June's Literary Blog
 

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Queen Victoria: From Her Birth to the Death of the Prince Consort

You just gotta love PBS/BBC’s Masterpiece. It’s the only show on television (I am addicted to all things Netflix) that I consistently watch and one of the only presentations on broadcast media that has inspired me to read about history. Downton Abbey sent me on a quest to learn more about British life in the early 1900s (now one of my favorite eras of, um, all time). The Durell’s in Corfu had me searching for works by Lawrence Durell, noted British novelist and travel writer. And Victoria, whose first episode of Season One aired just this past Sunday evening, now has me engrossed in Cecil Woodham-Smith’s** seminal biography, Queen Victoria: From Her Birth to the Death of Prince Consort.

I found my copy of Woodham-Smith’s opus on a high shelf in my basement library. It is a 1974 Book Club edition purchased when I was living in Louisville and I’ve schlepped it along with me for these nearly 43 years, barely opening its pages except to insert a receipt for watch repair from the jeweler who designed the Kentucky Derby trophy and an old Ash Wednesday service leaflet dated February 27, 1974. (Boy, did those bring back memories!) It wasn’t until Monday afternoon, thoroughly intrigued by the Queen’s life portrayed in the PBS presentation, when I finally began reading the biography in earnest.

The one thing about watching Masterpiece and then reading the book(s) the period piece might have been based upon is that you can readily picture the characters as you read. Jenna Coleman as the Queen kept on flashing in and out of my mind; the voice Catherine Flemming as her mother rang from the faded pages; Paul Rhys as the self-serving, selfishly manipulative Sir John Conroy was as annoying as all get out. All of these brought what could have been deadly-dull history to vivid life. It is – as I am only a third through the book (I will once again be sequestered with it this afternoon, as I was all day yesterday) – like reading a very well-researched historical novel; rich in details of court intrigue, mores, mannerisms, and dress; replete with political intricacies, betrayals, and secrets; laced with romance; and chuck full of finely-wrought aspects of the life of young Alexandrina Victoria Kent as she matures into her role as Queen, wife, and mother.

This is – along with Elizabeth Longford’s Queen Victoria, first published 1964 – is the perfect intellectually challenging companion piece to Masterpiece’s visual, often fictionalized, account which was severely romanticized in a November 2016 novel. To be honest, I’d rather read pure history about the subjects the show tackles than a novel. There is enough fiction in "based-upom-the-life-of" television scripts to readily skew realities. When I want to learn about an historical figure, especially one as important as Queen Victoria, I don’t need it to be watered down by sometimes unguarded, misleading conjectures.

That being said… If you haven’t seen the first episode on PBS, I hardily suggest that you do. You can catch it on PBS.org/Masterpiece. Watch it and sebsequent ones, and search for a copy of Woodham-Smith’s biography. While unfortunately out of print, there are a few copies out there for sale amongst the more than 100 pages on Amazon listing books about the Queen. However, Queen Victoria: From Her Birth to the Death of Prince Consort seems to be one of the first written and, in my humble opinion, the most reliably comprehensive read of them all.

Enjoy!

** Cecil Woodham-Smith, born Cecil Blanche Fitzgerald in Wales in 1896, possessed a love of and talent for historical writing. But, as most married women did back then, she deferred following her passion until her two children by her beloved husband, George Ivon Woodham-Smith, a distinguished London solicitor, had entered boarding school. It wasn’t until 1950 when the publication of her first historical endeavor, Florence Nightingale, shot her to the top of her profession. This was followed in 1962 by The Great Hunger: Ireland:1845-1849  and then by The Reason Why, about the charge of the Light Brigade, in 1963. In 1965, she began her greatest, seminal work – a two-volume comprehensive biography of England’s Queen Victoria who reigned for 64 years (1837 to 1901). It was to be entitled Queen Victoria: Her Life and Times. Started relatively late in life, Woodham-Smith was only able to complete the first volume, Queen Victoria: From Her Birth to the Death of Prince Consort. published in 1972. The author died in 1977 at the age of 80. 

