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Excerpt: Because I Could Not Stop for Death by Amanda Flower

Poetry is my love, and I’ve loved Emily Dickinson’s poetry since I was in school. And one of her most famous poems (#479) begins “Because I could not stop for Death—”.

Today, I have a treat. Amanda Flower will share an excerpt from her new Emily Dickinson mystery, Because I Could Not Stop for Death.

About the Book:

Emily Dickinson and her housemaid, Willa Noble, realize there is nothing poetic about murder in this first book in an all-new series from USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award–winning author Amanda Flower.

January 1855 Willa Noble knew it was bad luck when it was pouring rain on the day of her ever-important job interview at the Dickinson home in Amherst, Massachusetts. When she arrived late, disheveled with her skirts sodden and filthy, she’d lost all hope of being hired for the position. As the housekeeper politely told her they’d be in touch, Willa started toward the door of the stately home only to be called back by the soft but strong voice of Emily Dickinson. What begins as tenuous employment turns to friendship as the reclusive poet takes Willa under her wing.

Tragedy soon strikes and Willa’s beloved brother, Henry, is killed in a tragic accident at the town stables. With no other family and nowhere else to turn, Willa tells Emily about her brother’s death and why she believes it was no accident. Willa is convinced it was murder. Henry had been very secretive of late, only hinting to Willa that he’d found a way to earn money to take care of them both. Viewing it first as a puzzle to piece together, Emily offers to help, only to realize that she and Willa are caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse that reveals corruption in Amherst that is generations deep. Some very high-powered people will stop at nothing to keep their profitable secrets even if that means forever silencing Willa and her new mistress….

Without further ado, please read the following excerpt from Amanda Flower’s Because I Could Not Stop for Death:

“The Dickinsons are moving?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said in a crisp voice. “It has been Mr. Dickinson’s goal to return to the homestead for many years. His father ran into a bit of financial trouble and lost it. He fled to Ohio in disgrace.” She looked
around with bright red cheeks. “Don’t repeat that.”

“I won’t,” I promised. My hands began to shake. I clasped them in front of me and pressed them into my skirts.

“Was the boardinghouse your first position?” Miss O’Brien asked, getting back to the task at hand.

“No, I’ve been in domestic work for the last eight years.” She frowned. “Eight years. You can’t be more than sixteen.”

“I am twenty, ma’am. I started work when I was twelve.”

“What made you work so young?” She eyed me. “Should you not have been in school? The Dickinsons put great value in education, even in the education of girls such as yourself.”

“My mother died, ma’am, and I had to provide for my younger brother and me. I had to go to work. Our mother taught us to work hard, so it was no trouble to take over that role.”

“Haven’t you got a father?” She narrowed her eyes.

“Not that I know of,” I said and pressed my clenched hands deeper into my skirts. My father was not a topic for conversation even if it cost me the position at the Dickinson household. I would not speak of him, ever.

“How much younger is your brother than you?”

“Two years, ma’am,” I said. “He’s an adult now, too, and works just as much as I do. He works even harder, I should say, because of the physical labor required for man’s work.”

Miss O’Brien stood up. “I’m interviewing several more girls for this post. I will let you know by mail by the end of the week if we choose you.” She looked at my wet, muddy skirts again.

My heart sank. If there were several young ladies applying for this position, what chance did I really have at winning the spot? I was the girl who came to the interview covered in mud and who was too young without the proper experience for the post. Why did I think I was the only one who would have been interested in the ad? As I told Miss O’Brien, the position was a chance to move up-this was true not just for me but for anyone in domestic work. There were many young women in my place that would want to do so.

“Thank you for your time,” I said. “Would you like me to let myself out?”

Before Miss O’Brien could answer, a breathy voice said, “There will be no more interviews. Margaret, you have found the right maid.”

