Music Review: Solas

Strings in the Mountains Music Festival Park
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
August 13, 2004

Music Review by Kathleen Cunningham Guler

Solas — the name of this critically acclaimed band means “light” in Gaelic. On their tour stop at Steamboat Springs, Colorado’s Strings in the Mountains Music Festival Park this summer, Solas not only infused light and energy into their performance, they brought the whistling, cheering audience to its feet many times.

Solas is best described as “traditional contemporary Irish-American.” Like many other “traditional” Celtic artists, this band introduces elements of contemporary compositions in order to appeal to a wider audience. But while Solas draws on songs written by Woodie Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Dan Fogelberg — and the influence can well be heard — the band successfully gives the modern tunes a solid Celtic interpretation that will please those who crave the traditional sound.

The Solas ensemble includes bandleader Seamus Egan on flute, nylon guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, banjo, and low whistle; Mick McAuley on accordions and low whistle; Deirdre Scanlon on vocals; Winifred Horan on fiddle; and Eamon McElholm on acoustic guitar, piano and keyboards. Members hail from both sides of the Atlantic and have solo careers as well. Egan is lauded as a co-writer of Sarah McLaughlin’s Grammy-winner “I’ll Remember You.” Horan is both an Irish stepdance and all-Ireland fiddle champion who has played with powerhouse co-champion fiddler, Eileen Ivers.

This enormously talented five-member Celtic band quickly warmed to an audience that in turn fully embraced the band members’ masterful musician-ship. Played on a wide variety of traditional instruments, sparkling jigs and high-energy reels intermingled with poignant aires that cried of heartache and loss. Scanlon’s haunting vocals, reminiscent of Clannad’s Maire Brennan, and McAuley’s lightning-fast fingers on the button accordion highlighted a mesmerizing, magical performance to be long remembered. And don’t forget that sharp Celtic wit!

Swept by the power of the band’s music, the audience pounded away, stomping feet and clapping hands during the last few tunes, even inspiring a few to come to the stage and dance. It was impossible to keep from becoming a part of the spirit and the energy and the light. There was certainly a feeling that by the end, the audience was left craving for more!

Solas' website is at:

Poetry Review: At the Edgelessness of Light

At The Edgelessness of Light
By James McGrath
Paperback $16.95; ISBN 0865344531, 115 pp.
Sunstone Press; March 2005
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Book Review by Kathleen Cunningham Guler

Poet, artist and teacher, James McGrath, defines the edgelessness of light as “that place where love and light are revealed: a vibrant, gentle, lonely place where the tides of feeling and understanding move in and out with constant illumination and exposure of what is important in the moment before fading, leaving the edgeless shadow of a poem.”

Indeed, McGrath’s latest collection of poems is tied together through the theme of light and the natural world in balance. The sixty-two works also spring from the essence of many cultures, including Celtic, Native-American, Filipino, Okinawan, and Greek. As different as these cultures may be, it should be noted that authors/artists/musicians often overlap elements from one culture to another in their work, linking the primal and spiritual similarities within them. This collection glides from one to the other with seamless ease.

McGrath’s writing is clear, tight, and accessible. The poet is also an artist, and this is evident in the strong visual images his words evoke. Each poem explores the facets of a very personal story. Many are autobiographical. Others are portraits of friends, family, students. Some are heartbreakingly poignant. It is as if he captures a handful of light, pinpoints it on his subject, then sets the light free again. What is left behind is an impression that will long remain in the mind. Absolutely luminous!

Poetry Review: Lest the Spell Break Like Crystal

Lest the Spell Break Like Crystal
By Robert Cooperman
Paperback, $5.00, 48 pp.Snark Publishing, 2004

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Reviewed by Kathleen Cunningham Guler

This lively collection of narrative poetry is based on Scottish and English popular ballads. Each of the twenty-four poems is a story on its own and told from a different character taken from the older tales. The collection spans time from the medieval period to the golden age of piracy to the early nineteenth century. The themes of greed, lust, and revenge tie the stories together.

