Saturday, July 14, 2018


Ireland – by Frank Delaney

Ronan O’Mara is a nine-year old boy who lives in rural Ireland with his mother, father, and aunt. The year is 1951. One day, a mysterious stranger – an older man – appears at the doorstep. Who is he? We don’t know. We know his visit is expected. Neighbors come over, and the stranger tells the family and their neighbors a story. Several stories actually. It seems this is the gift of the stranger. A storyteller. Ronan wishes the man could stay forever, but his impatient mother feels he’s outstayed his welcome after a few days, and the stranger leaves.  There’s something about this man that has touched Ronan’s soul though, and Ronan can’t rest easy with the stranger no longer in his life. So Ronan begins a twelve year quest to find the stranger.

Now, before I go further, let’s go back to the stories that the old man told Ronan and company. These stories are quite a pleasant diversion from our “main” story. The stories that the stranger tells are about the people’s homeland and history -the history of Ireland. True, there’s a lot of myth, fable, and tradition within these yarns, but the storyteller knows how to enrapture an audience. It doesn’t surprise us in the least that Ronan can’t rest until he finds out where the man is after he leaves. At the very least, it would be nice to find out who he is. 
Reading this wonderful novel allows you to suspend any sort of disbelief you may have.  Is it really common to invite a complete stranger into your house for a week simply because he can tell stories? Is this man even real? Or is he a figment of young Ronan’s imagination?  Does the existence of this character serve only to aid Ronan discover his destiny?  Good stories really are rare, and Frank Delaney simply entertains us to the point that we simply don’t want to add too much logic within the pages we’re reading.  These stories of Ireland that are juxtaposed through the pages are simply wonderful tales, and many times altogether too brief.

As Ronan embarks on his journey, he seems to be forever one or two steps behind the storyteller. But this doesn’t stop Ronan from hearing more of the stranger’s stories. Wherever Ronan goes, it seems he’s allowed to hear more stories from the stranger in many different forms. Sometimes, he hears the stories secondhand. Other times, the story teller leaves Ronan written tales that the storyteller composed for him to enjoy. It seems the stranger knows Ronan might be searching for him.

What makes this novel more pleasurable as that we also get to know Ronan and his family quite well. Had these extra tales not been thrown into the main storyline, this still would have been a terrific book. Ronan, like all of us, has his own life to live, and as the story progresses, we learn more about his own personal history and the events that shape his character.  So maybe a great way to describe this book is “several wonderful stories told within a story”.
Although this book takes place in Ireland and all of the stories are about Ireland’s history, the overall feel is quite light. This isn’t a densely packed James Michener type of book. I feel that had author Frank Delaney wanted to write such a book, he could have easily done so, however.  But overall, this book is rather light on the historical narratives of the country. The main objective here is Ronan, and his quest to find his calling.

I loved this book. As someone who reads quite a bit of fiction, I never take great writing for granted. The story is the point of a good book, but more important is how the author tells the story. How else could John Grisham become so popular?  On the surface, dozens of books about the law profession don’t sound very exciting, but Grisham is a great storyteller.   

And so is Frank Delaney. After reading this book (Summer 2018) I was sad to discover that Mr. Delaney passed away about a year ago. Fortunately, he has several other books that he penned (all seem to be somewhat related to Ireland), and I’m eagerly looking forward to reading more by this author.

Mistress of Justice

Mistress of Justice – Jeffery Deaver

One of Jeffery Deaver’s earlier books. According to the Forward in the book, Deaver tells his readers that he’s actually “rewritten” the book. He was satisfied with his original story, but experience must have told him that he could have done a bit better -maybe make it a tad more suspenseful, flesh out the characters, and incorporate elements to suck in the reader a bit more. Regardless, whatever he did worked. Although I never read the original version, this book has all the elements that make the story a great thriller.

Now, I THINK that this original book was written before the days of John Grisham. I mention this because this book is a “legal” thriller, and it might be tempting to say that Deaver ripped off a lot of lawyer factoids and legal legends from Grisham.  Whenever we read a John Grisham book about the profession, we read about people who care more about making gobs of money than actually being a crusader for law. Everyone works hundreds of hours per week and learns the secrets of manipulating the legal process etc. etc.   We get a bit of that here, but those who know Jeffery Deaver know that he’s a very thorough researcher of his subjects, and if the original book was written back in 1992, we can safely say that Deaver “got there first”.

