A 3rd Birthday and a Giveaway!

Today is my Blogversary!


Yep, it’s been three long years since I counted up all those books, almost had a heart attack and planned to cut down the TBR.

So, it’s another year done and how far on am I? I’m so close to the 500s I can taste it! Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll have reached that milestone. 146 books in 3 years isn’t great, but it’s better than the pre-blog days and if I keep up the momentum, 746 books will be done and dusted by 2028. Go me!

Despite having made it through another year without buying myself a book, I have acquired books through other means. My use of Net Galley has risen and I did receive quite a few books from publishers this year. I have tried to stick to my (very loose) rules and only read new books by Irish writers, but this little habit has definitely slowed my progress in my challenge. I may have read 71 books this year, according to Good Reads, but I only reduced the 746 by 47.

Reading aside, I’ve had another great year on the blog. According to my friends at WordPress, I’ve had over 23,000 views and 11,500 visitors. I was also delighted this year to pass my 1,000 follower mark, so thanks to you all for continuing to read.

Highlights this year have been the second annual Reading Ireland Month back in March which generated over 100 posts.


Plans are already afoot for 2017, which I will again be co-hosting with my pal Niall of Raging Fluff fame, so if you have any books by Irish authors lurking in your TBR why not save them until March and join in the craic. This year I’ll be focusing entirely on Irish women writers, but there will be lots of other fun posts and giveaways.

20 Books of Summer also went down a treat this year, with over 120 fantastic bloggers participating and as a bonus, I actually managed to read all 20 of my books! This feature will certainly be back in 2017 as it gives my reading a real kick up the butt mid-year!

Once again I was delighted to make the finals of the Irish Blog Awards for the best Books and Literature blog – getting that far never ceases to amaze me! Plus I clearly take every opportunity throughout the year to show off about it….


On a personal level, 2016 has been both a difficult and an amazing year. Since this time last year I had the real pleasure of interviewing Nuala O’Connor and Dame Fiona Kidman for the Belfast Book Festival and of course, I started a new and wonderful job at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy. Leaving the job I had done for 17 years was frightening and daunting, but I have to say that I have never been happier. I adore my new job, surrounded by books, poetry and writers all day; it feels like it was made for me!

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The intensity of my new position and some health issues this year meant that I haven’t blogged as much as usual. I am trying to rectify that and make some time for this lovely little corner of the blogosphere I call home and I just hope I can continue with the same enthusiasm next year.

I’ve never really been one for a year round up, but this year I am picking my five best reads of 2016. Of course, these haven’t been published in 2016 but you all know what I mean!

  1. The Republic of Love – Carol Shields

For sheer enjoyment, Carol Shields wonderful, heartwarming, sprawling tale of love in all its forms tops my list of the year. I didn’t read another book that made me as happy as this one.

  1. Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf

I didn’t get to join in with Heaven Ali’s Woolfalong as much as I would have liked, but I am so delighted that it nudged me to read this luminous, wonderful book, that was everything I hoped and more

  1. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha – Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle makes it into my Books of the Year list for the second time. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha was nothing like I imagined. It was simply magnificent.

  1. The Rose Garden – Maeve Brennan

Maeve Brennan was my author of the year, with both this collection of spiky short stories and her wonderful novella The Visitor. She’s undergoing a bit of resurgence here in Ireland and next year I plan to read her biography by Angela Bourke and her collected works from the New Yorker, which have just been published by Stinging Fly

  1. Behind the Scenes at the Museum – Kate Atkinson

Can Kate Atkinson do no wrong? Ruby Lennox stayed with me long after I closed this book which is wonderfully plotted and beautifully uplifting.

I’m looking forward to a positive 2017. With Reading Ireland Month and 20 Books of Summer planned, I also hope to start a feature called ‘The Books that Built the Blogger’ where my favourite bloggers chat about the books that made them into the readers and bloggers they are today.


Each month I plan to chat about a book which has formed and influenced my reading life as well. If you’d be interested in taking part, drop me an email, I’d love to hear from you.

