Reviewing Three by Maeve Binchy: “A Week in Winter”, “A Week in Summer”, and “The Builders”

For my recent trip I purchased three Maeve Binchy stories for my kindle. I had wanted to read “A Week in Winter”, Ms. Binchy’s final book. “A Week in Summer” was a short story that was available. “The Builders” is more of a novella, written as part of an adult literacy campaign in Ireland. I enjoyed all three!

In the short story “A Week in Summer”, a married couple decide they will spend a week’s holiday one summer in order to recharge their middle-aged lives. They find themselves in the midst of a town-wide yearly festival where they meet new friends and discover new interests while rediscovering their relationship. This was a sweet story that was only 99 cents on Kindle!

Next I read the short book, “The Builders”. This less-than-one-hundred-pages novella tells the story of Nan Ryan, a middle-aged widow who takes an interest in the builders working next door to her.Who exactly were the people who had lived there and died so tragically? Who is fixing up the house and for what reason? What will the builders find? Nan builds a friendship with one of the men working there and together they analyze and discuss the situation. Another typical Binchy story – this one was written as part of an adult literacy campaign contribution.

Finally I read Maeve Binchy’s final book: “A Week in Winter”. I was so sad as I read this novel, knowing it was her last. It was typical Binchy fare: a young woman who has been unlucky in love returns home to Ireland and opens what is essentially a B&B in order to give folks a relaxing ‘week in winter’. Chicky, the proprietress, is the common link running through this story as each chapter focuses on one of the members of the household or one of the guests for that first week in winter in which they open. There are two doctors who are escaping a tragedy, a crotchety older woman, a young man who loves music, a librarian who has second sight, and several more. We get to know each one as their stories intertwine.

I have always loved Binchy’s books. I can’t say which is my favorite: “Light a Penny Candle”? “The Glass Lake”? “Evening Class”? Her older works I enjoyed more than her more recent ones (“Quentin’s” and onward). This is classic Binchy however. There’s a warmth and a goodness to these stories that, while I am sure some folks might find it cloying, gives me comfort. As I read the last page of this novel (or the last screen I should say, as it was on kindle), I had an image of Chicky standing at the door of her inn and Maeve standing next to her – welcoming travellers to their little bit of Ireland.

RIP, dear Maeve, and know that your stories live on!

YA review: “Celtic Run” by Sean Vogel

I received “Celtic Run” as a Net Galley digital download. This YA book (geared towards grades 5-8 I would say) tells the story of Jake McGreevy, a teen on a school trip to Ireland. Along with him on his adventures are Julie (the friend he has a crush on), Zach (class bully and Julie’s boyfriend), and new Irish friend Maggie. Jake is a gadget expert and enjoys tinkering with things, which comes in handy throughout the novel. Early on in the story, Jake finds what turns out to be a clue in a treasure hunt. Enter the “bad guys”, and Jake and his friends need to work together to outwit the bad guys and find the treasure (which would not only be noble, but could come in handy to both Jake – whose father was recently severely injured – and Maggie – whose father has lost his job). There is one adventure after another with non-stop action and character development as Jake and hsi friend seek to solve the mysteries and find the treasure first!

I really enjoyed reading this book. I read a lot of YA and children’s and found it refreshing to deal with a story where the kids were typical but the problems were not overly disturbing and intense. In my opinion not too many people are writing books like this these days: contemporary kids whose problems are surmountable. I will be recommending this one for my children’s elementary school library! I could see this as a fun movie for kids – a bit like “Goonies” or the old “Apple Dumpling Gang”. Some of the action was a bit fantastic and the crooks were very “crookish” if you know what I mean, but I like it. It reads as if it may be the start of a series. Just a note – this author’s bio was one of the most interesting I’ve come across!

Thanks, MB Publishing and Net Galley, for my copy!

REVIEW: The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry

I received this novel through Net Galley and was excited to read it. Taking place in the 1950’s and 60’s in Ireland, it tells the story of a young, Catholic woman, Marian, who finds herself in love with a Jewish colleague at the school where they teach. When she discovers she is pregnant, she goes away to a “home” to have the baby and then puts the baby up for adoption, thinking he will have a better life in America. Ten years later, and now married to her then boyfriend and with a young daughter, she discovers that their son has lived in a nearby orphanage all his years. Marian and her husband try to get custody of their son, Adrian, and work to fit him into their family, even as they continue to struggle as an inter-faith couple. But first they must convince the establishment that they are capable and worthy of raising their son.

While I really enjoyed this book, and particularly couldn’t put it down in the last few chapters, I was a bit disheartened at the portrayal of the religious people in this book as fanatical, sadistic, and depraved (full disclosure: I’m Catholic). I guess I’m just tired of reading books and seeing movies where 99% of the nuns/priest/brothers are portrayed as evil. That said, I know that deplorable conditions existed in some places (anyone see the movie “The Magdalenes”??).

Beyond that, I found the main character portrayals and the depth of emotions in the main characters the strengths in this novel. How would it feel to find your son after all those years? How do you unite a family that has never been a family yet? How much does our religion guide our lives and relationships?

A thought-provoking book! I’ll look forward to more from Ms. Henry.

Thanks for my copy, Net Galley and T.S. Poetry Press!!