June's Literary Blog

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Monday, March 18, 2019

Don’t Wake Up

There are psychological thrillers and then there are psychological thrillers. Now, all fiction of this genre is meant to creep you out by placing the protagonists – typically a female – in particularly unusual circumstances caused by either external and/or internal, er, shall we say, forces. A well-crafted thriller probes into the depths of the character’s mind, psyche, and personality as she tries to extricate and save herself as well as her sanity. But, there are differences. Some are written for the sake of sensationalism; others to edify as well as “entertain” the reader; still others to provide a commentary on social morés and inequities as well as to point out human flaws and failings. A rare few combine all three.

Don't Wake Up by Liz Lawler, released in paperback in early February by Harper Collins, I think, has combined and met this triptych criteria. The author’s debut into the literary fiction scene is sensationally creepy and eerily entertaining while examining the prejudices faced when a woman with a credible reputation suddenly becomes a distrusted victim. A pariah in her own life.

In the opening paragraphs Alex Taylor, 29, a brilliant, highly respected doctor in a Bath hospital, awakes to find herself compromised on an operating table: naked under the green sheets, her legs up, her feet in stirrups. She at first, thinks she is being treated for serious injuries sustained in an accident. But the face of a man hidden by a surgical mask looms over her, threatening to do unspeakable things… She succumbs to anesthesia while resisting the inevitable…

This all occurred in the first few paragraphs. And it was, as first, enough for me, with my classic case of whitecoat syndrome, to put the book aside and look for something tamer to read and review. But there was something about Lawler’s writing – and background – that compelled me to read on. And on. And on, well into the wee hours of the next morning…

Alex, when she subsequently wakes up on an emergency room gurney, claims rape. But there is no evidence. No one, not the attending physicians, nurses, nor Patrick, her boyfriend, believes her. Not even the police officers who also doubt her bizarre story. Laura Best, a female detective hell-bent-for-leather for a promotion, sets out to prove Alex is a pathological liar. Alex begins to doubt herself. She is almost convinced she is losing her mind until there is another victim and a series of murders... Murders which Laura is convinced Alex committed… No one comes to the supposedly victim’s aid except for Maggie Feldman, to whom Alex turns for solace…

This is probably one of the most graphically detailed novels that I’ve read in a while. The author, a seasoned former nurse, leaves nothing to the imagination as she carefully and methodically wends through a complex and convoluted series of plot-lines to prove/disprove her protagonist’s innocence/guilt. Lawler’s writing is not for the faint of heart nor the more sensitive of soul. However, the resolution of Alex’s dilemma comes in a totally unexpected surprise (and surprisingly well written) denouement. The clues were there throughout the narrative (I had to scan the novel again to find them), but the author cleverly concealed them, offering the subtlest of allusions in a most deviously duplicitous ending to a novel that truly exemplifies the genre of psychological thrillers.

Enjoy the read!

4:00 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna

She’s at it again. Still as sassy and sexy as ever, the sixty-something Auntie Poldi (Isolde) is hot on the trail of yet another murderer in sunny Sicily. Told in the first and third person by her Italian nephew (she is a German transplant from Munich, having married an Italian), Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna (An Auntie Poldi Adventure), Mario Giordano’s second novel about Poldi’s sleuthing antics, is just as raucously delightful as the first. Well, just as delightful as a murder mystery can be.

You see, a dear friend’s dog, Lady, is found poisoned in her garden. And then, for no apparent reason, the water supply to her neighborhood of La Baronessa is cut off. Poldi, of course, is livid, surmising that both actions are that of a “certain local organized group”. But why? And for what? Invoking her own brand of hubris, she assumes that the answers will not be found without her persistent assistance. Or, as Chief Inspector Vito Montana says, her interference. Poldi and Montana, by the way, are (still) romantically entangled. Which, of course, complicated matters to no end.

And the plot thickens. Montana is trying to solve the murder of a criminal prosecutor; a vile crime that Poldi insists is tied to that of Madame Sahara, a local fortuneteller, whose body she just “happens” to stumble upon in a vineyard. Why Poldi is slinking around in the vineyard in the first place is another story altogether… But I refuse to say anything more lest I spoil the rest of the plotline for you. However: Searching the fortuneteller’s house with the assistance of her three sisters-in-law and Padre Padro, the local priest, she finds Madame Sahara’s diary and a curious slip of paper; both of which hold the key to couple, unlock, and solve the murders.

As I wrote last March when reviewing Giordano’s first novel, Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions, Auntie Poldi was a dressmaker before retiring to the Isle of Sicily where she sought to quietly live out the rest of her days soaking in the local wine, sunshine, and the view of the sea. But, ah, alas, blissful peace and tranquility are not hers to be had. The true-to-life character, by the way, is an homage to the author’s aunt who, like the eponymic title character, really did retire and moved from Germany to Sicily. She is, Giordano claims, is just as “outrageous” as his mystery-solving protagonist. But, alas, in real life, has not – yet – solved any murders. Which, of course, is exactly what the fictitious Auntie Poldi does.

In this second of the series, released this past Tuesday by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, nothing of Giordano’s witty, fast-paced writing style is lost in translation from Italian to English by John Brownjohn, who also translated the first Poldi mystery. With the exception of a few misused and one or two misspelled words and phrases, Giordano accomplished almost tongue-in-cheek style once again pokes through. Once again casting Auntie Poldi headlong into a sequence of dangerous events as she, on her own, attempts to solve not one, not, two, but three murders. And nearly getting herself whacked in the process…

I liked this second Auntie Poldi mystery just as much as I did the first. It is an entertaining light-to-medium-hearted romp through the vineyards that crowd on and around Mount Etna. (Apparently the ash-laden soil nourishes the best grapes.) But, like the first, I had one major compliant. Which I will, once again, repeat:

The italicized recaps at the beginning of each chapter were annoyingly glaring spoiler alerts. “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them” was once a hallmark of 17th and 18th Century books and still might be fine today in other aspects of the real world. But, please, please do not use this egregious antediluvian technique in novels. Especially mystery novels in which the reader wants the plot line to unfold without advance hints, clues, and pre-action tells. That is the whole point of reading a mystery. Headings describing what you’re about to read is like eating dessert before dinner; devouring the olive before sipping the gin martini; those annoying people in movie theatres who blurt out what will happen next. Yuck. So, rather than ruin an otherwise decent read, as I did with the first novel, I skipped the headings in the second.

That being said, I once again reveled in the fictional Auntie Poldi’s life and times. Especially following the complex plot-lines as she weaves her inebriated way through a maze of clues to solve the crimes. The intrigue, refreshingly set in modern-day Sicily, is sprinkled with touristy comments and descriptions, and a whole host of shady and not-so-shady characters who added spice to the mix. Actually, the whole of the conceit of Auntie Poldi, once again, had me joyously second-guessing Poldi’s next moves as she, once again, “gets her man”.

Enjoy the read!

2:45 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,