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Tuesday, November 28, 2017


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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Faerie Handbook

Do you believe in Faeries? Clap your hands if you do!”

That night, when Peter Pan first flew into the Darling’s nursery window, millions of kids sitting in front of the television did just that! Because of their unwavering innocent belief, Tinkerbelle was saved. Peter Pan went on to find the Lost Boys; rescue Wendy, Michael, and John; defeat Captain Hook; and save Neverland. Childhood has never been the same since.

Now, if you’re a true believer – or aspire to be – and want to know all there is to know about faeries, then you must have a copy of one of the most beautiful books ever to grace a bookshelf. Newly released by Harper Design, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers,
The Faerie Handbook: An Enchanting Compendium of Literature, Lore, Art, Recipes, and Projects, compiled by the editors of Faerie Magazine, is both an anthology and compilation of all things Fae. 

This wonderfully constructed book will be released this coming Tuesday, but I got so excited, I just couldn't wait until then to tell you about it.

Organized in four sections -- Flora and Fauna; Fashion & Beauty; Art & Culture; and Home, Food, & Entertaining. – this is the complete and utmost authority on Faerie fashions, architecture, legends, folklore, stories, as well as crafts and cooking. Also delineated are the many varieties of Faeries that include not only Pixies, but, among the many described, Ogres, Trolls, Gnomes, Brownies and Boggarts, Gnomes, and Dwarves. 

To say that
The Faerie Handbook is, in itself, a work of art, is an understatement. I am not one generally impressed by a book’s cover or interior design, but the moment I opened the package, I was more than enthralled. The cover is a light mauve with gold lettering. The page edges are gilded. The pages themselves, are heavy stock, and the text and fonts are, well, very-well designed.  What a joy to read interesting, no… fascinating facts and learn how to construct Faerie homes, cook their favorite foods, and learn about a realm normally kept hidden from normal folk. Especially within the pages of such a beautiful environment.

And if you’re thinking this is yet another one of those frou-frou coffee table books with all looks and no sustenance. Think again. This is a most remarkable literary endeavor by a team that are, without a doubt, experts in their field. And, with their help and handbook, you can become one, too. 

Now, the most amazing aspect is, besides the absolutely stunning illustrations, pictures, and art-work, are the stories about, of, and by Faeries. Their place in and impact on literature is mind-boggling. There is, of course, the Pixie Tinkerbell in J. M Barrie’s play, Peter Pan. But did you know that William Shakespeare has at least one type of Faerie in every one of his plays? The pages of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit trilogy are full of gnomes, elves, and dwarves. Glinda the Good in Frank L. Baum’s The Wizard of Oz is a Faerie Witch – a good one, of course. And then there is Sookie Stackhouse of True Blood. I could go on, but I strongly suggest you discover the wonders of the Fae World in the written word through the Handbook.

Now, whenever I want to shed the detritus of everyday adult life, I can delve and disappear into The Faerie Handbook, which now has a special place of honor on my “favorite books to dream with” shelf. The essence of beauty and the recapturing of the innocence and wonder of childhood now found in a phenomenal book that will inspire you to believe in all things fantastical… And when that happens, clap your hands and…

Enjoy the read!


4:25 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Mister Monkey

Mister Monkey: A Novel by Francine Prose has been on my Must Read and Review list ever since it was first published in hardback last year. For whatever reasons, however, I neglected to request an ARC from the publisher. Imagine my surprise, then, when a paperback copy [just released today] arrived unexpectantly, at my door.**

While I have difficulty writing them myself, my ideal novel is well-constructed with tight plot lines (no loose ends left untied) and complex characters. Prose’s 18th work of fiction [she has also written four novels for young adults as well as seven tomes of non-fiction] has all these elements expressed in eleven neatly packaged chapters. Each one a narrative focusing on a character’s point of view…

Let me explain.

The off-off-off-off Broadway third rate, shopworn production of Mister Monkey, the Musical is based upon the ageless beloved children’s novel, Mister Monkey. It is not what any of its actors nor the director wanted or even hoped for it to be.

Margot, a talented Yale Drama School graduate who longs for better parts and cannot believe she has stooped so low, finds herself portraying a lawyer in an orange wig and all too tight sequined short dress that barely covers… well... It’s just not right for her nor the part. She feels both her life on the stage and her chance of true love and romance have waned for the worst. She has, she fears, seen better days in the spotlight of both venues. The teenager gymnast in the brown chenille bedspread monkey costume, her clueless but nonetheless good looking leading man, her role’s nemesis played by a moonlighting emergency room nurse, and the bumbling director who envisions greatness all share Margot’s angst. Each grapples with his/her own version of what she considers a nightmare from which she dreads she will never wake up.

During one particular performance, a young boy in the audience yells out to his grandfather, “Are you enjoying this?!” The musical momentarily halts, lines and props are dropped. The entire cast and crew are skewed off-course into the swirling maelstrom of love, art, ambition, youth and aging. All are spun into the author’s whirlwind skillful probing of the stressful complications of modern urban(e) life. Time stretches and undulates; passions ebb and flow; loves are found, lost, then found again.

