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Allusionary Assembly

The Writing of Kerry E.B. Black

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Book Review: “Then She Was Gone” by Lisa Jewell

“Then She Was Gone” by Lisa Jewell explores a parent’s worst nightmare. Ellie, a teen with “it all together,” disappears without an obvious trace. The police investigation turns cold, and Ellie’s family crumbles into utter dysfunction. Ten years later, Ellie’s mom, Laurel, tries to restart her life. When she meets the daughter of her new gentleman caller, Laurel is stunned. This precocious youngster is the spitting image of her missing and mourned Ellie.

Lisa Jewell develops her characters well enough for them to be people readers might know IRL. That’s not to say all of the people met in this book are likable. No, no,no! However, they’re all well-drawn and described. Laurel is a particularly rounded character. The setting puts readers on the streets, searching the haunts of the lost girl, living through her experiences and those of her grieving mother. The Point of View switches from past to present, but it is easy to follow, and for a longer book (about 350 pages), this page-turner grips and reads quickly,

Book Review: “The Guest List” by Lucy Foley

“The Guest List” by Lucy Foley takes readers to a bog-strewn, secluded Irish island for a posh and exclusive wedding – and a murder! Everyone, especially the Bride, the Best Man, a Plus One, a Bridesmaid, and even the Wedding Planner, has secrets. Each of these characters tells their perspective of the story throughout the book under quick-to-read chapters bearing their titles. As a mammoth storm brews, cutting off communication and access to the mainland, groomsmen play pranks, maids share secrets, and someone’s saved from drowning. The atmosphere provides chills, the characters drama, and the boutique whiskey fans the flames of this twisty-turning, medium-burning thriller.

“Lessons Learned”

written by Kerry E.B. Black

another 99 word story inspired by another great weekly prompt from https://carrotranch.com

Yes, you heard that right! Carrot Ranch is an online literary community headed by Charli Mills that offers a weekly prompt. Members can then accept the challenge to write a 99 word story based on that prompt It’s an interesting exercise in brevity and necessity.

Here’s mine. As always, I’d love to hear what you think of it.

Lessons Learned

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

Toddlerdom is difficult. Janice pulled a doll from her younger cousin’s grasp – not to cuddle it, but to keep it from her cousin’s cuddles. Her mother speaks in soothing admonishments until the doll finds its cousin cuddles restored.

Preschool is difficult. Janice hoards crayons and markers, exacting yowls of classmates’ outrage as payment. Her teacher instructs with patient practice until order again rules.

Janice weathered childhood and young adulthood, wearing the lessons on her heart. As an adult, she runs a homeless shelter with fairness and honor, pouring upon all her volunteers and residents equal portions of no-nonsense love.

Book Review: “Of Women and Salt” by Gabriela Garcia

In “Of Women and Salt,” Gabriela Garcia set out to illustrate the plight of women from several generations, one a cigar roller who endured a war in Cuba, one who emigrated, another who worries for her drug addicted daughter; and a woman who illegally crossed the US border to find a better life for her young daughter. The story is told with each chapter serving as a snapshot of one or more of the women.

The author heads each chapter with a woman’s name (which can be cross-referenced on a genealogy graph at the beginning of the book, one I referred to frequently.) and a date. However, even with this help, the story jumps about enough that it can be a bit confusing. There are beautifully lyrical passages in places, and a staccato pace in others. 

The point of it, though, is truly to showcase the strength and humanity of immigrant women. The repeated phrase “we are a force”  illustrates this. 

The story looks at women’s roles. “…it had always been women who wove the future out of the scraps, always the characters, never the authors.”  And struggles. “…sobriety is a daily exercise, especially at night.”

There are uncomfortable glimpses into prejudices and crimes, social issues and responsibilities. Gabriela Garcia doesn’t dwell of the politics. These tales are quick peeks into weighty subjects. However, they do humanize the often marginalized immigrants. 

I had an ARC, and as such, I did not read a dedication or acknowledgements page, but from what I had, the author’s love for the history of her characters shines through.

Book Review: “Forgotten Ones: Drabbles of Myth and Legend” from Eerie River Publishing

In “Forgotten Ones: Drabbles of Myth and Legend,” Eerie River Publishing brings together over 90 authors from around the world to present their 100 word takes on myths, ancient beliefs, and modern legends. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of the 90 authors, and I added two pieces to this fine anthology. However, since that amounts to only two pages from the 271, I didn’t think my participation should exclude my review of the other fine works in this interesting book. Of course, if you disagree, I quite understand. 

This anthology invites quick bites of world-wide lore. In it, readers find ancient gods and grisly rituals. Some stories are light-hearted, while others offer a shudder. Many of these tales remind readers not to forget the old knowledge, lest they fall afoul of Forgotten Ones. With over two hundred drabbles in this collection, there are too many to discuss individually. However, I wanted to mention some that stood out to me. 

