Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Cottage at Glass Beach by Heather Barbieri

Every once in awhile, this land-locked woman likes to read about the mysterious, magical sea.  Any sea will do, really.  They're all capable of generating a feeling of the unknown--somehow in their depths there's a whole unexplored world of mystical places, people, and beings.  

Can you tell I liked to read about the ocean when I was a kid?  And even now, still living in a land-locked state, I find it all fascinating.  My favorite book growing up was Pagoo by Holling Clancy Holling.  It's about the life of a hermit crab, and I would spend many afternoons at the school library pouring over the illustrations.  I now own a copy, and it's one of my favorite books.  It almost sent me on a career path into marine biology--but my absolute terror of deep water put a stop to that.  

How does this rambling story of my childhood book tie in with The Cottage at Glass Beach?  Well, it's that darn ocean--this time, the Atlantic.  And tidal pools.  Nora returns to Burke's Island off the coast of Maine where she was born and spent her early years in order to escape the scandal of her husband--a powerful attorney in Boston--having an affair.  She returns to stay in the small cottage where she lived with her parents before her mother disappeared into the ocean when Nora was 7 years old, leaving Nora with fuzzy memories of what exactly happened, and a father who was so heartbroken he took them away from the island and whispers of the townspeople.

Nora returns with her two daughters, Ella and Annie.  Ella is a typical tween--full of resentment and anger at her parent's separation and plotting to get her parents together again.  Nora's Aunt Maire lives in a house not far from the cottage, and their reconnection is a major part of the novel.  Maire is full of stories of her youth with Nora's mother Maeve, who was startlingly beautiful and the island siren to all the men.  Rumors floated about that Maeve was actually a selkie--a seal that becomes human when it falls in love, and lives on land until it must eventually return to the sea.  

It sounds kinda crazy, but the author does manage to write this novel in such a way that it is believable that Nora's mother was a magical creature of the sea.  And then there's Owen, a man Nora finds washed up on shore one night during a fierce storm.  Who is he, and where is he from?  He's lost his memory, so he stays in a little shack by the shore, spending his days fishing and doing odd jobs for Maire.  Was he sent to help Nora heal her heart?  

I really did enjoy this novel, although there are a few threads left dangling that I wish had been resolved.  I can understand why the author ended the story where she did, but at the same time perhaps an epilogue would have given a more satisfying conclusion to Nora's story.  Other than that, I was sucked into the visions in my head of a lovely home on the coast, surrounded by gardens,  the ever present ocean, and the tidal pools Annie and Ella explore.  It didn't take me long to begin wishing for a trip to either coast of the US.  Lakes have their own magical feel, but the ocean...well...it's a different bird all together.  

The Cottage at Glass Beach will be released in May in hardcover and also available as an E-book.  This would obviously be a good vacation read--especially if you're heading to an ocean near you.  I would suggest this for fans of Alice Hoffman and Sarah Addison Allen.  

As for me, I'm going to take Pagoo  down from the bookcase and look through it again.  

Rating:  3/5:  Enjoyable characters, magical element to the ocean and the island.  Would have liked a more finished ending, but can live with some unanswered questions.


  1. i love a good beach read :) and that hermit book is adorable!

    1. I think this book is definitely up your alley! Or beach. Hope you enjoy it.