Boyne has created an arresting allegorical tale set within the highest echelons of the literary world and a memorable villain in the form of his ambitious main character, Maurice Swift.

Lethal White - Robert Galbraith

‘Lethal White’ is the fourth instalment in the Cormoran Strike detective series by J.K. Rowling aka Robert Galbraith and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. It is a page turner from beginning to end with a murder, a troubled young man and an investigation with many twists and turns. It is the best in the series so far but will Cormoran and Robin get together? Go on, read it and see…

The Liar’s Girl - Catherine Ryan Howard

This crime novel set in Dublin starts slowly but the author is just setting the scene and the suspense soon builds. Alison moves from Cork to attend college in Dublin.  She meets Will and has been dating him for nine months when he is arrested and confesses to the murder of four women found in the Grand Canal but is this, what really happened?


Cover of A Ladder to the Sky         Cover of Lethal White         Cover of The Liars Girl

Travelling in a Strange Land - David Park

As Tom travels from Belfast through a snow filled landscape to collect his son in Sunderland he has time to reflect.  He brings us on an emotional journey of family life and fatherly love that is intense, tender and moving.  This short novel is beautifully written.

The Tattoosist of Auschwitz - Heather Morris

This book is based on the real life story of Lale Sokolov who was forced to tattoo numbers on his fellow concentration camp detainees’ arms in Auschwitz.  He told his remarkable story, late in his life, to Heather Morris, who reproduced it in this page-turningly brilliant novel. It’s a moving story about the extremes of human behaviour and about how, amid all the misery and death, a romance begins between the two main characters, Lale and Gita, and how eventually they are able to live a long and happy life together. It’s a comfort to know that, in even the most desperate circumstances, love and hope are possible to find.

Shelter in Place - Nora Roberts

A woman who survived a mall shooting in the US discovers that the other survivors are dying, and she teams up with another survivor to stay alive and discover the truth.


Cover of Travelling in a Strange Land         Cover of Tattooist of Auschwitz         Cover of Shelter in Places


Priest of Bones - Peter McLean

A war survivor comes home and resumes his life of crime but he discovers that his sense of justice forces him to try to make life better in his community.  Complex and gritty, it kept me interested throughout.

Someone Like Me - M.R. Carey

Liz Kendall is a caring and a devoted mother. But Liz has a distinctly darker side and when her alter-ego takes control, the consequences are devastating. This modern day take on Jekyll and Hyde, from the every reliable M.R. Carey, is a taut and clever paranormal thriller. A genre-defying treat to keep you up at night.

A Step So Grave - Catriona McPherson

Dandy Gilver arrives at Apple Cross House with her family in tow to celebrate the fiftieth birthday of Lady Lavinia and to meet her daughter Mallory, the less-than-suitable fiancée of Dandy’s son Donald. When Lady Lavinia is found brutally murdered, wedding bells are far from Dandy’s mind as she battles against strange superstitions and local lore to solve the crime. This witty tale is the latest in the Dandy Gilver series from Catriona McPherson. Set in the 1930s, the series is an absolute must for anyone who likes historical mysteries told with aplomb and featuring plenty of twists and turns.

Cover of Priest of Bones         Cover of Someone Like Me         Cover of A Step So Grave

A Spot of Folly: New Tales of Murder and Mayhem - Ruth Rendell

This book of new and uncollected tales is a treat for all Ruth Rendell fans. Ruth passed away in 2015 and was an exceptional crime writer and widely acknowledged as the queen of psychological suspense. 10 (and one very short story!) of her most atmospheric and gripping tales are gathered here for the first time, with an introduction from Sophie Hannah. The stories include: Never Sleep in a Bed Facing a Mirror; A Spot of Folly; The Price of Joy; The Irony of Hate; Digby's Wives; The Haunting of Shawley Rectory; A Drop Too Much; The Thief; The Long Corridor of Time; In the Time of his Prosperity; and Trebuchet.

Educated - Tara Westover

‘Educated’ by Tara Westover, was hands down, my book of the year for 2018.  I defy anyone to pick it up and not tear through it like a thriller.  Westover grew up in a remote Mormon family in rural Idaho.  Her father didn’t trust government, schools or hospitals, and prepared the family for the End of Days. She never went to school.  She had no birth certificate.  She had no medical records.  Yet, at sixteen, she decided she wanted an education.  Smart, determined, yet fragile, Westover ended up studying at Cambridge and Harvard.  But her education changes her, in ways that she never imagined. She is torn between family and personal freedom, and ultimately has to choose between the two.

Cover of A Spot of Folly                                                                             Cover of Educated

Humanology: A scientist’s guide to our amazing existence - Luke O’Neill

This is the story of civilisation, how it began and how it evolved.  It is written by Professor Luke O’Neill from Trinity College, Dublin and it is written with clarity and humour, making it an enjoyable read.

First You Write a Sentence.: The Elements of Reading, Writing … and Life - Joe Moran

Author and Professor Joe Moran provides a clear and authoritative account on how to find the perfect word, to build a sentence and to construct a paragraph. This is an insightful and informative book on the English language and a joy to read.

Cover of Humanology                                                                              Cover of First You Write a Sentence


And finally, a couple of magical children’s books that we highly recommend.

The Endless King - David Rudden

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on ‘The Endless King’, the final instalment in Dave Rudden’s ‘Knights of the Borrowed Dark’ trilogy. And what a read it is.  Denizen and his friends travel to the ancestral home of the Order of the Borrowed Dark to continue their training but the unexpected return of Mercy turns their future upside down. A total page turner and a great conclusion.

The Girl, The Bear and the Magic Shoes - Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Lydia Monks

This story features a little girl called Josephine who uses her magic shoes to try to escape the fierce white bear that chases her.  But is he really as scary as he seems??  Another exciting tale from the duo who gave us ‘What the Ladybird Heard’.  This tale is packed with beautifully detailed illustrations, lots of glitter and a catchy, repetitive rhyme that will have your little one joining in.  My 3 year-old daughter loves reading it!

Cover of The Endless King                                                                             Cover of The Girl the Bear and the Magic Shoes

A big thanks to Emma, Lara, Ger, Maura, Cormac, Ronan, Charlotte, Deirdre, Betty and Maria for their contributions to this blog.

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