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Book Review: The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry

 The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry

  • Method of Obtaining: I received my copy from the publisher via TLC Book Tours.
  • Published by: T.S. Poetry Press
  • Release Date: 2/15/2012
 
       

Marian McKeever and Ben Ellis are not typical young lovers in 1957 Dublin, Ireland; she’s Catholic and teaches at Zion School, and he’s Jewish and a budding journalist. The two plan to wed, but their families object to an interfaith marriage. And when Marian becomes pregnant, she doesn’t tell Ben. Coerced by Father Brennan (a Catholic priest who is also her uncle), Marian goes to Castleboro Mother Baby Home, an institution ruled by Sister Paulinas and Sister Agnes where “sins are purged” via abuse; i.e., pregnant girls are forced to mow the lawn by pulling grass on their hands and knees. Marian is told that her son, Adrian, will be adopted by an American family. The riveting storyline provides many surprises as it fast-forwards to 1967 where Marian and Ben are married and have a 10-year-old daughter. Marian’s painful secret emerges when she learns that her son was dumped in an abusive orphanage not far from her middle-class home and Sister Agnes is his legal guardian. Thus begins a labyrinthine journey through red tape as the couple fight to regain their firstborn child. Ultimately, 12-year-old Adrian is placed in the Surtane Industrial School for Boys, which is rife with brutality and sexual abuse at the hands of “Christian Brother Ryder.” Though unchecked church power abounds, this is not a religious stereotype or an indictment of faith. Hateful characters like Brother Ryder are balanced with compassionate ones, such as a timid nurse from the Mother Baby Home. Father Brennan deepens into a three-dimensional character who struggles to do what is right. Henry weaves multilayered themes of prejudice, corruption and redemption with an authentic voice and swift, seamless dialogue. Her prose is engaging, and light poetic touches add immediacy. For example, when Marian returned to Mother Baby Home after 11 years, she “opened the car door and stepped onto the gravel, wanting to quiet its crunch, like skeletons underneath her shoes.” Echoing the painful lessons of the Jewish Holocaust, Henry’s tale reveals what happens when good people remain silent.

Reason for Reading:

  • The title – it’s quite the eye-catching one.

I also recommend:

 My Review:

I attempted to read The Whipping Club a few months ago, but the edition I had made it difficult to follow and, unfortunately, I had to DNF it. So I was happy when I received a hard copy of the book and was able to read it without all of the false stops and starts the e-copy I had gave me.

In The Whipping Club, Henry moves us between past and present and the lives of Marian, Ben, and their children Adrian and Jo. There’s just a little bit of everything in this book to make it a hard, heavy read – religious tensions, abuse, rape, forced adoption, neglect, family tensions … you name it. As a result, I really struggled with wanting to pick up the story. Not because it wasn’t written or paced well, mind you, but just because the subject matter was so darn heavy and I was dying throughout the book for just a glimpse of hope. Just a glimpse.

I think this book has a lot to recommend it to book clubs – there is enough material in it to give fodder for multiple, serious discussions. But if you are wanting a feel goodl, all’s well that ends well, story then this isn’t the one for you. In addition, keep in mind that even with the improved format in hard copy (and the e-copy is probably fine too, I had received an advance copy) that it’s still difficult to transition between past and present as there were no real boundaries throughout the book, so engage actively with the text for sure.

About the Author

Deborah Henry attended American College in Paris and graduated cum laude from Boston University with a minor in French language and literature. She received her MFA in creative writing at Fairfield University and has the passionate support of many first-class novelists including Jacquelyn Mitchard, Pulitzer prize winner Robert Olen Butler, Da Chen, Michael White, Martine Bellen, Caroline Leavitt, Dawn Tripp Susan Henderson and Irishman Thomas Cooke, Emmy-award winning writer and director. Her first review of THE WHIPPING CLUB, a Kirkus Review earned a Kirkus Star. Deborah is an active member of The Academy of American Poets, a board member of CavanKerry Press and a patron of the Irish Arts Center in New York.

