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Thursday, April 19, 2018
4:07 pm edt
The Home for
The French word Elodie [El-oh-dee] means
“foreign riches”. It is also a quite hardy type of lily; a suitable name for one of the main protagonists in Joanna
Goodman’s fourth novel, The Home for Unwanted Girls. For, you see, Elodie was taken from, Maggie, her 16-year-old mother at birth, and raised in the cruelest of conditions
in a Quebec orphanage rebranded in the 1950s by the government as a “home for the mentally ill”. What young Elodie
goes through – Nay, suffers – as her mother spends a lifetime frantically searching for her, proves her profound
will to survive. Her own hardy mettle. Just like her apt name.
The child of
a mixed marriage between an Englishman and a French woman, Maggie wants nothing more than to work in her father’s garden
shop. She dreams of one day owning and running it herself as she counts and packages seeds in the attic. As she grows older,
she is enamored of Gabriel, a French lad, whom her father decides is “not suitable” for his daughter. To avoid
further contact, he ships her to her uncle’s house, where she is brutally raped. As the resultant baby is ripped from
Maggie’s arms just minutes after birth she has only a moment to name her daughter “Elodie” before she is
taken away. Sold by her father on the then thriving baby black market. Thus sparkling a life-long dissonance between herself
and her once beloved parent.
Elodie, at age seven, too young to understand or
know any other home, thrives in the orphanage until it is declared a mental asylum. She is transferred to another institution
where she meets the unthwarted and unwarranted wrath of only monetary-minded nuns. Injustice and cruelty prevail until she
meets another sister who kindly takes her under her wing… Awaiting the time when Elodie is grown; old enough to be
cast out into the unknown outside world on her own.
Based upon real events and seething
with exceptionally detailed and exhaustive research, Goodman’s complex political narrative, with several surprising
plot twists and intertwining sub-plots, is a can’t-put-it-down page-turner that is guaranteed to keep readers awake
at night. Waiting to see what happens next in Maggie’s multi-faceted life as she continues to seek Elodie’s whereabouts.
Wanting to scream at the heartless nuns who run the orphanage turned asylum; who consider the young girl and her contemporaries
nothing more than sub-humans. The children tolerated only because of government money given them each month for each incarcerated
“patient” that fills their coffers.
Yes, folks. Just like our own
current political times, the ancient adage has been, is, and will always be perennially true: Money is the root of all evil.
And, perhaps, a basic strong theme of this revealing fictional recounting of the devastating damages that unbridled “love
of the all-mighty dollar” can wreak. The subsequent evils spawn in Goodman’s literary telling branches out to
encompass the very heart as well as edges of the lives of Maggie and Elodie.
Told in the
third-person, alternating chapters and sections between Maggie and Elodie, The Home for Unwanted Girls is not only a ripping exposé of Canadian government greed and lack of political as well as personal
compassion, but a study in misogynistic mentalities; revealing startling insensitivities toward female rights and respect.
There is rape, incest, and the turning of deaf eyes and blind eyes. And, yet, Maggie and Elodie somehow survive. The branches
begin to wither and die. True compassion and familial love eventually, finally win out.
To tell you anything more would border on spoiling this superbly written and well thought out novel for
you. Except to say that the author is, indeed, a master craftswoman. One whose literary works should and must grace the library
shelves of discerning bibliophiles.
Enjoy the read!
Monday, April 9, 2018
2:26 pm edt
of Old Dreams
Have you ever felt like an outsider in your own
home town? Alone. Apart. Disconnected. Even though you were born and raised there… you are never
really a part of the mainstream of its daily life. Simply because in many ways, you are different. Not like the others…
A stranger in a familiar land… Longing to be somewhere else, doing something… different.
This is exactly how Mary Crampton, the main character in The Flicker of Old Dreams by Susan Henderson, feels, living with her father, the local mortician, in the small, desolate western town of Petroleum.
