Wednesday, October 27, 2010

November Book Picks

The Chisellers by  by Brendan O'Carroll
By turns funny, wise and heartbreaking, this Irish Tales of the City is O'Carroll's second book in his Mrs. Browne trilogy; the first, The Mammy, received high praise after publication in the U.S. last year. Featuring eccentric characters who are charming, irreverent and believable, the story continues in 1973 with Agnes Browne at center stage. A widow raising six sons and a daughter, whom she refers to collectively as the "chisellers," she lives in public housing in inner-city Dublin. Agnes is no angel, which makes her all the more human; she chain-smokes, likes a pint or two of an evening and has a sweet-dispositioned boyfriend, a French immigrant named Pierre, who works at a pizza joint and is endlessly patient with Agnes and her rambunctious brood. Mark Browne is the oldest; at 17, he is apprenticed to a furniture-maker whose business is failing. How Mark saves the business and wins the girl of his dreams inform the main storyline, but each of the siblings and Agnes get their fair share of attention. Frankie, the next in age, is involved with violent local skinheads. After he and his gang brutally beat his younger brother, Rory, a subsequent act further tarnishes Frankie's reputation and outrages his family. This lively novel features a wedding, a funeral and an ending that will melt the hardest heart. 
In the Woods by Tana French
*Starred Review* Rob Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, land the first big murder case of their police careers: a 12-year-old girl has been murdered in the woods adjacent to a Dublin suburb. Twenty years before, two children disappeared in the same woods, and Ryan was found clinging to a tree trunk, his sneakers filled with blood, unable to tell police anything about what happened to his friends. Ryan, although scarred by his experience, employs all his skills in the search for the killer and in hopes that the investigation will also reveal what happened to his childhood friends. In the Woods is a superior novel about cops, murder, memory, relationships, and modern Ireland. The characters of Ryan and Maddox, as well as a handful of others, are vividly developed in this intelligent and beautifully written first novel, and author French relentlessly builds the psychological pressure on Ryan as the investigation lurches onward under the glare of the tabloid media. Equally striking is the picture of contemporary Ireland, booming economically and fixated on the shabbiest aspects of American popular culture. An outstanding debut and a series to watch for procedural fans. 
The Lace Makers of Glenmora by Heather Barbieri
Barbieri (Snow in July) sets her latest in a small Irish town, Glenmara, where a heartbroken American tourist, Kate Robinson, finds her one-night stay extended with the help of some motherly role models. Kate's hostess, chronically grieving widow Bernie, draws the young Seattleite into a gossipy ring of lace makers. Kate, a former fashion designer, takes to them perfectly (one of several head-scratching coincidences), inspiring them to take on an empowering but controversial project. Although the focus is always on the positive, the narrative's strongest when exploring the less charming sides of Glenmara; rich sources of missed potential include the local priest, nicknamed Father Dominic Burn-in-Hell Byrne, and Bernie's irritable best friend Aileen, the only lace society member to regard Kate with anything but syrupy goodwill. The result is a sweet novel with few surprises. Even Kate's pivotal, inspirational idea—embellishing the ladies' undergarments with lace—suffers from murky logic (as do reactions from characters like Father Byrne). Still, Barbieri's world generates convincing warmth and emotion, making it worth a look for Friday Night Knitting Club fans between sequels. 

Bound South by Susan Rebecca White
Louise Parker is a classic southern belle. Well-dressed and well-mannered, she can’t help but be frustrated by her daughter. Wild Caroline goes to a strict Christian prep school where she cheats in math class and can only focus on becoming an actress, until she has to leave after she’s discovered in flagrante delicto with her drama teacher. In the meantime Louise is distracted by Missy, the daughter of her housekeeper, a born-again evangelical who assists her mother in between trying to convert Louise’s gay son. Despite the consequences of Caroline’s behavior, Louise finds herself wishing she could be as careless and wondering how her life would have turned out had she chosen a different path. Even with their differences, Louise’s thoughts eventually lead her to believe that Caroline may be more of a southern dame and Louise more of a rebel than either of them thought. An elaborate, generation-spanning southern tale of family life in the vein of Rebecca Wells. --Hilary Hatton

Fly Away Home: A Novel
Fly Away Home byJennifer Weiner
Sylvie Serfer Woodruff is stunned when her husband, Senator Richard Woodruff, is exposed by the press for having an affair with a staffer. Though Sylvie is humiliated, she agrees to stand by Richard’s side during his mea culpa press conference. As soon as it’s over, she heads to a house in Connecticut owned by her family, not sure whether she wants to end her marriage or not. The Woodruffs’ two daughters are at similar crossroads in their lives. Diana, a physician with a young son, is carrying on an affair with a younger man after growing weary of her marriage, while her younger sister, Lizzie, a recovering addict, is trying to rebuild her life after a stint in rehab. Realizing she has always put Richard first before her children, Sylvie makes a bid to have her daughters join her out at the Connecticut house and is surprised to find their lives as tumultuous as hers has become. Weiner’s trademark blend of wit and sensitivity distinguishes this timely tale about a family in crisis. --Kristine Huntley

1 comment:

LTK said...

I meant to vote for Fly Away Home but clicked on Bound South. Oops!