Lest the Spell Break Like Crystal is a like a small, tight-knit community whose members whisper their deepest, darkest secrets to the reader. Cooperman’s characters are revealed through his uncanny sculpturing of their most intimate thoughts. One of them, a narrator who has sent the Scottish shipmaster Sir Patrick Spense to sea in a winter storm and to his death, also exposes a raw streak of jealousy at the admiration Sir Patrick had enjoyed. “No Scotsman should be more adored than his king, not even Patrick, whom I loved like a son,” the jealous narrator mourns. Another character, Lord Baker, who has returned from the crusades, is in the middle of his wedding when a Turkish princess whom he fell in love with during his travels arrives with a knife as a gift. He pays off the woman he was to wed and marries the princess instead. On their wedding night he begs her forgiveness for having left her—she is still holding the knife. And then there is Lady Diamond. After her father has hanged Henry the kitchen boy for being her lover, the Lady demands he give her Henry’s heart in a box. Later, at her wedding to a viscount, she still has Henry’s heart with her—literally.

Robert Cooperman’s surprising, unorthodox poetry weaves a fine spell indeed. As in Lest the Spell Break Like Crystal, his storytelling can be found in a number of his critically acclaimed chapbooks and full-length collections, including A Tale of the Grateful Dead and In the Colorado Gold Fever Mountains, which won the Colorado Book Award in 2000.

Non-Fiction Review:Presenting Wales From A to Y

Presenting Wales From A To Y:
The People, The Places, The Traditions

By Peter N. Williams, Ph.D
Trafford Publishing, Aug 2003, $23.95, 297 pp.ISBN: 1553954823
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Reviewed by Paula Bardell

Opening with the entry: A Oes Heddwch (Is there Peace), the “stirring three-time cry of the archdruid of Wales . . . at the National Eisteddfod”, and ending with Zito, Jayne, the person who set up the Zito Trust to campaign for “better support and treatment of the mentally ill”, Peter N. Williams’ alphabetical guide to the people, places and traditions of Wales is a rich source of fascinating information for students, teachers, historians and curious browsers.

The author himself was born and raised in the county of Flintshire, close to the English border, where the flat plains of Cheshire look towards the imposing mountains of North Wales. The area is steeped in history; indeed, old Flintshire was established in 1284, seven years after King Edward I ordered work to begin on Flint Castle — the site of many bloody battles between Celts and Romans, British and Saxons, Welsh and Normans. Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarians dismantled the edifice in 1646, but its ruins, which overlook the River Dee estuary, continue to attract a steady stream of sightseers each year.

Although Peter has lived in the United States since 1957, he has never forgotten his Welsh roots — he was the founder of the Welsh Society of Delaware — and takes obvious pleasure in exploring his cultural heritage. He is the author of at least half a dozen books about Wales, including The History of Wales in Verse and The Eighth Wonder of Wales: The Survival of its Ancient Celtic Language, and describes himself as being an active member of the “Welsh circuit.” Now a retired English teacher from the University of Delaware, he is a director of the National Welsh-American Foundation and was honoured in 1999 for his work on behalf of Wales and Welsh Americans by being made a member of Gorsedd at the National Eisteddfod of Wales.

On his website,, Peter reveals that he was “brought up to be English.” By this, he undoubtedly means that his family and teachers had little choice but to disregard Wales’ own unique customs, history, language (Cymraeg, the oldest spoken language in Britain) and identity in favour of an Anglocentric education. This was far from unusual in a nation dominated by the conquering English since 1282, and subsequently amalgamated with them following the 1536 Act of Union. Although modern Wales (as Peter points out) now has its own devolved political Assembly and “a whole new revolutionary spirit,” many centuries of immigration from England has left parts of Wales — especially Peter’s native northeast region — very heavily anglicized.

Nevertheless, there have been frequent revolts against the English from 1295 until 1500 — most notably the national uprising led by Owain Glyndwr. Then, following the Second World War, a nationalist movement emerged along with a revival of the language, which had earlier been suppressed or discouraged by the English. In 1966, Plaid Cymru (the Welsh National Party) returned its first member to Parliament and, during the mid 1980s, there was a bombing campaign against estate agents selling Welsh properties to English buyers. Finally, in 1997, a referendum endorsed devolution by a narrow margin of 50.3% and the Welsh Assembly started functioning in 2000.

