Posts Tagged ‘Dublin’

fikryIf bookstores attract you like magnets, you’ll find Gabrielle Zevin’s charming novel The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (Algonquin, review ARC) absolutely irresistible. “No Man is an Island. Every Book is a World.” So says the sign over the door of Island Books, housed in a Victorian cottage on a fictional New England island. Alas, owner A.J. Fikry seems to have forgotten the sign since his young wife died in a car accident and his business took a nosedive. He fends off friends, like the police chief with a taste for crime fiction. He pushes away his sister-in-law, the disappointed wife of a philandering author. He even makes free-spirited Amelia, the new sales rep for Knightley Press, depart in tears. But just like in a storybook (!), A.J.’s pleasure in life, love and books will be renewed with the arrival of an unexpected package. Not all at once, though, and not without tears. Bittersweet proves sweet.

northangerJane Austen had some fun writing Northanger Abbey, but Catherine Morland always struck me as a ninny. I like her much more as Cat Morland in Val McDermid’s clever update of Austen’s Gothic satire, Northanger Abbey (Grove Atlantic, digital galley). This home-schooled daughter of a Dorset minister loves novels, especially paranormal fiction like Twilight and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (wink wink). Cat’s horizons broaden when family friends invite her to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where she becomes BFF  with socialite Bella Thorpe, who is crushing on Cat’s brother, and meets enigmatic Henry Tilney and his sister Eleanor. Gee, she’s awfully pale, and something weird is going on at the Tilney family estate, Northanger Abbey. McDermid, an award-winning crime novelist, sticks to the bones of Austen’s plot but fleshes it out with modern details. If it reads a bit like a YA novel, that’s ok; Cat is just 17. Still, I could have done without slang expressions like “Totes amazeballs.” So last year.

chestnutFans of the late Irish writer Maeve Binchy will welcome Chestnut Street (Knopf Doubleday, digital), a collection of stories about the neighbors of a middle-class Dublin street. Binchy wrote the stories over a period of years, sticking them in a drawer with the idea of a book in mind. Approved by her husband, the writer Gordon Snell, the stories vary in length and complexity, but the characters are familiar types from previous Binchy books, ordinary folks facing domestic crises and misunderstandings. There’s the teenager who’s unexpectedly pregnant like an aunt before her, who went to America and visits once a year. There’s the divorced mum who minds her tongue and allows her grown daughter to make her own decisions. There’s the mistress who belatedly realizes her predicament, the stingy uncle and his estranged niece, the spiteful woman who resents her friendly new neighbor, the four strangers who meet in a takeaway on New Year’s Eve and reunite every year thereafter. Several stories beg to be longer. Oh, it would have been grand to have a Binchy novel about the visiting friend who becomes the street’s favorite fortune teller after picking up on the local gossip.

Nohopestreett everyone can see the titular building in The House at the End of Hope Street (Viking Penguin, paperback review copy), a whimsical literary confection by Meena van Praag. But young Cambridge grad student Alba Ashby, overwhelmed by a stunning personal and academic betrayal, is welcomed to 11 Hope Street by landlady Peggy Abbot, who tells her she can stay 99 nights. As former residents whose portraits hang on the walls — Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, Dorothy Parker, among them — can attest, the house will work its peculiar magic during this time. Van Praag reminds me of Alice Hoffman as she recounts Alba’s time at Hope Street, which overlaps with that of actress Greer, disappointed in love, and singer Carmen, who has buried a dark secret in the garden. Did I mention the portraits talk to one another and a pretty ghost hangs out in the kitchen?

jasmineDeanna Raybourn, author of the popular Lady Julia series, has another smart heroine in aviatrix Evangeline Starke, who narrates the winning City of Jasmine (Harlequin, digital galley). Five years after losing her husband with the sinking of the Lusitania, Evie is flying around the world in her plane The Jolly Roger, when she receives a recent photograph of the presumed-dead Gabriel Starke. She immediately heads for Damascus, with her eccentric aunt and a parrot in tow, to find Gabriel, who once worked an archaeological dig in the area. If he’s alive, she just might kill him — for abandoning her after four months of marriage. Action and adventure, romance and history, secrets and spies! Ah, good times.

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Sure and don’t you know we’re all Irish on St. Patrick’s Day? I feel that way, too, whenever I read one of Maeve Binchy’s pillowy novels, which are stuffed with all manner of people and stories and all things Irish.

At the center of Binchy’s newest, Minding Frankie, is Noel Lynch, a late-20s, hard-drinking no-hoper who is suddenly informed by a one-night stand that he’s about to become a father. Pragmatic Stella is not only pregnant but also dying of cancer, and she wants to leave the care of the daughter she will never know to Noel.

Reluctance is as natural to Noel as the drink, but he’s convinced by his parents, his American cousin Emily and the other working-class Dubliners of St. Jarlath’s Crescent that he’ll be a grand single dad. So Noel goes to AA, starts taking business classes so he can move up the ladder at work, and finds lots of help when it comes to minding Frankie. The only person who thinks Frankie would be better off in foster care is humorless social worker Moira, who is just waiting for Noel to fall off the wagon so she can whisk the baby away.

Readers of sunch previous Binchy novels as Quentins, Scarlet Feather, and Heart and Soul, will recognize some familiar flawed characters, all with a connection to Frankie, in the large supporting cast. Each has his or her own story — an unrequited love, a terminal illness, a lost job, a new-found son. It can sometimes be a bit confusing. Is it Kathy who is Noel’s platonic roommate Lisa’s sister and who wants a baby of her own, or is that Carla, the daughter of a nurse at St. Brigid’s? Is Dingo a guy and Hooves a dog, or is it the other way around?

Over the course of the year leading up to Frankie’s first birthday, there will be dramas small and large, smiles all around, and a few tears. It’s very Binchy.  Make yourself a cuppa and settle in.

Open Book: I bought a hardcover copy of Maeve Binchy’s Minding Frankie (Knopf Doubleday) so I could share it with my mother (known as Frankie to her grandchildren). We’ve been reading and rereading Binchy’s books since Light a Penny Candle. Wouldn’t miss one.

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