June's Literary Blog
 

A LITERARY BLOG ABOUT BOOKS
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Friday, December 28, 2018

Fatal Odds

When my new, very knowledgeable financial advisor said she considered authors rock stars, I had to tell her that, no, I am not one. At least, it certainly doesn’t feel much like stardom, since I, along with other writers, spend long grueling hours of research and grinding writing often with little return on our investments of time and talents.

But I did tell her that while I am not a rock star, per se, John F. Dobbyn is. A law professor emeritus at Villanova University, John is, in my mind, the veritable Elvis Presley of mystery and legal thrillers. Just as I sometimes listen all day enraptured to Elvis, I have been known to be totally immersed in and engrossed by one of John’s Devlin and Knight thriller series.  

But it wasn’t until I met John during the taping of a television interview about my second novel, that I had the unexpected delightful chance to tell him so. During a commercial break, he gave a two-thumbs-up. Fairly swooning, I told him that I had just inhaled the internationally-acclaimed author’s third novel, Black Diamond, in which Knight and Devlin, while defending a jockey accused of murder, deal with the seamier side of horse racing and are forced to confront the Boston Irish Mafia and a terrorist faction of the Irish Republican Army. Like my financial advisor, I was, with just cause, awe-struck to actually meet its author.

Of course, I stayed to watch John’s subsequent taping in which he explained that the illegal trade of exotic wild animals was, is second in the United States in profitability only to illegal drug sales and third internationally with annual profits exceeding $20 billion. We chatted about this (I had no idea you could buy wild animals over the Internet) and his novel afterward, as well as the instinctual call to write that must  always be answered. But, unfortunately, while intrigued by the premise of the firth in his suspenseful series, I did not have the chance to read Fatal Odds until this past Christmas when John graced me with an inscribed hard copy. True to form, I consumed it in two days.  

Now Michael Knight, the much younger partner of Devlin and Knight, is half Puerto Rican and half Irish. A mottled lineage that somehow lands him in precariously dangerous situations as he attempts to clear the name of his clients. In Fatal Odds, it is his cousin Vincent who is accused of murdering his brother, Roberto, during a fixed horse race at Suffolk Downs. The race, after which Vincent disappears, had been fixed by Fat (really fat!) Tony Cannucci. Simple enough. It is Michael’s intent to find his cousin and clear him of the homicide. But, in doing so, he soon discovers that while Fat Tony would reap enormous betting profits, he has his pudgy fingers in a much more lucrative venture: the illegal smuggling and selling of exotic wild animals captured in the dense Amazon rain forest of Brazil.

Alternating sections and chapters between Boston, Brazil, and Puerto Rico, John weaves an amazingly tense and riveting tale of complex criminal machinations. Invoking real-life Puerto Rican gang rivalries (insectos versus Nyetas), as well as the Mafia, he entwines vast knowledge not only of thoroughbred racing but of the illegal wild animal trade, guiding the instantly absorbed reader into and around the sub-strata world of deceit, deception, and betrayal. And while enmeshing his main protagonist in the seemingly most unlikely situations, the author interjects, in a free-flowing, easy to read style, humor, wit, and, yes, romance.

Needless to say, while the Devlin and Knight series is, in several ways, more suited for male readers seeking hard-core, adventurous page-turners, I really relish John’s literary thrillers, especially this last one. John writes with a depth of knowledge, great acuity, and sensitivity that readily appeals to any adult audience – female as well as male – who seek to be elucidated and educated while also being entertained.

Enjoy the read!

4:25 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Ten Best Reads in 2018

As we wind down this tumultuous year and crash headlong into the next, I thought I’d share my list of what I think are the ten best reads of 2018. In no particular order because each is wonderful in its own way, I present:

(1)  The Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

(2)  Time is the Longest Distance by Janet Clare

(3)  Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit by Amy Stewart

(4)  Summer in the Garden Café by Felicity Hayes-McCoy

(5)  Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

(6)  Becoming by Michelle Obama

(7)  The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowan

(8)  Fatal Odds by John F. Dobbyn

(9)  My Journey in Philanthropy by Louis J. Beccaria

(10)   and…. the short stories of Natalie Dyen.

