This week: a ‘beginner guide to nutrition’

This week there’s a novel about a commune of women on a remote western island and of how a local artist’s life is affected by encountering them. There’s a novel about an Irish chemist who lived and worked in Georgian London and who was also a secret alchemist.

There’s a thriller involving decades-old medical trials and their consequences, set in a fictional college just outside Dublin. There’s also a ‘beginner guide to nutrition’ as it says on the blurb, a book to help us make more informed choices about what we eat, and finally there’s one for the kids as Cork girl Millie McCarthy swings into her school sports day with gusto – and with disastrous results.

Hagstone, Sinéad Gleeson, 4th Estate, €14.99

On an island off the west coast of Ireland, local artist Nell is commissioned to produce a work by the island’s commune of women known as the Iníons, who have been on the island for 30 years and have never mixed with the islanders. Nell takes the commission and is obliged to spend time in the commune, in a studio that’s been set up for her on the premises.

These women have, for various reasons, clocked out of the world, to live contemplatively under the eagle eye of their founder, known only as Maman. For all intents and purposes this is an enclosed convent, just without the Catholic dogma and practice. Nell is at first captivated by the place, its inhabitants, and its powerful leader. But power tends to corrupt, as has been indicated by plenty of leaders throughout history.

Nell lives in isolation on the island, is comfortable alone in her cottage, although frequently broke, but she’s also a woman with needs. A brief tussle with a returned islander is unsatisfactory but it’s an encounter with a visiting American that’s the kernel of the story, and how this will affect both Nell and the Iníons. Full of hauntings, unexplained sonic presences and the ubiquitous pounding ocean, this is a highly original and darkly atmospheric novel about art, dubious authority, and the dangers of loneliness.

Sparks of Bright Matter, Leeanne O’Donnell, Eriu, €15.99

A historical fantasy, but based on a real person, and mixing 18th century alchemy with ancient Irish paganism is quite the feat and produces a book that doesn’t fit easily into any pigeonhole. It’s historical fiction, certainly, and like a lot of historical fiction, it contains facts. But there’s a supernatural element to this story too. Set in both Georgian London and west Cork and not following a linear timeline, it tells the story of Irishman in London, Peter Woulfe, a chemist and also an alchemist, always in search of the elusive Elixir. He is in possession of the mysterious Mutus Liber, a book containing text and illustrations about ancient secrets of alchemy. The book is stolen by a streetwise and savvy prostitute, Sukie, and Peter embarks on a quest to retrieve it. This is a love story of sorts, a mystery, part biography and part fantasy and if all of those ingredients appeal to you, this is certainly a novel to savour and enjoy. Evocative and well-wrought.

Milly McCarthy and the Sports Day Shambles, Leona Forde, Gill, €9.99

Another Milly adventure for the middle-grade readers; here Milly is going for gold in the Scoil Eoin sports day and can’t see anything that could possibly go wrong. But of course, Milly being Milly, plenty goes wrong. In fact the day is a series of disasters. Set in Cork and containing a sprinkling of cúpla focail, this is another entertaining and hilarious jaunt from Leona Forde, with spot-on illustrations from Karen Harte.

The Trial, Jo Spain, Quercus, €16.99

Spain’s latest spellbinder sees history professor Dani return to her old Alma Mater for a teaching post. But this college isn’t a place of bright, sunny student memories. This is where her French boyfriend, Theo, went missing a decade ago, when they were both students at the elite establishment on the outskirts of Dublin. Dani desperately sought answers at first, but balancing her mother’s declining health with her establishing own career eventually took up all of her time. Now, however, the past comes back to haunt her and unanswered questions come home to roost.

Spun over the dual timelines of 2014 and 2024, it’s expertly plotted and keeps the suspense going throughout. Mysteries set on college campuses have lately attracted the genre title of ‘Campus Noir’ and so if it’s Campus Noir – or indeed any kind of noir – you’re after, look no further. Jo Spain now writes for TV as well as writing novels and is becoming hot property in the script rooms.

Every BODY Should Know This, Dr Federica Amati, Michael Joseph, €20.99

In a new approach to nutrition and health, Dr Amati has identified different nutritional needs of the body during different phase of our lives and – contrary to what we’ve been told up to now – the foods that are ‘good for us’ are not so good if they remain unchanged, or unexamined, in the light of our age. In other words, foods that are good for children are not necessarily any good for older adults, or for women during their childbearing years. This book, it seems, is the first to take the age of the body into account when exploring its nutritional needs, and therefore it’s a different take on the advice we’ve come to expect from more traditional nutrition experts with their one-size-fits-all programmes. It’s an interesting read.


The Hinterland Festival in Kells is on June 27-30th. Another stellar lineup is expected, so keep an eye on the website. The guest list is not available at the time of going to press but it’s due to be announced any day now.

Award-winning writer Colin Barrett is taking part in an 'In Conversation' on his first novel Wild Houses, at the Linenhall Arts Centre in his native Castlebar, today Saturday 25 May at 8pm. Tickets are €15 from

The Forbidden Fruit music festival kicks off again this year in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham with lots of events. See

Kilkenny Cat Laughs comedy festival takes place, as always, on the June bank holiday weekend. There are some tickets still available and lots of side shows and fringe events besides the big draws, so worth a visit if you need cheering up! See for details.