June's Literary Blog

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Night Circus

I have to get this written before the illusion fades and my memory of it disappears… all strange occurrences in The Night Circus, an eerily great gothic read without the macabre, by Erin Morgenstern.

A large lot three doors down from my childhood home was called “The Battle Field” because a Civil War skirmish was fought there. It was where I played baseball and touch football with the neighborhood gang and where, each spring, the circus would pitch a red and grey striped big top and myriad smaller tents. “The circus arrived…” as in the opening line of this most interesting and gripping novel, “…without warning”. And, after five or six days, it would silently disappear. As a young girl, I, of course, thought it all mystically magical… A feeling of awe that I haven’t felt in a long time until I read The Night Circus. Déjà vu not withstanding and all that…

Celia and Marcos, each with strange magical abilities, are raised by adversarial fathers to be opponents in a contest for and of life. Their arena is a mysterious circus created by ageless Chandresh Lefèvre who, with a cadre of the most interesting characters I’ve met in a long time, are foils, seconds, and participants in the twisted, entwined lives of Celia and Marcos. The miasma of who is “in on the secret” and which part each plays is as convoluted as the complex array of tents, the décor of which is stark black and stripes – good alongside evil – with only smatterings of color. Unlike the circus of my childhood, this seemingly bizarre venue is opened at dusk; its exhibits close just before dawn. What occurs inside in the middle of the night is the substance of what dreams, nightmares, and great novels are made.

Morgenstern deftly juxtaposes harsh realities of human nature with the elusive illusionary vagaries of love in all its forms. Besides the two main protagonists, who is attached to whom – and why – forms an intricate framework upon which this young, talented author hangs her stories that are about and occur within the black and white stripes of the circus walls. And perhaps what the author is telling is that, in reality, folks, most of life is a circus…and it is very difficult to tell who are the audience and who are  the performers… Not to mention trying to figure out on which side of the fence the dream actually is…

The Night Circus is, by far, one of the most uniquely creative and interesting mainstream novels that I’ve read in the past few years. Morgenstern is a lyrically terse writer, whose choice, often clipped phraseology transcends ornate descriptions. There is an economy of the literary spirit here, akin to Ernest Hemingway at this best. She minces no words, yet conveys a vastly rich alternative world that mirrors – and often distorts – the careful reader’s realities. Like the circus that is meant to be enjoyed at night, this novel is best savored in the evenings, when the starlit literary abilities of the author touch and brighten the darkest, deepest recesses of your heart.

Enjoy the read!

5:10 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Queen Victoria: From Her Birth to the Death of the Prince Consort

You just gotta love PBS/BBC’s Masterpiece. It’s the only show on television (I am addicted to all things Netflix) that I consistently watch and one of the only presentations on broadcast media that has inspired me to read about history. Downton Abbey sent me on a quest to learn more about British life in the early 1900s (now one of my favorite eras of, um, all time). The Durell’s in Corfu had me searching for works by Lawrence Durell, noted British novelist and travel writer. And Victoria, whose first episode of Season One aired just this past Sunday evening, now has me engrossed in Cecil Woodham-Smith’s** seminal biography, Queen Victoria: From Her Birth to the Death of Prince Consort.

I found my copy of Woodham-Smith’s opus on a high shelf in my basement library. It is a 1974 Book Club edition purchased when I was living in Louisville and I’ve schlepped it along with me for these nearly 43 years, barely opening its pages except to insert a receipt for watch repair from the jeweler who designed the Kentucky Derby trophy and an old Ash Wednesday service leaflet dated February 27, 1974. (Boy, did those bring back memories!) It wasn’t until Monday afternoon, thoroughly intrigued by the Queen’s life portrayed in the PBS presentation, when I finally began reading the biography in earnest.

The one thing about watching Masterpiece and then reading the book(s) the period piece might have been based upon is that you can readily picture the characters as you read. Jenna Coleman as the Queen kept on flashing in and out of my mind; the voice Catherine Flemming as her mother rang from the faded pages; Paul Rhys as the self-serving, selfishly manipulative Sir John Conroy was as annoying as all get out. All of these brought what could have been deadly-dull history to vivid life. It is – as I am only a third through the book (I will once again be sequestered with it this afternoon, as I was all day yesterday) – like reading a very well-researched historical novel; rich in details of court intrigue, mores, mannerisms, and dress; replete with political intricacies, betrayals, and secrets; laced with romance; and chuck full of finely-wrought aspects of the life of young Alexandrina Victoria Kent as she matures into her role as Queen, wife, and mother.

This is – along with Elizabeth Longford’s Queen Victoria, first published 1964 – is the perfect intellectually challenging companion piece to Masterpiece’s visual, often fictionalized, account which was severely romanticized in a November 2016 novel. To be honest, I’d rather read pure history about the subjects the show tackles than a novel. There is enough fiction in "based-upom-the-life-of" television scripts to readily skew realities. When I want to learn about an historical figure, especially one as important as Queen Victoria, I don’t need it to be watered down by sometimes unguarded, misleading conjectures.

