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The Optician of Lampedusa – Emma Jane Kirby

Last year an offshore patrol vessels was commissioned – Named after the Irish author Samuel Beckett this boat was dispatched from the Irish Naval Service and ended up tackling one of the greatest humanitarian disasters of our lifetime. But I’d bet I’m not the only person who has never heard of it before. I only found out when I started trawling through Emma Jane Kirby’s twitter profile.

The Optician of Lampedusa - Emma Jane Kirby

The Optician of Lampedusa – Emma Jane Kirby

In July Emma Jane Kirby was onboard the LE Samuel Beckett to talk about her book – The Optician of Lampedusa. It is fitting because LE Samuel Beckett has saved 4000 migrants – and saving migrants is the big topic tackled by this small book.

The Optician of Lampedusa is a short and difficult story following of a local unnamed optician on his weekend off. This weekend he decided to take his wife and friends out in his 10 person yacht from the coast of the small Italian island of Lampedusa. A holiday weekend. The unimaginable happens as the party are first on the scene when a boat sinks. The boat was no ordinary boat, it was an overloaded and unseaworthy vessel full of people desperate to escape from Libya to find asylum in Italy.

Emma Jane Kirby uses 120 pages to document the tragedy through the eyes of the optician and his companions. Out of over 400 people who were in the water the weekenders were able to help to save 47 people – risking their own lives and boats to get the people back safely to shore.

The Optician of Lampedusa - Emma Jane Kirby

Have I just spoiled the whole book?

No, the story does not stop with the gruelling rescue, you will wince as the optician attempts to turn back to save more of the drowning and you will be downcast as he tries to get updates on the people who he helped to save.

Emma Jane Kirby is a talented journalist, known best for her presence on BBC Radio 4. Her experience has made this true story accessible. I have one word for the challenge of this book – it makes the plight of displaced people unignorable. It makes their plight real and concrete and serious.

Unignorable. Moving. Serious.

Kirby faithfully retells a tragedy and prompts us to tackle the question – What would I do if it happened to me? Remember this is a true story, and it isn’t a one off. The true story is that the Lampedusa tragedy left 368 people dead. They optician of Lampedusa said “We saved 47 people that day, A hero would have saved them all.” The disaster is ongoing – read this book to have a small glimpse of what is happening to many people displaced by war and violence. Well done to Emma Jane Kirby for taking this story and making it readable and real.

More information:

Help Refugees


Barnabas Fund


ASOS Choose Love 

Keep track of the books I am reading here at my bookish Instagram account – Books Northern Ireland.

We died before we came here – Emily Foreman

“We died before we came here” is a memoir written by Emily Foreman. The setting is an undisclosed North African city, directly after the twin towers attacks. The purpose of their journey – to share their Christian faith with Muslims. Emily and her husband Stephen left their home in America with their young family to make new friendships and build a new life in a Muslim world.

I will not give away any spoilers here. I also recommend that you buy this book and read it – don’t read the back first. Here is a glimpse into this true story, which probably says more about the book than I ever could.

“Are we transferring fear to our new brothers and sisters by valuing security above the gospel and living a lifestyle of safety first? Nowhere in the message of Jesus Christ does fear have a place. Wouldn’t we be contaminating the message of Christ if we allow our own fear to dictate our level of obedience to God? It seems to me that we can’t encourage boldness unless we first exemplify it ourselves.” Emily Foreman

“When James Calvert went out as a missionary to the cannibals of the Fiji islands, the ship captain tried to turn him back, saying “You’ll lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among those savages.” To that Calvert replied, “We died before we came here.”

That’s my question for us again tonight. Are you dead yet? Dead to yourself, dead to your own desires, dead to fear? Are we alive in Christ? My desire is that when people see your life, when they see my life, they will see Christ, and Christ alone. Let us live our lives as if they weren’t our own lives. To truly be strangers in this world. To be aliens in this world. Our citizenship is in heaven.”  Stephen Foreman

Keep track of the books I am reading here at my bookish Instagram account – Books Northern Ireland.

The Son – Philipp Meyer

The Son – Philipp Meyer

In 2013 I read lots of books. This was the year when I started my short stint in the world of bookselling. The staff discount and the continual demand for book recommendations led me to pick up many books that were outside my comfort zone.
The Son by Philipp Meyer is one such book. Here are the reasons why I normally would pass it by; it is very long, it is a sequel, it is set in the wild west and it is a family saga, Yawn. However by the end of 2013 I was announcing that The Son was my favourite book of the year. (FYI I have not read the first instalment of Meyers work American Rust but it is on my TBR list).

