Friday, February 23, 2007

Greeley Thrills With Romp Through Irish History

I started Elizabeth McGowan's The Expected One this week, only to abandon it about 1/3 of the way through. The book was not only a copycat of The Da Vinci Code, but it was also difficult to get into. At 1/3 of the way through the book, I realized I didn't care much about the characters or what might happen to them, so I abandoned the whole thing. I also happened to read the Author's Note at the end of the book, and that did it - I think the author is delusional.

Anyway, I have been hearing a lot about Andrew M. Greeley, a Catholic priest and bestselling novelist, so I picked up the first book of his "Irish" series, Irish Gold. It's the story of Dermot Michael Coyne, a 25-year-old Irish-American playboy, who travels to Ireland to leisurely solve the mystery of his grandparents' past. A sometime writer, Dermot believes the story will make a fine novel. What he doesn't realize is that their story is linked to a violent time in Irish history -- "The Troubles" -- and that there are people in Ireland who will do anything to stop the story from being told. In the midst of Dermot's search, he meets Nuala McGrail, a mysterious and talented Irish girl. When Dermot unearths his grandmother's diary, Nuala proves to be an able translator, as well as a very appealing companion. Soon what began as a half-hearted quest to get some answers about his beloved grandparents, turns into Dermot's obsession to find the truth. He also finds himself becoming more than a little obsessed with Nuala, who proves to be as intelligent as she is beautiful. The duo's race to find answers is an exciting race into time and history that keeps the reader turning pages as fast as possible.

As exciting as the plot is, it's the characters that really sparkle in this novel. For all his faults, Dermot is an extremely appealing hero. He's an overconfident Yank who knows he's no 007, but who, nevertheless, holds his own against beautiful, scheming women; knife-wielding Irish thugs; and dangerous enemies of every sort. Nuala is no less appealing. She's a 19-year-old Irish wonder, who's at once a tough-talking Dubliner and a shy country girl, capable of charming everyone from the Irish elite to her parish priest. The electricity between them is captivating and hilarious. Then, there's Dermot's grandmother, whose indomitable spirit shines through her diary entries. Historical giants like Michael Collins, Winston Churchill and Daniel O'Kelly also make cameos in the novel.

In short, it's a rich, thrilling novel. It's not exactly what I would expect from a Catholic priest (the f-word [in its less-offensive Irish form, but still...] is used repeatedly throughout the text), but it's still a good read. I loved it, and will be grabbing the sequel next time I'm at the library.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

My Non-Fiction Kick

I have been on a non-fiction kick lately, with two very different books: Sink Reflections by Marla Cilley and Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose. I enjoyed both books, although I have my issues with each :)
Sink Reflections is written by a woman nicknamed "FlyLady," who runs a very successful website about organization (www.flylady.com). On her website and in her book, she talks about how to keep your home in order, starting with shining your sink. She recommends getting dressed "to your shoes" every day in order to feel more ready for housework and life. This is the part I don't think I could do - everyone knows I love to be barefoot. Anyway, she goes on to talk about performing daily housework routines, de-cluttering your home and keeping "hot zones" tidy. It really is a helpful book. It's not extremely well-written, but the author comes off as sweet and confirming. I wish she had addressed more time-management strategies, but she sticks mostly to cleaning house, with only a few pages on other subjects. All in all, it's worth picking the book up, especially if you are living in CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome).
Prose's book is also instructional. It's subtitle is "A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them," but it's not a how-to guide. It's actually a manual for what Prose calls "close reading." She encourages would-be authors to study the classics, paying close attention to the writers' techniques. She devotes whole chapters to words, paragraphs, details, gestures, etc. Although the book is a bit dry, it's thorough and well-written. It's not a book you would want to read while on the treadmill to make your workout go faster, but it's one you should read - closely - for its apt examples. The book also includes a list of "Books to be Read Immediately," which is interesting for its wide range of selections.
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