I turned and a small woman stood in the doorway. She was petite and wore a brown dress that was cinched around her small waist. Her chestnut red hair was pinned back in a fashionable knot and her dark eyes shone with interest, but there was a faraway look about them too. She was a very pretty woman, but there was something birdlike in her movements as she stepped into the room. Her hands fluttered like the tips of wings.

Miss O’Brien jumped to her feet. “Miss Dickinson, can I help you with something?”

“You have helped. You have found our new maid. I’m very grateful to you for that. Mother wants us to keep a clean house, especially when she is in the middle of one of her episodes.”

Episodes? What does she mean by this?

Miss Dickinson studied me with an exacting gaze. “She looks like she has a strong back too. It’s something that we will need if Father insists on pulling us up and moving us back to the place of my birth.” She said this like she wasn’t very keen on the idea.

“Very well, Miss Dickinson.” Miss O’Brien dipped her chin.

“Thank you, Margaret.” The small woman looked me in the eye. “I like someone who would sacrifice herself for her family and duty. That’s just the kind of person I want on our staff. I think there have been enough questions. Margaret, please show the young maid to her room and cancel the rest of your interviews for the position.”

Miss O’Brien pressed her lips together as if she were unsure. “If you are certain, Miss . . .”

“Very certain. I like her, Margaret. If I like her, Father will agree.”

Miss O’Brien nodded. “Please follow me, Miss Noble. I will show you to your room.”

I blinked; it was all happening so fast. I glanced back at Miss Dickinson, but she was no longer there. She was gone.

— Excerpted from Because I Could Not Stop for Death by Amanda Flower Copyright © 2022 by Amanda Flower. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Thank you, Amanda, for sharing this excerpt.

About the Author:

Amanda Flower is the USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award-winning mystery author of over forty novels, including the nationally bestselling Amish Candy Shop Mystery Series, Magical Bookshop Mysteries, and, written under the name Isabella Alan, the Amish Quilt Shop Mysteries. Flower is a former librarian, and she and her husband, a recording engineer, own a habitat farm and recording studio in Northeast Ohio.

Listen to an excerpt here.

Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me by Ada Calhoun

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 272 pgs.
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Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me by Ada Calhoun is a memoir that seems to have started out as a biography of Frank O’Hara, but really was an attempt by a daughter to capture her father’s attention through the poet that tethered, at least in part, their lives together. Peter Schjeldahl is an art critic who also wrote poetry, essays, and other works, and was immersed in the New York School of poetry in which O’Hara was considered a major poet. Calhoun has felt unseen by her father, according to the memoir, even as she, too, pursued a career in writing, though mostly as a ghostwriter.

Calhoun’s O’Hara journey begins long before she finds the tapes in her father’s drawer and starts to listen to the interviews he conducted when trying to write a biography of the poet. The ghost of the poet has haunted her father and their lives since the start – a father dejected by the cancellation of his biography on a man he admired and a man who threw himself into writing as a critic and more to the detriment of all else, even his own poetry (which some in the book praised to Ada).

For Ada, O’Hara’s poetry was a gift from her father, and through those poems, she experienced New York City in the way that she believed her father must have. She also used this connection to draw her own conclusions about her father and his obsessions, which may or may not have reflected reality for her father. In many ways, she equates O’Hara’s poet-ness with her father’s writer-ness and the obsessiveness it requires to shut everything else out, but what she fails to see early on is how both simply wanted to make connections and to reach out from their own emptiness and fill it up.

Calhoun is on a journey taken by her father years ago, and like many things when we seek something we don’t think we already have, it becomes a competition to do better and be better as a way to prove our worth to someone we desperately want approval from. Maureen Granville-Smith, O’Hara’s sister and executor of his estate, plays a pivotal role in both the journey of Calhoun and her father. What’s more is that Calhoun unravels this late in the memoir – almost too late.

