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Becoming Finola by Suzanne Strempek Shea
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Becoming Finola

by Suzanne Strempek Shea

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Becoming Finola
by Suzanne Strempek Shea

This was a slow starter for me, taking nearly 100 pages before it grabbed me. But then it really struck a chord with me and I didn't want it to end. I found the the style of writing was beautiful in a way that's hard to describe. I'm not sure if this will capture my meaning, but this is one phrase that caught my attention:

She'd been studying the village so intensely, but just beyond that lay an entire ocean--bigger than the world, it seemed, and certainly more than large enough to bear all she was seeking. Anticipating her arrival, it had dressed for the occasion, dark midnight-sapphiry-purplish and tinsels of disco ball sparkles as it pitched forward a serious succession of surf-movie-sized breakers.

Yes, that's a mouthful, but the imagery created is really spectacular. Another factor that I really enjoyed was that this took place right after 9/11, and the MC was the same age as I would have been then. The world created in this story accurately captures the state of the world--politically and culturally--at that time, especially for someone (like me) who would have the same memories. I'm talking about random tidbits of glimpses into the time, i.e. references to "email machines" at the local B&B, the telephones tucked into seat backs on airplanes, smoking gazebos at hospitals, the fact that the tourism industry really suffered because people were afraid to travel, one-liners about Sinead being a "bald, angry Pope ripper", tourists wearing red, white and blue Tommy Hilfiger sweatshirts and T-shirts bearing the words "Never Forget", a wedding gown compared to "a lacy 80s prom dress with the 'Gunne Sax' label", people watching episodes of "Sex and the City" and "Jackass" on MTV.

The plot itself had enough twists to keep it interesting. Sophie White travels to a small seaside village (pop. 400+) in Ireland, called "Booley" (from the original Celtic "Buaille") with her friend, Gina. Gina is going through a life crisis after losing her husband to a car accident, her rebellious 18yo daughter to abandonment, and her job to a factory closure. Sophie has devoted 18 months to keeping Gina organized and sane, working as her personal assistant, but mainly helping her through her grief. Gina decides to spend the summer in this little Irish hamlet and pays the way for Sophie to travel with her from Massachusetts.

The day after their arrival, Gina decides to turn around and go back home. She wants to be alone, however, and requests that Sophie stay on in Ireland for the summer. Sophie feels betrayed and abandoned by her friend, but agrees and soon becomes a fixture in the little town. The friendships she makes eventually help Sophie get through her own personal tragedy as she finds out a truth about her fiance back home.

Sophie is coerced into helping out at a little bead/jewelry-making shop when she shows a natural talent for organization and marketing. The jewelry making, as well as the gentle company of its owner, Liam Keegan, become a kind of therapy, and she learns to embrace and enjoy the quiet life Booley offers her. Because tourists want to buy jewelry directly from the "Irish" local making it and it hurt sales when she said she was in reality from America, Sophie begins to take on the name and persona of the woman who originally owned the shop, Finola O'Flynn.

Finola is constantly talked about and grieved over, and Sophie begins to feel like she knows her after hearing stories of her exploits and how she helped so many people during the time she lived in town. Finola, someone who three years prior had suddenly abandoned the town, her job, her little cottage, and the residents--including her boyfriend, Liam Keegan, has become legend to the local Booleyans. Sophie finds her feet and her own success while using the mythical Finola as her talisman, i.e. "What Would Finola Do?" to help her decide how to live her life--including falling in love with Liam.

Her newfound peace gets shaken up, however, when the real Finola returns. ( )
  AddictedToMorphemes | Apr 21, 2016 |
Definitely a lighter read, I enjoyed this book because it dealt with the idea of slipping on someone's else identity, if just for a short while, and trying on a different life. I thought the author did a nice job with the characters, and using the setting as an integral part of the story. ( )
  Naberius | Mar 6, 2009 |
Eighteen months before Becoming Finola begins, Gina Stebbins had a very tough two weeks. She lost her job at Trim-True Sewing Notions; her husband Norm died in an auto accident; her daughter Gennifer abandoned her. But in all that time, Gina was not abandoned by her true friend, Sophie White, a former co-worker at Trim-True. The grieving widow spots in a newspaper travel-section a photo of the house she’d been seeing only in her dreams; she decides she must travel there for the summer … with Sophie. The dreamed-of house turns out to be in the tiny seaside village of Booley in Ireland.

