It’s been a tough week for me, an old friend departed these shores for good, when he and his family decided to emigrate to the North-western United States.  Over two hundred years ago there’d have been a “living wake” at docks, before they boarded a ship, safe in the knowledge we’d never see each other again. Times have changed, emigrants to the US from Ireland don’t have to endure a four-week passage in a “Coffin Ship” but hop across the pond in a journey that can take hours. I don’t know when I’ll see him again, but unlike our predecessors, it will be sometime in the future; he’ll return for a holiday, or I’ll head across to see him. It was quite ironic that while this was happening, I was reading this month’s book review which is all about emigration, lost families and researching your past. The book is The Letter Home by Rachael English and is published by Headline ( http://www.headline.co.uk ) on the 21st July 2022.

When journalist Jessie Daly loses everything she holds dear, she heads home to the West of Ireland, and helps a friend researching life during the famine. She soon unearths the heart-breaking story of a brave young mother, Bridget Moloney and her daughter, Norah. Meanwhile in Boston, Kaitlin Wilson is researching her family tree, in doing so she discovers the fascinating story of a young mother on the West Coast of Ireland who made a difficult decision, to either watch her young daughter perish or set out to make a new life in the new world. All revealed through a letter home.  

From the opening page, this book is a thoroughly enjoyable and at times emotional read. I was spellbound by Bridget’s story and both Jessie and Kaitlin’s journey of discovery from either side of the Atlantic to its amazing conclusion.  What English brings to the table is a story of emigration stretching from the famine era right through the troubled eighties, and even includes the spectre of modern emigration and slavery. Her research opened my eyes to misconception that America or Bostonians welcomed the Irish with open arms.

As well as that she has imbued within the story the modern fascination of genealogy, something we’ve dipped our toes into in this household, and like most people found fascinating with the success of programmes like Who Do You Think You Are.

But overall, this 500-page work from an icon of Irish current affairs radio, is a standout read of the summer, which will be, if not already, a staple of book groups over the coming months. Don’t get put off by the page length, it’s needed for English to weave a thoroughly engrossing and heartfelt story, which as it says on the cover, is inspired by real events. Two million people emigrated from Ireland to America as a result of the famine between 1845-1851, so there’s a lot of material to choose from. In an author’s note at the back of the book Rachael outline’s where she did her research and provides information for anyone willing to follow in Jessie and Kaitlin’s footsteps.

Rachael English (Irish Times)

This is Irish author and RTE Journalist Rachael English’s (@Englishrachael ) sixth book, the others are, Going Back (2013), Each and Everyone (2014), The American Girl (2017), The Night of The Party (2018), The Paper Bracelet (2020). She is one of the main presenters on Ireland’s most popular radio programme “Morning Ireland”, during more than twenty years as a journalist, she has worked on most of Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE’s current affairs programmes.

As I was waking up this morning and thinking of what to say in this piece, Rachael’s dulcet tones came over my alarm clock radio, as they do on a regular basis. Also, my research revealed she was born in Lincolnshire in the UK, where I was married, and my mother-in-law resides. I also worked with her husband, when he was a manager for his family’s chain of Irish retail stores.

So, if you’re stuck for a book club choice, join me in putting it on the list, then write a note to your local book shop to reserve a number of copies, download them, or order online, and settle in for a lovely story of courage and discovery from the pen of one of Ireland’s leading broadcasters.

Reviewed by Adrian Murphy

This book review is part of a Random Things blog tour, to see what the others thought of the book, visit their blogs listed below. Then, if you get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.



Live By Night CvrDublin is currently witnessing a very bloody feud between two rival drug gangs, which to date has claimed 5 lives since last September, including that of an innocent man in what is being thought to have been a case of mistaken identity. Not that the perpetrator is going to feel any sense of remorse, murder is murder. The so called hit-men carrying out these murders are drug addicts themselves, doing anything to pay off a debt, score a hit or at least stay in the good books of the gang leader. But this is not something unique to Dublin, every major city the world over and down through history has had a problem with gangsters…. Before narcotics became such a booming industry, they dealt in other vices and contraband, such as sex, gambling and in the US especially, alcohol during the prohibition. This brings us to this month’s book group read, its Live by Night by Dennis Lehane.

