Sisterhood: 'another Kelly success story, full of heart'

This week there’s a story of an up and coming girl band from the 1980s who were destined for greatness but disappeared. There’s a modern-day Cinderella tale involving a footballer and a ghostwriter.

An old secret changes the life of a woman celebrating her 50th birthday in Cathy Kelly’s latest. And there’s a heroic novel about a nurse in the US Army Corps, stationed in Vietnam in the 1960s. Finally, there’s a fantasy adventure that explores the power of books.

Whatever Happened to Birdy Troy?, Rachael English, Hachette, €15.99

As much a paean to the 1980s and its music as it is a #MeToo story, this is also a story about living in contemporary Ireland, not a country any more but merely an ‘Economy’, and of how shamefully difficult it is for young people to find a roof over their heads in modern Ireland. If that makes this novel sound depressing, don’t believe me. It’s anything but. The all-girl band The Diamonds were the next U2 in 1981-1982. They were headed for international stardom. And then they disappeared. Why?

A young podcaster, Stacey Nash, decides to chase up the story of The Diamonds and can’t find any digital fingerprint for the band’s hugely talented lead singer, Birdy Troy. Trying to ignore the fact that she’s being soon to be evicted and has nowhere to go, Stacey decides to track down Birdy and her band, 40 years on. If the 80s were your salad days, then you’ll love this deeply atmospheric trip back in time, wrapped up in legwarmers and sporting a bad perm.

When Grumpy Met Sunshine, Charlotte Stein, Pan, €12.99

Alfie Harding is a prickly, contrary man who used to be a famous footballer. He is being pestered to write his autobiography, a book that’s sure to be a bestseller. But he’s no writer and doesn’t even know if he wants to put his life story out there. Problem solved when the publisher provides him with a ghostwriter. Or maybe it’s just that a whole new set of problems have landed on Alfie’s doorstep. Ghostwriter Mabel Willicker is the Yin to Alfie’s Yang, the sunshine to his stormy demeanour, the summer to his winter and it’s an uneasy pairing for both characters. But there’s a deadline for this book and they need to keep calm and carry on.

When their strictly business arrangement is mistaken for a new romance in Alfie Harding’s life, they are forced to keep up the pretence. At least until the book is published. But things begin to change for both of them as their sham ‘relationship’ gains traction with a public hungry for more details. A fun and quirky romance.

Sisterhood, Cathy Kelly, Harper Collins, €14.99

Lou is celebrating her 50th birthday when her mother drops a bombshell, revealing a decades-long secret that shatters Lou’s world. Her sister Toni is grappling with her own issues. These sisters could not be more different, Toni a career woman in media, and Lou a trampled-on people pleaser with an indifferent husband. The sisters’ mother Lillian is a selfish manipulator. Toni finds Lou on the beach on the morning after her birthday bash, wondering why she shouldn’t just walk into the sea. Toni persuades Lou to take some time out. She too has problems that might be easier to solve if she takes a break.

And so, the two sisters take off on a road trip, first around Ireland and then to Sicily, looking for answers and picking up a young woman who’s another lost soul, Trinity, on the way. Exploring themes of family along with those of mental health, this is another Kelly success story, full of heart.

The Women, Kristin Hannah, Macmillan, €13.99

There have many films made about the Vietnam war that have stood the test of time, the likes of The Deer Hunter, Platoon, Apocalypse Now and Born on the Fourth of July. America and the world know how shocking it was, and how even more shocking was America’s treatment of its veterans afterwards. But this story is about the women, not the men. In particular it’s the story of one young woman, a Californian debutante and nursing student from a well-off family, Frankie McGrath. After Frankie’s older brother is shipped off to fight in Vietnam, Frankie decides she’s going too and enrols with the Army Nurses Corps.

Nothing could have prepared Frankie for the carnage she will witness there. In several visceral scenes, the reader is left in no doubt as to how desperately difficult life is on the field for medics attempting to patch up horrendous injuries and save lives in a war zone. It’s engrossing and engaging, extremely well-written and a novel about the women such as this is such a very long time coming. My hat’s off to Hannah for this, novel and hopefully there will be a film to follow.

The Book of Doors, Gareth Brown, Bantam, €15.99

Cassie Andrews works in a New York bookshop and outside of working hours lives a quiet life with her roommate, Izzy. When a regular customer of the shop, an elderly man, passes away on the premises, he leaves behind a book for Cassie. This book, The Book of Doors, is a magical book that enables its reader to time travel, and where ‘any door is every door’. Cassie’s first unexpected excursion lands her in Italy, just the other side of her apartment hall door. And that is only the start.

But owning such a powerful book brings its perils, as there are others out there, not so benign as Cassie, who are determined to get their hands on the book. This novel is probably for fantasy adventure fans only, but the writing is really beautifully crafted, the story unique and compelling and Brown, through this highly original novel, explores grief and all its possible consequences. It’s a startling accomplishment for a debut author and tipped to be a bestseller.


St Patrick’s Festival runs in Dublin from the 15th to 18th of this month and there’s plenty happening that will draw folks from all over. See for details.

There are festivals around the country too, including in Mullingar.

This year’s Wanderwild festival takes place in Killarney’s National Park from the 22 to 24 March. Promising something for everyone, it’s all about getting back to nature. See for details.