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.

Get the book from Amazon


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

Get the book from Amazon

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

Get the collection from Amazon

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

Get the book from Amazon

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

Get the book on Amazon

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

The Wolf Gift

Written by Anne Rice

Peel: Set in present day California, the story begins with a young reporter is sent to cover a story on an old house for sale. The reporter, Reuben, is enchanted by the house, its history, and its current inhabitant. One bite shifts Reuben’s life, character, and interactions with his family and friends.

This novel was very slow moving and built up a thorough storyline. It didn’t read like a fast-paced crazy paranormal story, and I enjoyed that. After a few chapters, the story hooked me in; the characters, dialog, and reactions all felt very realistic. Rice’s language was light and pretty, and rather conducive to lovely imagery. The book flitted between feeling historical to erotic to violent.

There is a bit of religious preachiness at times. Especially towards the end, the book goes into the explicit origin story, and potential philosophical and religious ramifications. I would have preferred more moral ambiguity in the character’s view of himself. One of the powers he develops is to smell the difference between innocence, evil, and being neutral. This made it far too easy to establish the moral standing of any character. He does bring up some interesting questions in a few of the articles he writes on werewolves, but we never see him grapple with them. Instead, the main character is a nice handsome guy who takes everything in stride. As a warning there is quasi-bestiality and lots of violence.

All in all, she’s a wonderful storyteller and it was an interesting take on the werewolf tale.

Nibble: “As for his father, he saw death in the falling leaves.”

I would recommend this to anyone with a love for werewolves.

My Rating: 8 out of 10 bitten apples

I received an advanced copy from the publisher, Knopf Doubleday, via NetGalley.

Anne Rice’s Site

Pre-order the book on Amazon for February 14th

The Last Dragon

Written by Jane Yolen, Illustrated by Rebecca Guay

Peel: Long ago humans got rid of all the dragons from the island of May, little did they know an egg survived. Now they have to find a hero to eliminate the last dragon.

This is a rather amusing take on the typical evil dragon story, and *gasp* the mentor of the hero is female. It was a pretty quick fun read, and the humor was oriented towards a younger, 12-14, audience. It was also a coming-of-age story. The art was gorgeous, and the much stronger half of this graphic novel. The colors were muted giving the story a very dreamy feel, and I’m sure the art is even better in print as I viewed an electronic version. Overall, I found the pictures more intriguing than the textual story.

The dragon itself had less of a role in the story than one would expect from a story titled The Last Dragon. I found it a bit jarring to see some of the humor, like an older brother saying ‘cool’ when his baby brother is taken by the dragon, set in such pretty delicate artwork. As a warning there is mention of death, but it’s not illustrated.

Nibble: “The isles ran red and dark with dragon blood till all of them were gone. Or so the humans believed.”

I would recommend this in print as an illustrated bedtime story to pre-teens and young teens.

My Rating: 7 out of 10 burnt red apples

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher, Dark Horse, via NetGalley.

Jane Yolen’s Site, Rebecca Guay’s Site {Guay’s site may contain nudity}

Get the book from Amazon

Up in the Attic and Other Stories

Written by Amanda Lawrence Auverigne

This is a collection of holiday themed short stories, described as horror or dark fantasy. I would classify it only as dark fantasy as it’s simply not scary. I found the stories felt melodramatic as the author tended to write very choppy descriptions, and use many one or two sentence paragraphs in a row. A lot of the language Auverigne uses throughout the seven stories is very similar, and reading them all at once is a bit much. I found the sheer amount of references to various sites and gadgets a bit annoying, as were the often unnecessary mundane conversations between characters. I really wanted to like something about this collection as idea-wise it sounded promising, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

I would recommend this to anyone who likes mixing high school drama with a touch of dark fantasy.

Nibble: ” ‘No, I love you the best when you’re eating because that’s the only time when you’re conscious and quiet.’ ”

My Rating: 1 out of 10 chopped up apples

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

Five Dances with Death

By Austin Briggs

In this book Briggs displays an incredible world drawn in historical fiction, and mixes it with fantasy. It’s set during the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, which contributes to an underlying tone of eventual doom. The protagonist, Angry Wasp, is trying to keep his nation safe while also searching for his long lost daughter. Nations around him are becoming more inclined towards war, and the Spanish are beginning to march inland. There is quite a lot of violence and sacrifice in this book, but I found the descriptions tasteful and not overly gratuitous. Angry Wasp certainly lives up to his name, and in the beginning makes many impulsive decisions. In his character we see progressions, and a few recessions, in his development. Briggs’ simple language worked excellently, and most of the dialog came off as authentic and translated. The ending was actually a surprise and twist, which was lovely.

I realized towards the end of the book that I didn’t care what would happen to Angry Wasp. It was an odd realization as he’s an interesting and realistic character to read about- but between the amount of casual death and a lack of sympathy for him, I found myself rather neutral towards his fate, yet wrapped up in his story. As a warning, when reading this you really have to pay attention with the multitude of places, and jumping from reality to outer body experiences with spiritual doubles. A map in the beginning of the book would have been very helpful.

I found this a great story, that also filled a niche that should certainly be expanded. In my American history classes and books, it tended to be about how Europe colonized America, rather than placing emphasis on the people who were actually living there and being invaded. You can also feel the depth of knowledge Briggs has about this time, and it grounds the story without being distracting.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

Nibble {first sentence of prologue}: “I had challenged Talon to the ballgame because my daughter Dew had been his slave as long as she knew how to walk.”

My Rating: 8 out of 10 fresh jumping apples

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