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Friday, September 28, 2012

Truth to Tell

It's a dank, dreary Friday; the last one of September. Leaves are already turning and falling from the oak and elm trees, scattering across the lawn outside my window. And while I am happy the hot weather has abated I am not sure I want the winter cold to close in. However, with winter comes Christmas and its arrival in two short months is already being heralded by the display of holiday ornaments in local stores. If Christmas decorations are going up, can Halloween be far behind? I wish people were not so eager to rush the seasons. Why can't we just enjoy the present (no pun intended) time ?

As most of you know, I've been a supporter of the Western Missouri Basset Rescue, just outside of Kansas City, for the past year or so. Just recently I finished editing a book, Tails of Basset Rescue1 written by the rescue founder, Chris Bly. This slim volume, published this week, is an eye-opener that relates the truth about rescuing canines—the heartaches, sorrows, joys, and profound feelings of accomplishment. It is more about survival than about rescue, as Chris writes in her introduction: "...rescue is not a glorious job. Rescue is more than taking in a dog, giving it a bath, and finding it a good home. Rescue is a matter of life and death...a struggle for both animal and human to overcome past experiences."

Each of the twenty-five color-illustrated vignettes is a tail (tale) about a Basset rescued by Chris and her husband, Jim, co-founder of WMBRI. Some stories are joyous, a few are sad, most are poignant, and all of them are testaments to the courage and unselfish sacrifices all dog rescuers make each and every day to save helpless animals, victims of human cruelty, that cannot fend for themselves. It is an inspiring book that should be read not only by devotees of Basset Hounds, but by everyone.

All proceeds of the book sales benefit wmbri.org—I encourage you all, even if you are not owned by a dog, to buy a copy or two. You will be giving a gift not only to yourself, but to homeless Basset Hounds who could really use the help.

While Tails of Basset Rescue tells the truth about saving dogs, a poignant novel, The Truth About Us2
by Darlene Flannigan, addresses other kinds of cruel realities. The following is the review I wrote for authorexposure.com, which you can also read on that site.

A sensitive, talented writer can incorporate sordid and distasteful violence—especially toward woman—into a novel’s plotline so that the reader is not totally offended or turned away. Darlene Flannigan, author of The Truth About Us , is such a writer. This short, fast-paced, intriguing novel is not, however, about violence, per se, but how it affects the lives of three college friends. Grace, Jude, and Erica—one a victim of date-rape—find themselves embroiled in the consequences of keeping a “shameful” secret from their past which mold their present and unalterably change their future.

The Truth About Us starts with tall, gangling Grace who senses she does not fit in anywhere, except when filming feminist documentaries. In college, she thought she fit into Jason’s arms, dating him until—Wait! This secret is best revealed in the alternating chapters of each woman telling her own side of their tale. Assembled together, the chapters build a climatic story not only about emotional as well as physical violence, but about the sin of re-percussive retribution without redemption; poignantly, not one of our heroines truly finds salvation. Save Grace, who, with Erica, is threatened betrayal by born-again Jude, and searches for peace and salvation in a griping and unexpected denouement.

This is a poignantly enlightening book about secrets hiding in our past, nagging our present, destroying our future. As Flannigan writes toward the end of the novel (page 199): “A secret is never locked away tight, it pushes outward…to be avoided, the creaky stair when you’re trying to be quiet...Avoidance is hard work and…takes its toll…leaves its mark.” What do you do when a flawed, disillusioned friend threatens to expose it?

Punching home her point, Flannigan weaves simple metaphors into fluidly crisp writing. Grace, physically ungraceful physically, is full of grace. The present and future of Jude, both betrayer and betrayed, closely parallels that of Judas Iscariot. A pastor becomes a Pharisee; a sister is the only one who sees the unavoidable truth and offers forgiveness; and Jason is both the symbol and catalyst for sin. The novel, itself, depicted in its title, is the harbinger of our own psychological truths, even if it is literary fiction.

My own truth? At first, I wasn’t going to read and review this novel, best read by mature teenagers and adults, because of its upsetting subject matter and a few adamant pan reviews on various websites. In all honesty, the opening pages turned me off. But Flannigan’s opening passages and her striking style kept nudging at me to give it a second chance—to find its truth for myself.