2:31 pm est          Comments

Monday, January 9, 2017

Maud’s Line
For the past few years, books have been stacked in my living room according to whether they are simply to be read and enjoyed, ones from my personal library that I have chosen to read and review, and those that publishers send to me requesting a review. Now that I am spending more time writing and promoting my own novels, the last stack has dwindled down to next to nothing. So, last week, looking for a book of my own to read and review, I turned to the second stack where, lo and behold, on the bottom I found a misplaced copy of Maud's Line by Margaret Verble that a publicity manager from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt sent to me back in May of 2015. Oops!

My apologies to Stephanie Kim for this oversight. It has not been like me to be so absent-minded. But, considering lately I find myself looking for my glasses perched on top of my head or in the pocket of a sweater I am wearing… Well, it all comes with the territory (of getting older). So, after two years, here’s my better-late-than-never review.

Maud Nail, the main protagonist of Verble’s finely-tuned debut novel, is an 18-year old Cherokee woman living in 1928 in Oklahoma on land parceled out years earlier by the United States Government to Native Americans. It is for Maud and her friends and family not an easy life. Her days are rife with daily chores and hardships made worse by the death of her mother; the roaming proclivities of her stern and belligerent father; the lack of modernities, including electricity and indoor plumbing; the profusion of copperhead and moccasin snakes. She yearns for something else, something more. Someone to sweep her off her feet and take her away. Her only solace is her younger brother who, like her, escapes from the harsh realities of their life in the pages of books borrowed, mostly, from Mr. Singer, an elderly white potato farmer who is kind to Maud. Enter Booker Wakefield, a school teacher turned peddler whose mule-drawn wagon has side canvas flaps as “bluer than the clear summer sky”…

Maud's Line was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. I can see why. Its prose is lyrical, yet straightforward. Verble pulls no punches when it comes to describing Maud’s daily life filled with violence mingled with the simplest of details – the killing of a cow, the pouring of coffee in the morning, the murder of two brothers, the buttering of biscuits. There is a bit of raw sex, too, but not in the least bit pornographic. It is matter-of-fact; a part of life. The author, a Native American herself, does not dwell upon nor flaunt that fact. This story could easily have been told about any young girl of any heritage living in and struggling with impoverished circumstances. A black girl in Alabama; an Irish maid living in a New York ghetto; an Italian or Chinese woman living in a poorer section of town – seeking the better things in and of life. Maud just happens to be mostly Cherokee and lives on a reservation. Yet, that fact is precisely what makes this novel so unique. And so grippingly interesting.

My readings, as you know, have been eclectically diverse. But, to be honest, I don’t remember being so deeply seeped and immersed in the daily life of a Native American. This was, truly, an eye-opener, in more ways than one, considering I spent the better part of the last two nights staying up to read it. And considering that I know, knew next to nothing about the plight of Native Americans in the first half of the last century. I do now.

Maud's Line, however well-written and interesting, is not without its flaws. While a stunning depiction of life on the plains, it is, in essence, a romantic tale laced, as I said, with violence, sex, and gore; not a read for the faint of heart. However, it does not go as deep as one would expect into the heart, soul, and mind of the main character. Verble follows Maud around as if writing a documentary, showing us her doing this, doing that, while waiting for her man to return. She, Maud, doesn’t seem to do anything to help herself out of her own circumstances, instead settling her loneliness with the crude affections of an old boyfriend, depending upon the help of others, and reading novels. She does get into a “bit of a pickle” as the saying goes, but she refuses to face the consequences and, in the end, is predictably saved by the benevolent author a la deux ex machina. I am all in favor of happy endings, but this one was too pat, too shallow and short, and all too surprisingly unoriginal.

Still, all in all, this was a good read. One not 
to be missed. Especially by those mature readers who want a glimpse into the lives of people in a different place and time. 

Enjoy the read!

