June's Literary Blog
 

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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Versions of Us
What if? We all ask this question at various nexus points in our lives. What if I do this? Instead of that? What will happen? What won’t? Sometimes our decisions are huge; life-altering. Sometimes they are trivial, soon forgotten. Large or small, all our choices have consequences.

When Eva Edelstein and Jim Taylor first meet in The Versions of Us, Laura Barnett’s debut novel, it is seemingly just a coincidence. In October 1958, they are both students at Cambridge. A rusty nail punctures her bicycle tire. Walking by, he offers to help; then offers to buy her a drink. She could say, “No,” and continue on to class. She could accept and spend the rest of the afternoon, perhaps her life, with him. “What if?” she asks herself. “What if?”

Reading this finely crafted, exquisitely worded novel, first published in the United Kingdom in 2015 – and just released in the USA today – is like watching a bevy of white swans swimming in the smooth waters of a crystal clear lake. The movement is effortless, fluid; barely rippling the surface. Yet the lake is wide and deep, like life itself; harboring challenges, great secrets; offering loving insights, often bittersweet commentaries about who we are and how the choices we make define us.

This talented author takes a uniquely refreshing approach to the choices her main protagonists make. She writes three futures for them; three different versions of their lives. In one in which Eva and Jim come together, marry, have children. In the second,they go their separate ways. In the third, they each marry someone else, then by chance meet again and decide they were meant to be together. Each version, a choice. A what if? Within each, multiple layers of meaning, different sets of decisions. Each with consequences, good and bad. Pleasure, delight. Sadness, ruing. Sometimes betrayal, misunderstandings. Triumphs. The daily detritus of life. All in the name of love.

At first, I found The Versions of Us a confusing read, not quite able to distinguish between the three different paths of Eva’s and Jim’s lives that sequentially alternate in three parts. I started what turned out to be an amazingly beautiful novel, um, three times, before creating a cheat sheet to help differentiate between them. Requiring my full attention in two sittings, it took a bit of work, but was well worth the effort. I quickly learned the pattern of their three lives in which, while indeed different, Eva and Jim are the constants; basically they stay the same as they weave in and out of each other’s lives. In many respects, they are fictionalized versions of us all.

Barnett has talents far beyond those of a “mere” debut author. Her vast experience working as a journalist and theatre critic in London serves her well as she brings a wealth of knowledge to her first literary endeavor. Her writing is compassionate, rich with subtle metaphors and compact, intertwining themes that delight, illuminate, and entertain. The Versions of Us is, by far, a cut above many debut novels of this reading season; a fine example of contemporary literature at its best.

3:01 pm edt          Comments

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Forty Watt Flowers
In its overnight journey from Philadelphia to Atlanta, the Silver Crescent pauses on a long siding just outside Athens, GA to allow two freight trains to rumble pass by on the main line. I think it quaint that a southern community named itself after a major city in Greece and while a passenger many times on the train myself, I wondered what life would be like in what seemed to be, at least from my roomette’s window, a sleepy, dusky town.

Little did I know Athens was – and still is – not only the home of the University of Georgia, but a hubbub of rock n’ roll, blues, jazz, and all alternative music in-between. It is the birthplace of such famed groups as R.E.M and the B-52’s. But not much has been written about the electrifying culture and broiling atmosphere until two years ago when C. M. Subasic, a talented Canadian playwright, wrote the definitive novel about starting a band and making it big on the music scene. The Forty Watt Flowers is a refreshingly frank exposé of Athen’s musical sub-culture, delving into the complexities of what it takes for a band to make it big.

A transplant from the north, young Trisha is relatively new in the community. Struggling with deep hurt, guilt, and misunderstanding, she searches for importance in her life beset by family and boyfriend issues. In her quest to create “something meaningful,” she decides to start an altrock band, bringing together four other young women; each one a unique individual with her own set of divergent issues, quirks, talents, and problems: a black Canadian bass player; a hard-nosed Latino drummer; a spoiled, selfish “southern belle”; and a shy, withdrawn, wealthy recluse who breaks out of her shell to become their lead singer. Together they form the Forty Watt Flowers in the hopes of lighting up the music world with their talents.

The band becomes a mini-cosmos of creativity mixed with complex relationships that threaten to tear it apart.-Trisha is their leader who, mired in her own insecurities, is the most mature of its members. As the well-constructed plot progresses from the band’s first rehearsal in a beer-soaked seedy garage to their dreamed-of gig at the prestigious 40 Watt Club, she becomes their leader, mentor, band-promoter, and problem solver.

This is a well-tuned debut novel from a very talented, seasoned writer. A noted editor and publishing consultant in her own right, Subasic couples her easy-read writing style with a vast knowledge of music, empathetically probing in-depth the finer points of inter-personal relationships. Writing with a light touch and often a jaundiced tongue-in-cheek, she uniquely twists common phrases into fresh, new usages. Her style, not quite hip-hop jivey, is pert and to the point. Through her characters, she often waxes eloquent philosophies, and slams home poignant observations like a musician playing finely-tuned instruments. There are only two flaws in this otherwise exceptional story: some of the lyrics are hard-to-grasp and somewhat arcane, and some of the songs lack basic structure.

