Book Title: The Twofer Compendium
Authors: Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Gregory L. Norris, Rose Strickman, Dawn Vogel, John H. Dromey, M. Louis Lambert, Hazel Humphreys, Peter Astle, Antaeus, Kerry E.B. Black, S. P. Mount, KM Dailey, Matt McGee, H. E. Casson, Diane D. Gillette, Carolyn Geduld, Frank Kozusko, Sharon Frame Gay, Rod Marsden, Neal Wiser, Joette M. Rozanski, Nicole Fratrich, Chitra Gopalakrishnan, Lee F. Patrick, David C. Strickler, Bruce Meyer, Gerri Leen, Gabriella Balcom, Steve Carr, Donna Cuttress, Emily Martha Sorensen, George Young, Gary Zenker & Tony Conaway.
Foreword: Merry Jones
Editors: Ruth Littner & Ann Stolinsky
Publication Date: Dec. 11, 2019
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Society has always been fascinated with twins as evidenced by the imaginative use of them in our entertainment. Popular culture is filled with plenty of examples of twins and the mysterious power that they seem to have.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito use the idea of being opposites as well as brothers and play it for laughs in their 1988 movie. Mischievous twins Fred and George Weasley from the Harry Potter books and movies. The Grady twins in Stephen King’s horror book/movie “The Shining”, to name just a couple.
Some twins have close bonds and others have, or think they have, special powers. Many gods are twins and have mythological and astrological importance. So, the idea of using twins as a theme in a short story compendium is a unique and inspired one. Author Merry Jones also contributes an informative and interesting foreword about twins and their notability throughout history and culture.
One of the questions I asked myself was whether each of the thirty-four authors telling thirty-six short stories here could creatively use this idea and still differentiate each one from another with their storytelling.
Using that as a barometer, I was highly pleased with what I found in this collection! This anthology holds stories in all kinds of genres, from science fiction, fantasy, western, superhero, the paranormal, time travel, horror, comedy and sometimes, even mixing some of these different genres together to tell an original kind of story.
To give you an idea of the variety you’ll find here, let’s go over some of the situations you’ll encounter. There are twins who are very close to one another, as well as twins who are resentful of one another. Twins who are eerily similar and those who are polar opposites.
Twins via the use of mirror images, twins with magical and mysterious powers, royal twins, and celebrity debutante twins. There are twins who fight with one another as well as ones who conspire together for purposes of hiding secrets, planning mischief, or are just plain evil. Let’s not forget the child with the imaginary twin, who might or might not be as imaginary as you would suspect.
You’ll also find circumstances where one twin has an insidious disease, shapeshifting twins, teenage twins who are dealing with identity problems, conjoined twins, co-dependency problems, telepathy, mind control, clones and twins waging magickal warfare on one another.
Many also explore the emotional connections of twins, including the death of one twin and its impact on another, twins in the womb who help one another, twins who are symbiotic and need one another literally and/or figuratively just to survive.
Others are twins due to similar personalities but are not connected by blood, worshipping of twin gods, aliens who masquerade as twins on Earth, while others use the idea of a twin as a vicious plot twist. There are even some stories that utilize parallel universes, life-changing scenarios, and dystopian nightmares.
Love is a recurring theme in many stories as well, with one twin finding love and the other pulled into some complicated dilemmas. Of course, some of these involve twins who are hormonal teenagers. The closeness of their bonds and how that love can transform into hate is intricately explored too. In some cases, the twin in the story is even a surprise to the reader.
Even in an anthology filled with fantastic stories, there are a few that stand head and shoulders above the rest. Here are the ones I found to be the most memorable and stayed with me:
M. Louis Lambert’s “Ian and Owen” – Kenna is in the middle of difficult childbirth to twins and her husband Stuart is cheering her on and providing support. As one boy is born, they discover there are problems with the other one. As the doctors try to help, what is going on here?
This one pulled me in completely and took me on an emotional roller-coaster ride from the heights of joy to the depths of despair and back again. Then it gave me all the feels with its completely unexpected twist. As a father myself, this one was a powerful and stirring tale with plenty of heightened suspense.
Peter Astle’s “The Chair” – Carl and his twin are vastly different. One has cerebral palsy and the other doesn’t. One twin is motivated and inspiring, the other is in awe of that.
What makes this story stand out is how in so few words, it succinctly establishes each of their personalities and how their motivation pushes their lives in opposite directions. Their respective successes and failures are what make this story so moving.
Antaeus’s “Of Werewolves and Weretigers” – In a kingdom deep in history’s past, King Omnisire has twin sons, who are taught the art of warfare. Once they become of age, one twin is given the chance to rule but something goes horribly wrong and soon, the twin sons are at war with one another!
