Wednesday, March 18, 2009
In true Frank Delaney fashion, Shannon is a novel that carries the reader straight into the heart of Ireland and into the homes of its inhabitants. With legends of how Ireland came to be, to delineations of Ireland's topography, Shannon is a story deserving of high praise.
In 1922, a priest named Robert Shannon journies to Ireland to find his roots and hopefully find himself along the way. He is a victim of shell shock after being stationed in France during the war. Though he was there as a chaplain, his heroics left him in a state of great mental distress. The American Archdiocese has decided to sent Father Shannon on a trip; the reader later discovers that they have an ulterior motive for sending him away. His being gone is their way of covering up something. That something is known only to a few.
Shannon begins with hooking the reader to a character that can be instantly empathized with:
At the vulnerable age of thirty, Robert Shannon lost his soul. Nothing is worse; no greater danger exists. Only sinners lose their souls, it's said, through the evil that they do. Not Robert Shannon. Incapable of anything but good, he lost his soul through savagery that he witnessed, horrors that he saw. And then, as he was repairing himself and his beliefs, he was ravaged further, in the pursuit of his own faith.
When you lose--- or have ripped from you--- the spirit that directs you, you have two options. Fight for your soul and win it back, and you'll evermore be a noble human being. Fail, and you die from loss of truth.
Frank Delaney assists the reader in seeing the land through which Father Shannon travels, by using subtle, peaceful images. As a result, it is simple to walk next to Father Shannon as he makes the journey to self-forgiveness:
They trudged happily through moorland, which turned into meadow. High skies took clouds across the sun now and then, and the patches of sunlight warmed their shoulders. Cows looked at them but did not feel moved to rise from their pools of grass. The meadow grew pooer: Clumps of mauve sedges interspersed with thin swaths of hay, coarse grasses, and a straggly hedge of thorn to which some white blossom still clung. Far ahead of them, at the eastern top corner of the moor, sottd a grove. They trudged through the spiky grass.
Within the grove lurked a stand of water, from which a clear stream flowed over a brown bed. Dense bushes crowded low to the water's edge. No life could be seen in the pool, it was too dark. Now and then a lazy bubble rose in the center, as though an underwater giant burped.
I've said it before and I will say it again: Frank Delaney is an admirable author of both physical and emotional journies. He knows his niche and he excels at it. It would be impossible for someone to read his books and not fall in love with Irish lore and land. Shannon is definitely one of his very best works, in that it is not merely a tale of discovery, it is also a story steeped in history and wrapped neatly with a hint of intrigue. Any reader can be assured of not being disappointed with Shannon by Frank Delaney.
Though this book is a couple of years old, I still wanted to read and review it. Partially because the subject matter is dear to my heart, but also because Tipperary did not fare as well in reviews as Ireland, also by Frank Delaney.
So, did I like it?
My answer would have to be a resounding yes! Granted, Tipperary starts off requiring the reader to think a little more than some novels. Frank Delaney gave the book two narrators in two different time periods. Ultimately in doing so, it truly works to the reader's advantage.
The first narrator is Charles O'Brien. Born in 1860 in Tipperary, he is the son of well-respected parents who run their own farm. Charles has no interest in taking over the family business so he sets out to become an herbal healer to the country folk of Ireland. After apprenticing with Dr. Egan, Charles gains a bit of notoriety for his skills and gets called to Paris to treat Oscar Wilde, a fellow Irishman. There, he meets April Burke, young at the age of eighteen, especially in comparison to Charles O'Brien's then age of forty. Age knows no bounds, and Charles immediately falls in love with April, only to be rebuffed time after time.
The second narrator is a man in the next generation who has found Charles O'Brien's journal. This second voice is actually what gives the novel validity and depth because he explains what O'Brien is talking about in relation to what else was going on in history at that point in time. Partway through the story though, you discover that this second voice is not just a very helpful guidebook. He is actually linked to the characters the reader comes to embrace.
Tipperary is a multi-faceted book about Ireland and her geography, her history and her traditions. It is a book about war and rebellions, about genealogy and roots that run deeper than can be seen from the surface. Tipperary is a book about love of land and family; it is a story about the many passions of life.
Reading Frank Delaney's Tipperary will enthrall the soul and make the reader wish for the spell to never be broken. It is a delightful journey of highs and lows, of trials and felicity. Tipperary must be traversed by anyone who thrills at finding passions in life.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
There is a certain way one is expected to live in the south. Don't hurry. Treat everyone with kindness. Love God. Eat lots of fattening food. So what happens when you take a boy out of Mississippi and place him in California? Well, you can take the boy out of Mississippi, but you certainly can't take Mississippi out of the boy.
