June's Literary Blog
 

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How they shape our lives.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Celebrating (My) History
This week, I am not only celebrating one less than a major milestone birthday (which is next year), but also my fortieth (40th) year living here in Phoenixville. I am celebrating rather subduedly, wondering how the hell the years breezed by so quickly since as a young and eager twenty-nine (You do the math!), I travelled cross-country from the Mid-west for our country's Bicentennial Celebration.

A Girl Scout program director at the time, I conceived the idea of a commemorative train trek from Louisville through Chicago and then on to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. The 50 or so girls who participated switched trains twice en route, slept in basements of local churches, attended most of the celebrations, and learned a lot of American history as they toured Independence Mall, Elfreth’s Alley, Valley Forge, and three museums.

After five days, they left. And I, having fallen in love with the charm and history of Phoenixville and the surrounding area…I stayed. Forty years later, I have lived here longer than my birthplace of Dobbs Ferry, NY. And, as most of you know, I am so enamored, I am now writing about it. My “Novels of Phoenixville…” series (The Prisoner’s Portrait and, just recently, the Schuylkill Monster) is steeped in this burgeoning borough’s rich history and feature fictional stories based upon real facts and incidents. Number three (Columbia Hotel) is in the works.

Anyway, in my rambling research travels, I came across a most talented, witty, down-to-earth, hold-no-bars writer who now makes it her life’s work delving into the little known, salient facts of our nation’s history. I want you to meet Sarah Vowell who, hailing from Montana and now based in New York City, tells it like it is, er, was from a most unique perspective: her own, sometimes biased, but totally historically accurate point of view.

Vowell was once a contributing editor for Public Radio International’s This American Life, and has written seven non-fiction books on American history and culture. Her conversational writing style is fluid and vivid, putting herself smack dab in the middle of each event she recounts. She is both wise and irreverent, poignantly funny, and couples little know facts with uniquely brilliant observations. In ways so creative, they give one pause and beg to suspend belief.  In short, her books are fun and interesting to read. And more than just informative. They are also entertaining.

I just finished her latest, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, about the dashing young Frenchman who eagerly romps alongside General George Washington through the American Revolution. Vowell recaps the more salient battles and strategies of the Colonialists – aided by French troops and naval forces (as well as Louis XVI’s many francs) – as they fend off the occupying British forces. I once considered this part of our history dull. Its dates and names just more annoying facts to learn in school. But under Vowell’s carefully constructed and wonderfully exhuberant tutelage, they came alive. Needless to say, I learned a lot about our forefathers, as well as our beloved Marquis de Lafayette after whom so many American places are named.

I enjoyed Lafayette… so much so that between writing my own hopefully engaging chapters, I am now reading Vowell’s Assassination Vacation and The Wordy Shipmates, intending to zip through the rest of her entertainingly educational – and inspirational – oeuvres during the coming summer months.

Now, that’s the way to relive, relearn, enjoy, and write about history!

Note: If you enjoy reading this Literary Blog and my comments on how books affect and sometimes alter our lives, it would be greatly appreciated if you could please support my efforts. I’d like to continue providing you with the best of what today’s literary world has to offer, but I can do so only if you click the text and/or the image links to navigate to amazon.com to purchase the books I recommend. Every one of your clicks and resulting transactions generates a few shekels that helps me keep “June’s Literary Blog” up and running. Thank you!

 

1:36 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

If You Left
We all have our mood swings. Some more pronounced than others; some less. What is known as “being on an even keel”. Balanced. Most of my friends are that way. One or two are not. On the rare occasions when they – or I – do go off the deep end, it is a bit disturbing. But then the storm clouds quickly blow over and everything is fine again. That is only human nature. The normal Ying and Yan of life. At least for most of us.

Not so for Althea Willow, the 38-year-old main protagonist of If You Left, a disturbing novel by Ashley Prentice Norton. Her moods wildly pendulum back and forth between extreme poles of depression and elation. What she calls, respectively, the Tombs and the Visions. She is, in fact, bi-polar. As long as she stays on her meds, she’s fine. Most of the time. Except when she forgets.

Her husband, Oliver, a bit of a prick, is a most attentive caretaker. Most of the time. But he does treat Althea like a child, often worsening her condition. Ten-year-old Clem, their daughter, is far ahead of her years. She dotes on her father and barely tolerates her mother who is afraid of her own daughter. Enter Claire, a designer, whom Althea vehemently dislikes. Then comes Maze, a young housepainter, over whom Althea sexually obsesses. Put all these distinctly different characters together and you should have a really interesting read with a dynamic storyline. Note that the operative word here is “should”.

Like Althea’s wildly changing moods, I have divergently mixed feelings about this author’s third literary effort. While she is a thoughtful, compellingly commanding writer, with an engaging simple style that is often tinged with little humorous snippets, she leans a bit to far to the left of good taste. While raw, gutsy, and edgy, this is not a “feel good” book. It is saturated with dark, dysfunctional characters and is overly laced with explicit sexual passages that are more suited to an X-rated Harlequin or even a Playboy offering than one from the more prestigious and respectable publishing house of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

In short, I had a really difficult time reading this novel; perusing it in spurts and constantly putting it down. Actually, I had to force myself to finish it. My rational, besides being asked to review it, was that if an author took the time to write down words in some semblance of order, then I have an obligation, when requested, to read it. Like when a movie is over, staying to watch the credits of all the talented people who worked on the film.

