June's Literary Blog
 

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C.S. Lewis

Copyright 2011-2018


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Monday, July 9, 2018

The City of Brass

Hold on to your reading caps, folks. I have now become thoroughly enamored of Adult Fantasy! No, not erotica or women’s adult fiction, but Adult FANTASY.

As we know, Fantasy Literature is set in imaginary universes; often, but not always, without any real-life locations, events, or people. Common in these imaginary worlds are magic, the supernatural, and magical creatures, without any scientific or macabre themes. Historically, most works of fantasy were/are written as novels but, since the 1960s, they have cornered a large market in films, television programs, graphic novels, video games, music, as well as art.

Some of the more popular fantasy creative works include Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit, part of Tolkien’s Ring Series, the Harry Potter novels by J.K. Rowland, and The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Written primary for children, but also enjoyed by adults, including myself But now, I have discovered fantasy, with adult, more mature themes and motifs, written specifically for adults.

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty arrived in the Christmas package of books sent by Harper Voyager, an imprint of HarperCollins. Actually, intrigued by the synopsis in the publisher’s catalog, I had requested it. And while I looked forward to reading it, a few other books – including my own – got in the way. But when I found finding myself waylaid with a bad summer cold these past few weeks, I scanned my “to read” shelve, seeking something to distract my mind from the real world. So, I picked up the pristine hardback with the brilliant dustjacket and… Wouldn’t you know, within minutes of reading the first two chapters, I was swept away into a surreal world of almost immortal djinn warriors, magical beings, shapeshifters, and mythical creatures – both good and evil – of water, air, and earth.

Nahri, the main protagonist, is, basically, a con-artist. She does not believe in magic; now does she believe that she has any magical powers. Yet, as a con-artist of unsurpassed talent, with tricks, potions, and fake incantations, she convinces residents in a poverty-stricken neighbor of Cairo, that her “powers” are real. Although she is convinced they aren’t… Until, one fateful day during one of her “cons”, she conjures up Dara, a mysterious djinn warrior. He relates to her tales of Daevabad the mystical, magical City of Brass that lies beyond the vast, sun-scorched dessert. And to which, Dara painstakingly explains, Nahri is intricately, inimically, and inexplicably bound. He convinces her to take the dangerous journey with him to the city. The city that Nahri soon comes to realize, is her real home…  

Set in the late 1880s, this is a powerfully – and very well – written novel that thoroughly captures not only the imagination but holds the reader hostage in spell-binding suspense, court intrigues, and events unimaginable in our real world. Exactly what fantasy is all about. And Chakraborty is a master, er, mistress of the genre. She has a way with words, character development, and an uncanny ability to describe imaginary places in such a way that one often pauses to wonder if the places she writes about aren’t actually real. Except, delightfully, they are not. Royal sheiks who can conjure fire at the snap of their fingers; shapeshifting creatures who can morph into any form; halflings that perform magic; rings imbued with unnatural powers…

Now, a hallmark of fantasy – both for children and adults – is the allegorical couching of themes and motifs within delicately crafted plotlines. The City of Brass is no exception. Chakraborty pulls no punches when she describes relations between the tribes of Daeva, the Ifrit, and the Nahid and al Qahtani families. Political dissent. Bigotry and racism. Ethic/species supremacy and protesting mobs… All are blatant in this author’s fantasy world and are frighteningly all-too reminiscent of their blatant presence in our own real one. Which makes this seemingly escape read, at least for me, one of the most intriguing and eye-opening novels I’ve read in a while.

Creatures of all species, including humans, can be both kind and cruel. Sympathetic, loving, and still harbor murderous thoughts. Can still be good and evil. Regardless of whether they live in a fantasy world created by a talented author with a vivid imagination or dwell in the mundane recesses of our daily lives.

With a fast-paced denouement and a cliff-hanger ending that begs for a sequel, this is a great timeless novel. I am glad I had added it to last year’s Christmas list. And on this year’s, for sure, will be The Kingdom of Copper, the second in Chakraborty’s The Daevabad Trilogy.

I can’t wait. I am just “dying” to know if Dara’s iron ring set with a large emerald will really work…

Enjoy the read!

