a child walks in the dark by Darren C. Demaree

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Salvatore Marici


a child walks in the dark by Darren C. Demaree

The poetry book a child walks in the dark by Darren C. Demaree (Small Harbor Publishing, 2021) is a collection of advice he gave to his children. Advice that encourages them to discover the world while they learn to become themselves and to let them know that they will have struggles.

In the poem [A MASK OR TWO] a father tells his children “i love all of the people you will try and fail to be and i love all of the lies you will tell yourself…” (25)

In the poem [YOU ARE THE STORM], Demaree lets his daughter become angry. Her father’s beliefs inspire her anger. Yet he knows or hopes as she grows older with devotions he will have to stay out of her way:

…you are the storm clapping i can smell your electricity coming to life … i told you our president was trying to hurt the planet you broke a lamp you’re seven … there will be no punishment you are the punishment for everyone that gets in the way of a thriving earth and it’s my job to stay out of your way. (38)

Even though each poem starts out “i told my daughter,” or “i told my son,” or “i told my children,” these poems are not for his children, at least for the present. They are too young to read the book and to grasp the advice. In the last poem of the book [YOU MIGHT CHOOSE TO READ THESE POEMS], he writes: “i told my children you might choose to read these poems in the bareness and anxiety of your young adulthood…” (73)

Demaree wrote these poems to discover, as he writes in the poem [YOU MIGHT CHOOSE TO READ THESE POEMS]: “i have written so that i could explore so that i could explain so i could hide and lie…” (73) The results of putting these poems in a collection is a handbook of raising children. In the upcoming years, I speculate he will refer to this book, to remind him what advice and promises he gave to his children. He also wrote these poems for parents to help their children navigate into adulthood without a leash. Demaree expanded to include other parents in podcasts, one discussion for each poem in the book.

The syntax in this poetry collection is the first thing I noticed when I looked at a page. It made me feel uncomfortable when I read these poems. There is a visual urgency: titles are all in caps inside parentheses, the knowing each poem begins “i told my child” followed by the poem’s title, lines that go to the end of the margin, run-on sentences, no periods, no commas, no punctuation. nada enforced with splattered repetition. I mentally put in line breaks, punctuation. The meanings were there but with breaths. I was able to catch, absorb. I don’t think Demaree wanted the reader to breathe. The only whitespace in these poems is when a poem ends. This book streams fifty-nine poems, like episodes on Netflix with no interruptions. His thoughts of parenting and the process of childhood turning into adulthood are shown in thirteen lines or less.

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Darren C. Demaree is the author of sixteen full-length collections of poetry, He is recipient of a 2018 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, the Louise Bogan Award from Trio House Press, and the Nancy Dew Taylor Award from Emrys Journal. He is the Editor-in-chief of the Best of the Net Anthology and Managing Editor of Ovenbird Poetry. He lives in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children. Twitter: @d_c_demaree

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Salvatore Marici has four poetry collections. He was the 2010 Midwest Writing Center Poet-in-Resident, has judged poetry contests, placed in poetry contests, teaches workshops and attends poetry workshops. His poetry has appeared in Toasted Cheese; Spillway; Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland; Of Burgers & Barrooms, a Main Street Rag anthology; Poetry Quarterly and many more. Marici served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala as a natural resources specialist and he is a civil servant retiree/agronomist. In Southwest Florida he is learning to maneuver a 17-foot kayak. During the summer he grows garlic in Western Illinois. Email: redwineandgarlic[at]yahoo.com

The Italian Professor’s Wife by Ann Pedone

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter


The Italian Professor’s Wife by Ann Pedone

Intimacy is at the heart of Ann Pedone’s compelling poetry collection, The Italian Professor’s Wife (Press 53, 2022), a narrative, lyrical love triangle between three characters occurring during an extended holiday in Italy. Two are married and are named on the cover. The third character remains a mystery. Interestingly, they are nameless, described in third-person pronouns with the exception of one reference throughout the poems. The poems seem timeless, centered around ordinary people—perhaps on a second honeymoon tour—but this changes abruptly when they arrive in Rome. A subtle transformation occurs. One of them wanders and the other is consumed by it.

We must have been very lonely
people to have done this to each other. (27)

One of the nuances of the collection is how it captures the idea of living in multispace dimensions that are tangible as well as temporal. This is seen in public and private spaces of restaurants, train stations, cafes, and hotels. The in-between places that mark a journey as well as invisible breaks in time and action happening off the pages.  I really enjoy this. Wondering what the characters are doing and what they will do next. A reader’s wonder-lust. Likewise, there is an atmospheric tone that soon becomes apparent. There is isolation and longing. A loneliness that borders despair. I am reminded of the twentieth-century New York artist, Edward Hopper. Many of his figurative paintings show couples in such places and spaces, some of which have an added dimension of being observed from the other side of a glass window outside an urban diner, or through sunny windows that contrast the figures. Pedone does this, too, with her vivid prose and structure. The reader is there.

Keeping with this idea, the poems are also juxtaposed to another equally interesting and clinical first-person plural narration titled “The Continuity Script” ordered in Roman numeral numbered “scenes” that read like stage directions in a play, a dramatic element from which the reader sees the subjects from a different vantage point. Complementary. They are read in tangent. One poem is in the point of view of the nameless wife, then what seems to be a different speaker is observing her like an omniscient private detective reading aloud from his little notebook straight out of a noir film or novel.

SCENE IX

We see the wife going down in the elevator

We see the wife sit at a small table in the hotel bar

We see the wife order a glass of wine

We see the wife look down to the end of the bar

The husband is sitting next to a woman

The wife watches them

Light fills all of the openings in the room

The wife can see that the woman is beautiful. (29)

What’s more, Pedone’s thoughtful stanzas often read much like a laundry list. The speaker ticking off her day. No punctuation. Short line breaks. A run-on sentence containing a runaway list of actions and items.

Stripped the bed found
the train tickets tried
calling my sister picked up
his pants from
the bathroom floor reached
into the front left
pocket and while he
wasn’t looking
held my breath and pulled
the lining all
the way out. (4)

Likewise, Pedone is selective in her vocabulary, slowly and seductively showing a marriage in various angles and in unwritten prose. Missing punctuation and white space heighten the tension that is grinding between these characters. Glamorous and provocative.

The diary-style short narratives from the wife’s very intimate point of view adds to this idea. Many begin with routine remembrances leading to something else smoldering beyond surfaces.

