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Monday, September 11, 2017

The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes

Stewart “Hoagy” Hoag, the taller dashing half of the protagonist team of Hoagy and Lulu, claims at one point in The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes “Never argue with a stubborn basset hound. You will always lose.” Now, being owned by a doggedly determined basset hound myself, I know this statement to be true. I have the bruised left knee and deflated ego to prove it. But that is another story to be told at another time.

What is the story here is David Handler’s exquisitely fluid writing style, the subtle sense of humor he imbues in his two main characters, and the seemingly simplistic plot lines that twist and turn into spirals of complex shockers. Handler, in my humble estimation, is our modern-day Dashiell Hammett and, like Hammett, should not be overlooked as a very talented writer of semi-contemporary mystery. And that should come as no surprise, considering he has written 24 novels prior to tackling The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes, the ninth in his Stewart Hoag mystery series.

Handler, as explained in the publicity notes that accompanied the complimentary copy sent by the William Morrow publicist, had taken a hiatus from the series that features a celebrity ghost writer and his somewhat faithful companion, Lulu, a basset who has unusual dietary habits. Begun in 1992, Hoagy and Lulu enjoyed a merry romp through the more literary side of the mystery genre until their suspension in 1997. Fast forward 20 years to Handler’s agent meeting with the publisher who, by chance, mentioned how much he enjoyed reading about the two semi-super sleuths and would the author consider writing another? The result, of course, was The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes and, as it turns out, a whole new following, including myself.

Set in 1992, the world of Hoagy and Lulu is on the cusp of the internet age; cell-phones are bigger than bread boxes, and William Clinton has set his sights for the White House. Reluctantly, Steward Stafford Hoag [I love that his initials are “SSH”.] takes on helping an international media mogul write a memoir about her long-lost father, Richard Aintree, a once-famous novelist and former husband of an equally popular poet, now deceased. It should be an open-and-shut arrangement, except that Hoagy was once in love with the younger sister and, after a subsequent failed marriage with a movie star, is loathed, for whatever reasons, to revisit his former life.

It seems that everywhere Hoagy and Luly go – they are never apart – they are beset by shady characters; unethical businessmen; beautiful, but deceiving women; and, of all things, murder. Not one, but two. Possible three. Hence what could have easily been a ho-hum-drim novel about Hollywood literati becomes a more than plausible, fast-paced, crisp dialogue-spitting, pop-pop-popping plot lines, that keep the wide-eyed reader guessing whodunit until the very last page.

Hoagy has been called a “slapstick” sleuth. I am not sure what that means. Hoagy takes no pratfalls nor fake cream pies in the face. Although, at times, he does find himself with the figurative egg all over it. What the ghost writer who just happens to solve crimes is, however, a loveable, true-to-life “regular kind of guy” whose quirky basset is just as loveable and just as charming. Yes, that’s the operative word here.

Simply charming.

Stewart Hoagy and Lulu put on the charm from the very first paragraph. Lulu, even with her bad breath and slobbery drools, is humorously charming as she rides sidecar down the streets of suburban Los Angeles next to her beloved companion. Together, they charm truth out of the most dishonest and, in the end, charmingly and most appealingly reveal a long-kept secret that has mysteriously rocked the literary world for years. What’s here not to like and love? The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes is charmed – and charming – writing at its best.

Enjoy the read!

2:24 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions

In my midnight confessions,
When I tell the world that I love you…

After reading three of her Kopp Sisters series, I am warmly convinced that Amy Stewart has a delightfully playful sense of humor. Even though she approaches her subject-matter with a high degree of gravitas. Whether she intentionally decided to pun on The Grass Roots popular song lyrics for the title of her ninth book and third novel, is irrelevant. It still brought a smile to my face, singing the chorus as I spent the most enjoyable early summer days reading Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions (A Kopp Sisters Novel).