Finally, as it’s a birthday and a birthday needs presents, I’m hosting a little giveaway today. Up for grabs is a paperback copy of Mike McCormack’s critically acclaimed one sentence novel ‘Solar Bones’


Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize and Novel of the Year at the Irish Book Awards this year, Solar Bones has been called ‘an extraordinary hymn to small town Ireland’ by The Guardian. To win a copy, just comment below. I’ll draw a winner on Monday 12 December and will post world-wide.

Good luck and thanks, as always, for reading


Christmas Gifts for Book Lovers

So, as I am still sick in bed, I’ve had a bit of time to do some online Christmas shopping and have come across some lovely bookish gifts perfect for the book lovers in my life and, well, for myself! I’d be delighted to see any of these items in my Christmas stocking.

Take a peek:

  1. We Have Always Lived at the Castle tee

I adore everything on the Out of Print website. I’m the proud owner of a Wuthering Heights tee, a Light in August tee and a To the Lighthouse sweatshirt, but they have outdone themselves with this gorgeous specimen, celebrating Shirley Jackson’s classic tale.


2. ‘Paperback’ perfume from The Library of Fragrance

I have no clue what this smells like, I’m not even sure it would be nice, but come on….something that makes you smell of paperback books? What’s not to love?!

paperback-30_grande3. Ulysses Tote Bag

I have completely fallen for this gorgeous tote bag featuring Leopold Bloom’s musing on the circular nature of life – ‘longest way round is the shortest way home’. There is a great range of totes at the Literary Gift Company website, but this is the one for me.


4. Lady Macbeth Guest Soap

I know I’ve featured it on 746 Books before, but if you have to buy me soap at Christmas, then buy me this soap. Hilarious.

lady_macbeth_soap_1024x10245. Watership Down Mug

Or the Watership Downer mug as it’s known, featuring a rabbit reading Richard Adams classic tale. Poor bunny….

watership_downer_mug_0_1024x10246. Wuthering Heights Scarf

I love these scarves by storiarts.com and the Wuthering Heights one is particularly lovely. Other featured scarves include The Wizard of Oz, Anne of Green Gables and Hamlet.


7. Macbeth Flats

Cute flats? With a Shakespearian theme? I’m in! I just love these cute flats by LeadFootLucy on Etsy. In fact, I’d happily take her whole collection…


8. George Orwell Phone Cover

I don’t know quite what George Orwell would have made of the ubiquity of mobile phones in the present day, but I do know I want this phone cover from Ebay!


9. Literature Ladies Enamel Pin

What better way to celebrate these fantastic women writers (other than reading them, obviously) than by wearing this fantastically cute pin?

normal_literature-ladies-enamel-pin10. Hot Book Girl Sweatshirt

Hey, I may not be hot and I may not be a girl anymore, but I still love this sweatshirt from notonthehighstreet.com

Can someone buy it, wear it and I will appreciate it vicariously? Thank you.


And finally, once I’ve decided what I’m going to buy, there’s always the wrapping to think of. Wrapping paper and Virgina Woolf tape are from the Literary Gift Company!

So, is there anything there you fancy adding to your Christmas list?


November in Review

Yet again I am playing catch up with myself! It’s the same old story – reading? Good. Reviewing? Bad. I feel like one of my old school teachers, ‘Cathy could do so much better if she would just apply herself more…’

In my defence, November has been a rather rubbish month. The obvious political situation was a downer to say the least and I have been incredibly busy in work again. I’ve also been ill and am writing this from my sick bed under the influence of strong painkillers, so if I veer off topic, or my writing appears more confused than ever, then that’s my excuse.

Despite being busy in work, I did have a really lovely month. I had the pleasure of meeting Alan Hollinghurst, who came to talk about life in Oxford studying under Seamus Heaney and I also met one of my all-time favourite poets, Bernard O’Donoghue. I don’t think poor Bernard knew what to do with me as I made him pose for photographs, sign all my copies of his collections and listen to me be a real fan-girl, but I don’t care! If you’ve never read any of O’ Donoghue’s poetry, please do. The Definition of Love is one of the most beautiful poems I know.


