June's Literary Blog
 

A LITERARY BLOG ABOUT BOOKS
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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Night She Won Miss America
Halfway through reading The Night She Won Miss America by Michael Callahan, assuming it was purely a work of fiction, I realized that the well-written – with just a few outlandish, perhaps impossible moments – could, in fact, be plausibly feasible. Could the young winner of the 1950s pageant really abdicate her crown? Did she? Really? But, more importantly… Why?

In the early days of the Miss American Pageant, an escort was provided for each of the contestants. The young men were charged with “entertaining” the young ladies, accompanying them around Atlantic City, being their dance partners at pageant events…in short, the girls’ dates for the week of events and festivities. They were expected to be courteous, respectful, mannerly, and, most of all, above board (no hanky-panky). Okay. Now, picture this: Betty Jane Welch, a striking beauty from Delaware, is a reluctant contestant who falls instantly in love with her escort, Grifford McAllister, the strikingly handsome son of one of the contest coordinators. She decides she’d prefer him over the title…

The whys and hows of this seemingly heart rendering event, and the incidents and episodes that led up to it, is the crux of this easy-to-read yet powerfully stimulating novel. Callahan has taken the real story of Bette Cooper of Hackensack, New Jersey, who, in real life, in 1937, absconded with her escort after winning the crown, and returned after 24 hours to her duties only to relinquished the title to runner-up Marilyn Meseke of Ohio. Set in Atlantic City thirteen years later, this talented writer embellished her circumstances, added very real-to-life characters, and factitiously sensationalized the facts, turning his third novel into a quasi-thriller, complete with cliff-hanging chapter endings and subtle clues that compel one to read on (and on) to solve the enigmatic puzzle. The ending, while not so surprising nor unique, is more than just satisfying. Especially since – SPOILER ALERT – the novel starts with a near fatal accident…

I started my advanced reader copy of The Night She Won Miss America  last winter, on a particularly cold, dank Sunday morning, swathed in blankets, huddling on the couch. I thought I’d read a chapter or two, then take the hound for a walk, fix dinner, and then watch Masterpiece Theatre. I had planned to finish the novel by the end of the following week. Well, five hours later (with only a brief break for my canine companion), I finished Callahan’s tour-de-force, savoring every page, almost wishing it would never end. It’s that good!

No stranger to glitz and glamour, Michael Callahan is a Philadelphia-based author (practically a neighbor) who has covered several Miss America beauty pageants. The author of two previous novels, A Swing for a Lifetime and Searching for Grace Kelly, he is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, and has written for, among other magazines, Elle as well as for The New York Times. The perfect credentials for writing the story of Miss Cooper a.k.a. the novel’s reluctant entrant Betty Jane Welch who will captivate your heart, stir you soul, and guide you behind and beyond the scenes of one of American’s most dazzling and sensational national traditions.

To paraphrase the iconic song: “Here it is, dear America… Here it is – your ideal… summer book!”

Enjoy the read!

1:22 pm edt          Comments

Friday, April 7, 2017

Belgravia

It’s been – what? – a year and a half since the last episode of Season 6 first aired on PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre… and I still suffer from the occasional twinges of Downton Abbey withdrawal. They have lessened in intensity over time, but a week or so ago, sharp pangs suddenly struck in the fiction section of our local library when I stumbled upon Belgravia by Julian Fellowes.

Fellowes is, of course, the multi-faceted, multi-talented famed creator and writer of Downton Abbey. I’ve been a great fan of his ever since seeing him in the PBS series Monarch of the Glen and watching his seminal movie, Gosford Park (2002). With scenes of his last television classic bouncing around in my head, I instantly longed to immerse myself into yet another of his works.

