What I Read in April

Okay, so after all my big talk last month about how I might have to split up this month post’s into two because of all the books I was going to read, I actually had a pretty slow reading month. I got a just a wee small little bit obsessively hooked on a podcast (The Magnus Archives) and so instead of listening to audiobooks I found myself listening to the podcast, and instead of reading… I also found myself listening to the podcast. 90 episodes in means it was a quieter reading month than the last couple (and I still have half the podcast to go so May might have fewer than usual books in it as well). That said, I still got through a good few excellent books; read on for my reviews or check them all out on Goodreads.

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The Women’s Prize for Fiction winners, ranked (24-11)

There are so many book awards out there, and they all have different characters. By this, I mean that there are some whose winners I generally find aren’t to my personal taste (the Booker), there are some whose winners are a real mixed bag (the Pulitzer), and there are some whose winners I, with only a few exceptions, absolutely love (the Women’s Prize). The Women’s Prize was formerly known as the Orange Prize, the Bailey’s Prize and, as the current name would suggest, it is awarded to a woman (for the best original full-length novel published in English in the UK).

I’ve read all of the 24 Women’s Prize winners and at least 20 other shortlisted titles, and there’s only one I can pick out as being a book I really didn’t enjoy (hint: it only made the Women’s Prize shortlist, but it did win the Booker a few years ago). Most of the winners I’ve liked, really liked, or absolutely loved, but there were some I loved more than others. In anticipation for the 25th award being announced next week, I’ve ranked all the winners and split it up into two posts. Catch my top 10 on the day of the prize announcement next Wednesday, and here are my choices for 24 to 11 (but even these books on the “bottom” half of the list are still well worth a read!).

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5 Women Who Did More Than You Learned About In School

The more I learn about history, the more I learn how much I thought I knew was wrong. I’m lucky in that I’ve had a number of history teachers throughout my education who taught us about more than the America-rah-rah, white-upper-class-Christian-European-male-centric stories, but even so I’ve come to learn that there are so many stories I was never told, and so many stories that were so much more interesting and in-depth than I ever knew. So many of these stories are about women, either women whose accomplishments have been undeservedly forgotten in history, or women who are remembered in a too-superficial way, not celebrating the complexity of their lives and achievements. Here, for International Women’s Day, are five women you probably learned about in history class, but not the way you should have.

Helen Keller


I remember reading The Miracle Worker in middle school. The story of how Anne Sullivan helped Helen Keller learn to communicate is one of the most inspiring tales of perseverance and triumph I can think of. But that’s pretty much where things ended; we got a brief summary of Keller’s work as an adult, but as far as our education was concerned, she was forever a little girl learning to spell out words on her teacher’s palm .

But if Helen Keller’s childhood is an incredible story of determination, her adulthood is even moreso. Of course, she was a staunch advocate for people with disabilities (a cause that still often goes unrecognized in feminism today), but she was also a feminist, a pacifist, an anti-racist activist, and a socialist. Her writings on workers’ rights and equality are as powerful as her ability to overcome her physical obstacles, and tend to be overlooked in favour of telling her “miracle” story.

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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.

ROPES 2014 book launch: 10 April 2014

In two days the MA in Literature & Publishing at NUI Galway will launch the ROPES 2014 literary journal, featuring writers and artists from around the world sharing their stories, poems, and artwork on the theme of ‘home’. Proceeds from the sale of ROPES 2014 will go to COPE Galway, a charity whose vision is an improved quality of life in a home of your own.

If you’re in or around Galway this week for the Cúirt International Literary Festival or for any other reason, come to the COPE charity shop on St. Augustine Street this Thursday 10 April, at 4pm. The launch will feature readings by contributing writers and poets including award-winning author Niamh Boyce, who will be launching the journal.

The cause is good, the wine is free, and the book is a beautiful thing of which we are very, very proud.


On reading

A look at my bookshelf
A look at my bookshelf

I like reading.

Okay, it’s a massive understatement to say I like reading. In 2012 I read 102 books, after amending my goal of 50 books twice to 75 and then 100. I lost a lot of sleep to reading, and I don’t regret it at all (plus it was a good way to pass the time on all the flights and train rides I took in the first half of the year).

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