Every year, thousands of people visit Wales to take pleasure in the wild beauty of its untamed scenery, experience a unique way of life and listen to the music of its internationally celebrated choirs. Any lingering impression of Wales as an industrial waste- land — black with collieries and tips — is very much out of date. Without a doubt, the contrast between the remains of its industrial past (now restored for tourists) and the splendour of its valleys are all part of the region’s great appeal.

Presenting Wales From A To Y will make a handy addition to many reference book collections, and will provide a fascinating background for curious visitors and armchair travellers alike. However, for those who would like to probe more deeply into the history of Wales and its feisty inhabitants, Peter’s The Long, Hard Struggle: A History of Wales and The Sacred Places of Wales: A Modern Pilgrimage, both published by Red Dragon Press in Newark, Delaware, are well worth seeking out.

Paula Bardell is a freelance writer who has contributed pieces to numerous publications on subjects ranging from literature and travel, to culture, history and humanitarian issues. She lives in North Wales, is a staff writer for Apsaras Review and the editor of two popular online guides. Her résumé is at:

Non-Fiction Review: Horses and the Mystical Path

Horses and the Mystical Path:
The Celtic Way of Expanding the Human Soul
By Adele von Rüst McCormick, Ph.D.,Marlena Deborah McCormick, Ph.D., and Thomas E. McCormick, M.D.
Hardcover $21.95; ISBN: 1577314506; 208 pp.
New World Library, Sep 2004
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Book Review by Ann Gilpin

Imagine a politically torn nation in which a rancher must rescue his beloved horses from the threat of approaching war. As he and his family prepare to flee in their trucks, he speaks heart-to-heart with his twenty-five year old stallion, begging the animal to follow the vehicles. The stallion goes to the herd, appears to communicate with its members, and they all seem to understand the dire situation. For three days they run, with little food or water, following the trucks. The trek is arduous, crossing high mountains to reach refuge in another country. They all arrive safely. With his task completed, the ageing stallion modestly accepts praise from the rancher, lies down and dies.

This story of communication between horse and human is true, and along with many others, forms the heart of the book, Horses and the Mystical Path. These stories come from the authors’ many years of developing and operating programs that combine psychotherapy with the healing power of horses to help emotionally disturbed people.

The unique relationship between horses and humans goes back many thousands of years. The authors came to understand this relationship as a divine-like connection and found explanations in a number of spiritual traditions. Most significantly, they discovered ancient Celtic tradition highly revered this connection. In the book, the authors outline the history of Celtic horsemanship, then explore mysticism at length, drawing from the era of the early Celtic church’s so-called “golden age of saints” (ca. 5th - 9th cent. C.E.). While they do touch on the much longer history of the Celts’ spiritual tradition, they curiously do not explore its pre-Christian animist beliefs that heavily influenced the early Celtic church and saints, or mention its divine horsewoman, Epona.

Without a doubt, though, the stories of the horses are the best part of this book. They demonstrate the profound depth horses can reach in their relationships with humans, both in the conscious, daily world and in the unconscious, mysterious world of the soul. Many of the stories will bring tears to the reader’s eyes. With inspiration and wisdom, Horses and the Mystical Path shows how these animals can teach the human to turn away from the cocoon-like self and find a greater perspective of the world all around.

Fiction Review: Nectar From a Stone

Nectar From a Stone
By Jane Guill
Paperback $15.00; ISBN 0743264797; 464 pp.Touchstone; March 2005
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Book Review by Kathleen Cunningham Guler

Jane Guill’s debut novel, Nectar From a Stone, tells the intertwining stories of a young widow seeking redemption and a noblemen’s quest for revenge. In 1351, the plague has devastated Europe, Wales is a country subjugated by English oppression, superstition runs rampant, and the medieval church blames women for just about anything it perceives as sinful.

Elise, a half-Welsh, half-English woman plagued by strange visions, is forced to stab her brutal husband in self-defense. Believing him dead, she flees with her servant, Annora, for Conwy, hoping to find work and peace. Gwydion, also half-Welsh, half-English, is a brooding nobleman on his way to Conwy as well, seeking vengeance against those who murdered his family and seized his estate. He and Elise cross paths on the road north and against better judgment, are inexorably drawn to each. As each reaches their destination, a dark and cruel shadow from Elise’s past begins to catch up, sweeping her and Gwydion into a terrifying confrontation with their enemies.

