Reviews

 

 

 

 

The i Tetralogy

By Mathias B. Freese

365 pages, paperback

Hats Off Books, 2005

ISBN: 1-58736-404-2

 

 

 

Reviewed by Jodi Lee 

 

The very cover of this book could put off a lot of readers. Not one, not two or three, but four swastikas; bold on a background of black, the white legs of the appropriated and demonized symbol have struck disgust and fear in three generations of the human race. Readers need to remember not to judge the book by its cover.

 

Mathias Freese takes three characters from the horrors of an internment camp during World War 2, to the life of a war criminal hidden amongst the populace of Long Island, to a young man discovering his father was said criminal.

 

Freese has a style that lends itself well to switching points of view from one character to the next. In essence, the book is a tetralogy - four novellas in one. To begin, in 'i' we have  the inmate, his opening words - I am Rectum

The heart breaks right there, as a part of his spirit has been broken.

‘At times, a prisoner stalks a dying prisoner like prey. When he is slain, several eat of him. I cannot judge that. All the cannibalism that ever was has never exceeded what the Germans are doing with us. They torture and kill us, roast us in flames, but do not partake of our flesh, not as yet. We are too foul for that. If only they might transgress, they might truly complete the vision they hold. They would waste not.’

In the following two parts, 'I am Gunther' and 'Gunther's Lament', we have the story of the guard Gunther, during and post-war. Reading these words literally tears at one's guts, knowing such men as this existed.

‘One kills to make way for the ordinary business of living. To kill a Jew is to delouse oneself.

One does not think or feel for vermin. It simply is unrealistic. When one applies pesticide, sets out to exterminate, what one attends to is not getting sprayed with the solution itself.’

 

Finally, in 'Gunther Redux', we have Gunther's son. He has discovered that his father was a Nazi, a possible war criminal nonetheless. Although acknowledging the lack of emotional and physical input from his father during his childhood, he is fully shocked and confused to discover the secrets of his heritage. 

‘What is it to be the son of Gunther? What do I share with the children of Mengele and Eichmann, we "chosen few"? Now that I know, is this knowledge death? Now that I know, am I different? Yes, is the only answer. And what do I do with this lethal learning? Do I do away with myself as penance—or in disgust? Do I slay myself? Am I a male Medea? Do I self-devour? Do I literally throw up?’

For myself, the book was a hard read. In my mind I could picture the horrible conditions and the tangible fear that surrounded the internment camps, having heard stories from my grandfather who was part of the liberating army. As a writer of dark fiction I found myself slipping into the Nazi mindset when the author switched to telling the camp guard’s tale. Finally, I found myself feeling the anger and disgust that befell the son in later years.

 

Mathias Freese does an absolutely commendable job in giving the reader the intense emotional and physical sense of being in the story, as it happens. Through his writing, the Holocaust will never be forgotten. The reality of the war years and the decades since are all too real in this book. It hurts to read it. In all honesty, however, I feel every person under the age of fifty should read it. This one should be required reading in high schools across North America and Europe.

 

 

 

 

 

Into the Dreamlands

Edited by Jason Andrews

     and Michael Dyer

384 pages, paperback

Simian Publishing, 2007

ISBN:  978-0-9794221-0-2

Reviewed by Sharon M. White

 

The title, "Into the Dreamlands," says it all. In this book you will find romance, witches, madness, ghosts, keys to other dimensions, fae people—good and bad, love, betrayal, murder, lands that fade as the sun rises and hidden worlds beneath your feet.

 

In her tale, "So Runs the World Away." Caitlin R. Keirnan captures your imagination from the first paragraph with her lilting poetic style as she carries you into the world of two lonely youngsters living with a group of eccentric vampires and some rather vile ghouls. Caitlin's vivid descriptions flow from the page and lure you into this decadent and dangerous world where even an autopsy can be repelling and fascinatingly beautiful at the same time.

 

In our world there is injustice; sometimes the scales tip; the blind lady drops her sword and we wonder how some crimes can go unpunished. Sometimes justice needs a helping hand, the hand of the fae folk perhaps.  But their ways are not ours and not all dark deeds are without merit. In Louise Bohmer's tale, "Book of Dreams," the fae folk and ordinary humans are entwined and layered with twists and turns of the plot that will keep you guessing right to the end—where justice is served in a most unconventional way.