Fighting crime and corruption was not an easy feat back in 1916, especially with a war going on overseas that would soon affect America. But in the capable hands of the well-seasoned Stewart, it comes relatively easy to Constance A. Kopp, the first lady Deputy Sheriff in New Jersey [Bergen Country, to be exact]. But, then again, she has had two previous adventures – two novels chock full of experience under her belt. Why shouldn’t it be second nature? Why not, indeed…

We first met Constance and her two quirky sisters in Girl Waits with Gun, a dynamic portrayal of a real-life character who stuns the law-enforcement world with her innate skills and forceful determination. In Lady Copy Makes Trouble [publish exactly one year ago to the date. Please see my blog post.], she comes up against hardened female prisoners and learns to care for them. In this third enjoyable, yet elucidating exposé, our intrepid Constance delves into the backstories of women incarcerated in jail – stories often shared in the dead of night. Set against the backdrop of World War I, Deputy Sheriff Kopp fights her own battles against the injustices of the Mann Act which allows young girls to be charged and locked up on alleged “morality charges”. Even if unscrupulous men coerce them.
Just released today, Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions focuses on two cases. That of a young girl who runs away from home seeking work and is arrested on her mother’s false complaint that she was “wayward”. The second concerns a teenager who runs off with a man she meets on a Hudson River steamboat. Constance Kopp pulls out all stops to prevent both young women from being put behind bars for, perhaps, many years on trumped-up charges.

With her usual flair for justice and her passionate loathing for injustice, our heroine fights a never-ending battle against misogyny, misunderstanding, mistreatment, and the malignancy of malfeasance by a local prosecutor. How she does this by overcoming most odds is the quick-paced, intriguing nuts and bolts of yet again a Stewart tour-de-force literary accomplishment.

For fans of Orange is the New Black, the Maisie Dobbs series of mysteries, as well the Hoagey and Lulu series, this novel is sure to be on the top of their crime/mystery genre list. It is on mine. Will it be on yours?

Enjoy the read!

2:16 pm edt          Comments

Monday, August 28, 2017

At the end of the “Author’s Note” of Monticello: A Daughter and Her Father; A Novel – a stunning novel about the relationship between Martha Randolph Jefferson and her father, Thomas Jefferson – Sally Cabot Gunning quotes Annette Gordon-Reed, the author of the non-fiction Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy:

In the end, it will probably be left to novelists, playwrights, and poets,
unencumbered by the need for footnotes
to get at the ultimate meaning of this story

Gunning then adds her own tag line: This is why I write historical fiction.

Growing up in the umbra of her father’s brilliant career as one of our Founding Fathers [he penned our Declaration of Independence], a one-term vice-president and two-term President, as well as an esteemed statesman, Martha was conflicted by her intense devotion to him and his relationship with one of his slaves after the death of her mother. Gunning in this, her fifth enlightening historical novel, casts a broad swath of sunlight onto the polemic that has plagued Jefferson’s reputation for the last 200 or so years.

Now, for those of you who are unaware, Jefferson lost his wife during the birth of their second daughter, Maria, when Martha was about six years of age. He subsequently turned to Sally Hemings, a young, nubile slave whose family he had inherited from his father-in-law, John Wayles, who, ahem, just happened to be Sally’s father. The resemblance between Sally and her-half-sister, Martha’s mother, is uncanny. As is Martha’s to Sally and to her four children, all sired by Jefferson. The intermingling, er, copulation of “master” and “slave” was not all that uncommon back when owning other people was legal and widely accepted. And, in the case of Martha Jefferson, the morality of which was often silently questioned.

Incorporating the facts into her fictional account, Gunning strips away the footnotes, erases the legends, and lays bare Jefferson’s dilemma – free his slaves or keep them and treat them, as he did, as members of his own family. Which, in fact, many of them were… What she brings to the forefront is how Martha comes to terms with her father’s postponed promises and Sally’s presence – and that of her half-siblings – in her life. About such conflicts, exceptional novels are written.