This is an enrapturing tale in an age of magick and evil. The reasons why these twins fight is not why you would think, and it escalates quickly and in unexpected and delightful ways. As mages wage war and become increasingly desperate, thousands of battles are fought.
The constant one-upmanship and use of shapeshifters make the battlefield advantage change constantly. Going in one surprising direction after another, it then leads into a breathtaking conclusion. It’s an exciting tale of tragedy, imagination, and about trying to gain strategic advantages.
Frank Kozusko’s “Circadian Rhythms” – Luka is a chronic insomniac whose problems impact his entire life. But when he discovers a group that worships Somnus, the God of Sleep and Dreams, he becomes a believer and his sleep problems disappear! But when problems develop in their group, what will Luka do now?
I felt a lot of sympathy for Luka and the wrecked state of his life. His desperation is palpable, and the solution is unconventional until things change. Relying on gods to help you can be tricky and sometimes, they can be very fickle if you don’t know what you’re doing. The end of this one was deliciously twisty.
Neal Wiser’s “T Wins” – Fred and Timmy are twins. While Fred goes to middle school and is in love with Lani, the captain of the Cheerleader Squad. Timmy has Severe Combined Immune Deficiency Syndrome, which means he gets sick easily. But when Timmy exerts pressure on Fred to kiss Lani, Fred goes for it! But how did this happen?
This is a teenage comedy at first, about unrequited love (or is it?) that finds the funny and made me laugh. But there’s an undercurrent of fear and evil there with the way Timmy influences Fred. All is eventually explained and by the end, the story transformed into something more malicious and scarier. It held me enthralled the entire time with how it unfolded and the secrets it held.
David C. Strickler’s “Buried Beneath the Gallows” – The world has been decimated by a pandemic and most of the population is dead. The remnants of civilization try to survive, and Auguste recruited to fix it once and for all by traveling to the past! But can Auguste solve the world’s problems and still be true to himself and what he believes?
The origins of this pandemic are startling and scary, all coming down to the birth of one individual who started it all. The author explores this world, how it came to be, and how Auguste’s world is forever changed by it.
I experienced the depression of living in a world when most have not survived, the isolation of dealing with it, and the possibility of hope that time travel brings. And the ending was brutal and unforeseen, that shocked me and twisted my insides at the different directions it took.
Other notable stories include M. Louis Lambert’s other story in this compendium, “Twenty-Three Feet”, where one brother can’t stray more than twenty-three feet from the other or one will die. It also had an ending that made me misty. Matt McGee’s offbeat but humorous tale “Dating in the 5’s” has two people in their mid-fifties who can’t find love, but they find each other.
Dawn Vogel’s “A Pale Imitation” about a funny story about one superhero twin who encounters a big problem and her non-superpowered sister must save her. I had big belly laughs while reading this one. A brother and sister go to the carnival and find something terrifying in the mirror maze in Danielle Ackley-McPhail’s “Skippy”.
Gabriella Balcom’s “How Could You Leave Me?” is an unexpectedly moving tale about long-lived changeling aliens who take on different forms to experience what’s it like. Things take a dark turn when they disguise themselves as twins on Earth. And Tony Conaway’s “The Last Hallowe’en” is about a 12-year-old boy who wakes up one day to inexplicably become a conjoined twin, but that was only the first of many strange world-shattering occurrences for the entire planet. This was a fitting and electrifying tale that took me places I would never have expected.
In an anthology with thirty-six stories in it, there is a risk that there is one that doesn’t click but I found that to be a rarity here. All these stories ran the emotional spectrum, causing me to experience such intense feelings of horrifying terror, the euphoria of love, and the profound sadness that gave me the shivers and brought me to tears.
They stimulated all five of my senses and in doing so, induced a strong sense of wonder and captivated me with their storytelling skills. They also and wonderfully utilized a wide breadth of innovation and creativity. All of them utilize the theme of twins powerfully, fulfilling that idea in some bizarre, surprising, shocking, and unexpected ways. Each one was able to wrap me in the tales they had to tell so I could enjoy it fully.
I wouldn’t have imagined that an anthology about twins could be so rewarding or so much fun to read. But this collection succeeds mightily in doing so, effectively demonstrating the talent and skill of each contributor. Each tale features twins, so that means double the storytelling fun times thirty-six stories equals a truly great compendium.
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Previous Indie Athenaeum book reviews about short stories written by Ann Stolinsky include “Tales From the Canyons of the Damned: No. 32“, “Tales From the Canyons of the Damned: Omnibus 10” and “Klarissa Dreams Redux: An Illuminated Anthology“.