June's Literary Blog
 

A LITERARY BLOG ABOUT BOOKS
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How they shape our lives.

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Paris Secret

I have an affinity for fine art, Paris during World War II, and a good mystery. So, when they are walloped together into an ingeniously woven and well-written novel… I am hooked beyond pleasure.

I’ve waited to read The Paris Secret: A Novel by Karen Swan ever since it hit the best-seller lists back in early November. However, a copy of it – appreciatively received from the publisher – sat on my TR&R stack well beyond my Twelve Days celebration of Christmas. But, finally, after the all the festivities died down, I started reading it. It was well worth the wait. So much so, that I savored it for a whole month!

Flora Skyes, the intrepid, cool-headed protagonist is a dynamically high-powered art agent. She is hired by a supposedly “noble” family to trace the provenance of a cache of paintings hidden since 1943 in an abandoned Paris apartment. As she begins her quest to document the previous owners of the pieces, she finds herself instantly embroiled in mystery and intrigue, uncovering underlying and overlaying schemes of deceit and deception that permeate the Vermeil family who claim ownership of the apartment.

One painting in particular – a portrait of a women in a yellow dress – captures her attention. As she focusses in on its history and why and how it came to be secreted by itself in yet another abandoned apartment below the first, Flora learns of a German art dealer supposedly working for the Third Reich who sold the paintings stolen from Jews whom he was suspected of betraying to the Nazis. What connection did he have with the Vermeils? And how did the paintings – these supposedly in his possession at the time of his disappearance – wind up in their abandoned apartment?

With its flowing, adjective-riddled complex sentences and sometimes often oblique references to historical events, The Paris Secret is quite different form the typical run-of-the-mill murder and/or robbery mystery. It appeals to the more intellectually astute reader who seeks total immersion in the lives, times, and not so familiar day-to-day affairs and experiences of complex, in-depth characters. It also appeals to the higher-end fashionistas of both the art and “haute-couture” worlds. It must be said that Swan, the British author, started her writing career as an editor in the fashion industry. So, of course, it stands to reason that this, her second entry into the literary world, would be pock-marked with all sorts of descriptions of her characters’ attire, many of which were well beyond my ken. However, the descriptions and references only added to the allure of this mystery. Living with Flora and her fashion-minded friends while delving into the darker enigmatics of the art world was an entirely different, thoroughly enjoyable experience for me.

Careening through the last 100 pages, Swann adeptly and adroitly begins to tie up all her loose ends. Flora finds not only resolution to the many baffling aspects of her “case’, but also [finally] finds love with one of the more perplexing characters. He was not whom I wanted her to end with had I written this novel, but, then again, the coupling makes perfect, if not surprising, sense. And whom Von Teschelt, the nefarious so-called Nazi art dealer – as well as the lady in the portrait – turn out to be… Well, it was the one of the most satisfying endings to a most satisfying story.

Enjoy the read!

5:11 pm est          Comments

Friday, January 26, 2018

“Poustinia” and “A Specter of Truth”

Sometimes, being a “local” author – albeit, supposedly “the” historical novelist – of a small town can be a solitary undertaking. Authors, by nature, border on hermitage. At least I do… How else can I ply my craft, talent, and trade except by spending what other perceive to be many long “lonely” hours doing research, developing characters and plot lines, and… writing? Yet, that is exactly what I do. Have done. And, hopefully, will continue to do. But… I often wonder if there are other simpatico authors of the same ilk (and level of dedicated involvement and, dare I say, expertise) with whom to occasionally share one’s similar experiences… If only one could find them…

A few weeks ago, I received – from out of the blue – a message on Facebook from a fellow resident of Phoenixville commenting upon a post about one of my novels. I had not “met” her before, but a quick look at her FB page revealed she was – ta da! – an author. Locally. Just like myself. Writing novels about the area… I messaged her back, suggested lunch. And that meeting was the seed of what is quickly becoming a friendship made in literary heaven.