A house divided

The Son is centred around three characters Eli, Peter and Jeannie McCullough. They are many generations of one family dynasty, all influenced by the life of patriarch Eli for better or for worse. The book sweeps through several big topics – Oil dynasties, Comanches, ruthless battles over land ownership, cattle ranches and power. The book opens with Eli as a boy, in 1849, as his home is raided by brutal comanches. They abuse and slaughter his family and take him and his brother as captives. We read as he integrates into the tribe and how this experience eventually shapes his life. In the second narrative we follow his son Pete as he raises his family on the McCullough ranch – Eli is now famous throughout Texas – a reputable landowner and a ruthless businessman. Unfortunately Pete doesn’t seem to have the same stomach for business as his father. Jeannie is Eli’s great granddaughter and an oil baroness and we meet her as a elderly woman – rich but alone and in peril.

Brutal, harsh but a pleasure all the same

Reading Meyer’s work is a pleasure – it is brutal, harsh but a pleasure all the same. Each storyline has been so meticulously planned and researched that you cannot help but be hooked. Eli is the ultimate anti-hero, and I was fascinated by his every move. His impact on the future generations is obvious and devastating. All 600+ pages are addictive reading and it i difficult to sum up the saga in a petty review. Just know that it is book which is worth investing your time in.
BTW: I am currently half way through the television show which has slightly changed the plot in places and seems to have deleted the Jeannie character as we see her in the book. Maybe she is yet to appear but I feel like we are missing her chunk of the story – worth a watch but don’t judge the book by the television adaptation. Disappointing that they dropped the only strong female character from the book.

Keep track of the books I am reading here at my bookish Instagram account – Books Northern Ireland.

Best books of 2017 so far

Best books of 2017 so far

Last week I decided to count up how many book I have read this year so far – it came to a very satisfactory 35 books. And since we are half way through the year I have picked out my five favourite books so far. NOTE: this is not a list of the 5 best books published in 2017 so far – this is a personal list of my favourite reads as I came to them. Here we go:

In no particular order:

1/ Don’t Look Now by Daphne Du Maurier – And behold I have discover another favourite author. This bunch of short stories are as creepy as they are clever and I was especially pleased to see my homeland of CO. Antrim in Northern Ireland getting a mention in there.

2/ The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – I along with a crowd of others have discovered this book and read it as a reaction to the television show. Gladly I was able to read it before the show started and so far have been very impressed by both. It is a brilliantly written dystopian novel which is a modern classic and worth picking up if you haven’t already.

3/ Nutshell by Ian McEwan – I picked this up in the supermarket following two heavy, serious reads and Nutshell was the perfect antidote. It focuses on an unborn child in its mothers womb who narrates the story of his fathers demise. Yip, it certainly is unique and darkly funny.

4/ The Optician of Lampedusa by Emma Jane Kirby – This book is a beautiful and shocking all at once. It starts with a promising day off where friends head out on a leisurely boat trip. the afternoon takes a turn when the holidayers realise that the ocean is full of people – people displaced by conflict who are desperate to find safety and a new home. An unforgettable true story which is brilliantly told. If you read anything this year make it this.

5/ Perespolis by Marjane Satrapi – A graphic biography which introduces us to a girl growing up in Iran during the years of the Islamic revolution. An incredible account which is charming and informative and a quick and easy read. The illustrations are gorgeous.

So there you have it. The best five books which I have read this year so far. Honourable mention to Hot Milk by Deborah Levy, My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal and The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie.

My Name is Leon – Kit de Waal

My Name is Leon – Kit de Waal

My Name is Leon is a debut novel – but as you read it you would be forgiven for thinking this is the work of a much more experienced author. Leon is an eight year old boy whose story is so well crafted that there are times when you want to reach in to the pages and give him a hug. As you start to read this book prepare yourself for that feeling – wanting give out hugs – you will feel it often. Even the stoniest heart will be moved.

Leon lives with his mother Carol who has just had a baby, Leon’s half brother Jake. There are no fathers in the picture – just a shadow cast by their absence. Carol suffers a bout of severe depression and Leon is left to deal with his baby brother on his own. De Waal doesn’t sugarcoat any of what happens next. Social services get involved, Carol is taken away and Leon and Jake are rehoused for a short blissful period where the reader can relax because Leon is safe.

Maureen, his new foster carer is the perfect grandmother figure – loveable and flawed, steady and no nonsense. What could go wrong? Well, didn’t I mention that Leon is mixed race and big for his age? And that baby Jake is white skinned with blond locks – as the boys are put up for adoption not all things are equal and the results are devastating.