Feb. 29th

The maid left a stack of new towels on
Top of the TV

Three Turkish men have been arguing
In the hallway since lunch

While I was brushing my teeth this morning
he came out of the shower and
wrote something
on the bathroom mirror

I left the door unlocked when
we got into bed

And drained all the
milk from between my thighs. (28)

A lot is happening in this small remarkable volume filled with white space, erotica, and innuendo. Small movements and motions. A look, a word—hold couplets of meaning.  Each poem is a chapter in the lives of these two people traveling across Italy though springtime and ending in a railway station in Palermo.

*

Ann Pedone is a poet and literary translator in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the author of The Medea Notebooks (Etruscan Press, Spring 2023), and The Italian Professor’s Wife (Press 53, 2022), as well as the chapbooks: The Bird Happened, perhaps there is a sky we don’t know: a re-imagining of sappho, Everywhere You Put Your Mouth, Sea [break], and DREAM/WORK. Her work has recently appeared in The American Journal of Poetry, Narrative, Chicago Quarterly Review, The Louisville Review, Gigantic Sequins, Conduit, and Toasted Cheese.

pencilShelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: reviews[at]toasted-cheese.com

Sneezing Coyotes by Salvatore Marici

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Garrett Ray Harriman


Sneezing Coyotes by Salvatore Marici

Reading the poems in Salvatore Marici’s bountiful new collection, Sneezing Coyotes (Ice Cube Press, 2022), means signing up to become a privileged tourist of moments, each one intimate, systemic, and wide-ranging. Page after page, I felt like I was weeks deep into a heady safari of the scenes and locales (interior and exterior) of one man’s vast, inimitable memory. But counter to the stereotype of the slovenly tourist present only for the thrills and highlights, I felt inclusive to these retellings, embraced by their density and detail. I still feel vindicated, and wiser, and optimistic of my own memories and systems of notice weeks after first reading them.

The greatest gift of these gathered works is just that: renewing faith in the processes and powers of noticing.

In Marici’s poetics, nothing is “merely” anything. Everything is brimming or in motion with the many systems composing it, leaning into it, intruding upon it, remembering it. If this sounds dry or schematic, it is anything but. If this sounds overwhelming, too complex to be intimate, or even preachy, think twice. His poems create sudden, intricate webs of cause and effect, of witnessing and remembering, that generate tableaus snatched out of time.

Take for instance a sequence of three poems, “Gringo Meets Guatemala’s,” that detail the homes and fauna of the country. The second in this series flexes the author’s horizon-wide point of view:

Every morning wives swing brooms
smack pigs’ black butts
chase them out of adobe houses
into Guatemala’s rural roads.
Red dust ankle deep.
Slick when wet.

Triangles made from scrap wood
clasp pigs’ necks. Stops snouts
from rooting fields. Front legs bump
bottom slabs, nudge them into a two-step.

Dusk, they dance over their thresholds. (32)

As varied as Marici’s subjects are, there is an equal number of unique destinations, physical and emotional, that vivify these poems with Sherlockian detail. Chicago, Cambodia, Germany, Florida, Guatemala—each new vista feels like its own world, its own condensed encyclopedia of a single person’s experience. There are often multiple shifts in location in a single three-stanza poem, as well. It’s a whirlwind sensation, these frequent shifts in geography, and constantly rewarding.

“Changed Landscape,” for instance, speaks to Marici’s spellbinding knack for rendering all places personal, history-filled, and majestic:

Rain falls
through cracks in a roof
of a barn built in early 1900’s.
Melted snow seeps,
into gray-splintered boards
once painted red
when horses, cows, and pigs
lived on an 80-acre farm
the farmer’s great grandkids sold. (61)

The occasions that connect these far-flung places range from the intimate to the morose, funerals to jungles, the work-a-day to the philosophic. Moments of activism and introspection are as common as moments of deft and lingering observation, whether countries away or in the author’s backyard garden. In every example, the place itself is described with pinpoint verisimilitude, and the processes described within them become almost tangible souvenirs. That layered, globe-spanning curation extends across the whole collection, while the abundant terrariums gathered along the way become your trusted guides.

Once at our destination, these poems ask us to care long enough to understand the processes at play in life—personal, ecological, emotional—and to think through how our actions and reflections can contribute to, or in some cases corrupt, these living landscapes. They teach and iterate on the truth that presence (no crowds required, just one or two of us proves plenty) allows our lens of witnessing to expand. We see the ecological twists of fate. We experience the customs and lives unfolding in ignorance of and response to our meddling. Nothing is hidden or spared from our inspection.

The compact composition of these memories and scenes do not feel superficial or disrespectful in their brevity, either. They are robust enough to read as true, but controlled enough in their exposure of their subjects to not be exploitative. This interplay of themes is parenthetical, repetitious and resonant; there is no waste—not a feeling, not a shoestring, not a thought. His is a brand of respectful recollection.

In “Facets of Cambodia’s Rats,” the lives and uses of this creature perfectly capture Marici’s eye for description, and even wider eye for macrocosmic implication:

Through the rural regions
brown rats bred in Tanzania
wear harnesses hooked to overhead cables
guide their two feet plus bodies
through fields landmines remain.
Twitching noses scent TNT.
Their 2.6 lbs. do not detonate. (20)

These bewitching players and outcomes are presented with calm and unromanticized clarity. They are not mugging for the poet’s memory, nor are they precious, nostalgia-buffed caricatures. I believe they are here, now, just as they were then. The author does not speak out of turn in these moments. No feelings of misgiving appear, suggesting that Marici is rendering before us anything less than the un-punched-up memory of who and what there was, what they were doing, what was felt. They do not mistake pithiness for deep knowledge, and peddle no such attitude. He doesn’t intimate; he reports.

An ironical eye is never cast upon the inequities broadcast from these storied scenes and feelings, either, just as no gavel of action falls to castigate the reader into submission of the hefty lives, systems, and lessons to be examined. Instead, these poems argue by virtue of presence that observation and memory are systems to be known and explored, and can affect change in themselves. Powerful systems. Unignorable ones. Take them lightly at any point in time, and you risk causing damage.

