Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Review: Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show by Frank Delaney (& Giveaway)

She sprang from the womb and waved to the crowd. Then she smiled and took a bow. [opening. pg. 3]

Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show by Frank Delaney
Random House, 2010
Fiction (historical); 448 pgs

A young man on the cusp of adulthood has led a relatively good life up until that point. His father is a well-respected farmer and seems happily married to his mother. Everything changes, however, when he attends a traveling show performance with his father one evening. His father refuses to return home, emphatic that he is joining the show. The elder MacCarthy is smitten with the show's lead act, Venetia Kelly, an interest that had begun two years before, unbeknownst to the son. Ben MacCarthy is forced to grow up very quickly after that. Tasked by his mother to go after and bring home his father, Ben must give up his own dreams of college. The year is 1932 and the story takes place in Ireland, a beautiful and yet tense backdrop. Political tensions are high with the upcoming election and subsequent battle for power. What follows is a story full of intrigue, drama, comedy and family loyalty and strength. It is also rich in history with a dash of Irish lore. I laughed. I cried. I held my breath in anticipation of and fear. What sounds like a simple story is far from it. Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show is quite complex, with many layers.

What I found most exquisite in this novel was Frank Delaney's writing. Narrated by an older Ben MacCarthy as he attempts to document the events that took place during the early 1930's. He begins by setting up the characters, introducing them and sharing a little of their background. It was almost too much, but just when I was growing tired and wondering if the book would go on like that forever, Ben's narrative moved into the story and the events that changed his life forever.

I really came to care for the characters. Ben, in his innocence and naivety, was charming and thoughtful. He does what he has to do with the confidence of the young, yet he is still unsure and scared at times. His parents seemed like good people, hardworking and persevering. There were moments I was less than sympathetic with his father, quite a few, actually, but I could see why Ben held him in such high regard. I really felt for Ben's mother. She lost so much in all of this. The Kelly family remains difficult for me to describe. King Kelly, Venetia's grandfather, is a cold man, charming in his own way, but clearly used to using people to reach his own ends. Sarah King, Venetia's mother, and Venetia herself were held at a distance for the first half or so of the book--untouchable almost--but not without reason. The author dazzled the reader with their beauty and skill, both on stage and off. Both were actresses, you see. It is only as time goes on and Ben reveals more that we are given a deeper view of the two women. Venetia, eccentric as she is, never really loses her luster.

The side characters are just as intriguing. From Mrs. Hass, the King's housekeeper, to my favorites, Miss Fay and James Clare, a smart and supportive pair who offer their help to Ben along the way. James Clare was an especially interesting character; his occupation involved traveling around Ireland collecting and telling stories. He knew just the spin to put on a story. The most ordinary of circumstances seemed like an adventure when he was through weaving his own tale.

The political undercurrent that runs through the novel plays a significant part in the novel. Just as the MacCarthy family is facing serious upheaval of their own, so seems to be the government. Violence threatens to erupt from under the surface and Ben unwittingly finds himself at the forefront of it all.

As I read Frank Delaney's novel, I couldn't help but be entranced. The art of storytelling is in high gear in the novel, both as a theme running through the novel and the way the book was written. I would love to hear this novel narrated--I imagine it would be just as wonderful in the right narrator's voice. Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show is definitely one I will be keeping around. I can see myself returning to it again and again, each time getting something new out of it.

Rating: * (Very Good +)

I am hosting a giveaway for a signed copy of Frank Delaney's book, Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show. To enter, please leave a comment with your e-mail address (unless it is very easy to find on your blog or profile page) telling me why you want to read this book. The giveaway is open internationally. The winner will be chosen in a random drawing. Deadline to enter is July 2nd at 11:59 p.m. Pacific time. The winner will be notified by e-mail.

Giveaway now closed. Congratulations to Andi from Estella's Revenge!

You can learn more about Frank Delaney and his books on his website.

Source: Book provided by Interpersonal Frequency LLC for review (giveaway copy also).

© 2010, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. I want to read this because it is set in 1930s Ireland! Love Irish books and love that time setting.

    nicolama at cogeco dot ca

  2. No need to enter me, as I've already read the book.

    I sounds like we felt the same way about it. I was wondering when the real story was going to start, and when it did, I was entranced. Great review!

  3. I would love to be entered in the give away! I have read several reviews of the book so far, and with each one I become more and more intrigued. Also, I LOVE the cover art :)

    Mstermind1 at gmail dot com

  4. What a wonderful review! I read and loved his first book, Ireland, and would love the chance to read this one. It sounds as though it's a really complex read, with a lot going on. I especially like that the characters are so fleshed-out. Thanks for the great giveaway! Please do enter me in it!!


  5. no need to enter me in the giveaway, but I wanted to concur that this is one of my favorite books. I really enjoyed it.

  6. I listened to the audio version of this book and Frank Delaney does a marvelous job of reading it. No need to enter me in the giveaway.

