Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy
I've been a huge fan of Maeve Binchy's work ever since the 1995 movie Circle of Friends, starring Minne Driver and Chris O'Donnell, caused me to "discover" her. Then I was really excited when her Tara Road became a selection of the Guaranteed Huge Sales Group--I mean, Oprah's Book Club.
Having read every book and collection of short stories from Binchy, I have to say that her latest, Heart and Soul (2009), is my absolute favorite, which is saying a lot. There is a phenomenal cast of characters, and I literally stayed awake almost all of last night to read the entire book in one sitting.
Based around a Dublin heart clinic, the characters are the patients and staff and their families of the clinic. There are too many characters to go in-depth on each of them, but, as always, Binchy's writing revolves around love (in all forms, not just romantic), choices and their consequences, family patterns and relationships, and self-discovery.
Their stories unfold in alternating short sections, almost like sprinkling pieces of connected short stories throughout a novel. I enjoy that style of writing, and I appreciate learning tidbits about Ireland and current Irish society from someone who obviously loves her country.
From the huge cast, my favorite is Ania, a Polish girl living in Ireland and working at the heart clinic, along with other jobs, to earn money to give to her mother back at home. She left home in disgrace for loving the wrong man, and will she have a second chance at love in Ireland? And how will she respond to anti-immigrant sentiment/discrimination?
Since I am such a Binchy fan, I was beyond thrilled to see characters from previous works, including Scarlet Feather, Nights of Rain and Stars, Whitethorn Woods, and Evening Class included with new characters in this book. I love having "life updates" on favorite past characters. That being said, though, you can certainly read and enjoy this book as a stand-alone.
You can learn more at the author's site here.
My overall personal rating of Heart and Soul is an A.