With the wonderful Bernard O’Donoghue

I also had the pleasure of hosting a panel event for The Glass Shore, a new book of short stories by Northern Ireland Women Writers, edited by the indomitable and inspiring Sinéad Gleeson. Spanning the last hundred years and featuring a range of writers including Lucy Caldwell, Rosa Mulholland, Polly Devlin and Bernie McGill, this is a wonderful and necessary collection and I hope to review it on 746 Books next week.


With The Glass Shore contibuters Bernie McGill & Rosemary Jenkinson and editor Sinead Gleeson.

In terms of getting the 746 into the 500’s before the end of the year, I think I’m still on track. I’ve read three more books since my last round up. Please do forgive these VERY mini-reviews, my critical faculties are not firing on all cylinders at the moment and I have a feeling I would end up making even less sense than usual if I tried to review them properly!

No 604: Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan


In 2009 Susannah Cahalan was a thriving 24 year old, with a new boyfriend and her dream job as a journalist for the New York Post, yet the unthinkable and unimaginable happened when she, for all intents and purposes, lost her mind. After a period of mood swings, hallucinations and extreme paranoia; all of which was put down to too much alcohol consumption by one doctor, Cahalan suffered violent seizures and psychosis, which caused her to be hospitalised for a month before being diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease where her body was essentially attacking her brain.

Cahalan remembers nothing of this month in hospital and using her journalistic skills, she pieces together what happened from medical records and interviews with her immediate family. This a clear-eyed and sobering memoir, however Cahalan has that reporter’s objectivity which means that the personal side of the story is harder to access. The book is both an investigation into a patient’s illness and a personal account of being that patient, but ultimately the personal side of the story is less effective. Despite this, Cahalan is unflinching in exploring what happened to her and the strain it put on her loved ones and what comes from the book most clearly is her sense of good luck – luck in having a supportive family, luck in having parents who could afford her necessary treatment and luck in finding the right doctors at the right time. As she herself notes, others have not been so lucky.

Read On: Book

Number Read: 143

Number Remaining: 603

No 603: Under the Skin by Michel Faber


Michel Faber is another author I have had the pleasure to meet in the course of my new job. Despite having three of his books in the 746, I had never got round to reading his work, but decided to rectify this.

I have seen the weirdly wonderful movie adaptation of Under The Skin, and would advise that if you have neither read the book nor seen the movie, then read the book first. Knowing the premise of Under The Skin before you read it definitely takes away from this oddly intriguing and otherworldly book. It is hard to review Under the Skin without giving key things away.

The book follows Isserley, a strange otherworldly woman who drives around northern Scotland picking up hitchhikers. As each new passenger enters her car, we learn a little more about this odd creature and her search for the perfect specimen of man – bulky, filled out, with as few family ties as possible. Faber drip feeds the reader information on Isserley’s plans for these men, to the point that when we realise what is happening, our concern is less for them and more for Isserley and her own victimisation. Written in beautifully restrained prose, Faber has created a chilling, metaphysical tale that takes its time bringing the reader where he wants you to go.

Read on: iBook

Number Read: 144

Number Remaining: 602

No 602: A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf


One of my aims this year was to take part in Heaven Ai’s Woolfalong – a wonderful celebration of the work of Virginia Woolf. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to take part as much as I would like, but thanks to Ali, I finally got round to reading Mrs Dalloway, which I adored and now A Room of One’s Own.

Poetry depends on intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for 200 years merely, but from the beginning of time

Virginia Woolf’s classic study of what a woman needs to write on the same basis as a man, still holds a great influence today. It was interesting to read this whilst also reading The Glass Shore, and hearing how contemporary women writers still feel they need to create their own space, whether in a house, on pages or in the virtual world, to be granted the same consideration as their male counterparts.

