THE LAST BRIDE IN BALLYMUIR
Dorien Kelly


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Pocket Books, March 2003
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding

Returning to Ballymuir after serving a fourteen-year sentence for an act of terrorism he didn't commit, thirty-two year old Michael Kilbride moves in with his sister, Vi, a famous local artist. He accepts that his youthful stupidity led to his unknowing involvement in a bombing, but the stigma of his conviction still weighs heavily on Michael after all these years. Walking off his pent up anger and frustration at being dependent upon his sister's hospitality, he meets Miss Kylie O'Shea, the village school teacher. She's as proper as a nun and Michael finds her appealing enough to steal a kiss.

Kylie O'Shea's too proper demeanor is her misplaced attempt to live down the disgrace her father, Black Johnny O'Shea brought on the family by his crooked scheme to build a resort in Ballymuir. For too long Kylie has tried to make up for the sins of her father, and her attraction to bad boy Michael Kilbride exploits all her private insecurities and fears. Her feelings for him force her out of the confined life she has been living and causes her to confront long buried secrets.

The village of Ballymuir and its conservative, sometimes narrow-minded residents play an important role in the evolution of the couples' relationship. As Michael and Kylie's love story unfolds, Michael struggles in secret with the resurrection of his past. But if he wants to protect the people he loves he must face the man who lied and cost him fourteen years of his life.

Michael isn't the stereotypical romance hero endowed with prestige or riches. His worth lies in his determination to rebuild a life he can be proud of, and his dream of sharing it with the woman he desires. Readers' hearts will wrench every time his pride is assaulted and his hopes are threatened, but the transformation of Michael from a broken man to champion is a pure pleasure. Michael and Kylie are both tortured people who each have a moment of reckoning with their past. The healing and love that grows between them makes a beautiful story. This novel isn't without flaws: the middle lags a bit, bogged down with emotional baggage, but the emotions and character motivations always ring true. If you enjoy relationship books, this one is a keeper. It's refreshingly unique in the authentic Irish-Catholic culture that shapes the characters and story.

THE LAST BRIDE OF BALLYMUIR is the first of three Irish contemporary romances. Secondary characters likely to be featured in future books are Michael's flamboyant sister, Violet Kilbride, suspected by many of having "the gift of second sight." Also, Jenna Fahey, a "blown-in Yank" from Chicago. She's a chef who's opened a fine restaurant, Muir House, in the village. Two other characters I especially liked were Pat and Denny, the seventeen year old, foul-mouthed twin brothers of Michael and Vi, who are always looking for trouble. Michael's handling of this feisty pair is fun to read.

THE LAST BRIDE IN BALLYMUIR, formerly titled The Homecoming prior to publication with Pocket Books, was the recipient of six awards.
 

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