REVIEW: BURIED IN A BOG, BY SHEILA CONNOLLY

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When Maura Donovan leaves her Boston home following her Grandmother Nora’s death, she is on a mission to connect with family in Ireland. It was her grandmother’s last request, and after her death, Maura found an envelope with just enough money set aside for the trip, along with her passport.

Nora Donovan’s family home was in Leap, by way of Dublin and then Cork, where Maura would meet up with her grandmother’s oldest friend, Bridget Nolan.

But what Maura finds there is not just her grandmother’s old friend, but a whole community of people who already know a lot about her, and who are ready to welcome her. Tea with Bridget led to stories, photos, and learning about Nora’s life before she left Ireland, widowed and with a young son (Maura’s father) in tow.

Everyone seemed ready to step up, offering a place for Maura to stay across from Sullivan’s Pub…and even the use of a car. Soon she is also helping out at the pub. It’s as if the villagers have taken her under their wing in honor of her grandmother.

But past events begin to surface, and Maura is suddenly swept up into a mystery involving a long-buried family secret. A mysterious man seems to be stalking Maura, making her question why someone is trying to scare her away.

Buried in a Bog was a story of community, secrets, and the strength of family bonds. I enjoyed it, although it seemed as though many things came together rather serendipitously for Maura. What I loved most, however, was how I felt as though I was visiting the Irish countryside along with Maura, having tea in an Irish cottage, and hanging out in the Irish pub. 4 stars.

REVIEW: SHELTERING RAIN, BY JOJO MOYES

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Three generations of women–mothers and daughters–are the core characters in Sheltering Rain; we join the first of them in 1953, in Hong Kong, where young Joy and her best friend Stella are waiting to listen to the coronation ceremony of Elizabeth II. On that same day, Joy meets a young man, a naval officer, named Edward Ballantyne, and before the day is out, the two have pledged themselves to one another.

Leaping forward to 1997, in Ireland, we first meet Sabine Ballantyne, Joy and Edward’s granddaughter, aged sixteen and eager to put distance between herself and her mother Kate. We experience both Kate and the grandparents through Sabine’s eyes, as the teenager flails against her mother’s choices, while also finding her grandparents’ rules and regulations unbearable. She reaches out to the men who work with the horses, and soon finds solace in riding.

The story unfolds slowly, moving back and forth through time, until we begin to see how the secrets, betrayals, and pain of the past have affected each of them. Will they find a way to work through their differences? How will discovering what was hidden in the past help them in the present?

The author brings the reader right into the Irish countryside, into the pubs, and shows us the emotional terrain of the characters’ lives in very satisfying ways.

At one point or another, I found each of the characters frustrating. I liked that we began with Joy, as meeting her first through Sabine’s eyes would have made her unlikable. And understanding Sabine from her own perspective made it possible to overlook her rudeness and lashing out when we saw her through Kate’s eyes. However, I found it difficult to like Sabine, even understanding her point of view. Her self-absorption is probably typical for someone her age, but she seemed to go out of her way to be cruel to her mother.

Kate is the character in the middle, in a sense, sandwiched between a disapproving mother and a rebellious daughter. But as she begins to search through her past mistakes and learn from them, we see hope for them all. In the end, the climactic events bring closure and a sense of connection. 4.0 stars.

REVIEW: ONE HUNDRED NAMES, BY CECELIA AHERN

18505788When Kitty Logan, a journalist, makes a huge mistake in a TV story, the repercussions are numerous. In fact, they are creating ongoing havoc in her life, beginning with a huge lawsuit, the loss of her position on the TV show, and possibly the loss of her job at the magazine Etcetera, created by her mentor Constance.

To add to the pain, her mentor Constance dies. But beforehand, she points Kitty in the direction of a story she wishes she had told. She refers her to a list of names in her files, but has no other instructions for her. Before Kitty can come back with the list for more information, Constance is gone.

One Hundred Names: A Novel is a story about the truths that lie in the stories behind a random set of ordinary people, each of whom has something extraordinary to share. By putting together the story, Kitty hopes to reclaim her career and redeem herself.

Where does Kitty’s journey lead her? What life lessons does she glean from the stories of others? And how does her persistence lead to a magical outpouring of love and comfort from her story subjects that will also encompass her with the same feelings?

Set in Ireland, taking the reader from Dublin to Cork, the story carried me along, intrigued by Kitty’s process of reclaiming her life. Recommended for those who are fans of the author, and for others who love a feel-good story about the magical moments available in everyday life. 4.5 stars.

AN IRISH VILLAGE, A WISHING WELL, & QUIRKY CHARACTERS — A REVIEW

One of the best things about Maeve Binchy’s books is her ability to incorporate richly detailed and sometimes quirky characters into gorgeous settings–usually in Ireland.

In WHITETHORN WOODS by Maeve Binchy, the setting is Rossmoor, a small Irish village centered around a “wishing well” type sanctuary; there we meet a variety of characters whose lives have been impacted in one way or another by the presence of the well.

Each character is introduced in a series of vignettes told from that individual’s first person perspective. Some of the characters’ lives intersect throughout the book, but often there is no attempt to show how the characters are connected to one another. The primary connection is the St. Ann’s well and its fate, since there is an issue of whether or not a road should traverse the town and “cut off” the well.

Except, of course, for some recurring characters, like Father Brian Flynn, Neddy Nolan (described as “not the sharpest knife in the drawer”), and a few characters connected to them, these series of individuals could be passersby in the drama of this village and its events.

While I enjoyed the usual Binchy-style characterizations and the lovely settings, the cast of characters felt too large and disconnected, and the point of the book seemed lost along the way. Therefore, while enjoyable, I would grant this story 3.5 stars and recommend it to those seeking lively vignettes that one might find in a short story collection. Those expecting the usual Binchy drama will probably be disappointed.