Book Reviews: Unique and Absurd Books 1 and 2

cover for So Absurd It Must Be True, book 1

So Absurd It Must Be True: funny tales for dirty minds by Victoria Ray

Reading the first story of this collection was a jolt for me, as it was different than a typical narrative of one event logically leading to another. However, I let go of my expectations and went with the flow of the story — and the rest of the book. These stories take you in unexpected directions. “Absurd” is in the title, and the book delivers.

I felt the stories have a similar energy to sketch comedy, like Monty Python, Benny Hill, and Keystone Kops. A lot of oddness, humor, and randy behavior. There’s sex in these stories — but not the kind of long, flowery paragraphs describing romance between characters. This sex is part of the rush from one zany scene to the next. Colorful innuendos are used.

Names of the characters match the quirkiness of the action: Mr. TightPants, Mrs. GrabMyHips, Ms. JawDropping. The stories are short, with some scenes that are quite short and cause the action to hop along. Also, the format of the stories shifts around, as some stories are set up like a play, with all dialogue.

This book is so outside the norm, I give the author props for coming up with such creativity. It takes courage to go in a different direction than most others. If you want to venture into unpredictable stories, sexy shenanigans, and life lessons woven into fiction — this book delivers.

cover for So Absurd It Must Be True, book 2

So Absurd It Must Be True: The collection of surreal humor, mystery, and satire by Victoria Ray

Some of the stories in this book are longer than the quick sketches-type stories of Victoria Ray’s first book of absurd stories. I like the added depth of these stories, for more story to sink your teeth into, compared to the short, quick stories. The author’s creativity remains intact from the variety of story formats, as well as the different kinds of plots: a spy tries to recall his memories, Santa Claus travels to another dimension, owners of a restaurant come up with a wild way to improve business.

As with the first book, the characters still have fun names: Mrs. CatchAGlimpse and Mr. CruelMemories. The characters don’t have as much sex as in the first book. There’s still sex dropped here and there (mostly of the oral variety), but the characters stretch out in actions beyond skin on skin.

Also as with the first book, I’m impressed with the author’s creativity and courage to play in various directions. These stories are far from the usual, and that’s a compliment. They have their own zany jumps from one scene to the next. Absurd, fun, funny, and unpredictable.

*****

Check out Victoria Ray’s blog for updates on her writing, as well as some stories.

Book Review: Into the Forest

cover for Into the Forest and All the Way Through

Into The Forest and All The Way Through by Cynthia Pelayo

This book is like the “Unsolved Mysteries” TV series meets poetry — but without paranormal subjects. The true crime poetry is about cases of more than 100 women who are missing, or their bodies haven’t been identified.

After each poem, a list includes the name of the missing woman, where she went missing, her race, age at disappearance, the year she went missing, and the phone number of the investigating agency.

Those lists hit home, again and again, that every poem is about a real person. Their ages range from very young to elderly, and they were taken in states across America. I was startled to see, in one listing, where I grew up: Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. It’s a very small town, even smaller back in the mid-1970s, when Song Im Joseph disappeared.

The lines of the poems themselves are thick with loss and pain. They offer details of what the missing women were doing before they went missing. Their activities were ordinary: leaving home to go to work, en route to visit family, camping. But the extraordinary and cruel happened, and the women disappeared. Families continue to wonder what happened to their daughters, sisters, mothers, aunts.

This book must’ve been very difficult to research and write. I applaud Cynthia Pelayo for treating these cases with sensitivity, for having the strength and openness to accomplish this project, for having the heart to give a voice to these women. These poems are like shouts into the world that’s full of tragedy, shouts that tell us not to get numb about these cases, that missing women are vastly more than faces on the news.

Book Review: Rise of the Dark Goddess

cover of Rise of the Dark Goddess

Rise of the Dark Goddess: A Collection of Poetry by Cassandra L Thompson

Freud theorized we have only two instincts when making decisions, instincts ruled by Eros and Thanatos. One of life and love; the other of death and anger.

In “Rise of the Dark Goddess,” these instincts act in a kind of dance among the poetic lines. I pictured the Eros and Thanatos drives as lovers, as smoke from two candles curling together. The lovers are enmeshed together in some poems, enjoying their pleasure.

However, that pleasure gives way to separation, as a lover crumbles or slips away. As if these poor lovers are destined to never be together for long. There is sadness in the longing to be entwined again. One of the many images in the poems that stuck out to me: “I look for him / in the spaces between / clinking wind chimes.”

These poems speak the darkly sumptuous language of the gothic. They don’t sugarcoat the love of romance and roses. They don’t flinch from the darkness in the world. Rather, they sing the beauty of the darkness, as a deep part of our being.