Based on two lectures given in 1928, A Room of One’s Own is both a beautiful and invigorating read, which mixes solid down-to-earth advise to female writers (health, money and space matter) alongside a soaring polemic for the female writer to ‘be truthful…and the result is bound to be amazingly interesting.’ Her exploration of what would have happened to a female Shakespeare is at once entertaining and sobering and her call to celebrate the androgynous mind seems as pertinent today as it did almost 100 years ago.

This slim book is a marvel and I just wish I had read it years ago. My thanks go to Ali for giving me the necessary push to pick it up. It may be the first time I’ve read it, but it won’t be the last.

Read on: Book

Number read: 145

Number Remaining: 601

So, there we have it. Two more books and I will be in the 500’s! Given that it’ taken me three years, I really shouldn’t feel so pleased with myself, but it’s time to celebrate the small victories!

Up soon on the blog, will be my third birthday annual round up of my reading year.

How has everyone else’s reading been this year, have you reached your goals? I look forward to seeing everyone’s ‘best of’ lists.

No 605 Civilwarland in Bad Decline by George Saunders


Reading Civilwarland in Bad Decline last week felt worryingly prophetic. George Saunders collection of short stories and a novella feature an America of the future – an America of historical theme parks, environmental disaster, deformed outcasts and a tyrannical government. These theme parks, pastoral compounds of the past, promise refuge and safety from the chaos of the outside world, but only for those who own them or use them. Not for the workers, the different, the Flawed. If this all sounds a little heavy and serious, it may be, but this is also a wickedly funny collection – sharp, witty, stylised and incredibly clever.

The title story is set in Civilwarland – a park that simulates life in the mid-19th century, but could do with a revamp.

When visitors first come in there’s this cornball part where they sit in this kind of spaceship and supposedly get blasted into space and travel faster than the speed of light and end up in 1865. The unit’s dated. The helmets we distribute look like bowls and the paint’s peeling off. I’ve argued and argued that we need to update. But in the midst of a budget crunch one can’t necessarily hang the moon.

The narrator is scared of losing his menial job in the park, so keeps to himself the fact that he is haunted by the ghosts of the McKinnon family who used to work the land and stays quiet when a Vietnam veteran is hired to take care of the gangs of teenage drinkers in the park, with live ammunition. When Civilwarland’s decline comes, it comes fast.

The protagonist of The Wavemaker Falters is also haunted by a ghost, this time, by the ghost of a boy he killed. The unfortunate child got caught in a wave machine at the theme park when the narrator wasn’t paying attention and now they are locked together in a mutually unhappy relationship.

Even though he’s dead, he’s basically still a kid. When he tries to be scary he gets it all wrong. He can’t moan for beans. He’s scariest when he does real kid things, like picking his nose and wiping it on the side of his sneaker

He tries to be polite but he’s pretty mad about the future I denied him

Saunders has a propensity towards the dark side of humour. His characters in this collection are down-trodden – disaffected workers with mean bosses, horrible colleagues and unforgiving spouses. He allows us to hope that things are going to improve for this motley collection of people, but it rarely does. In The 400-Pound CEO, an overweight and bullied worker kills his boss and takes over the company, but his victory is short-lived. In Downtrodden Mary’s Failed Campaign of Terror, the titular character’s attempts to take a stand against animal cruelty in the theme park she works in backfire quite spectacularly.

As hard as the lives of his characters are, Saunders always allows them hope – and it is this aspect of the collection that saves it from being merely smart and clever. The danger with Saunders style of story – an outlandish premise, surprising turns of both phrase and plot, clever word-play – is that they can appear shallow, style over substance. But that is not the case here. There is a distance between what the characters dream of and what their reality is and it is within this distance that the reader finds the humanity, the depth and the emotion.


