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Wednesday, July 26, 2017
1:48 pm edt
The Alice Network
This year marks the Centennial of the
entrance of the United Stated into World War I (April 6, 1917). a fair number of books – both fiction and non-fiction
– about it are being released. And since I, too, am writing a novel set in Phoenixville during the Great War, I am trying
to read most, if not all of them. It’s a bit daunting, to say the least, but I am learning a lot of interesting and
often obscure facts.
For example, did you know that one of the largest and most effective underground spy rings
operating in France and Germany was started by a woman? Louise de Bettignies, to be exact, who took the code name of Alice
Dubois. Her fascinating story has been carefully brought life in The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, a young author who has penned seven previous novels. Although her eighth is quickly topping the best-seller
lists – I am sure you’ve already heard of it, if not already read it – I thought I’d review it anyway.
In 1947, promiscuous Charlie St. Claire is pregnant. About to be disowned by her wealthy family, she and her
mother are on their way to Switzerland to “take care of the little problem”. In Southampton, Charlie takes off,
travels to London, and knocks on the door of a stranger whom she hopes will be able to help her find Rose, her older cousin
who disappeared in France during World War II.
Flash back to 1915. Bored with her menial office job, ambitious
Evelyn Gardiner is eager to fight the Germans. She gets her chance when she is unexpectedly recruited as a spy. After a grueling
month of training, she is sent to Lille where she meets up with the intriguing and nearly outrageous Lili, the leader of the
Alice Network, aka "the Queen of Espionage". Eve becomes Marguerite and works undercover as a waitress in a prestigious
restaurant frequented by top-level German officers. Her job is to listen in on their conversations with the hopes of garnering
secrets about troop movements and planned attacks on French and British forces. She reports these back to Lili, who transports
them to their “handler” in England.
Rene, the nefarious owner of the restaurant is a corrupt collaborator
who colludes with the enemy for the sake of money and power (sound familiar?). He seduces Marguerite who sacrifices her virtue
and high moral standards to glean even more war secrets. But then, Rene begins to suspect she just might be a spy…
Charlie joins forces with the much older Evelyn as well as her handsome chauffeur/butler. She asks for their
help in finding Rose. Evelyn reluctantly agrees; she has a secret search of her own to conduct and Charlie becomes her perfect
co-conspirator. Thus, the plot thickens and quickly begins to unfold.
Quinn is a really good writer. Her style
is straightforward and down-to-earth, using accurate colloquialisms of each war era. Her plot lines twist and fold in alternate
fast-paced and often insightful chapters about Charlie and Eve’s parallel quests and united journey. It’s easy
to see why – and how – this historical novel is wending its way to the top of the charts. Characters are grippingly
life-like and the situations they find themselves in are, to the most part, based upon historical fact. In essence, it has
all the qualities that I look for in a substantively great read. And, it is chock full of story twists, turns, with an unexpected
surprise, but satisfying, ending.
Not only did I enjoyThe Alice Network as a compelling adjunct to my own
research, but I also found it an inspiration for my own writing.
Enjoy the read!
Friday, July 21, 2017
3:09 pm edt
Smile and Walk Away (Shatter Book #1)
I must confess, I am an addict. Yes,
folks, these days I’ve been getting really high… on thrillers. Especially those written by female authors whom
seem to be cornering the genre’s market nowadays: Ruth Ware, Kate Quinn, Claire Douglas… And now, right up there
with them in creative literary talent is Danielle Riedel, whose debut novel, Smile and Walk Away (Shatter Book 1) (the first of her Shatter series) wasjust recently released.
Now, I’d go to the virtual ends of the earth (aka online media and best seller lists) to find
my next fix. However, I didn’t have to travel far for this one. Danielle lives less than a few miles from me and when
she told me about her novel, I jumped at the chance to read and review it. We local authors, I firmly believe, must support
Danielle’s debut novel reads like a well-crafted screenplay. Perhaps because of the
author’s real-life experiences as an actress. Perhaps because she struck me as a very methodically organized, yet alert
and creative person. The combination is compelling, to say the least, and quite evident in her fast-paced colloquial writing
We open with an agent being tested by a physician. A pencil, coffee cup, and a projector lens inexplicably
break apart. The test ends. [Intrigued but confused reader frowns.]
Next scene: 2008. Velma Bloom with flaming
red hair and a well-endowed body, flies to any unknown destination. The action then flips back to 2005. Velma
drives her new vintage banana yellow 1970 Dodge Challenger to her parents’ house in a semi-affluent White Plains,
NY neighborhood. She is slated to attend graduate school, but adamantly refuses to continue her education. She takes a job
as a waitress at a Yonkers bar “…with diverse clientele”. There she meets an assorted array of customers:
Sam, the older “regular”; an outspoken young waitress; and a mysterious “quiet man” who tips her $100
for just a beer and a burger.
