Authors Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson have teamed up to introduce a whole new generation of readers to the wit and wisdom of Agatha Christie. Their book, The Agathas, unmistakably pays homage to the Grand Dame of Mystery. Each chapter begins with a Christie quote. In it, young Agatha Christie enthusiasts and their friends find themselves using Ms. Christie’s methods to help solve a real murder in their town. It has a lot to say, too, about preconceptions, friendships, cliques, and the power of social media. With good writing, fresh dialogue, and a complex mystery, it succeeds! Trigger warnings: This is a murder mystery. It’s not terribly grisly, though. There are also major subplots that involve domestic violence and emotional abuse. (I could have done without the ending recap, but it wasn’t enough to spoil the reading experience.) Since this is the first in a series, there’s much to anticipate from this dynamic duo of sisterly mysteries!
The Covid19 pandemic changed perspectives for the population of the world, and Gordon B. White takes on the masked world in his novella, Rookfield. When Cabot’s ex-wife and young son flee the city for the relative safety of the small town of Rookfield, Cabot follows. The small town takes masking seriously, with their young donning bird-beaked plague masks. Cabot plans to collect his son and his ex-wife and rescue them from what he’s certain is some nefarious wrong. The story is tense, atmospheric, and unique. In about 96 pages, Gordon B. White fleshes out a quirky town and its inhabitants while making a subtle statement about parenting and social responsibility.
In the historic fiction novel West of Sunset, Stewart O’Nan writes of the last few years of the Jazz Age’s favorite son, F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1937, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life needed work. He had debt, including money owed for his wife Zelda’s stay in an asylum for her mental health. His fame had waned. His health suffered from years of unbridled living. His personal life remained turbulent. His relationship with his wife and daughter continued to weigh upon his mind. He watched his friends succeed and had to rely on acquaintances to plead his case to secure work while he continued to pen his latest novel.
F. Scott had famous friends, and many of them make appearances on these pages. His is a tragic life. He famously said (or may not have?), “There are no second acts in American lives.” Certainly, Mr. Fitzgerald’s work would bely something contrary. Whereas his Great Gatsby was not as well received as his earlier writing, these days, Gatsby defines the age.
Stephanie Parent proves her love of fairy tales and verse with her magical poetry collection, Every Poem a Potion, Every Song a Spell. She cleverly uses the imagery of classic fairy tales, some well known like Little Red Riding Hood, others more obscure, to craft compelling poetry of loss and longing, frustration and fear, but also of hope.
Fairytales, Stephanie Parent explains, tell us we have a forest within us, where the wild things prowl to the beat of our wild hearts.
“…to wait is a sort of witchcraft.”
Some of the poetry is obviously personal, while others touch the pulse of universal femininity. In one poem she felt “…cursed to make beauty with your words when you wanted so much to be beautiful in your body…” In her Red Riding Hood adaptation, she explores the idea of a victim “asking for it,” (implying molestation, assault, and/or rape, but any unwelcomed attention) by clothing choices and chosen paths.
Here’s a question she raises: “Can I still be a heroine when I’ve been stupid and selfish, ugly and foolish, the witch and the princess, the light and the dark?” Through these stories, she lives to tell how she found the heroine within herself.
This collection calls to lovers of the fairytale and of beautiful language.
With Resurrecting Allegheny City, Lisa A. Miles wrote a wonderful, scholarly work of nonfiction. The book of historic urban studies comes complete with B&W maps and images. Many people don’t know that Pittsburgh’s North Side was once its own city. The author, a resident of the North Side, researched the last 100 or so years, focusing on the people and places that formed the foundation of a diverse section of the Steel City.
Camilla Sten’s The Resting Place was translated into Americanized English by Alexandra Fleming, and the collaboration on this paranormal thriller worked wonderfully. In this tale, a young woman with prosopagnosia (an inability to distinguish people’s faces) witnessed her grandmother’s murder, but because of her disability, she’s unable to identify the murderer. She inherits a Swedish estate and makes surprising discoveries there when she and her fiance go to check the place out. The narrative is told in atmospheric flashbacks and present day, and several of the characters use a couple of different names. This snowbound mystery almost had Agatha Christie vibes in its slow but steady pacing and plot point reveals.
Louisa Morgan wrote a lovely book titled The Age of Witches. It begins in Salem, Mass, 1692, when Brigit Bishop was hanged for witchcraft. She had two daughters who survived her, women who, like their mother, had special abilities. The tale focuses on three Bishop descendants who live near the turn of the last century. In New York, a businessman’s daughter is more interested in breeding horses than in entering the marriage market. For the time, both of these facts are almost as shocking as her unwillingness to ride side saddle. She, her great aunt, and her stepmother are all Bishop women. The action moves to England long enough to catch the attention of a nobleman, where a love story and witchery develop. It’s an interesting, albeit quiet, story with nods to Victoriana.
Charli Mills challenged everyone to use “remote” to create a 99 word story by the 6th.
Mine is below.
Bereft on a Beach
told in 99 words by Kerry E.B. Black
I walk along a lonely shore. Without even the screeches of gulls for company, I count a half-hearted breeze my only companion. Overcast skies meld into the steely sea, and the sense of the monochromatic drips with tears – mine and the clouds’ – to inhospitable gray sand. Waves slap and hiss, strikes from inner turmoil manifested.
I step over the transparent blob of a beached jellyfish. Within its carcass pulses malignancy. Dull driftwood ornaments the shattered black shells crunching underfoot. Values of darkness manifest along the shore, speckled reflections of my own failure.
I squint, searching for an understanding soul.
Margaret Atwood in her 2020 poetry collection Dearly offered a “parade of photos that prove that (she) was her and that (she) was (herself.)” In her work, she assumed the role of the “Tin Woodswoman left in the rain,” not unhappy about what was lacking within because “hearts hurt.” Her poems speak of sexuality and aging, violence against women, and self protection. She’s of course a master storyteller, so it was interesting to delve into this facet of her writing. Some of the works were profound, while others played with words and emotions. There’s even a poem about zombies! My favorite poem in this wonderful collection, though, portrayed a touching moment with her elderly, memory-challenged mother. Yes, hearts hurt, indeed. Astute observation, Ms. Atwood!