Soon after the two friends arrive, Gina decides she wants to go back to Massachusetts … but urges Sophie to stay in Booley and enjoy her summer. Sophie reluctantly stays behind when Gina insists she needs to get on with her life without relying so much on Sophie. Although she has a sometime lover, Charlie, Sophie finds herself attracted to the handsome owner of Finola O’Flynn’s – a retail shop that caters to tourists. As it turns out, Liam Keegan also owns the cottage Gina had rented for her and Sophie.

Settling into Booley, Sophie adjusts to the pace of life there, and begins to build friendships with the locals. Her retail experience serves her well at the store as Sophie improves displays, develops a new – and very successful – product line, and works literally elbow-to-elbow with Liam. But Sophie finds herself stepping into the shoes, clothing, even the name of Finola O’Flynn. More and more Sophie takes on the legendary Finola’s roles in the village, including falling in love with Liam. But what will happen when her three-month visa and passport are set to expire?

The only complaint I have about Suzanne Strempek Shea’s novels is that she doesn’t write them fast enough. I hadn’t read any of her fiction since 2001 when Around Again was published. (Since then, the author has also written two works of non-fiction, one on her cancer treatment, another about her year working in a bookstore.) I must say that Becoming Finola was worth waiting for!

If you’ve ever seen the Mary Engelbreit bookends that say “Books Fall Open” and “You Fall In,” that’s what it feels like to read Becoming Finola … like falling into another world. Part of the pleasure comes from the stunning way Suzanne Strempek Shea puts together sentences … no one does it like she does. She’s absolutely amazing … and fearless … in her use of words. Becoming Finola is funny and sweet and slightly irreverent. Sophie White is an absolutely wonderful character. Just read it!

By Diana. First published in the Cozy Library, June 25, 2006. ( )
  NewsieQ | Jul 24, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743403770, Paperback)

In the latest novel from the award-winning author of Around Again, an American takes an unexpected trip to Ireland and finds the woman she was meant to become.

Newly unemployed, Sophie White has nothing better to do when her recently widowed best friend, Gina, invites her along on a much-needed, postcrisis getaway. When, after only one day in Ireland, Gina decides she should do her grieving back at home, she urges Sophie to remain and make the most of the summer in Booley, the tiny seaside village that was their destination.

A job offer accepted on a whim lands her in the village's craft shop, and in the position once held by Finola O'Flynn, a woman who'd swiftly left town a few years before. Sophie takes on Finola's job of creating beaded bracelets, but also takes over Finola's abandoned home, then Finola's left-behind wardrobe, and finally, after her own episode of lost love, Finola's discarded man, charismatic shop owner Liam. But could Sophie -- or anyone -- ever take over the legendary place that her predecessor still holds in the hearts of Booley?

Friend, confidante, and guru to all -- literally a lifesaver to some -- even in her absence Finola continues to captivate. Her myth manages to reenergize Sophie, who passes along the gift through bracelets she infuses with invented "powers" that make the wearers believe they have what it takes to face life's challenges. But is Sophie powerful enough to face a whopper of her own when Finola returns to Booley and to the life she deserted? Does Sophie have the magic to make room in one tiny village for two women who want the very same life?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:42 -0400)

In the latest novel from the award-winning author of Around Again, an American takes an unexpected trip to Ireland and finds the woman she was meant to become. Newly unemployed, Sophie White has nothing better to do when her recently widowed best friend, Gina, invites her along on a much-needed, postcrisis getaway. When, after only one day in Ireland, Gina decides she should do her grieving back at home, she urges Sophie to remain and make the most of the summer in Booley, the tiny seaside village that was their destination. A job offer accepted on a whim lands her in the village's craft shop, and in the position once held by Finola O'Flynn, a woman who'd swiftly left town a few years before. Sophie takes on Finola's job of creating beaded bracelets, but also takes over Finola's abandoned home, then Finola's left-behind wardrobe, and finally, after her own episode of lost love, Finola's discarded man, charismatic shop owner Liam. But could Sophie -- or anyone -- ever take over the legendary place that her predecessor still holds in the hearts of Booley? Friend, confidante, and guru to all -- literally a lifesaver to some -- even in her absence Finola continues to captivate. Her myth manages to reenergize Sophie, who passes along the gift through bracelets she infuses with invented "powers" that make the wearers believe they have what it takes to face life's challenges. But is Sophie powerful enough to face a whopper of her own when Finola returns to Booley and to the life she deserted? Does Sophie have the magic to make room in one tiny village for two women who want the very same life?… (more)

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