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For more reviews on The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry,

please visit the book tour.

The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern

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Reason for Reading:
  • Cecelia Ahern has been my go-to guilty pleasure author for a while.

I  recommend:

Summary from GoodReads:

Tamara Goodwin has always got everything she’s ever wanted. Born into a family of wealth, she grew up in a mansion with its own private beach, a wardrobe full of designer clothes and all that a girl could ever wish for. She’s always lived in the here and now, never giving a second thought to tomorrow. But then suddenly her dad is gone and life for Tamara and her mother changes forever. Left with a mountain of debt, they have no choice but to sell everything they own and move to the country. Nestled next to Kilsaney Castle, their gatehouse is a world away from Tamara’s childhood. With her mother shut away with grief, and her aunt busy tending to her, Tamara is lonely and bored and longs to return to Dublin.When a travelling library passes through Kilsaney Demesne, Tamara is intrigued. Her eyes rest on a mysterious large leather bound tome locked with a gold clasp and padlock. What she discovers within the pages takes her breath away and shakes her world to its core.

My Review:

When offered the chance to read and review The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern, I’m not going to lie – I squealed a little bit. You see, Cecelia Ahern is one of my guilty pleasure authors. I read her books when I want to cry a little bit and she became my go-to gal when I outgrew Nicholas Sparks.

That’s what makes this review so hard to write.

I’m going to go a little off-topic, but stick with me – it’ll make sense soon. When I was a kid, I remember getting on a ride at DisneyWorld – the people mover one. You know – the one that you just ride around in an open monorail type thing and listen to facts about the park? Well, I thought that was just the beginning of the ride and it would end up top where those rockets were because I really wanted to ride those rockets (I never got to ride those rockets. I don’t think I would fit in them now.) But instead, we just twisted and turned and moved slowly and instead of listening to what was being said and enjoying the view and the rest for my feet, I twisted my hands and wiggled and whined and complained and then… the ride was over and it was time to go stand in another 2 hour line. You see, I was so caught up in the anticipation of something happening, something I expected to happen, that I didn’t enjoy the breeze, or the view, or the time with my family. I wanted more, I craved more… but I never got it.

That’s what The Book of Tomorrow reminded me of. I read, and then I read some more, and then I read more and I was teased and given glimpses of those fantastic rockets and I (metaphorically) wiggled and twisted in anticipation but… I never got what I wanted. However, unlike DisneyWorld and my parents (who never told me the rockets were at the end, it was my imagination that betrayed me), I expected more from Cecelia Ahern because in her previous books – she gave me more.

So that is why I was disappointed in The Book of Tomorrow. I expected a character that would seduce me, but instead I got Tamara Goodwin, a snarky, bratty, horrible girl who had me wanting to smack her down more than a few dozen times. Her mother, her aunt, and her uncle were.. quirky and strange, sure – but I never cared two bits about them because, frankly, I was teased and teased but never given anything to help me understand. Instead, like those rockets, they lingered out of reach and never materialized in front of me.

Then there was the “mystery” and “gothic” nature of the book. It didn’t work for me. The ruins sounded well.. dirty and not mysterious. I don’t know if they weren’t described well enough or there wasn’t enough background given on the characters, or what the deal was but the story there felt unfinished and haphazard.

The only thing I liked about this book was seeing the end, because then I took my huge dose of reality, closed the book, swallowed the bitterness and sat down to write this review.

So do I stick with Cecelia Ahern? I’ll give her next book a shot, because one sour book isn’t enough to put me off. But I think she needs to stick with what she knows best – relationships and character-building… leave the fantasy and gothic stories to people who invest themselves well in them.

About the Author

For more reviews on The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern, please follow the book tour.

 

 

Selkie Dreams by Kristin Gleeson

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Reason for Reading:
  • Knox Robinson Publishing puts out some fantastic titles and this one looked fascinating to me.