This is seen most clearly in the surprisingly affecting story Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz. Here, the narrator runs a franchise of a virtual reality store where customers can choose their favourite experiences – ‘Legendary American Killers Stalk You’ or ‘Violated Prom Queen’- and briefly enter another world. Another haunted man, our narrator cannot forget his girlfriend who was killed after they had a horrible fight and the guilt of what his last words to her is eating him up. After discovering a way to download people’s memories for profit, he decides to download his own guilt to a disc, giving him a clean slate, a new life. In a final desperate attempt to be a better man, he wipes his memories and replaces them with a note on his sleeve that reads

“Your heart has never been broken. You’ve never done anything unforgivable or hurt anyone beyond reparation. Everyone you’ve ever loved you’ve treated like gold.”

The effect here is Strange Days meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and like both those films is heart-breaking in detailing how far people will go to lose the weight of their grief. This genuine affection for his characters allows Saunders to balance his satirical leanings and present ordinary people in extraordinary situations who are doing the best they can.

The worlds that Saunders presents here, with his ear for language and his sharp skewering of human relations is one of environmental disaster and Darwinism writ large, may be presented as the future but as with all good satirists his real subject is the present and he deftly captures our need to escape into different worlds and different realities in order to avoid the inadequacies of our daily lives.

Read on: Book

Number Read: 142

Number Remaining: 604

October Reading Round Up

Another month goes by in the world of 746 Books and another raft of good intentions fail to materialise.

Yet again, plenty of reading has been happening, but getting the time to review has proven more difficult.

I set myself a target at the start of the year to get the TBR into the 500s by 2017 and I am so very close, so I’m going to do a few round up reviews to keep myself up to date.

No 608 Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson

The stories of the fallen world, they excite us. That’s the interesting stuff Denis Johnson, 2003

This collection of connected short stories, centred on a nameless drug addict, takes place in the 1970s in a variety of locations from Iowa to Seattle. 

Reading a little like a series of confessions you might hear in an AA meeting, the stories, although all about the one man, are not in chronological order, don’t always make sense and often feel like they may just be the result of the protagonist’s drug addled imagination. 

Disconnected as it may be, Jesus’ Son does feel like a novel, as the reader charts our protagonist’s journey from desperate addict, through recovery and on to something resembling normal life – but the inability to focus on a straight narrative line echoes the chaotic and hopeless existence of the drug addict.

And if the darkness just got darker? And then you were dead? What would you care? How would you even know the difference?

The main feeling is one of uncertainty in both life and story-telling. Characters die, then are reintroduced later in the narrative. Women leave and then return, life is transitory and hope is hard to come by.

Williams was in his fifties. He’d wasted his entire life. Such people were very dear to those of us who’d wasted only a few years. With Williams sitting across from you it was nothing to contemplate going on like this for another month or two

Featuring abortions, murder, car crashes and drug deals this is hard subject matter, but the writing is alive, beautiful and often exhilarating.

To catch the bus home each day I walked through a vacant lot, and sometimes I’d run right up on one — one small orange flower that looked as if it had fallen down here from Andromeda, surrounded by a part of the world cast mainly in eleven hundred shades of brown, under a sky whose blueness seemed to get lost in its own distances. Dizzy, enchanted — I’d have felt the same if I’d been walking along and run into an elf out here sitting in a little chair.

Fragmentary, hallucinatory and often poetic, this is a stunning collection where the incredible prose glistens amidst the pain and grime of the narrative.

It was there. It was. The long walk down the hall. The door opening. The beautiful stranger. The torn moon mended. Our fingers touching away the tears. It was there.

Read On: Kindle
Number Read: 139
Number Remaining: 607

No 607 The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing

Last year I loved taking part in Novella November, hosted by the wonderful Poppy Peacock, so I had lined up a few to read this year. Novella November isn’t happening this year, but I decided to read a few anyway and thankfully picked a couple of real winners!
I’ve never read any Doris Lessing before so had no preconceptions going into this taut tale of a family torn apart by the birth of their fifth child. Like a precursor to We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Fifth Child follows the lives of Harriet and David, from the 1960s to the 1980s, where they are bringing up their four children in blissful happiness until the arrival of Ben, their fifth child. 

