Short Story Review: “Vermont Muster” by Nick Mamatas

2 of 5 stars.

This tale feels more Lovecraftian than ghost story when a teenager lights a candle and sternos a can of soup in front of his high school’s engraved image of a local hero that returned home from fighting in the Civil War.

A confluence of strange events ensues. The teenager has a seizure before he can start his seance. [But he is accustomed to having seizures.] His borrowed video camera captures an unexplained image in front of the engraving at the same time as the seizure. Civil War enacters from all over start to arrive into town after being compelled in their dreams–and they find it very difficult to leave again . . .

Much is packed into this short tale. However, a clear explanation and resolution are not.

This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman. I’ve previously read this author’s “Hideous Interview with Brief Man”.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher

Proven Guilty (The Dresden Files, #8)Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s one thing to enjoy and recommend a series repeatedly, and another thing entirely to watch it metamorph in the best possible way into something bigger and better than it’s yet been. Suddenly, many years and installments into the series, previous threads of plot and subplot come together into a rich tapestry. This is not to say that the tapestry has been revealed–it hasn’t. Merely its existence.

Chicago’s wizard detective, Harry Dresden, has been elevated into the highest regional position for the wizarding counsel. He’s also been handed a rough command: root out the recent dark magic that’s reared in Chicagoland. His case gets complicated quickly when trusted friends are caught in the path of the summoned fear-demons.

This novel establishes new definitions for the concept of “family” for Harry. Parents and children, mentors and students. Everything is personal, and not because he’s threatened and in danger, but because those he loves are. Harry realizes the existence of the dark tapestry threatening to smother his beloved city and those he cares about within it.

This series is highly recommended. I’ve previously read:
     Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)–4 stars
     Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, #2)–4 stars
     Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, #3)–4 stars
     Summer Knight (The Dresden Files, #4)–4 stars
     Death Masks (The Dresden Files, #5)–4 stars
     Blood Rites (The Dresden Files, #6)–4 stars
     Dead Beat (The Dresden Files, #7)–4 stars    
     “Last Call” (The Dresden Files, #10.6)–5 stars
     “Love Hurts” (The Dresden Files, #11.5)–5 stars
 
 
 
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Novella[s] Review: The Drosselmeier Chronicles: The Solstice Tales by Wolfen M.

The Drosselmeier Chronicles: The Solstice TalesThe Drosselmeier Chronicles: The Solstice Tales by Wolfen M.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Two beloved Victorian Christmas stories get reworked into the same world in this collection of 2 novellas. E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King opens the series in a barely re-imagined format. The novella more than just liberally borrows from the original, it offers almost nothing new which is disappointing. Mostly, it seems to be pure set up for Hoffmann’s tinkerer character [Drosselmeyer] to be the main manipulator in other tales now set in his trippy world, one foot in the land of Fae.

The second novella slightly tweaks Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol but imagines that the 3 ghosts are Drosselmeier’s doing. More promising is the shift in POV to that of Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s dead business partner that opens the Dickens’ version as the haunt coming before the 3-act spiritual crash course in being a decent human being. The promise lies in the queer re-telling with Marley admitting his forbidden love for Scrooge and taking responsibility for how Scrooge turned out.

Unfortunately, the promise doesn’t pay off with new content, it merely acts as a queer filter as the original novel plays out around it. A veneer of 21st century queer acceptance and psychology is provided by Drosselmeier and friends to the ghost Marley in and around their torment of Scrooge.

Many classical tales have received successful reworks, such as The Wizard of Oz inspiring Wicked. The success comes in the new scenes that shape the original tale anew. It’s all about the new content that applies the new slant. And that’s what’s missing here, new content. It’s scene for scene, the original tale without the original author’s name on it.

I received my copy of the collection directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Ten Thousand Miles” by Connie Wilkins

4 of 5 stars.

The horrors of war get a fresh treatment in this tale set in a Union hospital encampment at the edge of the Louisiana swamp. A virtual limbo, the miasma-filled camp is staged for confusion as first Rebels overtake the camp and then a Union gunship takes aim amid the roiling mists and smoke.

The camp is largely manned by “African-descent” former slaves fighting for freedom. Two main characters hold down the hospital tent. Gem is an elderly African-American woman disguised as a man to help the freedom effort. It reads more queer/trans in the narrator’s use of male pronouns for male-guised Gem. Gem’s also attuned to the restless spirits awaiting reunion with the still battling living.

The narrating surgeon is a widowed white Quaker son and grandson of Quaker abolitionists that were at the forefront of the Indiana portion of the Underground Railroad. He’s also haunted by spirits in the form of his deceased wife. The camp is filled with her beloved moths of every size and color, and they serve as a constant reminder of her.

This moving tale shifts from black to white, male to female, living to dead, substantial to spiritual all amidst the roiling mists and flocking moths . . . It’s recommended.

This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Mistress” by Jennifer R. Povey

2 of 5 stars.

This tale relates a contemporary ghost story, when the narrator visits a Civil War plantation house that was burned at the end of the war. The circumstances of its burning and the fate of its final residents remain a mystery.

The narrator sees a female ghost twirling a parasol and realizing that it’s the plantation mistress. [Other site visitors have seen the same visage.] However, this encounter escalates as memories of the final days of the plantation seep into the tourist.

Race and the politics of race are brought up deliberately in the tale in the effort to show its contemporary POV But it has the effect of emphasizing its own “whitewashing” with its focus on the “mistress”, her doting “servants” [aka slaves], and her benevolent treatment of them as the murdering Union and Rebel troops flood the landscape only to meet at the plantation . . .

This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce

An Occurrence at Owl Creek BridgeAn Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This haunting, psychological bender depicts the dramatic hanging of a Rebel supporter by the Union troops. Most interestingly, the tale was written in 1890 with not even a generation lapsed since the end of the war. Wounds between North and South would still have been quite raw. Especially in this tale in which a Southern civilian is baited into doing something illegal by a Union soldier in order to drum up a hanging. And so it plays out.

But it doesn’t play out as characters nor readers would expect as minute details, sensations and thoughts flicker across the page–all from the POV of the condemned man falling . . .

I highly recommend this story. This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Spectral Drums” by Devin Poore

4 of 5 stars.

This moving short story uses metaphor to great effect in the interactions between soldiers from 2 different wars. Generations may separate them, but the understanding bridges impossible gulfs.

On the verge of WWI, the narrator [a trolley driver] notes his standard route to and through the old Civil War battlefield. His respect for the history is evident in his stopping to pick up and let off ghostly riders in blue and gray that whisper of home and family. The tourists also on the trolley gape at the spectacle but don’t move to interact. The ghosts do not communicate directly with the living.

One young man on the trolley boldly attempts to initiate conversation with the spirits, but to no luck. Later, when the trolley is down to just the driver, the young man and a handful of ghosts, the man confesses to the driver that he’s left his Indiana farm to join the war front in France. He expresses his hopes and dreams and what compelled him to leave the safety of home. A ghost replies . . .

I highly recommend this story. This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman.
 
 
 
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