An Cailín Ciúin and the beauty of a quiet story

There are three lights now.

I”m just back from seeing the magnificent An Cailín Ciúin a second time. I first watched it when it was released and came briefly to cinemas last year, and when it returned in recent weeks on the heels of a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best International Film, I was eager to see it again.

And as I watched this tender, heartbreaking, lovely film about a vulnerable, neglected girl from a large family who is sent away for the summer to a childless couple where she begins to blossom under their love and care, I kept thinking about the beauty of a quiet story.

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The Best Books I Read in 2021

Due to a combination of things (lockdown, no social life, a really good to-read list), I completely obliterated my yearly goal of 52 books. I hit my goal by the end of May, and by the end of 2021 I had read (or listened to on audiobook, it was around a 70/30 split) 100 books. And folks, most of them were very good.

I’m pretty much a pro at only choosing books I’ll enjoy these days. This is good, because I hate to DNF (did not finish) a book. Luckily, I know whose reviews I trust, both among friends and pros, which tropes I love and hate, which authors I’ll follow to the end of the earth, and so on. That doesn’t mean I never pick up a dud, or that I never take a risk with something that may (or may not) surprise me, but when you look at my Goodreads and see heaps of 4- and 5-star reviews, it’s more because I know how to pick ’em than because I’m not discerning.

Speaking of Goodreads, I’m trying to transition to Storygraph this year, or at least use it in addition to GR, although I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. So if anyone’s on it, add me!

Anyway, my best books of the year. I couldn’t narrow it down further than 15 fiction and 10 nonfiction favourites, so here they are:

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What I read in August and September

Whoops, I missed a month again. I did do plenty of reading though, mainly thanks to several long plane trips. But look, if you’re after books that will see you through spooky season, there’s a couple of horror novels on this list that are definitely worth checking out (and to be fair, a couple that aren’t). Read on…

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What I Read in June & July

Oops, I forgot to post this last month! So here’s a double-header of all the books I read in June and July. Some really fantastic ones in this batch, but there’s one that stands so far above the rest I’m putting it above the ‘read more’ line (also, it’s hard to categorise as either fiction or nonfiction). Read on…

A Ghost in the Throat by Doreann Ní Ghríofa

A novel about a woman who becomes obsessed with a poem by an 18th century noblewoman, what she sees as parallels in her own life, and her efforts to trace the woman’s history and descendants, in some ways it’s difficult to describe what makes this book so exquisite.. Is it the richness of the prose, by an author who is mainly a poet and who shows this through the lyricism of even mundane, minor moments? Is it the way it melds genres—it’s won awards in fiction and nonfiction categories, it’s part biography and part memoir and part translation and part novel and it plays with all these styles in a compelling and intriguing way? Is it the way the plot draws you in? Every time I picked up the book to begin reading again, I immediately felt as invested in the narrator’s search for evidence of Eibhlín in marriage records and death notices and the periphery of other people’s lives. Of course, it is all these things and more, and the result is an incredibly special book. Perhaps my favourite of the year so far, and one I will be thinking about it for a long, long time.

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Top 10 Books I Read in 2015

As I have for the last three years (that I kept track of thanks to Goodreads) and probably for quite a few years preceding them, I’ve read at least book a week all year. Well, I’ve averaged at least a book a week. Some weeks I’ve read nothing because I was busy binge watching Jessica Jones or Bob’s Burgers. Other weeks I’ve stayed up way too late to finish a book in a night, only to start another the next morning. Either way, I’ve read 50 books so far this year, and I’m on track to read at least three more (the last couple Harry Potter books in my current re-read plus maybe a few others) before the end of the year, so it’s time to talk about my favourites, Here are the top 10 books I’ve read (for the first time) this year (in no particular order):


The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith – It’s not just because, as I mentioned above, I’m rereading Harry Potter that I’m thinking about how much I love J.K. Rowling’s writing. The second novel in her pseudonymously-published crime trilogy is a tight, tense thriller. Unlike the recent crime series by one of my other favourite authors, Stephen King, which (spoiler alert) sneaks back into the genre for which he’s most known, the Cormoran Strike series is pure crime, and it’s awesome.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride – This has been on my to-read list since it came out a few years ago and I finally got around to reading it a few weeks back. I wish I’d gotten to it sooner but it was worth the wait, Half poem, half stream of consciousness, this isn’t an easy read due to both the style and the content, but again, it’s worth the effort.


Death in Spring by Merce Rodoreda – My coworker recommended this to me with the pronouncement of “Best Book I’ve Read This Year.” While it’s hard for me to narrow my favourites down even for this top ten list, let alone pick a number one, but I can understand why he said it. A dark, surreal story full of magical realism and part-allegory for Franco’s dictatorship, this novel by one of Catalunya’s most celebrated writers can be read in a weekend but will stay with you for much longer.

Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky – The thing that always surprises me about Russian lit is how readable it is. I always expect it to be dense and dry it’s dense but also full of murder. I didn’t like Crime and Punishment as much as The Brothers Karamazov, but I still found it immensely enjoyable and I’m looking forward to reading more of Dostoeky’s work, and more work by Russian authors, in 2016.

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby – Nick Hornby’s books are always favourites of mine, with few exceptions, and Funny Girl is not one of those exceptions. His female characters have never really stood out to me in other books but there’s something so affecting about the ingenue-turned-comedienne protagonist of this one that makes her as memorable to me as a reader as it does to her fictional audiences.

The Commitments by Roddy Doyle – Roddy Doyle is one of the best contemporary Irish writers, whether in novels, short stories, or in clever dialogues about current events posted on his facebook. Steve gaves me The Barrytown Trilogy for Christmas and all three novels about the working-class Dublin family the Rabbittes are darkly comic and entertaining, but the first of the trilogy is the best.


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – My mom recommended this one to me. When I first started reading it I was surprised she enjoyed it so much; it’s certainly not her usual genre. It’s definitely mine, but it just goes to show that this book is good enough that it finds fans who wouldn’t usually look for dystopian fiction. So even if it doesn’t sound like your thing, it might be worth a look.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik – Adult fairy tales are as trendy right now as adult colouring books, which I love, but many of them fall flat for me trying to make “edgy” versions of classic stories. If I wanted a darker version of the Little Mermaid, I’d reread the original. Uprooted, unlike these retellings, is an original take on classic fairy tale tropes, and it’s dark and spooky and absolutely magical.

Nos4A2 by Joe Hill – Speaking of dark and spooky, this book creeped the hell out of me. It started off slow—I actually tried to read it a time or two before I actually got through it and put it down because it didn’t grab me even though I love the rest of Hill’s books—but once I was into it, I couldn’t stop.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater – The Raven Cycle is the uber-hyped Young Adult series du jour (what a multilingual clause!) and it deserves that hype. I was hoping I’d be able to read the fourth book in the series this year but unfortunately its publication has been pushed back until April 2016. But that gives you plenty of time to get up to date! And me time to reread the first three, probably.