Somewhere other there in the back boonies of Montana.
town of Petroleum has hummed quietly along for years. Its 180 or so residents eke out a living from the mill that threshes
wheat and corn grown on the surrounding farmland. The train comes daily to haul the grain away. Like clockwork. Like the steady
beating of a heart… Drumming on and drumming on… Until there is a fatal accident in which young Eddie Golden
falls into the mill tower and is smothered. The heart stops. The mill is forced to close. And like her father’s clients
in the basement, the town dies.
Growing up amid broken rhythms and
patterns of life in a dead, forgotten town, Mary is caught up in the futility of living. Not only does she feel desolate,
she feels dead inside. Feeling alive only when working in the mortuary. Her closest companions, friends, the corpses of her
once living neighbors.
I know this sounds a bit gruesome. It is. The novel,
while superbly simply written – as stark and naked as the landscape in which it is set – contains disturbing graphics
that will keep the faint of heart awake at night. But if you can stomach and look beyond them, there is a rich, rewarding
story steeped in tragedy and laced with hope.
When Robert, Eddie’s younger
brother comes home to take care of his ailing mother, Mary discovers in herself an unfamiliar feeling of energy and renewal.
She begins to develop confidence; asserting herself to her father, backing away from his controlling influences on her life.
Slowly unraveling the bounds that tie her to him until, with the bounds slowly breaking… Mary starts to set herself
This is not the type of novel that I would voluntarily
pick out for myself. But since it came in a packet of books from my favorite publicist at HarperCollins, I felt compelled
to read it. And while I cringed at the stark descriptions of what Mary’s job entailed, I was drawn into its pages, captivated
by the writing. This is Henderson’s second novel and it is evident that she has honed her craft to a science. Her sparse,
succinct style is similar to that of Ernest Hemingway or even Lisa Scottoline, whose modern-day mysteries I have come to immensely
enjoy. And yes, the author does not disappoint, lacing her narrative with compelling moving passages that are rift with insightful
erudite overtones that are the hallmarks of good, enlightening literature.
Enjoy the read!
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
4:06 pm edt
It’s been a while. After three Nor’easter’s, two minor snow storms, a
nasty sinus infection, struggling with writing yet another novel, and a recently devasting death in the family later…
I still hadn’t whittled down my “Books-to-Be-Read-this-Month” stack. It wasn’t until this past holiday
weekend when I finally said, “To hell with it all!” and picked out a novel at random, tuned out this world, and
entered the saner literary one…
A world that, both unfortunately
and unfortunately, turned out to be not so much sane, but more disturbingly bizarre with its stark realities than, and reflective
of, the actual one I had left.
To paraphrase the character Sophia
in The Golden Girls: Picture this. Nazi Germany. 1939.
In Lilac Girls, a compelling first novel by Martha Hall Kelly, Kasia, a teenager from Lublin, Poland, is rounded up, along with
Helina, her mother, and Zuzanna, her sister, by German soldiers. Within minutes, they are imprisoned in the bowels of Lublin
Castle. Three days later, the women find themselves being shipped by train to Furstenberg where they are incarcerated in Ravensbrück,
the largest concentration camp for women in Germany. Kasia and her sister become part of a group known as “Rabbits”.
One, because they are experimental lupin (French for rabbits) in a heinous plan devised by Hitler’s
henchmen– Herring, Himmler, and Goebbels to find a “cure” for war injuries – and two, because after
undergoing grotesquely cruel, inhuman operations, they could do nothing more than hop and hobble around the camp.