Fast forward to 2008. Newly-promoted Detective Jackson Duran is assigned the case
of finding a missing young woman. Her name? Velma Bloom.
So far, a good start of an okay read, right? But, then,
a few quick scenes later, we discover that Velma has (or had?) a very interesting unique hidden “talent”; almost
a super-power that, from her early childhood, has been both a delight and a bane. Velma drinks excessively to suppress it,
but when she discovers the cause and reasons for her rare, shall we say, “condition” and its dangerous international
consequences the plot, as it’s said, thickens.
Why are the connections, if there are any, between Velma
and the mysterious agent? Sam, whom she befriends? The “quiet man”? And Detective Duran who is hell bent to solve
his first case. Has she really just gone missing or was she, as others believe, murdered? More importantly, why? And by whom?
In her inimitable way, Danielle Riedel transforms this complex premise into an amazingly exceptional read. I was
so enthralled, I read Smile and Walk Away in two sittings in one day, taken as I was by the characters and curious to find out what would happen next to
all them. And what is most telling is that the characters, even five days later, are still haunting me. And that is about
the best compliment I can give.
Oh, wait, there is one more. Okay, maybe two.
I must humbly and
honestly state that while Danielle is half my age, she has twice my talent. Her plot lines are tightly woven and complex,
with myriad unexpected twists and turns and little “tells” that lead in a fast clip to a well-crafted surprise
denouement, with all the loose ends neatly tied up. Except for one… but I’m going to refrain from giving it away.
Her characters are richly endowed with distinct personalities; dialogue is not stifled, but colorful and true-to-life.
And the premise of her story? One of the most creative and well-researched tales of international intrigue I’ve
read in a long time. I am almost led to believe that while devoting herself to her writing, Danielle might also be a double-agent.
Once again, as I said in my last review, there are no formulaics here, folks. Just yet another
great, imaginatively creative novel that any mature mystery/thriller (albeit with a tinge of science-fiction tossed in) enthusiast
The problem is, though, now I have to wait until #2 of Danielle’s Shatter series
is completed and published before I can get my next spine-chilling “fix”.
Enjoy the read!
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
5:59 pm edt
5:42 pm edt
Local Girl Missing
Ever pick up a book to read thinking
it was going to one thing… and then it turns out to be another? I loathe to brag, but, lately, this rarely happens
to me. As all of you know, I’ve read and reviewed so many books on this blog for the last six and a half years (as well
as written six novels and five musicals) that I can pretty much figure out which novels, especially in the chick-lit/thriller
genre, sport formulaic plot lines and stereotypical characters.
And so I thought with Local Girl Missing, the second novel of British author Claire Douglas.
But… Oh boy! Oh, girl! Was I ever wrong!
Let me just say that this is NOT your usual run-of-the-mill summer read. Far from it. Set in the fictional seaside
resort town of Oldcliffe, England, it is a profoundly exquisitely written psychological thriller best read by flashlight under
the safety of your covers at night rather than on a beach bordering a rickety pier. It is deliciously scary, enticingly intriguing,
and authoritatively astute as it delves into what it means to be in a true friendship – “equally balanced, taking
the good as well as the bad…”
“Frankie” Howe is divorced, has experienced seven miscarriages, and is quickly closing in on forty. Born and raised
in her parents’ pink-slatted hotel in Oldcliffe and now managing the opening of a new hotel in Bristol for her parents,
she is called back to her childhood hometown to help solve the almost 20-year-old mystery of Sophie, her once best friend
who has been missing for over twenty years. Sophie’s brother, Daniel, who lends Frankie the seaside apartment of “a
good friend”, explains that the remains of a young woman’s body has been found. Thinking, after all these years,
that it might be Sophie’s, he prevails upon Frankie to come “home” and help him identify them. What happens
in the course of their renewed relationship and their search for the truth of Sophie’s, um, “supposed” death
is the basis of this truly remarkable literary thriller that had me tightly gripping the cover and quickly turning pages to
see what would be next revealed.
A few teasers:
In the small touristy apartment building where
Frankie stays, there is a baby screaming in the middle of the night, although there are no babies in the building; an older
downstairs neighbor acts peculiarly strange; and a female “stalker” who randomly appears. Frankie thinks she is
the ghost of Sophie, haunting her about “what happened that night”. Anonymous typed messages are delivered to
her door mat: I KNOW WHAT YOU DID and I’M WATCHING YOU, delivered in A4-size manila envelopes on her door mat. Leon
McNamara, Sophie’s former boyfriend, is remarkably kind, then inexplicably cruel to Frankie. And, ***SPOILER ALERT***
she becomes increasingly suspicious of Daniel, whom she once thought loved her and whom, now, she desires “more than
If these don’t capture you interest… Well…
in the first person by both Frankie and Sophie, as if they are writing letters to one another, Douglas’ stunning novel
is a tour-de-force of subtle, often seemingly bizarre, plot twists and turns and truly remarkable insights into the inner
workings of the human mind and heart.
