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Anne has won The Last Storyteller by Frank Delaney

Congratulations and happy reading!

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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“Ben, every legend and all mythologies exist to teach us how to run our days.  In kind fashion.  A loving way.  But there’s no story, no matter how ancient, as important as one’s own.  So if we’re to live good lives, we have to tell ourselves our own story.  In a good way.  A way that’s decent to ourselves.”

(from The Last Storyteller, page 99)

The Last Storyteller is the final book in a trilogy by Frank Delaney that began with Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show, followed by The Matchmaker of Kenmare.  I firmly believe that you must read these books in order to truly appreciate the story, but with a masterful storyteller like Delaney at the helm, you are in for a big treat.  I must admit that I had tears in my eyes when I finished this book.  I had grown to love Ben MacCarthy over the course of his story, and I wasn’t ready to let him go.

Like the previous two books, The Last Storyteller is Ben’s recounting of his life for his two children with Venetia, Ben and Louise.  It opens in 1956, with Ben still traveling and collecting stories for his job with the Irish Folklore Commission.  He is a sorry case, not knowing what to do about his wife and having never set eyes on his children, who are now in their early 20s.  Ben has problems, but so does his beloved country, as the Irish Republican Army launches its Border Campaign as part of an effort to take Northern Ireland back from the British and create a united Ireland.

Ben inadvertently becomes involved with a man running guns for the IRA, and despite all efforts to disentangle himself, his connection to Jimmy Bermingham put him on a path that culminates in an event that could be his either salvation or his undoing.  But at the core of the novel is the Irish art of storytelling.  Ben meets John Jacob O’Neill, called the “culmination” by Ben’s mentor, James Clare.  O’Neill is an old man who never seems to age, who can captivate an audience with legends and myths for hours on end, and whose guidance will help Ben to finally heal.

Delaney never ceases to amaze me with his storytelling abilities.  He deftly weaves legends and mythologies into Ben’s story, and he juggles so many interesting characters and connects them in ways I didn’t always expect.  There were times that I thought the book was getting a bit long, but I was never once bored, so I think it was merely my impatience to find out what happened.  I love how he clearly explained the IRA conflict and the struggles of the Irish people from long ago, but he worked it into Ben’s writings so it wasn’t distracting.

Though I loved every book in this trilogy, I think The Last Storyteller was my favorite.  Delaney paces the story perfectly, taking readers on an adventure that is as much a story of Ireland’s tumultuous history as it is Ben’s journey to find himself.  Even though I wasn’t ready to let Ben go, I knew it was time, and Delaney skillfully concludes the story in a way that satisfied my curiosity to know what really happened and felt true to the life of the characters I’d grown to know and love.  He enables readers to share the lives of his characters so that I felt like I truly knew Ben, his strengths and his faults, and I couldn’t help but feel heartbroken for him at his low points and elated for him when the rays of hope shone through.  Delaney has earned a space on my list of favorite authors, and I can’t wait to read more of his work.

If you’re interested in The Last Storyteller, you are in luck.  Courtesy of MEIER, I have a copy to offer to my readers.  To enter, leave a comment with your e-mail address telling me your favorite book about Irish storytelling, history, or politics, or why you want to read this book.  This giveaway is open internationally and will close at 11:59 pm EST on Sunday, April 8, 2012.

**Please note that this giveaway is now closed**

Book 10 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Last Storyteller from MEIER for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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I said, “Kate, you’re so many things — how do I know what you are at any given moment?”

She said, “Well, I’ll tell you what I am.  I’m the Fourth Fate.”

This is very grandiose, ran my hostile mind.

She went on.  “You don’t know, do you, who the Fates were?”

I said, trying not to sound tart or smart, “One spun the thread of life, one handed it out, and one cut it.”

“And I draw two of those threads together,” she said.  “Two lives, and I knot them to each other.  I’m the destiny that those two people harness.”

(from The Matchmaker of Kenmare, pages 147-148 in the ARC)

My eyes were opened to the beauty of Frank Delaney’s writing when I read (and loved) Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show last year, and when I was offered a copy of the sequel AND I learned that it was set during World War II (my favorite time period for literature), I just couldn’t say no.  And after I turned the last page of The Matchmaker of Kenmare, my first thought was that Delaney is a master storyteller.

Ben MacCarthy returns as narrator in The Matchmaker of Kenmare, which opens in 1943.  He wanders Ireland collecting stories for his job with the Irish Folklore Commission and searching for his missing wife, Venetia.  Ben meets Kate Begley, a matchmaker who lives in the coastal village of Kenmare, while seeking information about matchmaking in rural Ireland, and the two immediately become close friends.  The stunning and unique Venetia Kelly was the star of Delaney’s previous novel, and this time around, the feisty and fascinating Kate Begley takes center stage.

