June's Literary Blog
 

A LITERARY BLOG ABOUT BOOKS
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Monday, September 5, 2016

Lady Cop Makes Trouble
“When I grow up,” my inner child is saying, “I want to be a writer…just like Amy Stewart. I want my latest character in novel number four to be as strong, as courageous, as smart, and witty as Constance Kopp, new Jersey’s first lady deputy sheriff, in Stewart’s second historical novel, Lady Cop Makes Trouble (A Kopp Sisters Novel). One can only hope.

The second in her Kopp Sisters series set in the early 1900s in Bergen County, New Jersey (the first was Girl Waits with Gun, reviewed on this blog on Sunday, July 12, 2015) this quite readable and most enjoyable book is a veritable tour de force. Stewart, who gave us many wondrous non-fiction natural science exposés – including my favorite, The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks – has once again provided us with a literary rendition of the life of…well, a lady cop. (That’s right, folks. Our intrepid heroine was actually dubbed Cop Constance Kopp! And she’s back!) And if truth is, as they say, better than fiction…Well, then Deputy Sheriff Kopp – as other critics have noted – is the American answer to Jaqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs. Only Amy Stewart’s, I have to say, is a tad better. The character of Constance doesn’t seem fictionally squeezed out of one’s imagination into a word processor, but was obviously written with a natural fluidity as if she had been lifted from the pages of history onto the pages of a literary mystery. Which she was. Actually, so far, into two of them, with yet another one on the horizon.

“Books,” a reading buddy said to me over lunch one lazy summer afternoon, “must, to me, be amusing as well as entertaining. Most important, they must elucidate – be enlightening.” In Lady Cop Makes Trouble, the author certainly meets all these criteria.  Deputy Kopp’s first-person insights into and about the lives of female inmates and the fugitive convicted criminals she searches for (based upon the actual cases Constance Kopp worked on during her tenure as a Deputy Sheriff) are well crafted illuminations. Observations of Sheriff Heath’s as well as her own family are both humorous and poignant. And the little touches of early 20th Century Americana and the painstaking detailed fictionalizations of real-life incidents interspersed throughout the plot line elevate this novel to a most satisfactory read.

While a master at bringing the not-so-dull, often drab tales of science to life, Stewart has, indeed, also mastered the art of storytelling. Definitely put Constance and her adventures on your Autumn to-read list. Her many adventures will keep the cockles of your heart warm and intrigued as the (very-much welcomed) cooler weather begins to set in.

Enjoy the read!

4:29 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Ashes of Fiery Weather 

I cannot believe I have posted a book review since June. Not by my own choosing, mind you. it's been not only a long, hotter than hot summer, which has really done me in. Not to mention that the past two or so months have been fraught with a few personal trials and tribulations. The least of which included having to replace my trusty ol' laptop. But with my new Dell and the promise of cooler weather in the next few weeks, I am, I hope, back on track.

The title of today's novel -- as well as its content -- is quite apropos of not only this on-going spate of heat and humidity but also the new exhibit opening Friday at the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area: "Smoke, Fire, and Bravery: A History of Phoenixville's Fire Companies". Both the well-written novel and the fabulous display have brought back many memories from back in the day...

My father’s oldest brother was once a Captain in the Dobbs Ferry Fire Department. I don’t know or quite remember which station (there are three in the now expanding village, I think), but I do recall him riding on a hook and ladder in Memorial Day parades, clad in full dress uniform decorated with the many medals he had earned. My Da, not one much for heroes, called him “a brave soul, putting out fires, saving lives…” Uncle Dougie succumbed, or so the urban family legend goes, in the line of duty, very much the courageous captain his younger brother so admired. 

I couldn’t help but recall his memory when I read an advanced copy of Ashes of Fiery Weather by Kathleen Donohoe. It is a seminal tribute to the 343 members of the Fire Department of New York City who lost their lives in the line of duty during the 9/11 tragedy; the fifteenth anniversary of which is next week. This debut novel’s publication by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt couldn’t have been more timely. Nor more poignant.

