June's Literary Blog
 

A LITERARY BLOG ABOUT BOOKS
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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

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Summer in the Garden Cafe

When last we left Hanna Casey in Lissberg on the Finfarran Peninsula, she had moved into a coastal cottage inherited from her Aunt Maggie; nearly single-handedly saved the small library from being closed; and had begun to make amends with her daughter, Jazz, upset over the divorce of her parents. That was in The Library at the Edge of the World, volume one of the Finfarran Peninsula series by Felicity Hayes-McCoy. Volume two, Summer at the Garden Cafe,is even more complex. And, in my humble opinion, a much better read.

In the second Peninsula book, Hanna continues on as the village librarian, struggling not only with how to deal with her daughter’s feelings and animosity after her parent’s divorce, but attempts to deal with her own feelings as she is caught up in the rekindling of her relationship with Brian Morton. Centered in and around the Garden Café in what was once the convent courtyard garden and now part of the Lissberg Library complex, the plot weaves through the intertwining lives of the residents of Lissberg. It is a virtual montage of character portrayals and Irish cultural morés and traditions, with its foundation steeped in a dark history brought to light.

In addition to the main protagonist, there is Conor, the assistant librarian, straddling the fence whether to propose to Aideen who works in the deli; Fury and his devilish, but lovable dog, who pops in an out of the narrative in the most auspicious, yet surprising moments. Mary, Hanna’s bull-headed mother, who softens as her friendship with Louise, Hanna’s ex-mother-in-law deepens; Susan and Gunther who run The Forge were Jazz works… And then there is Aunt Maggie who comes to life once again as a young girl though her diary. She speaks from the past of a life ripped asunder by the consequences and aftermath of the Irish Civil War and offers solace for the futures of Hanna  and Jazz. The parallels between two eras are uncannily astute, filled with intriguingly complex twists and turns that are the hallmark of a great read.

It took me a good fifty pages to become immersed in Hayes-McCoy’s second work of fiction, but it was well worth the effort. Once into it, I found myself lost on the craggy beaches and in the charming quaint village, steeped in yet another of her beautifully-crafted literary endeavors. Having previously penned four non-fiction books, including a memoir, about Ireland and also a contributor to theatre and television shows – most notably Ballykissangel – this author has a fluid, no-holds-barred style of writing that, once you get used to it, sparkles with ageless wisdom liberally sprinkled with local humor as she relates an emotionally moving tale about the captivating bonds of friendship and family.

Enjoy the read!

2:24 pm edt          Comments

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Finishing School

I am a fan of the author Joanna Goodman because each of her novel endings are totally not what I expected when reading the beginning and the middle. Three are so many compelling twists and turns, as well as subtle “tells” in The Finishing School, that it was very difficult putting it aside to spend time with houseguests. But just an  hour after I once again had my home all to myself, I dove back into the intriguing mystery of Kersti Kuutz-Wax and her best friend, Cressida Strauss who somehow manages to plunge off a balcony… into the abyss of yet another great novel from an author who pulls no punches, spares no details, and is merciless when it comes to characters she seems to hate and loves to write about.

Kersti is more than just a bit out of her element when she is enrolled by her parents in the Lycée Internationale Suisse, a bastion of European wealth and glamour. They can’t quite afford the tuition, but her mother, an alumna, is insistent. Most of the students have boarded at the Lycée since they were seven or eight; Kersti is not quite 15. A new student who is not sure what to expect. Until she is befriended by Cressida who literally takes Kersti under her wing and shows her “the ropes”.

Now, Cressida, a character well-defined by Goodman, is quite beautiful. As well as smart. And is not bound by rules or the strictures of conventionality. While Kersti admires this latter trait in her new best friend, she is intimated by its consequences and, as the novel alternates between the past [1990s] and the present [2016], she tries, narrating in the first person to come to grips with all that transpires during her years at the Lycée and afterwards as a moderately successful novelist, married to Jay Wax, and striving to become a mother. How Cressida from her past is interjected into Kersti’s present [and future] to profoundly affect it is masterfully crafted and written.

This is an earlier literary offering of Goodman who gave us four prior novels and The Home for Unwanted Girls afterward. [I reviewed the latter on this Blog on April 19th of this year.] And like her other novels, it is not one to miss. My only codicil is that it’s for “mature audiences only” and not, by any means, meant for young adult readers. There are some passages and inferences that, while adding great depth and meaning to the narrative, would shock and offend the less stalwart adult readers among us.

Regardless, it’s a great, eye-opening novel and I, once again, as I do just about everything published by HarperCollins, highly recommend it.

Enjoy the read!

5:50 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,