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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In the Flesh

Written by Portia Da Costa

Peel: Beatrice posed for some nude photographs that got leaked to the public, destroying any chance of her receiving a respectable marriage proposal. Her brother has gambled away their money, and things are looking rather grim for Beatrice. Ritchie, a wealthy and powerful man, happens across the photos and decides he must have her.

The book is a lovely combination of historical romance and erotica. The author keeps the two well balanced, and doesn’t unrealistically dive into either too soon. In the beginning there’s a gentle building of anticipation and suspense, while the characters become more rounded. Beatrice’s character is quite likable, she also lacks any major flaws, and throughout the book is treated like a queen. The author also uses some gorgeous imagery, and never breaks away from the time period. The book is around three hundred and eighty pages, but between the plot and dialog feels much shorter. Most gender and sexuality roles are traditional, though there is a polyamorous couple to mix things up.

Throughout the story Ritchie seems to always know what Beatrice is thinking. It happened a few too many times for me, and made his character less realistic.

Nibble: “…she almost purred into his mouth like a plump and lazy kitten accepting his affection…”

I would recommend this to anyone who would like some plot to go with their erotica and romance.

My rating: 9 out of 10 sumptuous red apples

I received an advanced free copy of this book from the publishers, Harlequin,via NetGalley.

Portia Da Costa’s Site

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Bloody Chester

Written by J.T. Petty, Illustrated by Hilary Florido & Colored by Hilary Sycamore

Peel: In this graphic novel, Chester’s hired to burn down an empty town with a superstitious backstory. 

The plot line moves quickly following Chester, or Lady Kate, on an adventure in the old, unromanticized, west. This is certainly a different take on the cowboys versus indians trope. The plot alone was very gripping and there’s an unexpected twist towards the end. Though none of the characters are particularly reliable or likable, they’re all very interesting to watch interact. Chester is especially interesting, as I found myself rooting for him even after he made bad decision after bad decision.

This was labeled for ages fourteen and up, which seems pretty low for the amount of violence, adult implications, ethnic slurs and swears. The art unfortunately wasn’t that great, and didn’t enrich the story at all. There may be different lettering in the final copy, but the one I received was typed rather than handwritten and in all capital letters. This is one of the few graphic novels I’ve read that would have been better as just a novel.

Nibble: “Only been here a month, but I’ve seen you take more beatings than a whore’s bed.”

I would recommend this to anyone who wants to read a gripping creepy tale, and doesn’t mind disliking the protagonist.

My Rating: 4 out of 10 dusty golden apples

I received an advanced free copy of this book from the publishers, First Second,via NetGalley.

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A Waltz at Midnight

Written by Crista McHugh

Peel: A woman receives a completely unromantic letter from a potential suitor, and turns to her servant to dissuade him. Susanna, posing as Charlotte, continues writing to the suitor and their letters become increasingly personal.

This is a fun short story, and the beginning is especially entertaining to read. The main character is rather likable, though she lacks any flaws. McHugh’s language is quite descriptive, and pushes the reader through the entire story.

Often Susanna would write as if she were the voice of all women, which I found rather annoying. The ending tied up everything rather quickly and superficially, either a longer ending or an epilogue would have made the ending seem more likely. All in all, I liked the idea behind the piece but I wasn’t huge on the execution.

Nibble: “If he ever showed his face here, she personally would give him such a tongue-lashing, his pride would limp for days.”

I would recommend this as a quick sweet distraction.

My Rating: 5 out of 10 sugary sweet apples

I received an advanced electronic copy from the publisher, Carina Press, via NetGalley.

Crista McHugh’s Site

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Trout: A True Story of Murder, Teens, and the Death Penalty

Written by Jeff Kunerth

Peel: Centered mainly on the Trout murder in Florida, this piece of creative nonfiction examines giving the death penalty or life in prison to teenagers.

The beginning of the book reads more like a drama- the stage is set, characters are introduced, and the murder unfolds. Kunerth did a lovely job of building up suspense and I was hooked into the book quickly, and finished it in one sitting. The author also got into each of the character’s heads, and you wonder how close their portrayals are to reality. The story certainly encourages thinking about one’s stance on the death penalty in general, and in cases with an adolescent.

Regardless of where you stand on the death penalty though, the narrative was extremely biased. I would have preferred an unbiased account of just facts, or at least both sides of the argument represented equally. Because of how biased the author was, I questioned how true some of the characterizations it presented were. For example, was the investigator Patterson as manipulative and out-for-blood as he’s portrayed?

Nibble: “But in the debate over what we should do with teens who commit horrific crimes, we have to ask whether we want a criminal justice system that acts like a grieving, angry family.”

I would recommend this as an intriguing read, that’s worth critically thinking over.

My Rating: 6 out of 10 compelling red apples

I received an advanced electronic copy from the publisher, University Press of Florida, via NetGalley.

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Kurt Vonnegut: The Last Interview and Other Conversations

Edited by Tom McCartan

Peel: Six interviews with Vonnegut, in chronological order. The last interview is rather quick, at around three pages. The interviews touch on his views of other writers, education, war, politics, religion, and his take on humanity.

The interviews were full of Vonnegut’s wit, and very amusing to read. Generally I find author interviews disappointing as their works tend to greatly outshine some random Q&A sessions. Happily, this was not the case here, and instead the interviews read more like little raw bits of Vonnegut. My favorite interview was a Playboy one also with Joseph Heller, in which their conversation covers many topics and drops many names. With a bit of time between the rereadings, I’d say the interviews are indeed rereadable. I found that the interviews deepened my appreciation for Vonnegut, and I’ll have to go read some now.

