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Saturday, April 6, 2019

Lost Roses

In high school we were taught the Russian Bolsheviks were the good guys; the Romanovs, bad. Black and White; um, Red and White. Tsarist oppression of the masses; financial hardships incurred during World War I; outlandish royal indulgences and suppression leading up to the 1917 Revolution. But what about the brutal mass assassinations of the Russian Royal family and the tragic cruelties, deprivations, and wonton murders needlessly foisted upon the Russian aristocracy?

In Lost Roses, Martha Hall Kelly’s second historical novel to be released this Tuesday, one group of White Russians, suffering horrors at the hands of the Bolsheviks during the Great War, make it to the United States with the help of Eliza Ferriday. You will recall her daughter is Caroline Ferriday, the historical heroine of Lilac Girls who aided women refugees incarcerated and experimented on in Ravesbrünck during WWII. In the prequel to Lilac Girls, Eliza precedes her daughter’s instinct for humanitarianism with her own intrepidly heroically unselfish acts of mercy. As these traits run in the family, so they sparkle the pages of Kelly’s remarkably stunning second literary offering.

Kelly apparently “fell in love” with Eliza while researching Caroline’s life. According to her Author’s Notes, it was “natural” to want to write a second story about the fascinating Ferriday family. And fascinating this second read is, written with great compassion and wisdom. From descriptions and well-form characters developed through first-hand observation – Kelly travelled extensively throughout Russia and France during the research and writing of Lost Roses – we are swept back to 1914 when war in Europe has been threatened so many times that New Yorkers are quite blasé about it… Eliza, as a matter of fact, dismisses the imminent possibility of global conflict and cavalierly travels to St. Petersburg with Sofya Streshnayva, a Romanov cousin, whom she met in Paris several years before...

The trip is relatively unremarkable until Austria suddenly declares war on Serbia after the assassination of their crown prince. As the Russian Imperial dynasty starts to crumble, Eliza is forced to escape back to America while Sofya and her family flee to their country estate. When the lives of Sofya and her family are imperiled by their treacherous maid, Varinka, Eliza does her best to help them… Until Sofya’s letters stop coming…

Kelly is not only a master of historical factual nuances, she is also a masterful writer. Her words and phrases pop off the pages like brilliant fireflies on a hot summer’s evening. She is crisp and bold in her descriptions and even more definitive and demanding when designing her characters. As the author notes, all three major protagonists – Sofya, Eliza, and Vrinka – as well as the minor players, are based upon real-life people whose lives are augmented by Kelly’s compelling literary fictionalizations.

Lost Roses is a moving, fast-paced, insightful novel, laced with the wisdom of a newly-seasoned author. In an era of proliferated lies and suppressed realities, Kelly’s work powerfully rings true, dispels the myths that all Russian aristocracy were heartless, and bedecks those that underwent untold terrors with the fears and foibles of common (wo)men. And through telling the true story of one woman’s compassion for all (wo)mankind, Kelly reminds us that we are all deserving of love, understanding, compassion, and oftentimes, unselfishly-given assistance… regardless of who we are and whom others perceive us to be.

Enjoy the read!

3:36 pm edt          Comments

Monday, March 18, 2019

Don’t Wake Up

There are psychological thrillers and then there are psychological thrillers. Now, all fiction of this genre is meant to creep you out by placing the protagonists – typically a female – in particularly unusual circumstances caused by either external and/or internal, er, shall we say, forces. A well-crafted thriller probes into the depths of the character’s mind, psyche, and personality as she tries to extricate and save herself as well as her sanity. But, there are differences. Some are written for the sake of sensationalism; others to edify as well as “entertain” the reader; still others to provide a commentary on social morés and inequities as well as to point out human flaws and failings. A rare few combine all three.

Don't Wake Up by Liz Lawler, released in paperback in early February by Harper Collins, I think, has combined and met this triptych criteria. The author’s debut into the literary fiction scene is sensationally creepy and eerily entertaining while examining the prejudices faced when a woman with a credible reputation suddenly becomes a distrusted victim. A pariah in her own life.