Past the mid-way mark, Calhoun says something about confidence being “the age requirement for everything,” (pg. 134), and there is something to that. We all reach an age where we finally have that confidence we need to overcome certain obstacles or deal with certain moments in our lives, and it is through that we become capable and achieve the seemingly unachievable. This is where were are with the memoir, as well. She has reached that age of confidence where she can finally speak to her father as a writer to a writer and explore how each has lived that life very differently — he shutting everything else out and she carving out time from her other responsibilities to concentrate on writing alone in a chunk of time. And in many ways, she answers her own questions about “How ruthless do you need to be?” to be a writer.

Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me by Ada Calhoun is so much more than a memoir; it’s a peek inside the world and work of enigmatic artists and poets and how their lives unravel while they’re working at their craft and they are completely unaware. Calhoun is equally unaware, but soon she begins to realize that she’s seen the signs all along and that no writer/parent will ever be perfect because we are all flawed, we are all editing as we go along.

RATING: Cinquain

The New Gods by William O’Daly

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 92 pgs.
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The New Gods by William O’Daly is as unpredictable as the ocean’s waves, as the poet pushes us to action and halts our momentum for moments of reflection. Opening the collection with “The Fire” readers are dropped into a glade of sorts where water is tumbling to a hot canyon, and it is clear that despite the destruction of the fires in the forest and the danger to the birds and horses, there is still beauty here. Does that beauty survive? It’s hard to say, but O’Daly makes sure we pause to see it.

Moving further into that opening poem, O’Daly shifts the focus to the tension and angst we create with our fire of invention and the risks it carries. The hail of spitballs in a classroom reminding the narrator of the nuclear fission that could rip them to shreds and render the world of friends and brothers, etc., into vapor. It’s again another familiar scene that many of us recognize that is destroyed by an outside force that could be of our own making. In the final lines, it is clear that we are all just on the cusp of a precipice.

O’Daly has a keen eye for detail in these poems, creating a world you fall into and instantly recognize. But he also asks readers why “we live far from ourselves and/each other…” (pg. 35, “The Unwritten Letter”) It’s like a bird’s call for us to slow down, pay closer attention, and learn from what’s around us, what has come before, and even the destruction we cause. There are lessons to be gleaned and beauty even in that darkness.

The Flag Is Burning (pg. 37-8)

We, friend, are the body of the country
burning in the street,
eyes open against the sky,
the child running,
the mother on her knees
reaching for the soldier aiming,
the village on fire -- the shrapnel littered ruins
...

It is in this poem where we are reminded of our place in society and a country and that we are responsible equally for its actions if we remain inert. O’Daly revisits this concept again in “Handout,” where a huddled figure in the fog is feared by the narrator rather than shown compassion until his daughter takes action with her hand out to him, an offering of food. The New Gods by William O’Daly spans a great many subjects, historic moments, but it is in its quiet moments where he’s at work, teaching us that we are the “new gods,” the ones with the power to effect change.

RATING: Cinquain

Photo courtesy of Kristine Iwersen O’Daly

About the Poet:

William O’Daly’s most recent book of poems, The New Gods, which includes these poems, will be published by Beltway Editions on September 15, 2022. O’Daly has translated eight books of Pablo Neruda’s late and posthumous poetry and Book of Twilight, the Chilean Nobel Laureate’s first book.

Mailbox Monday #701

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Velvet, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what I received:

Not Happy Campers by Ash Keller, a Kindle freebie.

Lance Blakeman is an up-and-coming literary agent with a chance to represent the biggest horror writer since Stephen King. Unfortunately, the client doesn’t want to work with a bachelor. Lance needs a fiancée—fast.

Lainey Fredrickson is a struggling artist making ends meet by waitressing at a local diner. Or, she had been, until pretty boy Lance got her fired for accidentally spilling a beer on him. The way he carried on, you’d think she had deliberately doused him with radioactive waste. Now, she has exactly $4.23 to her name—not enough for an iced latte, let alone rent.

