It’s a wonderful thing to wake up, make a cup of tea and devote your morning to an engrossing book without a thought to the dishes in the sink or other household chores. I had such an opportunity over the July 4th weekend, and devoured Nuala O’Connor’s brilliant novel Miss Emily.

Miss Emily by Nuala O'Connor

Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor (US cover)

Nuala O‘Connor is one of Ireland’s greatest writers of short stories and flash fiction, but she’s also an excellent poet and novelist. Raised bi-lingual, O’Connor — who publishes under her Irish name, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, in Ireland — has a great ear for the playfulness of language, for double meanings, and the layers that get lost in translation. She brings that same perceptiveness to her understanding of her characters and the nuances of their dilemmas, which is especially useful when telling tales of people crossing borders or boundaries from the known to the unknown. Read the rest of this entry »

Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours is a biting look at our cultural attitudes towards and treatment of women.

Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill (US cover)

Set in what appears to be a private school in a future Europe, we see a world in which young women trained from birth to be beautiful, subservient, and always available for men’s pleasure. Although it’s suggested that the society that created this school is now failing, and not as powerful or wealthy as it once was, order is maintained not by armed guards and coercion, but by the girls themselves. Indoctrinated in a ruthless social code that questions nothing, and strives only to be ever more beautiful, toned, coiffed, made-up, and stylish, the brainwashed girls maintain a rigid hierarchy based on an online popularity contest — they are rated weekly by the pool of men who may choose one of them for a mate when they turn sixteen. Read the rest of this entry »

Belfast has a bright new star in writer Laurence Donaghy, whose Folk’d trilogy (Folk’d, Folk’d Up, and Completely Folk’d) is creative, gloriously weird, and irreverently funny.

Folk'd by Laurence Donaghy

Book 1: Folk’d

Laurence Donaghy’s Folk’d trilogy riffs off the old myths of the Tuatha dé Danann and transports us to modern Belfast, where Danny Morrigan has got his girlfriend Ellie pregnant, and together they are struggling to keep mind and body together as they deal with being new parents before they even took one step on the career track.

If you have any notion of the legends of the Tuatha dé, you know the Morrigan is the goddess of war, and you assume Danny’s name will turn out to be more than mere coincidence. Read the rest of this entry »

Books IrelandThe May/June issue of Books Ireland magazine appeared in my mailbox the other day, and by midnight I’d read all but a couple of reviews (of books I’m planning to read).

That got me wondering, why don’t we review magazines routinely? Maybe not every issue (that would get ridiculous in the case of something published weekly) but we could occasionally write something a little more in-depth than a tweet about how we loved or hated this week’s New Yorker short story? Read the rest of this entry »

im-not-perfect-but-im-irish-which-is-way-better-a7ba9I’ve always been proud of Ireland, and keen to pass along a sense of being Irish to my daughters, who were born and are being raised in the US. However, as my eldest has officially entered the “Obnoxious Teenager” phase (Oh, such a barrel of laughs!), she appears to have internalized a lesson I did not intend: that everything is better in Ireland. Read the rest of this entry »

White Feathers is a suspense-filled new novel about mis-matched lovers separated by the horrors of WWI.

White Feathers

White Feathers by Susan Lanigan (O’Brien Press)

Susan Lanigan’s debut novel White Feathers opens in 1913, as 17-year-old Eva Downey escapes her suffocating family to attend a finishing school for one year. Eva is full of the passions and principles of adolescence, and has been getting involved with the suffragettes, much to the horror of her deeply conservative family. Her family are Irish; her father a relatively well-to-do accountant who has moved the family from Cork to London escape both scandal and the sadness of Eva’s mother’s death. Read the rest of this entry »

Best-Loved Oscar Wilde Edited by John Wyse Jackson (O'Brien Press)

Best-Loved Oscar WildeEdited by John Wyse Jackson (O’Brien Press)

Who’d be the editor of a volume of selected prose from a famous author? You get nothing but abuse for leaving out someone’s favorite poem or story, or for including something that’s not as strong as something else, or expressing conclusions about the author’s motivations or themes that vary from the accepted wisdom. It’s a mug’s game, but one that John Wyse Jackson has embraced nonetheless with what appears to be a genuine labor of love, his new book Best-Loved Oscar Wilde. Read the rest of this entry »

Over the centuries, Ireland has accumulated a lot of statues and monuments around the country. Many are positioned on remote hill tops or prominences. However, these remote locations are now making them vulnerable to vandalism.

Manannan Mac Lir statue stolen

Statue of Manannán Mac Lir, an ancient Celtic sea god, stolen from a hill overlooking Lough Foyle. (Photo credit:

The oldest of these monuments are simple stone cairns built up on mountain tops. These can be difficult to date, particularly because succeeding generations of local residents and more-recently hikers tend to add stones to the cairn to mark their visit. (In recent years, some misguided people have taken stones from some cairns as some sort of good luck charm — causing concerned locals in at least one location to remove signs pointing to cairns that are particularly badly affected.*) Read the rest of this entry »

Black Lake is the first novel by Irish author Johanna Lane, the tale of a family tying to keep their “big house” and estate solvent.

Black LakeThe plot, as much as there is one, concerns the current owners of a once-grand house and large estate in remote Co. Donegal. Dulough (meaning “black lake”) was built by a Scottish industrialist in the 1800s, and initially the family had plenty of money to support it. However, over the generations, the house was willed to the member of the family most interested in living there and continuing the family legacy. Consequently, these were the family members least interested in making the vast amounts of money required to keep such a large house in good repair. Read the rest of this entry »

Toibin collage
I wrote a post over on the ABAA blog about my reading resolution for 2015, to read all of Colm Tóibín’s novels (and a bunch of his nonfiction) in order.

For years. I’ve been picking at his books, reading his short fiction, and being generally blown away and awed by most of them. This year, I want to read them carefully, in order, and see what I learn. I’ll blog about the project here from time to time, but probably won’t review every single book. I’ve never deliberately tried to read through a writer’s collected works before, mainly because I enjoy variety and have been afraid of souring on the author before I’m done. But, the books of Tóibín’s that I have read have been quite different and his interests are such that I suspect the project will contain enough variety to keep me focused.

In the past, I’ve reviewed his novels Brooklyn, The Testament of Mary, and Nora Webster on this blog. Stay tuned for updates…


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