There are no formulaics here, folks. Just a great, imaginatively creative
novel that any mature mystery/thriller enthusiast who enjoys a very well-written and realistic read will enjoy. Even if you
are trying to relax at the shore.
Saturday, July 1, 2017
4:52 pm edt
The Almost Sisters
There are woman’s literature, chick-lit, southern chick-lit,
ladies’ thriller-mysteries, romance, adventure, fictional satire, historical novels… The category list, in today’s
literary realm, is endless. And then there is Joshilyn Jackson, who is a genre all unto herself.
The author of
seven previous novels and one novella, Joshilyn is a seasoned and talented writer whose style, wit, and well-developed characters
and plot lines draw her reader(s) in from the very first sentence on the first page. When I opened The Almost Sisters (to be released by HarperCollings on July 11th) and read “My son, Digby, began at 3:02 in the morning…”
I was instantly hooked. Note, Digby “began”, not born. Huh? My latest early summer reading pleasure started with
a tweak in the main protagonist’s body and a twinge of insatiable curiosity in my own. And, it ended all too soon in
Let me explain.
Leia Birch Briggs is a single 38-year old relatively talented and quite successful
artist who has found fame and fortune in her graphic novel, Violence in Violet. She attends a super-hero comic convention,
meets a tall, dark handsome man costumed as Batman, and, well... It wasn’t quite love at first sight, but – soaked
in tequila – it was close enough, resulting in Digby’s beginnings.
A life has been started and,
on the far end of Leia’s spectrum, another one is ending. Her 90-year old grandmother, Emily “Birchie” Birch-Briggs,
is slowing succumbing to disease that forms Lewy bodies on her brain, causing dementia and phantasms -- wild rabbits as well
as her father who has been dead for sixty years. Leia drives from Norfolk, Virginia, to her childhood summer home in Birchville,
Alabama with her young niece riding shotgun to help Birchie settle her final affairs and move her and her lifelong bosom buddy,
companion, and now caretaker, Wattie Price, into a nursing home.
But the Lewy bodies, Birchie’s in and
out-of-mind stubbornness, and the discovery, literally, of a skeleton in the closet – well, actually, a trunk in the
musty hot attic – thwarts and will have nothing to do with Leia’s well-intended plans. And then there is Batman
weaving his way out of the shadows as well as the backstory of Violence in Violet, which, as both metaphor and allegory,
are the backdrop and symbolic representation of the two faces of the cultural coin of the deep South.
mention the deep dark secrets that Birchie and Wattie – so close, they are “almost sisters” – share.
What I truly loved about this novel, besides its well-written and gripping, almost lyrically poetic style, is
its juxtaposition and interweaving of many genres: southern literature, sophisticated chick-lit, women’s fictional literature,
romance, mystery, intrigue, and, most importantly, social commentary. For, you see, Joshilyn has the uncanny, rare ability
to tell a poignantly meaningful tale that speaks volumes – through the trials and tribulations, joys and profound closeness
of a family – to our current times with its resurgence of cultural and racial division; of violence, greed, and hatred.
And what this author does with these through her all-too-real characters is to simply and positively offer growth, wisdom,
solidarity, guidance, redemption, and hope.
Hope for the future of the divided town of Birchville; hope for
her soon-to-be born Digby, who is the bridging metaphor of conquering divides; hope in the microcosm of a family’s struggles
softened by deep, abiding love that stretches up and high into the surrounding community and the world; hope, that, yes, in
the simple acts of love and kindness, all will eventually be well.
All wrapped in a most amazingly readable –
and enjoyable – story, with plot lines that twist and turn in unexpected surprises. Not to mention the last heart-wrenching,
soul-moving ten pages, which I read slowly, not wanting this novel to end. And when it did, I was, honestly, in tears. And
it takes a lot – a whole lot – to move me to them. Joshilyn’s ninth novel did just that. It is that good!
The Almost Sisters, folks, might easily be this year’s best summer beach literary offering. I know it is mine.
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,
volumes of poetry, stories
for children (of all ages) and
a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:
Phoenix Hose, Hook & Ladder: A Novel of Phoenixville during World War I
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
Rainbow in the Sky
of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A
Collection of More Spiritual Poems
We Three Kings
Beauty and the Beast
Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding
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.