A historical novelist myself, I particular enjoyed how the author modeled her real-life characters and their words after their writings, diaries, and letters to one another. Nothing is sugar-coated [as some novelists tend to do]; history is not sullied, but augmented. And, given the socio-political events of the last three weeks, this novel is both timely and instructive as well as an enjoyable read. Which, I’ve always said, is what a good historical novel should do: educate and elucidate while being entertaining.

It doesn’t take much to understand Gunning’s message: All men of our checkered past, of our history are complex individuals, exemplifying both the good and bad sides of humanity. Just like George Washington, Robert E. Lee, and, yes, Thomas Jefferson who the author neither condones nor condemns. Gunning just simply tells it like it was. It is up to her readers to decide. And, hopefully, none of us to judge.

The copy of Monticello sent to me by the publisher [William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins] has ten Reading Group Discussion Questions in the “About the Book” section. The last one asks: Everyone comes to Thomas Jefferson in a different way, influenced by his or her own time in history.  How has today’s political climate influenced you image of the man?

I know what my answer is. What, after reading this well-written and interesting historical novel about him and his daughter, will be yours?

Enjoy the read!

5:02 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Alice Network
This year marks the Centennial of the entrance of the United Stated into World War I (April 6, 1917). a fair number of books – both fiction and non-fiction – about it are being released. And since I, too, am writing a novel set in Phoenixville during the Great War, I am trying to read most, if not all of them. It’s a bit daunting, to say the least, but I am learning a lot of interesting and often obscure facts.

For example, did you know that one of the largest and most effective underground spy rings operating in France and Germany was started by a woman? Louise de Bettignies, to be exact, who took the code name of Alice Dubois. Her fascinating story has been carefully brought life in The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, a young author who has penned seven previous novels. Although her eighth is quickly topping the best-seller lists – I am sure you’ve already heard of it, if not already read it – I thought I’d review it anyway.

In 1947, promiscuous Charlie St. Claire is pregnant. About to be disowned by her wealthy family, she and her mother are on their way to Switzerland to “take care of the little problem”. In Southampton, Charlie takes off, travels to London, and knocks on the door of a stranger whom she hopes will be able to help her find Rose, her older cousin who disappeared in France during World War II.

Flash back to 1915. Bored with her menial office job, ambitious Evelyn Gardiner is eager to fight the Germans. She gets her chance when she is unexpectedly recruited as a spy. After a grueling month of training, she is sent to Lille where she meets up with the intriguing and nearly outrageous Lili, the leader of the Alice Network, aka "the Queen of Espionage". Eve becomes Marguerite and works undercover as a waitress in a prestigious restaurant frequented by top-level German officers. Her job is to listen in on their conversations with the hopes of garnering secrets about troop movements and planned attacks on French and British forces. She reports these back to Lili, who transports them to their “handler” in England.

Rene, the nefarious owner of the restaurant is a corrupt collaborator who colludes with the enemy for the sake of money and power (sound familiar?). He seduces Marguerite who sacrifices her virtue and high moral standards to glean even more war secrets. But then, Rene begins to suspect she just might be a spy…

Charlie joins forces with the much older Evelyn as well as her handsome chauffeur/butler. She asks for their help in finding Rose. Evelyn reluctantly agrees; she has a secret search of her own to conduct and Charlie becomes her perfect co-conspirator. Thus, the plot thickens and quickly begins to unfold.

Quinn is a really good writer. Her style is straightforward and down-to-earth, using accurate colloquialisms of each war era. Her plot lines twist and fold in alternate fast-paced and often insightful chapters about Charlie and Eve’s parallel quests and united journey. It’s easy to see why – and how – this historical novel is wending its way to the top of the charts. Characters are grippingly life-like and the situations they find themselves in are, to the most part, based upon historical fact. In essence, it has all the qualities that I look for in a substantively great read. And, it is chock full of story twists, turns, with an unexpected surprise, but satisfying, ending.

Not only did I enjoy
The Alice Network as a compelling adjunct to my own research, but I also found it an inspiration for my own writing. 

Enjoy the read!