In the opening paragraphs Alex Taylor, 29, a brilliant, highly respected doctor in a Bath hospital, awakes to find herself compromised on an operating table: naked under the green sheets, her legs up, her feet in stirrups. She at first, thinks she is being treated for serious injuries sustained in an accident. But the face of a man hidden by a surgical mask looms over her, threatening to do unspeakable things… She succumbs to anesthesia while resisting the inevitable…

This all occurred in the first few paragraphs. And it was, as first, enough for me, with my classic case of whitecoat syndrome, to put the book aside and look for something tamer to read and review. But there was something about Lawler’s writing – and background – that compelled me to read on. And on. And on, well into the wee hours of the next morning…

Alex, when she subsequently wakes up on an emergency room gurney, claims rape. But there is no evidence. No one, not the attending physicians, nurses, nor Patrick, her boyfriend, believes her. Not even the police officers who also doubt her bizarre story. Laura Best, a female detective hell-bent-for-leather for a promotion, sets out to prove Alex is a pathological liar. Alex begins to doubt herself. She is almost convinced she is losing her mind until there is another victim and a series of murders... Murders which Laura is convinced Alex committed… No one comes to the supposedly victim’s aid except for Maggie Feldman, to whom Alex turns for solace…

This is probably one of the most graphically detailed novels that I’ve read in a while. The author, a seasoned former nurse, leaves nothing to the imagination as she carefully and methodically wends through a complex and convoluted series of plot-lines to prove/disprove her protagonist’s innocence/guilt. Lawler’s writing is not for the faint of heart nor the more sensitive of soul. However, the resolution of Alex’s dilemma comes in a totally unexpected surprise (and surprisingly well written) denouement. The clues were there throughout the narrative (I had to scan the novel again to find them), but the author cleverly concealed them, offering the subtlest of allusions in a most deviously duplicitous ending to a novel that truly exemplifies the genre of psychological thrillers.

Enjoy the read!

4:00 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna

She’s at it again. Still as sassy and sexy as ever, the sixty-something Auntie Poldi (Isolde) is hot on the trail of yet another murderer in sunny Sicily. Told in the first and third person by her Italian nephew (she is a German transplant from Munich, having married an Italian), Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna (An Auntie Poldi Adventure), Mario Giordano’s second novel about Poldi’s sleuthing antics, is just as raucously delightful as the first. Well, just as delightful as a murder mystery can be.

You see, a dear friend’s dog, Lady, is found poisoned in her garden. And then, for no apparent reason, the water supply to her neighborhood of La Baronessa is cut off. Poldi, of course, is livid, surmising that both actions are that of a “certain local organized group”. But why? And for what? Invoking her own brand of hubris, she assumes that the answers will not be found without her persistent assistance. Or, as Chief Inspector Vito Montana says, her interference. Poldi and Montana, by the way, are (still) romantically entangled. Which, of course, complicated matters to no end.

And the plot thickens. Montana is trying to solve the murder of a criminal prosecutor; a vile crime that Poldi insists is tied to that of Madame Sahara, a local fortuneteller, whose body she just “happens” to stumble upon in a vineyard. Why Poldi is slinking around in the vineyard in the first place is another story altogether… But I refuse to say anything more lest I spoil the rest of the plotline for you. However: Searching the fortuneteller’s house with the assistance of her three sisters-in-law and Padre Padro, the local priest, she finds Madame Sahara’s diary and a curious slip of paper; both of which hold the key to couple, unlock, and solve the murders.

As I wrote last March when reviewing Giordano’s first novel, Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions, Auntie Poldi 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. But, ah, alas, blissful peace and tranquility are not hers to be had. The true-to-life character, by the way, is 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, of course, is exactly what the fictitious Auntie Poldi does.