Stylistically, Marici’s punchy verbs and article-dropped lines cast a savory spell of immediacy and validity to the quick-to-change proceedings, as if events are happening now and the grammar need not apply. His sequences and stanzas almost always include lists of details—physical descriptions, renderings of environment—yet nothing feels static or preserved in his work. This stanza from “An Afternoon in Sticky Hanoi” proves the rule:

At an intersection, a man sits on a curb,
eyes closed; thumbs touch middle fingers.
Centimeters from his sandaled toes
scooter tires roll. Pedestrians’ legs
brush the meditating man’s knees
another sense from streets he knows
passes through his flowing mind,
exits into the universe. (21)

The light of Marici’s memory is sharp in its focus, but soft at its edges. These aren’t dead butterflies pinned to a corkboard, dusty relics of once beautiful or heartbreaking scenes exhumed from the poet’s closet for the sake of a page count. Every scene is a breathing, beating specimen both lightly and starkly depicted. They appear as unchanged things the reader is privileged to witness flutter by, including the gentle chaos their wingbeats leave in their wake.

A procedural grace unfolds over the majority of these poems. His listings evoke a meditative pulse, a ritual of “happening-upon-to-contemplation” for these pieces taken individually and as a final volume. We discover that the limitations and effects of one lifestyle beget or amend the lives, losses, and memories of others—always. “Tales from a Non-Savior” and “Caskets in Demand” showcase this interplay via an international exploration, while “Goodbye to an Unfilled Want” and “Look For a Sign, Any Sign” remind us that the intimate processes of loving and grieving are shared species-wide, regardless of our current address.

Another poetic knife honed to cunning usage is Marici’s theming. If the last stanza of a poem has a message or commentary, it never screams and gesticulates its presence: it wafts, becoming a lingering atmosphere of the steps and details just consumed. So many of these pieces fade and float into their endings, rather than conclude with some definitive image or metaphor or emotion. Yet the formula does not become stale or self-parodying. His images show the skin and scars they need to, their limitations apparent, as our own understanding and connections must be. The outcomes are imperfect, unfinished, but nothing is abandoned. I savored that feeling of examined inhalation each time these devices came to play.

Why? Because that is what being both observer and observed means. His subjects remain undefined but exhaustively explored in the instant. Things are stark and remarked, tenderly and all-encompassingly described, and then handed off to our care from what feels like a pair or warm, steady hands. We’re asked to take notice of the system we have been dropped inside of, not condemned to fix the machine or to burden the responsibility. These lines from “Selective Killings Before Winter” hold up this humbling mirror perfectly:

The rolling mower lays mats of
chopped plants. Green pigments
stain my sneakers. I hold a hatchet
before the autumn’s leafless trees,
most a few years older than saplings.

After winter,
no new twigs sprout
on these posts where
song birds peck burrowing insects
fly into bare crowns
sing above
networks of living systems
grown from the dead in soil. (58)

In Sneezing Coyotes, moments and the systems that create them exist in the same breath, and the memories they create are never witnessed, or remembered, alone. I hadn’t come across Marici’s poetry before tackling this review, but the breadth and generosity of his experiences, his inventive, inventorial style, and the evanescent ecological messaging of his work have left a hopeful impression on this new and eager fan. I can’t wait for his next tour to begin.

*

Salvatore Marici’s latest collection of poetry is Sneezing Coyotes (Ice Cube Press, 2022). He also has one chapbook and two other full poetry collections. He was the 2010 Midwest Writing Center Poet in Resident, has judged poetry contests, placed in poetry contests, teaches and attends workshops that teach the craft of poetry. His poetry has appeared in Toasted Cheese, Spillway, Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland, Of Burgers & Barrooms, a Main Street Rag anthology, Poetry Quarterly and many more. Marici served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala as a natural resources specialist and he is a civil servant retiree/agronomist. In SouthWest Florida he is learning to maneuver a 17-foot kayak. During the summer he grows garlic in Western IL. Keep up with his events on Facebook.

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Garrett Ray Harriman is a writer and poet living in southwest Colorado. His work has appeared in Atlas Poetica, Toasted Cheese, Kestrel, and other publications. His poem, “Snake in the Grass,” was a semi-finalist in Naugatuck River Review’s 11th Narrative Poetry Contest guest judged by poet Lauren K. Alleyne. Twitter: @Inadversent

Where the Stork Flies by Linda C. Wisniewski

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter


Where the Stork Flies by Linda C. Wisniewski

Linda Wisniewski’s fantasy novel, Where the Stork Flies (Sand Hill Review Press, 2021) is a captivating story realistically set in the eastern United States with modern characters, yet curiously framed in a time travel mystery. A delightful blend of genres. From the first few paragraphs, Wisniewski hooks the reader as she sets up the exposition in a curious home invasion, but not a typical home invasion as one might think:

I stumbled into the kitchen that morning and found the back door standing open, letting in a few flakes of snow.

Get a grip. I slammed the door closed. A whimper came from behind me. I whirled around to see an old woman in a long brown skirt, loose white blouse, and a muslin headscarf. She stood beside my kitchen table, shivering. A scream escaped my throat and then hers, both of us yelling like a crazy banshee duet. (1)

The whole point of the first page is to tease the reader and simultaneously entice them to turn the page, which I did again and again. I felt like the ghost in the room seeing the characters and their doings laid out in beautifully descriptive writing and spot-on dialogue, which captured my attention from the gate.

Aside from her thoughtful prose, Linda Wisniewski is adept in creating small moments within the plot structure. The story is told in a linear construct and as the plot begins its ascent, she builds in strong supports of small moments that round the characters in grace and flaws. Scene after scene, Wisniewski’s characters move about freely and easily as she carefully captures their personalities and motivations in these small moment situations which culminate in rich, robust characters who are distinct. Believable. Audacious. One of my favorite scenes is when two of the characters make up a guest bed, a follow-up scene from another important moment, richly illuminating a major theme: motherhood.

I followed her down the attic stairs, went to the linen closet and brought out clean sheets for her bed.

“Pretty color.” She took them from my hands and stroked the pink and rose patterns with her finger. “Like roses men sell after Mass.”

My spine stiffened but what she said next surprised me.

“Men don’t understand what mothers go through.”

She sat on the bed and stroked the rose-printed quilt […] “Mothers can be very sick when expecting. Some do not want so many children. In bad harvest, they starve. There is woman in Lipinki who helps.”

You could have knocked me over with a feather. “Did you ever…” but I couldn’t. It was none of my business. When I took the folded sheets from her arms and went to fit them onto the mattress, she watched me for a moment and then stepped around the bed and helped me tuck them in. Then she stood facing me… (96-97)

There were many of these scenes, carefully crafted and beautiful in their simplicity. Scenes from everyday life. I re-read some, savoring those tantalizing small moments that reached out and immersed me even further. Curiously, I was reminded of the different forms of flash fiction. They were powerful vignettes giving the larger story locomotion as well as purpose.

