The Watchman’s Rainbow and Other Works

Review by Joey Madia

DISCLOSURE: For four years the author of this collection of short stories, plays, essays, and poems was a student in my creative writing classes held through an extension program offered by a community college in West Virginia. Most of the pieces that create the seemingly disparate yet unified tapestry of this collection were developed in those classes; I edited many to varying degrees and published early versions of The Watchman’s Rainbow at the literary site for which I am Founding Editor, www.newmystics.com.

That said, my objectivity could rightly be put into question. With sensitivity to such a probable circumstance, what follows is more of a book report than a book review. I have chosen this modification of my approach over the prospect of abandoning the work altogether for one simple reason:

These works are well written, exquisitely researched, and, as the author tells us in several of his Author Notes to the various sections, he has lived at least to some degree the realities that he has crafted into his fiction.

Constituting the bulk of the page-count for this collection, The Watchman’s Rainbow is a geopolitical action-thriller in the tradition of le Carré and Clancy. It takes as its focus the drug wars between the United States and Mexico, although, as writers and able readers know, we do not read or care about subjects when it comes to fiction—we read and care about people. And the person at the core of this collection of stories and theatre-like interludes is Amos Sanson (a pseudonym) who is coming to the end of a long, successful career as a watcher for a cabal led by a man named Simon Stoddard (think Charlie directing the Angels or the voice on the Mission: Impossible recordings). As we first meet Sanson he is struggling, akin to Sherlock Holmes (a character with whom Wyant, like myself, has great affinity) with whether or not to retire in the face of the fact that he is no longer the man he was, mentally or physically, although the villains—and his employers—are making it hard to walk away. Continue reading

An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic

Review by Paige Ambroziak

There’s an intelligent and exquisite beauty to Daniel Mendelsohn’s writing. He’s clearly an educator, a deep thinker, a keen critic, and a writer in tune with an effective mode of conversation. I was taken with AN ODYSSEY from the start—once I had gotten used to his writing style, which emulates ring composition with miniature strokes that are amusing as the read goes on.

I was moved to tears by the end of the work, despite knowing the inevitable outcome. It’s part memoir, part self-exploration, part lesson in all things Homer (if you’ve never read Homer, what the *heck* are you waiting for?), but its strength lies with the gentle hand he uses to show how similar we are to the ancients. If you appreciate Homer’s “Odyssey,” you will certainly enjoy this read, and I’d wager take away a trove of antique treasures.

I’ve taught the epic to college students, and found many parallels to my own journey. It requires a certain amount of stamina and patience to lead students to discover the epic’s textual tapestry on their own. Despite how well one may know a text, there are always new things to uncover. Teaching a text seems to teach us this if anything. Continue reading

The Perfect Wife: A Novel

Review by Paige Ambroziak

JP Delaney quotes Ovid’s myth of “Pygmalion” at the opening of his novel, but as I read it I couldn’t stop thinking about Victor Frankenstein. This is a domestic thriller with a side of sci-fi. The main character is — for all intents and purposes — an emotionally advanced AI that is capable of empathy. (Creating an AI with empathy seems paradoxical since empathy is unique to human beings, the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes.) It — or AI-Abbie — is also capable of recalling moments from the life of the woman of which she’s a “replica.” I won’t rehash the synopsis but essentially a man pieces together a prototype of his dead wife to bring her back to life. That seems the gist of the story. Or so you think …

I love reading AI fiction, which isn’t always done well because it’s difficult to make AI’s “real” to the world they’re set in. Often storytellers deal in the future to make it easier. Delaney’s story is set in the present time, which presents several problems. We obviously can buy into the AI idea. We see it in the news and advancements have been made. We’re already having conversations about the rights of sex robots and whether it’s acceptable to create ones with rape settings. So the reader gets this world. And of course Abbie’s husband, Tim, is a tech bazillionaire with carte-blanche to experiment on/with/for whatever the heck he wants. We’ve seen that, too. We live it. But one of the silliest leaps Delaney makes — and one that makes me incredulous — is that AI-Abbie is so lifelike people mistake it for the dead wife. Um, what? This happens several times and is actually an important plot point. This doesn’t work and isn’t going to work no matter the suspension of belief for fiction. The story falls apart with that alone. Continue reading

Little Darlings: A Novel

Review by Paige Ambroziak

I went into “Little Darlings” knowing it was a supernatural thriller inspired by Grimm’s fairy tales, but I didn’t realize I’d experience such textured prose. Golding’s ability to spin a story with language is beyond skillful. She’s downright gifted. She pulls you in. Well, actually, she kind of grips you, her text’s curling tendrils clamping down and jerking you inside. The wince-worthy details, the evocative descriptors, the elegant way she describes some of the most gory moments of bodily harm due to childbirth, all of it feeds your imagination. Her writing calls to mind Neil Gaiman’s. There’s a layering to the work of both writers that makes the reader feel as if she sinks into their stories, like feet in quicksand or hands into mud.

Here, Golding sets the stage for a psychological thriller that has you questioning her main character’s delusions. Are they delusions? Is she reliable? She’s sleep-deprived, literally drained of her sustenance, and her husband’s behavior toward her may be categorized as abusive. After delivering her twin boys, she’s kind of abandoned, at least mentally. It’s no wonder she experiences what she does. Golding does such a valid job of making insanity plausible. If anything, this story is a cautionary tale for pregnancy — not motherhood. It’s the trauma of delivery that leaves the scars. Continue reading

Return of the Butterfly

“The Promise of the Void”: A Review of Sharon Heath’s Return of the Butterfly, The Fleur Trilogy, Book 3

Review by Joey Madia

Before you read another word of this review, be sure you’ve done one of the following two things (or, if you are feeling generous, both):

1. Read the previous two books in this series
2. Read my reviews of the first two books in the series

Now we can proceed.

There is an ancient Chinese curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.”

Are we cursed? It certainly seems so. The world is, if not IN chaos, on the brink of it. The United States finds itself at a level of Us and Them and Othering that is probably the greatest since the sixties—and there is every reason to believe that this state of things has been carefully engineered. The past two times I’ve left my writing room to go have dinner with friends, the conversation devolved into line demarcating and political posturing. Even when I politely asked that we talk about something else, they persisted. It was Important to them that I understood their Position. The news, such as it is, is a daily feed of Greed, Hatred, and dark prognoses for our planet and its populations—human, animal, and plant.

I would not normally begin a review in such a way, except that it is unavoidable after reading Return of the Butterfly. It is chock full of these struggles, all illuminated, talked about, and worried about by a cast of characters that the readers of this trilogy have come to love, dislike, root for, root against, and, if they are truly honest, measure their own worldviews by. Continue reading