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Allusionary Assembly

The Writing of Kerry E.B. Black

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short stories and poetry

Book Review: For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing

For Your Own Good is more than the title of Samantha Downing’s summer, 2021 release. It’s also the philosophy of one of the book’s main characters, Belmont Academy’s newest teacher of the year, Teddy Crutcher. His single-mindedness precludes the interference of others’ invasive thoughts on his methods, some of which return to demand accountability. 

Infused with oddball, dark humor, this book’s told from multiple perspectives, but beyond that, it reminded me of The Talented Mr. Ripley. Fans of the Netflix series “You” would most likely enjoy this book, though I understand it is to be adapted in its own right by HBO soon.

Book Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

A small group of college students study ancient Greek with an eccentric professor. These people are quirky at best, including the gent from whose P.O.V. the story discloses. They question conventional morality and explore ancient rituals. 

In truth, I didn’t like most of the characters in Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. They all reeked of narcissism and looked down on everyone, even each other, and yet they presented as actualized and rounded. A good deal of the strength of the novel stems from the character explorations.

There’s a murder mentioned right at the beginning,and the book explores what lead to the demise of the character. Tensions build. Psyches fray and break. Set in an elite school in the frozen New England, the over 570 pages of this book contain many lyrical descriptions and insights. It reads as more literature than thriller, with many intelligent references and a presupposition by the author that her readers will either know what she’s describing or will be intellectually inquisitive and look into the matters with which they were previously unacquainted.

Book Review: Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Take magical teens and throw them into a potentially deadly school with no really noticeable adult involvement. Isolate them from most contact with their families and keep them there until they are skilled enough and connected enough to, by theory, face the constant onslaught of dark forces attempting to kill them. They attend the school because to remain in the outside would leave them even more vulnerable to attack by the monsters (which considering not a chapter seems to go by without at least one attack, that must be saying something – although one does suppose the adult in the kids’ lives in their magical enclaves and communities should be able to do something to keep their young safe.)

Add to these terrified youngsters a glowing hero named Orion. The entire student body woos fellow student Orion who dispatches the evil intentioned creatures with seeming ease. 

Well, everyone except our first person lead POV character. Orion keeps “saving” her, though she’d really rather he didn’t. She has plenty of power on her own and doesn’t need Orion strutting in and making messes for her to clean up. Especially if she’s to form any alliances of her own, despite a terrible (and foretold) potential she may yet grow into.

In A Deadly Education, Naomi Novik created a truly intriguing and misunderstood lead character, an interesting setting, and a new approach to magic. It is told through the (most likely) tainted perspective of a prickly, mostly antisocial loner, though El (short for Galadriel – yes, she’s named for the Tolkien character) does make strides toward a more civil outlook during her character arc. The book built a world ripe for exploration by the terrified-but-talented students (most of whom the author will doubtless explore in greater detail in the next installments), and although I saw the end’s twist coming, it provided a great building block for the sequel. Because, yes, this apparently is the first in a series.

Book Review: The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

Greek mythology, dark academia at Cambridge, and mysterious murders keep the thrills coming in Alex Michaelides’ The Maidens. Told from two alternating perspectives, the novel’s plot involves a grieving widow, her collegiate ward, and a tremendous amount of coincidence, serendipity, contrivance – or perhaps the goddesses Demeter and Persephone guided the action. The main character, Mariana, leads group therapy sessions for a living, yet she ignores her own mental health and jumps to a great number of ill conceived, even childish and fool-hardy  actions throughout the story which calls into question her reliability as a narrator. Between these short chapters, an unidentified second voice, a decidedly male and ill-intentioned character, gives chilling insights into the actions in the story.

The ending. I’ll be honest. I didn’t care for it, and considering the profession of the individual in question, I find it a bit difficult to believe. True, we’re all flawed people, but with the years of study involved, I would expect more compassion and insight. 

Overall, though, The Maidens offers an interesting diversion with some beautiful bits of writing. In particular, I found an early description of grief breathtaking.

Carrot Ranch 99 November Words

Charli and the great gang at https://carrotranch.com “Carry On” their 99 word challenges with some poignant responses. Below is mine. I’m sure it will illustrate my present frustration. As ever, please let me know if you give the challenge a try so I can pop by and read what you’ve created.

Work and Play

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

The cheeky cursor blinked on the screen. The hopeful writer glanced at the time. 1:37AM. She sighed.

She squinted through the laptop’s glare without adding any words. She caressed the keys, hoping to somehow funnel inspiration from the depicted alphabet. 

Unsuccessful. 