 

Bev Vincent captures the thinning line between dreams and reality, the line that gets thinner with every interrupted dream or sleep cycle. In "Before the Fall" Bev masterfully captures the nightmare and lets you freefall into the madness of the nightmare and the character's frustration and confusion.

 

Visit with Daria and Irina, two college roommates in a wintry Russian setting, and learn how Daria's gypsy powers emerged and nearly caused her demise in Larisa Walk’s "The Dreaming Mind Knows".

 

In "Lala Salama," Gill Ainsworth gives more than enough good reasons to honor the beliefs of the land in which you dwell. A chameleon, a creation story, a surprise pregnancy, warnings from the locals and a husband's missing finger all come together in this tale to shock and fascinate the reader.

 

What if you could go online and order the perfect-in-every-way boyfriend for only $12.95? Amy J. Benesch creates one not so nice scenario of what could happen in "boyfriend.com". The scariest part of this story is that someone out there is probably already trying to make this a reality.

 

In "Wolf Dreams" by Gary McMahon you will follow a man in his obsession, and even knowing it's deteriorating his grasp on reality, you will still want him to continue on his dark descent in hopes that he'll attain his goal. Run with him, urge him on and follow closely, just remember when it's time to call it quits or you run the risk of losing face with your peers.

 

Kyle, an American Indian, detests stereotypes. He doesn't like quite a few things in "You Snooze, You Lose," but there are a couple of things he does love in this tale by Jane Gwaltney. Jump in the Jeep with Kyle and take a ride on the wild side.

 

"Dreams, Wholesale" by A.C. Wise is a story of a man's downward spiral into madness as he loses more and more sleep. Becoming confused by the special deliveries until his reality is so warped he can't distinguish between the atrocities he really has committed, if any, and the ones he has only dreamed about. This tale is twisted and has a very good ending.

 

Here is a psychedelic loop ride with reality skewing and turning in on itself. When a piece of road litter causes Lucy to skid out, leaving her stranded along a desolate stretch of desert road, she sees a side of herself that she hadn't seen before in Christa Faust's "Roadkill".

 

How long does it take for a person to know who/what they really are? In James S. Dorr's "Madness", Kerrilea descends into her own madness and discovers who she is and it might shock you. I thought I knew where this story was going but I was wrong.

 

"Leaving Avalon" by Lisa Mantchev is the shortest tale in the book and placed at the end, I believe, for a reason. It packs a punch and completes the anthology beautifully.

 

This is one of the finest anthologies on the market right now. Strong plots, believable characters and sometimes unbelievable situations weave together and draw you into the Dreamlands where reality isn't always what it seems. The fine silver thread binding all these stories together is dreams and what happens when the line between reality and those dreams, no matter the cause, becomes blurred.

 

 

21st Century Bread

By Leland Jamieson

132 pages, paperback

Lulu, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-4303-1734-0

Reviewed by James Swingle

 

Leland Jamieson's poetry calls to be read out loud.  Listen to the way the consonants play off each other from the very first lines of the book:

I trample, snapping twigs, a trackless wood

so overcast I can't point toward the sun.

I'd read the moss on pine trunks if I could

but it encrusts all sides of every one.

I love the way the T's snap across the first line like cracking twigs, the stop-and-go of the line not at all a walk or stride or trudge, but itself the rhythm of trampling.  I love the resonance of the passage—I briefly considered the possible echo of Dante, whose journey likewise started lost in a woods, though reading on I found the poems had a far greater echo of Frost, who also stopped by some woods along his way.  This Prologue, "Needles in a Pinewood," shows right from the beginning what to expect from this wonderful volume:  precisely observed imagery; a poet who confidently uses meter and rhyme; and poems that are expansive, that point to more than they say directly.

 

And we soon also see Jamieson's gift for telling stories in verse.  Here, in "Against All Odds," we find a young Jamieson (in third person in the poem) jumping onto a train already pulling out of the station.

Again he breasted the Lookout post, rail, stair,

grabbed the post, vaulted bag and butt through air,

and landed, teetering.  He crawled up-tread,

stood rocking, guts and knees like gingerbread;

The door: locked tight!  What could he do?  Good lord!

Up high, 'Emergency!'  He pulled the cord.