Violent, unattractive and slow to learn, Ben is everything their other children aren’t and in a house that has known nothing but kindness, warmth and love, a sense of tension and anxiety starts to prevail. Harriet and David’s inability to love their child tears the family apart and Lessing subtly raises the nature versus nurture question as Harriet finds her son more and more unlovable while at the same time becoming more and more obsessed with her predicament.

Harriet watched Ben…and tried to imagine him amoung a group of his own kind, squatting in the mouth of a cave around roaring flames. Or a settlement of huts in a thick forest? No, Ben’s people were at home under the earth, she was sure, deep underground in black caverns lit by torches. That was more like it.

It is hard not to read The Fifth Child as some sort of morality tale, but Lessing herself said that it is a horror story, plain and simple. It is horrific, a lesson if anything, in how a life can change course with no warning and how hard many people can find it to adapt what they see as an unexplained shift in the course of their life.

She said to David, ‘We are all being punished, that’s all.’
‘What for?’ he demanded, already on guard because there was a tone in her voice he hated.
‘For presuming. For thinking we could be happy. Happy because we decided we would be.’

Read on: Book
Number Read: 140
Number Remaining: 606

No 606 The Visitor by Maeve Brennan

My slight obsession with Maeve Brennan continues with this haunting yet precise novella. 

The heroine, Anastasia King, is returning to her grandmother’s house in Dublin where she and her parents had lived when she was a child. She has been living in Paris with her mother, who fled there to escape her older husband and controlling mother-in-law. 

 Both parents now dead, Anastasia thinks to return to the only place she has ever called home. But her grandmother’s reaction at her arrival lets her know that she is no longer wanted. By siding with her mother, Anastasia has made herself an exile, a visitor everywhere with nowhere to turn. Caught always between her mother and her father, she is now trapped in a no man’s land and struggles to find comfort.
The Visitor is a claustrophobic book – taking place as it does mostly in the rooms of Georgian houses in Dublin, or from the outside of these houses looking in. The dark tone suggests that the plight of women is unchanging, trapped as the female characters are within decisions and choices made by and for them many years before. 

As Anastasia comes to realise, looking back provides no respite and the enigmatic, possibly frustrating ending brings little hope. The Visitor is perfectly formed and tautly written by a very sure hand. At times it reminded me of another novella, The Dead by James Joyce, high praise I know, but not unwarranted. It has made me even more intrigued by the work of Maeve Brennan and I hope she will receive a lot more recognition with her centenary next year.

Home is a place in the mind. When it is empty it frets. It is fretful with memory, faces and places and times gone by. Beloved images rise up in disobedience and make a mirror for emptiness. Then what resentful wonder, and what half-aimless seeking. It is a silly state of affairs. It is a silly creature that tries to get a smile from even the most familiar and loving shadow. Comical and hopeless, the long gaze is always turned inwards.

Read on: Book
Number Read: 141
Number Remaining: 605

So, that’s my October reading up to date – I’ve a few more novellas lined up for the rest of the month and am also loving Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White. I hope I can post more this month, but I know that the best laid plans can be derailed very quickly!
My main hope is that I can read 6 more books before the end of the year and get the TBR down to the magic 599!

Irish Book Awards Shortlist Announced!

The Shortlist for the Irish Book Awards was announced yesterday and there are some great books and authors on this years list. The Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards brings together the entire literary community – readers, authors, booksellers, publishers and librarians – to recognise and celebrate the very best of Irish literary talent across thirteen categories, including Novel of the Year, Popular Fiction, Non-fiction, Crime, Children’s, Sports, Short Stories and Cookery.

