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Wednesday, March 7, 2018
5:03 pm est
and the Sicilian Lions
Some, if not all of the better fiction
is based upon true life. My own characters, for example, stem from close friends and family or are composites of larger-than-life
personalities. “They” say: Write what you know. Or, in the case of Mario Giordano, write whom you know.
Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions, released yesterday by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is actually an homage to the author’s aunt who, like the eponymic
title character, really did retire and moved from Germany to Sicily. She is, Giordano claims, is just as “outrageous”
as his mystery-solving protagonist. But, alas, in real life, has not – yet – solved any murders. Which is exactly
what the fictitious Auntie Poldi did in the first novel of her very own series.
Auntie Poldi – Isolde – was a dressmaker before retiring to the Isle of Sicily where she sought to quietly
live out the rest of her days soaking in the local wine, sunshine, and the view of the sea. With only a few visitors. Ah,
blissful peace and tranquility. Until the young, handsome handyman that she hired to tend to her small villa in Via Baronessa
goes missing. Nowhere to be found, it seems he has fallen off the face of the earth. So, like the real-life gregarious Auntie
Poldi, the intrepid fictional Auntie Poldi starts asking questions, discovers his body – obviously he was murdered
– and then, despite the objections of her sisters and the chagrin of the ever so handsome detective
Vito Montana, jumps head-long into a full-fledged investigation of her own.
Add a few shady
characters, the disappearance of one of a pair of a lion sculptures, several false leads, a romantic entanglement or two,
a roof-top show-down, and a roman à clef nephew who occasionally carries the narrative, and you’ve got a
nearly first-class mystery on your hands. Let’s say, Nancy Drew fair for adults. And I say “nearly first class’
because this quirky novel does have its minor foibles easily overlooked by the mad-cap antics of its major characters and
Giordano's deft command of his writing skills. Overlooking the fact that the book was originally written in Italian and is
the author’s first literary offering translated into English.
As huge fan
of light-heartened mysteries – although there is nothing light-hearted about murder – I really enjoyed reading
this novel. Especially following the complex plot-lines as Poldi weaves her inebriated way through a maze of clues to solve
the crime. And not to mention that the intrigue is refreshingly set in modern-day Sicily and is sprinkled with touristy comments
and descriptions. Actually, the whole of the conceit had me joyously second-guessing Poldi’s and Montana’s next
moves – delightfully together as well as deliciously apart.
recaps at the beginning of each chapter were annoyingly glaring spoiler alerts. “Tell them what you’re going to
tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them” was once a hallmark of 17th and 18th
Century books and still might be fine today in other aspects of the real world. But, please, please do not use this egregious
antediluvian technique in novels. Especially mystery novels in which the reader wants the plot line to unfold without advance
hints, clues, and pre-action tells. That is the whole point of reading a mystery. Headings describing what you’re about
to read is like eating dessert before dinner; devouring the olive before sipping the gin martini; those annoying people in
movie theatres who blurt out what will happen next. Yuck. The whole concept of pre-mature précises and re-caps smacks
of immature writing. So, rather than ruin an otherwise decent read, I skipped the headings.
And reveled in the fictional Auntie Poldi’s life and times. Eager for the next installment to be
released next Spring…
Enjoy the read!
Monday, March 5, 2018
4:34 pm est
My Journey in Philanthropy
“’Tis better” the saying goes, “to give than to receive.” One of epitomes
of this is the charming, historical Borough of Phoenixville, with its more than 125 charitable organizations, including
the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation. Established in 1998, it fosters a health-care safety net for the greater Phoenixville
community, comprised of 19 municipalities spanning significant parts of Chester and Montgomery counties. Not only that, PCHF
is an active participant in just about every major charity in Phoenixville, partnering with, to name a few, Rotary Club, Kiwanis,
Orion Communities, Phoenix Hose, Hook & Ladder No. 1, Good Samaritan Services, and St. Ann’s Heart Code Blue. All
which, among other things, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, plan cultural events, and reach out into the community to
help those in need.
There are a number of events scheduled this spring and summer to celebrate the Foundation’s
20th Anniversary, including a special exhibit in PCHF’s honor currently mounted in the Historical Society
of the Great Phoenixville Area Museum. Running from March through June, it is entitled “The Greater Good: A History
of Community Organizations Giving Back in Phoenixville”. This interested display features key high points of giving
in Phoenixville’s diversely complex history.
And one of the highlights is the display [and promotion] of
My Journey in Philanthropy: Memoir, Reflective Essays & True Stories by none other than the director of the Community Health Foundation, Louis J. Beccaria, Ph.D.
in December of last year, this relatively small book packs a big wallop. For those of you who might think the subject of philanthropy
is dull and arid as dust bunnies… Lou’s book will make you think again. Informally written in an almost “Chatty
Charlie” style, the author relates his 48-year journey learning the art and craft of assisting others in giving. His
interesting and multi-faceted life, as related in the memoir section, is, in fact, the epitome of sharing. I have known Lou
for several years and he is, indeed, a humble, generous, thoughtfully kind person who, in his 20 years as Director and CEO
of PCHF [He is the first and, so far, only…] has dedicated himself to ensuring our community’s well-being.