Belgravia, in the tradition of Charles Dickens, was first serialized two years ago. Each of the eleven monthly episodes was published via an online application (wwwjulianfellowesbelgravia.com) to be purchased, downloaded, savored, and digested until the next episode was available. As intriguing as this might be, I must admit that I am a binge-reader (as well as a binge-watcher). I like my books to be whole, complete; their plots available in their entirety, not parceled out over time. I am a firm believer in instant gratification when it comes to reading a good novel – which Belgravia is. Besides, the aggregate price for the individual episodes was more than the average price of a whole book.

So, I decided to wait until Fellowes’ latest literary venture was published in hardcopy. And there it was, finally, sitting on a shelf, just waiting for me to bring it home (for free!) and cosset myself between its pages.

Seeped in Nineteen Century England history, mores, and culture, Belgravia is the story of the intertwining of two families: Lord Peregrine and Lady Caroline Brockenhurst and James and Anne Trenchard. While the Brockenhursts are landed gentry – peers of the realm, as it were – the Trenchards are basically tradespeople; although James has ambitions of working his way up and into the higher echelons of royal society. As the story unfolds, he is nearly successful. Except for one glitche…

The story begins on June 5, 1815, in Brussels. The Duchess of Richmond is hosting an elaborate ball – the “ball of the century” – attended by the most elite of British and Belgian society, as well as English army officers. Lord and Lady Brockenhurst and Edmund, their handsome only son – a member of the 52th Light infantry – have, of course, been invited. As well as, by virtue of James being the victualler to the British army, the Trenchards along with Sophia, their lively and lovely 18-year old daughter. And while the guests dine and dance in opulence, Napoleon troops are marching up toward them from France. For, you see, it is the eve of the Battle of Waterloo and in the midst of the gala the troops are called to arms…

Fast forward to 1841. We are in London and James Trenchard has made a fortune partnering in the construction of large houses on Belgrave Square – Belgravia – where the Brockenhursts now reside. We learn that Edmund died in the Battle of Waterloo, leaving the inheritance of his parents’ estates and wealth to his indigent Uncle Stephen and John, his ne-er-do-well philandering son. We also learn that Sophia Trenchard has also died less than a year after the battle. Oliver, her now-adult younger brother, is dissatisfied with his lot in life, wanting nothing more than to be a country gentleman, rather than a businessman. Susan, his wife, is factious, greedy, and conniving. Or is she?

The stage is set. How and why the lives of these two variant families and their members become entwined and enmeshed together form the intricacies and intrigues of Belgravia’s plot and twisting – often surprising – underpinning sub-plots. Even the servants – as in Downton Abbey – are also embroiled in their story as it masterfully unfolds. And, of course, like anything else Fellowes and everything written about the Victorian Era, I was mesmerized by this wonderfully written page-turner. Romance, scandal mystery, intrigue, history, secrets, and passion are all rolled up into one in this masterfully created psychological thriller. This is Julian Fellowes at his best.

It goes without saying that the author is a fastidious writer. He leaves nothing to chance nor, at times, to the imagination. As he did with Downton Abbey and Gosford Park, he drew heavily upon his own experiences growing up in English society (Lord Brockernhurst is named after his father, Peregrine). Aiding him in this endeavor of non-parallel research was a historical consultant, none other than Lindy Woodhead, who coproduced the PBS series Mr. Selfridge, based upon her biography of the noted Ninetieth Century London department store owner. Thus, his detailed descriptions of daily life and culture during the Victoria Age are not only scenic and well-articulated, but correct in every aspect. It is as if the reader is transported to the places and times and becomes vicariously an integral part of the events and moments as they unfold. I know I was. I fell in love – sometimes hate – with each of the characters who are finally turned and molded into real-life personalities and circumstances. And, at times, so lost was I in their lies, that I found myself talking out loud to and about them…

So, for those of you out there who, like me, are still suffering from intermittent yearnings for the return of Downtown AbbeyBelgravia is the perfect literary panacea.

Enjoy the read!

4:42 pm edt          Comments


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June J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is an author, poet, and librettist. Her currenty 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:

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 fourth 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,