Story of O

Written by Pauline Réage

Peel: A fictional novel following the female protagonist in her submission to her lover.

Throughout the novel, O’s consent is asked for, though there are situations of potentially dubious consent featuring other characters. The reader sees O blindfolded, whipped, chained, pierced, branded, masked, and trained to always be available for any type of intercourse with anyone approved by her lover. Additionally, the reader sees O proudly showing off her welts, branding, and piercings to her female lover.

Trained at the chateau of Roissy by a group of upper-class men, O did not know what her lover had or had not done when she was whipped and taken as was frequently blindfolded or partnered with men wearing masks. At the end of this training, her lover gives her to a more dominant master: Sir Stephen. Her lover claims that it is very important for O to learn how to serve someone she does not love, and who does not love her. However, as the training progresses, O falls in love with Sir Stephen, and she is under the impression that he loves her as well. O chooses to remain with Sir Stephen instead of her lover, and is branded and pierced with his initials and crest.

There has been some feminist backlash against this novel. Dworkin, for example, argues that having the protagonist’s name shortened to O represents her being zero, empty, and nothing more than an orifice. It has also been argued that the novel is just about the ultimate objectification of the female, and that it glorifies the abuse of women.

In this light, the character of O does delineate being submissive as a person from being submissive in a sexual context. We do, however briefly, see her life in the outside world as a successful photographer. Furthermore, I think it is useful to keep in mind that Réage wrote this as a series of fantasy letters to her lover, a de Sade fan.

I would not recommend this to anyone uncomfortable with mixing pain and pleasure; otherwise, it’s an interesting fantasy.

Nibble: “And yet all she was aiming for was to make the silks, the furs, and the laces more beautiful by that sudden beauty of an elfin creature surprised by her reflection in the mirror, which Jacqueline became in the simplest blouse, as she did in the most elegant mink.”

Rating: 7 out of 10 rouged red apples

I borrowed a paper copy from the CSPH library; cross-posted on their website here.

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Athos in America

Written and drawn by Jason

Peel: A graphic novel composed of six short stories.

This was a lovely collection. The stories all had different characters, but had similar tones and ideas, which made for a cohesive collection. This collection was on the angrier side of things. As usual, Jason did an amazing job at conveying lots of emotion through simple anthropomorphic drawings.

I found all of the stories, except the title story, to be very strong and rather intense. One story has amusing scene of Jason doing a reading, quoting passages from one of his excellent mostly silent books- Hey, Wait…. Another story, Athos in America, didn’t come off as very strong to me, however it was supposed to be a prequel to another of his books “The Last Musketeer”, which I have yet to read. As a note this is one of Jason’s wordier pieces, which may not be to some fans’ taste.

I would recommend this to anyone who has really enjoyed Jason’s previous work or wants an introduction to graphic novels.

Nibble: “Go out and get me a body! Someone young this time…not some old wreck!”

My Rating: 9 out of 10 flat flavorful apples

Jason’s Blog

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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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Speak

Written by Laurie Halse Anderson

Peel: After busting a summer party, no one at school wants to be friends with Melinda. So she’s stuck alone in her mind, and even there has become threatening.

This was a very difficult, but gripping, book to read, as every step of the way you want to be there for Melinda. Melinda’s character is remarkably realistic and sympathetic. The book is written as Melissa in a very close first person, and one gets to hear her darkly humorous take on high school. The prose is on the weaker side, many other characters are flat, and at times the symbolism is heavy handed; but given that the narrator was a freshman in high school, this made her more believable and affective.

There is a rather worrying message that the author seems to be conveying in her ending- that one should be hopeful for retribution. The ending itself felt too quick for me, and lost the realistic feel that Anderson had in the rest of the novel.

Nibble: “May is finally here and it has stopped raining. Good thing, too- the mayor of Syracuse was about to put out a call for a guy named Noah.”

I would recommend this to everyone.

My Rating: 9 out of 10 growing apple trees

I borrowed a paper copy from the CSPH library; click here to read the extended version.

Laurie Halse Anderson’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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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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