Kathleen McKee has written four or five books that she fondly and wittingly calls “Hallmark” novels. Eschewing sensationalism for in-depth interactions and emotions between her characters, they can be easily described as “feel-goods”… Ones into whose pages you can disappear away from the maddening world, relate to the characters, and come away with an inspiring positive insight or two into the complexities of human nature. Let me tell you about two of Kathy’s most noteworthy literary endeavors…

In Poustinia: A Novel , Victoria is at the peak of a sterling career in the business world, uncertain about her future. Single, relatively comfortable, she seemed content with her well-ordered life, sharing it with Harvey, her canine companion. But something seems to be missing. Then, one day, she happens upon a brochure for “Poustinias at the Monastery of St. Carmella” in mid-western Pennsylvania. Now, for those of you, like I was, unfamiliar with the term, a poustinia is small dwelling – usually a one-room cabin in the woods, primary used as a retreat. There are no phones, no pool, no pets… Just supposedly peaceful, thoughtful and thought-provoking silence in which to pray, reflect… commune with nature. And so, to finally discern the path for the rest of her life, Kathy’s protagonist decides this is just “what the doctor has ordered”, leaves Harvey with Myra, their neighbor, and ventures forth.

Now, at first, this doesn’t seem much of a plot line. And, at first, I did think, “Meh”. As Victoria meets and learns the life stories of the other poustinians (one person to a cabin, please), Amanda, Betty, Kate, and a quiet man Victoria’s age named Charlie, I waited at least 50, nearly 60 pages for at least “one shoe to drop”. I am a woman (and a writer), as you know, of action. I expect suspense to rear itself up right off the bat. But as I continued on, Kathy’s storyline slowly, almost tediously unfolded, as did her writing talent, into a vibrant mosaic landscape that rippled and rustled across the pages of the last half of her literary debut like the winds undulating through the monastery forest… A shoe dropped, then another… and as Victoria enmeshes herself into the lives of those around her, Kathy’s plot seamlessly unfolded into what was, surprisingly, a most satisfying surprise ending.

Yes, what could easily have been a benign book, actually made me feel good. Even caused a few tears to shed. Poustinia is not quite Hallmark worthy, but very close. And well worth the modicum of patience required to read it!

Now, remember, Poustinia was McKee’s first venture in writing novels. She subsequently wrote two sequels (I must admit, I am quite curious what happens to the characters as they move on with their lives…) and then ventured in to the genre of historical novels with Specter of Truth. And it is this one that put the works of my new writing friend onto the top ten list of my favorite authors.

Set in Kimberton, PA in the early 19th Century, A Specter of Truth follows the life of young Lizzie Mitchell, a rural farm girl with aspirations of being a teacher. A profession that, so far, had only been limited to men. Women were very rarely admitted to the higher echelons of learning to pursue a career in education. But Lizzie found a way. Enter the real-life historical figure, Emmor Kimber, a Quaker who, along with his wife, Suzanne, began the French Creek Boarding School for Girls in 1818 in what is now Kimberton, just a few miles northwest of Phoenixville. Securing entrance and later a position on the staff becomes the opportunity of young Lizzie’s lifetime… the foundation of Kathy’s narrative… and the ability of Kathy’s readers to learn some important local history while enjoying a most elucidating story.

It didn’t take long this time for Kathy to drop the first of many dramatic shoes. But they were more like the gauntlets of heavy hobnailed boots that shod the feet of a one George Mitchell who arrived with his “tetched” wife, claiming he is Lizzie’s father’s older brother, the real owner of the Mitchell farm in Yellow Springs. His slovenly, crass presence does not sit well with the family. (Nor did it with this reader, which made A Specter of Truth all the more intriguing to read. Who is this creepy character?) There is doubt he is whom he professes to be. Or is he?

As the novel moves forward at a decent modulating pace – Kathy’s writing style has by now significantly evolved into an enjoyable can’t-put-it-down rhythmic cadence – Lizzie makes friends at the general store; her brother starts a delivery service that encompasses Manavon (my writing bailiwick); a romance or two buds and blossoms; and, not holding back, the author thunders on, unfolding tear-jerking, page-tuning tragedies. Wrap these up into the fascinating culture, customs, and societal details of local history and you have a novel that is a must read for all area residents.

I am delighted that I’ve discovered Kathy… who is another writer “just like me” in town. And even more delighted that, like me, she is enamored and respectful of our history, using her varied talents to write novels that are, yes, “Hallmark feel goods”… capturing the positive pioneering spirit and abidingly generous charitable essence of our fair community. The bar has now been set a bit higher for my own literary endeavors. I welcome it and hope that both of us as we mutually respect and encourage our talents and accomplishments, help each other – and, perhaps, others – over the top.

Enjoy the read!

