Bourke's Bookshelf: ‘Shouldn’t everyone be judged on their kindness?’

This week's featured read is "The Irish Boarding House by Sandy Taylor."

Bourke's Bookshelf - Irish Boarding House
"The Irish Boarding House" by Sandy Taylor.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch

I have a lot of happy feelings I associate with reading.

That feeling when you get so wrapped up in a book that you lose all sense of time and self. That feeling when you read the first page of a book and just know it’s going to be great. That feeling when a plot twist is so unexpected that you just sit there with your mouth gaping open and don’t know what to do next. That feeling when you know you need to go to bed, but you keep telling yourself ‘just one more chapter.’ You’re extremely tired the next day, but you know it was worth it.

Theresa Bourke headshot

And then there’s the feeling when, upon finishing a book, you know you want to read absolutely everything an author has ever written. That’s how I felt about Sandy Taylor when I finished listening to “The Irish Boarding House” audiobook.

I happened upon this book when I was just scrolling through my audiobook app at the gym one night, trying to decide what to listen to next during my workout. The cover and title of this book caught my attention, partially because I’m a sucker for stories set in Ireland.

‘The Irish Boarding House’ by Sandy Taylor (2022)

In 1950s Dublin, Mary Kate Ryan is struggling. After the death of her grandparents, who raised her since birth, she is turned out of the only house she’s ever known and forced to move from boarding house to boarding house, each one worse than the last.


Mary Kate’s existence has become so lonesome that she begins to consider the unthinkable. The River Liffey is right there, flowing cold and fast. She could end her pain in minutes, and surely no one would even miss her.

She nearly makes up her mind before receiving a letter that changes everything. Who on Earth would be writing to her? She’s never received a letter in her life. But this one brings news of unimaginable good fortune. Suddenly, Mary Kate has the resources to not only rebuild her own life but impact others as well. She’s going to open the best darned boarding house in Dublin. Its bright red door will lead weary women to a warm, inviting atmosphere full of love and friendship.

So that’s what she does.

Slowly, she amasses a house full of women and girls who need her in one way or another. They’re all of different ages and come from varying backgrounds, but their stories meld into one at Mary Kate’s boarding house.

I worried at first that I would have a hard time keeping all the characters straight, but Taylor does a fantastic job of seamlessly weaving their lives together.

I think I can safely say Mary Kate Ryan is one of my all-time favorite book characters. And I don’t say that lightly. Her utter selflessness, unwavering strength and never-ending kindness make her a model of all that is good in the world. Every word, punctuated with a quaint Irish accent, carried the warmth I could feel radiating from the boarding house.

Taylor created a world that wrapped me up in a big warm hug and invited me to come sit down in an overstuffed armchair with a hot cup of tea while I chatted with my very best friends.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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