The book goes on to differentiate between those that give their money – philanthropists – and those
that help them – philanthropoids [a term Lou created]. And depending in which category you might find yourself or those
that you know, there are rules, principles and guidelines that govern each. Tenets of generosity that are clearly explained
and expounded upon. For those of us venturing into the world of philanthropy – even those that are “old hands”
– Lou’s book, I suspect, will quickly become the go-to manual of personal experience and knowledge for those in
Of course, the best part is the compilation of 34 humorous stories gathered in the course
of the author’s philanthropic work. Funny, poignant, and salted with foibles of giving [and taking], they portray the
warm and human side of the world of philanthropy. A world with which if you are not already familiar, I most heartily suggest
that you take the time to visit.
Enjoy the read!
Thursday, February 22, 2018
5:11 pm est
The Paris Secret
I have an affinity for fine art, Paris during World War II, and a good mystery. So, when they are walloped together
into an ingeniously woven and well-written novel… I am hooked beyond pleasure.
I’ve waited to read
The Paris Secret: A Novel by Karen Swan ever since it hit the best-seller lists back in early November. However, a copy of it – appreciatively
received from the publisher – sat on my TR&R stack well beyond my Twelve Days celebration of Christmas. But, finally,
after the all the festivities died down, I started reading it. It was well worth the wait. So much so, that I savored it for
a whole month!
Flora Skyes, the intrepid, cool-headed protagonist is a dynamically high-powered art agent. She
is hired by a supposedly “noble” family to trace the provenance of a cache of paintings hidden since 1943 in an
abandoned Paris apartment. As she begins her quest to document the previous owners of the pieces, she finds herself instantly
embroiled in mystery and intrigue, uncovering underlying and overlaying schemes of deceit and deception that permeate the
Vermeil family who claim ownership of the apartment.
One painting in particular – a portrait of a women
in a yellow dress – captures her attention. As she focusses in on its history and why and how it came to be secreted
by itself in yet another abandoned apartment below the first, Flora learns of a German art dealer supposedly working for the
Third Reich who sold the paintings stolen from Jews whom he was suspected of betraying to the Nazis. What connection did he
have with the Vermeils? And how did the paintings – these supposedly in his possession at the time of his disappearance
– wind up in their abandoned apartment?
With its flowing, adjective-riddled complex sentences and sometimes
often oblique references to historical events, The Paris Secret is quite different form the typical run-of-the-mill
murder and/or robbery mystery. It appeals to the more intellectually astute reader who seeks total immersion in the lives,
times, and not so familiar day-to-day affairs and experiences of complex, in-depth characters. It also appeals to the higher-end
fashionistas of both the art and “haute-couture” worlds. It must be said that Swan, the British author, started
her writing career as an editor in the fashion industry. So, of course, it stands to reason that this, her second entry into
the literary world, would be pock-marked with all sorts of descriptions of her characters’ attire, many of which were
well beyond my ken. However, the descriptions and references only added to the allure of this mystery. Living with Flora and
her fashion-minded friends while delving into the darker enigmatics of the art world was an entirely different, thoroughly
enjoyable experience for me.
Careening through the last 100 pages, Swann adeptly and adroitly begins to tie up
all her loose ends. Flora finds not only resolution to the many baffling aspects of her “case’, but also [finally]
finds love with one of the more perplexing characters. He was not whom I wanted her to end with had I written this novel,
but, then again, the coupling makes perfect, if not surprising, sense. And whom Von Teschelt, the nefarious so-called Nazi
art dealer – as well as the lady in the portrait – turn out to be… Well, it was the one of the most satisfying
endings to a most satisfying story.
Enjoy the read!
Friday, January 26, 2018
4:38 pm est
“Poustinia” and “A Specter
Sometimes, being a “local” author – albeit, supposedly “the” historical novelist –
of a small town can be a solitary undertaking. Authors, by nature, border on hermitage. At least I do… How else can
I ply my craft, talent, and trade except by spending what other perceive to be many long “lonely” hours doing
research, developing characters and plot lines, and… writing? Yet, that is exactly what I do. Have done. And, hopefully,
will continue to do. But… I often wonder if there are other simpatico authors of the same ilk (and level of dedicated
involvement and, dare I say, expertise) with whom to occasionally share one’s similar experiences… If only one
could find them…
A few weeks ago, I received – from out of the blue – a message on Facebook
from a fellow resident of Phoenixville commenting upon a post about one of my novels. I had not “met” her before,
but a quick look at her FB page revealed she was – ta da! – an author. Locally. Just like myself. Writing novels
about the area… I messaged her back, suggested lunch. And that meeting was the seed of what is quickly becoming a friendship
made in literary heaven.
