June's Literary Blog
 

A LITERARY BLOG ABOUT BOOKS
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How they shape our lives.

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C.S. Lewis

Copyright 2011-2017


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Monday, January 8, 2018

Doctor Who: The Book of Whoniversal Records

Knock, knock… Now you ask, “Who’s there?” And I reply, “That’s right!” Doctor Who, of course, the BBC iconic time traveler with the long rainbow scarf and mop of curly hair. I am referring to Tom Baker who played the fourth Doctor Who (1974 to 1983), appearing the most times in 42 stories that spanned the 174 episodes. He is the one I liked and remember the best… and because of him, those were the nine years I was totally addicted…

Setting aside Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, Doctor Who may have been one of the original science fiction televisions shows that captured the hearts and minds of the nerdier set. It was – and still is – one of the most creative and imaginative shows that spanned, literally thousands upon thousands of years; with literally hundreds of impossible feats and plot lines. Although, when Tom Baker’s Doctor was transformed, I lost interest… and moved on to the various permutations of Star Trek, falling deeply in love with the younger Scotty [who could have beamed me up anytime
😉].

Still, I sometimes wondered… Whatever happened to Who? And then a mysterious package bearing the HarperCollins Design imprint appeared in my mailbox… Doctor Who: The Book of Whoniversal Records: Official Timey-Wimey Edition by Simon Guerrier, the prolific English writer of countless Doctor Who books, comics, audio plays, and documentaries; although not – as far as I can tell – of any of the Doctor Who television scripts. The most prolific screenwriter was the late Robert Holmes who penned 64 episodes from 1968 to 1986, about the same era as Tom Baker. Regardless, what Guerrier has done in this glitzy graphic book is compile into a virtual Guinness-like book of records the best of Doctor Who – what, when, where, and why. Replete with color photographs, outtakes, quotes, and little known but quite interesting and often amusing facts about the world’s most famous – and often implausible – purveyor of timeless adventures.

I was, needless to say, a bit overjoyed… Now I can catch up on Doctor Who doings in bits and snatches without having to binge-watch all ten seasons with 840 extent episodes. Which would have taken me an eternity, at the very least [And, if I did, who would have written my next two novels?] Anyway, now I can relive the best and most exciting of the glory days; learn behind the scenes facts about Daleks, stranger than strange aliens, travelling companions; wonder at special effects; and, pardon the intended pun, while away my time perusing the best of the best.

And if you are or ever were a fan of Doctor Who, you can, too.

So, wrap yourself up in that long rainbow scarf, curl up into your Tardis, and take an adventurous flight or two between the pages of this wondrous and wonderful book.

Enjoy the read!

2:18 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Beneath the Mountain

A Special Note: I began June’s Literary Blog seven years ago… First writing about books in my extensive library that affected my – our lives. A few months later, a few publishers took notice and books began appearing on my doorstep. And now, 240 book reviews later [approximately 34 posts per year], I start year eight with number 241. But before I do, I want to express my heartfelt appreciation for and to my following of kind fans, fellow bibliophiles, friends, and family, as well as the generous publishers who over the years have supplied me with an endless array of sometimes so-so, often good and great, and, occasionally, excellent literary offerings. Thank you! May we all continue to “Enjoy the read!”

*******

There are thrillers… and then there are thrillers. The former are written for pure sensationalism – a frightful tale merely for its own sake. No real substance; no moral message; no deep, complex memorable characters. Just fear for the simple emotional effect. The latter, however, embody complete opposites. Oh, sure, there is a frightful tale and the edge-of-the-seat sensationalism, but the book – nonfiction as well as fiction – to be a great thriller goes a whole lot deeper. And that is precisely what Beneath the Mountain: A Novel, by Luca D’Andrea’s, [just released yesterday] is. One of the best thrillers I’ve read since I started this Literary Blog seven years ago…

Jeremiah Salinger was once a hot-shot American screenwriter, the literary half of a documentary team. He and his partner, Mike, were well on their way to the pinnacle of success when, while filming about a rescue attempt in the Dolomite Alps of Northern Italy, Jeremiah falls into a glacial crevasse… And watches with horror as the rescuers and those they saved are killed. And then… He hears the Beast. That’s enough to send chills up and down any reader’s spine… But there’s more. D’Andrea, as he out bests the best [including Stephen King, Dean Koonz, and Steig Larsson], pits his main character against several internal as well as external monsters: anxiety and guilt-ridden PTSD resulting from his accident; aloof residents of Siebenhoch, his [Annelise’s] wife’s small mountain home village where they settle with their beloved daughter, Clara; the Bletterbach itself, with its subterranean caves harboring eerie, inexplicable enigmas; and the secrets surrounding an unsolved, twenty-year old murder – was it? – of three of its young adults.  