There are three main characters: Kat, the librarian, who is the narrator; Regina, an old Polish woman from the old country who clearly drives the plot and is a real scene-stealer; and a sophisticated young translator named Aniela whose closet I would love to see. But all is not as it seems. These characters are layered in flaws, regrets, blood, and secrets that are alluded to and revealed each in its own time. The central character is the librarian, Kat, an emotionally isolated character seeking redemption.

I felt like a child myself, the little girl who hid her sorrow and loneliness behind the covers of books. The woman I was now had no such option, and truth be told, I didn’t want to hide anymore. I wanted to do something good with my life, to redeem myself and, perhaps, my mother. (114)

Kat’s journey is indeed tied to the old woman, Regina, whom Kat is curiously drawn to and genuinely wants to help. But help doesn’t come easy for Kat as she makes mistake after mistake, often complicating situations with her own problems that culminate in an unexpected turn of events. The three women characters, though very different, have one thing in common: ancestry. Wisniewski luminously weaves their backstories in Polish culture with the mysterious Black Madonna of Częstochowa at the heart of this charming fantasy novel.

*

Linda C. Wisniewski is a former librarian who lives in Bucks County, PA. Her work has been published in Toasted Cheese, Hippocampus, Foliate Oak, and other literary magazines. She is the author of a memoir, Off Kilter: A Woman’s Journey to Peace With Scoliosis, Her Mother and Her Polish Heritage (Pearlsong Press, 2008). She blogs at lindawis.com. Readers can reach her at lindawis[at]lindawis.com.

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Shelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: reviews[at]toasted-cheese.com

The Dime by Mark Paxson

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Bill Lockwood


The Dime by Mark Paxson

Starting with Another Night in Bridgeport (King Midget Press, 2012), Mark Paxson has written five books and, as he says on his website, “somewhere around 50 short stories.” He identifies himself as an “indie writer,” one who is “writing and publishing stories the traditional publishing world doesn’t want to touch.” His latest novel, The Dime (King Midget Press, 2021), fits that description quite well with an unconventional situation, very real-life characters, and a number of intriguing plot twists that take you so often in the opposite direction of what a reader might be expecting in mainstream popular fiction. If for no other reason, his cleverness makes this book certainly worth reading.

Paxson also uses an intriguing device. He keeps shifting the viewpoint from which the story is told. Instead of just one narrator or protagonist, the reader is shifted from one character to another, seeing the developing story from pretty much all the points of view of those involved. Most often the viewpoint is that of one of the three main characters around which the story revolves. They are all very plain, normal, everyday people who in many ways could be seen as simply losers. It is a story of each trying to salvage a tragic life. In the end they all may or may not end up as heroes, all part of Paxson’s genius as well.

Sisters Lily and Sophie live in a house in the small town of Northville, New York. It had been their home until they and their parents were all involved in a tragic car accident that killed the parents and left the younger sister, Sophie, in a wheelchair. The sisters then lived an unhappy life under the rule of an aunt on the prairie in Nebraska until Lily became eighteen and gained guardianship of Sophie. They returned to the family home that had been held in a trust for them, a trust that neither was able to fully access until age 25. The story begins with Lily, now 20 and working in a five-and-dime store called by everyone simply “The Dime,” and Sophie, sixteen and in high school, locked in uneventful and unsatisfying lives. Enter Pete, recently arrived member of Sophie’s class, who is trying without success to fit into the small town teenage society. Feeling guilty that Sophie has “withered” in their life situation, Lily has a sudden idea when she catches Pete shoplifting a Yankees T-shirt. She makes him a deal. She won’t turn him in if he will ask her sister Sophie to the school dance. At this point, the story about a girl in a wheelchair and a guy who comes to meet her under duress could turn out to be quite sappy. But that is not the case at all. This story is off into its intricate twists and turns from there.

Paxson takes on many issues such as death, sadness, hopes, dreams, and love as the story progresses. He adds an element where he shows that these three lead characters do care for each other, and as a result the reader starts caring for them, too. Who is the strongest and who is the most vulnerable shifts just as Paxson shifts the point of view. He also throws in some flashback scenes shifting the time-frame as well. And there is also a strong positive element in that all the characters appear to be on a kind of journey toward healing. The character Lily expresses some real wisdom:

I learned in the weeks that followed that the actions you think will make a difference frequently don’t, while the ones that seemed insignificant in the moment can spread ripples far and wide. (134)

Shortly after she says that, Paxson throws the reader another plot twist and surprise. It is a very good read.

*

Mark Paxson is a semi-retired attorney living and relaxing in California. He has been published in Toasted Cheese, The First Line, and the Disappointed Housewife, among others. He also has published two collections of short stories, the novel One Night in Bridgeport (King Midget Press, 2012) and the novella, The Irrepairable Past (King Midget Press, 2019). He blogs at King Midget’s Ramblings. He can be reached at mpaxson55[at]gmail.com.

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Bill Lockwood is a retired social worker with a lifelong passion for writing and participation in community theater. He currently writes articles about the Arts and interesting people for The Shopper/Vermont Journal and covers local community theater for the Eagle Times of Claremont, NH. The Wild Rose Press has published five of his historical fiction novels: Buried Gold (2016), Megan of the Mists (2017), Ms. Anna (2018), The Monsignor’s Agents (2020), and Gare de Lyon (2021). His short stories “The Kids Won’t Leave” appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of Two Hawks Quarterly, and “Pizza, Pizza” appeared in The Raven’s Perch April 28, 2021. Lockwood has written several reviews for Toasted Cheese.

Gare de Lyon by Bill Lockwood

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Anne Greenawalt


Gare de Lyon by Bill Lockwood

Gare de Lyon (Wild Rose Press, 2021) by Bill Lockwood describes the adventures of Mary O’Riley, an art student from Boston studying in Paris in the late 1930s. When her art school closes at the start of WWII, Mary, who changes her name to Marie to better fit her Parisian lifestyle, doesn’t want to go home yet, so she takes a job as a bakery assistant. There, she finds herself mixed into the French Résistance movement. While she’s helping a British RAF pilot find sanctuary in one of the French safe houses, the Gestapo raid her apartment, take her passport, and arrest her boss at the bakery, which leaves her stranded. The Résistance leaders ask her to escort the pilot, Freddy Winston, until they can take him home. Marie helps willingly even though no one seems motivated to help her get home safely, too.