A little-known figure in history, Caroline Ferriday, a former Broadway actress and member
of the elite New York City society, works as an attaché in the French embassy. As the author relates in the first person,
Ferriday’s multi-faceted story is fascinating; steeped in the guts and glory of the war era coupled with the difficulties
and uncertainties of finding -- and keeping – true love and friendship. Richly written and crafted in true documentary
fictional style, Ferriday’s narration unfolds throughout the course of the war until her life entwines with that of
Kasia and Zuzanna. And, eventually, comes to grips with Herta Oberheuser, the only woman physician actually allowed on Ravensbrück’s
medical staff. And, truth be told, one of the most cruelly insensitive historic fictional characters I have met in a long
The author, as related in her endnotes, spent more then three years
immersed in ferreting out and writing about details of Ferriday’s life and, now, because of this historical novel, her
enduring legacy. Character descriptions, both imagined and real based upon letters, diaries, and archival records, as well
as personal journeys to Poland, Paris, and German – not to mention Ferriday’s now historical home (“The
Hay”) in Bethlehem, Connecticut – are more than true-to-life. They are real in the narration because Kelly has
brought them back to life with considerable skill and consummate empathy. Which made reading about them not only enjoyable,
but elucidating, enlightening, and, more importantly, in the face-paced, exciting – and quite satisfactory – denouement,
Perhaps Lilac Girls was the wrong novel choice to read when lone and forlorn (still am, a bit, I guess) from coping through the trials
and tribulations of March. But Kelly, who has found her exceptionally gifted literally talent and voice, offers a powerful
anecdote by relating, through fiction, not only the boundless bravery and fortitude of the Rabbits, but the kindness
of Caroline Ferriday who through her hard work, generosity, and gentle compassion, helped them recover from what could have
been devastatingly lasting effects of their own trials and tribulations.
Which proves just about anything in real-life, however disturbingly horrific – albeit
couched in fiction – can be overcome. And that, as April finally bounds into Spring, is giving me and, hopefully, you,
Enjoy the read!
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
5:03 pm est
and the Sicilian Lions
Some, if not all of the better fiction
is based upon true life. My own characters, for example, stem from close friends and family or are composites of larger-than-life
personalities. “They” say: Write what you know. Or, in the case of Mario Giordano, write whom you know.
Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions, released yesterday by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is actually an homage to the author’s aunt who, like the eponymic
title character, really did retire and moved from Germany to Sicily. She is, Giordano claims, is just as “outrageous”
as his mystery-solving protagonist. But, alas, in real life, has not – yet – solved any murders. Which is exactly
what the fictitious Auntie Poldi did in the first novel of her very own series.
Auntie Poldi – Isolde – was a dressmaker before retiring to the Isle of Sicily where she sought to quietly
live out the rest of her days soaking in the local wine, sunshine, and the view of the sea. With only a few visitors. Ah,
blissful peace and tranquility. Until the young, handsome handyman that she hired to tend to her small villa in Via Baronessa
goes missing. Nowhere to be found, it seems he has fallen off the face of the earth. So, like the real-life gregarious Auntie
Poldi, the intrepid fictional Auntie Poldi starts asking questions, discovers his body – obviously he was murdered
– and then, despite the objections of her sisters and the chagrin of the ever so handsome detective
Vito Montana, jumps head-long into a full-fledged investigation of her own.
Add a few shady
characters, the disappearance of one of a pair of a lion sculptures, several false leads, a romantic entanglement or two,
a roof-top show-down, and a roman à clef nephew who occasionally carries the narrative, and you’ve got a
nearly first-class mystery on your hands. Let’s say, Nancy Drew fair for adults. And I say “nearly first class’
because this quirky novel does have its minor foibles easily overlooked by the mad-cap antics of its major characters and
Giordano's deft command of his writing skills. Overlooking the fact that the book was originally written in Italian and is
the author’s first literary offering translated into English.