I also recommend:

Summary from GoodReads:

Belfast, 1895. Haunted by her mother’s death, Máire McNair is lured by the selkie myth to the promise of the Alaskan wilds to fulfil her dream of finding acceptance.

Cunning and determination get her there in the guise of teaching at the Tlingit Indian mission. But Alaska proves more complex and difficult than she imagined, and the hope that this new place would transform her is elusive as ever.

The censorious Mrs. Paxson, the wife of the trading post manager, constantly finds fault with Máire’s efforts to instruct the native children. She has her own plans and Máire is in the way. Will Máire be able to forge her own way and make a success of her teaching? And what should she do about the handsome yet moody Lieutenant Green who is aggressively courting her?

Natsilane is the Tlingit erstwhile mission protégé. Troubled and disaffected, he finds himself battling Máire’s naive views and prejudices as he seeks to regain his own cultural identity by resuming a traditional lifestyle that draws from the Tlingit myth. But he cannot escape his past with the mission, nor can he or Máire escape the mutual attraction they feel. In a world that permits no rule breakers, will the power of myths trump all?

My Review:

It’s when I read books about the harsh clash between missionaries and those they seek to convert that I realize just how judgmental, harsh, and brutal colonialism is. Selkie Dreams by Kristin Gleeson is one of those kind of books.

Máire, an innocent young woman of Ireland, lives with her father, their cook, and two maids. Her mother is long gone, reportedly a selkie (seal-woman) who had been trapped on land for seven years and went back to the sea shortly after Máire’s death. In order to escape an event that would definitely make Máire’s future a bleak one, she signs up to teach children in faraway Alaska.

What made this book so interesting to me is how familiar and strange the Tlingit people were. They had oral story traditions that were not all that different from those I’ve studied of Irish origin, and I think that is what made this book work so well. In addition, Kristin Gleeson spent time working in a national archives library documenting artifacts and information about the Tlingits and assisted the Tlingits in recovering “their land and their past” in Alaska. This information was all taken from Ms. Gleeson’s biography on her website, which I highly encourage you to visit as there is more information there on her other writings.

Máire was a character I was hugely sympathetic too. The connection and relationships she formed with the Tlingits, coupled with the beautifully narrated description of their traditions and way of living, made for a story that was rich in both subject matter as well as language. My only complaint? An ending that had me screaming with frustration. Will there be more, Ms. Gleeson? Because I need to know!

 

Don’t just take my word for it! Check out what these bloggers say!

Jessica Knauss 

The Last Storyteller by Frank Delaney

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Reason for Reading:
  • Frank Delaney is one of my all-time favorite authors.

I also recommend:

Summary from GoodReads:

Brimming with fascinating Irish history, daring intrigue, and the drama of legendary love, The Last Storyteller is an unforgettable novel as richly textured and inspiring as Ireland itself.

My Review:

Here’s the thing about Frank Delaney – when that blurb on sites like GoodReads and Amazon refer to him as “unparalleled” when it comes to Irish History, they aren’t exaggerating.

Delaney is the real deal.

I’ve loved this series ever since reading the first page about Ben and Venetia in Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show. I was drawn in by the whimsical, perfectly illustrated cover of that book, and since then I have been wooed and won over by the lyricism of Delany’s storytelling ability.

There are times when a writing is so powerful you can hear the accent, or the coloring of the speech, and it is that way with this book. When Delaney talks about the old storytellers, when he describes the way the voice sounds, the rising and falling of the rhythms, I feel transported, and am enchanted right along with the characters who, enviably, get to hear more than I do.

That’s right, I said enviably. It’s not often I envy a character, but man.. This book made me do so.

While I loved the continuation of Venetia and Ben’s story, I have to say the diverging into the old tales (there was one story in particular that had me gasping – think banshee) is what made this book a treasure to me. I felt as if I were part of that privileged circle that gets to experience what it must have been like to listen to the Bard’s of old.

