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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Of My Own Hand’s Weaving
Two things: As most of you know, I am not a regular devotee of romantic fiction. Actually, I tend to avoid it. And, if you recall, I had promised that this blog moving forward, would no longer be devoted debut authors but to more established, tried-and-true authors. You know, the “classics”. Well, today I am going to refute both statements. After all, I am only human with my own little quirks and foibles. Much like the characters in Of My Own Hand's Weaving, a deliciously quirky new addition to the chick lit genre by Mary Boscoletta.

See, last week, I was invited to join the #supportindiewriters group on Facebook because, well, I am one. And so I responded with a firm “Yes!” and then mentioned that not only do I write and self-publish, but I also host a Literary Blog and offered, thinking I’d only get a few nibbles, to review a few of members’ works. But, hah! My inbox is beginning to fill up with gifted eBooks and electronic manuscripts. So….What’s a poor writer/reviewer to do but pitch in to help my fellow independents?

Boscoletta, to say the least, has talent. While her debut novel is “typical” of the formulaic girl meets boy/boy gets girl, her characters are atypical. They are all too human, touched with the kind of descriptive realistic details that instantly capture a reader’s interest and imagination. Consider twenty-eight year old Jean, the main protagonist, who, living in a friend’s London attic, finds herself deeply embroiled in the conundrums of friendship, family, familial memories, betrayal, loyalty, and, of course, romance – emotionally, passionately, physically, and otherwise. Her distinctly nearly profound insights garnered as she steps boldly into the throes of love with Colombo “Col” Borgia, a very sexy Sicilian hairdresser, are captured by the author in a most refreshing, face-paced style. And her supporting cast is as equally weighty and deep: Gretchen with her down-to-earth post WWII Germanic lustiness; Frank’s loveable, cuddly weakness and culinary talents; Stefan and Peta who struggle with the death of wife and mother. Even long-dead Aunt Mary rings true. Jean is in the thick of them all, tooling around in a semi-battered Triumph convertible; trying to find her own way, to make sense of it all. No chick lit superficialities here.

The title, gleaned from a poem by John Keats, alludes to the self-woven silk threads that bind us all to others, they to us, and us to ourselves. A theme that the author quite capably carries through. There are reflective moments in
Of My Own Hand's Weaving when each of the characters twist and tie and then unravel as they, seen through the author’s eyes and caressed by her own capable hands, weave the stuff of life that another bard once said, “dreams are made of”. Yet, while on the fast track to capturing her own true love, Gina (as Col calls her) is captured by more than just his dashing allure. It is his dark side and the curse of nightmares that entwine and entrap the not quite intrepid heroine. As this uniquely imaginative novel quickly twists and wends it way to a satisfyingly surprise denouement, the question is asked: Will she or will she not be blessed with the great love that promises living happy ever after?

Riddling her writing with Sicilian words, customs, and Italian phraseology that add depth and realism to her story, Boscoletta has woven her writing charms into a story that captivated me in the depths of its passion for life and for love. And just might have persuaded me after I enjoyed idling away a rainy afternoon with this one, to pick up yet another of its kind. Romance, anyone?

5:27 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

After Alice
My friend Alice is 153 years old. Not a bad age for someone who, “all on a golden afternoon,” fell down an Oxford rabbit hole in 1862 and spent the most bizarre day chasing a talking hare, taking tea with a mad hatter, cavorting with thorny roses, and staving off the murderous intentions of a crazed Red Queen. With the first publication of her adventures in 1865, still retaining ten years of age, she has been shaking up literary and entertainment worlds every since.

I am speaking, of course, of Alice Liddell, the eponymous young girl to whom Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, alias Lewis Carroll, first began relating the stories of what would become the famous and much loved, and often over-played, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. I write “over-played” because there have been literally hundreds of re-writes, parodies, tellings, and re-tellings in an untold myriad of formats that mostly, while often delightful fun fare for children, only scratch the surface of her timeless tales.