Nectar From a Stone is a fascinating window into medieval Welsh life. Impeccable research and lively characters bring both the place and time alive, illustrating the depth to which war, illness, the church and superstition played in everyday life. Elise and Gwydion are endearing, and Annora is a delight with her wry humor—a nice balance against the cruelty of Elise’s evil husband Maelgwn and Gwydion’s conspiratorial foes. Jane Guill’s intelligent, rich portrayal of medieval Wales is told with charm, wit, and masterful storytelling.

Highly recommended.

Fiction Review: Alison's Legacy

Alison's Legacy
By Toby Heathcotte
Ebook $5.99, ISBN 0932866027
Triskelion Publishing, March 2004
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Paperback $15.00, ISBN: 0964088223, 297 pp.
Mardel Books, Feb 2000

Book review by Kathleen Cunningham Guler

Alison’s Legacy, the first book in the Alma Chronicle Series, deftly explores the harrowing social and political climate a woman faced in eighteenth century England through the absorbing story of Alison McPhearson, a Scottish immigrant living in an English village near Salisbury. An innkeeper, Alison is left pregnant and abandoned by a brutal husband. In a time when women had absolutely no rights, she is faced each day with the danger that she could be shunted off to the desolate streets of London — a death sentence in itself — just for being with child and having no more husband, for showing sympathy to the Jacobites, or for her friendship with Judith, a woodswoman and seer. Alison challenges the unfairness of life with stoic courage. She hides her pregnancy and the birth of her son, Lainn; learns to read, write and cipher; and successfully runs the inn alone. Judith, her mentor, becomes foster mother to Lainn, who also shows signs of being a seer.

Alison learns that the church ignores the notion of reincarnation, but as she meets and finds love in an English officer, Thomas Whitfield, she comes to realize through vague memories and dreams that she, Thomas, Judith, Lainn and her brutal husband have all been together before and must rectify past mistakes.

In Alison’s Legacy, Toby Heathcotte creates immediate sympathy for Alison’s plight right from the first page. Alison’s courage to remain independent is believable because she does not defy the social system — she cannot, not without causing her own death and that of her son’s and her mentor’s. Instead she finds creative ways to work around it. The concept of reincarnation is well woven into the story as part of an older form of spirituality. Powerful scenes fill this intriguing book, illustrating the lack of rights and unfair consequences for women of the era, just for having plain bad luck.

Visit Toby Heathcotte's website:

Fiction Review: Lainn's Destiny

Lainn’s Destiny
By Toby Heathcotte
Ebook $5.99, ISBN 0932866426
Triskelion Publishing, Oct 2004
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Reviewed by Kathleen Cunningham Guler

Lainn’s Destiny is the second book in the Alma Chronicle Series and tells the story of Lainn MacPhearson, who dedicates his life to the ideal of freedom. Picking up where the first book, Alison’s Legacy, leaves off, Lainn and his Scottish mother, Alison, both Jacobite sympathizers, flee to the American colonies in 1746 to avoid English persecution.

As a young child in England, Lainn had learned that a great destiny awaits him. Once in America, he finds inspiration in a Scottish warrior who survived the slaughter at Culloden then helped slaves and others escape persecution in the colonies. Desiring to embrace similar noble deeds, Lainn searches for an occupation that will lead him to his destiny. He becomes a printer’s apprentice, a soldier, a doctor, even a writer. But as he is saddled with a spiteful, alcoholic wife and witnesses the unending injustices of hatred, prejudice, and greed, he begins to question whether he will ever realize this goal.

As in the first book of this series, the issue of reincarnation binds the characters together. In the course of his search for his true purpose, Lainn comes to realize his destiny lies not only in the current life he is living, but also in the interconnected past and future, and through the loved ones and enemies to whom he is bound. Toby Heathcotte’s strong, well-crafted characters transcend a mere tale of the hardships of colonial life — they define the American quest for freedom from oppression that people of Celtic descent have experienced in their homelands for centuries only too well.

