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Saturday, July 27, 2019
5:06 pm edt
The Cottingley Secret
I love it when books interconnect with one another. Especially when one is referenced
or cited in the other. More thrilling if I just happen to own the book(s) being referenced.
Browsing the fiction stacks of our local Library, I came across The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor, the author of three previous novels, including A Memory of Violets, which I reviewed
in December of 2015. Gaynor’s fourth literary success captures the wonder and mystical intrigue of fairies. Specifically,
those photographed by Frances Griffith and Elsie Write along a creek bed at the bottom (beck) of the garden of their small
Yorkshire home. One photo in which Frances is watching the fairies dance eventually accompanies an article written by none
other than “the” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes fame. Which sparks a national,
then international interest in and the questioning of the existence of such elusive creatures. The article has been reproduced
in The Faerie Handbook, a compilation of all sorts of information about the Fae World by the editors of Faerie
Magazine, which now sits amidst other magnificent tomes published by Harper Design. And which I also reviewed in December
I was beside myself… A reference in Gaynor’s
novel to a book that holds pride of places in my now vast library. Especially since it is about a subject that intrigues me…
I must confess, when asked the question, “Do you believe in Fairies?”, I always joyously respond, “YES!”
As did nine-year-old Frances…
Gaynor’s novel is told in parallel story settings: One set during World War II,
when the world has been turned upside down into a maelstrom of turmoil; the other in the present when Olivia Kavanagh, doubtful
about her impending wedding, is summoned from London to a small Irish town to take charge of her deceased grandfather’s
estate. When Frances’ father enlists to serve God and Country, she and her mother travel from their beloved home in
Cape Town to live with Uncle Arthur and Aunt Polly in a small Yorkshire town where secrets are known and rarely kept. Olivia
has inherited her grandfather Something Old used book shop and the care of her
failing grandmother… As well Frances Griffith’s tattered journal…
Elsie, Frances’ cousin, is nearly sixteen, but retains the heart of a curious child…
Because of the fairies, they become fast friends and co-conspirators… Fairies, which Frances avers she has truly seen;
Elsie, who goes along with the stories and photographs them. If nothing else, to prove their existence to Uncle Arthur, who
wonders if the ones in the photos are really the ones Frances sees. The speculation that fairies are real and exist at the
bottom of the Wright’s garden brings Sir Doyle into the mix.. As a result, Frances’ world, already upset by the
thought of losing her father, is thrown into a tailspin. While Olivia’s, many decades later, is turned right-side-up
by the entrance of Ross, the writer, and Lily, his daughter.
What I found most compelling about Gaynor’s work, putting aside her easily-read fluid and straight-forward
writing style, is her innate ability to read into the hearts and minds of not only adults, but of children. Especially helpful
when writing about two young ladies who have walked right out of the pages of real-life into the marginally fictional account
of their lives. The author has maintained their integrity while speculating on what actually happened in the beck and afterwards…
Included in the mix is the most elusively mysterious Ellen Hogan whose young daughter disappeared, presumably taken by the
fairies… And who turns out to be Olivia Kavanagh’s great-great grandmother…
How does all this unfold? Well, you’re just going to have to read The Cottingley Secret to find out. When you do, be prepared
to be propelled into the delightful realm of imagination and make-believe that, quixotically, becomes reality.
Enjoy the read!
Friday, July 12, 2019
3:02 pm edt
The Nun’s Dragon
There is a special summer display at our local library featuring local authors. The five
display shelves crammed with titles run the gamut of genres and writing styles… a veritable moveable feast of reading
pleasures. All written by people, including myself, who live in this area!
There is one local author, whom I have yet to meet, whose book – a small burnt umber tome – especially
caught my eye…
The Nun's Dragon by Christine Emmert is a fascinating
somewhat dark read; comprised of a novella set in medieval times and a short story worthy of Margaret Atwood, one of my favorite
authors. Unlike Atwood, however, Emmert’s writing rises above being chilling as it lifts hope out of her stories like
the mythological Phoenix reborn and rising from its own ashes.
Set in a convent during Medieval times, The Nun’s Dragon is a thoughtfully written philosophical tale
that explores the difference between faith and structured religion. Between what is real, perceived, imagined, or believed.
Agnes Dei was a young nun who wakes a sleeping dragon. She names it Wyvern after a species with two heads and forearms fused
to its wings. Although, as Emmert described him, he is really a dragon with wings, four legs, and one head. The two fall inexplicably
and most improbably in love… And then… Agnes Dei’s body is found crushed under the convent’s waterwheel…
Which is only the beginning. The consequences resulting from Agnes
Dei’s death and the presence of a dragon rend the community asunder, pitting the strict “by-the-rule” Sister
Clare against the free-spirited Sister Catherine who befriends a young monk and converses with a small brown bird. As the
story of Agnes Dei and Wyvern unfolds, the secrets of the convent couched in the heart and soul of medieval religious culture
are revealed… What can and cannot be believed within the strictures and confines of the Church? What can and cannot
be believed based upon one’s own faith and spiritual tendencies?