Together, Marie and Freddy move from safe house to safe house, waiting for the next plan, but with each new move, the Résistance asks Marie to take greater and greater risks as they face new challenges in dodging the Gestapo, gendarme, and others who are not sympathetic to the Résistance.

Although the story follows the adventures of Marie and Freddy, Marie is clearly the star. She’s the one who works in several different bakeries, delivers messages, and assists the French Résistance, which she is able to do well because of her cleverness and strong French language skills. Through most of the story, Marie bares her burdens and responsibilities without complaint, rarely questioning what’s happening to her, and largely seems unconcerned by her lack of money and plan to return home.

Her calmness stems from an innocence about war and her status as an American in France. While delivering a message, one of the Résistance leaders says to her, “Your country has not yet entered the war. We are waiting. We need your help” to which she replies, “I don’t have any influence on that” (73). As the story progresses, she becomes better at advocating for herself and her right to go home:

I came to France as a student. The war took that away. I don’t belong here any longer. You just told me all I have done for you. I have risked my life frequently for a cause that I agree with, but a cause that is not really mine. (152)

Although she could be outspoken prior to this, it is a relief when she speaks up for herself.

On the other hand, Freddy doesn’t speak French and barely understands it, so he depends on Marie to translate and, at times, seems more like a whiny piece of luggage. He also makes unwelcome sexual passes as Marie—more because he thinks it’s expected of him than because he’s attracted to her. He complains about sleeping on the floor when Marie sleeps in a single bed, he asks her why they can’t hug, and he invites her to visit him at night. To this, Marie replies:

Like I told the boy when he made the pass at me and accused me of being like some kind of nun, I’m certainly not pure. I took plenty of chances when I was a student in Paris. I’ve had my fun. But now, I’m on the run. The last thing I need now is a pregnancy. I intend to sleep on my own. (68)

In addition to the vulgarities of war, she also protects herself from the vulgarities of men. I’m glad this is an adventure story and not a love story because there is no chemistry between them and I don’t respect Freddy’s behavior.

A few quirks in the writing, such as an overuse of “quickly” during the fast-paced scenes, took me out of the story a few times and made me wish some of the adverbs would be replaced with stronger descriptions, but overall, Lockwood deftly moves readers from scene to scene through a linear narrative at an appropriate pace.

This is an exciting, fast-paced story that fans of WWII fiction and stories with strong female protagonists will enjoy. Both Marie and Freddy agree they have been “lucky” (158) during their journey, but the author keeps readers guessing until the end whether the two heroes will ever make it home.

*

Bill Lockwood is a retired social worker with a lifelong passion for writing and participation in community theater. He currently writes articles about the Arts and interesting people for The Shopper/Vermont Journal and covers local community theater for the Eagle Times of Claremont, NH. The Wild Rose Press has published five of his historical fiction novels; Buried Gold (2016), Megan of the Mists (2017), Ms. Anna (2018), The Monsignor’s Agents (2020), and Gare de Lyon (2021). His short stories “The Kids Won’t Leave” appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of Two Hawks Quarterly, and “Pizza, Pizza” appeared in The Raven’s Perch April 28, 2021. Lockwood has written several reviews for Toasted Cheese.

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Dr. Anne Greenawalt is a writer, competitive swimmer, trail adventurer, educator, and dog lover. She earned a doctorate in Adult Education from Penn State University and a master’s degree in Creative Writing: Prose from the University of East Anglia, and works as the training manager for a nonprofit that provides residential and clinical services for youths who have experienced trauma. Her latest work, The Shot (GreenMachine, 2021) was reviewed in September TC. She writes for WOW! Women on Writing, TrailSister.net, and StoryTerrace. Twitter: @Dr_Greenawalt

I, Menagerie by Garrett Ray Harriman

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter


I, Menagerie: Poems by Garrett Ray Harriman

I had the pleasure of reading Garrett Ray Harriman’s recently published chapbook collection of poems, I, Menagerie (Finishing Line Press, 2021). The poems were full of wonder and filled with lovely and sometimes visceral images of animals—fur, feathers, and teeth curiously juxtaposed to biblical, classical, literary, and pop culture elements and political ideas that for this reader resonated well beyond the pages—a true menagerie of people and animals poems of varying structures and styles with an added splash of flash fiction. I was all-in after I read the dedication page which mentioned a childhood favorite of mine, Dr. Doolittle, the literary and legendary animal doctor from Hugh Lofting’s novel, The Story of Doctor Doolittle, whose greatest talent derived from his empathy for animals, which allowed him to communicate with them. A wonderful surprise! It set a mirthful tone for my reading beginning with “Sonnet with Owl” that speaks to the notion of birds as unlucky omens and “Elephant Ride, 1993” whose structure was a listing of fabulous descriptive prose filled with alliteration, punctuation, and so much more. It made me want to ride an elephant, too.

Each poem in Harriman’s chapbook of poems is unique in its subject, prose, elements, and design. No two are alike. It was delightful to turn the page and find something new and unexpected.

Long ago, I gave up the notion of trying to understand a poem for the idea of how it relates to me and my world. Indeed I’ve said more than once in the TC Candle-Ends column that I am a selfish reader. Yet, a curious reader, too. I see poems as literary puzzles full of evocation in their surfaces and provocation in their depths. When I come across both in a single poem, as I did with many of the poems in I, Menagerie, I found myself in a reader’s paradise of wonder and delight. Many of them spoke to me not only for their lovely metaphors and sparkling vocabulary, but also for the imagery and ideas they presented. “The Memory of Dogs” pulled me in immediately. The subject, of course, is dogs. For me, it paralleled a time when dogs were stolen from my childhood neighborhood, never to be seen again, a terrible time when pet dogs were taken and often repurposed into brutal back alley fighting beasts. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if the dog(s) in Harriman’s poem are a metaphor for something or perhaps even someone else. An allegory. For what?  Or whom?

they flayed and savaged
behind that fence, sister.
dogs cowered and thrashed there
gnawed hope marrow-thin.

ours too was shanghaied, another whelp
pitched like brigantine gold
into pits pooled with glass
tire rims and teeth, a month at sea
he made landfall at the base of our driveway.

you remember
how we couldn’t imagine (12)

I pondered and puzzled further, thinking perhaps the poem is related to the global political culture of borders and immigration. I noted vocabulary and phrases  and as the poem continued to describe this single personified animal and then addresses another, a sister, who was a witness…it made me wonder even more about what truth lies beneath the surface of the poet’s words. Who is this sister? Am I the sister? Are we the sister? And what happened behind that fence?