2:58 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Pirata

Nearly eleven years ago, a month after he sauntered out of the woods and followed me home, I learned that Sebastian Cat had been used [and abused] by a neighbor as a breeder. It seems that most of the strays that now populate our neighborhood were/are probably his. Not to mention the numerous other kittens that were sold to and by local pet stores. By the time I had ascertained this nugget [pardon the pun] of information, I had had him neutered and de-flea-ed. And he became my bestest buddy, closet confident, and co-trainer of FrankieBernard, who joined our little family six months later. 

So, in his honor – and, of course, that of my own Dad who has long since passed on to God’s Great Library – we celebrate Father’s Day. Well, at least I do. I don’t think Sebastian has any idea why he gets fed a half-can of Albacore only once a year. Or why I let him outside for a jaunt around the neighborhood to, I hope, visit his progeny. [Don’t worry, folks, he always returns an hour or so later, mewling at the front door to be let in and then meowing for a good ten minutes about his adventures. Then he heads upstairs to use his litter box before taking a long nap in the soft folds of my duvet. Probably dreaming of his next “allowed” outing… 

Now this vignette has little to do with the book I am reviewing today which is, appropriately enough, a perfect read for Father’s Day. Because… one of the major themes of Pirata: A Novel by Patrick Hasburgh is fatherhood. What it means to parent a child, regardless of whether you sired him/her.  Bloodlines to Nick Lutz, the main protagonist, do not matter. 

Nick is an one-eyed ex-pat living in a small village on the Pacific coast of southern Mexico where he spends most of his time surfing and interacting with the native residents. How did he lose his eye? Well,  back when he was a new car sales manager on southern California, he was shot in the head by an alleged carjacker. The injury caused Nick to have seizures. And it was a seizure that caused Nick to slam into a tree, nearly killing his seven-year-old son. Well, after that, he abandoned his family [the marriage was falling apart anyway] and wound up in Mexico. Surfing and, until Meagan came along, feeling rather remorseful and sorry for himself. So, with a black eyepatch… he is dubbed pirata , the Spanish word for pirate and the eponymous title of this scathingly brilliant novel. 

It is evident that Nick is an incurably addicted surfer. The waves that pound Mexican coast are nearly the best surfing waves in the world… which he daily tackles with Winsor, his on-again, off-again surfing buddy, who… well… Let me put it this way… is a salient, pivotal character in the narrative. When Winsor is whacked in the head with a hammer [but I won’t tell you why…] by the enigmatic Meagan, his paramour, Nick [literally] hooks up with her.

Meagan has two Irish-twin sons, Jade and Obsidian. Half brothers by two different fathers. And it is through these two boys, who remind him of his own son, that Nick learns the art of parenting; how to be a good father. He takes them surfing and then to a surfing competition. He explains the facts of life in a rather poignant and funny scene that nearly brought tears to my eyes.

For, you see, despite his problematic life, Nick is a gentle, kind, soul with a droll sense of humor and a penchant for occasionally getting in the way of and scraps with one El Jefe, a nasty Mexican law-enforcer who carries a large bamboo whipping stick and an even bigger streak of cruelty. 

Thus, while Nick had hoped to find peace and tranquility in Mexico, he discovers the exact opposite, becoming embroiled in Meagan’s crime of passion and enmeshed in her sons’ lives. To the point where he begins to think – and feel – that he is their stepfather. While he is replacing his affection of his son, Marshall, for those of Jade and Obsidian, Nick reveals the true essence of what fatherhood is all about. Hence, Pirata is the most apropos read and blog post for this year’s celebration of Dads… 

Within its 340 gripping pages, there are not only thrilling adventures, a few fine touches of mystery, along with one or two “adult” scenes, and several surprise reveals, but also a few lessons of taking loving and caring responsibility for children – no matter whose they are. Lessons that should be, must be heeded by everyone espeically in these most troubling times of gut-wrenching inhumane and insensitive cruelty that is irresponsibly being promulgated by our government. Need I say more? Except, in the eyes of this richly crafted character, sons need fathers. And Fathers need sons. Together, not apart… A lesson that equally applies to all mothers and all children. Regardless of ethnicity, color, religion, or biological background.

