Bell X1’s Paul Noonan: Hole in Her Heart

I’ve been enamoured with Bell X1’s Paul Noonan since his spectacular 2008 set at Mountain Stage and he seems determined to make me adore him even more with this new song. “Hole in Her Heart” was inspired by the literal hole in his baby daughter Aislinn’s newborn heart and the care she received during her stay at Crumlin Children’s Hospital in Dublin. If that doesn’t tug your own heartstrings enough, all of the song’s proceeds will be donated to the hospital. The song was recorded as a lovely duet with Aislinn’s mother, Amy, for Noonan’s side project, Printer Clips…

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Declan O’Rourke: Mag Pai Zai

Irish singer-songwriter Declan O’Rourke’s Mag Pai Zai is an album I kept meaning to review but never seem to remember until I stumble upon it again. The problem is the standout tracks are so brilliantly amazing they cast a very dark shadow over the weaker tracks. Subsequently, the album is not very memorable as a whole. But those standout tracks are truly stellar: the mellow acoustic folk opener “Time Machine,” the gentle, tinkling tune “Dancing Song,” the string-accented rumination on “Galileo” and especially the astounding, mesmeric acapella ballad “Marrying The Sea.”

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Declan O’Rourke Official Site

Support Independent Bookstores Saturday!

Saturday is apparently “Small Business Saturday” as well as “Indies First Day,” in which authors and book lovers are being encouraged to support their local independent bookshops. Therefore, I encourage all local bookworms to visit Charleston, WV’s only independent bookstore, Taylor Books, on that day or any day. You can also order books and ebooks/epubs from Taylors online, but it’s worth the trip for the bookshop’s atmosphere.

Now that Trans Allegheny closed, Taylor Books is my favorite bookstore on this side of the Atlantic and has thankfully survived the invasion and demise of chain bookstores in the area. Oh and if you don’t like books (how strange and sad), Taylors also has the best coffee in Charleston – I especially like the Nicaraguan Vienna dark roast blend. If you don’t like books or coffee, I really don’t know how you live.

If you do like books and are looking for recommendations for Indies First Day, my personal favorite books of all time are: Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (I recently bought this lovely edition from Taylor Books myself to add to my somewhat obsessive Return of the Native collection), The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut and pretty much everything else written by Kurt Vonnegut or Edith Wharton. More modern favorites have been Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, The Book Thief and anything by Kate Morton, Maggie O’Farrell and Victoria Hislop.

I also highly recommend the more modern classic The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, which is now being adapted for a movie. You can read my rave review of it here. I first heard about the Guernsey book from a former manager of Taylors and it was a longtime staff pick on the shelves there. I’ve since given copies of the book to several friends, all of whom loved it as much as I did.

Other favorite bookstores of mine on both sides of the Atlantic: Empire Books in Huntington, WV; Two Sisters bookery, Old Books on Front Street and Pomegranate Books in Wilmington, NC; and The Winding Stair, Hodges Figgis and Chapters in Dublin, Ireland.

It would be very nice if independent bookstores get the kind of support from Indies First Saturday that Record Store Day brings to indie music shops.

Kodaline: Awesome Irish Band Alert!

I’ll ‘fess up right away, I discovered Irish band Kodaline through The Recommender, but I seem to have a much higher opinion of Kodaline’s music than that blog does. I’d much rather a band successfully hop and mix genres than stick to a bland one-note sound. This Dublin four-piece band may have that friends-since-childhood history in common with U2, but their sound is much closer to the dramatic, eccentric rock style of Muse. They have not yet released an album, but are set to release an EP in September.

Kodaline Official Site

Muruch’s Best of the Decade: Books

In addition to my usual year end lists, I’m also doing decade lists. Following are my favorite books that were released between 2000-2009. It turns out my two favorite books of the early aughts – Douglas Copeland’s Girlfriend in a Coma and Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity – were released in the mid-1990s. Oh well. With one exception, I only included books that were newly released in this decade…

Muruch’s Best of the Decade: Books

10. Ian McEwan: On Chesil Beach

This unique little novella is probably not one that I would re-read, but I did like it enough to buy it after I’d checked it out from the library. There was just something so elegant and insightful about its painfully realistic depiction of an inexperienced couple’s awkward wedding night in 1962.

Buy @ Amazon

9. Lin Enger: Undiscovered Country

2008 was a very good year for novels. As I said in my review: “Undiscovered Country is a modernized retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet set in small town Minnesota.” I still think it’s a shame a certain bloated, boring copycat Oprah book club selection stole the attention and praise this novel rightfully deserved.

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8. Maggie O’Farrell: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

I summed it all up in my review: “Irish author Maggie O’Farrell has quickly become a favorite writer of mine. Her new novel The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox is a beautifully written, enthralling piece of Gothic fiction that effortlessly weaves together the emotional and riveting threads of one family’s multi-generational tale. “

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7. Samantha Harvey: The Wilderness

One of the most unique books ever written. I would have put it at #1, except it’s too painful for me personally to ever re-read. As I said in my review, “Harvey’s beautiful, intelligent prose weaves the frayed threads of Jacob’s turbulent life and decaying mind together to create a magnificent tapestry of tragedy and hope.”

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6. Emma Forrest: Namedropper

Compared to the rest of the list, this book probably ranks higher for nostalgic value than the quality of the novel itself. It’s a fun read about the loves and semi-adventures of vivacious, melodramatic, Elizabeth Taylor-obsessed Viva, including her encounter with an ill-fated indie musician that was inspired by Jeff Buckley.

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5. Lee Maynard: Crum

Most of the world may not know who local writer Lee Maynard is, but he is known in West Virginia as the infamous author whose book Crum has been banned in various bookstores throughout the state. The book fictionalizes and scandalizes portions of Maynard’s adolescent years in Crum, WV. It’s been called an Appalachian Catcher in the Rye, but I think it’s far superior.

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4. Robert Cremins: A Sort of Homecoming

This book was originally released in Ireland in late 1999, but the paperback edition wasn’t released in the U.S. until 2000. It was Brendan‘s favorite book then, and I read it when we were living in Ireland during the summer of 2000. I agreed with Brendan’s assessment that the novel perfectly and humorously captured the real Dublin of that time.

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3. James Long: Ferney

I’m cheating a little here, as Ferney was originally released in the late 1990s. But the edition I bought and read this year was a 2001 reprint. As I said in my review: “Ferney is a tale of immortal love trapped within the confines of mortal flesh…the narrative is intricately and intelligently crafted.” This is one of those books that I couldn’t stop thinking about long after I finished it.

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2. Mary Ann Shaffer: The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society

This delightful little book is one that I expect to read over and over again throughout my life. I said in my review: “I found myself cheering for these fictional people I had unwittingly become so invested in. “.

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1. Markus Zusak: The Book Thief

As I said in my original review, “The Book Thief is one of the most brilliant and emotional books I’ve ever read. The book is narrated by the personification of Death, and tells the story of nine year old orphan Liesel Meminger in World War II era Germany..” It was #1 on my 2008 book list, and I think it will eventually be considered a classic.

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