“Tiger in Pastel” was another poem that resonated long after I read it. It seems to be an elegy to the poet’s childhood home, which was once filled with his father’s art and a sort of quiet angst, as well. My guess was that this angst relates to the father’s past experiences in Vietnam. Perhaps the Vietnam War? The poet or speaker explores what he remembers from a new perspective as an adult looking backward.

My father worked in pastels for a handful of years,
his drawing pads the size me flipped wide onto

the dining table de-leafed except on holidays.

The cat he wrought lay in hedonic repose, its yellow
eyes fixed blearily to the right. One paw draped the other

in a gesture of the world-weary, the dismissive
and unenthused; its mane’s many folds coiled back

against its shoulders, a pile of talcum softness
beyond which it ceased to exist. Most of my father

was like that: finished before I got there, aloof to the
chagrin of my mother, taciturn about old friends (8)

There was a deep sadness and an interesting parallel between the father’s pastel tiger and the father, himself, which comes through. The speaker poignantly later honors his father with his own tiger, a different one that made me think of the short story, “Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu and of course, the famously, fierce fictional Bengal tiger from Kipling’s novel, The Jungle Book.

I’d later plan for my own Shere Kahan—the fabled third tattoo
on the right wrist, the creature rendered in origami

triangles, shorthand for Miss Earhart’s plucky quote:
“…the rest is nearly tenacity. The fears are paper tigers…” (8)

The Spider Poem Remembered” also resonated with me for its interesting structure. I read it several times, marveling at its complexity. The subject was a poem remembered by the speaker or someone else who is also talking to the speaker, which may or may not be the spider or the writer of the poem described. See what I mean? I wondered if there was a “real” poem that was being described. I thought about Emily Dickinson’s spider poem I read in college. I googled and found that there were many spider poems. I would never know if the poem was the author’s or a reference to another poem. An invitation to read it once more. Regardless, It was so perplexing that I spent much time taking it apart and putting it back together. I worked this poem like an algebra equation and found an appreciation for its form as well as several possible meanings. Time well spent.

The last poem I want to mention is “Vulnerable Species.” This poem was one of the “smartest” poems I’ve encountered. It begins with a current quote that yes, I had to google (again) in order to understand who the acronymed author referenced was: the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. From there, it pulled me in just like Dr. Doolittle did. Many of Harriman’s poems are laid on the page in interesting and artful formats. “Vulnerable Species” was one of them. Beginning with its Darwin-esque title, the poem explores human evolution and its cascading effect on planet Earth. Written in provocative and evocative language, it speaks to today’s politics of climate change and lays bare the effects of human consumption in science and biblical prose. Here’s a quick slice:

We are no victimless crime:
we are tidal,
tectonic,
the moon’s firm pull
frothing beggar at our feet,
hurriedly, so
hurriedly
carving the shapes
of this undoing (14)

I, Menagerie is a collection of curious and resonating poems filled with wonder, gorgeous prose, and creatures of all kinds. Harriman creates a fresh space as he takes a backward glance, blending memory and nostalgia with the natural world in a kaleidoscope of cosmic imagery that dazzles.

*

Garrett Ray Harriman is a writer and poet living in southwest Colorado. His work has appeared in Atlas Poetica, Toasted Cheese, Kestrel, and other publications. His poem, “Snake in the Grass,” was a semi-finalist in Naugatuck River Review’s 11th Narrative Poetry Contest guest judged by poet Lauren K. Alleyne. Twitter: @Inadversent

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Shelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: reviews[at]toasted-cheese.com

The Shot by Anne Greenawalt

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter


The Shot by Anne Greenawalt

The timing for Anne Greenawalt’s latest novel, The Shot (GreenMachine, 2021), a light speculative thriller, is spot on as it compellingly mirrors the realities of the current COVID pandemic’s political, health, and social concerns which no human being on this planet is unaffected by. Most of us never saw this coming. Strangely, Hollywood may have. How many films in the last decade have been about a virus that conquered the world? But in their scenarios, humans fought and persevered… and, in the end, humanity won. I think. But for us in the here and now, our story isn’t over. The script hasn’t been finished. When the vaccine was being developed, many of us counted the days until it was ready to be released and when it finally was in the U.S. many people decided not to get it and are still opting out. They have big concerns: Would it work? What are the long term effects? Is it safe? What about children…? What about them, indeed? People feared other things, too. Many of the conspiracy theories are based on government control from tracking devices attached to the vaccine that would infiltrate the human brain or DNA. Maybe both. And fertility concerns. Those seemed viable. Is the COVID vaccine safe for pregnant women? Would there be complications later when people wanted to start a family?

So when Anne Greenawalt’s review request appeared in my inbox with her cutting edge story, it gave me pause. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it. As a reader, I’m a little bit of a scaredy-cat. I am a true lover of old-school horror and sci-fi but The Shot’s premise made me wonder. Seriously, I wasn’t actually afraid to read the novel even though Greenawalt’s story so closely mimicked the here and now that I did wonder if it would change my thinking about the pandemic. And if it did, how far away from what I consider my personal true north would my opinion-compass spin?

In the end, my curiosity won out. And I was very glad it did. Let me tell you about Anne’s novel:

It is a very compelling story. And I don’t use that word lightly. It’s a true page-turner. I had to stop and pace myself from plowing straight through it in a few readings. Greenawalt is adept at setting up this thriller. From the first few pages, I was all in. The setting was picture perfect for this type of story and also served to move the plot along. She thoughtfully introduces the main characters and subtly begins to weave the beginnings of the conflict using white noise from the media the characters read and think aloud about and also watch on TV. The characters are believable and likeable. The main protagonist, Sam, is a college English professor in a nameless college in a nameless city or town somewhere I believe to be in the U.S. And that is all the reader needs to know.

The novel also keenly uses government propaganda in the classroom on the first day of class as a teaching point to introduce the idea of writing with purpose for a particular audience but what is really cool is that it’s also a mechanism, a plot device, as it conveys to the reader the conflict illustrating the political space in which these characters exist:

The vaccination poster was one Sam hadn’t seen yet with Smokey the Bear pointing his finger: “Only YOU can prevent bio warfare.”

“Do you see that poster?” Sam asked.

