The Imperfectionists

Written by Tom Rachman

Peel: A collection of overlapping vignettes focused on a failing newspaper.

Each chapter is from a different character’s point of view, and inserted between chapters is the italicized history of the paper. The book reads much more like a collection of stories than a novel. Though the characters appear rather different at first glance, they’re all alienated, cliches, and a bit dysfunctional. All the women characters are irredeemable with some form of neurosis, self-esteem issues, and/or a need for men. The prose itself wasn’t that great, and worsens as the novel continues. There are some amusing moments and lovely scenery, but the chapter titles/headlines tended to oversell the chapters.

The book is focused on people struggling with themselves, rather than the paper struggling to exist in an internet age. The brief bits of the paper’s history were rather dull.

Nibble: “This wins a ringing endorsement and a fast-dying chuckle- they don’t like to laugh at each other’s jokes.”

I would recommend this to someone as a quick and light read.

My Rating: 4 out of 10 incomplete apples

Tom Rachman’s Site

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The Universal Mirror

Written by Gwen Perkins

Peel: Set in a fantasy country, where magicians are forbidden to leave or cast, harmful or helpful, magic on people.

This was an interesting read as it seesawed between being high-action and quickly paced to dramatic dialogs. The book is composed of four parts, and in the third, the plot became much more interesting and I became more sympathetic to the characters. The book did promote interesting ethical questions including how much a life is worth, and the value of knowledge. Perkins creates some interesting characters, though I would have liked to see more about the side characters. Perkins certainly set up a universe that’s very open to future novels. Personally, I would like to read more about Felix.

On the other hand, there are quite a few typos and occasionally Perkins over-explains an idea.

Nibble: “I used to catch frogs and let them loose on her head, and she never screamed, not once. In fact, she used to put spiders in my tea when her mother called on mine.”

I would recommend this book to lovers of fantasy.

My Rating: 7 out of 10 magical red apples

I received a free electronic copy from the author.

Gwen Perkins’s Site

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Staggerford

Written by Jon Hassler

Peel: A week in the life of a thirty-five year old male teacher in Minnesota.

This is a very slow moving, amusing, readable, and re-readable piece. Through Hassler’s lovely prose and storytelling prowess, the book reels you in until you simply can’t put it down. Not only do the characters have excellent names, like Beverly Bingham, they’re also well-developed and interesting. Hassler did a fantastic job in creating the protagonist bachelor teacher, who has serious faults but is still likable and realistic. Hassler also does an excellent job in making the mundane memorable and exciting. The plot itself urges one to think about ethics and education. For example, how emotionally close can a student be to a teacher before it becomes unacceptable?

This was written in the seventies, and it vaguely shows with some sexism and references to the American Indian Movement. Though the ending wasn’t surprising, it still felt like it came out of left field as it just didn’t mesh with the rest of the novel.

Nibble: “Mrs. Bingham raised chickens for sale, and if she sold you a fryer or a roasting hen for Sunday dinner she would call at your house on Monday (it was said) to retrieve the skeleton and feed it to the chicken she would sell you next week.”

I would heavily recommend this book to anyone with patience.

My Rating: 9 out of 10 apples just plucked from the tree

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Three Ways of the Saw

Written by Matt Mullins

Peel: This is a collection of twenty-five short stories and flash fiction, organized into three parts.

The stories were very gritty, and examined the darker sides of human nature. Alienation and pain are covered often, and the prose slowly drags the reader along. There were very few likable characters, but every character was rather interesting.

With the exception of three stories, the rest are all about a [probably white] heterosexual male narrator or protagonist, with a similar voice. The first section was all about the same character so it wasn’t as grating. There was one story, Getting Beaten, which I found extremely unsettling. The protagonist is very disagreeable in action and thought, and furthermore the story is written in second person. All in all, the stories are very provocative and well written. Mullins also quotes some lovely poems before each section to set the tone. I found this to be quite a mixed bag in terms of how much I liked the stories, ranging from four to nine out of ten ratings. My favorite story was either Shots or The Dog in Me.

Nibble from Shots: “Eventually, he noticed the sky begin to pale, and he stood up on uneasy legs, gnawed by the vague regret that there was something worth remembering he’d forgotten.”

I would recommend this to anyone who wants a disturbing and evoking read.

