June's Literary Blog
 

A LITERARY BLOG ABOUT BOOKS
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How they shape our lives.

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Copyright 2011-2018


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Saturday, December 1, 2018

 

Natalie Zellat Dyen, the Writer

Before I retired, I worked on a seven-member technical writing team at a large software company. While each and every one of us had honed our craft to perfection – we were considered the best in the company, if not in the business – each and every one of us had more creative ambitions. Writing user manuals for the small niche of hospital financial personnel is one thing, but writing fiction in all genres for, hopefully, a general readership is a higher calling that only a handful of us actually answered. And mastered.

Although she didn’t realize it at the time, one of the more creative team members was Natalie Dyen, with whom I shared an office and then a cubicle wall for eight years before she retired. After retirement, much to her own surprise, she found her storytelling “voice" and is now a formidable writer of short stories, poetry, and dystopian fiction.

Now, although I’ve written several and listen to PBS Selected Shorts, I have not fully mastered the art of short stories. I like my fiction – both written and read – to be long and rambling, consuming whole afternoons and evenings, getting lost in the plot lines and prose. Savoring, pondering; being happily exponentially verbose. But when Natalie began posting online links to her work published in local journals, newspapers, and the more articulate literary periodicals, I began reading. Nothing more than curious about what my long-time friend from work was now writing…

And to my great delight, I discovered yet another talented author, with a fresh, erudite, often humorous voice to add to my must-always-read list. A writer who has mastered the art of short story telling to near perfection, a la the styles of H. H. Munro (Saki), Mark Twain, Ray Bradbury, Rod Serling, Margaret Attood, Endora Welty, and even Barbara Kingsolver. Yes, Natalie, you are this good!

The Weight of Loss, the first short story of Natalie’s that I read, and the latest she has written – and which inspired me to write a Blog entry – is a veritable tour-de-force replete with metaphoric subtle meanings lacing multiple lessons learned in forming improbable friendships. Including the rewards of looking beyond the superficiality of appearance and seeking the inner person. And while it took me less than an hour to consume, this narrative about a journalist who learns about love and loss from a morbidly obese woman packs more emotional punches than, I have to say, the latest Kingsolver novel I am slowly reading. It’s that great of a read…

Forgive the trite analogy, but reading Natalie Dyen is somewhat like eating Lay’s Potato Chips. You can’t have just one without reaching back into the bag for more. Just one more… Which, of course, leads to the next thought-provoking, thoughtfully well-written one… But, unlike binging on chips, Natalie’s often poignant vignettes need to be paced well apart and savored, one by one to appreciate the full bouquet of her delicious writing. And to absorb and ponder each life lesson that she so wisely imparts.

To cite a few:

ManFred’s Other Cheek is, well, a tongue-in-cheek exposé of creative hubris at its best. With one performance/reality “artist” trying to outdo one another. This was only a ten-minute hiatus in my own writing, but it took me a half hour to stop laughing. Now, I’ve always known Natalie to have a subtle sense of humor, but she rarely, shyly showed it at work. And now, here, she’s unabashingly sharing it with the world!

In Finding her Voice, a longer-than-usual Dyen-esque commentary on the foibles of everyday life, a woman purposefully decides not to use her voice, which no one in her life listens to. In the torment of trying to stay silent, she finds it – soft and sweet – when she is threatened with the actual loss of the ability to speak. Not quite as poignant as her others, but, just the same, Natalie strikes to the heart of the matter and touches that of the reader.

A 2016 first place Sci-fi/Fantasy award winner, By the Numbers is a powerful piece about a student who, while brilliantly talented in every other subject, has absolutely no aptitude for mathematics. The consequences of failing a test for the third time are devastating. And, once again, Natalie couches a message of intolerance and governmental short-sightedness and insensitivity in a deceptively simple story packed with emotional and political overtones. A clear chilling warning to us all…

I hope your reading taste buds are sufficiently whetted. Now it’s time you discover the rest for yourself. Here’s the link to Natalie’s website: www.nataliewrites.com. On it you’ll find links to all of her currently published works, as well as some personal information about the talented author and her writing life and career… Which promises to be, hopefully, a long, prosperous, and fruitful one.

Enjoy the read!

