Journal: The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Amy Zoe Mason by Kristine Atkinson and Joyce Atkinson

So this was an unusual little read for me. I normally don’t much care for what you might call “interactive” reading, although I did love the Griffin and Sabine books. If you enjoyed that series of graphic novels, you’ll like this book, which is very much in that vein. The story itself is told epistolary style, through e-mails, handwritten letters, graphic designs, article cut-outs, and other pieces of writing and imagery all glued decoupage-style into an old book of poems and Victorian images. The result is what I could call found footage in literary format.

Journal: The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Amy Zoe Mason obviously gives away most of the book’s ending in the title. The book purports to have been found by the Atkinson sisters at a resale shop and tells the story of Amy Zoe Mason, a woman who has just lost her mother, whose husband is relocating to Boston for his job and expecting his family to follow once they sell their Houston home, and who is using journaling to deal with her grief, her stress, and her overall sense of strangeness in her own life and skin.

The journal entries are innocuous at first – emails between Amy and her doctor husband Robert as he details his impending work with the Wentworth Institute and its owner Julia Wentworth, notes about her kids, recipes from her mother and family history, communication between realtor Vanessa Garamond and herself – all interspered and overlaid on the poetry and pictures in the antique book of poems Amy is using to journal and scrapbook all at once. The journal entries gradually start to show the erosion of her marriage, her suspicions about Vanessa and what her ulterior motives really are, and the sense of menace starts to shadow her entries.

What is so interesting about this book is the very strong sense that Amy is deliberately hiding her true feelings about what is really happening in her life. She jots down some suspicions about certain coincidences that we, as the readers, can see are clearly not coincidental at all. It’s an odd conceit, because isn’t a journal supposed to be the place where we are most honest with ourselves about our lives? In this case, Amy has her suspicions, both about Vanessa and her husband and later, about someone having looked through her journal, so it is perhaps understandable that she would choose to use the journal both as a sounding board and as a very subtle method of letting any possible readers know what is going on by looking at the interplay of Amy’s own words and entries with the poetry already in the book. I’ve put a few images in the blog post so you get an idea of what I’m talking about.

SPOILER: The ending, though expected, does have a bit of a twist and you’re left wondering if it was really Vanessa who planned Amy’s death, if it was a conspiracy between Julia Wentworth and Vanessa, if Robert played a role, or if it was all three of them. Though the overall format of the book was visually intriguing, the storyline left me a bit cold because it was so expected. I really wasn’t surprised to find out that Amy dies of an “overdose” nor was I surprised to see later newspaper articles tucked into the journal describing Dr. Robert Mason and his new wife Vanessa Mason, and it was occasionally aggravating to keep reading Amy’s journal entries and seeing her be so passive about what she knew was happening. Overall, a fascinating premise in an eye-catching format that definitely makes the reader engage with the book more than a regular print book., with a somewhat simplistic storyline. It was a good read, though, and particularly because of the many food and recipe entries glued by Amy into the journal. There are recipes for cherry cake, for green olive-lemon salsa for fish, and this lovely entry for an apple-cranberry cake that I decided I needed to make, though I did tweak with the addition of melted butter, milk, and chopped pecans to add richness, flavor and texture.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs at room temperature
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup dried cranberries
2 red apples, cored and cubed. Don’t peel them as the red bits will add to the beauty of the cake.
1 cup chopped pecans

Pre-heat your oven to 350F and soak the dried cranberries in some hot water for about 10-15 minutes, to reconstitute them.

In one bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In another bowl (I used my most awesome red Kitchen Aid with the paddle attachment) cream together the butter and sugar, then add the eggs one at a time, and then the vanilla and cinnamon.

One spoonful at a time, incorporate the flour mixture into the egg-sugar mixture and then add a spoonful of milk, and continue in this vein, flour then milk, and keep mixing together until everything is incorporated and you have a nice, creamy, thick batter. Add the chopped applies and pecans and mix again.

Drain the cranberries and squeeze as much excess liquid from them, then add them to the batter and mix again. (You can either discard the red liquid or mix it with powdered sugar to make a cake glaze. I did not choose to give myself that extra labor.)

Pour the batter into a cake pan that has been liberally coated with baking spray (the kind with flour in it), put onto a baking tray, and bake for about an hour. The smell is heavenly, though you can see mine did crack across the top a bit. But it still tasted fab.

Allow to cool fully before upending the cake pan onto a pretty plate or a fancy cake stand, and eat happily with either morning coffee, afternoon tea, or evening wine. And for God’s sake, quit journaling already! 🙂

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