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Fiction Review: The Princes of Ireland: The Dublin Saga

The Princes of Ireland: The Dublin Saga

By Edward Rutherfurd
Doubleday, Mar 2004, $27.95, 776 pp.ISBN: 0385502869
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Reviewed by Harriet Klausner

The first of two tomes to cover the history of Ireland especially in Dublin, THE PRINCES OF IRELAND is a deep look at life in Eire from about A.D. 430 until the early sixteenth century, just on the verge of the Renaissance. The book actually contains a series of anecdotal stories starting in pre-Christian Ireland in the fifth century when a heartbreaking romance occurred between a maiden and a Celtic warrior. Two decades later St. Patrick arrives brining with him Christianity. Five years after the St. Patrick “invasion”, the Vikings sail to the Emerald Isle. Other major events and some not so significant in Irish history are told until 1537.

As he did with LONDON (two millennium in the history of that city, Edward Rutherfurd provides the same treatment to Ireland except this time there will be two volumes with the first book covering eleven hundred years of history. Mr. Rutherfurd uses historical events to bring to life major periods in Dublin, but in each case the narrative serves as a means to enhance the deep look at a particular era. The time and place come first so that this tome is targeted more for extreme history lovers who want the facts, but those who do will receive a first rate treatment.

Harriet Klausner was born in the Bronx where she obtained a Masters in Library Science. While working in bookstores and with the library, her book reviewing career began to take shape. She takes immense pleasure informing other readers about newcomers or unknown authors who have written superb novels.

Fiction Review: 1949: A Novel of the Irish Free State

1949: A Novel of the Irish Free State
by Morgan Llywelyn
Forge, February 2003, $25.95, 416 pp.ISBN: 0312867530

Reviewed by M. E. Wood

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1949 is the third book in Morgan Llywelyn’s Historical Fiction series around Ireland’s struggle for independence. It is not necessary to read 1916 and 1921 to follow 1949, although it might help when reference is made to significant events from previous periods, especially if you have little knowledge of Irish history. Llywelyn is working on the next book, 1972.

1949 picks up approximately two years past the Irish Civil War. Red haired, blued eyed Ursula Jervis Halloran is 16 years of age and riding her horse Saoirse (Irish for “Freedom”) in Clare, Ireland; where she grew up on a farm with her father Ned (lead character 1916) and his Aunt Norah. She has received a letter from her pseudo-uncle Henry Mooney (lead character 1921) beckoning her to visit him and his wife Ella in Dublin. Against her fathers wishes she “sneaks off to Dublin without telling anyone.”

When Ursula returns to the farm she informs her family she is going away to school in Switzerland, thanks to Ella’s kind gift. Ned forbids it but she reminds him she is only his foster child and that she will do as she pleases, a path she follows throughout her life. Despite being adopted she has a strong bond with Ned and is deeply hurt by his anger. She leaves with business left unfinished between them.

On arrival in Switzerland, she learns it is finishing school, much to her chagrin. But being of beauty and great personality she quickly befriends the upper crust whom she continues to correspond with after she leaves at age 18.

Ursula returns to Ireland. “An Ireland lacking in luxuries Europeans took for granted and many of the basic amenities as well. Ireland with its fixed ideas about good and evil, Celt and Saxon, Catholic and Protestant. Republican and Free Stater.”

Llywelyn is successful in painting the life of Ursula, a working class woman in a country trying to free itself from “foreign domination.” With each chapter Llywelyn brings the reader into the fold to watch a girl blossom into a woman. She is strong willed from beginning. In a society where women are to be seen and not heard Ursula stands on her own two feet in full sun, determined to make it on her own. She does not let anyone push her into the shadows of male servitude. Llywelyn has created a memorable role model for women.

Ursula was not without her own role models. Constance Markievicz voice spoke to Ursula when she said, “Take up your responsibilities and be prepared to go your own way depending for safety on your own courage, your own truth and your own common sense.” This statement is true to Ursula’s code to life.

Comments like, “Unfortunately, you are a woman,” are behind every door Ursula opens but she doesn’t allow them to sway her own views and desires. While other women’s interests revolved around hair and beauty products, Ursula cultivated her strong feminine and political views. Her contacts, interest in politics and occurrences abroad land her a job at 2RN Radio Station. She is not permitted to broadcast as “Only the male voice is really suitable for broadcasting.” Her schooling, meticulous letter writing to Henry, and to her acquaintances abroad, attribute to her success at 2RN and later with the League of Nations in Geneva. To work women had to be single or widowed, otherwise they were told to stay home with their children. Ursula vowed never to marry but that didn’t stop the love triangle formation between traditional Irishman Finbar Cassidy and extravagant Englishman Lewis Baines.