4:38 pm est          Comments

Monday, January 8, 2018

Doctor Who: The Book of Whoniversal Records

Knock, knock… Now you ask, “Who’s there?” And I reply, “That’s right!” Doctor Who, of course, the BBC iconic time traveler with the long rainbow scarf and mop of curly hair. I am referring to Tom Baker who played the fourth Doctor Who (1974 to 1983), appearing the most times in 42 stories that spanned the 174 episodes. He is the one I liked and remember the best… and because of him, those were the nine years I was totally addicted…

Setting aside Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, Doctor Who may have been one of the original science fiction televisions shows that captured the hearts and minds of the nerdier set. It was – and still is – one of the most creative and imaginative shows that spanned, literally thousands upon thousands of years; with literally hundreds of impossible feats and plot lines. Although, when Tom Baker’s Doctor was transformed, I lost interest… and moved on to the various permutations of Star Trek, falling deeply in love with the younger Scotty [who could have beamed me up anytime
😉].

Still, I sometimes wondered… Whatever happened to Who? And then a mysterious package bearing the HarperCollins Design imprint appeared in my mailbox… Doctor Who: The Book of Whoniversal Records: Official Timey-Wimey Edition by Simon Guerrier, the prolific English writer of countless Doctor Who books, comics, audio plays, and documentaries; although not – as far as I can tell – of any of the Doctor Who television scripts. The most prolific screenwriter was the late Robert Holmes who penned 64 episodes from 1968 to 1986, about the same era as Tom Baker. Regardless, what Guerrier has done in this glitzy graphic book is compile into a virtual Guinness-like book of records the best of Doctor Who – what, when, where, and why. Replete with color photographs, outtakes, quotes, and little known but quite interesting and often amusing facts about the world’s most famous – and often implausible – purveyor of timeless adventures.

I was, needless to say, a bit overjoyed… Now I can catch up on Doctor Who doings in bits and snatches without having to binge-watch all ten seasons with 840 extent episodes. Which would have taken me an eternity, at the very least [And, if I did, who would have written my next two novels?] Anyway, now I can relive the best and most exciting of the glory days; learn behind the scenes facts about Daleks, stranger than strange aliens, travelling companions; wonder at special effects; and, pardon the intended pun, while away my time perusing the best of the best.

And if you are or ever were a fan of Doctor Who, you can, too.

So, wrap yourself up in that long rainbow scarf, curl up into your Tardis, and take an adventurous flight or two between the pages of this wondrous and wonderful book.

Enjoy the read!

2:18 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Beneath the Mountain

A Special Note: I began June’s Literary Blog seven years ago… First writing about books in my extensive library that affected my – our lives. A few months later, a few publishers took notice and books began appearing on my doorstep. And now, 240 book reviews later [approximately 34 posts per year], I start year eight with number 241. But before I do, I want to express my heartfelt appreciation for and to my following of kind fans, fellow bibliophiles, friends, and family, as well as the generous publishers who over the years have supplied me with an endless array of sometimes so-so, often good and great, and, occasionally, excellent literary offerings. Thank you! May we all continue to “Enjoy the read!”

*******

There are thrillers… and then there are thrillers. The former are written for pure sensationalism – a frightful tale merely for its own sake. No real substance; no moral message; no deep, complex memorable characters. Just fear for the simple emotional effect. The latter, however, embody complete opposites. Oh, sure, there is a frightful tale and the edge-of-the-seat sensationalism, but the book – nonfiction as well as fiction – to be a great thriller goes a whole lot deeper. And that is precisely what Beneath the Mountain: A Novel, by Luca D’Andrea’s, [just released yesterday] is. One of the best thrillers I’ve read since I started this Literary Blog seven years ago…

Jeremiah Salinger was once a hot-shot American screenwriter, the literary half of a documentary team. He and his partner, Mike, were well on their way to the pinnacle of success when, while filming about a rescue attempt in the Dolomite Alps of Northern Italy, Jeremiah falls into a glacial crevasse… And watches with horror as the rescuers and those they saved are killed. And then… He hears the Beast. That’s enough to send chills up and down any reader’s spine… But there’s more. D’Andrea, as he out bests the best [including Stephen King, Dean Koonz, and Steig Larsson], pits his main character against several internal as well as external monsters: anxiety and guilt-ridden PTSD resulting from his accident; aloof residents of Siebenhoch, his [Annelise’s] wife’s small mountain home village where they settle with their beloved daughter, Clara; the Bletterbach itself, with its subterranean caves harboring eerie, inexplicable enigmas; and the secrets surrounding an unsolved, twenty-year old murder – was it? – of three of its young adults.  