Enjoy the reads!

1:14 pm est          Comments

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and, perhaps, Edgar Allen Poe pooled together their writing talents and came back to us as Imogen Hermes Gowan. The proof in the pudding is her seminal historical novel, The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock, released this past September by HarperCollins. Written in Dickensian style, covering socio-political issues and topics often visited by Austen, and carrying the eerie Poe-like wallops of hauntingly eerie plot lines, the novel, set in the mid-1780s, is a dramatically humorous blend of history and mythology.

Gowan was once gallery assistant in London’s British Museum. In what she termed a “gothic job”, she spent many long hours in the presence of many curious artifacts about which, home at night, she’d write stories. One artifact that particularly intrigued her was an 18th Century Japanese “mermaid” constructed from the mummified remains of a monkey and a fish. After intensive months of research into the Georgian Era as well as hours of exploring Deptford and its docks, the iconic story soon morphed into The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock, a best-seller in England last year and now soon-to-be one in the United States.

Jonah Hancock, a mild-mannered merchant grieving over the loss of his young wife and infant son, is hired by the conniving formidable aging Mrs. Chappell to display his grotesquely gnarled creature reputed to be an infant mermaid during a party at her “establishment”. She lucratively plans to sell the wiles and wares of her young “girls” to men as they ogle the mermaid. One of the girls, Angelica Neal, is “assigned” to escort Mr. Hancock for the evening. But when he sees the flagrant debauchery, the reserved gentleman, while smitten by Angelica’s beauty, bolts from the scene. Angelica turns her attentions to a younger man; cossetting herself with him for days in her own apartment guarded by the stern-faced Eliza Frost. Undeterred, Hancock persistently calls upon Angelica, who, in return for her platonic favors, requests a real-life mermaid. Which he eventually procures, but not before he is eventually inevitably faced with rescuing Angelica from certain penury.

What transpires in and around this seemingly complex plot line is the delightful result of Gowan’s masterful storytelling. Matching her style to that of the Georgian Era – as well as using otherwise archaic words and phrases – the author weaves together the improbable tales of a merchant, a courtesan, and a real-life mermaid into an in-depth exploration of human emotions and interactions propelled by sexual appetites, financial greed, and often unreasonable roles and morés proscribed and dictated by society. It’s almost a veritable tour-de-force of modern British literature marred only by its satisfying but all-too-preachy denouement. I suspect Gowan wished to hammer home the morals of her novel, but, unlike the rest of the narration, she whacks with too heavy a hand.

That being said, I was more than intrigued not only with the story, but Gowan’s fluid writing. Laced with humor, she probes deep into the hearts and minds of her characters; some based upon real-life historical characters. I especially enjoyed the interaction of Hancock with Sukie, his niece, and her mother, his sister, Mrs. Lippard; Angelica with the “dear friend’ Eliza Frost who turns into a cold-hearted traitor; Mrs. Chappell and her inevitable confrontation with the constable and her not-so-adoring public; and, of course, the interplay between Mr. Hancock, his new wife, and the inscrutable mermaid who, while has no dialogue of her own, speaks eloquently throughout the novel through the hearts and minds of each of Gowan’s innately unique individuals. Each interplay offering astutely poignant insights and ethical significances.

While historically set in the Georgian era, The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock transcends time as well as, while rooted in the realities of life, credulity. A ‘must’ and most enjoyable addition to everyone’s reading list.

3:25 pm est          Comments

Saturday, December 1, 2018

 

Natalie Zellat Dyen, the Writer

Before I retired, I worked on a seven-member technical writing team at a large software company. While each and every one of us had honed our craft to perfection – we were considered the best in the company, if not in the business – each and every one of us had more creative ambitions. Writing user manuals for the small niche of hospital financial personnel is one thing, but writing fiction in all genres for, hopefully, a general readership is a higher calling that only a handful of us actually answered. And mastered.