 

4:26 pm est          Comments

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Kinship of Secrets

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’d have realized that my favorite reads are historical novels. Those that capture the essences, flavors of a particular point in time while telling a compelling story. And when a historical novel, such as The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim, is based upon the writer’s own life and family, then it becomes an even more fascinating read.

The Korean War (1950-1953) was glossed over in high school history. Hence, my knowledge of it was sparse, at best, until I started watching M*A*S*H  (1972-1983). While I was more interested in the antics of Hawkeye Pierce, Honeycutt, and Radar, I did pick up a smattering of historical knowledge; at least a substantial bit more than I was taught back in the day. So, when I was sent a copy of Kim’s second novel (her first is The Calligrapher’s Daughter) by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, I was intrigued.

Inspired by her parent’s and an older sister’s true story, the author sets her narrative about two sisters in both the Koreas and the United States. One sister, Miran, as a babe in arms, migrated with the parents to this country; the other, Inja, younger by ten months, is left behind with her maternal uncle and truculent aunt. Combining several literary styles, including diary entries, their stories in Korea, and in America are told as the Korean War rages and the extended and nuclear families struggle with the pangs of loss, separation and the onus of keeping secrets

Clive and Nijan had planned to bring their second daughter to America within two years of their immigration in 1948. But when Korea was finally released from 45 years of Japanese occupation, its borders were closed and hostilities broke out between the newly established countries of North and South Korea. Inja was trapped and remained, after fleeing with her aunt, uncle, and maternal grandparents from Seoul to a small mountain village, unable to join her parents and younger sister. It is not until many years later when Inja and Miran, as teenagers, finally meet… And it is in these years apart, that Kim brings their stories together.

I had a little trouble at first immersing myself into this historical novel. Kim’s writing is stiffer, almost academic, than flowing and it took me a chapter or two to get used to her juxtapositioning of phrases and dialogue. Each sister’s story is told from her perspective in alternating chapters; a conceit that normally would not bother me but, again, at times I wasn’t sure at the start of each to whom the narration was referring.

That begin said, once I was acclimated to Kim’s style, I was thoroughly engrossed by this fascinating story of love, kinship, and familial loyalty. For one, while a chronology of both sister’s life journeys – apart and finally coming together – Kim has woven the strands of mystery throughout. While the “secret” is revealed early on, I was intrigued by how it was handled by each family member. Especially Inja who delicately harbored it in her own heart. For two, the author, albeit they are based upon her own family, obviously has more than the usual tender feelings and compassion a novelist should have for her characters. Which infuses Kim’s masterful story with a powerful poignancy rarely present in books of the same genre.

In many positive respects, The Kinship of Secrets is not an easy read. It needs to be ingested carefully, thoughtfully, sometimes slowly to savor each nuance, with the same depth of candor evident in Kim’s writing. It is a story that could only be written by this author who lived through its realities and, through the prism of literary fiction, has brought it and its message of coping with separation and loss caused by the still un-ended forgotten war to light. Elucidating, educational, as well as entertaining, this novel, released earlier this month, should be on everybody’s “must read” list as well as all the best-seller charts.

Enjoy the read!

3:06 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Nashville: Scenes from the New American South

I have to say this: Been there – to Nashville – done that, got the tee-shirt. As well as a large coffee mug from Opryland. But that was a long, long time ago when I was living in Kentucky and ventured further south with fifty or so Girl Scouts. As we toured the city, attended the Ol’ Opry, ate ice cream at Bobbie’s Dairy Dip, many memories were made. And many, many times since then I’ve often thought I’d like to return to once again savor the unique flavor of an atypical American city.

With a forward by historian Jon Meacham and text by award-winning novelist Ann Patchett, Nashville: Scenes from the New American South is essentially a picture-book. No, it is not for children. Far from it. It is, however, yet another stunningly crafted publication by Harper Design [an imprint of HarperColins] that features the current essences of Nashville, Tennessee, an historical Southern icon that was, is, and forever will be a mecca for artists, filmmakers, and, of course, musicians.

A picture, as the old adage goes, is worth a thousand words. With 174 black and white and full-color photographs by Heidi Ross, there are more than enough to depict Nashville in all her glory. Slowly sifting through the book, they brought back memories of my one and only visit there. But, more importantly, the photographs delve into the heart and soul of a city that is both old and new. Add Patchett’s captions that include wonderful tidbits, and you have the epitome of an armchair traveler’s delight. Nashville at your fingertips without having to leave the living room.

