June's Literary Blog
 

A LITERARY BLOG ABOUT BOOKS
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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

Friday, August 3, 2018

The Secret Garden

You’d think in all my years of being an avid reader and purveyor of all things literary, I would have read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. But, alas, while I am quite familiar with the story from seeing the various television versions and movies – most especially the 1993 film starring Kate Maberly and Maggie Smith – I have not had the pleasure of actually reading the original book. Until this past month…

The Harper Design [an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers] publication of an illustrated and inter-active edition of this timely and timeless classic is a very beautiful as well as great read. Especially, if like me, you enjoy a good book all the more by its look, feel, and, yes, smell. You laugh, but a light scent of clean ink emanating from the pages evokes feelings and, often, memories. As did this rendition of Burnett’s third novel for children first published in 1911. [The first novel was Little Lord Fauntleroy, published in 1885–1886 and the second was A Little Princess, published in 1905. Oh, to be back in those early last-century halcyon days when all one need worry about was if little spoiled Mary finds the key and is able to help heal Colin…

I am sure most of you know the story, so I won’t repeat it here. But in the hands of Harper Design and its talented staff of editors, the narrative takes on a whole new dimension. Or, dimensions, if you will. For inside the pages of the light orange gilded gold covers are lavish illustrations by the talented artistic duo of Minalima [Eduardo and Miraphora Lima, who also illustrated the Harry Potter series] and a wealth of interactive elements that literally bring Burnett’s novel alive. There are a pop-up red robin that hides the ornate key to the garden; a quart-fold map of the garden; a coiling snake; a rotating wheel to ascertain the growing season of certain flowers… Just to name a few. All coordinated together to make this not only a feast for the mind, but a demonstrative experience for all the senses.

If you read about Frances Hodgson Burnett at wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Hodgson_Burnett, you will learn that she enjoyed socializing and lived quite a lavish lifestyle. Not only was she a novelist for adults as well as children, she was also an accomplished playwright and, in later years, the host of salon in Washington, D.C. attended by both politicians and members of the literati. Reading about her interesting life and learning these facts made my [finally] reading The Secret Garden all the more enjoyable. And given her eclectic tastes, I am sure she would proudly revel in this latest rendition of one her favorite literary endeavors.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Mary Lennox, Dickon, and Colin… If you are in the least bit curious about the garden and its almost miraculous restoration at the hands of a once spoiled child… If you have a few summer afternoons to wile away, then might I suggest you “disappear” into the pages of this edition? It is, indeed, a treat. A gift to and for one’s own heart and soul. And, most assuredly, a gift to give others that will always be treasured.

Enjoy the read!

3:25 pm edt          Comments

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

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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,