1949 contains plenty of Irish politics as well as British Propaganda and the issuance of Hitler and the Second World War from an Irish perspective which is just as horrifying as all others. Llywelyn doesn’t focus on the Catholic Church’s impact on Irish society like other authors have in the past but its presence is clear. Politics and freedom from state are crucial.

Llywelyn’s characters are not idle bodies but great thinkers. In one of his letters to Ursula Henry poses the question, “Does war fuel the armaments industry, or does the armaments industry fuel war?” What a brilliant question, even in these times. Ursula’s father makes a poignant revelation as he’s writing in his journal, “Sometimes it seemed that the fighting had become more important than the winning. A way of life, an end in itself.”

Tension mounts as the war hits closer to Ursula affecting her and the people she holds dear. 1949 is not all doom and gloom. Morgan’s wit is seen throughout in subtle glimpses as are tenderness, sexual fire and intense anger. One of my favourites is her mention of the “traditional Irish savings bank: under the mattress.”

You can expect to learn a few Irish words like goster (chat; small talk) and seisiun (traditional music session) or learn of Irish traditions like keening (an “eerie singsong cadence, and unearthly wail” by the women for the dead.)

Passages of Ursula’s life are entwined with passages of Ireland’s history. There are large patches without dialogue and I often felt I was getting a history lesson rather than reading a novel but this was fleeting.

There is a “Dramatis Personae” of fictional and historical characters in the first few pages. Another nice feature is the historical date markers. You are never without a doubt as to the timeline. Research and sources appear in the back. Having not grown up in the confines of Ireland’s history I found it hard to keep the different groups and parties straight. It would have been nice to have a break down of each party, what they represented, length of existence refer to. The chapters are short, making it a great book for people on the move with limited time.

Llywelyn finishes this story with the “inauguration of the Republic of Ireland” on April 18th 1949. There are no loose ends but possibilities exist to gently tug the reader into the next book. I look forward to reading about the period leading up to 1972.

M. E. Wood is a writer living in Eastern Ontario with her husband and their menagerie of animals. She is working on her first book and enjoys writing poetry, articles and reviews. Visit M. E. Wood’s site at to read more of her writing.

Fiction Review: The Marriage Bed

The Marriage Bed
by Regina McBride
Touchstone, Jun 2004, $23.00, 289 pp.
ISBN: 074325497X
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Reviewed by Harriet Klausner

Up until 1907, Dierdre O’Coigligh lived on the impoverish Great Blasket Island off the Irish Coast until she was fourteen when her parents died. She feared the sea and never crossed it until her grandmother left her with no choice. The teen orphan was dumped at the Enfant de Marie Convent on the mainland because her grandmother insisted that she was too old to raise a young lass.

At the Convent, Dierdre meets wealthy novice Bairbre O'Breen, a widowed mother who is a key benefactor. Through Mrs. O’Breen, Deirdre meets Bairbre's brother Manus, an architecture student. He falls in love with Dierdre-and his mother feels she is acceptable as a daughter-in-law. Instead of becoming a nun, seventeen years old Deirdre agrees to marry Manus. After the ceremony, they move to a house in Dublin that his mother furnished. They have two delightful daughters, but Mrs. O'Breen demands a grandson who will be a priest regardless of how the lad or his parents feel because the matriarch has secret scandals that need heavenly intervention to remedy.

THE MARRIAGE BED is a very lucid look at Ireland in the years just prior to World War One. The story line provides the reader with a picturesque glimpse at middle class life and the influence of family on members. Though the secrets seem minor and Mrs. O’Breen’s demands seem easily shrugged off and ignored (maybe this reviewer is the anachronism as perhaps I am using a liberated twenty-first century lens), Regina McBride provides a colorful character study that makes 1910-1914 thriving as if the reader is in Dublin right before the Great War.

Harriet Klausner was born in the Bronx where she obtained a Masters in Library Science. While working in bookstores and with the library, her book reviewing career began to take shape. She takes immense pleasure informing other readers about newcomers or unknown authors who have written superb novels.