It only took me a rainy afternoon like this one to read and enjoy it. And I am glad I did.
1 © 2012 Christine Bly. 114-pgs, with color illustrations. Available in both paperback and Kindle editions. Self-published through CreateSpace.com.
2 © 2012 Darlene Flannigan. 167-pgs. Available for Kindle, as well as other e-reader devices. Self-published by Darlene Flannigan
12:47 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

History Lessons

It is usually bad form to write a review before first finishing the book, but I am so excited about reading Winter of the World: Book Two of the Century Trilogy1 by Ken Follett, that I have to tell you about it now. I am a little more than a third of the way through this intensely interesting sequel to Fall of Giants: Book One of the Century Trilogy that spans the Twentieth Century from 1933 to 1949. Not since Herman Wouk's The Winds of War , first published in November 1971, has there been such a realistic fictionalized account of the sixteen frightening years leading up to, including, and following World War II. Follett continues in the second installment of his trilogy with the next generation of the five families—American, British, Russian, German/ Austrian, and Welsh—whom we first met two years ago in the first, following them as they cope with changing political climates that plummeted the world into darkest winter.

When I finished Fall of Giants in October 20102, I was bereft wanting more of Follett's trilogy and spent the last two years impatiently waiting for Winter of the World . When I finally saw the full-page add in the Sunday New York Times Book Review three weeks ago, I stretched my budget to immediately order it. I now find myself most evenings since the tome arrived a day after its September 18th publication date, eschewing my favorite television shows and old movies for long evenings happily immersed in the lives and times of its protagonists. And even though I know the basic background historical plot and sub-plots, it's the best kind of literary historical fiction that I cannot put down, eagerly wanting to read on-and-on the imaginative part as it unfolds and ends. But I don’t want it to.

Here the five families again intermingle and intertwine, embroiled now not in the earlier turmoil of World War I, but in the nefarious Rise of the Third Reich, the Spanish War, and the nightmares of four years of horrific world conflict. The stage setting of these true-to-life characters—heros and heroines all—burgeons with well researched and delineated historical facts and events—some of which, I am sure, are mere footnotes in history books—that Follett, with his clear, concise, fluid writing style has brought to the fore and back to life. Through his characters, Follett educates us with salient true details—the best trait of any historical novel. I, for one, for example, was unclear about the deeper, more intimate politics and history of the Spanish War, which preceded and helped to precipitate WWII. But when Welsh-born Lloyd Williams, one of the primary heroes, volunteers to fight Franco and his fascists alongside the then current Spanish government's meager forces, I finally understood the real reasons for the conflict. And, for two, I now have a clearer understanding of America's involvement, or lack thereof, during the early stages of Hitler’s rise to prurient power.

There is something about wrapping a bit of fiction around facts and dates that vividly brings them to life. Which is exactly what Follett does. If I could have read his magnificent novels when I was studying Modern World History back when in high school, I probably would have found it endlessly fascinating rather than decidedly merely dull, even given the fact that my parents and a number of relatives lived through the era to relate to me their own stories of peril and adventure. While reading Winter of the World, I am again listening to them, albeit re-enacted by members of fictitious families whom I have come to cherish just as much as my own factual one.

And that is exactly what is making this novel so very real and mesmerizing to me. I am old enough to read and totally relate to it, remembering those first-hand accounts of my own childhood. For those of you who actually have lived through it all, this novel will be especially poignant; especially since Follett will undoubtedly take you, as he has me, back in time as he captures and recreates the salient history lessons that we should never forget nor repeat.

Having written this, it's time to order in some dinner and settle in for yet another night of intensely satisfying reading.

Until next time...may every novel you and I read be as great as this one!

1 © 2012 by Ken Follett. 940-pgs; hrdbck. First Edition. DUTTON/The Penguin Group USA, New York, NY.
2 This was published in September of that year. Also a First Edition. DUTTON/The Penguin Group USA, New York, NY. The covers are stylistically the same. They are a handsome pair sharing a shelf in the historical fiction section of my upstairs library.
1:39 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,