A section of the front cover of Money Made Easy by Paul Merriman (full image and details below).

'Money Made Easy' is an invaluable book

This week there’s a guide to managing your finances, probably something we could all do with in the weeks following the frivolity of Christmas and the January sales.

There’s also a novel about some ancient Greeks, captured in Sicily, who are persuaded to showcase a little bit of Greek theatre. There’s a novel from the creator of the blockbusting Top Boy TV crime series, set in London, and there’s another novel set in London, a chilling story that Lee Child has predicted will be one of this year’s most highly rated thrillers.

Jaq: A Top Boy Story, Ronan Bennett, Canongate, €12.99

This novel is a spin-off from Ronan Bennett’s TV series, Top Boy, focused on the crime and drugs scene within an almost exclusively black neighbourhood, the fictional Summerhouse council estate in Hackney. The protagonist is Jaq (Jacqueline), who has been working ‘on the road’ since she was 14 years old. She has by now built a life and a home for herself and her girlfriend Becks, a home that they share with Jaq’s pregnant sister Lauren.

Jaq has made enemies along the way and now faces a decision; retreat from the kind of life she has been living or, alternatively, risk everything for a life-changing sum of money. Either way, there will be obstacles to overcome. The author said in a recent interview in the Belfast Telegraph: ‘I call the novel a synoptic gospel in the sense that the Synoptic Gospels, they take the story of the gospel, the well-known gospels, and then you add another dimension, it’s seen from another point of view. I just thought if we take Jaq and look at it from her point of view, how different are those events that the Top Boy audience will be familiar with?” An unexpected treat for Top Boy fans.

Money Made Easy, Paul Merriman, Hachette, €15.99

Paul Merriman, founder of Ask Paul, has produced a useful, jargon-free, no-nonsense approach to managing your personal finances in this book. In his first chapter he states: ‘…financial planning is not a one-off event. It’s an ongoing process that involves regular monitoring and adjustments.’ And he lays out, in straightforward and readable language, how and where to start off with your planning and guides the reader through the various processes from there. This book ranges from the small to the big, from present circumstances to the distant future, from personal budgeting and micro-managing right through to debt management, the good and the bad, to managing income tax, mortgage repayments, investments, finishing on to how to secure your pension, so that retirement is not such a very scary thing.

It’s well laid out and sectioned off so if you’ve got some immediate problems, you can go straight to the relevant section and read his advice. Taken as a whole guide, right through the entire minefield of money management, it’s an invaluable book.

Anna O, Matthew Blake, Harper Collins, €19.60

This novel is already being hailed as one of the thrillers of the year by those in the know, and although it has undertones of Sleeping Beauty (there’s even a guy called Prince in it!), it’s anything but a dream fairytale, more of a bloody (very bloody) nightmare. Four years before the story opens, Anna Ogilvy woke up next to her two best friends and the pair had been stabbed to death. Anna found herself with a large knife – the murder weapon – in her hand. Long story short, she’s been asleep ever since the incident. She can’t be woken and so can’t be tried for murder. Enter Dr Benedict Prince (Ben), a forensic psychologist and sleep expert based in London’s Harley Street, who is charged by the authorities with waking up the patient so she can stand trial. But if she committed these murders in her sleep, can she be tried at all? That’s really only the tip of this plot’s iceberg.

The story augments and expands with each new chapter, but Harlan Coben can do that. What makes this so much better than your average thriller is the sheer elegance, the gloss, the finesse of the narrative, the author being a former speech writer for Westminster Palace. Fans of Louise Doughty, and I’m a big one, will hoover up this unusual and convoluted story, so stylishly told.

Glorious Exploits, Ferdia Lennon, Penguin Fig Tree, €15.99

One of the most talked-about debuts so far this year, this novel is set in 412 BC, in Syracuse, Sicily in the wake of a failed invasion by the Athenians. The unfortunate invaders are captured and flung into a quarry, chained and left to starve to death. Two local unemployed potters, Lampo and Galon, fans of Homer and other things Greek (like Eurypides), form a faltering relationship with some of the captured men, trading food for poetry and soon a madcap idea is hatched; that these half-dead POWs stage a production of Medea. In situ. Oh yes indeedy.

What’s at first a bit jarring – our two protagonists speaking in contemporary Dublin vernacular – becomes so natural that after a while you don’t notice, as Lennon sweeps you into the story and holds you there. This Irish author is a Classics scholar, so he knows of what he writes. And he has woven a magnificent tale around these two hapless stumblebums with all the heft of Greek tragedy, buoyed by an undertow of black comedy. And there’s an oblique message here about the transcendence of art. It’s as good as the hype says it is. Better.


The Ennis Book Club Festival runs from Friday March 1 to Sunday March 3. Ticket sales are ‘brisk’, so get online if you’re planning to travel down. See ennisbookclubfestival.com or their Facebook page for details.

Schubert, Beethoven and Chopin are on the programme for pianist Hugh Tinney in Tullynally House, Castlepollard, on Saturday February 17. Tickets available from derravaraghmusic.ie and Eventbrite.

Trim Musical Society are staging Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 The Musical next week from Monday 12th to Saturday 17th and tickets are flying. Check their Facebook page for details.

Junior Book Clubs are springing up in almost all of our public libraries. What better way to make lifelong readers of the kids? Contact your local branch for details.