Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Happy Autumnal Equinox

To celebrate my favorite season, A Groovy Kind of Love e-books are on sale for 99¢ today, 9/23.

Click on the links below to grab your copy.

Remember, if you don't have a Kindle or Nook, you can read Groovy on your phone, iPad, or computer.

Each of the Bibliophile books are stand-alone novels, so feel free to jump right in with A Groovy Kind of Love.

"A Groovy Kind of Love was JUST what I needed…hippies, unrequited love, crazy/high families,  mysterious exes from the past, foreign travel, tragedy. Really, what more could a reader ask for? This book is The Odd Couple meets Beauty and the Beast with a touch of Nicholas Sparks tragedy thrown in for good measure."                  
                                                                       — The Republican Herald book blog 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Catnip for Classic Lit Lovers

Mrs. Poe
By Lynn Cullen
Gallery Books, 2014
314 pages
Five stars

The triumphant success of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” compels fledgling poet Frances Osgood to meet her literary idol, a mysterious, complicated man who soon has her under his seductive spell in an all-consuming affair. And when Edgar’s frail young wife breaks into their idyll to befriend her rival, Frances fears that deceiving Mrs. Poe may be as impossible as cheating death itself. . . .

In her novel, Mrs. Poe, author Lynn Cullen describes Edgar Allan Poe as “catnip” to female members of the New York literati circa 1845. I’m happy to say her historical fiction novel had the same effect on me.

Long have I been a fan of Poe and his macabre tales and reading Cullen’s book sent me straight to my copy of The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, not to revisit “The Tell-Tale Heart” or “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” but instead in search of his love poems to Frances Sargent Osgood. Their flirtations on paper and in public caused quite a scandal back in the day. And they intrigued Cullen enough to write Mrs. Poe.

Edgar Allan Poe’s writing career was very up and down, a sad fact that unfortunately can be said about his life as well. Tragedy seemed to haunt Poe at every stage. Born to actor parents in Boston, MA, he was abandoned by his father and orphaned at age two when his mother died. John and Frances Allan took him in as a foster child but never formally adopted him. Poe stayed with the Allans until attending the University of Virginia. A notoriously cheap man, John Allan sent Poe to university with only enough money to pay for tuition, nothing for living expenses. Poe gambled what meager pittance he could scrape up in hopes of doubling his money, but instead lost it all and eventually dropped out of college.

Poe and John Allan had a difficult relationship, but they reconciled briefly when Allan purchased him a commission at West Point, which was, of course, a terrible fit for young Edgar, who had been writing since his pre-teen years.

Lost and destitute, Poe got himself court martialed so he could leave West Point and went back to Richmond, Virginia, to live with his mother’s relatives, where he was robbed by one cousin before being taken in by his mother’s sister, Mary Clemm, who had a daughter, Virginia. Finally with comfortable shelter, Poe began writing and sold various pieces here and there. He married his cousin Virginia when she was 13. He was 26. Maybe it was a marriage borne out of loneliness? Or perhaps Poe wanted to provide for his aunt and cousin? Many Poe scholars believe he very much cared for his young wife, but it has been speculated the marriage was never consummated.

Professionally, Poe made a name for himself as a literary critic, and a harsh one at that. Known as “The Tomahawk Man,” his words and struck down many of his contemporaries, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was only Frances Sargent Osgood whom he praised.

Frances Osgood
Edgar Allan Poe

And that’s where Cullen’s story begins.

Frances’ husband, the painter Samuel Stillman Osgood, had abandoned his wife and two girls in pursuit of a wealthy socialite who had once sat for a portrait, very typical behavior for Samuel, so it seemed. Frances and her daughters were taken in by the publisher John Russell Bartlett and his wife, Eliza, after being kicked out of the luxurious Astor House hotel unable to pay the large bill Samuel ran up before he left. Already a fairly established writer, Frances sets out to further build her career at a time when no woman but Margaret Fuller had yet to support herself with her writing, save perhaps, Louisa May Alcott who shows up later in the book.

At the same time, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” has just been published, and he is the literary toast of the town. Everyone is clamoring to meet the original mind behind the stories, particularly Frances who has been told by her editor to write something more like Poe, something to scare women readers.

They meet at one of the many “conversaziones” held at the home of Anne Lynch, monthly literary salons whose attendees included many of the New York literary circle, including Margaret Fuller and Poe nemesis Rufus Griswold.

I don’t want to say more and risk spoiling the book for you. Suffice to say, it is a tale worthy of Poe himself. Cullen recreated New York in the mid-1800s with great attention to detail. I looked forward to every one of Lynch’s conversaziones, eager to see who would show up next. Herman Melville? Samuel Morse? Walt Whitman? James Audubon? Matthew Brady? This was a well-written, thoroughly researched piece, my friends. And the love triangle was thrilling!

Fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable, Mrs. Poe was definitely a bibliophile’s delight.