However, taken as a whole, The Forty Watt Flowers is, in totality, a literary song unto itself and well worth reading.

2:07 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Switcheroo
Aaron Elkins and his wife, Charlotte, and I first became acquaintances and occasional correspondents about three years ago when I received an advanced copy of A Cruise to Die For, the second in their Alix London mystery series. Previously not normally a devotee of suspense – I really have to be in the mood to read one – I instantly became a fan. Not so much of the genre, but of the writers…and their writing; collectively and separately. For, you see, besides his literary collaboration with Charlotte, Aaron is the three-time award-winning author of the eighteen-volume Gideon Oliver Mystery Series whose most amazing, true-too-life eponymous title character is his literary alter-ego.

Like the fictitious Gideon, Aaron in real life is a professor and practitioner of forensic anthropology**. He brings his vast expertise and actual experiences to his literary endeavors, constantly imparting his knowledge of not only anthropology but other more esoteric subjects through enlightening and scintillating descriptions and dialogue that moves the gripping plot along at a reasonably fast pace to what is nearly always a tantalizing surprise ending. The all-too engrossing Switcheroo (A Gideon Oliver Mystery), the latest of Elkins’ talented-washed repertoire of engrossing forensic mystery adventures, is no exception. And what an adventure this novel is – not so much a swash-buckler, but, true to form, an riveting intellectual mind-bend, one of the more delightful hallmarks of a Elkins literary jaunt.

In June of 1940, when Nazi Germany was about to occupy the Channel Island of Jersey (part of the United Kingdom just off the coast of France), Howard Carlisle, the scion of a wealthy family, “trades” Roddy, his frail two-year-old son, for two-year-old George Skinner, whose family is about to evacuate to England. The trade is made, legal and binding. The children are subsequently reunited with their real birth parents when the Skinners return after World War II. Pretty straightforward…until twenty or so years later, Roddy disappears and George’s body is found shot near his home, apparently murdered. Enter Gideon Oliver fifty years later who, at the behest of Howard’s great grandson, is asked to examine Roddy’s bone fragments that have been unearthed from the island’s tar pits to determine the cause of death…

What Oliver discovers by studying the bones and what is revealed to him by the set of circumstances surrounding them could easily be a fairly benign conceit. But in Elkins’ capable hands and creative imagination, tinged with his refreshing tongue-in-cheek delight in telling a good tale, this plot line premise takes on a mind of its own. Riddled with unique unexpected twists and turns, deftly hinted at with subtle clues well-placed in character comments and observations, this is the stuff which separates a great mystery – à la Erle Stanley Gardner and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – from second-rate schlock suspense. Elkins, as always, is at his (and the) best here, raising the forensic mystery genre to the highest pinnacle of elegant entertainment and erudition. (Actually, Aaron was the founder of this specific literary niche in the 1980s with the publication of Fellowship of Fear, the first in his Gideon Oliver series!)

Reminiscent of the BBC/PBS TV mini-series Island at War and the delightful The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Switcheroo is definitely this spring season’s must-read page-turner.

Make no bones about it.

**https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forensic_anthropology

4:56 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Of My Own Hand’s Weaving
Two things: As most of you know, I am not a regular devotee of romantic fiction. Actually, I tend to avoid it. And, if you recall, I had promised that this blog moving forward, would no longer be devoted debut authors but to more established, tried-and-true authors. You know, the “classics”. Well, today I am going to refute both statements. After all, I am only human with my own little quirks and foibles. Much like the characters in Of My Own Hand's Weaving, a deliciously quirky new addition to the chick lit genre by Mary Boscoletta.

See, last week, I was invited to join the #supportindiewriters group on Facebook because, well, I am one. And so I responded with a firm “Yes!” and then mentioned that not only do I write and self-publish, but I also host a Literary Blog and offered, thinking I’d only get a few nibbles, to review a few of members’ works. But, hah! My inbox is beginning to fill up with gifted eBooks and electronic manuscripts. So….What’s a poor writer/reviewer to do but pitch in to help my fellow independents?

Boscoletta, to say the least, has talent. While her debut novel is “typical” of the formulaic girl meets boy/boy gets girl, her characters are atypical. They are all too human, touched with the kind of descriptive realistic details that instantly capture a reader’s interest and imagination. Consider twenty-eight year old Jean, the main protagonist, who, living in a friend’s London attic, finds herself deeply embroiled in the conundrums of friendship, family, familial memories, betrayal, loyalty, and, of course, romance – emotionally, passionately, physically, and otherwise. Her distinctly nearly profound insights garnered as she steps boldly into the throes of love with Colombo “Col” Borgia, a very sexy Sicilian hairdresser, are captured by the author in a most refreshing, face-paced style. And her supporting cast is as equally weighty and deep: Gretchen with her down-to-earth post WWII Germanic lustiness; Frank’s loveable, cuddly weakness and culinary talents; Stefan and Peta who struggle with the death of wife and mother. Even long-dead Aunt Mary rings true. Jean is in the thick of them all, tooling around in a semi-battered Triumph convertible; trying to find her own way, to make sense of it all. No chick lit superficialities here.

