Release day!

I thought A Week in Winter would be the last “new” book I would ever read by Maeve Binchy. She is one of my favorite authors, and when she died in 2012, she had published fifteen books and ten collections of short stories. There is something about her way of writing that no other author has ever been able replicate for me – that feeling that her characters, instead of existing only in a book, are living and breathing somewhere very close by. I’ve read Circle of Friends more times than I could count (thanks, RB!), and the main characters of that book feel like my friends. I was surprised to see that more of her work is being published, but I’m so glad. She really was wonderful.

chestnut

Today, Knopff is releasing Chestnut Street, and here is their description:

Maeve Binchy imagined a street in Dublin with many characters coming and going, and every once in a while she would write about one of these people. She would then put it in a drawer; “for the future,” she would say. The future is now.

Across town from St. Jarlath’s Crescent, featured in Minding Frankie, is Chestnut Street, where neighbors come and go. Behind their closed doors we encounter very different people with different life circumstances, occupations, and sensibilities. Some of the unforgettable characters lovingly brought to life by Binchy are Bucket Maguire, the window cleaner, who must do more than he bargained for to protect his son; Nessa Byrne, whose aunt visits from America every summer and turns the house—and Nessa’s world—upside down; Lilian, the generous girl with the big heart and a fiancé whom no one approves of; Melly, whose gossip about the neighbors helps Madame Magic, a self-styled fortune-teller, get everyone on the right track; Dolly, who discovers more about her perfect mother than she ever wanted to know; and Molly, who learns the cure for sleeplessness from her pen pal from Chicago . . .

Chestnut Street is written with the humor and understanding that are earmarks of Maeve Binchy’s extraordinary work and, once again, she warms our hearts with her storytelling.

Maeve’s husband, Gordon Snell has also written a bit about this book over on her website. I’ll be grabbing a copy of this ASAP.

Chestnut Street shares its book birthday with Christopher Moore’s new release, The Serpent of Venice. I’ve never read anything by Christopher Moore, but he’s coming to Quail Ridge Books on May 5, so I am going to go see him and give this book a try.

serpent

Here is what William Morrow has to say about The Serpent of Venice:

New York Times bestselling author Christopher Moore channels William Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe in this satiric Venetian gothic that brings back the Pocket of Dog Snogging, the eponymous hero of Fool, along with his sidekick, Drool, and pet monkey, Jeff.

Venice, a long time ago. Three prominent Venetians await their most loathsome and foul dinner guest, the erstwhile envoy of Britain and France, and widower of the murdered Queen Cordelia: the rascal-Fool Pocket.

This trio of cunning plotters-the merchant, Antonio; the senator, Montressor Brabantio; and the naval officer, Iago-have lured Pocket to a dark dungeon, promising an evening of sprits and debauchery with a rare Amontillado sherry and Brabantio’s beautiful daughter, Portia.

But their invitation is, of course, bogus. The wine is drugged. The girl isn’t even in the city limits. Desperate to rid themselves once and for all of the man who has consistently foiled their grand quest for power and wealth, they have lured him to his death. (How can such a small man, be such a huge obstacle?). But this Fool is no fool . . . and he’s got more than a few tricks (and hand gestures) up his sleeve.

I do love Shakespeare. Worth a try!

A Week in Winter

week

Since we’ve been experiencing an unusual bout of wintery weather, it seemed like a good time for me to pull this book off the shelf.  I’ve had it for a while, but I’ve been putting off reading it.  Maeve Binchy is the author of one of my all-time favorite books (Circle of Friends) and several others that I’ve really enjoyed.  Since this is the last book she wrote before she died in 2012, I felt like I wanted to save it.

This book is more of a collection of short stories than a novel.  Every chapter is told from the perspective of a different character.  The very first chapter is about Chicky Starr, a girl who grew up in a small Irish town called Stoneybridge.  She spent her whole childhood wanting to get out of Stoneybridge and see the world, but when she finally has her chance, she realizes that she may have taken her home for granted.  Although she lives for nearly 30 years in America, she returns to Stoneybridge for a week every winter to visit her family.  It is her week to rest and recharge.  Since Chicky is a hard worker and spends almost no money on herself, she has a considerable amount of savings by the time she’s in her forties.  When she decides it’s time to make a change in her life, she returns to Stoneybridge permanently and buys a crumbling Edwardian mansion called Stone House from an eccentric old lady called Queenie.  Chicky plans to restore the mansion and run it as a bed-and-breakfast.  Chicky’s story is the glue that holds the book together, because every chapter following hers is narrated by someone who either works for Chicky at Stone House or comes to stay for the opening week.

The first few chapters are told from the perspective of Rigger, a boy whose mother was Chicky’s friend years ago, and Chicky’s niece Orla.  Rigger’s mother sends him to Stone House as a last-ditch effort to keep him out of jail.  He’s been in and out of trouble since he was ten, and after a few years at a reform school seem to make no difference, Rigger’s mother decides that Stone House is his final opportunity to turn his life around.  Then Orla arrives to work for Chicky as a business manager and cook.  Between them, Chicky, Rigger, Orla, and Queenie transform Stone House into a functional, beautiful guest house.

I thought the most interesting chapters were those told from the perspective of the first guests.  There is an American movie star who comes to escape the spotlight for a bit.  There is a couple, both doctors, who want a break from the tragedy they witness so regularly.  A woman named Winnie books the trip hoping for a romantic week with her boyfriend, but through an unfortunate mix-up, winds up traveling with her boyfriend’s unpleasant mother instead.  One couple receives their week at Stone House for free as a runner-up prize in a contest, and they are disappointed to be missing the grand prize week in Paris.  The guests are an odd mix of people, but each has an interesting backstory.

I absolutely love Maeve Binchy’s writing.  It’s heartfelt and hopeful but still realistic.  Even though the stories that she tells most often have happy endings, she acknowledges that life isn’t perfect.  Bad things do happen.  People make poor choices, relationships don’t work out, and one guest even leaves Stone House early because she can’t relax and unwind enough to enjoy a simple week of vacation.  But for the most part, this is a book about the way that things tend to work out for the best, and it is about the way that people’s lives overlap and impact others even if they are only staying at the same B&B for a week.