Set in Brooklyn, Ashes of Fiery Weather tells not the stories of firemen, but of seven women, all members of the Irish clan of O’Reilly who, as the title aptly suggests, “weathers” the various tragedies of fires their men – husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, cousins – as members of the FDNY are called to fight. It spans a blazing history of the family in Brooklyn from 1918 through September 2012, each account told from the perspective of a woman, including a wife unexpectedly now a widow; a mother silently grieving for her losses; a sister determined to follow in her brother’s footsteps; a daughter coming to gripes with adulthood; a unexpected cousin, newly discovered. Each story is told in a rich, flowing writing style that uses simple words and phrases to convey complex emotions and situations; probing into the abyss of all aspects of familiar relationships.

To say Donohoe is a genius of a writer is an understatement. Her literary talent, reminiscent of Flannery O’Conner, Eudora Welty, and William J. Kennedy – with a subtle dash of Keatsian poetic nuance – polishes each plotline facet into a sparkling diamond of wisdom, wit, and heart-wrenching circumstances. Her characters are so real, one could almost hear their Irish Brooklyn brogues ringing in the ears. This author stunningly and compassionately renders each woman’s story in excellent juxtaposition of intertwining families as they bravely face alongside their men the most terrifying experiences of their (and our) lives. It is, to say the least, one of the better, most finely crafted, most satisfying novels of the year. 

Ashes of Fiery Weather is a must read that will fire up the deepest imaginations of reality, leaving you burning for more. 

1:56 pm edt          Comments

Monday, June 20, 2016

Celebrating (My) History
This week, I am not only celebrating one less than a major milestone birthday (which is next year), but also my fortieth (40th) year living here in Phoenixville. I am celebrating rather subduedly, wondering how the hell the years breezed by so quickly since as a young and eager twenty-nine (You do the math!), I travelled cross-country from the Mid-west for our country's Bicentennial Celebration.

A Girl Scout program director at the time, I conceived the idea of a commemorative train trek from Louisville through Chicago and then on to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. The 50 or so girls who participated switched trains twice en route, slept in basements of local churches, attended most of the celebrations, and learned a lot of American history as they toured Independence Mall, Elfreth’s Alley, Valley Forge, and three museums.

After five days, they left. And I, having fallen in love with the charm and history of Phoenixville and the surrounding area…I stayed. Forty years later, I have lived here longer than my birthplace of Dobbs Ferry, NY. And, as most of you know, I am so enamored, I am now writing about it. My “Novels of Phoenixville…” series (The Prisoner’s Portrait and, just recently, the Schuylkill Monster) is steeped in this burgeoning borough’s rich history and feature fictional stories based upon real facts and incidents. Number three (Columbia Hotel) is in the works.

Anyway, in my rambling research travels, I came across a most talented, witty, down-to-earth, hold-no-bars writer who now makes it her life’s work delving into the little known, salient facts of our nation’s history. I want you to meet Sarah Vowell who, hailing from Montana and now based in New York City, tells it like it is, er, was from a most unique perspective: her own, sometimes biased, but totally historically accurate point of view.

Vowell was once a contributing editor for Public Radio International’s This American Life, and has written seven non-fiction books on American history and culture. Her conversational writing style is fluid and vivid, putting herself smack dab in the middle of each event she recounts. She is both wise and irreverent, poignantly funny, and couples little know facts with uniquely brilliant observations. In ways so creative, they give one pause and beg to suspend belief.  In short, her books are fun and interesting to read. And more than just informative. They are also entertaining.

I just finished her latest, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, about the dashing young Frenchman who eagerly romps alongside General George Washington through the American Revolution. Vowell recaps the more salient battles and strategies of the Colonialists – aided by French troops and naval forces (as well as Louis XVI’s many francs) – as they fend off the occupying British forces. I once considered this part of our history dull. Its dates and names just more annoying facts to learn in school. But under Vowell’s carefully constructed and wonderfully exhuberant tutelage, they came alive. Needless to say, I learned a lot about our forefathers, as well as our beloved Marquis de Lafayette after whom so many American places are named.

I enjoyed Lafayette… so much so that between writing my own hopefully engaging chapters, I am now reading Vowell’s Assassination Vacation and The Wordy Shipmates, intending to zip through the rest of her entertainingly educational – and inspirational – oeuvres during the coming summer months.

Now, that’s the way to relive, relearn, enjoy, and write about history!

Note: If you enjoy reading this Literary Blog and my comments on how books affect and sometimes alter our lives, it would be greatly appreciated if you could please support my efforts. I’d like to continue providing you with the best of what today’s literary world has to offer, but I can do so only if you click the text and/or the image links to navigate to amazon.com to purchase the books I recommend. Every one of your clicks and resulting transactions generates a few shekels that helps me keep “June’s Literary Blog” up and running. Thank you!