Joe Coughlin comes from a good Irish – American family, in 1920’s Boston. Aged nineteen he and couple of friends hold up an illegal poker game, that’s when he meets Emma Gould, the hostess at the game. He falls for her instantly, but she’s also the Moll of a local gangster Albert White. When their next heist goes wrong and two cops die, Joe hides the money he is holding and then flees the city but not before taking Emma with him. Unfortunately, they run into Albert, whose men beat Joe to within an inch of his life. He’s only saved from certain death by the arrival of his Police Commissioner Dad and a large number of the Boston PD. He is sent to jail for the murder of the two cops. Inside he comes under the protection of Mafioso Tommaso Pescatore, from then on he starts on the road to becoming a leading figure in the mafia. On his release he goes to where he hid the money, but it’s gone and he’d given the location to Emma just before the run in with White and his men. She was last seen leaving with one of Albert’s men. Can Joe find Emma? His money? Will he get revenge on Albert White for the beating?

When we discussed this book at book group, I was surprised by a number of the group who said it was violent and they felt uncomfortable reading it. One person said they had to stop for fear of being desensitized!!!! Myself and others argued that there are more violent books out there and we see much more dramatic stuff on TV. They told the group they avoid these types of books and programmes for the same reason.

If we were all to stop reading crime fiction tomorrow for fear that it will have an effect on our moral compass, then a lot of excellent writers would suddenly find themselves out of work. The same goes for cops and pathologist, how do they deal with the sights they see on a daily basis? They learn to switch off. They use mortuary humour and that’s not desensitizing, its coping.  Crime fiction is what it says on the proverbial tin. Fiction!!!! If you feel the material is too graphic it’s down to two things a) the writer’s skill and b) your excellent imagination.

Another member said the women portrayed in the book were just being used… well they were mainly prostitutes. This is what the mafia did back then and still do these days, ran brothels. I don’t know what that contributor was expecting to find in something set in the 1920’s underworld? Women like those in Sex In The City?

Yes, the book is violent but no more than you’d expect from a work of fiction dealing with the subject matter. If you’re expecting Cecelia Ahern or Beatrix Potter you’ve opened the wrong book.


Dennis Lehane

I found the book to be a gripping and excellently written crime drama from one of America’s leading crime writers. It tracks Coughlin’s life from the streets of Boston and the wit shredding life in jail, to his new life as a bootlegger, rum runner and eventual heavy weight gangster in the steamy tropics of Florida and Cuba, without any loss of pace or tension. The book is in the similar style as those early works of Jeffery Archer such as Kane and Abel, The Prodigal Daughter and First Among Equals.

This is the first Dennis Lehane I’d read, although I’d seen the Film of Gone Baby Gone. While my Fiancé has been trying to get me to watch Shutter Island for a couple of years now and Mystic River is on my watch list too.

Published in 2012 by William Morrow / Harper Collins (www.harpercollins.com ) Live by

Ben Affleck LBN

Ben Affleck – On Set

Night is the eleventh of thirteen books American author Lehane has written to date. Born and raised in Boston, he still lives there and sets most of his books there. His first six books featured the protagonists Kenzie and Genaro. While Live by Night is the second book in a Trilogy that follows the lives of the Coughlin Clan, the other two are The Given Day (2008) and World Gone By (2015).  The film adaptation is due for release in 2017 starring Ben Affleck as Coughlin, Robert Glenister as White, Sienna Miller as Emma Gould and Brendan Gleeson as his dad. He’s also written for the TV series The Wire, while the movie The Drop was based on a short story of his.

So if you feel your nerves can stand an excellently written crime thriller, then get down to your local bookshop or download a copy and with summer starting make its first warm rays felt on our cheeks, this book and the other two in its trilogy should make excellent holiday reading.