Books for long summer days

Staying In

Review
Bríd Conroy

We planted a bush in our garden about 15 years ago, and while we weren’t watching it seems to have grown into a tree of sorts. In fact it is more like a mini wood. On the few fine sunny days we have had this summer so far, I have had the joy of sitting under this tree, listening to the beautiful sounds of the ocean and the songs of the many, many birds who seem to have made our little wood their home. And of course, where would one be under a tree on a sunny day, without a great summer read? These are the books I read under that tree.
‘The Gin Sisters’ Promise’ was written by Faith Hogan (aka Geraldine Hogan), a native of Mayo and regular visitor to our shop, during the pandemic. She tells us, “If I managed to give you a little break from whatever worries you’re currently carrying, then that will make me very happy indeed.” And the book certainly does that.
Set in a fictional town of Ballycove, ‘The Gin Sisters’ Promise’ centres around three sisters who lost their mother at an early age. They made a pact then to always be there for each other, but as we may all know, the path of families is never a straightforward one and they end up estranged. We get an insight into each of their three worlds and how even seemingly small events can change the course of our lives and that all actions have consequences. The story is sweet, charming and indeed uplifting.
‘Trepasses’, is Louise Kennedy’s first novel, following on from her highly acclaimed short story collection ‘The End of the World is a Cul de Sac’. Kennedy, originally from Belfast and  now living in Sligo, came to our bookclub meeting during the pandemic to talk to us on zoom, and it was great to hear the story of how she came to writing later in life, after a career as a chef.
The novel is set just outside Belfast, during the Troubles. It starts, however, in an art gallery in 2015 and finishes in an art gallery in 2015, which adds a lovely structure to the story. I couldn’t decide whether it is a love story set against the backdrop of the Troubles or if it is a story of the Troubles told through a love story.  I concluded it is both.
In between the beginning and end of the story, there is so much to suck us in. Cushla, the main character, is a young teacher in a Catholic School, who begins an affair with an older man, a protestant barrister from the other side of town, so to speak. Through their affair we get to straddle the different communities of Northern Ireland, separated by class and by religion. We get to experience all the grey areas that exist within communities in conflict. The writing is sharp, poignant and empathetic, yet real to the challenges all sides faced and the challenge of loving someone we’re not supposed to love.
I have yet to meet the author of ‘Lessons in Chemistry’, Bonnie Garmus, who originates from California now lives in London. I love book covers, and this cover is great. It oozes life and vitality and as do the pages inside. It is definitely a favourite among our customers this summer.
Set in the early 1960s, it centres around the main character Elizabeth Zott who, a brilliant scientist struggling to make it in the world of chemistry, then dominated by men. She is a cool, calm, collected, straight-to-the-point, no-nonsense person, despite the challenges she faces to be recognised for who she is. As readers we just love her, even if maybe in real life we might not like her at times.
Looking back now from the year 2022, we can commend the heroine as a trailblazer and realise it was women such as herself who refused to accept the status quo and who ultimately changed things for us here in the future. There is a kind of romanticism to the story that we associate with the ’60s, but also seeping through the paragraphs are the realities of a single mother and self-professed scientist living in that era. Another thing I loved was Elizabeth’s dog called Six-thirty, who is also a character in the story – and a brilliant one.
Happy summer reading!

Bríd Conroy and her husband Neil Paul run Tertulia – A Bookshop Like No Other at The Quay, Westport.