In this second of the series, released this past Tuesday by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, nothing of Giordano’s witty, fast-paced writing style is lost in translation from Italian to English by John Brownjohn, who also translated the first Poldi mystery. With the exception of a few misused and one or two misspelled words and phrases, Giordano accomplished almost tongue-in-cheek style once again pokes through. Once again casting Auntie Poldi headlong into a sequence of dangerous events as she, on her own, attempts to solve not one, not, two, but three murders. And nearly getting herself whacked in the process…

I liked this second Auntie Poldi mystery just as much as I did the first. It is an entertaining light-to-medium-hearted romp through the vineyards that crowd on and around Mount Etna. (Apparently the ash-laden soil nourishes the best grapes.) But, like the first, I had one major compliant. Which I will, once again, repeat:

The italicized 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. So, rather than ruin an otherwise decent read, as I did with the first novel, I skipped the headings in the second.

That being said, I once again reveled in the fictional Auntie Poldi’s life and times. Especially following the complex plot-lines as she weaves her inebriated way through a maze of clues to solve the crimes. The intrigue, refreshingly set in modern-day Sicily, is sprinkled with touristy comments and descriptions, and a whole host of shady and not-so-shady characters who added spice to the mix. Actually, the whole of the conceit of Auntie Poldi, once again, had me joyously second-guessing Poldi’s next moves as she, once again, “gets her man”.

Enjoy the read!

2:45 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Clockmaker’s Daughter

From the publication of her first novel, The Lake House (2016), Kate Morton has consistently provided her readers with complex characters, clearly defined interlocking plot lines, and denouements that, while delving deeply into human relationships, neatly tie up loose ends, providing satisfying closure. However, unfortunately, with her latest novel, The Clockmaker's Daughter, she has, unfortunately, deviated from these high standards.

While this, Morton’s sixth literary endeavor, starts out as a captivating read, building up momentum with chapters alternating between the past and present, it starts to unravel three-quarters of the way through. In the last quarter, promising a sustaining ending, plot threads are tattered and left unresolved; characters are left dangling in the midst (mists) of their fictional lives. Except for redundant explanations of the final fate of Lily Millington, one of the main protagonists, the reader is left bereft of complete closure.

In the beginning, in September 2017. Elodie Winslow, an archivist for the nebulous London-based Stratton & Caldwell, Co, stumbles across a leather satchel owned by a mid-Nineteenth Century artist, Edward Radcliffe. She is drawn to the familiarity of his detailed sketch in his notebook of a two-gabled house in the Berkshires; a house she has envisaged hearing her mother, now deceased, tell her about. Elodie is distracted from her wedding plans, seeking to learn more about the house and the virtually unknown artist. A conceit that draws us into the crux of Morton’s novel as Elodie sets out to learn about Radcliffe’s life, his work, his friends, and his relationship with Lily – a daughter of a clockmaker – who speaks to us of her own life (“thrice born”) and love in interspacing chapters.

Morton, a native Australian now living in England, delightfully crafts an intriguingly rambling story. Intense in its complexities, ripe with deftly drawn true-to-life characters, sparkling with scenic descriptions and historical references and adorned with relationship nuances. It is, indeed, a veritable book nerd’s mouthwatering smorgasbord. However, it is this overmanaged manage of complexity, with its ambitious attempt to captivate, that is the author’s failure to live up to the reader’s expectations. Simply put: there are one too many characters and two too many plot lines to follow. And, unfortunately, because of this, Morton does not adequately and completely tie up all the loose ends that she has strung out.

I love a complex novel; especially those that Morton, proven by her earlier works, is more than capable of writing. I’ve avidly enjoyed each of her previous novels and, thus, was more than eager to settle in with The Clockmaker’s Daughter. And, yes, I was pleasantly overawed and consumed by it. Ready, as I was, to indulge in – to continue the metaphor – its promise of tasty delights. But, as I infer here, it finally, after all is said and done, left me – as well as several of her main characters – hanging. Wanting more. My appetite still craved answers. What ever happened to Elodie? And Jack? And Alistair, her fiancé? Was the Radcliffe Blue ever recovered? Or did I miss the bauble in trying to decipher the redundancy of the last seventy pages?

