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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Ten Kinds of Trouble

Written by Ian Ashe

Peel: A collection of ten thriller stories. 

This collection was a mixed bag with individual story ratings ranging from three to nine out of ten. Many of the stories had gun violence, which began to feel formulaic after a few stories. Other types of violence are in fact represented, but the amount of guns pulled out was a heavy majority. All of the stories were highly suspenseful, and quickly pushed you through them. The stories were rather quick to read at around twelve pages. My favorite story was “After Everything Else”, mainly because of its open ending.

On the other hand, most of the stories were just gore with minimal plot and characters which resulted in the stories not being as effective or shocking when read together.

Nibble: “Killing people was his specialty, the thing he was known for, the reason he got out of bed every morning.”

I would recommend this to anyone who wants to read some gory thriller stories.

My Rating: 5 out of 10 shot and sliced apples

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

Ian Ashe’s Site

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Murder at the End of the World

Written by Jonathan Garrett

Peel: A murder mystery with elements of fantasy and horror. Allison is called in for a high profile murder in the middle of nowhere, and it quickly becomes serial.

The plot behind the story was creative and well thought out, the execution though, not so much. Overall the prose was on the poor side, and there were a few grammatical errors. Some accents were written in a very over-the-top manner. The descriptions of characters tended to be an all-tell, with no showing. The detective aspect of the book felt rather fake, as she was more often lucky than actually thinking through the case. The ending has a lovely plot twist that ties everything together, even though the perpetrator isn’t surprising. So I wouldn’t completely write off Garrett, I’d just wait on a more polished work to come along.

Nibble: “Ice hung in thick spikes from the roof above the window, waiting to pop loose and crash down onto some unsuspecting pedestrian’s head.”

I would recommend this as a quick and easy read.

My Rating: 3 out of 10 lucky green apples

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

Jonathan Garrett’s Site

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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 Lola Quartet

Written by Emily St. John Mandel

Peel: This was not a suspenseful mystery as it was described; instead it’s a drama examining a set of friends’ past and current lives. Between a runaway, theft, and a pregnancy kept secret- their connections to one another have become quite convoluted.

Had I realized quite how much emphasis was placed on the drama rather than the noir mystery aspect, I probably wouldn’t have chosen this book. As it was, I apathetically trudged through this book. I didn’t find any of the main characters particularly interesting or likable, and they only seemed like full characters towards the end; I was rather happy when one character was rightfully fired from his job. Mandel would often switch the point of view between characters, so that the reader knows practically everything that’s going on. The very first chapter starts off with some suspense, but it isn’t maintained. The plot tended to wander into dramatic mundanities, and the most interesting bits of the protagonist thinking like a detective weren’t as strong, as the reader knew far more than the protagonist. There was one interesting conversation between two characters about justifying murder, but it’s not discussed at length or any great depth. The language was easy to read, and there were quite a few references to pieces of music that amused me. Thus far, many other readers have enjoyed this book, but it simply wasn’t my cup of tea.

Nibble: “For a moment he was flattered that they’d called him a star journalist, then he realized they just meant he’d been a journalist for the Star.”

I would recommend this to someone who enjoys simple dramas. {Click for a more complex drama.}

My Rating: 1 out of 10 warm yellow apples

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

Emily St. John Mandel’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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Secrets & Lies

Written by Tracy James Jones

Peel: This is an un-sugarcoated romantic drama. The story closely examines four characters’ lives, past and present, and how they interact with one another.

The book starts by laying out the four main characters quickly, so that one can jump right into the novel without any character confusion. Between all of the characters’ motivations and secrets, the suspense builds up. I loved how diverse the set of characters were in terms of sexuality, gender, race, and to a slightly lesser shown extent socioeconomic status, without that being, for the most part, a main piece of the plot. The characters’ only similarities were penchants for holding secrets and their beauty. For most of the beginning of the book all conversations and actions were sexual or romantic. A bit of non-romantic plot twist occurs at the end of the book, but before that it’s mostly sex-related drama. Almost all of the non-romantic or sexual pieces of the novel ended up being secrets, so the reader learns about them far later than they’d expect. This book is also pretty dialog heavy.

The character development arc goes far for each of the main characters, and thus their likability grows further. I found it believable for all but one character, for whom the development just seemed a little too drastic too quickly. As a warning there are adult situations, and many generalized gender statements.

Nibble: “There are thousands of secrets hidden behind the whitewashed fences and clapboard sidings for the residents of this quaint little town.”

This is the second book by Jones that I’ve reviewed [first], and this one I preferred. I would definitely suggest reading this novel first, and then if one likes Jones’ narrative style diving into the other works.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading dramas.

My Rating: 8 out of 10 spotlight-stealing apples

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

Tracy James Jones’s Site

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The Ely Testament

Written by Philip Gooden

Peel: A murder mystery set in the nineteen hundreds with a side story set in the seventeen hundreds. The main story focuses on a Mr. Lye, a partner in a law firm, who may have died without writing a will. Tom goes off to investigate, and his host, Mr. Lye’s brother, is arrested for murder and the mystery begins.

There was some lovely imagery, especially in describing architecture. There were many characters in this mystery that opened up many possibilities for what may have happened. Unfortunately the author tended to close doors off rather quickly, instead of allowing the reader to build up any pet theories. The side story keeps up suspense while the main develops slowly, and one gets to imagine possible connections between the two.

I prefer my mysteries to have a rather intelligent protagonist, so that one must actively think to figure out the mystery. I found many connections stated bluntly, that I would have liked to establish and mull over. I didn’t find the characters that likable, and the only likable one, Helen, was flawless and had every male chasing after her. Though there is a melodramatic twist at the end, the killer’s identity could be figured out via process of elimination. All in all the book was written well, but not my cup of tea.

Nibble: “Mute was a first-rate pseudonym for a contributor to the magazine since it not only described a paid mourner at a funeral but also had a tinge of mystery to it.”

I would recommend this to someone who wants a lazy Sunday mystery.

My Rating: 5 out of 10 misplaced scarlet apples

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

Philip Gooden’s Site

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