Although she didn’t realize it at the time, one of the more creative team members was Natalie Dyen, with whom I shared an office and then a cubicle wall for eight years before she retired. After retirement, much to her own surprise, she found her storytelling “voice" and is now a formidable writer of short stories, poetry, and dystopian fiction.

Now, although I’ve written several and listen to PBS Selected Shorts, I have not fully mastered the art of short stories. I like my fiction – both written and read – to be long and rambling, consuming whole afternoons and evenings, getting lost in the plot lines and prose. Savoring, pondering; being happily exponentially verbose. But when Natalie began posting online links to her work published in local journals, newspapers, and the more articulate literary periodicals, I began reading. Nothing more than curious about what my long-time friend from work was now writing…

And to my great delight, I discovered yet another talented author, with a fresh, erudite, often humorous voice to add to my must-always-read list. A writer who has mastered the art of short story telling to near perfection, a la the styles of H. H. Munro (Saki), Mark Twain, Ray Bradbury, Rod Serling, Margaret Attood, Endora Welty, and even Barbara Kingsolver. Yes, Natalie, you are this good!

The Weight of Loss, the first short story of Natalie’s that I read, and the latest she has written – and which inspired me to write a Blog entry – is a veritable tour-de-force replete with metaphoric subtle meanings lacing multiple lessons learned in forming improbable friendships. Including the rewards of looking beyond the superficiality of appearance and seeking the inner person. And while it took me less than an hour to consume, this narrative about a journalist who learns about love and loss from a morbidly obese woman packs more emotional punches than, I have to say, the latest Kingsolver novel I am slowly reading. It’s that great of a read…

Forgive the trite analogy, but reading Natalie Dyen is somewhat like eating Lay’s Potato Chips. You can’t have just one without reaching back into the bag for more. Just one more… Which, of course, leads to the next thought-provoking, thoughtfully well-written one… But, unlike binging on chips, Natalie’s often poignant vignettes need to be paced well apart and savored, one by one to appreciate the full bouquet of her delicious writing. And to absorb and ponder each life lesson that she so wisely imparts.

To cite a few:

ManFred’s Other Cheek is, well, a tongue-in-cheek exposé of creative hubris at its best. With one performance/reality “artist” trying to outdo one another. This was only a ten-minute hiatus in my own writing, but it took me a half hour to stop laughing. Now, I’ve always known Natalie to have a subtle sense of humor, but she rarely, shyly showed it at work. And now, here, she’s unabashingly sharing it with the world!

In Finding her Voice, a longer-than-usual Dyen-esque commentary on the foibles of everyday life, a woman purposefully decides not to use her voice, which no one in her life listens to. In the torment of trying to stay silent, she finds it – soft and sweet – when she is threatened with the actual loss of the ability to speak. Not quite as poignant as her others, but, just the same, Natalie strikes to the heart of the matter and touches that of the reader.

A 2016 first place Sci-fi/Fantasy award winner, By the Numbers is a powerful piece about a student who, while brilliantly talented in every other subject, has absolutely no aptitude for mathematics. The consequences of failing a test for the third time are devastating. And, once again, Natalie couches a message of intolerance and governmental short-sightedness and insensitivity in a deceptively simple story packed with emotional and political overtones. A clear chilling warning to us all…

I hope your reading taste buds are sufficiently whetted. Now it’s time you discover the rest for yourself. Here’s the link to Natalie’s website: www.nataliewrites.com. On it you’ll find links to all of her currently published works, as well as some personal information about the talented author and her writing life and career… Which promises to be, hopefully, a long, prosperous, and fruitful one.

Enjoy the read!

 

4:26 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:
 
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
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 sixth 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,