Pleases note: I dodn’t mean to be so preachy, but…. I am deeply appalled, saddened, and blood-boiling angry at what is happening today on our borders. It is inexcusable. And, I guess, good writing, such as that which I found in this novel, brings out my passionate side… 

Hasburgh is a sensitive and stylistically fluid writer who he has penned the scripts for the immensely popular 21 Jump Street 1987 to 1991 television series. I found episodes on YouTube, which are just as captivating to watch as it is to read Hasburgh’s second novel. And just as he does in the police series, this author wastes no time in diving into the very essences of his characters’ souls. Not only has he captured Nick’s angst and tumultuous adult “coming of age” thoughts and experiences, but he has also rendered the inner thoughts and being of young boys, as seen through Nick’s eyes, taking their first steps into adulthood. And, then, [***SPOILER ALERT***] there is the matter of his now thirteen-year-old son, Marshall…

Set in the backdrop of daily living in Mexico, with its ethos, politics, and cultural mores, and equally captivating supporting characters – and you have a novel worthy of foregoing the chores for an afternoon or two – as I did – for a great read. 

Now, as you all know, I rarely review a book before it is scheduled to be released. Okay, you got me. This is the second time in the seven-year reign of this literary blog… But, I just couldn’t wait to tell you about this tour de force that will surely be one of the greater Summer 2018 must reads. It is slated to be released on June 26th. I urge you to purchase it, read it, and share it with your friends, your adult children, and, if they are still with us, you parents. Especially your Dad. 

This being written, I am going to spend some time with Sabastian [and FrankieBernard] to fondly recall how great my own Dad was. Among his many wonderful qualities, he was an avid reader like myself… Oh, how he would have loved this novel. And, oh, how I dearly miss him. 

Happy Father’s Day! 

Enjoy the read! 

3:36 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Mermaid Handbook

Had I known that Noah was a cohort of merpeople, I would have included a character or two based upon these interesting aquatic creatures in my musical Noah’s Rainbow. According the Carolyn Turgeon, the editor of The Mermaid Handbook: An Alluring Treasury of Literature, Lore, Art, Recipes, and Projects, he was worshipped as Oannes in Chaldea at Erech ‘the place of the ark’. She quotes naturalist Henry Lee who, in 1883 in Sea Fables Explained, equates Noah with Oannes as “the sacred and intelligent fish-god, the teacher of mankind, the god of science and knowledge.” [page 78]. Turgeon goes on to explain that a woodcut in a 1483 copy of the Nuremburg Bible depicts Noah in the ark with mermaids, mermen, and [of all things] merdog[s] swimming alongside it.

What a wonderful scene, replete with the appropriate song, that would make!

But probably not as wonderful as the HarperDesign book – just released today – that relates this bit of information along with scales, er, scads of other scintillating stories, accounts, reports, visions, and descriptions – as well as explanations – of and about mermaids.

Now, I don’t know about you, but growing up “back in the day”, I was enchanted by The Little Mermaid, the original story by Hans Christian Andersen upon which the Disney movie is very loosely based. I used to play “mermaid” in the shallow kiddie pool in the backyard and convinced two of the kids on the block to act out the story with me for our parents. [That was probably the beginning of my aspriations as a playwright.] As a much younger adult, I once had a martini or two at a “mermaid bar” in New Jersey watching women – and the occasional man – in fish tails swim in an underwater lagoon. And I spent the major part of this past rainy weekend doing nothing more than immersing [pun intended] myself in the Handbook that is, if nothing else, now the foremost authoritative compendium of all things mermaid.

Beautifully bound and illustrated – as all HarperDesign books are – The Mermaid Handbook includes, along with folklore, myths, tales and crafts, mermaid cuisine and fashion. Did you know you can actually buy a custom-maid tail online? And did you also know that there are professional mermaids out there? And if you’ve never visited Weeki Wachee in Florida… Well, this is the second-best thing to being there. From a literary perspective, however, I was most intrigued by mermaid history and literature. As well as the well-chosen poems that are delicately sprinkled throughout. It was this aspect – especial the stories of famous mermaids – that kept me reading far into the deep dark swells of the night.