In Lilith, a doctoral candidate named Evelyn is writing a thesis about Adam’s first wife. According
to mythology, Lilith rejected Adam’s advances and chose to side with Lucifer. Her penchant not for men, but for devouring
newborns. Of any species. In this fabulist tale she sets her sights upon Evelyn’s baby boy, stalking her prey disguised
as a barn owl. Evelyn is consumed with discovering Lilith’s essence while trying to protect her son against the demoness’
evil advances… Perceived or not? Sometimes, a barn owl is not just simply a barn owl… Nor are one’s own
fears born of the actions of others…
Nun’s Dragon and Lilith are fascinating reads… Not only for Emmert’s fluid and often erudite
writing style, but for the uniqueness of the stories themselves… Her choice of themes and subject matter are startling
and refreshing. While they are tinged with horror, they end with promising splashes of hope and redemption.
The author, like myself, is a self-proclaimed semi-recluse; much like
J.D. Salinger was. So, I was unable to garner anything more about her except she is not only an author, but a playwright active
in the theatre community… And lives locally. But like any work of literary merit -- as this book is – its words
and stories they convey bespeak of the author’s essential nature.
Emmert is a writer with wisdom, insight, compassion, and, most of all, a deep and broad understanding of what
it means to be uniquely human.
Enjoy the read!
Monday, July 1, 2019
3:25 pm edt
The Peacock Summer
I love sitting on the stone bench across the street from my house. It is under a medium-sized
oak tree that bathes one half of the bench in shade; the other is bathed in sunlight. On late summer afternoons, with FrankieBernard
snoozing in the grass at my feet, I catch some rays while engrossed in a perfect summer novel …
And, for the last few afternoons, The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell, has been my perfect summer bench read…
The intriguing, almost puzzling beginning of Richell’s third novel (just released today in paperback
by HarperCollins) instantly casts its reader into the lives of Lillian Oberon, the mistress of Cloudesley, and that of her
granddaughter, Maggie, now living in Australia. Cloudesley is an ancient opulent mansion just outside the small English village
of Cloud Green which has, as does both Lillian and Maggie, many secrets. Including a locked room in the west wing to which
Lillian is regularly drawn in the middle of the night… And to which, in the course of the novel, Maggie, too, is drawn…
Richell tells Lillian and Maggie’s stories in parallel, with
alternating chapters that flash back to 1955 when young Lillian is the wife of handsome Charles Oberon, the ambitious, wealthy,
often arrogant and cruel, master of Cloudesley. She soon realizes that her husband considers her, like the objects in the
mansion, his possession. To do with her whatever he likes. Whenever he likes... She longs for escape but is bound by family
obligations. When Charles hires a prominent – also charming – artist to paint murals on the nursery, she is compelled
to make a momentous decision.
In the present, when
Lillian falls ill, Maggie is summoned from Australia where she is trying to forget a hastily broken engagement to take care
of her. When she returns home, Maggie is dismayed to find the once pristine mansion, with its treasure throve of objects d’art
and expensive furnishings, neglected and slowly crumbling into decay. She is disheartened to also discover that there is very
little, if anything, left in the family coffers to pay for even the smallest repair, let alone pay the salaries of a maid
and part-time groundskeeper. While tending to Lillian’s needs, Maggie seeks a way to save Cloudesley realizing that,
in doing so, she must confront the consequences of decisions made in her messy, muddled past. As she does, the mystery of
Cloudesley, Lillian’s past secrets, and that of her own complicated life begin to unfold.
As she has in her previous internationally acclaimed best sellers (The House of Tides
and The Shadow Years), Richell, infuses this novel with true-to-life characters, richly defined settings and descriptions.
A British-born author who has worked in both the book publishing and film industries, she, once again, uses her finely-tuned
talents and experiences to craft a complex, yet easy to read, story with dynamically engrossing plot lines that builds and
crescendos to a most satisfying dénouement. And a surprise, totally unexpected ending.
I loved this novel not only because of Richell’s elegant writing style, but also
for her astute insights into the mind and heart of each character. And while it is not a mystery, per se, the author does
beguilingly craft a… well, a mystery couched with the scintillating overtones of a psychological thriller. It is, as
a fellow literary critic commented, beautifully written. Indeed, a handsome, perfect novel for this Summer!
Whether you are at the beach or on a bench.
Enjoy the read!
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:
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
Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville during World War II
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members
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.