My Rating: 7 out of 10 jagged red apples

I received a free copy of this book from the publishers, Atticus Books,via NetGalley.

Matt Mullins’s Site

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River Daughter and Other Stories

Written by Annie Bellet

Peel: This is a fantasy short story collection, with a bonus of the first five chapters of A Heart in Sun and Shadow.

All of the stories are packed with lovely imagery and imagination. Bellet’s language was playful throughout and fun to read. A few of the stories were on the darker side, especially River Daughter, which balanced out all the whimsical fantasy. My favorite story of the collection was “The Scent of Sunlight”. All together the collection was a little under a hundred pages, and a quick read.

Though the characters were interesting, there wasn’t quite enough space to really deepen them. For that reason, some of the endings didn’t really feel satisfying. I would be interested in checking out this author’s longer works, a novel and a couple novellas, to see if everything comes together. From what I read of A Heart in Sun and Shadow, that looks promising.

Nibble: “She was always hungry these days, her little Truc consuming everything as soon as it entered her body and then kicking for more.”

I would recommend this to anyone who wants a few darker fairy tales.

My Rating: 7 out of 10 slippery golden apples

I received a free electronic copy of this book from the author via LibraryThing.

Annie Bellet’s Site

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The Blind Owl

Written by Sadegh Hedayat

Peel: Following the narrator’s descent into madness, a dark tale examining the human condition.

This is quite bluntly, an amazing piece of work. Hedayat certainly isn’t named as the father of modern Iranian prose for nothing. At only a hundred and thirty pages the book can be read in an afternoon, and merits plenty of rereads to attempt to understand the novel. Hedayat’s language and imagery is stunning. Hedayat is like a cross between Poe and Marquez, with emphasis on Poe. This is one of the better accounts of an insane mind that I’ve read; for example, the narrator will repeat certain images without connecting them to other identical instances.

If you like knowing exactly what’s going on all the time, then I certainly wouldn’t recommend this book to you. Between the magical realism, insane mind, and the narration switching to earlier in his life for the second part, it isn’t always strictly following a predictive arc- but is very enjoyable if you don’t mind that.

Nibble: “His face was ravaged and old, and his hair- the terror aroused by the sound of the cobra’s body as it slid across the floor, by its furious hissing, by its gleaming eyes, by the thought of its poisonous fangs and of its loathsome body shaped like a long neck terminating in a spoon-shaped protuberance and a tiny head, the horror of all this had changed my uncle, by the time he walked out of the room, into a white-haired old man.”

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys magical realism.

My Rating: 10 out of 10 ethereal and shadowed apples

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Airs and Graces

Written by Roz Southey

Peel: A historical murder mystery with a touch of the paranormal; it is apart of the Charles Patterson mysteries. A seemingly open-and-shut case, with a girl murdering most of her family to escape back to London, quickly becomes tangled upon investigation.

To begin with, I have not read the other Charles Patterson mysteries. I still found the novel enjoyable, but would recommend others to begin with the first book. How the Patterson universe works in relation to other worlds and spirits for example, took me by surprise but was still simple enough to follow. The chapters also started with amusing lines from letters between two, unknown to me, characters.

The first chapter is a mere six pages, and it pulls the reader straight into the book with a heavy dose of suspense. Southey does a lovely job at building up the plot, and giving little details so one may try and solve this mystery. Between all the twists and turns the novel takes, it’s not obvious who the murderer is but it’s still possible to piece it together. The chapters themselves tended to be pretty short, and between that and the suspense the novel read rather quickly. I found this book rather hard to put down, and finished it in one read.

On the other hand, I don’t particularly like the idea of being able to talk to spirits and ask them to recount events. To me, that seems like cheating. I would have greatly preferred the novel without any jumping between worlds and speaking with the dead.

Nibble: “The English are never in error. At least, that’s what they tell me.”

I would recommend this to anyone interested in a quirky murder mystery.

My Rating: 8 out of 10 shimmering silver apples

I received a free electronic copy of this book from Severn House.

Roz Southey’s Site

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The Inhabitants of Magnolia Park

Written by Tracy James Jones

Peel: The collection is a novella and a short story, there was also a bonus short story.

