A Literary Blog
about Books (and the occasional film) How
they affect us. How they shape our lives. Note:
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Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Harvest I’ve lived in the Phoenixville area now for nearly forty years,
more than twice as long as the then small New York village where I was born and raised. I consider myself a PA “native’
– well, almost – and over the years have taken time to learn a bit about the borough’s history and heritage.
I am thrilled when I learn a new golden nugget of information and revel in passing my new-found knowledge on.
For example, did you know that the huge campus of Valley Forge Christian University, less than three miles from my home, was
once the Valley Forge General Hospital where nearly 300 German prisoners of World War II were interred from the fall of 1944
to the later part of 1946? VFGH, according to a September
2012 Phoenixville Area Historical Society article, was one of 311 WWII POW camps in the United States (http://hspa-pa.org/Newsletter/2012%20Sept%20Newsletter.pdf.) This interesting larger than life footnote of local history was relayed to me by my book-loving, tennis playing buddy Betty
after both of us read The Cheery Harvest (June 2, 2015) by Lucy Sanna.
from the opening paragraph, Sanna’s first novel is everything historical literature should be. Based upon a little known
facet of American involvement in World War II, this story, through the actions and dialogue of its well-developed, true-to-life,
all-too-realistic characters, embraces the essences of marital and maternal love: family, after and above all, comes first.
What the parallel main protagonist, Charlotte Christensen, does to protect hers and ensure a much needed financially successful
cherry harvest is the pith and thrust of Sanna’s five-star tour-de-force.
Set in a farming community along
the western shore of Lake Michigan during 1944, this strikingly stunning novel recalls – and reveals – the interment
of captured German solders in thirty-nine prisoner of war camps across the state of Michigan. Once a well-kept secret, this
author bravely trots out the salient facts to formulate her story.
Beset by the scarcity and dire rationing
of food and the shortage of workers, commercial fruit farmers are faced with financial ruin if their upcoming harvests are
not successful. To ensure her family survives, staunchly stubborn, strong-willed Charlotte convinces local authorities to
allow her husband and neighbors to hire PWs to help.
The year slowly progresses and Charlotte’s plan is
successfully unfolding…until her husband, Thomas, befriends Karl, an Oxford-educated PW. When Karl starts to tutor
their daughter, Kate, in mathematics, Charlotte finds herself strangely sexually attracted to him. As a result, unlike the
tight-knit vest and socks she weaves for her son, Benjamin, serving overseas, things quickly begin to unravel. In order to
protect herself, her family, and the all-consuming success of the harvest, Charlotte begins to harbor devastatingly dark secrets
that threaten to literally destroy lives. In the midst of the turmoil, teenage Kate – her head often in the clouds of
books, cherry blossoms, and budding romance -- finally rebels and speaks up with the voice of reason.
The Cherry Harvest is a powerfully written, well-executed testament to the strength and fortitude as well as the dissolution that prevailed
in the mid-western United States during World War II. Sanna brings an innate touch of sweetness to her work, yet does not
shy away from calmly writing crisp, almost brutally stark realities. The complex, yet tight plot line is fresh and original,
nicely decorated with knowledgeable descriptions of the lakeside country of her native Michigan. The totally unexpected explosive
denouement twists and turns, folding in upon itself, like the often tumulus swells and currents of the Great Lake upon whose
shores the novel’s setting is nestled.
While its events occur during WWII, this is a timeless novel expressing
universal and eternal themes and truths. Best enjoyed by the more mature, discerning reader, The Cherry Harvest is
an eye-opening, heart catching, poignant tale that mesmerizes from the first opening sentence to the last of its tear-jerking
It is the essential, if not quintessential summer read.
Goodies Forgive me folks, but, yes,
it has been a while (more than a month?) that I've blogged. Partially because I've been having grave computer problems which have just now been resolved. Partially because summer is finally settling
in and I've become lazy in the sunshine pouring onto my terrace where I and my faithful basset and his cherished companion
kitty love to sit and soak in the rays – me, of course, with the perennial book in hand. And partially because this blog is taking a slightly new tack.
