Book Reviews – Fall / Winter 2020
As autumn turns to winter and the days grow colder, there are few things more satisfying than curling up in your favorite chair with a good book. Here are some new publications with local links you might want to add to your winter reading list or consider as holiday gifts for the book lovers in your life.
“This Is No Time to Quit Drinking: Teacher Burnout and the Irish Powers”
By Stephen O’Connor
Lowell author Stephen O’Connor’s latest book, “This Is No Time to Quit Drinking,” is a multilayered story chock full of clever humor and quirky characters, making it something of a departure from his previous novels, which tend toward more serious story lines.
This book features Bartley Hannigan, a middle-aged high school teacher doing his best to cope with the ever-present demands of his job while dealing with the death of his father and inheriting a haunted farmhouse in the process. At the same time, Bartley is struggling to negotiate an amicable divorce from his wife while unexpectedly finding himself in a romantic relationship with an exotic dancer from a local strip club. Throw in a few Mafia thugs with high-powered weapons, an authentic Irish banshee hunter, and an ancient stone circle with otherworldly connections that’s being threatened by a real estate developer, and you’ve got the makings of a highly entertaining, at times hilarious, read.
O’Connor displays his writing skills by keeping the story plausible, even at its most fantastic moments. Although it was published in January, “This Is No Time to Quit Drinking” is an ideal book for the pandemic, injecting a bit of smart humor into readers’ everyday lives at a time when many people need it most.
A Kitchen Witch’s Guide to Recipes for Love & Romance
By Dawn Aurora Hunt
Tiller Press, 2020
( Review by Doug Sparks )
You may have tasted the work of Dawn Aurora Hunt before having read her — she’s the owner of Cucina Aurora in Salem, N.H., and her infused olive oils are available throughout the Merrimack Valley. I note this because her writing isn’t what you’d expect from a business owner. It’s funny and candid, and makes the introduction to her latest book worth reading even if you’re ready to skip over it and drive right into the recipes.
Hunt is a proponent of what she calls “spiritual nutrition,” a way of cooking that involves mindfulness and awareness of how food affects us both in the preparation and consumption. This relates to the book’s focus — cookery that inspires love and romance — and it’s refreshing that Hunt opted to consider how we can strengthen our relationships with the people we care about in a year when so many dietary trends were self-centered.
As for the recipes, they represent an omnivore’s delight. The author doesn’t shy away from anything that might lead to kindling healthy amorous passions: avocado chocolate mousse, turmeric-ginger bone broth, spicy fried oysters, and red rose velvet cake are all on the menu. The photography is suitably gorgeous, making it an all-around perfect Yuletide gift for your favorite witch or warlock.
Note: Dawn Aurora Hunt was recently a guest on The 495 podcast. You can listen to all episodes of our community podcast here. >>>
“Atlantic Currents: Connecting Cork and Lowell”
Edited by Paul Marion, Tina
Neylon and John Wooding
Loom Press, March 2020
This eclectic collection of short stories, essays and poetry brings together the work of 65 writers from Lowell, Massachusetts, and Cork, Ireland. The idea for the book was sparked by the participation of Lowell and Cork in the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Global Network of Learning Cities, a forum in which municipalities around the world can share ideas with the aim of creating or advancing lifelong learning opportunities and equal access to education for the people in their communities.
“Atlantic Currents” contains work from notable locals such as poet Michael Casey, novelist David Daniel, poet Kate Hanson Foster, novelists Elinor Lipman and Stephen O’Connor, journalist David Perry, and poet Tom Sexton. Irish contributors include novelist and playwright Cónal Creedon, author Liam Ronayne, and novelist William Wall.
The book is divided into 10 numbered sections loosely based on themes, each containing pieces from writers from both Cork and Lowell. Be sure to read the introductions by editors John Wooding and Tina Neylon, who offer insights into the literary cultures of both cities and the creation of the book.
Note: Paul Marion is a regular contributor to mvm. Read more of his work here. >>>
By Joanne Carota
Neptune Books, July 2019
“The Docks,” the debut novel by Chelmsford author and UMass Lowell adjunct writing instructor Joanne Carota, is a murder mystery/thriller set in South Boston’s tightly knit fishing community. Carota’s experience as a former administrator at MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington comes through in the form of the novel’s protagonist, Kate Finn, a marine biologist employed by the Food and Drug Administration.
When Kate’s father, Seamus, is accused of murdering a local fisherman, she vows to stop at nothing to prove his innocence. Unaware of her father’s checkered past, Kate leaves behind her promising career and goes to work for Greely Seafood Labs, a company owned by local businessman Colin Greely that specializes in the genetic engineering of fish. Using her scientific training to track down the real killer, Kate faces a number of challenges and distractions that bring to light the conflicts between tradition and innovation in the modern fishing industry, and the ubiquitous battle between corporate greed and sustainable practices.
The novel’s many twists and turns, and Carota’s emphasis on family, trust and loyalty, will satisfy mystery/thriller fans, while the book’s local setting will appeal to New Englanders and readers who enjoy stories set by the sea. Although this self-published novel could benefit from additional editing in places, all in all it’s a solid read.
Note: A story by the author of this article also appears in the anthology “Atlantic Currents: Connecting Cork and Lowell.”