So far it sounds bleak but De Waal is such a charming writer that you want to keep on reading. The story is set in the 1980’s which gives it the perfect nostalgic charm with an appropriate smattering of references – Curly Wurly’s, The Dukes of Hazard, Action Man figures and  photographs with the date written on the back. The book changes in the second half when an older Leon gets a bike, makes the acquaintance of some local men who educate him in gardening, brawing, and politics. A newly mobile Leon hatches a plan to bring his family back together. A plan that upsets his social worker, worries the adults around him but makes complete sense to a grieving ten year old. Herein is one of the rewards from reading “My Name is Leon” – the character is so well written that you can understand his motives and outbursts perfectly.

Illustration by Supersimbo

De Waals debut novel is a surprise – probably due to the fact the De Waal is writing from her experiences and knowledge. She has worked alongside social workers in her job as a magistrate, she was born to an Irish mother who was a foster carer and her father was Caribbean. One suspects that her experience has moulded Leon and his characteristics.

I wasn’t expecting to care so much about the characters involved and was delighted by a change of pace in the middle of the book. The whole story felt authentic and offers a heartbreaking look at the breakdown of a family unit and the impact it has on child.

So lots of people are asking about arm knitting

So lots of people are asking about arm knitting – it apparently is all the buzz right now. Lots of people are also laughing at / mocking me for knitting without needles (or sticks as I keep calling them). But cease and desist people because a quick flick through Pintrest brought forth these great projects which were created by arm knitting.






Well, who is laughing now. The great news – a scarf takes up to an hour, the middle blanket took 3 hours. The possibilities are endless (as long as a rectangle is what you want). I learn from this excellent tutorial at Flax and Twine.

Currently I have mastered a scarf / snood which too an hour and I only needed to be cut free once. Onwards and upward from here on. The snow has inspired me to keep going. Arm knitting is the future.

What happens when the Christmas Jumper is gone?

Winter is such a fickle time. We are expected to get dolled up in red sequins and high heels for Christmas parties all through the month of December and then when January arrives in a haze of glitter and novelty ‘2015’ glasses we are left back with our normal monotonous wardrobe.

Did you love your Christmas jumper. Warm, colourful and quirky – Did you have to be prised out of it with a crowbar? May you did or maybe you are glad to get out of it. Either way I’m guessing that we all could appreciate a substitute for that cosy jumper which will work in everyday life.

Buy cashmere. Buy it now in the winter sales and enjoy the luxurious cosy heat that will see you through until spring time. Choose well and you will have a garment which will last for years and will be wearable with most of your wardrobe.


Search Uniqlo (1), Mark & Spencers (2&3), and Next for affordable cashmere jumpers or hit Net a Porter for luxury investment. Don’t forget to check the mens department too. Pick a plain colour and change it with scarves, collared shirt and different bottoms. The humble jumper is a wardrobe staple and worth investing in the best you can afford. I have a few grey cashmere jumpers from Next which I came across a few years ago in their sale, and one from debunked design house Luella. They are all super warm and easy to wear.

You’ll be happy to pack your Christmas jumper away with the fairy lights once your clad in cashmere.


Three Midi Dresses at Sale Prices

Three Midi Dresses at Sale Prices

If you are looking for a dress style which will always be classy and in fashion, and if you are tall enough to pull it off then look out for anything which is a midi length.

Here are my three favourite midi dresses from the ASOS sale.

(Dress 1 – £38, Dress 2 – £39, Dress 3 – £51)

All prices correct at date of publish and currently get an extre 10% off by using the code: GIMME10.

Thanks Asos!

What I have learnt from “The Farm” by Tom Rob Smith

What I have learnt from “The Farm” by Tom Rob Smith

Tom Rob Smith presents this crime story – “the Farm” which is written more like a novel that a conventional thriller. One half of the book is a conversation between a mother and a son and the other is a truth finding mission – but will the truth be more or less disturbing than the mothers accusations? I’ll let you read it yourself to find out.

4 things I have learnt from reading “The Farm”:


1/ Mittens aren’t a good idea when breaking and entering – although I still like these ones from Monki.

2/ What white honey is. (Photo source)

3/ That an Elk is a very big animal.

4/ That a leather satchel is always desirable, especially this one from thisisground.

I’m also very happy when a crime story involves trolls or any kind. I suggest picking this one up for a read. “The Farm” by Tom Rob Smith is out in paperback format in February.

Monochrome Sale Swag

Monochrome Sale Swag

While I’m not planning to spend much this month that won’t stop me from pursuing he sales for you. Here is a pretty monochrome mix for anyone who want to invest in some sale shopping this January.


Coat, Leather trousers and eye shadow palette from Topshop

Green stone ring and Beauty jumper from Farfetch

Boots from Urban Outfitters 

Bag from Zara

Spend your Christmas money wisely folks!