However, let’s go back to Meacham’s introduction. In it, he focusses upon John Lewis, a civil rights leader and Congressman from Georgia, who, while in college in Nashville, learned patience while to endure unimaginable hate for a large cause. Lewis, the youngest speaker during the March on Washington, helped to end Jim Crow, thus desegregating Nashville, once a bastion of bigotry and racism. Meacham notes that during a recent visit, Lewis couldn’t help but wonder at how the city has changed. For the better, of course, as the historian goes on to explain. His eloquence expounding upon the old meeting the new, is a must-read; best not cited here.

A fan of Ann Patchett, I was intrigued by her crisp commentaries that noted trivia that capture the subtleties of life in a city filled with diversity and commonality. As only a native-born and current resident of Nashville could write. Big Al’s Deli & Catering, “a classic spot for Southern cooking…” juxtaposed with Al Gore at the War Memorial Auditorium where he heard the results of the 2000 presidential election; some of the two-million visitors in Cleveland Park who came to see the 2017 solar eclipse path of totality; the history of the Fisk Jubilee Singers; as well as that of the Woodland Studios…

It’s all here. Nashville in all aspects of her glory, uniquely celebrated by the talented triptych of Meacham, Patchett, and Ross. A fitting tribute to and for a unique treasure of the new American South.

Enjoy the read!

12:25 pm est          Comments

Friday, November 9, 2018

Forever and a Day

I was first introduced to James Bond in third year Latin by our teacher, Mr. Miller, who was not only a whiz at languages but had with a wicked sense of humor, and just happened to be a devotée of Ian Fleming, the author of the iconic fourteen spy novels, as well as the children’s classic, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

During the summers, Mr. Miller translated James Bond novels and during the school year, assigned translating of them as a requirement for passing the course. His belief was that Latin was NOT a dead, but a fun language; a vital foundation of the English language, as well as English literature.

Needless to say, as I spent hours reading the Latin, I was enthralled by Ian Fleming and his now famous hero, Bond. James Bond. I went on to read all of Fleming’s works, as well as watch, several times, all of the subsequent movies. Sean Connery being, for me, the best James there ever was. Or ever will be. During the mid-1960s I eagerly anticipated each yearly release of yet another novel and was, needless to say, quite saddened by Ian Fleming’s demise in 1964. No longer will James live on the written page…

But, wait… he has once again been resurrected in all his glory in the brilliant Forever and a Day: A James Bond Novel by Anthony Horowitz. Thank you, Jane at Harper Collins, for sending this newly released [this past Tuesday] fabulous thriller. You have restored my faith in all things Bond. James Bond…

It only took me two short rainy afternoons, but, oh, how much I enjoyed Horowitz’s novel and the very first of Bond’s adventures that transported me along with him to the Riviera of the early 1950s to thwart a large drug smuggling operation. Capitalizing upon and using excepts from Fleming’s outlines for an unrealized television series as well as notes and original, heretofore unpublished writings, Horowitz has admirably carried on the Bond tradition, delivering yet another edge-of-one’s-seat thriller that serves the spy-vs-spy genre admirably well. Especially since it’s the prequel to Casino Royale… And, also, because it answers many mysteries of one of American readers’ most famous literary icons.

For one, did you know that James Bond’s supposed “unique” 007 license-to-kill designation is not original to him? It was assigned to him by M after his predecessor was murdered in the south of France – coincidentally trying to solve the same case to which Bond is assigned. For two, Bond’s proclivity for gin martinis shaken not stirred as well as his preferred Turkish-blend tobacco cigarettes, were adopted from his first love – a one absolutely beautiful Madame Sixtine – while working on this first 007 caper. And, for three, in Forever and a Day, he is young, savvy, bold and brace; yet to be fully seasoned by subsequent years in Fleming’s fictional biographies.

A few comments: While M is a man in the Fleming books, I loved Judi Dench as M in the movies. Hence, in Horowitz’s novel, I read M as a woman, wishing that the author had carried on the modern-day cinematic tradition rather than following Fleming’s. Secondly, I would have liked more explanation, besides what is in the end notes, of what was originally Fleming’s writing and what part of the fiction was created by Horowitz. While he is commissioned by the Fleming estate to write a second Bond novel (the first is Trigger Mortis), based upon Fleming’s materials, I would have liked to have known exactly his original/supplemental plot lines. Although, all in all, to give this author his credit due, this novel as written is a sterling example of the genre.

