A heavy coating of black
encircles her fluid brown eyes.
An Egyptian woman.
Powder caked on like flour
to hide ominous dark circles lurking underneath.

She’s been pouring hot coffee for early morning customers
at the corner diner for so long, she’s like a robot
with a bright red fake smile painted on her lips.

Voice raspy as if she’s swallowed barbed wire.
Bleached blond hair piled atop her head
like the stacks of pancakes she serves.
Dark roots flow as deep brown syrup.
Perpetually surprised thickly drawn eyebrows
two shades too dark.

She wears Chanel No. 5,
a gift from a regular,
eight a.m. sharp every morning,
coffee black.

She always hoped he’d come back
and take her with him.

Her treasured bottle of perfume nearly empty
from twenty years of use.
She has to tip the bottle upside down
and rub it on her neck and wrists
just to get the faintest scent.

She doesn’t mind it much.
Often times she imagines they are married.
She’s waiting for him to arrive home
to serve him his favorite meal,
eggs over easy, toast light butter.

They’ll talk about his day.
He’ll kiss her,
softly and sweetly.

Every time the bell over the diner door rings,
she half expects him to walk in
and apologize for being so late.

-Jennifer Novotney

Sunday Afternoon Jazz

Sunday Afternoon Jazz

He has a voice like a trumpet, cutting, and distinct, loud enough to call attention when he makes an entrance. A spindly body sits atop two long thin legs like sprouting trees. Grey hair becomes the fog that creeps across the earth, dark and unassuming. He lives alone in the same small apartment with fifties style white and black checkerboard floors. Wide green eyes hang over a broad nose. Five o’clock shadow grows thick and strong like weeds. My father never misses our Sunday phone calls. His voice, a trumpet’s song, sings jazz, smooth and sweet with words like music. I bob my head along to his sorrowful song as the notes take shape around me. His body, a shiny instrument, sleek and strong, sings me a lullaby of lyrical laments and somber secrets.

-Jennifer Novotney



You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce Review

About the book:

You Let Me In by Camila Bruce is a thriller from Tor Books in the vein of Shirley Jackson, Carmen Maria Machado, and Tana French. It is due out in April 2020.

The book is written in first-person from the perspective of Cassandra Tipp, who has mysteriously gone missing at 74 years old. Did she die? Did she disappear? No one knows. Cassandra, a best selling novelist, has left a manuscript behind for her niece and nephew in the case of her disappearance with a few stipulations. Only her niece or nephew can claim her estate and they must read her manuscript to find a password to claim it. In her manuscript, she takes the reader through her life story from the time she was a little girl with mind bending twists and turns to figure out how she turned into a suspected murderer.

In her story, Cassandra has an unusual mythical friend named Pepper-Man, who sinks his teeth into her throat at night and influences her to think and do bad things. When Cassandra meets more faeries like Pepper-Man in the woods, her world changes forever. Bruce flips modern fairy tales upside down and creates a creepy, dark story remniscient of the brothers Grimm.

But the reader is soon confronted by the idea of reality creeping in to Cassandra’s world in the form of Dr. Martin. He has written a book of his own about her called “Away with the fairies: A study in trauma induced psychosis.” We are left questioning whether the fairies are real or a sort of coping mechanism Cassandra has cooked up to deal with her dysfunctional family.

After her husband, father, and brother die, things get even more mysterious. Was the faerie world something Cassandra just created to deal with her trauma or is that where she ultimately ended up? To find out, as the back of the book says, you must “read on, if you dare…”

What you will love 😍: The fast pace and fantasy element.

What you will hate 😠: The ambiguity. What did happen to Cassandra!?

What you will appreciate 😌: Camilla Bruce’s strong writing skills and imaginative story. How did she think of these dark and disturbing faerie characters?