Our protagonist is Taylor Lockwood. She’s a late-twenties, single paralegal working for one of those mega Wall Street firms where power and cocaine rule.  The firm is about to undergo a major merger that will affect the way the firm does business, as well as probably sever some payroll. Strange things start happening, and one of the smarter young lawyers, Mitchell Reece, can feel that unscrupulous behavior is in the air. When a crucial document goes missing, Mitchell “hires” Taylor to play detective to uncover the facts.

Not sure if such a situation would ever happen in the real world, but give Mitchell credit. He hired the right person. Taylor is hard core, and plows right into her ‘assignment’.  We also get to learn and understand more about Taylor. Her overly ambitious lawyer-father, her moonlighting as a jazz pianist, and her calm resilience of who she is despite swimming in a sea of piranhas.  Had this been a true story, I doubt if anyone could have been as successful as Taylor – she moves from point A to point B throughout the story quite fast, but truth belongs in non-fiction.

This book is also a lot less ‘creepy’ than many of Deaver’s works. True, we meet some characters that make us shudder a bit, but unlike the Lincoln Rhyme books that deal with demented psychopaths with strange fetishes, this one is rather harmless in comparison.

Although this is one of his earlier works, it’s definitely Deaver. If you like the majority of Jeffery Deaver’s books, this one won’t disappoint. I’m somewhat curious, however, to know how this ‘revised’ version stacks up against the ‘original’.

The Grand Delusion - The Unauthorized True Story of Styx

The Grand Delusion – The Unauthorized True Story of Styx – by Sterling Whitaker 

This is by no means a “serious” biography. This is essentially a book written by a fan for the fans. Styx was one of those bands that had a long history of moderate success until they exploded with popularity in 1981 with their album Paradise Theatre. All of the sudden they were on top of the world. They didn’t enjoy the view for long. Their follow up album contained the song “Mr. Roboto”, which like the Apollo 13 mission could be deemed “A Successful Failure”.  In addition to the quirky song alienating a chunk of fans, there was a lot of internal squabbling going on among the band members as well.  So Styx faded into obscurity rather quickly as the 80s wore on.

They took everyone by surprise with a highly successful reunion tour and live album in 1996, but the wounds and egos persisted and the next thing you knew, front man Dennis DeYoung was basically kicked out of his own band. This book was written several years into his exodus, with remaining members Tommy Shaw and James ‘J.Y.’ Young taking the lead and trying to keep the name ‘Styx’ relevant by persistent touring.

Sterling Whitaker is a fan and music journalist who puts together the best thing that the fans of this band have if they want a biography. This book is patchy, and not well written, but that really doesn’t seem to be the point. 90% of this book is interviews with key people in the band’s history. The author basically includes the entire transcript of the interviews as he goes through the band’s history. Other than Tommy Shaw, none of the key members of the band are interviewed, but isn’t that usually the case with “unauthorized biographies”? Even Tommy’s interview was done sometime in the early 90s, but there are plenty of well known and respected people that were close enough to the band’s inner circle to give this book the credit and authenticity it deserves.  Included are interviews with record executives, band managers, road managers, and current ‘filler’ members to give the book the detail it needs.

‘Detail’, though, tends to be this book’s weakness as well as its strength. The interviews within this book should have been edited and presented to the reader with information that is only interesting, or at least relevant, to the readers.  Example: There’s one lengthy interview with Michael Cartelone (the drummer of ‘Damn Yankees’, Tommy Shaw’s other band) where Cartelone talks about drum fills for an entire page of the interview, and Whitaker includes it all. Oy.   There are a lot of instances like this here.  Then, we even have interviews with other fans that probably shouldn’t be included. There was one series of interviews with a guy who, to my knowledge, may have interviewed members of the band himself at one time, but his only claim to fame is that he hosted a Styx Collector website.  He presented his opinions as fact and just rubbed me the wrong way.  I can tolerate James Young sputtering such nonsense as “Cyclorama is the best thing that Styx has ever done”, but when an ordinary fan spews out such sloth, it’s a bit much.  I felt like I was reading the ‘comments’ section on a Facebook page. Then, when the author himself includes such things as his juvenile reviews of each album that are basically a one-line sentence about each song included, it seems rather unprofessional.

Still, though, there really is no better source for the fan than what author Whitaker provides. You feel like you’re going through all the motions that the band experienced from the very beginning all the way through the various ups and downs of their latter days.  You won’t find as much detail about this band anywhere else. So give Sterling Whitaker credit for meticulous research and journalism. I just think he could have benefited by an editor, or at least a professional co-author.