Miss Begley is not just a successful matchmaker; she also can pinpoint the whereabouts of people using a map, a needle, and an object belonging to the missing person.  She spouts wise sayings, has a fearless, take-charge attitude, and will not listen to reason when she believes something deep in her heart.  I was captivated by Kate from the very beginning, and it’s easy to see why Ben’s feelings for her are complicated and why he will follow her anywhere — even on a journey from neutral Ireland into war-torn France and Belgium.

Ben narrates the story as an old man, telling his children how he and Miss Begley inserted themselves into the war when she falls in love with an American officer, Charles Miller, who asks her to recover someone crucial to the Allied war effort.  Miller is an undercover operative who is hard to figure out but earns the regard of both Ben and Miss Begley, and Kate’s undying devotion to him puts Ben face-to-face with the Nazis and forces him to question his personal neutrality with regard to love and war.

Storytelling is an important part of The Matchmaker of Kenmare, from the tales Ben collects for work to the notebook entries he references when telling his and Kate’s story.  Having read Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show, I was prepared for Ben’s many digressions and his foreshadowing of events that would occur later in the novel.  Even though Ben’s digressions cause the story to move a bit slowly in parts, they are never boring.  In fact, it took me a week (off and on) to read this book because I wanted to savor it.  However, I can see how readers unfamiliar with Ben’s narrative style might want things to move faster; it took me about 70 pages to really get into Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show, but by then, I was hooked.

The Matchmaker of Kenmare is so much more than a story about love and war.  It’s a novel about devotion and friendship, and even when the events that transpire seem a bit far-fetched, Delaney makes it feel real.  Delaney’s appreciation of mythology and folklore shines through, and he makes some pretty convincing comparisons between wolves and the Nazi officers whom Ben and Kate encounter.  Delaney brilliantly paces the novel to create the right amount of tension, and Ben’s narrative — in which he has no trouble spelling out his faults and reminiscing about where he went wrong — is as heartbreaking as it is exciting.  I can’t wait to read more of Delaney’s work in the future.

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Matchmaker of Kenmare from MEIER for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Venetia Kelly’s story became my story too; it determined the direction I would take at one time, and has controlled how I’ve lived ever since.  I can’t say whether I might have had a different life if I’d never met her, but such has been her impact that I’ve never looked for anything else.  In other words, the existence that I lead keeps me as close to her as I can get under the circumstances.

(from Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show, page 4)

Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show takes place in 1932 in Ireland, which is gearing up for what is called the most important election in its history as a free state.  Politics is a hot topic in the home of Ben MacCarthy, but the election takes a backseat to family problems when his father runs away to follow a traveling variety show starring the beautiful actress Venetia Kelly, who recites poetry and Shakespeare plays and is the voice of the ventriloquist dummy and “political candidate” Blarney.  Ben’s mother, devastated by her husband’s abandonment and concerned about losing their farm, tells 18-year-old Ben that he must find his father and bring him home, which proves easier said than done.

Frank Delaney’s lyrical prose drew me in from the first page, though the story takes awhile to really take off.  Delaney spends the first 70 pages introducing the principal players from the first person point of view of Ben.  In addition to Ben’s parents and the magnetic Venetia, readers meet, among others, King Kelly, Venetia’s ruthless grandfather; Sarah Kelly, Venetia’s equally captivating mother; and James Clare, a storyteller who serves as a father figure to Ben.  Delaney takes his time building the story, but it never once drags.  He uses vivid imagery and beautiful language to bring his characters to life, and he says so much about who they are in so few words.  Take King Kelly, for instance:

Those who knew him — including myself — we admitted that we enjoyed King Kelly.  There was guilt in the admission, but there was also pleasure.  He was a gale of good company, and not a word from his mouth could be believed.  He had a rich voice, full of Irish and with some American, and no better dinner companion have I known.  But he was as crooked as a ram’s horn; if King Kelly said he’d pray for you, you’d be sure of Hell. (pages 18-19)

Once the real action begins, when Ben’s father abandons his family to join Venetia Kelly’s traveling show and Ben is sent to bring him home, the book becomes hard to put down.  Ben’s frequent digressions, along with telling the reader to remember a particular event or character that would play an important role in the events to come, took a little getting used to, but it soon became clear that these are the defining characteristics of Ben’s storytelling style.

Eccentric characters, asides about Irish history and politics, family drama, literary culture, a coming-of-age story — Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show has it all.  I don’t want to say any more about the plot because Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show is one of those books that takes you on a journey, and you just have to go with the flow.  I had no idea where Delaney was taking me, but I truly enjoyed the ride.  Delaney is a talented storyteller and a master at pacing, giving only what information is necessary at the time.  Seeing how all the pieces fit together by the end makes it all worthwhile.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show from Interpersonal Frequency LLC for review purposes.  I am an Amazon associate.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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