June's Literary Blog
 

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Death on West End Road
I have lately become a huge fan of mysteries. Especially those that are less macabre and more light-hearted. Like the Aunt Dimity series by Nancy Atherton or Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective stories. The latest in my collection of what I’ll term “feminist mystery/romantic fiction” writers is Carrie Doyle. And, as it turns out, it’s yet, again, set in the Hamptons! I am on a roll, here, folks…

Carrie Doyle is a talented author who has combined many of her interests – mystery and crime novels, cooking, and general nosiness – into her creation of the Hamptons Murder Mystery series starting Antonia Bingham, a foodie innkeeper and reluctant detective. Death on West End Road (Hamptons Murder Mysteries Book 3) , the third of this fast-paced series was published just yesterday by Dunemere Books. The first two, Death on Lily Pond Land and Death on Windmill Way, were released back-to-back last year.

While each mystery of the series can be enjoyed as a stand-alone read, I made it a point to devour the first two before tackling the third. This way, I could trace Antonia’s story and that of Doyle’s other intriguing characters to fully appreciate the intricacies of main and sub- plots for each succeeding novel. I am glad I did because characters in the first book appear, disappear, and reappear in the second and third – more developed and complex as they weave in and out of Antonia’s life. Much like people in real life weaving in and out of one’s own spheres of reference.

I adore Antonia, by the way. She is a delightful combination of Melissa McCarthys' chief chef character in Gilmore Girls, Agatha Christies’ Miss Maple (although forty years younger), and Columbo (remember him?)  She is a tough, tenacious, intense, slightly overweight 36-year-old with a warm heart and a healthy sense of what is right and wrong. And her adventures in solving crimes – especially murder – are filled with wit and wonder. Which proves that Doyle, herself, is a great writer whose plot lines, as well as her characters – which and who are seemingly predictable – are chock full of twists and turns and surprise endings.

Just to give you a few teasers. In book one, Antonia solves the mystery of the murder of young documentary film maker. We meet her, the supporting staff of her inn and restaurant on Windmill Way, and her annoyingly persistent cohort in crime, the local journalist Larry Lipper (an apt name for his royal rudeness); Joseph, a much older history writer, enters the picture; as well as Genevieve, Antonia’s best, but often ditzy, best friend. We also meet a nearly improbable love-interest, Nick Darrow, who is a famous Hollywood actor. In number two, the case is cracked of the deaths of previous owners of Antonia’s inn. She thinks she is next. But is she? We meet again Gen, Nick, and Joseph… and Pauline Farmingham who is the primary suspect in the murder of her best friend on her family’s tennis court. In book three, Antonia is hired by Pauline to find the real murderer, only to be thwarted every step of the way by her erstwhile employer. Finding out why – and how – is the crux of a “never-saw-that-coming” denouement that had me racing to get to the last page.

In addition, Antonia has a complex backstory of her own, the details of which add multifaceted intricacies to her already multi-layered character. This, when read into, explains why she is who she is and why she does what she does.

This, folks, is mystery/romance fiction at its captivating best – right up there with Aunt Dimity! – all couched in the resplendent – as well as mouth-watering – diverse and interesting culture of the Hamptons. These reads are so almost real, you’d think you were actually in the Hamptons sitting in Antonia’s restaurant or walking the sandy, sun-lit beaches... without ever having to pack and leave the comfort of you own home.

In my humble opinion, Carrie Doyle’s most enjoyable whodunnits should be added to every adult’s summer reading list.

Enjoy the read(s)!

2:52 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

It Happens in the Hamptons
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, my father was the chauffeur for Anna Gould, later to become the Duchess of Talleyrand. For the better part of each summer, our family stayed in Saratoga Springs where Miss Anna was a member of the elite higher echelons and we became members of the lower local, working strata. We were cognizant of the major class differences and knew enough never to cross the rigid boundaries.

