The Cottage at Glass Beach by Heather Barbieri

The Cottage at Glass Beach by Heather Barbieri is about mothers and daughters and sisters and their tension and love filled relationships.  Nora Cunningham returns to Burke’s Island to get away from her scandalous political life in Boston with Malcolm and clear her head in upper Maine. Irish-American immigrant ancestors infuse her memories, memories she barely remembers from her younger childhood of her mother, Maeve, and their life together on the island before her mother’s disappearance. Nora reconnects with her aunt Maire as she begins to find her self — the person she is without Malcolm and the person she’s been deep inside.

“Her mother laughs.  Her voice is as sparkling as light on water.  The folds of her skirt cling to her legs.  She’d dived in fully clothed.  She isn’t like the other mothers with their rules and careful ways.”  (Page 1 ARC)

Nora’s daughters, Annie and Ella — ages seven and twelve — are like Maire and her sister Maeve used to be — one always cautious and one who lives in the moment.  Barbieri’s weaves in Irish folklore about selkies, seals that shed their skin to become humans on land.  These seals play a protective role in the story as they are always just off shore, watching carefully.  Soon, a man, Owen Kavanagh, washes up on shore near Nora’s cottage in the middle of a rainstorm.  But he’s not the only mysterious male on the island; there’s also a young boy named Ronan who befriends Annie.

“Indeed, a shiny head bobbed in the eddies that curled toward the shore, indigo depths between.  The creature met Nora’s gaze directly, its dark eyes wide and oddly human, before the children’s laughter drew its attention once more.”  (Page 18 ARC)

In many ways Ella and Annie act older than they are, but readers will see the toll that potential divorce can have on kids as their father makes a surprise visit to the island.  The island’s oasis atmosphere can be easily disturbed by outsiders, even if the inhabitants are eager to remain in between the past and the future like Nora.  However, how the characters react to those disturbances is a sign of strength and the support of their ancestors.  Barbieri blurs the lines between folklore and reality well here, and readers will be swept up in a cadence of storytelling that is reminiscent of Irish stories.

The Cottage at Glass Beach by Heather Barbieri is an oasis and a safe harbor in which Nora comes to reassess her life and decide how to move on after being deeply hurt by the one man she thought she could trust.  But she also must take into account the feelings and needs of her daughters, which is tough when harboring so much anguish.  A perfect summer read about mother-daughter bonds, bonds between sisters, and redemption.

Check out my review of The Lace Makers of Glenmara.

About the Author:

The author of two previous novels, The Lace Makers of Glenmara, and Snow in July, Heather Barbieri has won international prizes for her short fiction. She lives in Seattle with her family.  Please visit here on her Website and Facebook.



This is my 3rd book for the 2012 Ireland Reading Challenge.





  1. I keep looking at this one in my pile of books, but I’ve got some other commitments first. This definitely seems like an ideal summer read.

  2. I love the title and the cover is just gorgeous. I love the idea of going to a special place to put your life back together, but it also sounds like there is a lot going on in this one. Maybe too much??

  3. Absolutely sounds like one I would love to read! Perfect for the summer!

  4. I loved her other one – Lace Makers of Glenmarra – so will definitely be on the lookout for this one, especially after your lovely review. I’ll add a link to this on the main Ireland Challenge page, too. 🙂

  5. This book sounds beautiful and compelling. I enjoy stories about sisters and mother/daughter relationships and in this book where the relationships cover at least 2 generations, I’m curious how they compare. Nora’s mother Maeve and aunt, Maire sound like inspiring but also mysterious women for Nora. I love that Nora comes from Irish roots and the author ties in Irish folklore, and selkies very effectively.
    Not only do I like the cover but I adore most of the female names in this book!

    This is a fantastic review, Serena. I think this book sounds like a great summer read :o)

  6. I think the mother daughter relationship is one of the most fascinating so I love to read books about it. This sounds wonderful.

  7. I can’t wait to read this! I hope you’ll let me borrow your copy. 🙂

  8. “blurs the line between folklore and reality” Now that sounds interesting! I’m curious as to how the author was able to pull that off so well.

    So glad you liked the book! Thanks for being on the tour!


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