While this blue tome with its gilt-edge pages acknowledges that mermaids have had an understandably bad rap through the centuries luring sailors on the high seas to their untimely deaths, it more than compensates this negative by the more positive beguiling and enchanting aspects of the mysteries inherent in mermaid life. An enjoyable companion piece to Turgeon’s The Faerie Handbook, it is a required adjunct to long summer afternoons at the beach or sitting by the pool.

Enjoy the read!

3:51 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, April 28, 2018

2:33 pm edt          Comments

Last Seen Alive

In many instances, the end(ing) may justify the means. Not so with the awesomely conceived Last Seen Alive by Claire Douglas, the ending of which does not do justice to the most thrilling, captivating, suspense-filled page-turner I’ve read all year. Okay, in the past few years. To be blunt, the last page is a total injustice to the stunning 326 ones before it.

Granted, I read an advanced, uncorrected review copy. Granted, the plot line is so tight and full of twists and turns that – giving the experienced author the benefit of the doubt – she has written herself, as well as her characters, in a corner and had decided to take the easy way out. But, unless the last paragraph is a prelude to a sequel, there are no excuses.

Libby Hall, the main character, finally, after one of hardship and mysterious circumstances, is living the life she has always wanted. She is happily married; loves her job teaching in a local school; adores Ziggy, her and Jamie’s, her husband, shaggy Golden Retriever; and is joyfully pregnant. Until a fire breaks out in the school and, while rescuing a number of students, she falls, breaks her arm and, tragically, suffers a miscarriage.

She and Jamie reluctantly agree it’s time for a break from life’s stress and angst. And the opportunity unexpectedly presents itself in the form of a house-swap. Spending Easter week in Cornwall, in a luxurious beach home of a wealthy couple who wish to rent the Hall’s small two-bedroom basement flat in Bath. To be, ostensively, near the hospital where their daughter requires a delicate heart operation. The young couple jump at the chance… and jump headlong into the most bizarre and riveting set of circumstances that could ever grace the pages of an almost perfect emotionally-charged psychological thriller.

The author of two previous gripping page-turners [Local Girl Missing and The Sisters], Douglas is an ace at creating literary suspense. A genre that is difficult, at best, for even the most masterful of writers. Gillian Flynn [Gone Girl] and Ruth Ware [The Girl in Cabin 10] instantly come to mind. But with such great talent comes the greater responsibility of not only providing one’s readers with a uniquely imaginative and resourceful narrative, but of offering a lucid, tight-knit, and reasonably satisfying denouement and ending. Which, unfortunately, Douglas’ ending does not.

Needless to say, I was hooked with this novel right from the start on Thursday evening to when I finished it late Friday afternoon. Each page, each chapter revealed, like peeling a pungent onion, layer upon swirling layer of crisp, taut ever twisting well-placed tells and reveals. Written in the first person as well as the present tense [a relatively recent industry “standard”] the main protagonist’s story brilliantly unfolds...

The reader is hooked and then suddenly blindsided. Hooked again. And then whammed with yet another surprising plot twist. As I mentioned, I just couldn’t put the novel down. Not wanting it to end, yet impatient for the final resolution(s) which never came. Well, actually, it did. But it was a bit lame. Unless Douglas intends to follow up with Last Seen Alive, Part II [which, unfortunately, seems quite unlikely]. To be honest, I like closure in my novels; both in the ones I read as well as in those that I write. Not an open-ended “Huh?” finish that leaves me to write it not only for myself, but for the author.

Other than that, this novel is a stunner. And, despite my own disappointment, I heartily encourage you to look for it. It’s bound to be a best seller and, with any luck, great fodder for a captivating movie.

It’s rare that I read and then review a book well before its release. But… Last Seen Alive, first published in the United Kingdom last year, won’t be published in America until June 26th of this year. And, in my humble opinion, plenty of time for the author and the good editor(s) at HarperCollins to rewrite the finale. So that it is an ending that more adequately justifies the means.

Enjoy the read!

2:22 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:


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,