I’m thrilled to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for The Crows of Beara by Julie Christine Johnson. Set in Ireland, it’s a wonderful story about guilt, the search for redemption and the restorative power of art and nature.
About the Book
When Annie Crowe travels from Seattle to a small Irish village to promote a new copper mine, her public relations career is hanging in the balance. Struggling to overcome her troubled past and a failing marriage, Annie is eager for a chance to rebuild her life. Yet when she arrives on the remote Beara Peninsula, Annie learns that the mine would encroach on the nesting ground of an endangered bird, the Red-billed Chough, and many in the community are fiercely protective of this wild place. Among them is Daniel Savage, a local artist battling demons of his own, who has been recruited to help block the mine. Despite their differences, Annie and Daniel find themselves drawn toward each other, and, inexplicably, they begin to hear the same voice – a strange, distant whisper of Gaelic, like sorrow blowing in the wind. Guided by ancient mythology and challenged by modern problems, Annie must confront the half-truths she has been sent to spread and the lies she has been telling herself. Most of all, she must open her heart to the healing power of this rugged land and its people.
Format: eBook (402 pp.), Paperback (334 pp.) Publisher: Ashland Creek Press Published: 1st September 2017 Genre: Women’s Fiction, Climate Fiction
Find The Crows of Beara on Goodreads
Sometimes you know as soon as you start a book that you’re in safe hands with an author. The Crows of Beara by Julie Christine Johnson gave me that feeling right from the opening pages.
The story is told from the points of view of Annie and Daniel. This gives the reader insight into their thoughts – often at odds with what they actually say to each other – and their misunderstanding of each other’s motives and feelings. Annie and Daniel are both damaged: through personal history of addiction, guilt at past actions and fear of causing harm to those around them. Somehow they recognise this vulnerability in each other at some subconscious level or perhaps, the book suggests, because fate means for them to be together. Their past experiences are similarly traumatic but, rather than bringing them together, they threaten to drive them apart. And yet, they both need something to fill the vacuum left by their addiction.
To some extent, Daniel has found this through art and the landscape of the Beara peninsula. As his sister, Fiana, tells him, “You are an example of what this land can do – heal and strengthen”. Even Daniel’s art is a metaphor for his recovery because he works with reclaimed copper, making beautiful objects out of something discarded: ‘Now he was a found thing, remade by regret and grief’.
Annie is still searching for that something which will fill the ‘cavern’ left by her addiction, about which the author writes sensitively and with insight. ‘The Addict who huddled inside her was in fact a deep, abiding loneliness. An ache for companionship. A fear of the quiet. Shame.’ Guided by a mysterious voice that seems to emanate from the very landscape itself, and by seemingly chance (or are they?) encounters with a number of women, Annie starts to come under the spell of Beara and glimpse a different, more hopeful future for herself.
‘She craved this. This blue-and-green peace, this sense of hovering above it all, never landing, never touching ground, never having to return to the Annie Who Was. She wanted to remain here, in the Annie Who Is. Without a past. Clean.’
Normally I would shy away from any magical realism aspect in a story but the mystical element really worked here. If there’s anywhere in the world where you might imagine hearing ancestral voices, surely it’s Ireland with its tortured history, wild landscape and tradition of poetry.
The book explores the dilemma facing the community: whether the economic benefits of the mine development outweigh the inevitable effect on the environment and their way of life. “Is saving the fragile ecosystem of Beara enough for families who are behind on their mortgages or can’t pay their kids’ tuition?” The threat to the nesting grounds of the rare Red-billed Chough becomes a tangible example of the environmental damage the mine development would cause and a rallying cry for the villagers’ campaign. For Danny, it seems to be a metaphor for his own life.
‘He’d seen how a creature could be brought back from extinction. He’d learned how to represent what coming back from nothingness might feel like, how quickly freedom could be lost and what it cost to be granted a second chance.’
For me, the plot involving the mine development eventually became secondary to the absorbing, compelling and sensitively portrayed story of the relationship between Annie and Daniel. The ending, with its message of hope, felt right but was perhaps played out a little too quickly.
I could go on pointing out wonderful things about this book but instead I’m just going to recommend you read it and find out for yourself.
I received a review copy courtesy of Sage’s Blog Tours in return for an honest review.
In three words: Atmospheric, haunting, sensitive
Try something similar…The Former Chief Executive by Kate Vane (click here to read my review)
About the Author
Julie’s short stories and essays have appeared in several journals, including Emerge Literary Journal; Mud Season Review; Cirque: A Literary Journal of the North Pacific Rim; Cobalt; River Poets Journal, in the print anthologies Stories for Sendai; Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers; and Three Minus One: Stories of Love and Loss; and featured on the flash fiction podcast No Extra Words. She holds undergraduate degrees in French and Psychology and a Master’s in International Affairs. Julie leads writing workshops and seminars and offers story/developmental editing and writer coaching services.
Named a “standout debut” by the Library Journal, “Very highly recommended” by Historical Novels Review and declared “Delicate and haunting, romantic and mystical” by bestselling author Greer Macallister, Julie’s debut novel In Another Life went into a second printing three days after its February 2, 2016 release. A finalist for The Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature, judged by PEN/Faulkner author and Man Booker Award nominee Karen Joy Fowler, Julie’s second novel The Crows of Beara was acquired by Ashland Creek Press and will take flight on September 15, 2017.
A hiker, yogi, and wine geek, Julie makes her home on the Olympic Peninsula of northwest Washington state.
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