June's Literary Blog
 

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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

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Out of Season

Deputy Police Chief Rocco Schiavone is like a cannoli, the Italian pastry whose hard crust is wrapped around a mushy middle of sweet congealed cream. A heart of gold lurks behind his rough exterior and under his convention- eschewing demeanor. It is this intuitive heart that gets him into all sorts of tangled situations and relationships. And out of them.

In Out of Season: A Novel (Rocco Schiavone Mysteries), the third of Antonio Mazini’s popular mystery series set for release this coming Tuesday, Schiavone has been exiled to the bitter cold Italian Alps of Aosta where a van skids off a rain-slicked road, killing its occupants, and a young woman is reported missing by her best friend. The unfolding of the connection between these two seemingly dissimilar events is a series of sparks that set Mazini’s story on fire. It’s a no-holds-barred, fast-paced thriller that kept me engrossed for the better part of a rainy afternoon and evening. I simply just could not put it down until Schiavone, with the aid of his crack-a-jack team, solved the mystery. And the mystery of Rocco’s own personal life was unfolded and finally laid to rest.

Unfortunately, I have not yet had the opportunity to read the first two novels in Manzini’s series. Thus, I am not familiar with Schiavone’s background story. But what I gleaned from reading the third is that he has suffered a few major set-backs in life, including the loss of a loved one and being sanctioned for refusing to follow orders while a police officer in Rome. Hence, his more recent “punishing” posting to Aosta. I also discovered that throughout and, perhaps, because of these tragedies, he is both rebellious and witty; respectful of others, but adamantly contemptuous of any and all crime. And, most importantly, he defies all conventions as he doggedly goes about solving crimes.

In the process of unravelling the mystery of the missing girl, Schiavone is embroiled in a seamy love affair; is steeped in his own imaginary brand of loneliness; and withstands the most enigmatic of spring snowstorms. Through it all he is, as Manzini describes him, “the most Roman of men” – swagger mixed with urbane machismo, with a dash of vulnerability. Just like a well-baked and seasoned cannoli. My kind of guy… And, quite deservedly so, because of him, my kind of book.

Manzini is an Italian author with several other titles under his belt. A quick scan on Amazon reveals that most of his works have been translated from the Italian into not only English, but also Spanish and French. His writing is as bold and brash as his main protagonist. And just as detail-oriented as any experienced  and successful sleuth. Combining the innate terrors of a well-crafted thriller with wit and compassion, Manzini once again makes his mark as a master of the literary world of fast-paced mystery and intrigue.

Enjoy the read!

4:26 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit

The one thing you can say with certainty about Amy Stewart’s Kopp Sisters series main character is that Constance Kopp, the first female deputy sheriff of Bergen County, is, well, constant. In three previous volumes, she has constantly gotten herself in and out of scrapes; butted heads with, Norma, her dogmatic sister; gone after and “gotten her man” (the criminals she’s chased, captured, and brought to justice); and persisted in fighting for what is right, good, and fair, especially for the rights of wronged women. In Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit, the fourth of the series, Constance continues on fighting while coming to grips with corrupt and crooked politicians who conspire to take away her very position and livelihood.

One dark and stormy night (yes, folks, I actually wrote that!), Constance and another deputy are assigned to transport two prisoners to the Morris Plains insane asylum. When they stop to pick up Anna Keyser at her home, Constance instantly realizes that there is something terribly wrong. Anna, with her neat kitchen and rational demeanor, doesn’t seem at all deranged. But following orders anyway, Constance takes her into custody. When a swamped-put road prevents the deputies from driving their charges directly to the asylum, they return to the Hackensack jail. Immediately upon arrival, the second prisoner jumps out of the car and into the raging waters of a canal. Constance jumps in after him… and the latest in yet another exciting Kopp family adventure unfolds

Based upon actual events and people, Amy Stewart’s novels are not only entertaining, but are also educational and elucidating – my trilogy of criteria for a well-written historical novel. And, in many respects, they are also allegorical. Especially this fourth one with its blatant undertones of collusion and corruption during the high-stakes election year of 1916 (Woodrow Wilson was elected president). The similarities and parallels between 1916 and 2016 are not surprisingly uncanny. Sheriff Heath, Constance’s boss, is running for Congress, and anything she does throws her directly into the contentious political fray. Stewart, through Constance and her fight to save Anna from the clutches of amoral and immoral men, makes no bones about the mind-numbing consequences of greed, deceit, and dishonor.

When Constance discovers that Anna Keyser has been wrongly committed – simply on her husband’s word – she goes into high gear to stand up to an arrogant physician and an ego-centric candidate running for Sheriff’s Heath’s office who is bound and determined to sully her reputation, if not to have her job. And if that wasn’t enough, there are small battles to fight on the home front, too.

What I like best about this author, who also penned my favorite non-fiction, The Drunken Botanist, is her straight-forward and often witty writing style. Her fictionalized accounts of events, based upon impeccable research, are laced not only with humor, but with vibrant descriptions of places and richly-drawn character portrayals. In Stewart’s capable hands, Constance comes back to life to grace ours with her many adventures. Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit, while fourth in what I hope is a long list of Kopp Sister titles, is yet another sterling literary accomplishment.

And just like her main protagonist who constantly and consistently refuses to quit, here’s hoping Amy Stewart doesn’t stop writing about her. I, for one, am eagerly awaiting Constance Kopp’s next adventure.

Enjoy the read!

1:58 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 
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,