Yes, Norton is talented. And, as one critic noted, “she is fearless”. I agree it took courage to delve into the nuances of someone suffering with bi-polar syndrome; at best an often misunderstood condition. Yes, she did provide thoughtful insights, but couching them in the overtones of immoral sexual proclivities which Althea sadly uses to attempt to solve her problems, is a great injustice to the author’s otherwise creative literary capabilities.

If You Left really wasn’t my reading thing. However, if you are interested in spending a long afternoon and evening living in the inner mind of a deeply troubled, misguided woman, then, by all means, this uniquely disquieting, disconcerting novel will definitely fit your bill.

Note: If you enjoy reading this Literary Blog and my comments on how books affect and sometimes alter our lives, it would be greatly appreciated if you could please support my efforts. I’d like to continue providing you with the best of what today’s literary world has to offer, but I can do so only if you click the text and/or the image links to navigate to amazon.com to purchase the books I recommend. Every one of your clicks and resulting transactions generates a few shekels that helps me keep “June’s Literary Blog” up and running. Thank you!

4:11 pm edt          Comments

Monday, June 6, 2016

the Schuylkill Monster
As most of you know, I am not one to brag. But today, I just have to. You see, over the weekend I published novel #3! I had a blast writing it and couldn't wait to share it with you.

the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978 (the second in my "Novel of Phoenixville..." sereies) is a work of Documentary Fiction (a new genre I created) a tongue-in-cheek historical novel based upon an actual newspaper article that appeared in The Evening Phoenix.

Whether the story is actually true about a Loch Ness-type creature swimming in the waters of the famed Schuylkill River....Well, I've made up my mind. Now it's time for you to make up yours. And have a bit of fun doing it.

the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978 is currently available in Kindle format at the bargain price of $5.99. (Well worth the schekels, I've been told.) The paperback addition will be available in just a few days (I'll let you all know).

Two of my advanced readers say that it's an "exceptionally fun read" and "really, really good".

So, if you're looking for yet another perfect-for-the-summer novel to add to your list, this is the one! May you have as much fun reading it as I've had writing it!

Thank you!

3:43 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Alaskan Laundry
I spend most mornings listening to WHYY, our local PBS station. At nine o’clock, the BBC News Hour encapsulates all of the worldly news. At ten, during the two-hour Radio Times, Martie Moss-Cohen interviews mostly boring political commentators and local “authorities” on a range of obscure topics. Most often, I am spurred to shut off the radio and pursue more important, much more interesting things.

However, a few weeks ago, Martie interviewed Brendan Jones, a native Philadelphian who spent ten years writing his debut novel, The Alaskan Laundry. Always attuned to the literary pursuits of fellow local authors, I thoughtfully sipped my tea and munched on a toasted blueberry bagel with cream cheese as this fine author waxed eloquently about Tara Marconi, his feisty protagonist, and her coming-of-age, almost Odysseus-like journey through the pangs of growing up as she assiduously lived and worked in the Alaskan fishing industry. When he read the first part of Chapter 2 in his authoritative, yet caringly silky voice, I was hooked. This novel, I thought, as I later emailed a favorite publicist at Marina Books requesting a copy, is a must read and review.

Set in 1999, two life altering events, including being ousted from her childhood home by her stern father, compel young Tara to flee from south Philadelphia to Port Anna, Alaska, where she seeks healing and redemption. With a dare-me attitude, a talent for boxing, and absolutely no knowledge of how fish are plucked from the sea, processed, and packaged, she begins to learn how to fend for herself in what is, was almost totally a man’s world. When she literally falls in love with an old World War II tugboat, she sets her sights on earning enough money to finally buy it. And with that decision made, her adventures begin.

Jones originally began writing this seminal novel with a host of characters struggling for survival in the great Alaskan wilderness. Most of them were male. Tara, when the manuscript was bought by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, was almost an afterthought. But at the suggestion of a wise HMH editor, she became the main protagonist, surrounded by a host of equally true-to-life characters – ironically mostly male – that guide her through the honing and shaping of her life. Especially gnarly Newt, who takes her under his wing and, along with Kara, a Shepherd-Husky cross, and the older, father-figure, Betteryear, guides her through one of the most amazing and exciting literary journeys that I’ve read in a long time.

Jones titles his book after the analogy that many transplants to Alaskan seek cleansing from a past life. Dialogue and life experiences of a few of the characters reflect the continuous cycles of washing and rinsing. As if all who come to the 49th State with sins and soul stains, like Tara are in dire need of cleansing. The harsh, yet beautiful landscape and the struggle for survival in it are the great washing machine of life. An apt metaphor that would be otherwise mundanely, um, drained away in other then Jones’ capable hands.