The Best Novel category is always an incredibly strong category, which was won last year by Louise O’Neill for Asking For It. This year, I have my fingers crossed for All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan. I was lucky enough to get a review copy of this and although I haven’t published my review yet, it was another beautiful, unforgettable novel from an author who is becoming a firm go-to writer for me. I’m delighted that he will be coming to Seamus Heaney HomePlace in December to chat about this new novel, I think I will be a bit of a fan-girl when he arrives! I also have copies of Days Without End, Solar Bones and The Lesser Bohemians on my TBR. I haven’t been able to read Maggie O’Farrell’s new novel, but I know from hearing other bookish chat that it is considered one of her best, so I think that could be a favourite to win, although the acclaimed Solar Bones might create an upset.

Eason Novel of the Year

Days Without End – Sebastian Barry 

All We Shall Know – Donal Ryan 

Solar Bones – Mike McCormack 

The Lesser Bohemians – Eimear McBride 

The Wonder – Emma Donoghue 

This Must Be The Place – Maggie O’Farrell


I’m delighted to see The Glass Shore included in the Journal.ie Best Irish Published Book of the Year. This anthology of short stories by Northern Irish female writers goes someway to balancing out the gender bias of many anthologies and collections of Irish writing. I am half way through the collection at the moment and it is a great read and a great companion piece to last year’s winner The Long Gaze Back

TheJournal.ie Best Irish published Book of the Year

All Through the Night – Edited by Marie Heaney 

Dublin since 1922 – Tim Carey 

Looking Back: The Changing Faces of Ireland – Eric Luke 

Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks – Edited by Fintan O’Toole  

The Invisible Art: A Century of Music in Ireland 1916-2016 – Michael Dervan 

The Glass Shore – Sinéad Gleeson 


I haven’t heard a lot about the books on the Newcomer of the Year list, although I did enjoy E.M. Reapy’s Red Dirt when I read it earlier in the year. You can check out my review here. 

Sunday Independent Newcomer of the Year

Himself – Jess Kidd

Red Dirt – E.M. Reapy 

The Last Days of Summer – Vanessa Ronan 

The Maker of Swans – Paraic O’Donnell 

The Things I Should Have Told You – Carmel Harrington 

This Living and Immortal Thing – Austin Duffy 


Tana French makes the Crime Fiction Award shortlist with The Trespasser, although I have a feeling this category might be won by Liz Nugent for Lying In Wait – I don’t think I’ve seen such positive online buzz about a book in ages!

Books Are My Bag Crime Fiction Book of the Year

Distress Signals – Catherine Ryan Howard 

Little Bones – Sam Blake

Lying In Wait – Liz Nugent 

The Constant Soldier – William Ryan

The Drowning Child – Alex Barclay 

The Trespasser – Tana French 


Another visitor to Seamus Heaney HomePlace will be Patrick Deeley who will be reading from his moving and poetic memoir The Hurley Maker’s Son in December alongside Donal Ryan. I am halfway through this gorgeous book, so fingers crossed it wins in the National Book Tokens Non Fiction Book of the Year category. 

National Book Tokens Nonfiction Book of the Year

I Read The News Today, Oh Boy – Paul Howard 

Ireland The Autobiography – John Bowman 

The Hurley Maker’s Son – Patrick Deeley 

The Supreme Court – Ruadhán Mac Cormaic 

Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir – John Banville & Paul Joyce 

When Ideas Matter – Michael D. Higgins 


What’s most fantastic about the Irish Book Awards is that from here on in, the voting is down to the reading public. Voting is open online until 11 November, with the ceremony taking place on 16 November. May the best books win!

Have you read any of the shortlisted books? Who would you cast your vote for?


The Trespasser by Tana French

For me, one of the strengths of Tana French’s crime novels are the fact that she has decided against having a serialised protagonist. Each novel brings a different perspective and while characters such as Frank Mackay might pop up in several of her books, the viewpoint is always fresh.


In The Trespasser, her sixth novel centred around the fictitious Dublin Murder Squad, the viewpoint is that of Antoinette Conway, the mixed-race, volatile detective who is fighting not just crime, but harassment from within her own department.

