Monday, April 10, 2006

Monday Mish-Mash

Two terrific books: Ireland and Leave it to Claire

I've been saying most of my life that I love Ireland, but the truth is, I've had only a rudimentary knowledge of that nation's history. Now, after having read Frank Delaney's Ireland, A Novel, I can say that I learned a great deal about Ireland's history while enjoying an absorbing fictional tale at the same time.

The story begins when a traveling Storyteller--perhaps the last of a long Irish tradition of "seanchais"-- comes to the home of 9-year-old Ronan O'Mara in 1951. As he weaves his tales of ancient Ireland, Ronan feels convinced that he and the Storyteller are somehow connected. When the Storyteller is evicted by Ronan's cold and distant mother, Ronan devotes the next several years of his life to trying to find him.

As we follow Ronan's life during the next few years--his successes and heartaches and the startling revelations he eventually faces--we are treated to more stories, as one reviewer says, "seamlesssly interwoven" into the novel. The stories reach Ronan in various ways--through radio, television, even letters from the Storyteller himself, never signed or with a return address.

I found myself thoroughly enjoying the stories even as Ronan's own story propelled me forward. Tales of St. Patrick, of Brendan the Navigator, Conor of Ulster, the legendary Finn MacCool,the Battle of the Boyne, all the way up to 1916 when the Easter Rising led by men like James Connolly and Michael Collins set the stage for the eventual formation of the Irish Republic.

If you have a yen for all things Irish, I definitely recommend this book. It's a rich, fanciful, imaginative retelling of Irish stories, as charming and appealing as the Irish themselves.

By the way, I kept thinking all along that this would make a wonderful movie. It would have to be sized down, of course, and all of the stories probably wouldn't be included. But I picture it along the lines of The Big Fish...a series of fanciful tales linked together by an ongoing contemporary story.

Gabriel Byrne

I can really picture Irish actor Gabriel Byrne, with a bit of age make-up, as the Storyteller. (They would have to get a younger actor to play the Storyteller as a young man.) And there would be choice roles for actors to play Ronan, his father, his aunt and his mother, and many characters in the tales. Hey, I have it all planned. Is anybody listening?

Another terrific read...

...but a totally different kind of book, is Leave it to Claire by Tracey Bateman.

The book follows the trials and tribulations of Claire Everett, a Christian fiction writer who is struggling to raise her four kids after a divorce. The divorce happened a few years ago, and her cheating ex-husband Rick is now married to the perfect, beautiful and adorable Darcy (who was not, by the way, one of his co-cheaters).

When carpal tunnel surgery forces Claire to stop writing for a few months, she decides to make a list of everything she wants to accomplish--reconnect with her kids, make real-life friends as opposed to those who are on the Internet, exercise, go to church more, etc.

None of it is easy, especially when her kids are acting up and acting out more than ever; her mother moves to Texas; and Rick and Darcy, who have become Christians, suddenly want to be her friends...not an idea Claire is crazy about.

The book is immensely enjoyable--funny, real, occasionally painful but full of hope. Most of all, you can't help but love Claire and her wry and relatable observations about life, love, and the Lord.

So now, I have another favorite new author in Tracey Bateman (who I hope to interview soon), and I can't wait to read Claire Knows Best and I Love Claire.

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