However, while this is a wonderfully great read about a young woman’s coming of age, it is, in fact – let’s face it folks – written by a man who, while waxing poetically with a fluid literary writing style, can be heavy-handed. There is obviously too much testosterone in Tara’s blood, spilling out from the pages of this novel, often polluting passages that could have more moving if written with a softer, more feminine touch. After all, this is about a young, sensitive ingénue from south Philly. Despite her rough-and-rumble, don’t-touch-me-or-I’ll-hit-you demeanor, she could have been portrayed as a tad more gentle. Not, as Hale, one misogynist crabber says, and as she often comes across as, “a male with balls cut off”. It’s as if the author, drawing many of the scenes, events, and characters from his own life, tried to impart his own feminine side into Tara’s persona. A conceit that, in this instance, nearly fails to work.

In addition, Jones is also a bit too zealously graphic in his depictions of how fish are processed. This nearly turned me off to the read and I almost closed the book a third of the way through, nearly missing what would later become a real tear-jerking, soul-searching, satisfying denouement. Suffice it to say, being a closet quasi-PETA supporter, I will never eat salmon nor King Crab again.

That being said, Jones does have a lyrically poetic writing style. His metaphors, analogies, and allegories are spot on, transporting Tara through her many heroic Greek tragedies as she valiantly finds her own, unique way “home”. He finally shows his sensitive side in the last 100 pages of a very moving conclusion, which, I unabashedly admit, I sobbed through, feeling both a deep sense of loss and the thrill of achievement. I must tell you, it takes a brave, honest, and talented author with a great story such as this one to bring me, a self-proclaimed hard-hearted literary critic, such as I am, to tears. And that says more than just a lot about this mesmerizingly gripping novel.

The ending, by the way, definitely calls for a sequel. C’mon, Brendan, will the Pacific Chief ever float again?

In the meantime, 
The Alaskan Laundry is yet another “must” for your summer reading list. As well as being a fine, 5-start addition to your library. To be read again. And again. And again.

Wash. Scrub. Rinse. Repeat.

Note: If you enjoy reading this Blog and my comments on how books affect and sometimes alter our lives, it would be greatly appreciated if you could please support my efforts. I’d like to continue providing you with the best of what today’s literary world has to offer, but I can do so only if you click the text and/or the image links to navigate to amazon.com to purchase the books I recommend. Every one of your clicks and resulting transactions generates a few shekels that help me keep “June’s Literary Blog” up and running. Thank you!

8:23 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Under a Dark Summer Sky
I normally try hard to keep track of the books publishers request to be reviewed on this blog. But lately, I confess, I’ve been a bit distracted with other literary pursuits and haven’t been all that assiduous. To wit, and to my chagrin, I discovered the other day a novel that had, quite literally, fallen through the cracks of my time. My sincere apologies to the talented author and the publisher. But I figure, since it is such a good read, this review is better late than never.

Based upon the true events of a massive hurricane that struck the Florida Keys in 1935, Under a Dark Summer Sky by Vanessa Lafaye is a tri-fold historical novel: a romance; a face-paced, thrilling mystery; and a frank, forceful commentary on the dismissive treatment of returning African-American World War I veterans.

Released last June by Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc., this is a fascinating fictional rendition of southern life, ethics, and morés during the height of the Great Depression. The author deftly weaves together the tumultuous stories of true-to-life characters – all deeply affected, and changed, as the massive storm approaches on the afternoon of a Fourth of July celebration on the beach.

Missy has patiently waited eighteen years for Henry to return to Heron Key from the war, cleaning the Kincaid house and caring for Nathan, Nelson’s and Hilda’s new-born. He finally returns – desperate and destitute – a member of a government work crew assigned to rebuild a bridge. Once reconnected, the two of them try, once again, to rekindle their love…

Hilda, a former beauty queen whose protective father’s hopes and dreams for her were dashed when Nelson swept her off her feet, has not been able to drop the weight she gained when carrying Nathan. Her husband is repulsed by her looks, seeking comfort elsewhere. Fat as she is, she is determined to attend the festivities. Perhaps to win him back…

Dwayne, the local Deputy, harbors anger for the unknown father of his wife’s black baby. But he suddenly finds himself with a mystery to solve. And, in the process, old tensions and grievances flare up…

Trent Watts, with bald head and many tattoos, is frustrated by the inept and life-threatening decisions a absentee government official makes for his rag-tag crew…

And then there is the storm, gathering strength and almost omnipotent power, surging closer and closer to the small southern torn, threatening to destroy them all. The residents, having endured many storms before, think they are prepared for its onslaught. But they are wrong. Dead wrong.

Lafaye, a native Floridian now living in the UK, is an accomplished writer. In this, her debut novel, she couples her own experiences growing up in the deep South with a genuine concern for her characters and their plights. Straddling the fine line between fact and fiction, she writes with quick, efficient, descriptive, original – often metaphoric – phrases, that lend a poignant sense of urgency to her face-paced tale which will keep you up until the wee hours.

If you’re looking for a refreshing, yet haunting “It was a dark and stormy night…” to add to your summer reading list, Under a Dark Summer Sky is certainly the one novel to round out and satisfy your search.

2:43 pm edt          Comments

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June J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is an author, poet, and librettist. Her 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:

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 fourth 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,