Salinger, of course, is hell-bent-for-leather to solve the mysterious murder. With or without the help of Werner, his reluctant father-in-law and Chief Max Krün, the taciturn local lone law enforcer – and stubbornly against Annelise’s strong protestations – he takes it upon himself to play detective. With dire and dangerous consequences that prove to be both his downfall [again] as well as his salvation. Well, maybe… But this is the hard grist of a truly exceptional thriller cum horror tale that, I must admit, keep me awake for two nights straight reading and wondering who really killed Markus, Kurt, and Evi? The Beast described as a large spider scorpion? A villager? A rescuer? Poachers? I can rest easy now because I finally found out the deliciously complex – and intellectually stimulating – solution. But – no spoilers here – I am going to leave it up to you to discover it for yourself.


First published in Italy as La Sostanza del Male in 2016 to modest acclaim, Beneath the Mountain, now translated into more than twenty languages, is yet another HarperCollins winner. It is a no-holds barred insight into the complex and convoluted culture of a small, heretofore unknown region of Northern Italy, once a part of Austria. D’Andrea delves into the sociological, geographical, historical, and psychological multi-dimensions of the region, probing into the depths of not only the mountainous area but the mountain people themselves. And nothing is lost in translation. Each turn of phrase, sentence, description is a well-tuned, talented brushstroke as this modest author paints a vivid portrait of characters and landscapes… All enmeshed in a thrilling narrative that, most certainly belongs on every bestseller list – if not on every thriller lover’s bookshelf.

Enjoy the read!

2:38 pm est          Comments

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Library at the Edge of the World

If “home is where the heart is”, how do you know where the heart is if you’re not sure of here home is? Or even how to begin finding it?

This is the dilemma of Hanna Casey who, in Felicity Hayes-McCoy’s debut novel, abandons a posh London lifestyle and returns to her roots in the rural Irish town of Lissberg. After years of what turned out to be a loveless marriage – her barrister husband is a liar and philanderer – and a nearly fruitful career as a researcher, she finds herself managing the small local branch library and driving a bookmobile up and down the Finfarran peninsula from isolated villagers to isolated villagers. What makes matters worse is that she is living with her nagging overbearing mother… Not to mention having to copy with gossiping village residents…

This makes for an interesting premise; almost Dickensian. But The Library at the Edge of the World: A Novel (Finfarran Peninsula) wends its way through several saving graces. One of which is the small delipidated stone house overlooking the sea that Hanna has inherited from her great-aunt. Restoring it is a chance, however slim, of her finding herself a home, a home in her own life. But is it where she will find her heart and its home?

For those of us who miss the great dearly departed Maeve Binchy and her “slices out of real life” novels, Hayes-McCoy’s well-thought out and well-written journey through the complex labyrinth of lives and loves in Lissberg neatly fits the bill. There are touches of intrigue, mystery, and, of course, romance. And for those of us who are armchair travelers whose more adventurous exploits are through the pages of novels, the stunning descriptions of Finfarran peninsula and the idyllic Irish seascape will more than tweak the imagination.

But while the seascape is idyllic and peaceful, the town of Lissberg and its sister peninsula villages are not. As their very bucolic economy and way of life is threatened by greedy developers, the almost reclusive Hanna steps into the fray and, amidst her own tumultuous efforts to restore her inherited home, manages to discover a way to, as the saying goes, “save the day”. How she, with the help of her often quirky but delightful cohorts, do this is the meat and potatoes of a most charming read.

Primarily a non-fiction writer of memoirs, Hayes-McCoy brings to her first fictional effort a stoical, sensible approach to her literary endeavors. While she is matter-of-fact, she is also sensitive to the emotional needs of her characters; a trait, I surmise, that stems from her years as a successful actress on both stage and screen. While driven to tie up all the loose ends of the multi-linear plot and sub-plots, she is cognizant of providing an interesting, thought-provoking story that enlightens, educates, and entertains.

In essence, as Hanna in this author’s capable hands finally finds where home is for herself and her heart, each reader will find a literary heartwarming home.

Enjoy the read!

2:44 pm est          Comments

Monday, December 18, 2017

Middle Earth: From Script to Screen

Sometimes learning what happened behind the scenes is more interesting than the scenes themselves. 

Take, for example, the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, the epic films of the early 2000s, based upon the Ring Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, that won 17 out of 30 total Academy Award nominations and captured the hearts of both adults and children [of all ages] alike, They certainly did mine… 

I became an avid Tolkien fan in the mid-1960s. Primarily because it was assigned “optional” reading in my Advance Placement English literature class. What started out as almost confusing reads ended up emmeshing me into the depths of the world of Middle Earth, with its Hobbits, Gnomes, Dwarves, Elves… and the dreaded Kingdom of Mordor; not to mention the convoluted, but intricate plot lines. Once I got the hang of the author’s writing style, I was hooked and have, over the course of the past fifty years or so, must have read the fantasies more than four or five times… And, of course, when the movies started hitting the silver screen, I just had to see them all. 

And all through the marvelously produced and directed [by Peter Jackson] films, I kept on asking, “How did they do that?” Well, thanks to my buddies at Harper Collins and their collaboration with Warner Bros. Consumer Products, now I know. 

