June's Literary Blog
 

A LITERARY BLOG ABOUT BOOKS
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How they shape our lives.

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Friday, July 12, 2019

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…

Both The 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!

3:02 pm edt          Comments

Monday, July 1, 2019

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!

3:25 pm edt          Comments

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Huntress

She is known as Die Jägerin. The Huntress. A cold-blooded murderer who, after feeding six Jewish refugee children, slaughters them. In cold blood. And later, after welcoming him into her lakeside home in Poland, she shoots and kills Sebastian Graham, Ian’s younger brother. But, after 1945, Annalise Weber, a.k.a. Lorelei Vogt, considered a minor Nazi war criminal, disappears without a trace. However, that does not deter Ian, a former war correspondence turned hunter of Nazis, from desperately wanting to find her and bring her to justice. Where she turns up… and finally becomes, is the essence of The Huntress Kate Quinn’s ninth novel.

Set in Boston in the early 1950s, with alternate chapters flashing back to Russia and Poland during WWII, this is a complexly woven novel that delves deeply into the mindsets of three equally main protagonists: Ian Graham; Nina Markova, a former member of the Russian Night Witches, an all-female night bombing regiment; and young Jordan McBride, who dreams of being a journalistic photographer. All, each in his, her own way, a hunter. How the lives of these characters entwine together to solve the enigma of de Jägerin – whose character is partially based upon partly based a cruel camp guard at Ravensbruck and Majdanek; and that of a SS Officer’s wife – makes for a fascinating, well-written read.

What I especially like about Kate Quinn’s work is her meticulous research. Her historical novels sparkle with heretofore unknown facts specific to her characters and the era(s) in which they live. She gives full attention to the most minute details while keeping the reader fully engaged, wanting to read, to learn more. For example, who knew there was an all-female regiment of flying bomb squads during World War II? And what their daily, nightly life was like? Or about rusalka and Lorelei folklore; the insidious fresh water lake nymphs who, like mermaids, lure people to their deaths? Or that the wrong ammunition can cause a soft-barreled shotgun to explode? Quinn has the masterful ability to incorporate the most salient facts into her literary fiction, a talent often missing in many of today’s historical novelists.

Quinn, however, can also be a bit heavy-handed. I found Nina’s passages, while interesting enough, sluggish. Bogged down by the drudgery of over-painted descriptions of Russian life, they lacked the spritely cleverness of Jordan’s narratives. Evidence that, perhaps, like any other writer worth her salt with favorite characters, she preferred Jordan and enjoyed writing about her more. I also found a few passages about Ian, while crackling with bits and pieces of droll, often macabre humor, a bit too redundant. And, unfortunately, while she probes Ian’s, Nina’s, and Jordan’s hearts and minds, we do not have the opportunity to read first-hand into those of Annalise/Anna Weber. We see them only through the author’s eyes mirrored in the insights of the other characters. I wanted to know how/why Annalise/Anna became the cold-bloodied murderess – the Huntress – that she was during the war. More than the fact that she was the wife of a Nazi officer who following the party lines of hating Jews… And how/why she later became such a kind, loving, caring, and wise person afterward.

Taking the novel, however, as a whole, these are mere minor objections. They should in no way deter you from reading this soul-searching, important addition to the genre of historical literary fiction. There are one too many enjoying moments of reading and surprises in this page-turner, especially, in the denouement, that should not, cannot be missed. If you are looking for something more stimulating and less mind-numbing than the “standard” poolside/beach read, thenThe Huntress should be in your summer tote bag.

If you are not already a fan  of Kate Quinn, this, one of her finer novels, is guaranteed to make you one!

Enjoy the read!

5:13 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Alternative Truths III: Endgame

On December 2, 2018 I reviewed the short stories of Natalie Dyen, a talented creative writer who (finally) found her literary voice after retirement. She’s been rather prolific as well as profound in her literary endeavors and many of her dystopian tales are published in semi-mainstream magazines. Natalie’s voice, once again, has spoken out in a brilliantly conceived story that appears in an equally brilliant conceived anthology, Alternative Truths III: Endgame, recently released by B Cube Press.

Note: This Literary Blog is about to deviate from bi-partisan neutrality. If what you are about to read upsets or offends you and you opt out as a friend and/or follower… Then so be it.

Outside of the occasional rant on social media and commiserating with my closest friends, I have sat back, seethingly angry at the willful destruction of our Democracy and our country by the hands of the ignorant, misogynistic, racist, narcissistic grifter wannabe dictator/king who currently resides in our White House. Like many of my friends and family, I am totally disgusted and displeased that this administration constantly twists the truth into gaslighting doublespeak and alternative facts. We are, sadly, on the wrong track, barreling at breakneck speed toward a disastrous endgame. This. Must. Change. But I have not yet read anything strong enough that would spark the beginnings of change… Until now.

