June's Literary Blog

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Helping Hands

One of the perks of being, now, an "official" reviewer, is that I now have access through various sources to galleys and advanced copies of all sorts of books, which I can read and comment upon days, weeks, even months before they are released to the general public. I have my pick of the best—and sometimes the worst—of what will hit the shelves, being able to read them before just about anyone else that I know does.

he other day, I came across a delightfully quirky little young children's book that was just released by Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., out of Atglen, a small town in Pennsylvania, entitled Change the World Before Bedtime (hdbk, 32 pgs) by Mark Kimball Mouton, John Chalmers, and Karen Good. Apparently written for, and, perhaps with, their children, it carries an equally delightful message that can and should be heeded by children of all ages: by performing daily acts of love and unselfishness, such as donating to Goodwill, or growing vegetables for neighbors, visiting a sick neighbor or friend, or even petting a friendly dog, we can each, in our own little way, help to change the world. A delightful message, indeed; one that we should all heed.

On FrankieB's early morning walk around the neighborhood today, we passed by two dempster-dumpsters nearly filled not only with garbage, but with, among other useful items, cast-off toys; a few household items, including lamps, book shelves, and perfectly good pictures in frames that, with a little bit of care and repair, could be made serviceable again; a grocery bag or two of used clothing—I know, 'cause I checked and found (and adopted) a perfectly clean and serviceable blue ski jacket—a myriad of hardly used tennis balls that could easily have delighted any dog who loves to play fetch. These are all items which, with a little care and forethought, could have been stuffed into plastic bags and brought to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. I am sure they would have been welcomed by some needy person or persons, rather than being carelessly cast aside only to be wasted in and cluttering up some remote landfill. Change the World Before Bedtime reminds us, with its primitive, child-like drawings and wordy illustrations, not to be so wasteful.

Nor to be so uncaring or thoughtless that we get so caught up in the busy-ness of our own daily lives that we forget to reach out to others. It does not matter what you do—this small tome has many viable suggestions. Each one is suitable for any child to do with, of course, adult assistance and supervision. This is a family activity book that is to be shared by everyone. The three authors, in iambic-pentameter rhyme that jarringly often does not scan, tells us that changing part of the world is "easy! You'll see/Sharing part of your heart is the key" and that "Good things happen when hearts shine with love". While this, to me is a bit more preachy and sugar-coated for my tastes, it did strike home the realization that I, too, have lately become a bit too complacent in my daily life, shying away from doing the one "good deed a day" that might make some one else's life easier, brighter, or more bearable.

Hmmm...well…there is the cluttered garage and basement that need clearing out. I bet there are things there that I'll never use again, but just might be useful to someone else. And then there's that elderly neighbor I've been promising to bring the Frankster over to visit. And you know that bare patch of soil in front of my house? I bet if I planted another rose bush, or snuck in a tomato plant or two... And what about the neighbor kids giving free tennis lessons? Or reading to a shut-in? And then there’s the very ill friend whom I've been meaning to call...

I recommend this little offering to all of Mother Earth's children. After all, the world and her inhabitants are depending upon us. And upon our helping hands to pitch in to do something worthwhile to help save our planet.

It can be done with just one small task that we do each and every day before bedtime.
4:02 pm edt          Comments

Monday, July 30, 2012

Facts of Life

I don't fly anymore. Not since my last turbulent flight twenty-five years ago, travelling back from a consulting gig in Los Angeles. It was long, arduous, and frightening, with lots of gut-wrenching turbulence and tummy-twisting sudden plunging drops that left my heart in my throat and drink ice cubes suspended in mid-air. Yet, however frightening it was, I was mesmerized by the views outside my small window—the threatening majesty of billowing grey thunder clouds streaked with yellow lightening and, as they cleared, wide vistas of land 35,000 feel below...Grand Canyon's gaping maw, snow-capped tips of the Rocky Mountains, undulating green fields of corn, patchwork quilted country sides ribboned with rivers, dotted with lakes, towns, and sparking cities. Those five hours were larger than life. I shall never forget, despite the awe, my feelings of helplessness and total lack of control.

Some fictional protagonists are more readable, and more believable, if they, like my last flight, are larger than life. And even more plausible, endearing, and unforgettable if they are based upon real life characters.