None of the rehashes adequately go behind – beneath, if you will – the true, um, more mature nature of Carroll’s stories. Most overlook the meaning of cunning metaphors, allegories, “in” jokes, puns, parodies, and commentaries on adult life in Victorian England. They have all, sadly, “missed the point”, failing to eat the right side of the mushroom, as it were, to “get it just right”.

But then, now along comes After Alice – just released today! –by Gregory Maguire, our own time-honored, modern-day storyteller, who, years ago, gave us Wicked, his iconic first novel about OZ. Once again, Macguire takes his “worpal” pen in hand and masterfully explores the depths of yet another classic tale. And, with precise wit and an easy-reading lilting writing style, finally gives Lewis Carroll and his narratives their intellectual due.

Told from the perspectives of Ada, briefly mentioned in Alice in Wonderland, and Lydia, Alice’s older sister, After Alice explores and exposes the mores and cultural nuances of Oxford in the mid-1860s – just as true and meaningful today as the were 150 years ago. Capitalizing on Carroll’s initial intentions and his own astute follow-up research, Macguire, as always, cleverly intertwines multi-faceted themes into a multi-layered plot line whose twists and turns rival that of Alice’s proverbial underground pathways.

Pursued by Mrs. Armstrong Headstrong, Ada has her own adventures as she chases through Wonderland after Alice. Throughout the escapades, there are running commentaries, including a back story of slavery; a treatise on Oxford culture; expositions on Biblical stories [Ada’s father is an Anglican vicar]; a host of literary allusions; specifics of Darwinism [we meet “the Great one himself]; overtones of adulthood versus childishness; and, of course, the usual puns, allegories, plays on words, and nonsensical, sensible jokes. It is obvious that this cunningly ingeniously inventive author had, with a glint in his eye, loads of fun writing what will quickly become the definitive best selling adult sequel to Carroll’s children’s tales.

When Alice first tumbled down the hole into adult foibles and obvious obliviousness, she lost not only a sense of herself but the sense and meaning of time. Which is precisely what happens when I wander into a Macguire book [I’ve read them all at least twice!]; always captivated in and by his writing. After Alice is no exception. In its entertaining as well as enlightening pages “Time slips all of its handcuffs.” And, as it did, I enjoyed yet another eternally enjoyable romp through the wonder lands of Gregory Macguire’s unique talents and vivid imagination.

Happy Birthday, Alice! After Alice is the perfect way to celebrate your anniversary. As the Mad Hatter says, “Now that’s my cup of tea!”

2:52 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, August 30, 2015

I typically am not a fan of biographies. Despite the interesting lives they seek to portray, most writers indulge in feigned eruditeness and over inflated intellectualism. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein: A life is a life is a life. No need to embellish it; just tell the story; treat the subject as s/he is/was – a human being like the rest of us…with the same failings, foibles, fables, fantasies, and facts. But, alas, I have found this honest simplicity has been a rarity in the genre…

Then, this past weekend I read Joy [August 4, 2015] by Abigail Santamaria whose lilting, flowing writing style turns the tumultuous, albeit shortened life of Helen “Joy” Davidman – the wife of Clive Staples Lewis – into a stunning account that [pardon the pun] “joyously” reads like an historical novel.

Drawing upon masterfully meticulous research that uncovered nearly inaccessible material, Santamaria paints Joy not as an adjunct to C.S. Lewis’ life, but he to hers.

An accomplished and renowned writer in her own right, Joy was close to being a childhood prodigy, graduating from high school at 14 and, at 18, Hunter College, where she stretched and honed her literary muscles and first learned of the United States Communist Party [which she later joined]. A brash young women raised in New York in the 1920s and 1930s by strict Jewish parents – her father prided himself on being an authoritative school administrator – she joined the editorial staff of New Masses, the communist weekly magazine, for which she reviewed poetry and books and critiqued films. A skillful, prolific, and opinionated author with a distinctive leftist bent, she published several novels and a few collections of poetry before marrying William “Bill” Lindsay Gresham and bearing him two sons.