Mr. Delaney, thank you. You do those Bards credit – and personally, I think you should sign your name “Frank Delaney, Bard” from now on.

Don’t just take my word for it! Check out what these bloggers say!

CelticLady’s Reviews


Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon

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Reason for Reading:
  • The cover, and I’ve seen this book around on blogs.

I  recommend:

Summary from GoodReads:

From the moment she sets foot at her new school in Ireland, Megan is inexplicably drawn to the darkly handsome Adam DeRis. But Megan soon discovers that her feelings for Adam are tied to a supernatural fate that was sealed long ago—and that the passion and power that unites them could be their ultimate destruction.

My Review:

I’m really conflicted on this book – because first of all, it read like a big-time Twilight rip-off, and second of all… I was entertained by it.  That entertainment means I’m not going to go all crazy in my review, because, frankly, there are quite a few reviews out there that do that for me.

However, I do want to say this – if you are an author looking to write a book to appeal to the young adult crowd, think long and hard before making an “instant” relationship happen between two teens.  It’s unrealistic and it sets a really bad example and I don’t see it well received well at all in reading reviews and looking around the blogosphere (this is also in general, not just with this book – although it is guilty).

Now – I will admit I was fascinated by the magic system in this book, and aside from the relationships, everything else seemed pretty solid.  The setting was fantastic, the group of friends plausible, and the writing pulled me in and kept me entertained, despite the lack of original story-line.

All that said, I cannot blame Fallon for taking inspiration from the Twilight books. They are a huge success.  I think for those people who love the story, this book will be a great read for them, and for those who had some of the issues I had (the breaking of rules, the implausibility of parts of the Twilight story), you might actually enjoy this one more.

Check out these reviews!

Reading with Tequila

Books and the Universe

The Linen Queen by Patricia Falway

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Reason for Reading:
  • Frank Delaney and Frank McCourt have made Irish-novel lovers out of me.  I couldn’t resist this one.

I also recommend:

Summary from GoodReads:

Abandoned by her father and neglected by her self-centered, unstable mother, Sheila McGee cannot wait to escape the drudgery of her mill village life in Northern Ireland. Her classic Irish beauty helps her win the 1941 Linen Queen competition, and the prize money that goes with it finally gives her the opportunity she’s been dreaming of. But Sheila does not count on the impact of the Belfast blitz which brings World War II to her doorstep. Now even her good looks are useless in the face of travel restrictions, and her earlier resolve is eroded by her ma’s fear of being left alone.


When American troops set up base in her village, some see them as occupiers but Sheila sees them as saviors—one of them may be her ticket out. Despite objections from her childhood friend, Gavin O’Rourke, she sets her sights on an attractive Jewish-American army officer named Joel Solomon, but her plans are interrupted by the arrival of a street-wise young evacuee from Belfast.


Frustrated, Sheila fights to hold on to her dream but slowly her priorities change as the people of Northern Ireland put old divisions aside and bond together in a common purpose to fight the Germans. Sheila’s affection for Joel grows as she and Gavin are driven farther apart. As the war moves steadily closer to those she has grown to love, Sheila confronts more abandonment and loss, and finds true strength, compassion, and a meaning for life outside of herself.

My Review:

It feels kind of strange, but this book reminded me quite a bit of two classics – Emma by Jane Austen and Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.  So what do all these books have in common, you might ask?  Well… I don’t know about you, but Emma, Scarlett and Sheila are not very easy characters to like … at first.

In The Linen Queen, Sheila struggles with some pretty hard knocks.  Her dad is gone, her mom is crazy, her aunt super pious and her uncle a pervert.  She works hard, yet sees no real benefit to all the work and she really, really wants to leave Ireland.

But Sheila is living and working toward leaving Ireland in 1941, and war is on the horizon.  And, much like Scarlett in Gone with the Wind, war has a way of bringing out the grit in a pretty girl – and so it was with Sheila.