However, this is exactly what Katie Doyle – the main protagonist of It Happens in the Hamptons: A Novel by Holly Peterson – did when she and her young son, Huck, moved from a lake-side community in Oregon to the East Coast community of Southampton. By virtue of her quasi-boyfriend and her own gutsy initiative, she befriended not only the local “townies” but members of the top one percent tier who drive up from New York City to the Hamptons for the weekend, as well as endearing herself into the middle-class landed-gentry, whose sea-faring and whaling forebears originally founded the quaint communities dotting the Long Island shores.

Katie and George Porter were instantly attracted to one another during a Portland educational conference, spending the rest of the sessions in a hotel room rather than in the lecture halls. Overwhelmed by his insistence, and distracted by the sudden demise of her mother, Katie agrees to spend the summer in a small cottage in Southampton, with the promise that she and George would eventually move into a more solid, lasting relationship. When she meets Luke Forrester, a local marine biology teacher and part owner of the Tide Runners water skills camp, Katie finds herself floundering in deep waters as she begins to doubt her feelings for George. What transpires between Memorial Day weekend and the last fading days of September is grist for the millwork of Peterson’s third venture into the world of fiction.

Peterson’s author page on amazon.com calls this novel “social satire fiction”, but it is easily just a step or two higher in its real genre: romantic, suspenseful chick-lit. As such, it does have an interesting plot line with, of course, the requisite sex scenes written with just the right touch of explicitness – not too graphic, but steamy enough to keep turning the pages. The characters are believable; most of the time realistic as they swim in and around the tidewaters of Katie’s and Huck’s lives. Although a few of the author’s attempts to caricaturize members of Hampton society – locals and one-percenters alike – did seem a bit forced; a bit too “put on”, too “over the top”. However, with the realization that It Happens in the Hamptons is supposed to be, in fact, a satire, more than several of the more humorous passages and descriptions rang chuckle-out-loud true.

I have to admit, though, that it did take me a while to catch on to the sometimes awkward and stylistically stilted manner of writing. The first fifty or so pages did have a few grammatically jarring juxtapositions, but as I warmed up Peterson’s plot lines and characters, her story of Katie’s experiences –  mingling up and down social strati while juggling emotions between two lovers – finally flowed nicely into a satisfying, nearly surprising denouement. Who and what George finally turns out to be, the revelation of Luke Forrester’s secret, and the resolution(s) of Katie’s turmoiled emotions are, in this case, exemplar hallmarks of a rather good satirical commentary on moder- day cultural mores.

Even if it is couched in a suspenseful chick-lit romance.  

Enjoy the read!

1:18 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Night She Won Miss America
Halfway through reading The Night She Won Miss America by Michael Callahan, assuming it was purely a work of fiction, I realized that the well-written – with just a few outlandish, perhaps impossible moments – could, in fact, be plausibly feasible. Could the young winner of the 1950s pageant really abdicate her crown? Did she? Really? But, more importantly… Why?

In the early days of the Miss American Pageant, an escort was provided for each of the contestants. The young men were charged with “entertaining” the young ladies, accompanying them around Atlantic City, being their dance partners at pageant events…in short, the girls’ dates for the week of events and festivities. They were expected to be courteous, respectful, mannerly, and, most of all, above board (no hanky-panky). Okay. Now, picture this: Betty Jane Welch, a striking beauty from Delaware, is a reluctant contestant who falls instantly in love with her escort, Grifford McAllister, the strikingly handsome son of one of the contest coordinators. She decides she’d prefer him over the title…

The whys and hows of this seemingly heart rendering event, and the incidents and episodes that led up to it, is the crux of this easy-to-read yet powerfully stimulating novel. Callahan has taken the real story of Bette Cooper of Hackensack, New Jersey, who, in real life, in 1937, absconded with her escort after winning the crown, and returned after 24 hours to her duties only to relinquished the title to runner-up Marilyn Meseke of Ohio. Set in Atlantic City thirteen years later, this talented writer embellished her circumstances, added very real-to-life characters, and factitiously sensationalized the facts, turning his third novel into a quasi-thriller, complete with cliff-hanging chapter endings and subtle clues that compel one to read on (and on) to solve the enigmatic puzzle. The ending, while not so surprising nor unique, is more than just satisfying. Especially since – SPOILER ALERT – the novel starts with a near fatal accident…

I started my advanced reader copy of The Night She Won Miss America  last winter, on a particularly cold, dank Sunday morning, swathed in blankets, huddling on the couch. I thought I’d read a chapter or two, then take the hound for a walk, fix dinner, and then watch Masterpiece Theatre. I had planned to finish the novel by the end of the following week. Well, five hours later (with only a brief break for my canine companion), I finished Callahan’s tour-de-force, savoring every page, almost wishing it would never end. It’s that good!