Jamieson's narrative poems give the book a sense of playfulness, a sense of fun.  They also give the book as a whole a sense of balance, because while he tells fun stories, and creates funny sketches of people he knew and things he did, Jamieson doesn't shy away from the big themes.  He approaches them gently, never ranting at the unfairness and pain life sometimes brings.  But neither does he avoid them.  Several poems are in memory of his father, who we find out died of cancer when Jamieson was young.  Here we get a glimpse of his father in "A Landing."

You lived to climb the wind sock's luffing breeze—

in Fairchilds, Pitcairn Mail Wings, DC-3's—

almost as much as you lived to write,

to mount imagination's wings and flight.

Your writing and your flying (both paid well)

gave way before a pancreatic cell.

The great achievement is that when Jamieson does turn his poems to loss, he makes life feel valuable, something to be celebrated as long as it lasts.  And he does this without resorting to sentimentality, but through honest sentiment.

 

In the last section of the book, "Coda for Readers and Poets: Twelve Dances," Jamieson turns to writing poetry, and in particular writing poetry using meter and a formal rhyme scheme.  I particularly enjoyed "Springing Formal Tongues," where a challenge given in free verse is answered in formal meter:

I said to Freeverse, "Think! Make sense!

It's speech-stress springs the formal tongue

and heaves into the breeze its scents

and sight, it's ear's delights—when wrung

from pulsing lines the poet's strung.

You hold in hand the poem, whole.

You feel its heartbeat, sense its soul.

And as a final bonus, the notes contain a nice introduction to writing poetry in formal meter and rhyme, with the reasons Jamieson himself turned to them, and some great advice for any poet who wishes to experiment with meter and rhyme themselves.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and recommend it.

 

 

Tales of Real and Dream Worlds

By Bart Stewart

210 pages, paperback

Paper View Books, 2006

ISBN: 0-9785817-0-9

 

 

Reviewed by Sharon M. White

 

Throughout Tales of Real and Dream Worlds the writing is solid, the characters are believable and I related to them. The characters' reactions to the mundane-gone-macabre are not over the top but seem to reflect how one would truly react. The dialogue is strong and convincing, which is a trait not found often enough in today's books.

 

There were few places where the narrative faltered and felt a bit forced. This did not detract from the readability, enjoyment or the entertainment I took from Mr. Stewart's book.  Bart Stewart has proven, to me, that there are worlds within worlds, everywhere, like the Russian dolls that hide so inconspicuously one inside the other, each perfectly fitted to its environment.

 

The first story, “Theater on the Air,” takes place during the time of the Orson Welles airing of The War of the Worlds radio broadcast, the night before Halloween 1938. This broadcast caused a family living near Raleigh, NC a considerable journey and trouble. We ride along as the Rutherford family tries to escape to a safer place before the aliens can reach them. The nation-wide panic is never more evident as it is in the rural setting of Theater on the Air. The radio was THE form of mass communication in 1938, there were no cell phones, few phones of any kind in the rural parts of the country, and certainly no internet connections. Once away from home and the radio the Rutherfords had to rely on what was told to them by the few remaining people they encountered. In the state of panic friends and strangers could, and would, turn violent making any chance meeting unnerving. The Rutherfords are good people, but how long can they maintain their hospitality before the nagging threat of human extinction influences their good nature?

 

My favorites were the next three linked stories about statuary cats.  All sorts of scenarios ran through my mind when I thought of statuary cats as the main idea of a horror story, but Bart Stewart takes this to a whole new dimension. I was guessing right up to the end of “The Statuary Cats,” pondering just what these cats really were.  I was wrong with every single guess. The Statuary Cats, from the beginning, seems like it will be one of your everyday, run-of-the-mill spook stories. Don't be fooled, this story will make you look twice and side-step statuary from now on! In truth, this story gave me chills. Now I wonder what IS out there, and right here next to me, that science has no clue about. I'll have to write Mr. Stewart a Thank-You letter for the added nightmares.

 

The continuing story in “Silence of the Statuary Cats” adds to the terror of the original premise by showing just how long they remain dormant, practically unnoticed, gathering dust and taking up space, like so many of the larger heavier pieces that stay in one spot for long periods of time. People walk by them, often touching them, but really noticing them only the first few times—after that they're barely seen—until they are suddenly gone. Ever wonder what happened to a neighbor's lawn statue or a unique piece you noticed at the museum that just isn't there anymore? So did the people in Silence of the Statuary Cats.