I really, really enjoyed The Linen Queen.  I found Sheila to be petty and self-centered, but as I read, as I really thought about the choices she was making and watched her growth I came to love her and wish her well.

In addition to getting to know Sheila, I also got to know a part of WWII geography I really hadn’t been familiar with.  Belfast and the northern part of Ireland was involved in the war at a time the southern area was not.  I think Patricia Falway did a fantastic job of capturing the tension not only between the two factions of the Irish people, but also by adding the “Yanks” into the mix, and even a Jewish one at that.

For WWII novel fans, this book is a must read.  Just.. be patient, give Sheila a little time and remember, all those that are young need time to grow.

Check out these review(s)!

Mrs. Q Book Addict

Beth’s Book Nook Blog

Thanks for the Memories by Cecelia Ahern

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Reason for Reading:
  • I saw P.S. I Love You and loved the story – and had heard good things about Ahern’s books, saw this one on sale and decided to go for it.

I  also recommend:

Summary from GoodReads:

How can you know someone you’ve never met? Joyce Conway remembers things she shouldn’t. She knows about tiny cobbled streets in Paris, which she has never visited. And every night she dreams about an unknown little girl with blonde hair. Justin Hitchcock is divorced, lonely and restless. He arrives in Dublin to give a lecture on art and meets an attractive doctor, who persuades him to donate blood. It’s the first thing to come straight from his heart in a long time. When Joyce leaves hospital after a terrible accident, with her life and her marriage in pieces, she moves back in with her elderly father. All the while, a strong sense of déjà vu is overwhelming her and she can’t figure out why …

My Review:

In 2000, a movie was released with Minnie Driver and David Duchovny starring in it titled Return to Me.  As a read Thanks for the Memories, I kept thinking I was reading the text version of that movie (even though there were some differences, it was very similar).

This book is based on the theory that the blood being pumped from one person’s heart and then used for the purpose of blood infusions is enough to impart knowledge, feelings, likes and dislikes and memories.  Pretty far-fetched, but it makes for a pretty, feel-good, emotional story.. which was what I was in the mood for or this review wouldn’t be nearly as positive as it’s going to be.

I was in desperate need of something “chick lit” and this book gave me just that.  It was a feel good story, despite the sorrow that started it out, and it made me laugh out loud and enjoy reading again.

If you are looking for a good summer beach read, I’d highly recommend this book.  Cecelia Ahern lives up to the hype of her previous books and really delivers with this story.

Check out these review(s):

Book Bliss

The Matchmaker of Kenmare by Frank Delaney

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Reason(s) for Reading:
  • I loved Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show and was excited to be offered an ARC of this book.
I  also recommend:

Summary from GoodReads:

“And there’s a legend—she had only vague details—that all couples who are meant to marry are connected by an invisible silver cord which is wrapped around their ankles at birth, and in time the matchmaking gods pull those cords tighter and tighter and draw the couple slowly toward one another until they meet.” So says Miss Kate Begley, Matchmaker of Kenmare, the enigmatic woman Ben MacCarthy meets in the summer of 1943.As World War II rages on, Ben remains haunted by the mysterious disappearance of his wife, the actress Venetia Kelly. Searching for purpose by collecting stories for the Irish Folklore Commission, he travels to a remote seaside cottage to profile the aforementioned Matchmaker of Kenmare.

Ben is immediately captivated by the forthright Miss Begley, who is remarkably self-assured in her instincts but provincial in her experience. Miss Begley is determined to see that Ben moves through his grief—and a powerful friendship is forged along the way.

But when Charles Miller, a striking American military intelligence officer, arrives on the scene, Miss Begley develops an intense infatuation and looks to make a match for herself. Miller needs a favor, but it will be dangerous. Under the cover of their neutrality as Irish citizens, Miss Begley and Ben travel to London and effectively operate as spies. As they are drawn more deeply and painfully into the conflict, both discover the perils of neutrality—in both love and war.