Between the handsomely green-bound pages of Middle-earth from Script to Screen: Building the World of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, I learned that a whole, nearly functioning Hobbit Village was constructed on a large farm in Australia… It was – and still is – so real that most of the actors during filming actually began to believe that they were actually in The Shire. That Sauron’s Black Riders – the Ringwraiths – were not only human actors wearing over thirty meters of carefully crafted fabric and gauntlets but also digitally animated riders. Many children of crew members were featured during several of scenes, including ‘Old’ Gerontius Took’s flashback party in An Unexpected Journey. And, do you know what Mathoms are? Flets? Palantíri? You’ll have to comb the 574 pages of this most wondrously extravagant compendium of Hobbit knowledge – while marveling at the full-color illustrations and drawings – to find out. 

What I particularly like about Middle-earth is not only the stories behind the scenes and stories, but the stories themselves. Carefully and assiduously written by Daniel Falconer – with a forward by Peter Jackson – the complete gestalt of the Ring Trilogy is mapped out. There are marvelous explanations – paraphrased from the pages of the original books – of how Bilbo originally obtained the infamous Gold Ring and how he passed it on to Frodo to destory; the interconnections between Sauron and Saruman the White; the back-stories of Frodo’s friends, who accompany him on his perilous journey… I could go on and one, but I don’t want to spoil the fun for you. Besides, this book – yet another beautiful product of Harper Designs – is not one you read from cover to cover in subsequent sittings, but one you dip into from time to time – absorbing each little tidbit of fascinating information just as you would sip a well-aged mellow whiskey. 

Middle-earth – released just last month -- is a valuable and valued addition to any library. And would, in my mind, be an especially appropriate Holiday gift for the avid movie-goer, film-ologist and/or connoisseur of all things Tolkien.

Enjoy the read!

3:55 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Hiddensee

I have one word for Gregory Maguire: Exquisite.

The author of sixteen works of fiction and one non-fiction illustrative tribute to the illustrious Maurice Sendak, Maguire is nothing less than adroit, sensitive, and, as one critic put it, idiosyncratic. You may remember him as the created of the four-volume series, The Wicked Years (Wicked, Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men, and Out of Oz) whose first novel spawned a fervor in musical theatre. Well, here he is again, paralleling in the opposite direction with Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcrackerthe definitive fictionalized story behind what we’ve come to treasure as the traditional Holiday ballet, The Nutcracker.

Performed by perhaps hundreds of dancing troupes across the country, The Nutcracker, actually, is not an entity unto itself, per se, but is based upon an 1816 story, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, written by German author E.T.A. Hoffmann. Set in the Stahlbaum home on Christmas Eve, Marie-Claire [aka “Klara” in the ballet] Stahlbaum’s favorite toy, a Nutcracker, comes to life, defeats the evil Mouse King in battle, and sweeps Marie away to a magical kingdom populated with dolls.

What Hoffmann didn’t relate was the prequel: How and by whom The Nutcracker was first created and thence eventually came to be under young Marie’s family tree that fateful holiday eve.

Which is exactly what Maguire does.

Hiddensee begins not with “once upon a time”, but with “once there was a boy who lived in a cabin in the deep woods.” The “once” is the early 1800s; the deep woods, the Black Forest of Bavaria. The boy lives with a woodman with a dark beard and an seemingly old women whose legs are too smooth to be that of a crone. Not their child, he is a foundling whom they are raising. One fateful day, as he is helping the man fell a tree, the boy’s axe wounds the man and carves out one of the boy’s eyes. The boy is then “killed” by the branch he is hewing… And… Well… yet another particularly puzzling set of circumstances finds the supposedly “dead” boy wandering into a small town accompanied by a keenly sharp knife whose gnome-handle is alive and a brown thrush who is the voice of reason.

The boy comes to live with Pfarrer Johannes, a Calvinist priest who, after seven years, sends young Dirk Drosselmeier – for that is what he has dubbed the young wonderer – with a message to the Bishop in Meersburg. There, Dirk meets Felix Stahlbaum and eventually finds himself in the employ of a paper maker, Herr Pfeiffer whose Persian wife… Well, like all of Maquire’s enigmatic stories, it gets delightfully complicated. With twists, turns, tells, and reveals that only a truly talented fantasy tale maker can write.

The exquisiteness of this novel – like all of Maguire’s novels – is that 
Hiddensee is three-dimensionally polysemic. What the reader originally thinks are straight-forward allegories, metaphors, and analogies carry other meanings. And there are overt innuendoes that also can be taken three ways. Like Dirk’s puzzling friendship with Fritz and his, literally, Mesmerizing fascination with Frau Pfeiffer. And like his other stories based upon faerie and fantasy tales, this one is fraught with myths, Hellenic mystery-cultism, hints and allusions to The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. All together posing a baffling question about whether one beset by the disasters and detritus of life can finally bring hope and joy into the lives of others…

Once again, “once upon a time” in Gregory Maguire’s magically lyrical and fastidiously discerning literary hand becomes nothing less than meaningful enchantment.  

Enjoy the read!

4:18 pm est          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:


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 fifth 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,