The title, gleaned from a poem by John Keats, alludes to the self-woven silk threads that bind us all to others, they to us, and us to ourselves. A theme that the author quite capably carries through. There are reflective moments in
Of My Own Hand's Weaving when each of the characters twist and tie and then unravel as they, seen through the author’s eyes and caressed by her own capable hands, weave the stuff of life that another bard once said, “dreams are made of”. Yet, while on the fast track to capturing her own true love, Gina (as Col calls her) is captured by more than just his dashing allure. It is his dark side and the curse of nightmares that entwine and entrap the not quite intrepid heroine. As this uniquely imaginative novel quickly twists and wends it way to a satisfyingly surprise denouement, the question is asked: Will she or will she not be blessed with the great love that promises living happy ever after?

Riddling her writing with Sicilian words, customs, and Italian phraseology that add depth and realism to her story, Boscoletta has woven her writing charms into a story that captivated me in the depths of its passion for life and for love. And just might have persuaded me after I enjoyed idling away a rainy afternoon with this one, to pick up yet another of its kind. Romance, anyone?

5:27 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

After Alice
My friend Alice is 153 years old. Not a bad age for someone who, “all on a golden afternoon,” fell down an Oxford rabbit hole in 1862 and spent the most bizarre day chasing a talking hare, taking tea with a mad hatter, cavorting with thorny roses, and staving off the murderous intentions of a crazed Red Queen. With the first publication of her adventures in 1865, still retaining ten years of age, she has been shaking up literary and entertainment worlds every since.

I am speaking, of course, of Alice Liddell, the eponymous young girl to whom Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, alias Lewis Carroll, first began relating the stories of what would become the famous and much loved, and often over-played, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. I write “over-played” because there have been literally hundreds of re-writes, parodies, tellings, and re-tellings in an untold myriad of formats that mostly, while often delightful fun fare for children, only scratch the surface of her timeless tales.

None of the rehashes adequately go behind – beneath, if you will – the true, um, more mature nature of Carroll’s stories. Most overlook the meaning of cunning metaphors, allegories, “in” jokes, puns, parodies, and commentaries on adult life in Victorian England. They have all, sadly, “missed the point”, failing to eat the right side of the mushroom, as it were, to “get it just right”.

But then, now along comes After Alice – just released today! –by Gregory Maguire, our own time-honored, modern-day storyteller, who, years ago, gave us Wicked, his iconic first novel about OZ. Once again, Macguire takes his “worpal” pen in hand and masterfully explores the depths of yet another classic tale. And, with precise wit and an easy-reading lilting writing style, finally gives Lewis Carroll and his narratives their intellectual due.

Told from the perspectives of Ada, briefly mentioned in Alice in Wonderland, and Lydia, Alice’s older sister, After Alice explores and exposes the mores and cultural nuances of Oxford in the mid-1860s – just as true and meaningful today as the were 150 years ago. Capitalizing on Carroll’s initial intentions and his own astute follow-up research, Macguire, as always, cleverly intertwines multi-faceted themes into a multi-layered plot line whose twists and turns rival that of Alice’s proverbial underground pathways.

Pursued by Mrs. Armstrong Headstrong, Ada has her own adventures as she chases through Wonderland after Alice. Throughout the escapades, there are running commentaries, including a back story of slavery; a treatise on Oxford culture; expositions on Biblical stories [Ada’s father is an Anglican vicar]; a host of literary allusions; specifics of Darwinism [we meet “the Great one himself]; overtones of adulthood versus childishness; and, of course, the usual puns, allegories, plays on words, and nonsensical, sensible jokes. It is obvious that this cunningly ingeniously inventive author had, with a glint in his eye, loads of fun writing what will quickly become the definitive best selling adult sequel to Carroll’s children’s tales.

When Alice first tumbled down the hole into adult foibles and obvious obliviousness, she lost not only a sense of herself but the sense and meaning of time. Which is precisely what happens when I wander into a Macguire book [I’ve read them all at least twice!]; always captivated in and by his writing. After Alice is no exception. In its entertaining as well as enlightening pages “Time slips all of its handcuffs.” And, as it did, I enjoyed yet another eternally enjoyable romp through the wonder lands of Gregory Macguire’s unique talents and vivid imagination.

Happy Birthday, Alice! After Alice is the perfect way to celebrate your anniversary. As the Mad Hatter says, “Now that’s my cup of tea!”

2:52 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:

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 first novel.

June's books be purchased at amazon.com or through Barnes and Noble.

For more information about her musicals, which are also available on amazon.com,