She reread earlier chapters, referred to her painstakingly created outline, and suppressed another gaping yawn. She recalled Kubrick’s lead in “The Shining.” This evening, no work and no play made her novel a “dull boy.”

Her vision swam. “Fine! I’ll try again tomorrow.” She closed the laptop. “But I’m adding today’s missed words to tomorrow’s required count.” 

Audiobook Review: Ring Shout, or Hunting Ku Kluxes in the End Times written by P. Djeli Clark, narrated by Channie Waites

Some of the truest horrors are those perpetrated by people. In fact, many read horror as a way of dealing with the many terrible and evil things in this world. 

Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark is not subtle in its characterization of evil. In this historical supernatural fiction novella, D.W. Griffith is a sorcerer who used the film “Birth of a Nation” as a spell that harnessed all of the prejudice and hate in America to create genuine monsters. Many members of the KKK transform into these Lovecraftian-like things, and to make matters worse, there’s about to be another public viewing of the film in Georgia which might just release Hell on earth.

Luckily, Maryse is an excellent warrior who fights these evils using magic swords and the help of a couple of talented good friends. 

The title itself refers to a religious singing and dance circle, clapping and chanting. There were many things I learned from Ring Shout, in truth. My favorite line comes from one of the monster hunters who explained why they didn’t just outright kill the clan members before they turned into beasts, and that was because while we’re alive, we all have a chance to “get it right.”


This little book has a lot to say, and it says it with humor. There’s a lot of heart included as well, so be ready for the pulls on the heart strings. I acquired this audiobook from my excellent library, and I thoroughly enjoyed Channie Waites’ entertaining narration of P. Djeli Clark’s Ring Shout. The book won a ‘21 Nebula Award, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find it’s won many other awards as well.

https://www.amazon.com/Ring-Shout/dp/B08KYG5D2G/ref=tmm_aud_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1634794665&sr=8-1

Book Review: Guest, A Changeling Tale written by Mary Downing Hahn

Mary Downing Hahn wrote another triumphantly spooky Middle Grade book with Guest, a Changeling Tale, her retelling of the Tam Lin story. Mollie is a big sister to an insufferably adorable baby brother, Thomas. The local wise woman even gave him a beautiful silver plated locket to keep him safe from the “Kinde Folk,” and everyone who cared to protect the lad told untruths aloud to keep the sidhe from carrying the bonnie boy away. While minding her brother, Mollie decided to try on the locket, and she mentioned aloud how everyone thought her brother adorable. Before you could admire the pure Irish air, Thomas is swapped for a changeling, which is a sickly fairy child. Mollie’s whole life turns upside down. The replacement Thomas squalls and is always hungry for Mam’s milk. Dadoe takes off when the wise woman suggested treating the changeling kindly. It’s up to Mollie to brave the wild, dark forest and the tricky fair folk to rescue her true brother. 

The main character experiences lovely character growth. She befriends a traveller along the way and learns much more about the ancient ones during her time in their lands. Many times along the way, though, my kiddos shook their heads and asked, “When will she learn?” They enjoyed the tale tremendously, and it is my favorite of Ms. Hahn’s books that I’ve read thus far.

Book Review: The Cure written by Matt Drabble

Award-winning author Matt Drabble puts a different spin on an old legend with his monstrous novel (almost 500 pages) The Cure. The story features a likable lead facing her own mortality and an interesting cast, and the plot provides some grisly scenes and much food for thought. Police inspector Alison Raines hasn’t much time left. She’s built a career, but with her health failing, she decides to close out some of the cold cases that bother her. However, something strange is afoot, beginning with a drunk and disorderly. As her oncology medicines make her question what she’s experiencing, she and her partner and the medical examiner find themselves with more questions than the modern mind could answer. Written from multiple viewpoints, The Cure ends with a conclusion that leaves the potential for a sequel.

Book Review: Cold Spell by Jeff C. Carter

Jeff C. Carter’s Cold Spell steps into a New England Halloween with a group of friends who pour themselves into the holiday, even when a Nor’Easter dumps a blizzard – and a malicious witch – on their plans. These adaptable young men face dead beings resurrected as Snowlems (Golems made of snow), Frost vampires, a headless horseman made of snow, and more while they battle to keep the witch from opening a gateway between the worlds of the living and that of the dead.

This is a thoughtfully put together book. The book shows friendships and parental relationships in a good light. The scares are fun and the stakes are high, which make for an investing experience. Between chapters, small pen and ink drawings grace the pages. At the end, readers can refer to an appendix of the colorful vocabulary created by the boys, and in classic D&D style, the monsters they faces are given rankings, stats, and the like. I read this with my kids, and they enjoyed it. My eleven-year-old, especially, found the book invigorating and fun.

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