No stranger to glitz and glamour, Michael Callahan is a Philadelphia-based author (practically a neighbor) who has covered several Miss America beauty pageants. The author of two previous novels, A Swing for a Lifetime and Searching for Grace Kelly, he is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, and has written for, among other magazines, Elle as well as for The New York Times. The perfect credentials for writing the story of Miss Cooper a.k.a. the novel’s reluctant entrant Betty Jane Welch who will captivate your heart, stir you soul, and guide you behind and beyond the scenes of one of American’s most dazzling and sensational national traditions.

To paraphrase the iconic song: “Here it is, dear America… Here it is – your ideal… summer book!”

Enjoy the read!

1:22 pm edt          Comments

Friday, April 7, 2017

Belgravia

It’s been – what? – a year and a half since the last episode of Season 6 first aired on PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre… and I still suffer from the occasional twinges of Downton Abbey withdrawal. They have lessened in intensity over time, but a week or so ago, sharp pangs suddenly struck in the fiction section of our local library when I stumbled upon Belgravia by Julian Fellowes.

Fellowes is, of course, the multi-faceted, multi-talented famed creator and writer of Downton Abbey. I’ve been a great fan of his ever since seeing him in the PBS series Monarch of the Glen and watching his seminal movie, Gosford Park (2002). With scenes of his last television classic bouncing around in my head, I instantly longed to immerse myself into yet another of his works.

Belgravia, in the tradition of Charles Dickens, was first serialized two years ago. Each of the eleven monthly episodes was published via an online application (wwwjulianfellowesbelgravia.com) to be purchased, downloaded, savored, and digested until the next episode was available. As intriguing as this might be, I must admit that I am a binge-reader (as well as a binge-watcher). I like my books to be whole, complete; their plots available in their entirety, not parceled out over time. I am a firm believer in instant gratification when it comes to reading a good novel – which Belgravia is. Besides, the aggregate price for the individual episodes was more than the average price of a whole book.

So, I decided to wait until Fellowes’ latest literary venture was published in hardcopy. And there it was, finally, sitting on a shelf, just waiting for me to bring it home (for free!) and cosset myself between its pages.

Seeped in Nineteen Century England history, mores, and culture, Belgravia is the story of the intertwining of two families: Lord Peregrine and Lady Caroline Brockenhurst and James and Anne Trenchard. While the Brockenhursts are landed gentry – peers of the realm, as it were – the Trenchards are basically tradespeople; although James has ambitions of working his way up and into the higher echelons of royal society. As the story unfolds, he is nearly successful. Except for one glitche…

The story begins on June 5, 1815, in Brussels. The Duchess of Richmond is hosting an elaborate ball – the “ball of the century” – attended by the most elite of British and Belgian society, as well as English army officers. Lord and Lady Brockenhurst and Edmund, their handsome only son – a member of the 52th Light infantry – have, of course, been invited. As well as, by virtue of James being the victualler to the British army, the Trenchards along with Sophia, their lively and lovely 18-year old daughter. And while the guests dine and dance in opulence, Napoleon troops are marching up toward them from France. For, you see, it is the eve of the Battle of Waterloo and in the midst of the gala the troops are called to arms…

Fast forward to 1841. We are in London and James Trenchard has made a fortune partnering in the construction of large houses on Belgrave Square – Belgravia – where the Brockenhursts now reside. We learn that Edmund died in the Battle of Waterloo, leaving the inheritance of his parents’ estates and wealth to his indigent Uncle Stephen and John, his ne-er-do-well philandering son. We also learn that Sophia Trenchard has also died less than a year after the battle. Oliver, her now-adult younger brother, is dissatisfied with his lot in life, wanting nothing more than to be a country gentleman, rather than a businessman. Susan, his wife, is factious, greedy, and conniving. Or is she?