When Lance offers Lainey cash to pose as his fiancée, she can’t afford to say no, even if it means spending a week in a cramped RV with him. But can they fool the client without fooling themselves? There’s a fine line between love and hate. And with kisses this sweet, the line is bound to get blurred.

What did you receive?

Falling Leaves: An Interfaith Anthology on the Topic of Consolation and Loss edited by Susan Meehan and Robert Bettmann

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Falling Leaves: An Interfaith Anthology on the Topic of Consolation and Loss edited by Susan Meehan and Robert Bettmann is a prayer for the anguish felt around the globe by each of us whether that be during the pandemic or at another point in our lives. Each poem is founded on a tradition in faith, but the poets reinterpret some of these traditions in their lines.

Offering prayers, acceptance, and healing, these poets are reaching out to readers to demonstrate that we are not alone in dealing with loss. No loss is greater than another; all are equally harrowing. Even in this loss there is connection to ourselves, our ancestors, and the future.

As Luther Jett points out in “Ha’azinu,” “… Don’t pretend/that I am up there/in the sky — aloof,/unattainable//Don’t imagine/that I am only in/the gentle places–/the sweet moments/you wish to recall.//” (pg.9-10) And in “Come Sunday,” Lori Tsang says, “I give thanks/for this chance/to remember/I am part/of something/Larger” (pg. 57-8)

Falling Leaves: An Interfaith Anthology on the Topic of Consolation and Loss edited by Susan Meehan and Robert Bettmann is anthology readers can turn to again and again to find comfort. If you experienced a loss, and we all have, this collection will help you see that you are not alone in that sea of grief.

RATING: Quatrain

The Tradition by Jericho Brown

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 77 pgs.
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A little unconventionally, I found Jericho Brown on Twitter without having read his poetry, but what he says on the platform caught my attention and I’ve followed him ever since. When the pandemic hit, I was a poet without a group of poets to fuel my revision and writing and I found a number of Zoom workshops and events to fill the void.

However, when the opportunity to have a workshop with Brown came up (for free), I was, first, stunned it would be free, and, second, that I could workshop with Brown! This workshop turned my writing on its ear. I have not forgotten his methods, his exercises, or his advice during that session. In many ways, his workshop led me to break out of the box I pinned myself in. With that in mind, I just had to pick up his book when I finally had money and could enter a bookstore in person again — yes, I waited because bookstore trips are like spiritual experiences.

Without further ado, here’s my review.

The Tradition by Jericho Brown explores the violence that has become tradition in the United States and elsewhere and its effects on not only the body, but the soul. He opens this collection with “Ganymede,” that breathes the modern world into Greek mythology and the kidnapping of the young Trojan by the gods and equates it with the taking and selling of slave children across the plantations. “The people of my country believe/We can’t be hurt if we can be bought.//” he says in the ultimate lines of the poem. How true and untrue that statement is. The truth of it is that they are harmed, but that others perceive that they are not because they are property.

From this opening, we know as readers we’re taking a journey into deeply emotional territory for Brown from the choice of a mother to side with a father and forsake her son to the bright lives of Black men and women who are cut down so easily and without remorse on the streets every day.

From "Bullet Points" (pg. 16)

...
Calling worst. I promise if you hear
of me dead anywhere near
A cop, then that cop killed me. He took
Me from us and left my body, which is,
No matter what we've been taught,
Greater than the settlement

But it isn’t just the violence against Blacks that he talks about, it is the coverup of history and that we gloss over the atrocities of our history. The stealing of land from native peoples, even as those people never laid claim to the land but merely subsisted on what it gave them. The conquering of other lands merely because we wanted to or could, all in the name of democracy or some other twisted ideal — only to turn our back on it when everyone wanted freedom.

The Tradition by Jericho Brown pushes us to ask why violence has become a standard for us and to look at where it comes from. It is rooted in all that we are as a nation. In order for us to find that “something vast” and to leap toward it, we must break this tradition and create something new.

