Thursday, June 2, 2011

Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy

I am a big fan of Maeve Binchy. Her storytelling and characters always make you feel like you are in the middle of an Irish neighborhood, stopping to call on a friend for a nice cup of tea. Minding Frankie had this same magic, and since it had been so long since I'd read one of Binchy's tales, it was like coming home.

The cast of characters here, like all of Binchy's novels, is really too large to name. But the story revolves around little Frankie, the new and unexpected daughter of Noel, a previously washed-up alcoholic with few prospects for a good life or love. But when Stella, Frankie's mother, knows she is dying and must find a father for the baby she is about to have, she thinks of Noel, and so it begins.

Frankie becomes the love of the neighborhood, and Noel's sobriety so that he can keep her becomes the neighborhood "cause." They band together to keep the baby watched, fed, loved, and keep Noel on the straight and narrow. But it is Emily, an American come to find her Irish roots, who keeps the whole of them in line, giving them new ideas and new hope for the future in a place she now belongs to as much as they do.  If someone needs a job, she finds one. If someone needs a babysitter, she is one. If someone needs cooking or gardening lessons, she is there at their home, showing them how easy it is.

Emily is, in fact, the kind of person that make most of us sick because she is quite perfect, rarely showing her impatience or disgust when people are lethargic or inept. But in her, the reader must also see someone who they really would like to strive to be: someone who is constantly giving to others, using talents they never knew they possessed, all to make others feel good about themselves or make a success of their lives. Although Emily made me a bit sick, yes, she was also good for me to read. We could all be a bit more like Emily. There was one thing that did keep bugging me about Binchy's writing of Emily, though. Emily was born and raised in America, not Ireland, and yet she spoke with the same colloquial expressions that all of the Irish characters used. She said many things that people in the US wouldn't even think of saying. Perhaps her Irish father spoke this way, and she picked it up? Or maybe it's like when someone from the Midwest moves to Texas and they come home with a drawl? It just seemed odd to me.

But that aside, Minding Frankie was a light, enjoyable story with a marvelous array of quirky characters that will warm your heart and make you take a look at your own life. Give it a try, and tell me what you think!

Fragile Beasts byTawni O'Dell

Family drama, teen angst, class struggle, love trianges, and a bit of history. There's a little something for everyone in O'Dell's newest novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Klint and Kyle lose their father in a tragic accident, and their mother and younger sister have not had any contact with them for years. Neither wants to move in with their irresponsible, money-grubbing mother, especially Klint who is the high school's star baseball player, a shoe-in for a big college scholarship. So, a mutual friend who happens to be a girl that Kyle is in love with, suggests they move in with her wealthy grandmother. Sounds odd, but that is what eventually happens, and it is Candace, the lonely widow of a Spanish bullfighter, who opens her life and her home to them and is able to teach them about love and loyalty.

O'Dell's characters are wonderful because they are so "real" and memorable. The angst and feelings that Kyle expresses are a sometimes beautiful, sometimes tragic, sometimes hilarious, look into the mind of a teenage boy who only wants his brother and a girl to love him. His search for something that he's good at, that makes him special, is a struggle that we all face in our lives at some point, and the help that Candace gives him is something we all wish for and strive to give as parents. Candace's personal journey with these young boys and her memories of her own true love and the land of bullfighting bring a wonderful mysterious aspect to the story, rich in detail and a bit of history, and not overly done.

If you need a good, involving summer read this year,  Fragile Beasts may be the ticket! Post your comments for me!