Bookmonger: Bellingham author's romantic ballyhoo in Ballyhara


Susan Colleen Browne

Susan Colleen Browne is pictured in her backyard garden in Maple Falls on May 13, 2009.


With St. Patrick's Day looming on the calendar, this week I couldn't resist opting for the book on my shelf that boasted an Irish village on the cover.

"Mother Love" is the second novel by Whatcom County author Susan Colleen Browne to take place in Ballydara, a fictional burg Browne has set in Ireland's County Galway.

The town may be imaginary, but Browne has done wonderful work in capturing Ireland's language, socioeconomic picture and current cultural milieu from pubs to puddings.

Grainne Larkin is about to turn 30 without a man in her life or a baby in her lap. Well, that isn't quite true - a local café owner has asked her to marry him, and in the meantime she serves as a nanny to three young tykes - but none of this feels like the right fit for her.

Making it worse is the knowledge that Rafe, her beau from long ago - "a Yank, who had amazing American white teeth, a shock of dark hair... and shoulders like a god" (and he's rich, too) - is getting married in far-off Seattle.

And making it downright intolerable is her mother's sudden whim to start a bed-and-breakfast in Ballydara. She pressures Grainne into leaving Dublin and coming to help with this new enterprise even though the two have never gotten along.

All of Grainne's plans and dreams - a working vacation in France, true romance, a baby to call her own, a career of which she can be proud - seem to elude her grasp.

And then Rafe turns up in Ireland, with no ring on his finger. The old spark between the two is rekindled, but at the same time, each of them feels burned from their earlier mutual relationship.

Grainne is an interesting lead character - mouthy and conniving, with a big chip on each shoulder and a serious case of baby lust. She vows to emulate her favorite fictional character, Scarlett O'Hara, and go after her dream.

Her exasperating personality may cause some readers to wonder why Rafe doesn't just take a hike. But frankly, most of the women in this book would earn a rating on the spectrum somewhere between annoying and god-awful. There's Grainne's own disinterested biological "mam," along with a helicopter stepmother, a malevolent granny, and a couple of resentful aunts. This, of course, gives a rather sour twist to the title, "Mother Love."

Fortunately, Grainne's friend Justine stands out as a beacon of kindness in a sea of turbulent Celtic drama. She is also Grainne's go-to gal for top-notch comfort food.

Marketed as women's fiction, "Mother Love" has all of the elements - romance, sex, psychological conflict, family troubles, and workplace woes. It is heavy on dialogue and a mite skimpy on narrative - it would have been nice to get more descriptions of the village Browne has dreamed up.

But the biggest challenge is Grainne's rancorous persona - by story's end we better understand the underpinnings of her emotional profile, but until then her likability factor is low.

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at

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