The Writers Next Door
Check Out These Books by Area Poets & Authors
Whether you like poetry or prose, mystery or romance, nonfiction or science fiction, your next favorite writer may be closer than you think. This is our first installment of The Writers Next Door, an effort to showcase and foster area writers. Look for books by local writers in your community library and at online book sellers.
Review by Brigid Beatty, Armstrong County
Poetry is perfect reading material to dip into when you don’t have a lot of time. It takes about as many minutes to read one of the poems in Push as it does to read the ingredients list on the back of a cereal box. But in those few minutes of giving yourself over to the poetry of Ronald Smits, your perspective can change in surprising ways.
Push is a book of poems by the late Ronald Smits, a Vietnam veteran who was a professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. His poems have been published in multiple journals and anthologies.
This collection of short poems features familiar spots in the Kittanning and Pittsburgh area. In “White Whales at Buttermilk Falls,” Smits likens the snow-covered boulders along Cowanshannock Creek to massive white whales.
Several of his poems transport us to Pittsburgh neighborhoods like in “34C” where Smits recounts, in a perfect balance of playfulness and reverence, a visit to his friend’s burial plot in Homewood.
In “The Rose Petunia” we walk for a moment through Polish Hill to admire spring blooms among asphalt paving and feel Smit’s gratitude for a Baptist minister’s act of kindness.
One of the things I love about good poetry is that while describing something concrete, the poet also manages to tap into something intangible, some undercurrent of emotion or insight that feels true.
Smits does this well in a seemingly effortless way. In his poem “Push” for which this collection is named, we feel the swell of energy build to the final moments of a basketball game when everything comes together for that perfect score.
Many of his poems – like “Grandpa’s Glass Eye” – are full of humor. But you will find more there too, more of what makes us human, what connects us. With the poet as our guide, we get to travel back and forth from childhood to adulthood, through tunnels and over bridges, from Pittsburgh to New Jersey to Vietnam. We get to experience something new.
So, I invite you. Check out Push. Be surprised by what you find there.
Ronald F. Smits was a professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and an accomplished poet. He died in 2012 at the age of 68.
Review by Eileen Hunter, Bethel Park
I was a beta reader for this book and agreed to an honest review. This is a great read. It's a wonderful time travel romance where the hero comes from past to present. A nice switch.
Despite being a 17th century buccaneer, he is educated, and I enjoyed his desire to understand how running water, gas stoves and everything modern worked. His curiosity was part of his charm.
The dialogue was true to the time without being awkward or hard to understand. I read it in one day. I couldn't put it down.
Bailey's Buccaneer is the third book in the Jenna's Cove Romantic comedy series. It is an original work, and is newly published. Available in digital format only at a retailer online.
S. K. McClafferty began writing on a whim in 1985, and sold her first book to Avon Books in 1991. A long career has followed, with 13 traditionally published novels. McClafferty lives in an old house on the banks of the Allegheny with her 3 furry companions.
Review by Jessica Beers, Armstrong County
Fans of Agatha Christie’s ‘cozy mystery’ novels will love Murder in a Locked Room, as well as the other books in Jeff Boarts’s mystery series. They are the perfect mix of mystery and suspense, without the gore of most modern murder novels. Local readers can look forward to seeing their landmarks mentioned within the pages of the series, all the while enjoying the twists and turns of a traditional “who-done-it”.
Murder Mystery Series by Jeff Boarts
Review by Christine Whiteman, Armstrong County
Looking for a way to escape the current events? To find mystery, murder, romance, simpler times, and some history lessons, look no further than the murder mystery series written by local author, Jeff Boarts.
I first met the accidental crime solving duo, George and Ruth a few years ago when I picked up Merry Merry Murder about a month before Christmas at the Kittanning News Stand. I was looking for a light hearted, Christmas themed novel to read in the weeks before the holiday. I found that and so much more in the series of murder mysteries featuring George and Ruth, written by the local author Jeff Boarts.
Set in the time period spanning the years 1919 to the 1950s, the witty, light-hearted, Angela Landsbury like mysteries are well written and family friendly. The novels feature George Cooper, who is a WWI veteran, and a reporter for a Pittsburgh newspaper and his beautiful sidekick, Ruth White, a spunky, independent young woman, from a wealthy family, with a mind of her own.
George and Ruth’s romance is carried throughout all of the books in the series as they work together to solve each mystery. The novels are full of landmarks and locations familiar to Armstrong County, the Kittanning area and even Pittsburgh.
In addition, the author weaves well researched historical references, and events into the stories. By adding both of these elements, the reader is drawn into the lives of George and Ruth and it becomes almost like being in a black and white movie. Readers feel like they are actually on the case, working beside George and Ruth to solve the mysteries.
I found all of the novels entertaining and was sorry to have to leave the company of my friends George and Ruth each time one of them ended. Although all of the books in the series stand on their own and can be read in any order, I highly recommend starting with Steel City Murder and continuing through the series. They will not disappoint.
Jeff Boarts is the author of 9 cozy, historical mysteries featuring the amateur sleuths, George and Ruth Cooper.
Most of his books take place in Kittanning or Pittsburgh. Jeff lives and works in Kittanning where he grew up. He has a love of history, and uses local events and locations to give color and flavor to his stories.
His 10th mystery is scheduled to be released November 2020.
Review by a Dedicated Poetry Fan
Angel Rosen’s first collection of poetry titled Aurelia was released this year in April. Aurelia contemplates life, death, beauty and everything in between. In this short collection of thirty-five poems, we see themes of female identity, mental illness and struggles with understanding how other people work and sometimes why they don’t.
I’ve been a long-time fan of Angel’s writing as she has shared it through social media and I was ecstatic that she was finally able to put together this book.
Upon my first read of Aurelia, I noticed strong themes of “taking up space” and a recurring message about the identity of women and girls and what it means to be female. This book would be great for fans of Sylvia Plath, as Angel finds a lot of her inspiration through a similar lens.
Having battled depression myself, I find a lot of comfort in poetry books like Aurelia. Sometimes it's so easy to get inside of your own head and when you see those thoughts reflected on a page that someone else wrote, you feel less alone and more understood.
I would recommend Angel’s poetry to anyone, but especially to girls and women who struggle with mental health issues and the concept of self. This book made me reflect on my own mental health struggles and also reminded me that other people struggle, too. This revived my love for poetry!
My favorite poem in this book is “I am Well, Thank You For Asking” which, in my opinion, conveys a familiar feeling that many young women experience when an “almost” relationship ends-- when it’s not quite a breakup but it’s the end of something and you don’t know exactly what to say, anymore.
Another poem I loved is “Massachusetts” which is a poem simply about wanting to visit the state. This poem hits home for me as someone who loves living in a small town but often wonders what it would be like to live in a city or a place that was more diverse. Small towns can be so wonderful but this poem made me think about what life could be like somewhere else where people are just so much different.
In short, reading Aurelia reminded me of a lot of things I already knew: that I’m not alone, that it’s okay to struggle, and that it’s okay to ask questions. I would recommend this book to anyone who is also searching for that reminder or searching for something within themselves.
Angel Rosen is a 26 year old poet from Armstrong County. She began writing poetry in elementary school and has always written about mental illness and similar vulnerabilities. Her biggest inspiration is Sylvia Plath.
Is there a local writer you would like us to profile? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.