Thirty or so necks craned to follow the path of Sam’s pointed finger where the poster, tacked with Scotch tape, hung beside the light switch. …

“What can you tell me about that poster?” (3)

Keeping with this idea, the posters were a classic method of “showing” the reader versus “telling” the reader and a useful foreshadowing tool, as well.

That said. Much is revealed in Sam’s college writing classroom and as the novel progresses with it a sense of dread that slowly—tick tick ticks—and masterfully begins to manifest as the political posters change form and frequency with their messages ramping up. Think Orwell’s 1984 meets early Nazi Germany. Meanwhile, rumors begin to circulate about the virus, the vaccination, and the people who have opted not to get it despite government pressure. Sounds a little familiar? However there are no vaccine lotteries in this reality. Democracy seems to be slowly fading into the shadows as a new government begins to rise with the newly-created Department of Family Services which issues parenthood licenses to those who meet their directives and more. While in the classroom Sam and her growing Scooby gang shine a bright light on conspiracy theories that may actually be true and, as the narrative picks up speed, they act on it.

Door bells ring at unexpected moments. People appear. People disappear. Many of the chapters end with suspense. All of it cranks up the tension. These moments are spread out in a linear plot that follows a collegial calendar, noting holidays, breaks, and final due dates, which I particularly appreciated because there was never a moment that I didn’t know where I was in my reading space and where and what my new friends were up to, as well. The Shot has a simple narrative structure that is as effective as it is elegant.

On that note, a quick aside: It seems lately that structure is the new play toy for writers. Constant flashback and revolving points of view sometimes make me dizzy and disoriented in my reading when over done. It affects what I have read and what I think I know about the story.

In Greenwalt’s novel, there is exceptional writing that I also noted as I read. Greenawalt takes her time rounding her characters with snappy, provocative dialogue combined with crisp detail that literally pans the room for the reader to see, hear, etc. while the characters move about with intent and ease. And I, the reader, am there, too. I can see everything happening as if I was a ghost in the pages.

A 19-year old who would normally be in a nonstop, stream-of-consciousness monologue with whoever would listen while also maybe teaching his classmates hip-hop dance moves, hadn’t spoken yet that morning, but his blue eyes were wide and alert as he looked from classmate to classmate. A grandmotherly woman originally from Sudan, sat with a pen poised at her composition book. A former high school shotput champion, and her best friend with the voice like Minnie Mouse also sat silently and tracked Sam’s every move. A young man who wrote his narrative essay about his sexual orientation but had an unexcused absence on the day of narrative presentations, kept poking the tip of his tongue into the piercing between his bottom lip and chin. Riley sat at one of the tables near the back of the room, and when she caught Sam’s eye, she gave her a coy half-smile. (43)

I also particularly enjoyed the small moments of humor that serve as respites between plot points. Two characters stood out in this regard. Maura, the colleague, and Riley, the student. They were real scene stealers. These small moments that sometimes have nothing really to do with the story have everything to do with the characters, making them fully-realized and believable. More human. The extra space on the page for small moments of humanity never distracts from the narrative. It enriches it. This is not a new notion. Both in print and in film, good writing is about character development and making connections to the reader.

The Shot progressed up the story arc and at the very top, just a few chapters to the end, it hovered rather excitedly. Much was revealed and spoiler alert: much was still left to write. The novel ended on an exciting note much like a Hollywood blockbuster cliffhanger that, although no mention was made of a Part 2, cracked the door open for a possible sequel.

*

Dr. Anne Greenawalt is a writer, competitive swimmer, trail adventurer, educator, and dog lover. She earned a doctorate in Adult Education from Penn State University and a master’s degree in Creative Writing: Prose from the University of East Anglia, and works as the training manager for a nonprofit that provides residential and clinical services for youths who have experienced trauma. She writes for WOW! Women on Writing, TrailSister.net, and StoryTerrace. Twitter: @Dr_Greenawalt

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Shelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: reviews[at]toasted-cheese.com

Triggers By Alexa Recio de Fitch

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter


Triggers by Alexa Recio de Fitch

Alexa Recio de Fitch’s Triggers (Solstice, 2020) is a smartly provocative and well-crafted mystery novel. In fact, before you open the first chapter, you might want to pour yourself a cup, adjust your lawn chair or recliner, and get comfortable for a while because it’s very hard to put down. The writing is clear, crisp, and overall, well done.

One of my favorite features in the novel is the use of setting. Triggers is based in New York City and even if the reader has never been there, they may feel as though they have. Dare I say that they may even feel a bit inspired to go there, too. I was pleasantly surprised to feel so grounded in NYC (pun intended). It’s true. I enjoy stories set in familiar places and I felt a kinship with the characters. It was a treat. And I especially enjoy New York stories. To absorb the reader so early on was no easy task to pull off. It was done with intention and purpose through details, description, and characterization. Overall, a spectacular use of setting!

Keeping with this idea, much of the novel takes place in forgotten, historical places that main character Phillip Weatherly visits in his quest for inspiration. He is an amateur urban explorer. Did I mention his day job? He’s a writer. Weatherly has writer’s block and goes to literal extremes to find his muse. Recio de Fitch has done her due diligence and cultural research as the reader gets a plus one ticket to some of the most famous and infamous places in New York City history via Weatherly’s musings and late night excursions.

Here are a few of my favorites along with the subterranean subway architecture that, yes, I would love to see.

Weatherly is very interested in North Brother Island, one of the uninhabited islands in New York City harbor. Around 1900 it housed a certain Irish immigrant named Mary Mallon until her death some years later. She sounds like a nobody but to many Americans she was also known as “Typhoid Mary.” According to Weatherly, she was held responsible for spreading the typhoid disease in Manhattan and spent her life incarcerated because of it.

Did you know that Washington Park holds a monument with a secret door? (I won’t spoil where it goes or who opened it.) There’s also a green park that covers hundreds of unmarked graves from the previous century: “People just go there with their picnic blankets and their Frisbees, and they sit on 20,000 graves without a clue about what lies beneath them. It’s hilarious…” (83).

Another unknown place of interest is also coastal. Somewhere underwater, there’s a scuba diver’s treasure trove of scuttled railway cars that the city had no use for and more. After reading about these real-life places, I wondered…

Besides location, Triggers also has a cast of cool characters. These people are vivid and all seem connected or linked to one another. It reminded me of the theory of six degrees of separation from Frigyes Karinthy’s 1929 short story, “Chains.” According to The Guardian, “A ‘degree of separation’ is a measure of social distance between people. You are one degree away from everyone you know, two degrees away from everyone they know, and so on.”