While claiming Stalin as her savior – she was an avowed atheist -- over the years, Joy became disenchanted with her life until one fateful evening when her alcoholic husband went missing she felt the close presence of God. This fateful event spearheaded both her and Bill’s search for spirituality, dabbling in Presbyterianism and then Dianetics before Joy discovered the Christian writings of C.S. Lewis. She was hooked…and the rest is, iterally, literary history. To disclose any more of it would taint the wondrousness of Santamaria’s biography of her brash, headstrong, courageous, and often quite unlovable, but more than fascinating and most interesting heroine.

However enamored I was reading Joy’s life, there were many times I really did not like her – as exemplified by many of Lewis’ [Jack’s] Oxford cronies and friends. How he managed to fall in love with and eventually marry this brazen, often crass, but absolutely brilliant woman who crashed into his life with two young boys in tow is a mystery that only Santamaria can masterfully solve. [Lewis finally once said, “…you just have to get to know her to appreciate her fine qualities.”] As this talented devut biographer puts pieces of the puzzle together, she reveals many interesting, heretofore unknown details about Joy’s – and later, Lewis’ -- life. Reading about them is almost as fascinating as reading The Chronicles of Narnia and Perelandia and will, as it did me, keep you up well into the night discovering them.  

Santamaria also forthrightly dispels and debunks many of the common misconceptions about Joy’s relationship with C.S. Lewis [known to friends and family as Jack]: Surprised by Joy, his autobiography, which Joy helped edit, is not about her, but is titled after a poem by William Wordsworth about conversion to Christianity. Jack was not quite a confirmed bachelor in his early years [he was 17 years older then Joy]. Not at all enamored of and by Joy when she first burst into his life – as a matter of fact, he was often greatly annoyed by her presence – his love grew during the last years of her life. Shadowland, the movie about their “great love” was more than slightly inaccurate [Albeit, it still is an en”joy”able movie starring Debra Winger as Joy and Anthony Hopkins as Jack. Available on Netflix!]

As I said, I am not a fan of biographies. And had I had not known that Joy was the wife of one of my favorite of all time authors [and theologians], I sincerely doubt I would even have reviewed it for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. But, there you have it…I was, um, quite taken aback by how much I liked it. I guess, [a pun once again] I as delightfully surprised by Joy!

This is a life is a life is a life…pure and simple…of one woman searching, questioning, learning the power of redemption and…of love. Joy is so well written that it is an entertainingly easy read of a life that was not so easily well-lived. A true, um, joyously welcomed addition to the genre and to the literary world in general, Santamaria’s debut tour de force should not be missed…not even by the casual, non-intellectually minded reader.

7:15 pm edt          Comments

Monday, August 24, 2015

Sisters of Shiloh
You’ve just got to hand it to those two brave young women who just last week passed the grueling 60-day training course to become Army Rangers. Kudos to them both! It wasn’t so long ago that it was unthinkable for members of our fairer sex, while serving in all branches of the armed forces, to actually see the light of combat. With a few exceptions (Think: Joan d’Arc), the fighting was left to solely to men, who filled the field of battles. Leastways, so we thought.

Consider, however, 400 documented cases of women who, for myriad reasons, donned their brothers’, fathers’, and/or husbands’ clothes and marched off to join the ranks in our own Civil War. (Which, incidentally, ended a “scant” 150 years ago.) Their gender undetected, they faced side-by-side with men the blood and guts of brutal battles and the side-effects of war. I won’t go into further details here because…

…that would defeat reading all about them in Sisters of Shiloh (March 2015), a most stunning, shocking, and animatingly lyrical novel written by two sisters – one a noted author and the other a noted historian – about, well, two sisters who join the Confederate Army. Donning her brother’s clothes, Josephine Beale unwillingly and unwittingly follows her younger sister, Libby, into the fighting frays of Manassas and Shiloh to avenge the death of Arden, Libby’s husband. Dressed in his shirt, pants, and boots, Libby takes on Arden’s persona and teaches her sister masculine mannerisms in order to for them to pass as young men. As, respectively, Joseph and Thomas, they suffer through depravation, fear, and flying bullets, Libby’s struggles with madness and grief, and Josephine ‘s growing love for a fellow soldier.