As huge fan
of light-heartened mysteries – although there is nothing light-hearted about murder – I really enjoyed reading
this novel. Especially following the complex plot-lines as Poldi weaves her inebriated way through a maze of clues to solve
the crime. And not to mention that the intrigue is refreshingly set in modern-day Sicily and is sprinkled with touristy comments
and descriptions. Actually, the whole of the conceit had me joyously second-guessing Poldi’s and Montana’s next
moves – delightfully together as well as deliciously apart.
recaps at the beginning of each chapter were annoyingly glaring spoiler alerts. “Tell them what you’re going to
tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them” was once a hallmark of 17th and 18th
Century books and still might be fine today in other aspects of the real world. But, please, please do not use this egregious
antediluvian technique in novels. Especially mystery novels in which the reader wants the plot line to unfold without advance
hints, clues, and pre-action tells. That is the whole point of reading a mystery. Headings describing what you’re about
to read is like eating dessert before dinner; devouring the olive before sipping the gin martini; those annoying people in
movie theatres who blurt out what will happen next. Yuck. The whole concept of pre-mature précises and re-caps smacks
of immature writing. So, rather than ruin an otherwise decent read, I skipped the headings.
And reveled in the fictional Auntie Poldi’s life and times. Eager for the next installment to be
released next Spring…
Enjoy the read!
Monday, March 5, 2018
4:34 pm est
My Journey in Philanthropy
“’Tis better” the saying goes, “to give than to receive.” One of epitomes
of this is the charming, historical Borough of Phoenixville, with its more than 125 charitable organizations, including
the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation. Established in 1998, it fosters a health-care safety net for the greater Phoenixville
community, comprised of 19 municipalities spanning significant parts of Chester and Montgomery counties. Not only that, PCHF
is an active participant in just about every major charity in Phoenixville, partnering with, to name a few, Rotary Club, Kiwanis,
Orion Communities, Phoenix Hose, Hook & Ladder No. 1, Good Samaritan Services, and St. Ann’s Heart Code Blue. All
which, among other things, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, plan cultural events, and reach out into the community to
help those in need.
There are a number of events scheduled this spring and summer to celebrate the Foundation’s
20th Anniversary, including a special exhibit in PCHF’s honor currently mounted in the Historical Society
of the Great Phoenixville Area Museum. Running from March through June, it is entitled “The Greater Good: A History
of Community Organizations Giving Back in Phoenixville”. This interested display features key high points of giving
in Phoenixville’s diversely complex history.
And one of the highlights is the display [and promotion] of
My Journey in Philanthropy: Memoir, Reflective Essays & True Stories by none other than the director of the Community Health Foundation, Louis J. Beccaria, Ph.D.
in December of last year, this relatively small book packs a big wallop. For those of you who might think the subject of philanthropy
is dull and arid as dust bunnies… Lou’s book will make you think again. Informally written in an almost “Chatty
Charlie” style, the author relates his 48-year journey learning the art and craft of assisting others in giving. His
interesting and multi-faceted life, as related in the memoir section, is, in fact, the epitome of sharing. I have known Lou
for several years and he is, indeed, a humble, generous, thoughtfully kind person who, in his 20 years as Director and CEO
of PCHF [He is the first and, so far, only…] has dedicated himself to ensuring our community’s well-being.
The book goes on to differentiate between those that give their money – philanthropists – and those
that help them – philanthropoids [a term Lou created]. And depending in which category you might find yourself or those
that you know, there are rules, principles and guidelines that govern each. Tenets of generosity that are clearly explained
and expounded upon. For those of us venturing into the world of philanthropy – even those that are “old hands”
– Lou’s book, I suspect, will quickly become the go-to manual of personal experience and knowledge for those in
Of course, the best part is the compilation of 34 humorous stories gathered in the course
of the author’s philanthropic work. Funny, poignant, and salted with foibles of giving [and taking], they portray the
warm and human side of the world of philanthropy. A world with which if you are not already familiar, I most heartily suggest
that you take the time to visit.
Enjoy the read!
J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is
an author, poet, and librettist. Her currenty published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations,
volumes of poetry, stories
for children (of all ages) and
a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:
Hose, Hook & Ladder: A Novel of Phoenixville during World War I
Columbia Hotel: A Novel
of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville during World War II
Rainbow in the Sky
of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A
Collection of More Spiritual Poems
We Three Kings
Beauty and the Beast
Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding
Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She
is currently working on her sixth novel.