One of my favorite characters is nosy neighbor Clara, who seamlessly shifts between protagonist and antagonist. Much is revealed through her point of view. She is also a notable New Yorker to the core: “Where else in the world can you cry in front of complete strangers and have them not ask you if you are okay?” (41). Love her!

There are several other key characters to track and they each have their own points of view in an omniscient narration, allowing the reader to see and hear them, and read their character minds, too. Very helpful in a mystery story but also creating reasonable doubt as some of them are not always reliable while others are full of surprises. Regardless, Recio de Fitch’s characters are fully rounded and realized. They clearly and easily move along the pages and about their business in a realistic manner. Great detail. They do their job working in conjunction to move the plot to its climax. Recio de Fitch builds on their motivations, which are naturally to antagonize or support (sometimes both) the main character, who’s having a tough time when a killer mimics his book. Their dialogue is spot on. I think I may have bumped into one or two of them in the subway or coffee shop. Recio de Fitch takes her time building each of them with backstory and flashbacks between 2012 and 2017, curiously not always in chronological order.

Did I mention Triggers is a crime mystery?

There is a murder, a body, a great setting, and atmosphere. Loads of atmosphere. A cat-and-mouse game plays out on the pages as Recio de Fitch’s main guy, Weatherly, gets squeezed. Meanwhile, with the smorgasbord of suspects that are friends or foes, or perhaps friendly foes, readers may enjoy an interactive NYC hunt of their own to find the killer. Now you see… Now you don’t. Round and round it goes. Who done it? Somebody knows…

*

Alexa Recio de Fitch is a crime fiction author from Barranquilla, Colombia, presently living in New York. Her publication experience spans the United States, United Kingdom, and Colombia. Her work has appeared in Orbis International Literary Journal, Library Zine!, Voices From Across the New York Public Library, Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, Women Writers, Women’s Books, Ancient Paths Literary Magazine, and El Heraldo. Alexa worked at Hachette Book Group and McGraw-Hill and holds an English literature degree from the University of Notre Dame. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime, the New York Public Library Writer’s Circle, and the New York Writers Critique Group. Twitter: @alexardfitch | Instagram: alexa.reciodefitch | Facebook

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Shelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: reviews[at]toasted-cheese.com

Celeste Blue by Lou Nell Gerard

Candle-Ends
Shelley Carpenter


Celeste Blue by Lou Nell Gerard

Movement. It was the first thought that came to my mind after reading Lou Nell Gerard’s collection of short stories, flash and poetry in her latest book, Celeste Blue (Cyberwit, 2020). Many of the stories and poetry are literally about commuter characters traveling the pages in cars, motorcycles, canoes, bicycles, and city transit buses as in “New Friend” (127) and “Transit Posts” (128-135). This interested and “moved” me greatly as it evoked a certain nostalgia for a time in my life when I, too, traveled and met some interesting people and made some daily acquaintances.

Gerard captures this idea beautifully in several of her poems and stories such as “Finding Community at the Motor Hotel”:

I love the community that can be found far from home at the old style motel. I’m speaking of a true motor hotel where you drive up to the door or your room… People wander out to sit on a porch. A stranger offers another traveler a beer and shares directions… We recognize each other in a nearby diner and say “hello.” (109)

Other stories travel the opposite direction blasting ahead toward science fiction such as in “Derecho,” where main characters shift in points of view as daily commuters face down an ominous sky at the local diner and hospital. Gerard’s pace is spot on as she cranks up the tension with weather and dialogue: “Well folks hope you aren’t seeing’ the end o’ the world here in ole Pegs.” (19) and “The radio is saying it is what’s called a Derecho, like a giant, fast moving conga line of a storm. The thing is crossing state borders… we are maybe in the middle of the thing.” (20)

Lou Nell Gerard tells her stories with vivid evocative detail. The first story, “Fixies Adrift,” echoes this:

That feeling when there seems no ready explanation, when time slows and life sounds like the lapping water against the raft, soft wind through the reeds, the quiet bark of the canoe against the raft, bird song the occasional splash of fish or a landing lake bird all disappears and is replaced by a tone of the imagination much like the deep deep tonals of the throat singing monks of Tibet… (11)

What makes it so interesting is the juxtaposition of such a gorgeous setting that Gerard takes her time building with the mystery.

Other stories in the collection have a certain classic atmosphere blending old and new into a very interesting modern noir. “Eidolon” is one of these. Written in third person with varying points of view it oozes the ambience of a 1950s crime story with a cool, modern twist. The main character enjoys a favorite podcast during her commute and something unexpected happens in the podcast. Gerard knows the hallmarks of noir and she uses sensory details to deliver a gripping story all of which happens on the road: “Slow down, doll. Get us killed, you’ll get them killed too…” (39)

Police procedurals are another element in several of the stories. Police officers and detectives play protagonists and antagonists in several. They speak, move about on the page, and are perfectly realized while other characters are sketchy giving the reader pause to consider whether or not the protagonist is reliable or telling the truth. Stream of consciousness comes to mind when I read “Hester’s World”: “In a perfect world. I live in a perfect world. It is my world. My reality. My version. When did I first get an inkling that it wasn’t a real world?” (55)

The short stories and flash fiction lead the reader to a series of poems in the section marked Miscellany. The poems range in subject from observations from daily life such as “The Best Loud Child,” which made me smile out loud, to the achingly poignant “Mom Had Alzheimer’s” and “The Day That She Knew Me.” There were also curious ideas and explorations in “Melancholia,” “Empty Park,” and “Terraform,” and a feeling of nostalgia for Woodstock (even though I wasn’t alive back then) in “We who were 18.” Gerard’s poem made me wish I were.

The stories and poems in Celeste Blue are unique and unexpected and full of wonderment as they transport the reader to places and spaces that are as unique as they are familiar. Bravo.

*

In 2020, Lou Nell Gerard published her poetry collection, Skateboard Girl On the 5 Fulton (Cyberwit.net), and Celeste Blue (Cyberwit.net), a compilation of short stories, flash, and poetry. Her work has also appeared in Toasted Cheese: “Eidolon” placed second in the Dead of Winter 2018 contest, “Derecho” placed third in the 2018 A Midsummer Tale Narrative Writing Contest, and “Fixies Adrift” won Gold in the 2014 Three Cheers and a Tiger Mystery Writing Contest. Find her thoughts on reading, writing, film, and friendship on her blog, Three Muses Writing.

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Shelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: reviews[at]toasted-cheese.com