An absolute page turner… as well as an eye-opener, Horowitz’s Bond novel is as as exciting and fast-paced as the original Fleming novels. Coupling the quick-paced writing and fast action with its subtle commentaries on American politics and bald-faced historical facts (that a few readers will find comfortable) has to be the formula for success. If not a top spot on the best-seller lists. In short, it’s a great read.

One which any and all Bond fans will thoroughly enjoy. And then some.

Enjoy the read!

1:47 pm est          Comments

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Time is the Longest Distance

I am really jumping the gun here, folks, but I wanted to alert you to the release on December 11th of a really interesting, somewhat disturbing, but refreshingly original novel by an up-and-coming author, Janet Clare. is a complex psychological “thriller”. Not quite a mystery, per se, but, nonetheless, Time is the Longest Distance is an intriguing fast-paced novel with an enigmatic plot and inscrutable characters that will leave you wide awake reading well into the wee hours of the morning.

Feeling betrayed that her mother’s deceased husband is not her biological father, Lilly nearly goes into a tailspin. She travels half-way around the world to Australia to meet the man with whom her mother had an affair with more forty-five years ago. Cameron dares Lilly to take on the arduous hardships of the Canning Stock Route, the most difficult and challenging track in the country. Traveling without the benefit of creature comforts – Lilly is a New York City girl accustomed to air conditioning in the summer – she braves excruciating heat as she, Cameron, his son, Grant and Jen, his twenty-something year-old granddaughter, cross the Great Sandy and Gibson deserts.

Now, while not “loveable”, Lilly and Cameron are, indeed, likeable. While Lily is a somewhat pampered “city girl”, Cameron is a crusty old soul – reminiscent of an aging Crocodile Dundee. They are very true-to-life, as are Jen, the “whatever” millennial protective of her father, Grant, who exudes his own brands of crustiness charm, callousness, and compassion. At one point, Lilly aptly compares herself to Isek Dinesen (Karen Blixen) and Beryl Markham who each, in the early 1900s had their own nefarious adventures in the wilds of Kenya. Clare might have easily chosen “Out of Australia” for her debut novel instead.

Comprising the psychological foundation and bulk of the novel, Lilly has ample time during the two-week journey to stunningly and brashly reflect on her life with its not so perfect past and present relationships. There are Stephen, her estranged husband who is a drunken failure both as an artist and a husband, and Thomas, the paramour au courant who had originally convinced her to seek out Cameron. And, now, she faces a surprise illicit love affair that will knock the socks off any reader brave enough to journey across the Australian outback with the trepid main protagonist.

A bold and often brash clear and concise writer, Clare sometimes brutally to the point. She is not afraid to imbue her well-defined characters with power. Power to bluntly speak their minds; power to face beliefs and feelings, however mis-placed or inappropriate; power to act upon them; and power to honestly interact with one another. And she is not afraid to use her own literary power to tell a powerful story, catching readers off-guard with startling revelations and ambushing them with unforeseen plot twists and turns. I won’t reveal the denouement, lest I spoil this great literary accomplishment. But I will say that while it is a nearly perfect ending, it is, once again, as is the rest of the story, blunt and brutally honest.  

With its themes of displacement (“Where – and to whom? – do I really belong?”); the search for identity of one’s self and others; and the struggle for self-actualization, Time is the Longest Distance is on par with the psychological novels of Anita Shreve and the earlier works of Margaret Atwood. I strongly encourage you to pre-order this rich, often dark, but enlightening novel. It is one of the most adventurous books of the year. In more ways than one.

Enjoy the read!

4:52 pm edt          Comments

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June J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is an author, poet, and librettist. Her currently published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations, two volumes of poetry, stories for children (of all ages) and a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:
 
Colonial Theatre: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Roarin' 20s 
Phoenix 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 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville during World War II
Forty-Thirty 
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members

Adventures of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Spinach Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A Collection of More Spiritual Poems

We Three Kings

Beauty and the Beast

Bethlehem

Noah's Rainbow

Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding Hood

 

 

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.

June's novels can be purchased at amazon.com, through Barnes and Noble,
at the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area,
and 
the Gateway Pharmacy in Phoenixvile, PA
.

For more information about her musicals, which are also available on amazon.com,