James E.F. Riley Sr.,
(self-published, 2006)

Daydreams_n_Nightmares is an anthology of poems and short stories by James Riley: ex-soldier, letter carrier, student, federal agent, film extra and restaurant manager. The man has broad life experience and, as you would expect, some of his work covers the theme of soldier abroad, or home and abandoned by the country he fought for. There are some hard-hitting political poems, aiming verbal bullets at the U.S. system, corrupt politicians and so on, and these, together with his military-themed poems would be quite powerful lyrics for songs, especially as his use of repetition in many of his poems is very wearing when you are reading it, being better suited to the spoken or sung word.

Unfortunately, in the format sent to me for review, he presented his work in either sentence case type or capitals, varying between them apparently at random, and the capitals made for tiring reading. I felt he could have given more thought about the spacing and page breaks on several poems, so as not to break mid-verse. There were unfortunate grammatical anomalies throughout the poems and stories: incorrect word usage, punctuation and spelling errors that detract from the work presented. He does have some good words and imagery, but too often forces the rhyme, and too often abandons the meter he has been using mid-poem, which unsettles the reader.

The angst of adolescence pervades much of the poetry on the subject of love and emotions, making me wonder if it is reworked from long ago. While understanding the theme of the work is daydreams and nightmares, I felt there was too much work covering not only the same ground, but practically walking in his own footsteps, and felt he would have been better selecting one or two poems and one or two stories on these themes, instead of thrusting six or nine at his audience. With such a title, the reader does not anticipate many upbeat poems, and even his fairly happy "Quiet Reflections" has self-chastisement threatening to overwhelm the balance of his thoughts.

I did enjoy "Eulogy," "My Crime, My Sin" -- "For late in the day/Under the cover of an endless gloom/Memories awaken after you are gone./In the depth of an empty evening/Something stirs deep within my repentant soul./The crime was knowing you/The sin was loving you" -- and, despite the staggering meter, "Searching for You" and "Soldier of Fortune" -- "A soldier of fortune/the fortune was war./The wars are all finished, the soldiers are old./Taught to be warriors, taught to be bold,/Some are in boxes, missions or jail,/Some are forgotten, can't even post bail." He shows skillful versal rhyme in "Hot Chocolate," but then, sadly, seemed to give up on the idea, but ends his poetry with "Why Can't I Please You," which should have broad appeal.

The stories, again on the same themes of daydreams and nightmares, are all for mature readers! There is one narrative that comes across as being for children, but the subject matter of a wicked witch coalesces into an apparently ill-disguised bitter take on a wicked ex-wife, despite the author's happy married life. "Chimera" was good reading, his best story from my point of view -- encompassing many ideas, with sustainable characters and both gritty reality and the fey interaction of the spirit world. I was enjoying "I Believe in Miracles" until he altered the old woman's narrative to sound like a cross between a film set description and a crime novel; it threw the character offline, and I lost interest.

There are scantily concealed warnings in many of his tales, against drunk driving, unprotected sex or plain human nastiness, whether physical violence or mental cruelty. I found myself bored from the second mention of his repetitive sexual fantasy starring nubile tanned nymphets and, while I'm no prude, I was also immediately bored at his crude pornographic sexual descriptions -- maybe they would appeal to men, but I just wanted to skip to where something else was happening. There are nightmares of werewolves, vampires, witches, souls in limbo, Satanism and gory death, unexpected death, sex and death, and living death. Maybe this work was mentally cathartic for the author, a confessional for the subconscious, but with few exceptions, I felt it should have been subjected to the secrecy of the confessional!

Riley has some good work, talent in both poetry and short story formats, but he should exercise more discrimination in his presentation, stick to the quality, not quantity, and proof-read!

by Jenny Ivor
1 April 2006