1:48 pm edt          Comments

Friday, July 21, 2017

Smile and Walk Away (Shatter Book #1)
I must confess, I am an addict. Yes, folks, these days I’ve been getting really high… on thrillers. Especially those written by female authors whom seem to be cornering the genre’s market nowadays: Ruth Ware, Kate Quinn, Claire Douglas… And now, right up there with them in creative literary talent is Danielle Riedel, whose debut novel, Smile and Walk Away (Shatter Book 1) (the first of her Shatter series) wasjust  recently released.

Now, I’d go to the virtual ends of the earth (aka online media and best seller lists) to find my next fix. However, I didn’t have to travel far for this one. Danielle lives less than a few miles from me and when she told me about her novel, I jumped at the chance to read and review it. We local authors, I firmly believe, must support one another.  

Danielle’s debut novel reads like a well-crafted screenplay. Perhaps because of the author’s real-life experiences as an actress. Perhaps because she struck me as a very methodically organized, yet alert and creative person. The combination is compelling, to say the least, and quite evident in her fast-paced colloquial writing style.

We open with an agent being tested by a physician. A pencil, coffee cup, and a projector lens inexplicably break apart. The test ends. [Intrigued but confused reader frowns.]

Next scene: 2008. Velma Bloom with flaming red hair and a well-endowed body, flies to any unknown destination. The action then flips back to 2005.  Velma drives her new vintage banana yellow 1970 Dodge Challenger to her parents’ house in a semi-affluent White Plains, NY neighborhood. She is slated to attend graduate school, but adamantly refuses to continue her education. She takes a job as a waitress at a Yonkers bar “…with diverse clientele”. There she meets an assorted array of customers: Sam, the older “regular”; an outspoken young waitress; and a mysterious “quiet man” who tips her $100 for just a beer and a burger.

Fast forward to 2008. Newly-promoted Detective Jackson Duran is assigned the case of finding a missing young woman. Her name? Velma Bloom.

So far, a good start of an okay read, right? But, then, a few quick scenes later, we discover that Velma has (or had?) a very interesting unique hidden “talent”; almost a super-power that, from her early childhood, has been both a delight and a bane. Velma drinks excessively to suppress it, but when she discovers the cause and reasons for her rare, shall we say, “condition” and its dangerous international consequences the plot, as it’s said, thickens.

Why are the connections, if there are any, between Velma and the mysterious agent? Sam, whom she befriends? The “quiet man”? And Detective Duran who is hell bent to solve his first case. Has she really just gone missing or was she, as others believe, murdered? More importantly, why? And by whom?

In her inimitable way, Danielle Riedel transforms this complex premise into an amazingly exceptional read. I was so enthralled, I read Smile and Walk Away  in two sittings in one day, taken as I was by the characters and curious to find out what would happen next to all them. And what is most telling is that the characters, even five days later, are still haunting me. And that is about the best compliment I can give.

Oh, wait, there is one more. Okay, maybe two.

I must humbly and honestly state that while Danielle is half my age, she has twice my talent. Her plot lines are tightly woven and complex, with myriad unexpected twists and turns and little “tells” that lead in a fast clip to a well-crafted surprise denouement, with all the loose ends neatly tied up. Except for one… but I’m going to refrain from giving it away. Her characters are richly endowed with distinct personalities; dialogue is not stifled, but colorful and true-to-life.

And the premise of her story? One of the most creative and well-researched tales of international intrigue I’ve read in a long time. I am almost led to believe that while devoting herself to her writing, Danielle might also be a double-agent. Hmmmm…..

Once again, as I said in my last review, there are no formulaics here, folks. Just yet another great, imaginatively creative novel that any mature mystery/thriller (albeit with a tinge of science-fiction tossed in) enthusiast will enjoy.

The problem is, though, now I have to wait until #2 of Danielle’s Shatter series is completed and published before I can get my next spine-chilling “fix”.

Enjoy the read!

3:09 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:

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
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 fifth novel.

June's novels can be purchased at amazon.com, through Barnes and Noble,
at the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area,
the Gateway Pharmacy in Phoenixvile, PA

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