The stage is set. How and why the lives of these two variant families and their members become entwined and enmeshed together form the intricacies and intrigues of Belgravia’s plot and twisting – often surprising – underpinning sub-plots. Even the servants – as in Downton Abbey – are also embroiled in their story as it masterfully unfolds. And, of course, like anything else Fellowes and everything written about the Victorian Era, I was mesmerized by this wonderfully written page-turner. Romance, scandal mystery, intrigue, history, secrets, and passion are all rolled up into one in this masterfully created psychological thriller. This is Julian Fellowes at his best.

It goes without saying that the author is a fastidious writer. He leaves nothing to chance nor, at times, to the imagination. As he did with Downton Abbey and Gosford Park, he drew heavily upon his own experiences growing up in English society (Lord Brockernhurst is named after his father, Peregrine). Aiding him in this endeavor of non-parallel research was a historical consultant, none other than Lindy Woodhead, who coproduced the PBS series Mr. Selfridge, based upon her biography of the noted Ninetieth Century London department store owner. Thus, his detailed descriptions of daily life and culture during the Victoria Age are not only scenic and well-articulated, but correct in every aspect. It is as if the reader is transported to the places and times and becomes vicariously an integral part of the events and moments as they unfold. I know I was. I fell in love – sometimes hate – with each of the characters who are finally turned and molded into real-life personalities and circumstances. And, at times, so lost was I in their lies, that I found myself talking out loud to and about them…

So, for those of you out there who, like me, are still suffering from intermittent yearnings for the return of Downtown AbbeyBelgravia is the perfect literary panacea.

Enjoy the read!

4:42 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Kindness Grows: Real Stories about Random Acts of Kindness

Remember the movie Pay it Forward? It was nearly a blockbuster in 2000 starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment… about a little boy that, given the chance by a teacher, attempts to make the world a better place. How? By doing an act of kindness and then asking the recipient to “pay it forward to the next person s/he meets”. I loved the movie and, of course, cried at the sad, but hopeful ending.

Kindness Grows: Real Stories About Random Acts of Kindness by a local (Phoenixville) author, Barb Walters, employs and a very similar philosophy. Barb, who collected most of the stories and put them on paper, wrote a very poignantly heartwarming introduction in which she says: When you put kindness out into the universe, you will help someone. They will pass it on, and help someone in return. Kindness will keep growing and growing… Like her – and like the young boy in the movie – I firmly believe this. I have seen it happen in my own life, and in the lives of others. What goes around, truly, indeed, does comes around.

The anecdotes in Barb’s slender volume are diverse, ranging from a young couple on a road trip stopping to help an elderly woman to a young child who learns the lesson of kindness when his father stops to fix a stranded driver’s car. Each is headed by a concise, meaningful title and ends with a poignant quote. It is quite evident in the exacting details that this fledgling, but talented author took great care in the creation of her work. And… chatting with people and asking about their experiences, positive, random acts in their lives, then putting them into a book for everyone to read is, in itself, an act of kindness.

I found a copy of this little treasure at the Ideas Bookstore in Kimberton, PA – a snug little place crammed with a diversity of books. Novels, children’s books, philosophy, history… every genre of fiction and non-fiction that you could imagine. I, of course, instantly felt at home. [If you’re in the area, do stop in. Here’s the website: ideasbookstorekimberton.com.]

With Kindness Grows  in hand, I immediately wanted to help myself to a mug of hot tea and settle on one of  comfortable chairs in one of Idea’s cozy nooks to read it straight through. But this is not a book to inhale from cover to cover. Rather, it is one that should be kept by your bedside or in your backpack, purse, or satchel and whose pages are to be savored one at a time. A story a day to not only enjoy, but to inspire the promulgation of kindness…

I bet that if everyone took a few minutes out of each day to read one of Barb’s poignantly cheerful stories and then did just one act of kindness – like the butterfly effect – it will make the world a better place.

Pay it forward, folks, and enjoy the read!

1:17 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,