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Friday, April 20, 2012

Great Adventures

At last count, Clive Cussler has written fifty-two (52!) books, most of them adventure novels, including his latest two, The Thief and the soon-to-be-released adventure in his NUMA Files series, The Storm. That's a lot of books for one man to write in one lifetime. Although, he has co-authored a few of them with such adventure writing notables as Justin Scott, Grant Blackwood, Graham Brown, Jack de Brul, Craig Dirgo, and his own son, Dirk Cussler. The latter is obviously named for Cussler's most famous protagonist, Dirk Pitt, who is, in my mind, the sexiest fictional character ever.

Even so, it is a wealth of books and in the course of my adult life, I must admit, I've read and own just about all of them—mostly hardback first editions—now safely stacked in a special corner of my downstairs office/library. They are like chocolate ice cream sundaes to me, complete with real whipped cream and two maraschino cherries—to be occasionally slowly savored and enjoyed between the normal daily nutritious fare of literary meat and potatoes. 

Okay, my secret is out: I am a Clive Cussler junkie. There are whole weeks during which I just can’t get enough of him—Dirk Pitt, Guardino, Isaac Bell, the Fargos…I have been known to read their adventures over and over and over. And then re-read them again. Just like a bazillion of his other fans all around the world.  

This week, I took a "sundae" break from my of-late stodgy reading of biographies and historical memoirs and each afternoon after FrankieB's walk settled myself on the deck to read The Thief*, Cussler's latest—with an assist by Justin Scott—in his Isaac Bell Adventure series. Bell is a tall, handsome, rich young man who, in early-twentieth-century America, is the chief inspector of the Van Dorn Detective Agency. He has, in past stories of his illustrious career, tracked down and nabbed many a nefarious criminal, including a railroad saboteur, a spy, and a murderer—all, incidentally, while wooing and nabbing the heart of Miss Marion Morgan, an ace reporter turned filmmaker.

In this fourth of his adventures, we find Bell aboard the Cunard luxury ocean liner, the Mauretania, bound from England to New York during the swelling precursor currents of World War 1. This is an exceptionally poignant and appropriate opening to an exceptionally intriguing novel, given that we've just marked the Centennial of the sinking of another, much larger, luxury liner, the Titanic. Isaac is enjoying a cigar with his fellow agent and best friend, Archie Abbott III, when three thugs arrive on deck in their attempt to kidnap an older Viennese scientist and his brilliant, young assistant from Germany. Bell jumps into the fray and is able to thwart the attempt, which ends with the leader of the gang tossing one of his companions overboard and then vaulting himself over the ship's railing, supposedly diving into the icy waters of the Northern Irish Sea. During the ensuing discussion with the victims in the First Class smoking lounge over Scotch whisky (incorrectly spelled in Chapter Two as "whiskey"—Irish whiskey has the "e"), Bell learns that the thugs are after the scientist's secret invention, the Sprechendlichtspieltheater. And our adventure—of which I will say no more for fear of "spelling the bean"—begins.

After writing multiple novels, an author can get stale and tritely formulaic. This happens frequently with Romance and Mystery genres and, in many instances, trite staleness occurs in adventure/thillers as well as horror tales. Yet, while most of his later stories somewhat follow a basic formula, from which he more often than not deviates, Cussler is never stale. His latest works are just as refreshing and exciting as his much earlier works; my most favorite being his third Dirk Pitt novel, Raise the Titanic! mentioned in an earlier posting. Cussler, in my mind, is the Ernest Hemingway of adventure/thriller literature. His writing style is crisp, dynamic, and direct; never boring. As stated on his Wikipedia page, Cussler doesn't write techno-thrillers—althoughhe does go to great lengths to describe the exact make and model of the guns, vehicles, and equipment used by each of his characters—so much as he poses, often with tongue-in-cheek, a great many "what ifs?". Such as: What if Atlantis was real? (Wasn't it?). What if there was a fire on the Mauretania? (Whoops!) What if there was a Sprechendlichtspieltheater invented by a Viennese scientist? (The trick is to first figure out what it is.) These questions provide rich, loamy fodder for probably, in my humble opinion, the best adventure reading available today, sparking and stirring the reader's imagination. 

Cussler brings not only the copious harvest of his fertile imagination to his books, but he marinates it with his vast knowledge of marine science and archeology. He is not only a best selling author, but the founder of NUMA, the National Underwater and Marine Agency, under whose auspices he financed the discovery of the US Civil War submarine, the H. L. Hunley; assisted in the discovery of the remains of the Titanic; and found The Carpathia, the Mary Celeste, and the first ironclad ship of the Civil War, the Manassas. The life of Clive Cussler is an adventure all unto himself, and he has also shared his real-life escapades in non-fiction works about NUMA. The neat part about his fictional accounts is that he breathes eighty years worth of his real-life experiences into each and every one of his characters and their thrilling adventures in such a way that they, too, readily come to life.
 His adventure/thrillers are full of intriguing, informative, can’t-put-it-down action, which sometimes causes you to pause and reflect. Can this be true? If not, I almost wish it were. The Thief, in this respect, is almost the best of them all. It’s well worth the read.