 

Finally, with “Kittens of the Statuary Cats,” take your fear of the unknown and unknowable, times it by 10 and then take away all the pre-supposed boundaries of said fear and you'll come close to this final story's impact on your nerves! I thought this third story couldn't add anything to the first two Statuary Cat stories but here again, I was wrong.

 

The story  “The Jingle” has some humor to it, though it's dark, but it is more a horror story of brainwashing-by-advertising in a worst-case scenario. It makes you want to turn the TV off every time you hear the familiar or unfamiliar notes of an advertising jingle.  In “Condemned to Repeat It,” we find out how far will Monte go to hide the part he played in the Jonestown tragedy?  “The Golden Sisterhood” gives us a bee’s perspective of the different horrors and the sense of undying loyalty in her world ruled by the strongest, where a single small deficiency can mean death at the hands of your own beloved family.

 

I'm not going to say a lot about “Dumpster of the Mind” because I don't want to spoil it. This is one you'll just have to trust me about when I say it's terrifying. I will never throw anything in a dumpster again!  Finally, “Brickworker” is blackly funny. Ever feel like you're beating your head against a wall at work?  Is trying to make a living killing you? I don't know anyone who would not relate to this story. If you've ever worked a 9 to 5 job or known someone who did, you'll love this story.

 

My overall opinion of Tales of Real and Dream Worlds is that you won't be disappointed by the book. If you enjoy bizarre or horror stories then this book will be a nice addition to your personal library. I have read the book three times now and will likely read it again in a few months.

 

These nine short stories are bound in a sleek trade paperback. The cover is black and red tones showcasing a chilling illustration of a statuary cat that I won't easily forget. The size makes the book easy to handle and is a good candidate for a carry-along read. In my opinion a reader will get their money's worth of wear and enjoyment out this edition.

 

 

For the Love of Letters:

A 21st-Century Guide to the Art of Letter Writing

By Samara O'Shea

172 pages, hardcover

Collins, 2007

ISBN: 978-0061215308

 

Reviewed by Annika Barranti

 

When I was a teenager living in New York, I kept in touch with my friends—scattered throughout New York and New England—by post. We wrote dozens of letters, full of quoted lyrics, secrets, and declarations (ranging from “I love you so!” to “I am so bored”). At the time I had email, but did not use it frequently. Long distance charges were high and our parents were frequently annoyed when the bills came. A stamp cost a quarter, which our parents were mostly glad to pay to keep us off the damn phone… and if they didn’t have stamps, we could find the money without too much trouble. I treasured each letter and kept many of them to this day (and how amusing it is to re-read them as an adult). But with the integration of the internet into my daily life, I’ve all but lost the art of and joy in letter-writing.

 

Samara O’Shea loves letters. She loves the history, the tradition, etiquette, and very act of letter writing. In 2005 she started her own business: a website (http://letterlover.net/) offering her services as a letter-writer. For $50 (less at that time, I believe) she will write a letter of any variety—a love letter, a break-up letter, a letter of recommendation, and a "Thank You" letter—to your specifications.

 

In her new book, For The Love Of Letters: A 21st Century Guide To The Art Of Letter Writing, O’Shea explains, without admonishment, why a letter (preferably written by hand) has more impact than an email or instant message. She believes that each method of communication has its place, and simply urges and encourages people not to leave out letter writing.

 

The book is divided into different types of letters and the reader is guided through the process of writing each type. Rules are set out if there are any, and suggestions are made for everything from length to delivery method (yes, some time-sensitive letters are best by email). O’Shea includes examples from her life, her website, and from history, often reproducing (in whole or part) letters that not only illustrate the art that went into the writing but also the time period and author. Historical letter writers featured in the book include suffragettes Susan B. Anthony and Mrs. Stanton, Marie Antoinette, and John Keats. Not included is a letter from James Joyce, whose estate (his grandson, Stephen Joyce) refuses to give the rights; it is his position that Joyce’s letters are not of public interest and should not be shared. O’Shea wrote a polite and professional letter, requesting permission, which is printed in her book; his reply (handwritten!) is available on her website but is not in the book for legal reasons.

 

I love everything about this book. It could only be better if there were more of it—but then, it is short, sweet, and to the point, and I love that about it, too.

 

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Reviews © 2007 by their respective authors. All rights reserved.