“Hunger” by Regina Kenney, “Chosen” by Joshua E. Borgmann, “The Warning” by Callum Pearce, and “Mary had a Little Lamb” by Joel R. Hunt had much to say in their chilling voices. You’ve got to love the good dog in “Not Tonight” by Kimberly Rei. Drew Starling , Callum Pearce, and Tor-Anders Ulven had multiple good entries, and K.T. Tate presented an obvious admiration for H.P. Lovecraft’s Cosmic Horror. The holidays were represented, too, with a visit from The Yule Cat, Gryla and her Lads, and of course Krampus. I appreciated Galina Trefoil’s feminist “Not to be Underestimated.” “Demeter’s Anguish” by DeBickel was my favorite re-imagining of a Greek myth, and Sarah Matthew’s “Sleep Tight” and Joel R. Hunt’s “Lucy’s Friend” turned childhood upside down, Melody Grace’s “Beaten to the Punch” delivered a chuckle. 

In all, there’s much to admire when a writer can encapsulate a story using so few words. The joy of reading such a collection is admiring the writers who deliver so much using so little. It’s a great way to learn some new writers’ names and perhaps become acquainted with different myths and legends. Although the paperback is sizable (271 pages), reading goes fast. 

I do hope you’ll give “The Forgotten Ones” a read and enjoy some endangered knowledge – before it’s too late!

Book Review: “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” by Karen Russell

As a fan of unique and well-crafted stories, I recommend “Vampires in the Lemon Grove,” It is a collection of nine short stories by the talented writer Karen Russell. Her fresh outlook and graceful word choice make this a Twilight Zone-worthy treasure. There’s a touch of Kafka, some fate alteration, and a spell in the Dust Bowl, light-hearted pieces and some heavier-hitting stories. The title story offers a new approach to vampires, marriage, and tourism, and it is charming. “Proving Up” and “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis” explore the real horror of children left to fend for themselves. “The Barn at the End of Our Term” offers at a comedic alternative afterlife for US presidents. One story in particular, “The New Veterans” touches on PTSD and the healing powers of human touch, tugged at my heartstrings. “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis” ends this collection with a creepy and thought-provoking story of bullying and responsibility. This varied collection will appeal to fans of mild horror, light humor, and speculative fiction.

Helen’s Prospects: A tale of 99 words written for a Carrot Ranch Prompt

It is quite a fun challenge to tell a story in very few words. Below is my tale, and I recommend you check out https://carrotranch.com/2021/03/25/march-25-flash-fiction-challenge-2/comment-page-1/#comment-79628 for more

Helen’s Prospects

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

For her sister Helen’s graduation, Augie bought a huge bundle of helium-filled balloons, each proclaiming pride in the attainment of higher education. Springtime gusts worried them like windchimes, braiding their strings, as she crossed to her car, a storm-blue Prius. Pushing them into the back hatch proved tricky, each poking out like ‘whack-a-mole.’ Driving with the encroaching bunch also presented challenges, as they obscured her rear view. Upon arrival at the celebration, Augie threw open her hatch, but another energetic wind whipped the hard-won strings from her fingers. They soared high, as unstoppable in their escape as Helen’s prospects.

Dressing up 99 word stories for Carrot Ranch

Hop on over to https://carrotranch.com for details about the 99 word weekly challenge – dressing up. I really enjoyed Charli’s!

Below is mine.

Wedding Trappings

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

This wouldn’t be the wedding of her dreams. Finances had seen to that.   

However, it wasn’t about the trappings, or so she kept telling herself. 

She smoothed the front of the gown. It registered more as the ivory of aged teeth rather than the dazzling white of a Hollywood smile, but it was an antique. Something old. A relic from Gram’s wedding. She spritzed the high collar with perfume to overpower the lingering mustiness the cleaners couldn’t remove. No fairy-godmother’s transformation for her.

When she saw her groom’s appreciative smile, however, she knew. Their wedding wasn’t about the trappings.

Book Review: “The Boy Who Drew Monsters” by Keith Donohue

“The Boy Who Drew Monsters” showcases author Keith Donohue’s beautiful way with words. At times, the rhythmic sentences dance on their pages. A ten-year-old boy, Jack Peter, doesn’t leave his coastal Maine home if he can help it – Not since a near drowning three years before. Perhaps it is Jack Peter’s autism that scares many of his peers. Even his only friend, Nick, is wary, especially when many of the terrifying images Jack Peter draws escape the pages. 

Lush language, memorable characters, an expertly-captured, bleak setting, some darned interesting looks into the human psyche, and a killer ending make “The Boy Who Drew Monsters” an excellent novel.

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