To be fair to its – and my – readers, this is not a novel for the faint-of-heart, nor for those who wish to avoid war at all costs. You also need to keep your mind opened to the subtle vulgarities of those spirits that inhabit our souls. But Karen and Becky Hapinstall, the dynamic sister team who penned
Sisters of Shiloh over the course of twelve years, deftly weave together such a most hauntingly rich, beautiful story that it is almost easy to forget the brutal blood and guts, violence and carnage. Their styles mesh together so seamlessly it seems as if this tale of the bonds of sisterhood surviving the tangle of love and war was written by just one author.

In my three reading sessions of this scintillatingly brilliant must read novel this past weekend, I found myself totally transported to 1863, into the heat of battle, totally immersed in the lives of Joseph and Thomas – er , Josephine and Libby – keeping along with them the secret of their identities, discovering with them a universal truth: The bonds of sisterhood are, in fact, inseparable and inseverable. And, as our intrepid heroines finally learn, what truly matters most to us transcends everything and heals all.  

3:30 pm edt          Comments

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Hearth and the Eagle
I am a professed crossword aficionado. I start my day solving the often nubbily constructed ones in the morning paper. On Saturdays is a double-treat, with the daily puzzle AND the inscrutable New York Times Magazine Sunday crossword edited by Will Shortz. Mostly everyone knows that late Saturday morning is my quiet time spent puzzling over brunch.

One much-used four-letter answer is “Anya” to the clue, “Author Seton”. When I first came across it, I penciled in “Anna”…Wrong! It is, in fact, the first name of Anya Seton Chase (1904-1990), a quite popular American author of historical novels – she preferred to call most of them “biographical novels” – between 1940 and 1980. But, somehow, growing up an avid reader and lately a [prolific?] book reviewer, I had missed them…and her. Which is probably why I had difficulty with such a simple clue.

Born in Manhattan, she was raised by a fairly wealthy family in Cos Cob, Connecticut. Her passion and penchant for writing did not start until she was 37 and had raised a family. Two of her more famous novels were made into movies: Dragonwyck (1946) starring Vincent Price and Foxfire (1955) starring Jane Russell. Sadly, growing up, I had, have…missed seeing them, too. Strange that such a prolific and talented writer had totally escaped my realm…Until last month when a 2015 republished copy of The Hearth and Eagle (1948)was graciously sent to me by my publicist buds at Mariner Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Set in the shore town of Marblehead, Massachusetts, this lush, historical novel explores the life of self-determined, passionate Hesper Honeywood from the pre-Civil War era to the beginnings of World War I. Hesper grows up and eventually becomes the proprietor of “The Hearth and the Eagle”, an old, established inn and tavern first started as an “ordinary” by her forebears in the 1600s. How our intrepid heroine weathers the storms swooping in from the Atlantic, the uncertainties and frailties of three tumultuous romances, and rises above the tempestuous vagaries of life is the heart and soul of Seton’s fourth (out of twelve) novel, based, by the way, on a fervent and ardent search for her ancestors.

Seton was an exacting author and a meticulous researcher, exemplified by The Hearth and the Eagle. Once started, I found it so interesting and full of life’s every day details that I just couldn’t put it down. Reminiscent of Gone with the Wind – if this was a debut novel – I could easily have dubbed Seton “the Margaret Mitchell of today”. But…she was a talented, award winning novelist in her own right and such a sobriquet does not do justice to her wonderful nearly mesmerizing lyrical descriptions of the inn, its surroundings, and the inhabitants therein. Her characters are carefully drawn with an insightful brush, each stroke bringing each person in Hesper’s circle of family and friends to life.

In unfolding Hesper’s tale Seton was ahead of her time writing about one woman’s courage and fortitude, thematically suggesting that the true, resilient strength of a person is not dependent upon the outside world, but ultimately comes from within.

The Hearth and Eagle – as well as Seton’s other works – is a requisite for everyone’s reading repertoire and library. A welcomed addition, to be sure, to mine. 

1:31 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:

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


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 first novel.

June's books be purchased at amazon.com or through Barnes and Noble.

For more information about her musicals, which are also available on amazon.com,