Salinger, of course, is hell-bent-for-leather to solve the mysterious murder. With or without the help of Werner, his reluctant father-in-law and Chief Max Krün, the taciturn local lone law enforcer – and stubbornly against Annelise’s strong protestations – he takes it upon himself to play detective. With dire and dangerous consequences that prove to be both his downfall [again] as well as his salvation. Well, maybe… But this is the hard grist of a truly exceptional thriller cum horror tale that, I must admit, keep me awake for two nights straight reading and wondering who really killed Markus, Kurt, and Evi? The Beast described as a large spider scorpion? A villager? A rescuer? Poachers? I can rest easy now because I finally found out the deliciously complex – and intellectually stimulating – solution. But – no spoilers here – I am going to leave it up to you to discover it for yourself.


First published in Italy as La Sostanza del Male in 2016 to modest acclaim, Beneath the Mountain, now translated into more than twenty languages, is yet another HarperCollins winner. It is a no-holds barred insight into the complex and convoluted culture of a small, heretofore unknown region of Northern Italy, once a part of Austria. D’Andrea delves into the sociological, geographical, historical, and psychological multi-dimensions of the region, probing into the depths of not only the mountainous area but the mountain people themselves. And nothing is lost in translation. Each turn of phrase, sentence, description is a well-tuned, talented brushstroke as this modest author paints a vivid portrait of characters and landscapes… All enmeshed in a thrilling narrative that, most certainly belongs on every bestseller list – if not on every thriller lover’s bookshelf.

Enjoy the read!

2:38 pm est          Comments

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Library at the Edge of the World

If “home is where the heart is”, how do you know where the heart is if you’re not sure of here home is? Or even how to begin finding it?

This is the dilemma of Hanna Casey who, in Felicity Hayes-McCoy’s debut novel, abandons a posh London lifestyle and returns to her roots in the rural Irish town of Lissberg. After years of what turned out to be a loveless marriage – her barrister husband is a liar and philanderer – and a nearly fruitful career as a researcher, she finds herself managing the small local branch library and driving a bookmobile up and down the Finfarran peninsula from isolated villagers to isolated villagers. What makes matters worse is that she is living with her nagging overbearing mother… Not to mention having to copy with gossiping village residents…

This makes for an interesting premise; almost Dickensian. But The Library at the Edge of the World: A Novel (Finfarran Peninsula) wends its way through several saving graces. One of which is the small delipidated stone house overlooking the sea that Hanna has inherited from her great-aunt. Restoring it is a chance, however slim, of her finding herself a home, a home in her own life. But is it where she will find her heart and its home?

For those of us who miss the great dearly departed Maeve Binchy and her “slices out of real life” novels, Hayes-McCoy’s well-thought out and well-written journey through the complex labyrinth of lives and loves in Lissberg neatly fits the bill. There are touches of intrigue, mystery, and, of course, romance. And for those of us who are armchair travelers whose more adventurous exploits are through the pages of novels, the stunning descriptions of Finfarran peninsula and the idyllic Irish seascape will more than tweak the imagination.

But while the seascape is idyllic and peaceful, the town of Lissberg and its sister peninsula villages are not. As their very bucolic economy and way of life is threatened by greedy developers, the almost reclusive Hanna steps into the fray and, amidst her own tumultuous efforts to restore her inherited home, manages to discover a way to, as the saying goes, “save the day”. How she, with the help of her often quirky but delightful cohorts, do this is the meat and potatoes of a most charming read.

Primarily a non-fiction writer of memoirs, Hayes-McCoy brings to her first fictional effort a stoical, sensible approach to her literary endeavors. While she is matter-of-fact, she is also sensitive to the emotional needs of her characters; a trait, I surmise, that stems from her years as a successful actress on both stage and screen. While driven to tie up all the loose ends of the multi-linear plot and sub-plots, she is cognizant of providing an interesting, thought-provoking story that enlightens, educates, and entertains.

In essence, as Hanna in this author’s capable hands finally finds where home is for herself and her heart, each reader will find a literary heartwarming home.

Enjoy the read!

2:44 pm est          Comments

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June 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, two volumes of poetry, stories for children (of all ages) and a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:


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 fifth 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,