That being said… If you haven’t seen the first episode on PBS, I hardily suggest that you do. You can catch it on PBS.org/Masterpiece. Watch it and sebsequent ones, and search for a copy of Woodham-Smith’s biography. While unfortunately out of print, there are a few copies out there for sale amongst the more than 100 pages on Amazon listing books about the Queen. However, Queen Victoria: From Her Birth to the Death of Prince Consort seems to be one of the first written and, in my humble opinion, the most reliably comprehensive read of them all.


** Cecil Woodham-Smith, born Cecil Blanche Fitzgerald in Wales in 1896, possessed a love of and talent for historical writing. But, as most married women did back then, she deferred following her passion until her two children by her beloved husband, George Ivon Woodham-Smith, a distinguished London solicitor, had entered boarding school. It wasn’t until 1950 when the publication of her first historical endeavor, Florence Nightingale, shot her to the top of her profession. This was followed in 1962 by The Great Hunger: Ireland:1845-1849  and then by The Reason Why, about the charge of the Light Brigade, in 1963. In 1965, she began her greatest, seminal work – a two-volume comprehensive biography of England’s Queen Victoria who reigned for 64 years (1837 to 1901). It was to be entitled Queen Victoria: Her Life and Times. Started relatively late in life, Woodham-Smith was only able to complete the first volume, Queen Victoria: From Her Birth to the Death of Prince Consort. published in 1972. The author died in 1977 at the age of 80. 

2:31 pm est          Comments

Monday, January 9, 2017

Maud’s Line
For the past few years, books have been stacked in my living room according to whether they are simply to be read and enjoyed, ones from my personal library that I have chosen to read and review, and those that publishers send to me requesting a review. Now that I am spending more time writing and promoting my own novels, the last stack has dwindled down to next to nothing. So, last week, looking for a book of my own to read and review, I turned to the second stack where, lo and behold, on the bottom I found a misplaced copy of Maud's Line by Margaret Verble that a publicity manager from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt sent to me back in May of 2015. Oops!

My apologies to Stephanie Kim for this oversight. It has not been like me to be so absent-minded. But, considering lately I find myself looking for my glasses perched on top of my head or in the pocket of a sweater I am wearing… Well, it all comes with the territory (of getting older). So, after two years, here’s my better-late-than-never review.

Maud Nail, the main protagonist of Verble’s finely-tuned debut novel, is an 18-year old Cherokee woman living in 1928 in Oklahoma on land parceled out years earlier by the United States Government to Native Americans. It is for Maud and her friends and family not an easy life. Her days are rife with daily chores and hardships made worse by the death of her mother; the roaming proclivities of her stern and belligerent father; the lack of modernities, including electricity and indoor plumbing; the profusion of copperhead and moccasin snakes. She yearns for something else, something more. Someone to sweep her off her feet and take her away. Her only solace is her younger brother who, like her, escapes from the harsh realities of their life in the pages of books borrowed, mostly, from Mr. Singer, an elderly white potato farmer who is kind to Maud. Enter Booker Wakefield, a school teacher turned peddler whose mule-drawn wagon has side canvas flaps as “bluer than the clear summer sky”…

Maud's Line was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. I can see why. Its prose is lyrical, yet straightforward. Verble pulls no punches when it comes to describing Maud’s daily life filled with violence mingled with the simplest of details – the killing of a cow, the pouring of coffee in the morning, the murder of two brothers, the buttering of biscuits. There is a bit of raw sex, too, but not in the least bit pornographic. It is matter-of-fact; a part of life. The author, a Native American herself, does not dwell upon nor flaunt that fact. This story could easily have been told about any young girl of any heritage living in and struggling with impoverished circumstances. A black girl in Alabama; an Irish maid living in a New York ghetto; an Italian or Chinese woman living in a poorer section of town – seeking the better things in and of life. Maud just happens to be mostly Cherokee and lives on a reservation. Yet, that fact is precisely what makes this novel so unique. And so grippingly interesting.

My readings, as you know, have been eclectically diverse. But, to be honest, I don’t remember being so deeply seeped and immersed in the daily life of a Native American. This was, truly, an eye-opener, in more ways than one, considering I spent the better part of the last two nights staying up to read it. And considering that I know, knew next to nothing about the plight of Native Americans in the first half of the last century. I do now.

Maud's Line, however well-written and interesting, is not without its flaws. While a stunning depiction of life on the plains, it is, in essence, a romantic tale laced, as I said, with violence, sex, and gore; not a read for the faint of heart. However, it does not go as deep as one would expect into the heart, soul, and mind of the main character. Verble follows Maud around as if writing a documentary, showing us her doing this, doing that, while waiting for her man to return. She, Maud, doesn’t seem to do anything to help herself out of her own circumstances, instead settling her loneliness with the crude affections of an old boyfriend, depending upon the help of others, and reading novels. She does get into a “bit of a pickle” as the saying goes, but she refuses to face the consequences and, in the end, is predictably saved by the benevolent author a la deux ex machina. I am all in favor of happy endings, but this one was too pat, too shallow and short, and all too surprisingly unoriginal.

Still, all in all, this was a good read. One not 
to be missed. Especially by those mature readers who want a glimpse into the lives of people in a different place and time. 

Enjoy the read!

3:17 pm est          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,