Contest Results

The contest I ran to give away 6 signed copies of my poetry book, The Dancing Fish, was underwhelming. To enter, folks drew an underwater creature and posted it on Twitter or Instagram. Only 2 entries were submitted. So they automatically won! I’ll mail the book to these brave artists 🙂

The remaining 4 books will be placed in Little Libraries around my neighborhood. I was going to do that with some books anyway, as I love the idea of people walking by and gazing into a Little Library and hopefully discovering the book.

I’m glad I tried the contest as an experiment to encourage people to draw. Just a little something different while we’re being very cautious about spending time in public because of Covid-19.

Stay tuned, as I’m going to announce a new giveaway on Monday. This time, you won’t have to draw anything. I’m simplifying the process by giving away ebooks. Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

Contest Reminder

stack of Dancing Fish books

This is a reminder of the contest I’m running, where I’m giving away 6 signed paperback copies of my poetry book, The Dancing Fish. The contest ends this Friday, January 29.

Entering is easy! Just draw an underwater creature, then post an image of it on Twitter or Instagram. You can draw a swordfish or shark, an octopus or jellyfish. The medium is up to you: pencil, paint, or digital artwork. And the style is up to you: silly or serious, realistic or abstract.

Then tag your post with #DancingFishContest and include me, @dwilliamswriter, to be sure that I see your post. You don’t have to follow my Twitter or Instagram account to enter the contest, but jump on board if you like!

Some questions you might have:

How are the winners chosen?
At random. Here’s how it’s going to play out: As the entries come in, I will write your name on a note and put it in a bowl. On Saturday, January 30, each of my two daughters will cover their eyes and pick out three names. I’ll announce the winning entries on my Twitter and Instagram pages.

Can I enter multiple times?
Yes. So the more drawings you post, the more notes with your name will be placed in the bowl.

Is there an age restriction to enter?
Nope. If you’re 1 year old and finger-paint a fish on paper, then a parent or guardian can upload an image of the artwork. (By the way, if you’re 1 year old, congrats on being able to read this!)

I don’t live in the United States. Can I still enter?
You bet! It would be neat to see foreign entries. I will ship books to international winners.

How will entrants know if they’ve won?
I will contact the winners through direct message on Twitter or Instagram, wherever they posted their image. I will ask for your name and address, so I can sign and send the book to you. The books will be shipped by USPS media mail. If you don’t hear from me on January 30, you can figure that you haven’t won.

I’m looking forward to seeing your artwork of underwater creatures!

Dancing Fish Contest

Announcing The Dancing Fish Contest!

If you like reading playful poems with illustrations, this is your chance to win a book of them! I’m celebrating the publication of my latest poetry book, The Dancing Fish, with a FUN CONTEST where I’ll be giving away 6 signed paperback copies.

Entering is EASY! Put on your creative hat and draw an underwater creature, then post an image of it on Twitter or Instagram. Draw a swordfish or shark, an octopus or jellyfish. The medium is up to you: pencil, paint, or digital artwork. And the style is up to you: silly or serious, realistic or abstract.

Tag your post with #DancingFishContest and include me, @dwilliamswriter, to be sure that I see your post. You don’t have to follow my Twitter or Instagram account to enter the contest, but jump on board if you like!

Some questions you might have buzzing in your brain:

When will this groovy contest start and end?
The contest starts today (Friday, January 15, 2021) and ends on midnight (U.S. eastern time zone) Friday, January 29th.

How are the winners chosen?
At random. Here’s how it’s going to play out: As the entries come in, I will write your name on a note and put it in a bowl. On Saturday, January 30, each of my two daughters will cover their eyes and pick out three names. I’ll announce the winning entries on my Twitter and Instagram pages.

Can I enter multiple times?
Yes. So the more drawings you post, the more notes with your name will be placed in the bowl.

Is there an age restriction to enter?
Nope. If you’re 1 year old and finger-paint a fish on paper, then a parent or guardian can upload an image of the artwork. (By the way, if you’re 1 year old, congrats on being able to read this!)

I don’t live in the United States. Can I still enter?
You bet! It would be neat to see foreign entries. I will ship books to international winners.

How will entrants know if they’ve won?
I will contact the winners through direct message on Twitter or Instagram, wherever they posted their image. I will ask for your name and address, so I can sign and send the book to you. The books will be shipped by USPS media mail. If you don’t hear from me on January 30, you can figure that you haven’t won.

I’m looking forward to seeing your artwork of underwater creatures!