the sudden fear of death invades me

slow staunch fingers

grip my neck like a vice

I am trapped

under the weight of oppression

stuck between somewhere and nowhere

where the voices stop

then start all together

whispers at first

that seep in like vines

wind wistfully

take root in my chest

squeeze out breath

until I am gasping and panting

first I pace

then a run

from one side to the next

it is one o’ clock in the morning

a lone car travels down the street below

that glides like a snake towards me

it is dark

my pulse slows

an hour goes by

before my eyes close

and the passenger in the car

I assume

has reached his destination

-Jennifer Novotney

Follow Me by Kathleen Barber Review

*To be released February 25, 2020*

Follow Me is a cautionary tale about the dangers of social media oversharing. The story follows three characters in alternating, first person points of view. First, we have Audrey, a self proclaimed Instagram influencer with a million followers. She’s a seemingly confident red head who leaves New York to take a museum job in Washington DC where she appropriately manages their social media accounts. She reunites with her college friend, Cat, the second POV, a successful lawyer, who is undoubtedly her voice of reason. Then, we have Him, the third POV, a sketchy character who happens to be one of Audrey’s Instagram followers. Something is obviously off about this one.

From the beginning of the book, Barber raises the tension as she places Audrey in some questionable situations that make us fear for her safety. She throws different characters at us to see which one we just may believe is “Him”. There’s skeevy Ryan, Audrey’s landlady’s grandson. Then there’s Connor, Cat’s friend from college and work that we’re kind of questioning, but he could be a stretch. Then there’s the mysterious admirer who randomly shows up at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden where Audrey works. Barber is apt at craftily placing us in Audrey’s tentative and leary shoes. Everyone’s a potential suspect.

The best thing about this book is trying to guess who Audrey’s stalker is. Is it someone she knows? Is it a complete stranger? Is it the person she least suspects or someone she has her eye on? Just when I think I have it all figured out, Barber changes everything up and makes me second-guess my detective work.

This thriller is so well worth the read. It has everything a reader could want from a story and ramps up the suspense towards the end. I literally could not stop reading the last quarter of the book until getting to the satisfying end. This one definitely knocks it out of the park.

The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr Review

The Sinner begins with Cora Bender, a complex character driven to the point of temporary insanity as she deals with her dark past. The narrative alternates between present day and flashbacks in which Cora’s unstable nature is revealed through her unconventional upbringing.

The book was originally released in Germany in 1999, but translated for English speaking audiences around 2007. I am a little late to the game in reading it, but I’m so happy I did.

Hammesfahr weaves a mysterious tale of child abuse and murder that could only be described ironically as sinful. Cora’s mother, a religious fanatic, does not let Cora experience a normal childhood. She blames her for every sinful act and requires her to pray for forgiveness. Cora has a sister, Magdalena, who is born with Leukemia and is not expected to survive. When she does, their mother tells them that the only way she will remain alive is if the family absolves themselves of all sins. Sinful behaviors include eating chocolate and even reading Alice in Wonderland.

Of course, Cora rebels from this stifling and rigid environment. She escapes through marriage and a family of her own, but that’s where the real mystery begins. One day, she just snaps and commits the biggest sin of all: Murder. Readers are left in the dark and spend the majority of the book reading to find out just why Cora Bender did what she did.

The writing is dense, possibly due to the translation, and rich with detail. It wasn’t a fast read for me, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The characters are complex and the mystery kept me reading until the last page. Although it was a denser read, the reward comes at the end where we finally get to discover just what makes Cora Bender do what she does.

The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn Review

The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn is a noir-esque thriller that centers around Anna Fox, a late thirties agoraphobic alcoholic. She’s recently separated from her husband and daughter. Anna has an attractive, young tenant, David, who pops in and out at will and helps her around the house.

The story is told in a journalistic style with different sections beginning with the date and day of the week. This gives it a very intimate feel, like we are getting a glimpse into Anna’s personal life.

Since she does not leave the house and drinks wine all day, she finds ways to entertain herself. One of these ways is by spying on her neighbors and she becomes especially interested in a particular family, the Russell’s, who live in 207 across the street from her.

The suspense kicks off one morning when she hears a scream from their New York City home. She calls them and their teenage son confirms that there was a scream but assures her that everything is fine. The father however denies that there was a scream and that’s when the real mystery begins.

This is where the story really kicks off and takes the reader on a roller coaster ride at breakneck speed. There are so many twists and turns that just when you think you have the story all figured out, you realize you are dead wrong.

Anna is the sort of unreliable narrator the reader roots for as we navigate through her hazy, cloudy world. Sometimes we think we can trust her and other times we know we can’t. One thing is for sure. Nothing is what it seems in this book and that’s what makes it so suspenseful and exciting.

I loved this one from beginning to end and as soon as it was over, I wished I could read it all over again.