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

Beneath the Fungoid Moon

Review by Joey Madia

I have known Chuck Regan and his work for a long time. Three decades, actually. I started as a fan of his comic books, including Nether Age of Maga—a post-apocalyptic vision that’s everything from Plato to P. K. Dick. His skills as an artist—he’s known for his attention to detail and authenticity in his science fiction–based designs—translate successfully into prose. Regan has always had fun using made up words and he incorporates just the right amount of pop culture references in his work to give us grounding in the odd.

Regan’s vision has always been dark, but with touches of comedy and hope in all the right places. He opens his About the Author section at the end of this collection by saying he’s technically not an author because he has yet to publish a novel. But I’ve read several of his longer works in whole or in part, and “author” certainly applies. He is as much a technician of the craft of storytelling as any author I know. He’s even created a workbook for writers of long-form stories called Give Your Hero Bad Breath: A Character, Plot and World-Building Workbook that I have incorporated into my starting routine for new stories.

Beneath the Fungoid Moon is a collection of seven short stories, each with an opening passage about the history of the piece. For budding writers and those who want to see how the sausage gets made for writers in the thorny world of publishing, these introductions are invaluable. Continue reading