Book Review: Gothic Epistle Romantica

cover for Gothic Epistle Romantica

Gothic Epistle Romantica: Poetry Inspired By Undying Love by Vaz Anzai

While reading this book, I thought of Edgar Allan Poe’s poems about a departed lover, as well as the myth of Orpheus, who traveled to the Underworld to bring back his departed wife, Eurydice.

This is not to say that Vaz Anzai’s book is a copy of Poe’s poems. Nope. Anzai weaves a distinctive song of his own. The characters in these poems reach out for each other, beyond death, in a longing to reconnect and have what they once had. They are gifted with a time to “relive some of our most precious memories together.” Amid the ache of loss, the lovers have a moment of celebration, champagne and rapture.

Dark beauty fills the poems of this book, a sad beauty of the ache after a loved one is gone. Broken hearts and broken souls. Creativity can pour out from joy, but also from pain. This poetry is evidence of that. The lines charged with the love that desires to keep loving. And striking imagery, too. My favorite was the “room of heavy rain,” a scenario rich with detail and emotion. The same can be said of these poems, heavy with longing.

Book Review: Bloodhound

Cover of Bloodhound book

Bloodhound: A Poetry Collection by Marie Casey

This is grab-you-hard-by-the-shoulders poetry. The title and cover illustration promise dark poetry, and the book delivers. The visceral language and setting it in second person (directed at “you”) makes for an intense reading.

The six chapters track a journey from a connection (“finding vitality in each other” as told in one poem) to struggles to coming out of the other side. Throughout, the poems are full of vivid imagery describing the rawness of emotion and endurance. The lines of these poems open up to expose deep feelings. Blood of passion and vitality: wondrous when it charges through our veins, a dark wonder when it flows out of us, then we’re hollowed out when it has been drained.

I’m typically not a reader of dark poetry, so this collection was out of my “box” — and I’m glad I stepped out of it. Reading the book felt like getting a sense of Marie Casey’s courage to craft these intense poems. As one poem sates, “allow me/ to continue writing/ my own tale.” The last chapter, which is titled “Exorcism,” describes that experience — but writing these poems could’ve been an exorcism, too.

Book Review: We Are Wolves

We Are Wolves cover

We Are Wolves: A Horror Anthology. Editors: Gemma Amor, Laurel Hightower, Cynthia Pelayo. Authors of the short stories: Erin Al-Mehairi, Gemma Amor, V. Castro, S.H. Cooper, Cassie Daley, J. Danielle Dorn, Michelle Garza, Lilyn George, Jessica Guess, Eve Harms, Sadie Hartmann, Laurel Hightower, Red Lagoe, Melissa Lason, Beverley Lee, Amanda McHugh, Cynthia Pelayo, Hailey Piper, Sarah Read, Sara Tantlinger, and Sonora Taylor.

Earlier this year, I read the anthology Nevertheless She Persisted, which includes sci-fi/fantasy stories by women — and “We Are Wolves” is the horror equivalent: Stories of women rising up against forces that try to keep them down.

The characters in these stories (and a couple poems) are tired of enduring the passive suggestions and physical abuse and downright murder. “Though Your Heart Is Breaking” involves a man telling Sarah to smile, despite the turmoil inside her. “A Key for Any Lock” involves a popular guy on a college campus sexually assaulting the unnamed narrator. Several stories include murder.

Then the characters move past endurance to fight back, using their power and cleverness. As far as I can remember, in one story — “A Key for Any Lock” — the character tries to use the justice system to gain societally approved justice. But the system fails her. So she goes beyond it. In the other stories, characters don’t try the official system — they seek their own justice. These aren’t episodes of “Law and Order,” these are horror stories.

Justice here is gained by knives, contraptions, claws. The characters are wolves who hunt alone and in a pack with allies. Cliche has us believe that women are “the weaker sex.” Yet that is a box (cage) in which to place women. Of course they are far more complicated and strong than a simplistic stereotype. Stories can entertain us, and some can challenge us. These stories accomplish both.

I felt a couple stories were too rushed, and could’ve used a bit more to build the scenarios. But that’s a blip in the variety of characters and situations crafted by the variety of these talented writers. There’s horror aplenty along the different paths.

The proceeds from the book’s sales are given to organizations that help survivors of assault and abuse. So by purchasing the book, you’re not just getting stories, you’re donating to the packs who are helping those who need help.

Please note the book includes strong content: “abuse, sexual abuse, harm to children, childbirth, bodily harm, self-harm, and child death, as well as more not explicitly listed here. We do therefore advise you to read with caution, even as we encourage you to engage with some of the themes and stories within, many of which are highly personal to the authors who wrote them.” (Quoted from the book’s Foreword, by Gemma Amor.)