Truely Noonan and his sister Courtney are both transplants from Mississippi to California. As adults, they are both smart and hardworking, making them very successful and wealthy. They have something else though; they have an ability to love their neighbor and always try to do right by them.
Even though Truely and Courtney are struggling to deal with the ends of their own marriages, they befriend a troubled young man named Arnold. Arnold has no father, his mother is in prison, and his best friend has been badly injured in the war.
Truely and Courtney take it upon themselves to show Arnold a better way of living. They give him a place to stay and help him get an education. Most importantly, they never stop believing in him. They grow to love Arnold, like a parent would their child. In the process, they all learn that family does not have to be blood, and home is wherever your "family" is.
Nanci Kincaid has written a truly remarkable story that is enjoyable to read. It is a comment on the dysfunction in every family and how true family will still be there in the end. She defines every character the minute they are introduced to the story, making the the reader honestly care. Truely is the first character we meet:
Hinds County needed rain. Heat rose to nearly a hundred degrees most afternoons. Already two boys had gone down, threatening to collapse of heat stroke. They'd been sent to sit under a sprawling shade tree with cups of ice chips to chew on. One spilled the ice on his head and rubbed it over his parched skull.
Truely had long ago sweat through his pads and jersey, adding a couple of pounds to his misery. It occurred to him that wearing a helmet in this kind of heat could cause your brain to fry. Still, drill after drill, he went at it full speed. Nobody on the field worked harder or complained less. According to his coach there was a certain genius to that. Truely liked pushing himself. He liked knowing that no matter how tough it got out there, he didn't quit. Nobody could make him.
Eat, Drink, and Be from Mississippi is a great read with an uplifting message for anyone who has ever faced problems within their family. A book about rising above the trials of life and moving beyond them, Eat, Drink, and Be from Mississippi is a heartwarming must-read.
Monday, March 2, 2009
In Erica Bauermeister's first novel, The School of Essential Ingredients, the reader can expect to be tucked into an inviting pocket of warmth. From the first page of the prologue, the story is magnetic, creating a secure environment in which any reader will languish in the details of the setting, and the images and smells (and emotions) created while the characters are cooking food.
It may sound like a simple enough premise, and it is; however, the simplicity is the beauty of it. Every element of the book is described in such an original yet honest way, the reader will feel like the ninth member of the cooking class the story revolves around.
The only caveat of this book is that if you are on a strict diet, you may have a problem adhering to it when the smells and sounds and flavors come to life on the page before you. Try to keep your mouth from watering when you read:
Once the crabs were clean, Lillian explained that they were going to be roasted in the oven. "We'll make a sauce, and it will permeate into the meat through the cracks in the shell. The best way to eat it is with your hands."
The class reassembled in their seats facing the wooden counter in the middle of the room. Lillian put out the ingredients--- sticks of butter, mounds of chopped onion and minced ginger and garlic, a bottle of white wine, pepper, lemons.
"We'll melt the butter first," she explained, "and then cook the onions until they become translucent." The class could hear the small snaps as the onions met the hot surface. "Make sure the butter doesn't brown though," Lillian cautioned, "or it will taste burned."
When the pieces of onion began to disappear into the butter, Lillian quickly added the minced ginger, a new smell, part kiss, part playful slap. Garlic came next, a soft, warm cushion under the ginger, followed by salt and pepper.
"You can add some red pepper flakes, if you like," Lillian said, "and more or less garlic or ginger or other ingredients, depending on the mood you're in or the one you want to create. Now," she continued, "we'll coat the crab and roast it in the oven."Erica Bauermeister also masterfully brought each image to life:
The kitchen was ready. The long stainless-steel counters lay before her, expansive and cool in the dark. Lillian knew without looking that Robert had received the vegetable order from the produce man who delivered only on Mondays. Caroline would have stood over skinny, smart-mouthed Daniel until the floors were scrubbed, the thick rubber mats rinsed with the hose outside until they were black and shining. Beyond the swinging door on the other side of the kitchen, the dining room stood ready, a quiet field of tables under starched white linen, napkins folded into sharp triangles at each place. But no one would use the kitchen tonight. All that mattered was the kitchen.
There are passages in the book that prove to the reader that Erica Bauermeister "just gets it." Every mother would appreciate the lines:
"...after the children were born, it was as if no one could see further than the soft hair, the round cheeks of the babies she carried. She became the frame for the picture that was her son and daughter."
It is no overstatement to say that The School of Essential Ingredients is easily one of the best books I have read in a very long time. As each character is developed in their own chapter, the reader is witness to the evolution of strength by each person. In the end, they are all better people, happier people than when they came to the first cooking class. The entire novel is uplifting and inspiring, truly a treasure to anyone who likes a little sunshine in their life.