The narration of all three pieces was very distinct. It felt like reading extended postsecrets; the language was starkly honest. The stories also came off as much more telling than showing because of this. Each story explored the human condition through a diverse cast of characters. Jones does a lovely job of creating realistic characters. All in all, it was an enjoyably thoughtful and quick read, and my favorite story of the three was “Paper Images”.

On the other hand, I didn’t like that the short stories and novella had quick descriptions right before you read them. It took some of the surprise and curiosity out of reading the beginnings of the stories. I also would have liked a few more stories in this collection to make it a cohesive character study collection. As a warning there is mention of violence and rape.

Nibble: “When she was drunk, she had a mouth on her according to his brother and local folklore, she could be meaner than a wet snake in the hot Texas sun.”

I would recommend this to someone who enjoys delving into the mind of characters.

My rating: 6 out of 10 billie bound apples

I received a free electronic copy of this book from the author via LibraryThing.

Tracy James Jones’s Site

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Memoirs of an Antihero

Written by Drew Blank

Peel: The book opens up with the protagonist’s, Drew’s, daughter being diagnosed with a terminal disease. With hospital bills piling up Drew is searching for money outside Chicago, and all he’s coming up with is criminal money. After a lucky first vigilante act gets him some money, Drew decides to go into the business of fighting crime.

This book was like a comic book without the pictures. The protagonist was nicely humanized and distanced from the typical superhero as Drew wasn’t invincible, and could easily get injured. The action scenes were very fast paced and amusing to follow, and there was quite a bit of violence. All of the characters were rather likable, and easy to root for. The main character’s name Drew A. Blank certainly made me curious as to how close the character was to the author.

The beginning of this book is a major information dump with the plot inching forwards, which significantly slowed me down, and most descriptions felt like miniature information dumps. Later there are great action scenes, but the information could have been less clumped up. Unfortunately for most of the book all I could think about was how much it would benefit from being a comic book rather than just text. A few too many of the conversations between characters came across as fluffy- with no point beyond being cute. All in all, I liked the premise of this book but I would have preferred it as a graphic novel, or with less/shorter slow scenes.

Nibble: “I had not come across many old people in my limited travels, but the ones I had met always had a very glossy stare, as if death was standing right before them and his opaque shroud was muting any sign of life from their gaze.”

I would recommend this as a graphic novel without the comics.

My Rating: 3 out of 10 super red apples

I received a free electronic copy of this book from the author via LibraryThing.

Drew Blank’s Site

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another piece of my heart

Written by Jane Green

Peel: When Andi married Ethan she became the step-mother of two girls- Sophia and Emily. The younger Sophia takes to Andi well, and is everything Andi wanted in a daughter besides being biologically hers, Emily on the other hand does not. Between Andi wanting to give birth to a child, Emily wanting Andi gone and her own ever-increasing drama, neither the family nor marriage is stable.

There is quite a bit of dialog in this book, and Green does a great job of making it sound realistic. It’s a pretty simple book to read, and the concept of marrying into a partially-complete family is rather interesting.

The first chunk of the book was exclusively about Andi, and it was a bit much. I didn’t particularly like her character until towards the end, as in the beginning she’s lacking a backbone, is extremely self-involved, and it’s always about Andi’s problems. She talks about how Ethan’s this incredible husband, but we don’t see him in a positive light until near the end of the book. Though Green’s main characters aren’t very likable, one can see their motivations and reasoning. After the first chunk of Andi, the narrative switched often between first person for Emily, and third person for all the other main characters. Perhaps because of taking on all of the main characters’ points of view the whole book comes off as much more telling than showing. Overall the story was a little too easy to follow and predictable for my taste, and it felt like the execution could have been much stronger.

On the other hand, I did like how slowly Green built up the story so that characters were fully established before major events occurred. At the end it was easy to see how and why the characters developed. The minor characters were fairly interchangeable, but also all likable as rational good-advice givers. The book felt much like a realistic soap opera; things often go very right and very wrong, but nothing outside the realm of reasonable probability.

Nibble: “She pushes Sophia’s door open gently to see Sophia, fast asleep, the bald teddy bear that she cannot sleep without, now lying on its side, on the floor next to her bed, Sophia’s hand curled out toward it, as if she is waiting for the bear to jump back in.”

I would recommend this as a light feel-good drama.

My Rating: 6 out of 10 baby pink apples

I received an advanced free paper copy of this book from the First Reads program via Goodreads.

Jane Green’s Site

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