than concentrate on single, newly released books and referencing other web sites, I've decided that since there is a whole
other oeuvre of past literary offerings by established authors....especially now often set by the wayside in deference to
the new up-and-coming younger talents...we need now more than ever to still keep in our reading repertoire. So, from here
on in, at least for a hopefully long while, I, we intend to focus in on the "oldies but goodies". Those “older”
authors whose past and current totality of their writing endeavors – many of whose books grace the shelves of my now
burgeoning library – are still, if not more so, relevant today. Let's move forward and together consider the works of such American
greats as Eudora Welty, the founder of Southern literary "chick lit"; revisit the minds and novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald,
Ernest "Papa" Hemingway, Thomas Pynchon, Clive Cussler, Jean Auel, and Jane Smiley (previously discussed in an earlier
posting), Harper Lee (whose sequel to To Killl a Mockingbird is to
be released this July. Don't fret, dear followers. I am on it!). These are by far some of the staunch foundations of our 21st
Century fictional endeavors. Then there are my British favorites: Ken Follet, Edward Rutherford, Monica McInerney, J.K. Rowling,
the late Mauve Benchy, and, of course, C. S. Lewis (with whom I will probably start), to name just a few. Who knows? Maybe
I'll even dabble into Dickens.
All of these, as well as many others – your suggestions, as always, are most welcomed and greatly appreciated – who comprise
a veritable treasure trove of enjoyable reading are destined and certain to keep me busy for a, um, goodly long while...and
to hopefully keep you coming back here time and again for more musings.
This new direction, by the way, nicely
corresponds to my upcoming, er – Yikes! – birthday – as I I venture into the younger side of my more mature
years. Well, maybe not that younger, but certainly not that (yet) mature. But definitely old enough to enjoy my retirement years sharing here with you without
frills, unnecessary pictures, or jumbled, disjointed pages my love of more established, "classical" literature along
with all things books that affect and shape our lives.
My hope is that this will now be and continue to be,
as a dear, dear friend once noted, a "sweet" website enjoyed by not only the younger, but more so the older, but
still goody readers among us who revel in the readings of the never-to-be-forgotten oldies but goodies.
May Daze Besides Earl and Opal in “Pickles” (I have neighbors
who look and often act just like them!), Maxine is my favorite cartoon character. Created by the geniuses at Hallmark, she
is the humorously satirical epitome of elderly crankiness. I even have a 2015 Maxine Weekly/Monthly Planner which, so far,
has kept me on track for various myriad appointments and activities.
So, today, as I started to enter
a few more items for this month, I noticed that the weekly pages for May are missing. Say what? No (Maxine) joke. Yep…’tis
true. Except for just one page with the first five days of this month, the calendar blithely jumps right into the first week
of June. There are no weekly pages for May. Nothing. Nada. Egads…
So, now, for the net twenty-five days,
I am literally and figuratively at a loss…Literally and virtually in a May Daze…
In case you were
unaware, yesterday, May 7th, was the 100th anniversary of the torpedo sinking by German of the
largest and fastest ocean liner of its day, the Lusitania. Part of the Greyhound class of Cunard ships, she was able
to cross the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Liverpool in less than five…almost three… days. Bigger and faster,
even, than the ill-fated Titanic, which sank 103 years ago on this last April 15th after striking an iceberg.
Both tragedies have a profound affect on me…I am totally fascinated by all things nautical, anyway. To
wit, I have a decent collection of Titanic memorabilia including a commemorative yellow crew cap,
a replica third-class coffee mug, and a myriad collection of films, books – both fiction and non-fiction. Not to mention
total recall of the urban legend about my father’s supposed namesake caught in the boiler bowels as a greaser and part-time
stoker when the then Star Line “star” quickly sank to its cold, watery grave…
But I had scant
knowledge about the Lusitania , except for a few minor historical footnotes – even though it was one of the
prime reasons America entered World War I – until this past weekend when I picked up a copy of the just recently published
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Eric Larson. A totally non-fiction account of the tragedy, it reads, like all of Larson’s previous books,
like an exquisitely finely tuned novel. I just can’t put it down…
Larson, one of the few authors
who thoroughly researches his topics and writes about them with exhaustingly rich and vibrant detail, has taken this, his
seventh excursion into the realm of the most bizarre episodes of history, into the extreme outer reaches of total realism.
His previously most famous and highly acclaimed Devil in the White City and In the Garden of the Beasts
are two of my most favorite Larson offerings to pure literary non-fiction…surpassing even the most erudite, readable,
and assiduously famed David McCullough who just recently released his own latest, The Wright Brothers (which I hope
to read soon and post about in the not so distant future).