As lovely as the interviews were, they tended to be rather repetitive in content and questioning. Questioning on most of his work, besides Slaughterhouse Five, would have been nice.

Nibble: “I propose that every person out of work be required to submit a book report before he or she gets his or her welfare check.” -Vonnegut

If you enjoy Vonnegut, you’ll enjoy his interviews.

My Rating: 8 out of 10 beautiful, painless, apples

I received an electronic copy from the publisher, Melville House, via NetGalley.

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My Memories of a Future Life

Written by Roz Morris

Peel: Our first person protagonist, Carol, has devoted her life to playing piano. Her obsession and sense of self are seriously shaken when her hands are injured to the point where she can’t play without feeling pain, and no doctor she sees can help her. Carol turns to hypnosis and discovers a future life- but is it real or imaginary?

Morris weaves an intriguing web between her cast of characters, and when the suspense picks up the book is hard to put down. Her characters, even minor ones, were rather realistic. The chapters were pretty short, and the book is broken up into four parts; I found it best to read in the parts. There’s a lovely twist towards the end that comes completely out of the blue. Between all of Morris’s detail and craftiness, the book would certainly hold up to multiple reads. For the second read, I’d suggest listening to the songs mentioned in the novel, and those not.

Since the book was rather detail heavy, I found it easy to get bogged down in them, especially in the first portion. The story also builds up rather slowly, and I didn’t care much about the narrator until page sixty or so. As a small note, the ending chapter does wrap up and clear up the story rather nicely, though I liked the murky potential ending by stopping after chapter seventy-eight. All in all, a fantastic and intriguing heavy read.

Nibble: “I wasn’t born gifted. It’s how I’ve cheated with the unsatisfactory clay I’m made from.”

I would recommend this to anyone wanting a weekend thought-producing read.

My Rating: 8 out of 10 soothing spiced apples

I received a free paper copy from the author.

Roz Morris’s Site

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Devil’s Creek

Written by Paul Maitrejean

Peel: Erica’s car is slowly breaking down, and the only nearby place is a tiny town, Devil’s Creek. Once Erica arrives she finds out that there’s a local legend of the Angel of Death visiting every seventy years, and tonight he is said to visit.

Though the story starts off rather typically, around the middle it begins to veer off course and the ending is a lovely little twist that made the read worth it. The twist itself was perfect, though it had been hinted at and makes sense, it’s not the twist you expect. This is a very quick read, and is around twenty pages. The language throughout the story was simple, and the plot line pushed you to the end.

I would have liked to know a bit more about the protagonist, I didn’t care much if she was in danger. Unfortunately most of the value in this story was the twist, so it doesn’t have much rereading value.

Nibble: “Her return trip from researching the logging industry in northern Wisconsin had gone well up until ten miles back, when her Taurus started running funny and finally died on her.”

I would recommend this as a clever entertaining thriller.

My Rating: 6 out of 10 devilish red apples

I received a free electronic copy of this story from the author.

Paul Maitrejean’s Site

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The New Death and others

Written by James Hutchings

Peel: Forty-four stories and nineteen poems are in this collection.

The content of this collection ranges from satire to horror to the fantastic, and many of the stories end with little twists. The author is unapologetically opinionated in matters of politics, religion, and morals but I didn’t find that off-putting. The first story that opens up the collection is one of all the gods picking dominions, but no one wants to be the God of the Poor. Throughout the collection, the author’s uniqueness and creativity becomes pretty apparent. There’s quite a bit of lovely dark whimsical poetry that tended to read like a song. The stories read rather honestly regardless of however fantastic they were. This collection could also be reread, and if in print, I’d say it’d make a lovely little coffee table book.

The collection wasn’t organized in any way which makes it easy to start reading at random, but not so great for reading larger chunks. Such jumps, like from an amusing little poem to heavy political matter, could have been avoided with sectioning. I wouldn’t be able to pick a favorite from the collection, but I preferred the shorter clever pieces of flash fiction and poetry best. The longer stories were good, but they lacked the snappy humor that characterized the others.

Nibble: “It was strange, Fame thought, that Death was not more popular. She was so cheerful, and so fond of children.”

I would heavily recommend this collection to anyone who enjoys witty twisted works.

My Rating: 9 out of 10 dark Bramley apples

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

James Hutchings’s Site

Get the collection for 99 cents on Amazon

Aesop Revisited- Book 1

Written by Ethan Russell Erway

Peel: Six of Aesop’s fables are juxtaposed with Erway’s revisions of them. Erway adds two original fables, and pens an foreword and afterword by ‘Aesop’.

The introduction was rather amusing, full of tongue in cheek humor and self-deprication. The retellings of the fables were rather silly, some political, and all modern. The first tale, about an ant being taxed to feed the animals who don’t work and a lazy union worker grasshopper, was the strongest. Part of the appeal of the fable retellings were how ridiculously heavy handed they were. The entire collection is fourteen fables, and a swift read.

On a stylistic note, some of the fables declared the moral at the end and others did not, a little uniformity would have been nice. Also some tales clearly had the same moral as the original fable and others had the faintest connection, uniformity on this too would have made for a more cohesive collection. Amusing as the collection was, I doubt it would stand to multiple reads but that may be more tied to its satirical nature.

Nibble: “Why do bald-headed men never use keys? Because they’ve lost their locks. Ha, ha.”

I would recommend this to anyone who would enjoy silly caricatures of fables.

My Rating: 6 out of 10 parody pears

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

Ethan Erway’s Site

Get the Kindle version for 99 cents on Amazon