Partnered with the affable Stephen Moran – who took centre stage in The Secret Place – Conway feels herself to be the squad outcast and is considering giving up police work for a lucrative security job. The opening premise sounds as disappointing to the reader as it seems to Conway and Moran as they are handed what at first glance seems to be a domestic gone wrong – a quick solve that won’t help their reputation within the force.

The detectives are sent to a flat where Aislinn Murray – a young receptionist has been found dead, her head smashed against a stone fireplace. The table setting for a romantic dinner for two, found burnt in the oven suggests a lover’s tiff and Aislinn’s current boyfriend, shy book-shop owner Rory Fallon becomes the prime suspect. What raises Conway’s suspicion that this might not be the clean solve it originally looks like, is the keenness of her colleague, the self-obsessed smooth talker Detective Breslin, to close the case quickly. A little too quickly for Conway’s liking.

Pretty soon, Conway and Moran are floating some other theories for Aislinn’s death – gangland connections, a mysterious married boyfriend – plus the fact that Conway remembers Aislinn from a previous missing person case means that the slam-dunk lover’s tiff answer starts to look less and less logical.

tana french

Tana French

From a procedural point of view, The Trespasser is relatively straight-forward. As the book progresses, the suspects become narrowed down to one and a lack of forensic evidence mean that for much of the book, this is Conway’s theory and not much more.  As with most of French’s novels, the crime being investigated causes the detective to confront their own past and question their own instincts. This is what makes her crime novels so interesting and complex. The intricate twists are psychological rather than plot-driven – the who becomes less interesting than the why.

In Conway’s case, two issues are clouding her judgement. Firstly, her paranoia over her colleagues in Murder Squad is forcing her to question everything. It’s a well-executed trick, as the reader, like Conway, is unsure how much of her harassment is real and how much is her paranoia.

I can’t tell if this is batshit paranoia or the bleeding obvious slapping me in the dace. Two years of watching my back, watching every step and every word, in fight mode all day every day: my instincts are fried to smoking wisps.

Even Steve, her stable partner is finding her hard to work with, pointing out that Conway is on the road to self-destruction, whether she wants it or not.

Because you’re so set in going down in flames, you’d make it happen even if the entire force loved you to bits. You’ll light your own bloody self on fire if you have to. And then you can pat yourself on the back and tell yourself you knew it all along. Congratulations.

Add to this the fact that Conway and the victim Aislinn have absent fathers, a fact driving both of them in different ways. Aislinn’s obsession with her missing father is the key to her murder, while Conway blocks out her own absent father, knowing that made-up stories will never make his loss any easier to deal with. The damage wrought by their parental abandonment makes the detective and victim more alike than they could imagine. Both are damaged and volatile in their own personal ways, both creating a new persona to make up for what they have lost.

Made up stories are at the heart of The Trespasser, stories we tell ourselves, stories we create for ourselves and the stories that can help solve a crime. Aislinn recreates herself as a new character in a new life and uses the imagery of fairy tales to cope with her problems.

To her, it was like finding out that magic was real and she had it, she could turn pumpkins into carriages, she could turn princes into frogs and back again.

French cleverly equates storytelling with police work, for what is solving a crime, but finding the story that fits?

Dozens and dozens of people, they just keep coming, and every single one of their heads is crammed with stories they believe and stories they want to believe and stories someone else has made them believe

Conway and Moran need to make their story fit, not through clues but through talking, listening and asking the right questions. The Trespasser fizzes with some incredibly well written interrogation scenes – tense, sharp and suspenseful, which only serve to illuminate the idea that detective work is its own form of storytelling.

Conway is a wonderful creation, loud, brash and defensive, she is volatile and fearless, while at the same time vulnerable and questioning. If she were your friend, you wouldn’t know whether to shake her or hug her. It will be interesting to see if French continues to rotate her central character for the next book, or if the temptation to stay a little longer in Conway’s company is too much to resist. I for one, hope she allows Conway another outing.

I received a copy of The Trespasser from the publisher through Netgalley.