To say that I was happy to have been selected as part of a book blog tour would be an understatement. And so, I told the powers that be that I would be happy to review 5 books in 5 days. I then received the first three books very quickly in the mail just prior to Christmas. Presents for me!!! So I began my reading, trying to keep in the order that I was to review them in. So here goes the first one:
The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Foley
First off, let's talk about the setting. Let's face it, on that alone I would have given this story high marks. Chicago and Ireland. Is this a dream? The Irish in me did a happy dance for sure. I enjoyed having some of my fantasies about Ireland come to life on the pages of this story - rain, hills, green fields, mud. Come on now, most of us think about that when we hear Ireland, right?
Now let's talk characters. Tough one here as there are many characters. I will admit that her friends (who were all named so in my thoughts must be important) were forgettable. Whereas I understand the need to name them to keep the confusion down, they were not note-worthy in my opinion. Her Grandma, Nanny Ei, was at first I thought a positive, strong influence on Maggie. And in the first half of the book, she did. But then it was as if she was shoved to Chicago and forgotten. Laura (the mom) was complex and frustrating. Anyone who would uproot her children for the sake of "love" with a man that she has been with for practically minutes, is possibly an insult to mothers everywhere!
Honestly, I know there are questionable mothers everywhere, but it always hurts a bit to read about things we could do to mess our kiddos up. Uncle Kevin, tragic and sad for sure, was a bit more underdeveloped than I would have liked. He had such a strong impact on this story and yet, I am left wanting more about him. And that will leave us with the main characters, Maggie and Eoin. I connected with Maggie on the level that what 16 year old girl in the early 90's didn't want an Irish boy who wore grunge and would drop everything to be with you. But I felt that there was such a disconnect between her and her family that it was a bit unbelievable. What mother would let her 16 year old wander a strange/new country alone with nothing more than the clothes on her back and the shoes on her feet? Weird but needed for the story. Eoin was underdeveloped in my opinion as well. I would have liked for Maggie to know him a little more before she got to know him in the entire sense of the word. My favorite character was Dan Sean though. An Irish mentor in his 90's is exactly what everyone needs I think.
And now let's actually talk plot. There were some heavy topics handled in this book. WOW! And they were handled well I thought. Again the main issue I have was with the mother. As a mom of 5, I hope that I am involved with my kids lives as much as is tolerable by my kids but not overpowering or overshadowing which can have horrible effects too. I felt everything that Maggie had to go through in this story was handled with a maturity not all 16 year olds possess. I truly felt that her pilgrimmage was necessary and vital. The story line involving mother/grandma/uncle/stepdad was complex and totally relatable. It was something that was well thought out and portrayed. I truly did not see any cheesy aspects to this book. I also liked how it ended - the epilogue was a vital aspect that without that, I would have been thoroughly disappointed.
So, overall, I liked this book a lot. It was well-written and totally enjoyable. Out of 5 stars, I would give this one a solid 4 stars. I will be looking for more books from this author - not only because she is a Chicago girl herself, but because I enjoyed how she told a story.
Jessie Ann Foley is a Chicago Public Schools English teacher. She holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago. The Carnival at Bray is her first book.
From the Author:
For me, place is a trigger for storytelling. That might be a direct influence from my MFA years at Columbia College, where the Story Workshop Method taught me to start with place, not characters. A few years ago, I took a day trip from Dublin to Bray. When I walked out of the train station, one of the first things I saw was this carnival at the edge of the Irish Sea. It was summertime, but chilly and overcast, so nobody was around, which imbued the whole place with this forlorn feeling. I thought that it would make a great setting for a story, and I wrote a little description of it in my journal. At that point, I had this cool setting, but no characters to put in it. A couple months later, it occurred to me that the obvious inhabitant of a lonely place like this carnival would be a lonely person—and Maggie was born.