  7. I've been trying to resist giveaways, but please put my name in the hat for this one. I'd like to read it because I really loved Frank Delaney's Ireland, and so I think I'd love this too. Thank you for hosting the giveaway, Wendy!

    untuneric at gmail dot com.

  8. I just reached the point where the story starts to unfold - I had a hard time getting into it at first, with the short chapters unfolding various characters' histories - but it is picking up now and I can tell I'm going to love it.

  9. I've been wanting to read this one since the first time I read a review of it. I grew up for a few years in a carnival so am always fascinated by anthing set in that sort of world. Thanks for the opportunity.

  10. Sounds like a good read - I haven't read anything by Delaney yet, but have been meaning to for some time. Great review!

  11. Great review! I haven't read anything by him and would love to. Thank you for the giveaway :)

  12. I turned this one down before Greyson was born because I didn't know when I'd have time to read it. Now I'm kinda sad I did! That's why I want to win (and read) it.


  13. I have this audio loaded on my iPod, based on Kathy's wonderful review of the author's narrating skills. I can't wait to listen to it!

  14. I would like to read this book because it is set in the 1930's ~ a time when my parents were born. This is a time period that really interests me.


  15. Great review, Wendy! I've read lots of rave reviews on this book so I'm interested to read it. Please enter me, thanks! :)

  16. I've read great things about this one and now am thinking of listening to it on audio because of a wonderful audio review!

  17. So glad you liked this one Wendy. I just finished the audio last week and also enjoyed it; great review.

  18. Nicola - I haven't read too many books set in Ireland around this time and so it was especially interesting.

    Anna - Thanks! In the end, I really liked the way Delaney set the novel up, introducing us to many of the characters up front. It made the rest of the novel flow so smoothly.

    Molly - I wasn't sure at first whether I wanted to read this one, but, like you, the reviews of it really had me intrigued. I'm glad I took a chance on it.

    Heather - Thank you! I can't wait to read Ireland. Delaney is such a master storyteller.

    Serena - It was so good! I look forward to reading more by the author.

    Kathy - Oo! I can just imagine. I'd love to hear the audio of this one.

    Ana - I think you'd like this one too, Ana. I've been trying to stay away from giveaways too, but some are just too tempting to pass up. :-)

    Carrie - I look forward to reading your thoughts on it when you finish, Carrie!

    Ryan - How interesting, Ryan! You would definitely be coming at it from an insider's look then.

  19. Kirsten - I'm so impressed by Delaney's writing, Kirsten. I can't believe I never thought to read anything by him before.

    Iliana - I hadn't really considered reading anything by Delaney before I was offered this one for review. I'm so glad I took a chance on it.

    Andi - I've regretted turning books down before too. But you did have a good reason. :-)

    Sandy - I'm sure it will be wonderful in audio!

    ChristyJan - It's such an interesting time period, isn't it? I love history.

    Melody - I really did enjoy it. I think you'd like it, Melody!

    Staci - I think it'd be a great one to hear in audio.

    Diane - I saw that you reviewed it but haven't had a chance to read your thoughts on the audio version yet. I'm so glad you liked it, Diane!

  20. Based on your review, I've added Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show to my wish list. I'd love to win a copy to read because you rated it so highly!

  21. I haven’t read any of this author’s books, but your review sounds like a book that I would take pleasure in reading.

    Thanks you so much for hosting this giveaway.


  22. I have heard so many good things about this book. Thank you for entering me. =)
    tiredwkids at live dot com

  23. What has always caught me about Irish books, especially when well written, is the amazing characters they contain.

    And having been lucky enough to visit Ireland a few years ago and can tell you that Ireland is truly full of the most unbelievable and endearing character you will find anywhere.

    Please enter me in the giveaway.


    Carol T

    buddytho {at} gmail DOT com

  24. Two reasons: I love the setting of the book and you really loved it so it must be good!!!!

    Life by Candlelight

  25. Two reasons: I love the setting of the book and you really loved it so it must be good!!!!

    Life by Candlelight

  26. Wonderful review Wendy! You make me want to sink my teeth into this one. I would love to read this one because the time period is always so interesting to me. So much is happening in the world during this time and Delaney's story sounds to good to miss.

  27. no need to enter me - I have already read the book.

    I really enjoyed it too - I agree the art of storytelling is well represented by Frank Delaney. It is the first of his books for me but won't be the last!

  28. I'm so glad you enjoyed this depsite the slow start. I had that same feeling--and I also had that with Ireland as well. But Delaney's writing is simply wonderful. I read much of Ireland aloud to my husband on car trips and it really brought the magic of the story to life.

    Not sure if you know this, but during a very brief twitter exchange with Delaney, I learned that there will be a stand alone sequel to this one!

  29. Great review. Yet another book I'd like to read. I've seen so many good reviews of this one. It's definitely on my wishlist. I wish I had participated in the tour.


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