Next Up:

Reading Mrs. Poe sent me in search of the real events in the lives of Edgar Allan Poe and Frances Osgood. I’ll discuss the formidable Mr. Poe.

Monday, September 14, 2015

From 'Meh' to Wonderful

One unfortunate side of writing for me is not being able to read a lot. I can’t be completely involved in someone else’s story while creating my own. However, since I wasn’t writing this summer, I had the chance to read some great books and one okay one. I’m still slogging through that damned nonfiction piece about Louisa May Alcott and her mother, but I have a hard time reading some nonfiction for fun. Of course I want to learn things, but they can be such a drudgery sometimes. Maybe that’s why I prefer historical fiction.

I’ll start with the “meh” and work up to the wonderful.

The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett had everything I thought I would love — old tomes, a sweet love story, and intrigue — yet somehow I found myself skipping sections wanting to just get on with it already. A portrait that eerily resembles antique bookseller Peter Byerly’s recently deceased wife sends him on a quest in which he stumbles upon quite possibly the Holy Grail of books, unequivocal evidence that William Shakespeare did indeed write all of his plays. Unfortunately, even for a bibliophile such as myself, this novel contained too much drawn-out description of book repair and jumped from present to past so much it disturbed the narrative flow. The story itself seemed to fit too easily, to come out too tidy for my tastes.

Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle transported me back to 1930s England courtesy of its charming seventeen-year-old narrator, Cassandra Mortmain, to watch her family deal with genteel poverty in an old castle where she and her sister live in the shadow of their once-famous author father and his second wife, the free-spirited Topaz. When two brothers inherit the estate next door, the story starts resembling a Jane Austen novel (in a good way). Truly a delight, this coming-of-age story was the perfect vacation read.

Then there was The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh, a tale of two sisters coming to terms with their mother’s apparent suicide. If the author’s name seems familiar to my writer friends, Therese is the co-founder of Writer Unboxed. Beautiful writing and expert character development drove The Moon Sisters, elevating it from a good novel to a great one. This is magical realism at its finest as the sisters embark on a journey to lay their mother’s spirit to rest.

Next week:
A full review of my favorite book I read this summer. Hint: It involves Edgar Allan Poe, but he didn’t write it.

How about you? What books have you read lately and what did you think of them?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

What I Did on my Summer Vacation By Karen Wojcik Berner

When I was young, we started the school year on the Tuesday after Labor Day, so I thought it fitting to return to blogging today. Sans pigtails, of course.

My break was dominated by my youngest son’s sports schedule, lots of shuffling him to and from practices (football and lacrosse), like many of you. We traveled to Pennsylvania and New Jersey for lacrosse tournaments. Pennsylvania was fantastic. We stayed less than a mile from Valley Forge. Held on the grounds of a prep school founded in 1799, this tournament had the most gorgeous lacrosse fields I’ve ever seen, truly East Coast lacrosse at its finest, and we Midwesterners were just happy to play with the big boys. We flew out of Philadelphia, so we got to tour Independence Hall and saw the Liberty Bell as well, which were pretty amazing. Oh, yeah, and Philly cheesesteaks are fantastic.

New Jersey? Suffice to say, the first day of the tournament, while our team finished up its last game, someone stole our tent. Way to go, Jersey. Not even being near Princeton could redeem it.

The two lacrosse trips weren’t our only travel, though. The four of us headed to Harpswell, Maine, for a glorious week in a beach house right on the ocean. It even had a lobster house restaurant right next door!

The delicious Estes Lobster House, Harpswell, ME. Photo courtesy of

Harpswell is about an hour north of Portland and only thirty minutes from Brunswick, a wonderful little town and home to the beautiful Bowdoin College.

Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME. Photo by Karen Berner.

Our days were filled with fun in the sun, the marvelous Atlantic Ocean, and great food, as any good vacation should be. We had a lot of laughs, and it was so wonderful to share a full week together before my eldest went back to college. Although England will always be my happy place, I believe Maine comes in a close second.

The iconic Portland Head Light, Portland, ME. Photo by Karen Berner.

The Atlantic Ocean. Photo by Karen Berner.
As with all seasons, the good is usually tempered with the bad. My seventy-five-year-old father gave us quite a scare that resulted in several weeks in the hospital. Life as he knew it has changed permanently, which is not easy for any of us to deal with, as he struggles to live independently for as long as possible.

The nights are getting longer. In a couple of weeks, autumnal equinox will herald cooler days and crisp nights. I’ll be in the football stands for Friday Night Lights every week, watching my youngest take the field as a starting Right Guard.

This fall, I’m returning to my journalistic roots and working on a few personal essays and articles, which I’m very excited about. I’ve also felt a few flashes of fiction. A line of dialog here, a description there. There could very well be a short story coming on.

How about you? How was your summer? What are you looking forward to this fall?

Next week:
Thoughts on My Summer Reads