3:17 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Still Life with Bread Crumbs
I’ve been carrying this book around with me, you see, for about a month now. Every night up the stairs to read before falling asleep, but I was waylaid by a game or two of Word Chums or Gin Rummy Plus. Every morning I’d tote it back down the stairs, where I put it on the coffee table thinking I’d catch a chapter or two before dinner. But, again, I was waylaid by household chores, FrankieBernard walks, and all the trappings of Christmas. But… But! Yesterday was a rainy morning, so I finally settled in and opened the covers of Still Life with Bread Crumbs: A Novel by Anna Quindlen and couldn’t close them until I had finished reading.

Not only a prolific writer (seven novels, eight works of non-fiction, and two children’s books, as well as being columnist for Newsweek) Quindlen is a talented, insightful writer whose plot lines are unique and whose characters are so real they seem to be drawn from reality. Who, in this case, is the main protagonist Rebecca Winter inspired by the author in an earlier age when she began to question the meaning of each stage of a woman’s life. Her life, the life of Rebecca, who, at first, is valued by her work assayed by others, not by herself. Once renowned and rich, our sixty-year-old heroine is reduced to financial straits; forced to lease out her New York City apartment and rent a run-down cabin in the rural woods. Rebecca finds herself bereft of luxuries, lacking amenities, and “reduced” to fending for herself.

In the process of going from “riches to rags” (and living on the edge of poverty), puzzled into an existence she never knew before, Rebecca learns more from life as she discovers who she really is. All of this may sound like a bit of lofty banality, but this author is a master of couching the major, deeper meanings of life in minor events; all of which are somehow, sometimes humorously, interwoven. Sarah, the tea shop and bakery proprietress; Jim Bates the roofer; Polly, Jim’s sister; small white crosses with talismans inexplicably placed in the forest; Jack, the dog; Sonya, her father’s maid and companion; and Ben, Rebecca’s son. Each is complex with his/her own philosophy; each with their own deepening message in which Rebecca comes to find the true meaning of her own.

For those of you who would deem this a “chick lit” romance novel, think again. It is a well thought out and well-written literary gem that sparkles in the dark recesses of the mind and lights up the gloomiest winter chambers of the heart. And, unlike most of Quindlen’s other novels, she moves its moments of darkness into light richness with a very satisfyingly moving happy ending.

I would call this the perfect holiday read; but as the last days of December are quickly passing into the uncertain nether regions of the coming new year, I recommend 
Still Life with Bread Crumbs as an anecdote to what may be many dismal weeks ahead. A breath of spring time reading in the midst of the winter of our own discontents. Who knows? You may find hope and solace within the covers of this novel. Just as I did.

4:20 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

New Novel and Appearance Schedule
Finally, after six months of research and “living” with a tall, unconventional character who “told” me her name was Faith Little, my fourth novel and the third in the historical Novels of Phoenixville… series, has been published! Just in time for your holiday gift giving!

Columbia Hotel: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s is set in at the turn of the last century, with flashbacks and recalls to historical events and (most interesting) character backgrounds that occur in the 1800s. Not to brag (but I will), I just have to say that three of my advanced readers really liked it! And these three, folks, are my worst critics. Issued by B’Seti Pup Publishing, this intriguing romantic novel, which is really a mystery (my first?), is available for purchase in both paperback and Kindle formats on amazon.com. Just click the cover photo in the side panel or the title at the beginning of this paragraph. And for those of you in the Phoenixville area, copies will also be available at both Gateway Pharmacy (165 Nutt Road) and the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area (204 Church Street; Hours: 9 to 3 Wednesday and Friday and on First Fridays and Sundays).

Now, I’m beginning to get a bit of reputation around town as the historical novelist of the area. And, as such, I am now on local television (information below), doing yet another few book signing, and have even been invited to participate in the local library’s literary series.