RATING: Cinquain

Run (Book One) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, L. Fury, and Nate Powell

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 160 pgs.
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RUN (Book One) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, L. Fury, and Nate Powell, the Eisner Award-Winner for Best Graphic Memoir, is the continuation of Rep. John Lewis‘ (D-Ga.) life after the Selma voting rights campaign and the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. It was clear that even after the law was passed, segregation was not going to vanish, people were going to still kill Blacks with impunity, and Lewis’ work and that of other activists was far from finished.

“But we knew Sammy would not be the last innocent Black person murdered for trying to live his life with a sense of dignity.” (pg. 59)

Lewis was the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and wholeheartedly believed in Dr. King’s philosophy of non-violence and was against war of any kind. However, not all of the members of the group felt the same, and this eventually caused a huge rift and the creation of the Black Panther party.

Lewis is taking it back to the use of comics by the Black Panther party to help readers visualize and feel the emotional tension and injustice of this time in history. It is clear that these books are still needed and can communicate events and movements to readers in a more visceral way than history books or courses could.

If you are unaware of the systemic racism in government institutions, you really need to read this book. It is clear from these stories, that the system was stacked against Black people even after civil rights were passed. One prime example is the refusal to seat an elected official who was voted into office.

“‘The moral ARC of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice,’ Dr. King said.

And sometimes it begins and ends int he same place.” (pg. 73)

RUN (Book One) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, L. Fury, and Nate Powell should be essential reading for students and adults alike. If you’ve read the March series, you will love this graphic novel. This book was excellent from cover-to-cover from the story to the illustrations. I read it in one day, including the additional information about the people in the movement.

RATING: Cinquain

Mailbox Monday #700

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Velvet, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what I received:

Watchman, What of the Night? by W. Luther Jett, for Gaithersburg Book Festival consideration.

What did you receive?

I Am Coco: The Life of Coco Chanel by Isabel Pin

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 96 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

I Am Coco: The Life of Coco Chanel by Isabel Pin takes a brief look at the amazing life of an independent woman, Gabrielle Chanel, a young girl left at an orphanage by a wandering father after her mother’s death. Chanel’s life took a positive turn in the convent when she learned how to sew.

In the section on her life in the orphanage, we found the gray background a little too dark for the black type to show well. We struggled to read that section in a dimmer lit room. Overall, the illustrations are fun, colorful, and characteristic of an artist finding her way in the world as an independent woman at a time when women were not necessarily encouraged to be businesswomen.

When Chanel worked in Moulins and joined the cabaret, one of her songs about a missing dog became her signature and ultimately led to her name change from Gabrielle to Coco. Chanel received a lot of support from men in her life but it was her innovative ideas and focus on comfort for women that really made her fashion work popular.

I Am Coco: The Life of Coco Chanel by Isabel Pin is a quick look at her fashion evolution and the growth of her business. I wanted a little more about her WWII years, but the focus of the book was on fashion and its evolution. Pin definitely provides children with enough information to get them intrigued about Chanel and her life, possibly leading to further interest in her life.

RATING: Quatrain

Break Shot: My First 21 Years by James Taylor (Audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook; 1+ hrs.
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Break Shot: My First 21 Years by James Taylor, narrated by the author, is an Audible Original that contains story and musical story. Taylor explores his childhood and his journey to music, against the medical path laid out before him, and explores how his life finds its way into his songs.

There is no shying away from the struggles with drugs, nearly killing a man with a car, or his brief encounter with a killer. He explores his mental illness and drug abuse, and how those stemmed from a childhood that was a struggle for him. I loved how he interspersed his songs and playing with his story. That was the best part of this audio. It was definitely well blended. It was definitely too short of an audiobook, and it left you wanting more.

Break Shot: My First 21 Years by James Taylor is a delightful listen if you enjoy his music, and the interwoven stories that inspired his songs make his story sing. Definitely worth checking out if you like his music.

RATING: Quatrain