Larson, is a master at capturing the salient minutia
of every day life…the captivating essences of each of the “characters” that precipitated the events he
explores And the sinking of the Lusitania is no exception. Little known background facts are brought to the forefront;
nebulous reasons are explained; and historical figures are brought back to life in a writing style so exquisite it literally,
if not physically, actually brings the reader onboard.
For this month, this is the perfect corresponding
read to help me through my ditsy daze of May.
Smiley Faces The stack of books from this past Christmas’s “Santa Surprise” box
lay fallow on a living room credenza for the past few months. Seems I’ve been a bit too busy with other literary pursuits…With
twinges of remorse and guilt, I have mostly ignored these twelve buddies of mine beckoning to me, sorely neglecting to even
opening their covers to peek at what literary wonders are inside.
Finally, this weekend, with a slight cold once
again lingering – I must have caught it out on the courts during last week’s sudden onset of colder, almost winter-like
weather – I decided to take a long, well-deserved break from my normal bookish and household chores and, as it were,
attack the stack. And the first to appeal to my sniffling, stodgy, I-want-to-escape-from-it-all mood…was…is
Some Luck by Jane Smiley. I’ve been totally immersed in it for the past three days and while I have yet to finish it, I
just had to take a moment to tell you about it.
The first of her American trilogy published last fall is probably
the most exquisite novel I have read in quite a long time. Exquisitely written, exquisitely crafted plot line(s), and exquisitely
drawn characters so true to life that most, if not all of us have met most, if not all of them in real life at one time or
another. Walter Langdon reminds me of my father; Rosanna, a straight-laced second cousin whom I love dearly; Eloise Vogel,
a dear friend of mine; John, a fellow I used to date in the mid-west…the list goes on. Set in Iowa between the end
of World War I and a short time after the end of World War II, Some Luck compassionately spins the stories of the
Langdon family…epically depicting their daily lives, their hopes, their dreams, their disappointments, their loves,
losses, and brave, courageous accomplishments…exquisitely touching upon all aspects of life and definitely exploring
all the nuances of familial and familiar relationships.
This is, despite her many numerous other prize- and
award-winning books – thirteen fiction, six non-fiction, and five novels for young adults – Smiley – exquisitely
– once again at her very best.
So what did I do when I was so immersed and captivated in the middle of
a chapter and about to fall asleep in the wee hours of the morning? I crawled out of bed and raided my upstairs library where
I found a whole shelf of Smiley books…their well-warn spines, um, smiling at me…all waiting to be read and/or
re-read. I culled out Horse Heaven, A Thousand Acres, The Age of Grief, Moo, and my all time great Smiley novel,
The All-true Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton, which I received as a late birthday gift a few years ago and
absorbed with such rapt attention in two days, that Lidie now lives deep within my very soul.
I toted this choice
pile down to the living room and lovingly arrayed them next to my Christmas reads, knowing and promising myself as I finally
fell asleep that once I finish Some Luck (probably right after I post this) and await the delivery of the second
in Smiley’s American trilogy, Early Warning (to be released tomorrow), I will be indulging in yet
another one of my favorite authors’ literary offerings.
Reading all the while, of course, with a smile
upon my face.
One Dark and Stormy Night… …about a month ago, I began reading a Gothic romance. This is not a literary genre that I am,
er, was particularly fond of. I’d read a few in my time, yes…but dark and eerie is not quite my speed. Except
for…maybe…Dark Shadows – the original television series watched many years ago with a few college
buddies in the dim recesses of a college lounge between classes – but I’ll reserve that for yet another future
Anyway…the Gothic romance that completely caught my fancy that rainy, windy February night
is Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan, a British author whose novel tackles not only the essence of the genre, but intertwines a number of women’s
issues of the time in which it was written and that of today.
One is the treatment of post-partum depression
at the turn of the last century, another the stigma of having a child out of wedlock in the 1930s.Today, depression is easily
treated – at least most of the time. Having a baby with benefit of spouse is so commonplace these days, it has almost
become an accepted norm. But back then? Back in the day…both were causes of alarm, consternation, misunderstandings,
and, often, misguided, cruel treatment. Riordan cleverly treats these themes in her third novel with great compassion –
whipping up an intriguing story that compelled me to forget the raging storm outside.
I have more thoughts about
this novel, which I wrote in my review for www.authorexposure.com. You just might want to take the time to access it. While there, please noodle around the revitalized site and check out
all the new and exciting features that may spark your literary interests.
Who knows? You just might find a new
genre to add to your reading repertoire.
J. McInerney is an author, poet, and librettist.
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:
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 first novel.