Kathleen McKee has written four or five books that she fondly and wittingly calls “Hallmark”
novels. Eschewing sensationalism for in-depth interactions and emotions between her characters, they can be easily described
as “feel-goods”… Ones into whose pages you can disappear away from the maddening world, relate to the characters,
and come away with an inspiring positive insight or two into the complexities of human nature. Let me tell you about two of
Kathy’s most noteworthy literary endeavors…
In Poustinia: A Novel , Victoria is at the peak of a sterling career in the business world, uncertain about her future. Single, relatively
comfortable, she seemed content with her well-ordered life, sharing it with Harvey, her canine companion. But something seems
to be missing. Then, one day, she happens upon a brochure for “Poustinias at the Monastery of St. Carmella” in
mid-western Pennsylvania. Now, for those of you, like I was, unfamiliar with the term, a poustinia is small dwelling –
usually a one-room cabin in the woods, primary used as a retreat. There are no phones, no pool, no pets… Just supposedly
peaceful, thoughtful and thought-provoking silence in which to pray, reflect… commune with nature. And so, to finally
discern the path for the rest of her life, Kathy’s protagonist decides this is just “what the doctor has ordered”,
leaves Harvey with Myra, their neighbor, and ventures forth.
Now, at first, this doesn’t seem much of
a plot line. And, at first, I did think, “Meh”. As Victoria meets and learns the life stories of the other poustinians
(one person to a cabin, please), Amanda, Betty, Kate, and a quiet man Victoria’s age named Charlie, I waited at least
50, nearly 60 pages for at least “one shoe to drop”. I am a woman (and a writer), as you know, of action. I expect
suspense to rear itself up right off the bat. But as I continued on, Kathy’s storyline slowly, almost tediously unfolded,
as did her writing talent, into a vibrant mosaic landscape that rippled and rustled across the pages of the last half of her
literary debut like the winds undulating through the monastery forest… A shoe dropped, then another… and as
Victoria enmeshes herself into the lives of those around her, Kathy’s plot seamlessly unfolded into what was, surprisingly,
a most satisfying surprise ending.
Yes, what could easily have been a benign book, actually made me feel good.
Even caused a few tears to shed. Poustinia is not quite Hallmark worthy, but very close. And well worth the modicum of patience required to read
Now, remember, Poustinia was McKee’s first venture in writing novels. She subsequently wrote two sequels (I must admit, I am quite
curious what happens to the characters as they move on with their lives…) and then ventured in to the genre of historical
novels with Specter of Truth. And it is this one that put the works of my new writing friend onto the top ten list
of my favorite authors.
Set in Kimberton, PA in the early 19th Century, A Specter of Truth follows the life of young Lizzie Mitchell, a rural farm girl with aspirations of being a teacher. A profession that,
so far, had only been limited to men. Women were very rarely admitted to the higher echelons of learning to pursue a career
in education. But Lizzie found a way. Enter the real-life historical figure, Emmor Kimber, a Quaker who, along with his wife,
Suzanne, began the French Creek Boarding School for Girls in 1818 in what is now Kimberton, just a few miles northwest of
Phoenixville. Securing entrance and later a position on the staff becomes the opportunity of young Lizzie’s lifetime…
the foundation of Kathy’s narrative… and the ability of Kathy’s readers to learn some important local history
while enjoying a most elucidating story.
It didn’t take long this time for Kathy to drop the first of many
dramatic shoes. But they were more like the gauntlets of heavy hobnailed boots that shod the feet of a one George Mitchell
who arrived with his “tetched” wife, claiming he is Lizzie’s father’s older brother, the real owner
of the Mitchell farm in Yellow Springs. His slovenly, crass presence does not sit well with the family. (Nor did it with this
reader, which made A Specter of Truth all the more intriguing to read. Who is this creepy character?) There is doubt he is whom he professes to be. Or
As the novel moves forward at a decent modulating pace – Kathy’s writing style has by now
significantly evolved into an enjoyable can’t-put-it-down rhythmic cadence – Lizzie makes friends at the general
store; her brother starts a delivery service that encompasses Manavon (my writing bailiwick); a romance or two buds and blossoms;
and, not holding back, the author thunders on, unfolding tear-jerking, page-tuning tragedies. Wrap these up into the fascinating
culture, customs, and societal details of local history and you have a novel that is a must read for all area residents.
I am delighted that I’ve discovered Kathy… who is another writer “just like me” in town.
And even more delighted that, like me, she is enamored and respectful of our history, using her varied talents to write novels
that are, yes, “Hallmark feel goods”… capturing the positive pioneering spirit and abidingly generous charitable
essence of our fair community. The bar has now been set a bit higher for my own literary endeavors. I welcome it and hope
that both of us as we mutually respect and encourage our talents and accomplishments, help each other – and, perhaps,
others – over the top.
Enjoy the read!
Monday, January 8, 2018
2:18 pm est
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…
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!
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,
volumes of poetry, stories
for children (of all ages) and
a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:
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
Rainbow in the Sky
of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A
Collection of More Spiritual Poems
We Three Kings
Beauty and the Beast
Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding
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.