Such is the case with Nora Jean Broussard-Greenwood, the heroine of Flying Solo: An Unconventional Aviatrix Navigates Turbulence in Life* by Jeanette Vaughan. Her trials and tribulations stemming from a failed marriage and an illicit love affair in the very Catholic constricted deep South during the early 1960s are based upon those of a real person, whose stubbornly independent, yet endearing personality is faithfully captured in this fast-paced, quite readable novel about a woman who, despite and often because of her character traits and flaws, discovers the gifts of life and love amidst the turbulent consequences of doing it all her own way.

Here is the fictionalized story of a very strong, determined, self-willed woman who bucks the strait-laced ties of New Orleans high society, rails against the unforgiving strictness the Roman Catholic Church and, with the aid of a very close sister-like friend, stands up to those who want to cram her into tight, conforming molds and becomes, as is evident throughout the book, a hero in her own right. In Flying Solo we have Vaughan's unique, captivating down-to-earth writing style coupled with the flavorful essences of The Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, The Help, and Gone with the Wind, with a heaping handful of courage à la Amelia Earhart thrown in. This is, for those of us who enjoy a good cannot-put-it-down Southern chick-lit/romance/historical tale, a winning combination.

My only negative comment is that there are a few really explicitly graphic sexual passages that can be a turn-off to the more prudent reader. This is definitely not a book for the young adult and is, in fact, according to the author, "definitely rated R". However, for the more mature connoisseur of lessons-in-life tales, these scenes are meant to depict the deep, explosively cataclysmic love between Nora and her flight instructor, Steve, who becomes her lover—engaging with him far above and beyond the normal flights of physical fancy. I found that skipping over some or even all of these passages does not, however, in any way detract from nor diminish the full meaning and intent of Nora's story.

One of the greater pleasures of reading, reviewing, and blogging about books is that there is the occasional opportunity to talk with an author of a book, especially one that has particularly intrigued me. And so, yesterday afternoon, Jeanette and I chatted over the phone about the back story of her novel, its plot lines, and the characterizations of not only its heroine, Nora, but Nora's best friend, Charlene; Steve; Steve's wife, Marci, who had multiple sclerosis; and two of Nora's four children, Kayce and Cathy, who, in real life, suffered the brunt of Nora's life decisions. We chatted mostly about the strengths and weaknesses of each, and how the power of ingrained faith and familial obligations, regardless of how much you love someone, take precedent over fulfillment of that love.

Jeanette's insights coupled with my own observations confirmed that Nora was, indeed, despite her quirkiness, the strongest of them all. Even stronger than Steve, whose calm and confident, seemingly powerful presence first attracted her to him. Yet, as it turns out, he was the one who was cowered by Marci and her faith-based decisions that ultimately determined everyone's immediate fate. Steve was in awe of Nora's male/female androgynous strength, yet, while he wanted to be strong and honorable himself, in the end, was forced to play both sides—“putty in both women's hands", as Vaughan said. In a surprising plot twist, he is the one who is cradled and comforted by Nora, although she had hoped it would be the other way around.

"My God," he whispers in near defeat. "What did I do?" What did he do, indeed?

Charlene, who vicariously lived through Nora's adventures, exhibited strengths in coming to the assistance of her best friend, yet was overwhelmed by the force of Nora's singular determination and courage in the face of disaster. Nora's children, living through a painful time period in their early lives, did not understand the sudden, ripping change in their family circumstances, yet they did not ask questions of their mother. They only wanted some semblance of their former life back. The real children struggled, from what Jeanette told me, their whole life with residual issues. And then there is Marci, who, while strong despite her debilitating illness, weakened under the strictures of her own faith and allowed it to rule her world. She was staunchly tolerant, hiding behind her disease and commitment to the Catholic Church to get through "the horrible situation and move on".

Putting aside the chick lit/romance/historical novel nature of Vaughan's first literary endeavor, I found underneath an in-depth, turbulent, psychological thriller. This was a haunting read that I did not want to end. I wanted to know what happened to Nora? To her children? To Steve and Marci? And, to my delight, I am going to find out. 

Flying Solo, I am told by Jeanette, is only the beginning. It is the first in a trilogy about Nora Jean Broussard, whose story will soon continue with the second installment, Solo Vietnam, on which Jeanette is currently working.

This author is a solid writer with a voice that we should all listen to. One that, unlike many others of her genre, is not likely to be given into flights of fancy.

* © 2012 by Jeanette Vaughan. 309 pgs; available in both paperback and Kindle editions. Published by AgeView Press, Blue Ridge, TX.  
11:11 am 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,