Binchy deftly creates an intriguing and diverse cast of characters, from problem-solving Cousin Emily to the uptight social worker, Moira. True to current events, Binchy does not shy away from Ireland’s economic troubles and their influence on the lives of several people in the novel. Though it may take new readers a while to figure out who’s who, loyal Binchy fans will recognize some of these characters from previous works.
With a nice balance of hilarious, poignant and everyday moments, Minding Frankie is the perfect book for a leisurely spring weekend.
– Kristin Romano
(383 pages / Knopf / $26.95)
With the publication of her debut novel, Commencement, in 2009, J. Courtney Sullivan adeptly proved her ability to inhabit multiple consciousnesses simultaneously, slipping easily between the narratives of different women whose disparate perspectives are often at odds with one another but voiced with equal depth and sympathy. Sullivan exercises this skill again in Maine, a delectable beach read as vast and sprawling in scope as the Kellehers’ three-acre family property it details. Won by Daniel, the deceased head of the family, in a poker game six decades before the book opens, the Kelleher summer home is still at the mercy of the fates and the family matriarch, Alice, who takes to heart the letters that Daniel carved into a tree at the fork of the road leading to the cottage: A.H., Alice’s house.
But Alice’s prodigal daughter Kathleen; daughter-in-law Ann Marie, whose perfectionism is channeled into a cleverly conveyed obsession with dollhouses; and granddaughter Maggie, struggling to carve out a functional adulthood amidst heartbreak and disappointment; all stake their own claims on the Kelleher house as well as on the family history of alcoholism, tragedy, dark secrets and Catholic guilt that persists through generations. In Maine, Sullivan explores with grace, depth and good humor what it means to belong to an Irish-American family.
– Kara Rota
(386 pages / Knopf / $25.95)
The Linen Queen
Following her highly praised debut novel, The Yellow House, comes Patricia Falvey’s second work of historical fiction, The Linen Queen. Falvey, who grew up in Northern Ireland, uses her knowledge of history and the area to tell the story of Sheila McGee, a young woman who dreams of escaping her small-town life as a mill worker in County Armagh.
Initially, I found it difficult to like Sheila. Her self-centered personality comes though strongly as she makes it her goal to get the attention she believes she deserves. For a while, the beautiful girl receives that attention as she is crowned the town’s Linen Queen, the face and spokeswoman of the millworkers. After receiving prize money for this honor, Sheila is ready to make her escape to a new life in England, but her plans change as the world is turned upside down by the events of World War II.
Ever focused on her goal, Sheila sees potential in the arrival of the American troops. She attracts Joel Solomon, a Jewish-American army officer, who she plans to use as her way out. Instead, she finds herself falling for him. Sheila starts to see the world through different perspectives as she gets to know Joel and a young, troubled Belfast evacuee named Grainne. The Linen Queen takes the reader through an emotional ride as World War II transforms the lives of those in Northern Ireland and Sheila McGee possibly learns to leave her old ways behind.
(320 pages / Hachette Books / $21.99)
Eating for Ireland
Loath as I am to admit to judging a book by its cover, at first glance I was drawn to Irish food writer Tom Doorley’s latest book, Eating for Ireland. Not by the clever, laudatory quotes from the Sunday Independent and Food and Wine magazine, nor by the nostalgic main cover image of a 70s era child’s birthday party, but by a smaller yet infinitely more alluring graphic: a vintage bag of cheese & onion Tayto crisps. Any book with the potential to bring me back to childhood summers spent in Ireland, gorging myself on the delectably pungent potato chips and other exotic delicacies such as lemon barley water, Jacob’s biscuits, and 99s had to, I was sure, be a delicious read.
It was. Doorley, restaurant critic for the Irish Daily Mail and a judge on RTE’s hit show The Restaurant, is a gifted writer whose enthusiasm and curiosity for his subject is both palpable and infectious. In this delightful collection of essays, he reminisces about his own experiences with everything from Marmite and Oxo cubes, soft-boiled eggs and banana sandwiches, to a tender account of his mother’s love of pepper. These personal anecdotes mingle nicely with Doorley’s larger exploration of the origins and histories of some of Ireland’s most beloved and idiosyncratic foods.