Steeped in colorful history, The Matchmaker of Kenmare is a stirring story of friendship and sacrifice. New York Times bestselling author Frank Delaney has written a lush and surprising novel, rich as myth, tense as a thriller, and like all grand tales—harrowing, sometimes hilarious, and heartbreaking.

My Review:

I wasn’t introduced to Frank Delaney until fairly recently, when I stumbled across the gorgeous cover of Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show sitting on the table at my local Barnes and Noble.  I was fascinated by the old-style of the art-work, the catchy title and the promise of a story that was new and different to me.  I wasn’t disappointed by it.

I was thrilled to learn that there was a sequel in the works and even more thrilled to be contacted with an offer of an advanced copy.  It was with great anticipation I made time in my reading schedule for The Matchmaker of Kenmare, and I was well-rewarded for doing so.

The first few pages in this book are so lyrical and moving that I savored each and every word like it was the last bite of my mom’s chocolate pie.   Delaney’s method of describing people is superb – I called my dad more than once just to read to him the beauty of what I was seeing on the page.  I found  myself crying more than once as well, because it was that perfect.

I’m not one of those people to write a bunch of stuff about the story that will spoil it for others before the book even is released – so I’ll say this in summary. The Matchmaker of Kenmare enchanted me and has firmly solidified my “fan-girlishness” when it comes to Frank Delaney.  I have a love for (and desire to see) Ireland, I get giddy when confronted with anything Irish and The Matchmaker of Kenmare filled my imagination with sights, sounds and so much more – not just of pleasant, pretty Ireland, but gritty war-time Ireland.  Each side was perfect in its own way and I cannot wait to see what Delaney will do next.

Check out these review(s):

Historical Novel Review

Fiona: Stolen Child by Gemma Whelan

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Reason(s) for Reading:
  • I’m a sucker for an Irish story – it must be the melancholy in me. =)
I  also recommend:

Summary from GoodReads:

Fiona Clarke, an Irish writer living in New York, has been running away from her past since she left rural Cregora, Ireland, for boarding school. That past finds her, many years later, when her thinly veiled autobiographical novel is optioned for a movie. As consultant to the film, Fiona unearths deep secrets, relives childhood trauma, and connects with an estranged family unexpectedly thrust back into her life. History opens upon her, and Fiona is forced to stop running and confront a secret shame.
Ranging from Manhattan to Hollywood to rural Ireland, Fiona is a stunning tale of a creative woman’s life transformed by loss.

My Review (Spoiler Free):

Like many others, I have memories of my childhood that are skewed due to personal guilt – maybe a lie gone too far, or something misunderstood that caused me to lash out in anger.  I also have memories of being hurt, memories that have been refuted by those who did the “hurt” to me.  A simple chat, a re-hashing of those times is enough to clear away the fog and, possibly, set things a little more straight in my current life.

And that is what this book is ultimately about.  Yes, there’s family relationship drama, there’s horrifying circumstances, there’s guilt, there’s hurt, there’s anger, and there’s love, hope, healing and joy.  Told as a story within a story, Gemma Whelan takes Fiona and slowly opens her up to the reader, allowing us bits and pieces of her story through her own fictional book and through her actions in “real life”.

I thought this book was beautiful.  I wept for Fiona and her family, I struggled with them as they looked to make certain decisions and I found bittersweet vindication along-side Fiona and her family.

I’ve never been to Ireland, and I can’t say that I’ve known any of Irish well, personally – but this book personifies what I love so much about Irish authors.  It held so much emotion, packed into a story that kept me gripped from start until finished, but I never felt frantic or hurried to get to the end.  Instead, I enjoyed the journey there and the emotional turmoil that it caused, because that’s why I read – to have my emotions woken up and stirred, because that makes me feel even more alive.

Check out these review(s):

Feeling a Little Bookish

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NetGalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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