Browser: The extraordinary life of Irish revolutionary Margaret Skinnider

Brief reviews of Margaret Skinnider, by Mary McAuliffe; Unspeakable, by Harriet Shawcross; The Book of Longings, by Sue Monk Kidd; The Magicians, by Marcus Chown; Terrorists, Anarchists and Republicans, by Richard Whatmore; and Virgin and Child, by Maggie Hamond

Margaret Skinnider was a suffragette and a nationalist prepared to use force to achieve Irish independence

Margaret Skinnider
By Mary McAuliffe
UCD Press, €17
Margaret Skinnider features briefly in Irish history books as the woman who was wounded commanding a military action during the Easter 1916 Rising. But Skinnider was much more than this: a suffragette, a socialist, a trade union activist, and a nationalist prepared to use force to achieve Irish independence. Mary McAuliffe's meticulously researched biography seeks to shed light on a complex woman living an extraordinary life.

As an assistant professor in gender studies at University College Dublin, Dr McAuliffe has written extensively on the lives, times, and impacts of female figures in the Easter Rising and the independence movement in Ireland. Woven through her fascinating and accessible narrative of Skinnider is a call to recognise the fundamental importance of women's stories within history, and a striving effort to speak back into a cultural and historical silence. – Becky Long

Unspeakable: The Things We Cannot Say
By Harriet Shawcross
Canongate, £9.99
Language, in all its forms, is a social contract between humans; we point at the blue above us and say "sky" because we have decided, as a collective, that this is what we will call it. But sometimes, language fails to do what we need it to do. It is this challenging concept that Harriet Shawcross takes on in her intimate yet universal contemplation of the silence that lies at the heart of human existence. As a teenager, the author stopped speaking for almost a year. As an adult, on the brink of a life-changing event, she finds herself compelled to push against the limits of language. Thought-provoking, engaging and permeated with a compassion that transcends words, Shawcross's journey into silence has much to teach a global society obsessed with communication. – Becky Long

The Book of Longings
By Sue Monk Kidd
Tinder Press, £20
How would the world be different if Jesus had married and his wife had become part of the story? Kidd, author of bestselling The Secret Life of Bees, tells the story of Ana, a rebellious young woman who falls for a kind-hearted tradesman. This kindly tradesman, Jesus, is also passionately married to his destiny as the son of God. However, this is not Jesus's story, but Ana's. She is a devoted scribe, a vocation she must suspend upon marriage. The Book of Longing is the testament of a bold woman, and the story of many stolen female voices. This historical novel is told from a novelist's perspective, rather than a religious or academic one, and perhaps encourages thought more than inciting any ground-breaking debate. – Brigid O'Dea


The Magicians: Great Minds and the Central Miracle of Science
By Marcus Chown
Faber and Faber, £14.99
There is something seductive about well-written popular science; it's the feeling that we, the reader, can clearly understand things that we couldn't later explain to a friend, but that we really did get for a minute. Chown's highly entertaining and accessible book leads us through a seemingly magical realm in which ferociously clever and persistent boffins predict the existence of unbelievable things, and then try to find them. The drive to predict what might exist but which can't be proven until it's been found has led to the mapping of the skies and the universe, to the generation of electricity and quantum theory. In our hyper-connected tech world we should remember that what we now take for granted was once just a dream. – Claire Looby

Terrorists, Anarchists and Republicans
By Richard Whatmore
Princeton, £34
Calvinist republicans, having failed to overthrow the regime in Geneva in 1782 because of French intervention, decided to flee abroad and were persuaded by British prime minister Lord Shelburne to settle near Waterford to create a "New Geneva", what was hoped would be a commercially successful watchmaking colony. The experiment worked at first as the British invested in it but Shelburne's fall from power caused that support to ebb. The Genevans grew frustrated and gradually left and the partially constructed town was turned into a military barracks in 1785. French revolutionary ideas spread to Ireland and the republican United Irishman rose in 1798. Ironically, they were executed in large numbers at Geneva Barracks, which had its origin in Genevan republicans. This well-told, tragic story its author sees as "the end of the Enlightenment". – Brian Maye

Virgin and Child
By Maggie Hamand
Barbican Press, £16.99
Who doesn't love an outrageous premise? Maggie Hamand delivers in her third novel, Virgin and Child. Pope Patrick is our protagonist, the first Irish pope. Controversy plagues him. Sex scandals, assassination attempts, secret gay liaisons, pro-choice protests – so far, so familiar, you may say, but how about this: the pope is intersex. He's also pregnant. What follows is a surprisingly realistic and robust exploration of the church's view on femininity, abortion, the body, love and more.

Hamand was studying for a master's in theology when she conceived of the idea, and as such brings an informed and inquisitive approach. There's no scoffing here, rather a calm unravelling. You can imagine someone trying to ban this novel for blasphemy, and instead finding themselves rapt. As clever and intriguing as it is kooky. – Niamh Donnelly