 

1:36 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

If You Left
We all have our mood swings. Some more pronounced than others; some less. What is known as “being on an even keel”. Balanced. Most of my friends are that way. One or two are not. On the rare occasions when they – or I – do go off the deep end, it is a bit disturbing. But then the storm clouds quickly blow over and everything is fine again. That is only human nature. The normal Ying and Yan of life. At least for most of us.

Not so for Althea Willow, the 38-year-old main protagonist of If You Left, a disturbing novel by Ashley Prentice Norton. Her moods wildly pendulum back and forth between extreme poles of depression and elation. What she calls, respectively, the Tombs and the Visions. She is, in fact, bi-polar. As long as she stays on her meds, she’s fine. Most of the time. Except when she forgets.

Her husband, Oliver, a bit of a prick, is a most attentive caretaker. Most of the time. But he does treat Althea like a child, often worsening her condition. Ten-year-old Clem, their daughter, is far ahead of her years. She dotes on her father and barely tolerates her mother who is afraid of her own daughter. Enter Claire, a designer, whom Althea vehemently dislikes. Then comes Maze, a young housepainter, over whom Althea sexually obsesses. Put all these distinctly different characters together and you should have a really interesting read with a dynamic storyline. Note that the operative word here is “should”.

Like Althea’s wildly changing moods, I have divergently mixed feelings about this author’s third literary effort. While she is a thoughtful, compellingly commanding writer, with an engaging simple style that is often tinged with little humorous snippets, she leans a bit to far to the left of good taste. While raw, gutsy, and edgy, this is not a “feel good” book. It is saturated with dark, dysfunctional characters and is overly laced with explicit sexual passages that are more suited to an X-rated Harlequin or even a Playboy offering than one from the more prestigious and respectable publishing house of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

In short, I had a really difficult time reading this novel; perusing it in spurts and constantly putting it down. Actually, I had to force myself to finish it. My rational, besides being asked to review it, was that if an author took the time to write down words in some semblance of order, then I have an obligation, when requested, to read it. Like when a movie is over, staying to watch the credits of all the talented people who worked on the film.

Yes, Norton is talented. And, as one critic noted, “she is fearless”. I agree it took courage to delve into the nuances of someone suffering with bi-polar syndrome; at best an often misunderstood condition. Yes, she did provide thoughtful insights, but couching them in the overtones of immoral sexual proclivities which Althea sadly uses to attempt to solve her problems, is a great injustice to the author’s otherwise creative literary capabilities.

If You Left really wasn’t my reading thing. However, if you are interested in spending a long afternoon and evening living in the inner mind of a deeply troubled, misguided woman, then, by all means, this uniquely disquieting, disconcerting novel will definitely fit your bill.

Note: If you enjoy reading this Literary Blog and my comments on how books affect and sometimes alter our lives, it would be greatly appreciated if you could please support my efforts. I’d like to continue providing you with the best of what today’s literary world has to offer, but I can do so only if you click the text and/or the image links to navigate to amazon.com to purchase the books I recommend. Every one of your clicks and resulting transactions generates a few shekels that helps me keep “June’s Literary Blog” up and running. Thank you!

4:11 pm edt          Comments

Monday, June 6, 2016

the Schuylkill Monster
As most of you know, I am not one to brag. But today, I just have to. You see, over the weekend I published novel #3! I had a blast writing it and couldn't wait to share it with you.

the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978 (the second in my "Novel of Phoenixville..." sereies) is a work of Documentary Fiction (a new genre I created) a tongue-in-cheek historical novel based upon an actual newspaper article that appeared in The Evening Phoenix.

Whether the story is actually true about a Loch Ness-type creature swimming in the waters of the famed Schuylkill River....Well, I've made up my mind. Now it's time for you to make up yours. And have a bit of fun doing it.

the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978 is currently available in Kindle format at the bargain price of $5.99. (Well worth the schekels, I've been told.) The paperback addition will be available in just a few days (I'll let you all know).

Two of my advanced readers say that it's an "exceptionally fun read" and "really, really good".

So, if you're looking for yet another perfect-for-the-summer novel to add to your list, this is the one! May you have as much fun reading it as I've had writing it!

Thank you!

3:43 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:

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,