Monday, January 27, 2014

Binchy’s Last Novel Does Not Disappoint

Title: A Week in Winter
Author: Maeve Binchy
Pages: 336

Rating: Four stars

To me, Maeve Binchy novels are the literary equivalent of warm hugs, much needed comfort on the days when I yearn to escape to her Ireland, full of neighborhoods and towns in which people band together to overcome obstacles, venture off to college, swap houses, or start businesses. Binchy wrote about loss, love, infidelity, relationships, occupations, and expectations. She wrote what she knew, and it was wonderful.

When she died, I felt like I had lost a friend. So it was with trepidation that I approached her novel, A Week in Winter, which was published posthumously last February. After all, this would be the last time I would ever read a new Maeve Binchy novel.

Binchy is at her best when she introduces her audience to a large cast of characters and weaves their personal tales into one grand tapestry. This time, all roads lead to Stoneybridge, a small Atlantic seaside village in Ireland, and Chicky Starr’s hometown. The book begins with Chicky’s story, her return from years in America and her seemingly ridiculous dream of turning an old run-down mansion set high on a bluff overlooking the ocean into a hotel. What Chicky envisions is a wonderful place where guests can spend a quiet, restorative week along the shore. Stoneybridge had that affect on her, and Chicky hopes it will work its magic on others as well. Aided by Rigger (a former bad boy trying to put his life on track) and her niece, Orla (a natural at business), the three create a welcoming environment for their potential guests.

When the first visitors to Stone House arrive, Binchy breaks off into their stories. There’s unlikely travel companions Lillian and Winnie; the prim, humorless, retired schoolteacher Miss Howe; John, who looks suspiciously like a movie star; jaded doctors Henry and Nicola; Anders, a businessman who really longs to be a musician; Freda, the librarian trying to deny her psychic gifts; and the Walls, a couple obsessed with entering contests of all sorts, who have won this trip as second prize and feel cheated because the first prize was a week in Paris.

Great vacations can be transformative. For each guest of Stone House, this is most definitely the case. Like her protagonist, Binchy creates the perfect trip for her readers. We come to know and care for all of the characters and root for what they need to make their situations better. I don’t want to spoil the story, but suffice to say, A Week in Winter wraps up each plot in a most satisfactory way. It is a marvelous book, filled with great characters, interesting predicaments, and fantastic storytelling.

Like Chicky Starr, Maeve Binchy sends all of us on our way with a warm embrace and the knowledge that everything will be all right. It is a fitting ending to a most illustrious career.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

It's All About Communication

Please excuse this brief commercial interruption.

For all the latest Bibliophile news, plus information on upcoming projects, new releases, and special deals on my novels, please sign up for my newsletter on the right side of this page. No spam, I promise! It's right over there.

Also, did you know that you can sign up to be notified through Amazon when any of my new books come out? It's on my Author Central page. Just click on the "E-mail me when there are new releases by Karen Wojcik Berner" and you're done. Amazon will let you know when the third Bibliophiles book is coming out.

Hint: It's going to be later on this year!

As always, you can follow me on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Now back to regular Bibliophilic Blather blogging. 

Thanks much,

Monday, January 20, 2014

MLK Day, 2014

As we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today in the U.S., I thought I would share with you some of his great words of wisdom that I found at a fantastic site called Brainy Quote.

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom."

"We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools."

"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

"I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word."

Monday, January 13, 2014

Doornebos Novel Fun for all Austen Fans

Title: Undressing Mr. Darcy
Author: Karen Doornebos
Published by: Berkley, 2013
Pages: 356

Rating: Five stars

In her first offering, Karen Doornebos took readers on a romp through a Jane Austen-themed reality television show, in a similar vein to Austenland, but much better written in my opinion.

This time, the author of Definitely Not Mr. Darcy explores the world of the Jane Austen festival, a Comic Con for Janeites, complete with Regency attire and cravat-tying lessons, in her second book, Undressing Mr. Darcy.

Now before you go jumping to conclusions about the title, rest assured, there is only some mild spice here. This is not “Fifty Shades of Grey meets Pride and Prejudice.” That would be a travesty indeed.

Vanessa Roberts specializes in social media and public relations and is about as plugged in as anyone could possibly get. As a favor to her elderly aunt, Vanessa takes on promoting one of the keynote speakers for the aunt’s Jane Austen Society annual meetings, one Julian Chancellor who has written a book called My Year as Mr. Darcy and whose speech about attire for the Regency male is entitled “Undressing Mr. Darcy,” in which he offers an educational striptease down to his breeches to raise money to restore his crumbling inherited estate.

Oh, yeah, and he’s hot. Like more than Colin Firth hot.

Doornebos throws in all sorts of scenarios, including a madcap tour through London and Bath rife with enough trivia to appease even the most ardent Austen admirer.

Simply put, I loved this book. It was fun, well-plotted, and just delightful. Doornebos’s writing flows easily and makes readers feel like they are right there, amid the chaos, with vivid descriptions and a wonderful cast of characters.

Well done, Ms. Doornebos. Well done.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Favorite Books of 2013

Happy New Year, everyone!

I've decided to start out 2014 with a quick look back at my top three favorite books of the year.

Number Three: UNDRESSING MR. DARCY by Karen Doornebos 

This delightful offering by the author of Definitely Not Mr. Darcy is mostly set in the world of Jane Austen festivals and annual conferences, two in the states and one in Bath, England. Although packed with educational seminars and afternoon teas, these meetings take on the air of almost a Comic Con for Janeites, which is really fun. Anyone who loves Jane Austen is sure to love this book.

Look for my full review next week.

Number Two: THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE by Neil Gaiman

I absolutely loved this story! Part fantasy, part myth, with a healthy dose of magic, Gaiman spins an other-worldly tale that mesmerized me completely. Everyone should read this book. No joke. It's that good.

And my favorite book of the year? Drum roll, please.

Number One: THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS by Claire Messud

The Woman Upstairs begins with one of the best rants I have read in a long time — perhaps that I have ever read — that sums up being a woman of my age. It hooked me after the first sentence, it is that good. So good, in fact that I bought the hardcover because I knew I would want to read it periodically throughout the rest of my life. I still think about Messud's Nora every once in awhile. Her situation. Her life. Her ultimate betrayal. This is an excellent piece of work.

So, what were some of your favorite books from 2013?