A Few of the Girls by Maeve Binchy

27434560Maeve Binchy is one of my favorite authors of all time, and I was devastated by her passing in 2012. However, I’m forever grateful to her husband and publishers for continuing to publish her work after her death.

It’s bittersweet to read each of these stories, designed to stand on their own, knowing that she could have easily built another charming novel around each of them. Perhaps that’s why it took me so long to finish this collection of short stories; I would get so caught up in each other, and it would be jarring to leave that universe and start in a new one after only 5-10 pages.

My favorite pieces were the ones where the heroine (almost all of the stories have female protagonists) doesn’t realize how awful she is; we really are all the heroes of our own lives. Some of the “lessons” learned were a little heavy handed, and some of the stories haven’t aged as well as others. But each of the 36 stories was a fun peek into Ms. Binchy’s creative universe, and I’m sorry she’s not still here to play in it.

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A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

17978421I was wrong in my last Binchy post as THIS is the last book Mrs. Binchy wrote before she died. According to the dust jacket, it was completed just a couple weeks before she passed. It feels little different than her previous works and I wonder if she had the chance to edit it properly. Her website is gone (sniff!), so there’s no further information to find.

There’s a long run up to the actual “week in winter,” where we learn more about our heroine, Chicky Starr, than anyone else in the book knows, but time pass very quickly and oddly. The meat of the story comes when Chicky comes home to Stoneybridge and ends up buying a small mansionhouse on the coast to turn into a bed and breakfast. We do get to check up on the Binchy’s Dublin in a couple of chapters, so it was nice to know that the door to that universe wasn’t completely closed, even though this book takes place on the Atlantic coast.

Each chapter is the story of a character who inhabits the world and after the midway part of the book, we start to get to know the guests during that first week. The writing is SO good and like Mrs. Binchy’s Dublin books, this one makes me wish Stone House existed, so I too could spend a cold wintery week in a tiny coastal town, eating delicious Irish food and lounging with Gloria the cat in the Miss Sheedys room. And I hate being cold in winter! The book ends rather abruptly, though not at all unhappily, so I wasn’t quite prepared for the last page to arrive.

I have decided that I want to read and re-read all of Mrs. Binchy’s novels this year. Some of the earlier works I’ve not read at all and some of them I haven’t read since I was a preteen, though I count them among my very favorite books. I’m hoping to read them in order of publication, if for no other reason than I’m a completist and I’d like to see if there are other characters besides our Dublin set that appear or are mentioned in other books and I had no idea. Mostly, I’m just not ready to let Mrs. Binchy’s books go quite yet.

Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy

8700213Though Mrs. Binchy’s website is down right now, I believe this is her last completed novel before she died. It deals with some different themes than those I’d previously read, but all the same lovable people that I’m grieved to know are not actually real.

We start back on St. Jarlath’s Crescent, which must have more houses than a standard American cul-de-sac because there are just so many different families who live there. An American cousin is coming to stay with our main family, all of whom are in a crisis of one thing or another. She quickly becomes indispensable not only to her family, but to everyone she interacts with. Her nephew, Noel, however, is her main project.

Noel is an alcoholic, who has just realized 1) he has a problem with alcohol and 2) some girl he had a one-night-stand with is pregnant and dying of cancer. She wants him to take take of the baby when its born, naming her Frankie. He does take responsibility and the village comes together to support him in his endeavor. We get to catch up with the folks at the heart clinic as well as many of the neighbors we’ve come to love. Cousin Emily is a little Mary Sue at times, always having the solution to whatever problem is coming down the pike.

There is a death toward the end of the book that I was not prepared for, as one never is, even with the aged. Reading this after Mrs. Binchy’s death, made it that much harder. Watching the beloved characters have to do without one of their pillars was rough, especially as I realized that I’ll never know what happens next. The book ends well, as all of her novels do, but having the possibility to see, even tangentially, how Cathy Scarlet or the twins were getting along was one of my favorite parts of the Dublin universe Maeve Binchy created. Losing her has closed the door to that universe and I’m not okay with that.

Rest in peace, Maeve Binchy. Thank you for these characters, this universe and portrayal of Ireland. I can’t wait to fall in love with the actual place as much as I did with your fictional one.

Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy

3393648With the passing of Maeve Binchy in July, I thought I’d pay tribute by reading all of the remaining books in her vast collection that I haven’t already devoured. This is one of the newer offerings, published in 2009.

It has the trademark Binchy cast of characters, loosely tied together by the heart clinic that Clara is trying to get off the ground. There are lot of familiar names that we get to catch up with, making Dublin seem like the small towns Mrs. Binchy used to write about. I feel like I’ve read so much about Quentins, I’m going to be very disappointed that it doesn’t actually exist when I visit Dublin next year.

There were certain stories that were more interesting than others and those weren’t always the ones that had the larger chapters. There was a brief detour back to the Greek Isle from Nights of Rain and Stars with the twins that I’m sure I’m supposed to remember, but alas, I do not. I wanted to catch up with different characters than we did more often than not, but everyone got married that should have, so I think that’s the best bit.

Whitethorn Woods by Maeve Binchy

34295I’ve loved Maeve Binchy’s books since I first read Circle of Friends. Some are better than others, but they are all very good.

This wasn’t the best book I’d ever read by her, but it was better than my last outing with her. It reminded me a bit of Love Actually, with all the characters being inter-related in some way. Each short chapter told the story of a man or woman that was in some way connect to Rossmore, home of St. Ann’s well. Some stories were better than others, but it was an enjoyable read. The ending seemed abrupt to me and it was hard to keep track of all of the many characters (Binchy’s trademark), but it was a good read. And I’m looking forward to reading her next novel when it comes out in the US next year.