Endgame, the third in the Alternative Truths series edited by Jess Faraday and Bob Brown, is music to my eyes. It is a volume of dystopian short stories, essays, poetry, and musings written by some of the finest minds in science fiction today. Natalie included. In it, “he” (I refuse to sully my Blog with his name) is unmasked for who and what he really is. No holds barred. These are stories of true justice, redemption, failure, and laughter. They speak truth to power while poking fun. They tease, cajole, pray, commiserate… These are not alternative facts, but very finely, poignantly written alternative truths that speculate about the final endgame of/for this administration that started with our nation’s most disastrous election. Reading any, all of them should, must, will open the blinded eyes and misguided minds of every wayward follower of this faux pas president. As well as those who choose to sit idly by…

Now, while the other entries focus on “him”, Beautocracy, Natalie’s story, cunningly and craftily focuses on what might happen if every woman was forced by a male-dominated society to look a certain “perfect” way. It follows young Pamela who does not live up to accepted norms of beauty. She hides her face behind scarves, wearing “high heels to keep a low profile” to avoid the “streetcleaners” who prowl for “beasties” like her.

While other women around her submit to plastic surgery, Pamela rebuffs mutilating her body simply to look like everybody else; to pretend to be something else that she is not. She is refused jobs because of her looks; she is attacked because of her looks. She is a pariah of society. Because of her looks. When she finally seeks help from her sister, a member of the secret resistance movement, Pamela finds it in a twisted, ironic sense of betrayal.

An ending that I did not see coming, even with all the carefully subtly placed telics in the story. Natalie, by the way, is the mistress of expertly placed “tells”. As well as well-crafted dénouement resolutions. Beautocracy,  folks, is Natalie Zellat Dyen, at her best… Once again writing dystopian drama reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale , Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone,  and the movies of M. Night Shyamalan.

Beautocracy, whose themes alternative truth and implications far too closely mirror the realities of our time, is the perfect placement, the perfect counterbalance to the other equally moving Endgame stories. Which should, must be read by anyone and everybody who, like Natalie and her Endgame fellow writers care deeply about our country. Who hope for, no… DEMAND a path toward a brighter future endgame than the one we are on now.

Enjoy the read!

à Please note that a significant portion of the proceeds from the sales of Endgame are donated by the editors to the ACLU. Many of the contributing authors are also donating their payments and royalties. Thank you!

1:33 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Lost Roses

In high school we were taught the Russian Bolsheviks were the good guys; the Romanovs, bad. Black and White; um, Red and White. Tsarist oppression of the masses; financial hardships incurred during World War I; outlandish royal indulgences and suppression leading up to the 1917 Revolution. But what about the brutal mass assassinations of the Russian Royal family and the tragic cruelties, deprivations, and wonton murders needlessly foisted upon the Russian aristocracy?

In Lost Roses, Martha Hall Kelly’s second historical novel to be released this Tuesday, one group of White Russians, suffering horrors at the hands of the Bolsheviks during the Great War, make it to the United States with the help of Eliza Ferriday. You will recall her daughter is Caroline Ferriday, the historical heroine of Lilac Girls who aided women refugees incarcerated and experimented on in Ravesbrünck during WWII. In the prequel to Lilac Girls, Eliza precedes her daughter’s instinct for humanitarianism with her own intrepidly heroically unselfish acts of mercy. As these traits run in the family, so they sparkle the pages of Kelly’s remarkably stunning second literary offering.

Kelly apparently “fell in love” with Eliza while researching Caroline’s life. According to her Author’s Notes, it was “natural” to want to write a second story about the fascinating Ferriday family. And fascinating this second read is, written with great compassion and wisdom. From descriptions and well-form characters developed through first-hand observation – Kelly travelled extensively throughout Russia and France during the research and writing of Lost Roses – we are swept back to 1914 when war in Europe has been threatened so many times that New Yorkers are quite blasé about it… Eliza, as a matter of fact, dismisses the imminent possibility of global conflict and cavalierly travels to St. Petersburg with Sofya Streshnayva, a Romanov cousin, whom she met in Paris several years before...

The trip is relatively unremarkable until Austria suddenly declares war on Serbia after the assassination of their crown prince. As the Russian Imperial dynasty starts to crumble, Eliza is forced to escape back to America while Sofya and her family flee to their country estate. When the lives of Sofya and her family are imperiled by their treacherous maid, Varinka, Eliza does her best to help them… Until Sofya’s letters stop coming…

Kelly is not only a master of historical factual nuances, she is also a masterful writer. Her words and phrases pop off the pages like brilliant fireflies on a hot summer’s evening. She is crisp and bold in her descriptions and even more definitive and demanding when designing her characters. As the author notes, all three major protagonists – Sofya, Eliza, and Vrinka – as well as the minor players, are based upon real-life people whose lives are augmented by Kelly’s compelling literary fictionalizations.

Lost Roses is a moving, fast-paced, insightful novel, laced with the wisdom of a newly-seasoned author. In an era of proliferated lies and suppressed realities, Kelly’s work powerfully rings true, dispels the myths that all Russian aristocracy were heartless, and bedecks those that underwent untold terrors with the fears and foibles of common (wo)men. And through telling the true story of one woman’s compassion for all (wo)mankind, Kelly reminds us that we are all deserving of love, understanding, compassion, and oftentimes, unselfishly-given assistance… regardless of who we are and whom others perceive us to be.

Enjoy the read!

3:36 pm edt          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,