Television Interview: The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenixville during World War II with Dr. Lou Beccaria, the host of And Now You Know, is airing three times a day (egad!) on the local TPN channel (22 on Comcast; 29 on Verizon). Here are the times:

Sun:  7:30am 5:00pm 9:00pm

Mon:  7:30am 5:00pm 8:00pm

Tues: 7:30am 5:00pm 9:00pm

Wed: 7:30am 5:00pm 9:00pm

Thurs:7:30am 5:00pm 8:00pm

Fri:     7:30am 5:00pm 8:00pm

Sat:    7:30am 5:00pm 9:00pm

  

And for those of you who are not in the area, here's a link to the video online (of all places...YouTube!): https://youtu.be/Y8JYw9_dNG8

Book Signing: Saturday, January 14, 2017, 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. at Gateway Pharmacy, 165 Nutt Road, Phoenixville, PA 19460. Copies of all four of my novels will be available for personalized encryptions and purchase.

Phoenixville Library Lecture Series: Monday, February 13, 2017, 7:00 p.m. at the Phoenixville Library, 183 Second Avenue, Phoenixville, PA. German Prisoners during War World II at Valley Forge General Hospital. Lecture by Jack Ertell from the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area and discussion of my novel, The Prisoner’s Portrait.

Well, these are the dates and times so far. So, please mark your calendar and join us!

And now, back to work on yet another novel about Phoenixville! Teaser: This one is told by a mansion…

Have a great day and enjoy all your reads!
 

2:43 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Lambs of War

Sometimes, the best way to cope with the stark realities of life is to escape into an even harsher one. But, hopefully, one with the prospects of a brighter, better outcome. Which is exactly what I did this past week. When things fail and are terrifyingly disappointing, I turn to books; my surest and safest refuges in times of uncertainty. Even if the one I turned to was brutally stark and unmercifully truthful.

The Lambs of War, by Brian McManus, is a grim look into the world of Nazi Germany, circa 1943. Caught up in the throes of war and the horrors of brutal, misguided anti-Semitism, Isaac and his wife, Flora, have been avoiding the Nazi authorities for years. Commodore Adolf Ahrens, a respected food merchant in Bremerhaven, has them under his wing as employees in his household until the Gestapo discovers he is harboring the young Jewish couple. He calls a former friend, whose son is a camp officer at the Ravensbruck Labor Camp, hoping to save his charges from the upcoming “sweep”. He makes a deal that they will be able to stay together as husband and wife. But when they arrive at the camp gates, they are separated: Isaac to work in the household of the cruel Captain Heinrich Wurtzmeuller; Flora to join the ill-treated women who slave in the Ravensbruck munitions and clothing factories.

And then, Flora is told that Isaac had been shot and killed the very afternoon of their arrival…

McManus is a very capable storyteller. His plot lines are straightforward and tightly drawn, with a few clever “Surprise, I didn’t see that coming!” twists that keep the reader on the edge of the seat. Or, in my case, up late until the wee hours of the morning eagerly wanting to know what happens next. With a deft brush, he paints a stark picture of sadistically cruel Nazis, with their insatiable greed, infighting, and jealousies; juxtaposing their hate with the almost pure and hopeful love that Isaac and Flora have for one another. I was mesmerized by his intuitive insights into Isaac’s mind, as well as those of his other well-developed characters. In addition, it is evident this author has done quite a bit of research about Germany during World War II, not to mention capturing vivid and often lurid details of life in a forced labor camp. Even his background geography was spot on. 

However, while the author has a distinct flair for writing, there is a distinct lack of competent editing. Too many grammatical errors, typographical mistakes, often misused words, and more than occasional awkward phraseology were distracting, crippling what could have otherwise been a smooth, stunningly superb read. In my own experiences as a self-published author, one instantly loses credibility as a capable novelist when the literary standards of our profession are cast aside for the sake of expediency.

That being said, McManus does provide us with a rude, more than realistic awakening that overflows with action, suspense, romance, pursuit, and the ever-present persistent quest for survival. The Lambs of War is a no-holds-barred insight into what misogyny, racism, cruelty, sexism, and the lack of basic human decency and kindness can easily foster. It is, without doubt, a rip-roaring good story that, despite its flaws, should not be missed. Nor its message dismissed.

2:01 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:

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 fourth 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,