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Review: Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy

Posted by bethg on

Minding Frankie book coverMaeve Binchy is a familiar name among readers who enjoy the doings of a close-knit Irish community in Dublin. Especially in the recent past, Binchy has focused on a particular group of people who reappear in ensuing books. This is the case in Minding Frankie.

The Frankie in question is a baby girl who was not born into the most ideal circumstances. Her mother did not survive childbirth, and Noel, the alleged father, was in no position to assume a solitary parenting role. Hence, many folk kicked in minding Frankie.

What makes the story work is that these people were in a neighborhood within walking distance of each other and were able to hand off care of Frankie in shifts while Noel worked and went to night school to improve his job skills.

I will not go through the list of supporting characters who mind Frankie, but each had his own story to be told and his own particular interest in this small family unit. A cousin from America arrived and was the organizer type. She encouraged a recent retiree to go into the pet-walking business, opened a thrift shop for the church, and worked to erect a statue of a local patron saint.

The social worker who was in charge of Noel and Frankie’s case was more than diligent and was often popping in to see if the child was indeed well cared for. She had a couple in mind who really wanted to adopt so she was watchful of any transgression on Noel’s part. The fact that he was a recovering alcoholic put more stress on the situation.

If there is any redundancy in Binchy’s work, it is the fact that many of the characters from previous novels open restaurants. As I read this book, I found those familiar characters and had a hard time differentiating them from the new cast starting up the same kind of business.

Nevertheless there is enough new material offered on the reading menu to make the book a success. It’s all about unconventional families, their relationships, and the care and love they show each other. It’s what makes Maeve Binchy so successful. Plus, what’s not to like about a newborn minded by so many folk?

I give the book Minding Frankie 3 5/8 nappies.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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Review: The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar

Posted by bethg on

The Weight of Heaven book coverFor some reason, I have luck with stab-in-the-dark reading choices in the extensive large print collection at our library. In this case, the choice I made was The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar. The cover is evocative with a clever design and a somewhat mysterious title. It turned out to be an excellent find.

Frank and Ellie Benton are well-educated, upwardly mobile Americans who move to India after the sudden death of their young son. Frank’s work for an American company brings him to a factory in a small village, which almost immediately descends into a violent labor dispute. In retrospect, this is the least of his problems.

As Frank and his wife try to deal with the loss of their son as they become accustomed to their new surroundings, they are embroiled with labor problems, local customs, and a growing relationship between them and their domestic help’s son Ramesh. It becomes clear that as Ramesh spends more time with the Bentons doing his homework, they become more emotionally attached to him. In fact, Frank treats him as a surrogate son and plies him with outings and gifts, gestures that upset the child’s father.

What occurs as the story evolves is that these situations create too much pressure for Frank to handle, and his relationship with his wife suffers. He descends into dangerously obsessive behaviors that compound already shaky situations. Tragedy is inevitable.

How the author keeps the disparate strands of the story line together is remarkable. We become more and more involved in the grief-stricken lives of a couple as well as experiencing the divisions found in the culture, geography, and class structure of the region. It’s quite a revelation.

I give The Weight of Heaven 3 7/8 maelstroms.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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Review: World Without End by Ken Follett

Posted by bethg on

World Without EndIt has been 18 years since the publication of Ken Follett’s groundbreaking historical novel, The Pillars of the Earth. Apparently, he has been very busy because the sequel, World Without End, weighs in at over 1,000 pages and could be named Book Without End. Nevertheless, Follett is at the top of his game, and World Without End is as captivating and informative as its predecessor.

Set in the village of Kingsbridge 200 years after the town’s cathedral was built, World Without End is an engrossing medieval tale of the lives of the four main characters – Caris, Gwenda, Merthin, and Ralph. As children they witnessed a fight in the forest with an ensuing death and the hiding of a secret. Each represents a different aspect of medieval society in the 1300’s to great effect.

This epic historical novel takes on all-encompassing themes such as the role of the priory in that period, changes in attitude towards medicine, innovations in commerce and architecture, and how justice was administered. Conflicts arose over these changes, and it is through the eyes of the four main characters that we experience and understand these changes.

For example, Caris is a nun when the Black Plague descends on the area. At the time the treatment du jour was bloodletting, which only ensured that the patient would die more quickly. Caris had read that the plague was spread by proximity and instituted cloth masks and handwashing. The prevailing medical minds thought this very akin to witchcraft, and we all know what the punishment for that is.

As though there was not enough going on in England, Follett brings the reader to France, where King Edward is fighting another interminable war with that enemy. Battlefield strategies are graphically described and feel quite authentic. There was a lot of barbarity at the time so be prepared for such details.

Ken Follett has come a long way since his Eye of the Needle days, which were quite good. He is now at a whole new level of writing, and I believe a trilogy is in the works.

If he keeps on writing, I’ll keep on reading his entertaining, informative work.

I give the book 4 loaded longbows.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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