And on that note, it's time I pour myself a bit of Scotch whisky, amble out onto the deck, and continue on assisting Isaac Bell in his exciting quest to catch a thief.

May all your adventures be as exciting Clive Cussler's!
* ©2012 by Sandecker RLLLP. Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, the Penguin Group (USA), Incl., New York, NY.  
2:35 pm edt          Comments

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bait and Switch

I am a member of the US Tennis Association, Triple A (who isn't?), a few local and online writing groups, the Mercy College alumnae association, and one organization that claims it is the "largest" of its kind "in the world." I was conned into joining by a soft-spoken, but eager representative who promised me all sorts of benefits, including online seminars and exposure in a vast national network of other writers and potential readers and producers of my books and musicals. The basic membership for all of this was $1,000, but because of my retirement status, she "reduced" the fee to a tad less than $300. So, quite foolishly, thinking this might help book sales and spark theaters to produce my plays—so far, it hasn't—I joined.

This morning, another just as eager but less soft-spoken "member" called to inform me that my profile was going to be featured in next month's regional and national newsletters. Would I take the time to review the article? All too proudly, I responded, “Of course.” I was also informed that, in addition, I was to be awarded a gilt-framed certificate with accolades from the national board of directors as “the epitome" of my profession in Pennsylvania. “Wow! Whooop-eeeee!” I had the press release halfway written in my head when she then said—and pride does goeth before the fall—all of this would occur when I upgraded my membership to the "premium" level for the mere cost of $3500, which, of course, would be reduced to $900 again because of my retirement status.


Since when do we have to pay for "accolades" and awards? For honors that recognize achievements in our chosen professions and/or avocations? This, to me, is nothing but a huge, dishonest scam. "Join, for a “modest” fee, our elite association of people “just like you”; receive recognition in your field; get all sorts of benefits for which, they fail to tell you up front, you must pay. You are bombarded with every kind of marketing/sales pitch and sugar-coated "come on” designed to entice you to buy, buy, buy. To that I say: "Bye! Bye! Bye!"1

Bait and switch.

This could easily be said of the on-going theme of Audrey Niffenegger's fourth novel, Her Fearful Symmetry2. Remember her? She wrote The Time Traveler's Wife3, her first, which was made into a movie in 2009 staring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams. I read this provocative ghost story late last September, during my medical leave-of-absence, with a promise of salary reimbursement that was reneged.

It's been haunting me every since.

Niffenegger is the kind of author with the kind of sometimes cryptic, witty style that continuously cons you, lures you into her world. Once you start one of her books, you just simply cannot put it down. And once you've finished it, the premise, plot lines, and protagonists stay with you for a long, long time.

In this novel two young twin sisters from Chicago, Julia and Valentina Poole, inherit the London apartment of their Aunt Elspeth Noblin, their mother’s, Edie’s, twin, who has succumbed to cancer. At least that is what we are first led to believe. When they arrive in England and take possession of the flat, they soon discover things are not what they appear to be. And what seems not be, appears. 
The twins—themselves overly attached to one another, almost like Siamese twins in spirit—meet and become involved with their new neighbors: Elspeth's lover, Robert, and Martin, a reclusive crossword puzzle composer with a severe case of OCD. They also become acquainted, with those interred in the nearby Highgate Cemetery4, where Robert is a historian, including Christina Rossetti and George Eliot. When carefully constructed together, they result in a fast-paced—dare I say "spirited"?—tale that raises the hackles on the nape of your neck, causes globular goose-bumps on your arms, and sends icy chills tingling down your spine.
Yet, what Niffenegger has written, is not a ghost story, but an unusual tale of romance and love, with many permutations. This novel has more twists of plot and fate and betrayal—bait and switch—than my Basset has tan spots on his white chest.

This author is a master. She entices you—like the characters bait and entice each other—to read just a bit further—just one more chapter—before turning out the light; the light which, because of this book, you will want to leave on long after the early rays of dawn start to lighten up your room.

Unlike the representatives who promised me awards and accolades, I scam you not.
1 I did not "up" my membership. As a result, neither will I be featured in the newsletters nor will I receive the "prestigious" award and gaudy certificate. Thus is the price of learning to (finally) say "No!" and, in all humility, sticking to my budget.
2 My paperback edition, ©2009 by Audrey Niffeneger, was published by Scribner, a division of Simon and Schuster, Inc., New York, NY. I think it was purchased along with ten or eleven other books during my last trip to the local Barnes and Noble, in anticipation of being laid up for a month or two with a torn meniscus.
3 I also have—and read twice—the ©2005 paperback edition of this, also published by Scribner. It is a replacement copy; my original was loaned out and never returned to my library. Aaaaargh! Come to think of it, I read it the first time in February of that year while a broken wrist was healing.
4 This is a for-real, historic cemetery in London, where the author is a visual artist and guide. She brings to this book her vast and intriguing knowledge both of the cemetery itself and of its inhabitants.
2:00 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:
Miss Elmira's Secret Treasure: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
Colonial Theatre: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Roarin' 20s 
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
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


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,
the Gateway Pharmacy in Phoenixvile, PA

For more information about her musicals, which are also available on amazon.com,