What I particularly enjoyed about Mister Monkey is that it is a tri-weave plot line: a story within a story within a story. Kinda like separate DNA strands laced together to form a whole person. Only, in this case, a whole novel that comes alive with insightful vivacity and voracity. Talk about having the perfect conceit and wielding the nearly perfect writing talent to execute it! Prose not only wrote the original internal novel’s plot line, the musical loosely based upon it [the original author is horrified by what happened to his book in its transformation from the literary to theatrical world]… but also wrote the stories of the impacts on characters – both frail and resilient – in and intertwined on all three levels.

Confused? Don’t be. In her deftly experienced hand, Prose brings it all together in a most thought-provoking as well enjoyable read; both a delight and an eye-opening insight into societal norms and expectations – or lack thereof. Mister Monkey, an autumn must-read, is a serious literary commentary on life couched in, um, as the trite metaphor goes, a barrel of monkeys.

Francine Prose, in a nutshell… or, rather, if you will a banana peel, is, in fact, the master of, um, prose. In every sense of the words.

Enjoy the read!

**You just gotta love the publicist at Harper Collins who can read my mind and caters to my literary needs. Thank you, Lily Lopate! And, you also just gotta love the young, good-looking UPS driver who knocks on my door each delivery, chuckling, “Another book for you!” Every other week, it seems, is Happy Holidays gift time.

5:03 pm edt          Comments

Friday, September 22, 2017

Moscow Nights

The Cold War was at its peak when the USSR launched Sputnik I into orbit, propelling the USSR into the leading role of technology and further plummeting the USA into the downside of the tenuous, escalating arms race. Six months later, in April of 1958, with both sides still seeking – but failing – to reach a semblance of compromise, a tall, lanky twenty-three-year old heretofore unknown Texan with a shock of reddish-blond curls transformed the impending hostilities by winning the First International Tchaikovsky Competition held in Moscow.

With his vibrantly brilliant, soul-searching piano playing, and love of “all things Russian”, Van Cliburn charmed not only the Soviet citizens, but their bombastic leader, Nikita Khrushchev, as well. The Soviet Premier instantly became one of, if not Cliburn’s biggest fan. Who, because of Cliburn, began to soften his pompous, self-righteous stance. According to Nigel Cliff in Moscow Nights: The Van Cliburn Story--How One Man and His Piano Transformed the Cold War, Cliburn’s triumph, coupled with his warm embrace of Russian music and culture, kindled a spark of hope that, perhaps, the two factious, most powered nations of the world had finally found a pathway to peaceful coexistence.

Moscow Nights unexpectantly arrived on my doorstop three weeks ago with a request from Harper Collins for a review. Thinking it was a novel, I began reading the book that night and was surprised that it, starting with a ticker tape parade followed by two short stories about Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff, was not. It appeared to be a treatise about Van Cliburn’s llife and his rise to prominence and international fame. Yet, as I continued to read Cliff’s fourth work of literary non-fiction, I discovered, however scholarly, that Moscow Nights reads like a well-written novel. Slowing my pace down to “history mode”, I settled in to absorb fascinating aspects and nuances of 1950s/1960s world events.

This author, whose writing style and composition is just as vibrant and as brilliant as Cliburn’s piano playing, covers just about everything; leaving nothing unturned. Music history and theory; Van Cliburn’s life, including training at age four learning to play the piano while sitting on his mother’s lap [a piano teacher classically trained by Russian pianist and composer Arthur Friedheim]; causes and effects of the Cold War; cultural similarities and differences between the USA and the USSR; FBI, CIA, and KGB intrigues [there were several surrounding the competition and Cliburn]; insights into Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy as well as Khrushchev [including his insidiously strategic rise to power via deceit and betrayal]. Not to mention his famous show-pounding appearance in the United Nationals General Assembly. Shall I go on?

Most intriguing is the author’s in-depth look into Van Cliburn’s personal as well as his public lives – how they intertwined, opposed, and yet complemented each other. His inner turmoil and outwardly sunny, optimistic, gregarious disposition. It was almost as if the talented pianist came back to life and was sitting right next to me, unravelling his story. Through Cliff’s eyes and words he, in fact, was… The attention to painstakingly researched detail of all aspects of Cliburn’s life – even down to the flapping loose sole of his left shoe as he came up on stage for one of his myriad concerts – was, for lack of a better word, phenomenal. Rarely featured in works of non-fiction and seldom so artistically interfaced in historical novels, Cliff captures the very heart and essence of both literary worlds.

In this tumultuous, age – the parallels between 1958 and 2017 are astoundingly scary – Moscow Nights is a most timely, maturely sober reminder of how threatening – and frightening – the facetious follies of foolish leaders can be. And how they can – and must – be assuaged and appeased not by the escalation of school-yard taunts backed by nuclear armaments, but by the coming together and sharing of common cultural interests and mutual concern and humane understanding.

Nigel Cliff’s brilliantly written Moscow Nights is definitely the best non-fiction book of this century. And a must for those of us who do not wish to ever again see the darkest side of history repeat itself.

Enjoy the read!

2:33 pm edt          Comments

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


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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,