All in all, The Clockmaker’s Daughter, is good read. Not a great one; certainly not as finally tuned as it should be. But, still… a decent novel. So, if you’re in any way intrigued by ghosts, life in the 1800s, and already a fan of Kate Morton and her novels, then, by all means… it’s worth a shot and definitely the time spent for overindulgence.

Enjoy the read!

2:49 pm est          Comments

Friday, December 28, 2018

Fatal Odds

When my new, very knowledgeable financial advisor said she considered authors rock stars, I had to tell her that, no, I am not one. At least, it certainly doesn’t feel much like stardom, since I, along with other writers, spend long grueling hours of research and grinding writing often with little return on our investments of time and talents.

But I did tell her that while I am not a rock star, per se, John F. Dobbyn is. A law professor emeritus at Villanova University, John is, in my mind, the veritable Elvis Presley of mystery and legal thrillers. Just as I sometimes listen all day enraptured to Elvis, I have been known to be totally immersed in and engrossed by one of John’s Devlin and Knight thriller series.  

But it wasn’t until I met John during the taping of a television interview about my second novel, that I had the unexpected delightful chance to tell him so. During a commercial break, he gave a two-thumbs-up. Fairly swooning, I told him that I had just inhaled the internationally-acclaimed author’s third novel, Black Diamond, in which Knight and Devlin, while defending a jockey accused of murder, deal with the seamier side of horse racing and are forced to confront the Boston Irish Mafia and a terrorist faction of the Irish Republican Army. Like my financial advisor, I was, with just cause, awe-struck to actually meet its author.

Of course, I stayed to watch John’s subsequent taping in which he explained that the illegal trade of exotic wild animals was, is second in the United States in profitability only to illegal drug sales and third internationally with annual profits exceeding $20 billion. We chatted about this (I had no idea you could buy wild animals over the Internet) and his novel afterward, as well as the instinctual call to write that must  always be answered. But, unfortunately, while intrigued by the premise of the firth in his suspenseful series, I did not have the chance to read Fatal Odds until this past Christmas when John graced me with an inscribed hard copy. True to form, I consumed it in two days.  

Now Michael Knight, the much younger partner of Devlin and Knight, is half Puerto Rican and half Irish. A mottled lineage that somehow lands him in precariously dangerous situations as he attempts to clear the name of his clients. In Fatal Odds, it is his cousin Vincent who is accused of murdering his brother, Roberto, during a fixed horse race at Suffolk Downs. The race, after which Vincent disappears, had been fixed by Fat (really fat!) Tony Cannucci. Simple enough. It is Michael’s intent to find his cousin and clear him of the homicide. But, in doing so, he soon discovers that while Fat Tony would reap enormous betting profits, he has his pudgy fingers in a much more lucrative venture: the illegal smuggling and selling of exotic wild animals captured in the dense Amazon rain forest of Brazil.

Alternating sections and chapters between Boston, Brazil, and Puerto Rico, John weaves an amazingly tense and riveting tale of complex criminal machinations. Invoking real-life Puerto Rican gang rivalries (insectos versus Nyetas), as well as the Mafia, he entwines vast knowledge not only of thoroughbred racing but of the illegal wild animal trade, guiding the instantly absorbed reader into and around the sub-strata world of deceit, deception, and betrayal. And while enmeshing his main protagonist in the seemingly most unlikely situations, the author interjects, in a free-flowing, easy to read style, humor, wit, and, yes, romance.

Needless to say, while the Devlin and Knight series is, in several ways, more suited for male readers seeking hard-core, adventurous page-turners, I really relish John’s literary thrillers, especially this last one. John writes with a depth of knowledge, great acuity, and sensitivity that readily appeals to any adult audience – female as well as male – who seek to be elucidated and educated while also being entertained.

Enjoy the read!

4:25 pm est          Comments


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June J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is an author, poet, and librettist. Her currently 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:
Colonial Theatre: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Roarin' 20s 
Phoenix Hose, Hook & Ladder: A Novel of Phoenixville during World War I
Columbia 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 War II
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


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 sixth novel.

June's novels can be purchased at amazon.com, through Barnes and Noble,
at the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area,
the Gateway Pharmacy in Phoenixvile, PA

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