Friday, April 6, 2012

The Cottage at Glass Beach by Heather Barbieri

Book description:
Married to the youngest attorney general in Massachusetts state history, Nora Cunningham is a picture-perfect political wife and a doting mother. But her carefully constructed life falls to pieces when she, along with the rest of the world, learns of the infidelity of her husband, Malcolm.

Humiliated and hounded by the press, Nora packs up her daughters—Annie, seven; and Ella, twelve—and takes refuge on Burke's Island, a craggy spit of land off the coast of Maine. Settled by Irish immigrants, the island is a place where superstition and magic are carried on the ocean winds, and wishes and dreams wash ashore with the changing tides.

Nora spent her first five years on the island but has not been back to the remote community for decades—not since that long ago summer when her mother disappeared at sea. One night while sitting alone on Glass Beach below the cottage where she spent her childhood, Nora succumbs to grief, her tears flowing into the ocean. Days later she finds an enigmatic fisherman named Owen Kavanagh shipwrecked on the rocks nearby. Is he, as her aunt's friend Polly suggests, a selkie—a mythical being of island legend—summoned by her heartbreak, or simply someone who, like Nora, is trying to find his way in the wake of his own personal struggles?

Just as she begins to regain her balance, her daughters embark on a reckless odyssey of their own—a journey that will force Nora to find the courage to chart her own course and finally face the truth about her marriage, her mother, and her long-buried past.

When Nora needed a place to escape the spotlight shining on her husband's infidelity, she retreated with her daughters to the island where she was born, the island she and her father left when she was just five years old after her mother disappeared. There Nora finds an aunt who loves her, a cottage that was once a home, and the still unanswered questions about her mother's disappearance. Woven through the story is Irish mythology and a deep and abiding love of the sea.

This was a book that once I started, I couldn't put down. The writing style is wonderful, as is the way the author weaves in old fairy stories with ease. Maire and Nora are great characters, and the Annie and Ella are precocious and intelligent children trying to deal with a crumbling family and a new-found love of the sea. I would have given it five stars if more of the questions about Maeve's disappearance has been answered- at the end I still had too many questions about that to be fully satisfied with the narrative. That said, this was a truly enjoyable read; I will certainly pick up other books by the author.

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