Review of Books
By Tom Deignan, Contributor
Febuary / March 2006
Recently published books of Irish and Irish American interest.
The Opal Deception
The Artemis Fowl franchise keeps rolling along. Often dubbed “the Irish Harry Potter,” written by former school-teacher Eoin Colfer, the fourth book in the Fowl series is now out, entitled The Opal Deception. In this latest adventure for kids and teens, Artemis, the brilliant 14-year-old mastermind, has had his mind wiped clean of all previous knowledge — including the secret world of battling fairies in which he exists. The biggest problem is that he cannot recall all of the positive lessons he has learned. Will Artemis be tempted to turn to the darkside? Pick up The Opal Deception and find out.
($16.95 / 352 pages / Miramax)
The Last of the Heroes
Billy Keane, the sports columnist for the Irish Independent (and also son of beloved author John B.) also has a new historical novel out. The Last of the Heroes is a comical, yet touching look at one family as it struggles with the rest of Ireland throughout the 20th century, from the hard years of the Irish civil war to the Celtic Tiger and the new millennium.
($19.95 / 289 pages / Ballpoint — Irish Books and Media)
Another Irish children’s author doing very well these days is Darren O’Shaughnessy, whose vampire epics published under the name Darren Shan are worldwide hits. Eight million copies of his books have been sold and, as with Colfer and Artemis Fowl, Hollywood has come calling.
O’Shaughnessy wrote two novels for adults, but his 2000 book for young adults Cirque du Freak made him famous. Born in London to Irish parents, O’Shaughnessy, 32, now lives in Limerick. With the vampire saga wrapped up, look out for the first book in O’Shaughnessy’s new series Lord Loss, part of a saga he is calling The Demonata.
($15.99 / 240 pages / Little, Brown)
If you prefer historical realism to fairies and vampires, check out John Malone’s haunting new novel Farewell Forever. Set in the 1830s, the book follows a young Cavan couple who fall in love. They leave Ireland just before the Famine strikes, making their way through Dublin, New York, Philly and other points before settling in Pennsylvania. The novel is partially based on the life of Malone’s great-great-grandfather. In this brief but compelling novel, Malone does a fine job of making the reader feel as if he is being taken back in time.
($17 / 145 pages / Trafford)
Lord of the Dance: My Story by Flatley
Michael Flatley & Douglas Thompson
American radio shock jock Howard Stern likes to call himself the “King of all Media.” However, Irish-American dance man Michael Flatley has a right to begin using the moniker as well. To go along with his blockbuster dance shows and TV specials, not to mention the ongoing talk of a Flatley Hollywood movie, the Chicago-born hoofer can now add “author” to his resumé. Lord of the Dance: My Story by Flatley (co-written with Douglas Thompson) is hitting bookstores soon for those legions of fans who can’t get enough of Flatley’s life, loves and philosophy. The son of Irish immigrants, Flatley describes his youth as hardscrabble, during which he helped his dad dig ditches. Most of the footwork Flatley did while growing up was in the boxing ring, not on the dance floor.
At the age of 11, against his will, he attended Irish dance classes and thus were born Flatley’s famous feet of flames. What is perhaps most interesting about this book is Flatley’s take on his rise to stardom. There’s quite a bit of namedropping, late-night club hopping and elbow rubbing with stars. All this, of course, is from Flatley’s own point of view, so don’t expect much controversy here. However, he does address the 2003 rape he was very publicly charged with (he was later exonerated). Say what you will about Flatley, but as this book shows, his life story is an inspiring, undeniable example of the Irish-American dream.
(Touchstone / 320 pages / $24.95)
No Applause – Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous
An interesting book on Irish-American history has just come out. No Applause — Just Throw Money: The Book that Made Vaudeville Famous by Trav S.D. nicely outlines the prominent role Irish immigrants played in the formation of 19th-century vaudevillian theater.
($25 / 328 pages / Faber and Faber)
Thomas Francis Meagher: The Making of an Irish American
John M. Hearne & Rory T. Cornish
From roughly the same era as No Applause comes a revealing biographical study, Thomas Francis Meagher: The Making of an Irish American, edited by John M. Hearne and Rory T. Cornish. The book is a scholarly collection of essays about the famed Civil War general’s life and times. It is part of a fascinating new series from the Irish Academic Press called “The Irish Abroad Series” which aims to publish short biographies of Irish men and women who “made their mark outside their native country.”
($29.50 / 254 pages / Irish Academic Press)
Little Chapel on the River: A Pub, a Town and a Search for What Matters Most
It took the horror of 9/11 to bring Irish immigrant Jim Guinan and journalist Gwendolyn “Wendy” Bounds together. She was a mover and shaker in Manhattan, a journalist at The Wall Street Journal. He ran a humble pub and country store in the upstate New York community of Garrison, where he settled with his wife and four children in 1957. But following September 11, Bounds found herself more or less homeless. She had lived in the shadow of the World Trade Center. Eventually, a friend mentioned there might be a place to stay upstate in Garrison. This did not strike Bounds as her kind of town. Well, if Bounds did make it up to Garrison, a friend said she must visit a place called Guinan’s. Three years later, Bounds now lives in upstate New York and she has written a fascinating book called Little Chapel on the River: A Pub, a Town and a Search for What Matters Most. Bounds becomes another regular at the joint, even pitching in around the store. The book gives us a close look at some of the grizzled regulars, whose soft sides and fascinating personal stories Bounds expertly draws out.
Bounds, seemingly the quintessential Manhattanite, now lives not far from Guinan’s. Ironically, she came to Manhattan initially to experience all the thrills city life had to offer. She is originally from North Carolina. Now, in her book, she claims that the Guinan family taught her what really matters in life.
As Bounds writes: “For most of its days, the place billed itself as a country store, but its true heart was the adjacent pub. There was a rusty horseshoe posted above one door and a gold shamrock embedded, slightly off center, in the fireplace hearth. The floor slanted toward the river, and the men returned to the same seats every Friday. Most people called it Guinan’s (sounds like Guy-nans) after the Irish owner, Jim Guinan. Some called it the bar. One regular patron christened it his `riverside chapel,’ which seemed to me to fit best because for most of these guys, coming to Guinan’s was something of a religion, with its own customs, community and rites of passage.”
($23.95 / 287 pages / Morrow)
Anne Le Marquand Hartiagan
Another interesting collection of poetry released recently is Anne Le Marquand Hartigan’s Nourishment. An award-winning dramatist who is a regular on the Dublin theater circuit, Hartigan’s poetry this time around focuses on two different, yet passionate forms of nourishment: food and sex.
Some of Hartigan’s prose is almost too hot to publish in a family magazine, but the short poem “Sweet Tooth” gives you (if you will) a flavor of what Hartigan is cooking up. “The stolen fruit hardly picked / hardly in the hand / hardly the first bite taken – / the sweet juice, the sweet word, / the long silence.”
($19.95 / 70 pages / Salmon Poetry-Dufour) ♦