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Book Review: Maplecroft by Cherie Priest (Series, #1)

Book Review: Maplecroft by Cherie Priest (Series, #1)Summary:
“Lizzie Borden took an axe; gave her mother forty whacks….”
Any New Englander knows the nursery rhyme based on the true crime story of Mr. and Mrs. Borden who were murdered with an axe in 1892.  In spite of being tried and acquitted for the murders, their daughter (in the case of Mrs. Borden, step-daughter), was widely believed to actually be responsible for the murders.  In this book, she definitely was, but maybe not for the reasons you might think.
A darkness is trying to take over Fall River, Massachusetts, and Lizzie and her ailing sister Emma are all that might stand between the town and oblivion, with Lizzie’s parents being the first casualties in the battle.

Review:
I grew up chanting the nursery rhyme about Lizzie Borden the first half of which is quoted above (this perhaps says an awful lot about New Englanders, but I digress), and I also love tales from the Lovecraft universe, which also originated in New England.  When I heard about this book that mashed up the two, I put it on my wishlist.  Lo and behold, my future sister-in-law, who had never even seen my wishlist, bought it for me for Christmas last year.  I thought this would be the perfect read for the fantasy challenge, and although it was a bit different than what I was expecting, I still enjoyed the mix of Lovecraft and women’s history that Priest has woven and am eagerly anticipating reading the sequel.

The story is told through a combination of first person accounts from Lizzie, Emma, and Nance, diary-style entries by their neighbor doctor, letters, police and fire reports, and first person ramblings of a professor from Miskatonic University (another Lovecraft element).  Some readers may be put off by the combination of first person perspectives, but I’ve always enjoyed this style, particularly when it includes things like letters and police reports.  I felt that it was one of the strengths of the book, and I also particularly enjoyed getting to see both Emma’s and Lizzie’s perspectives, as well as that of Lizzie’s lover, Nance.

The Lovecraft mash-up basically is that some sort of Dark One in the deep is out to turn everyone on the seacoast either into worshippers or victims or literally turn them into monstrous ones who live in the deep.  Emma and Lizzie’s parents were among the first to begin succumbing to this infection and that is why Lizzie had to kill them.  Lizzie and Emma now are conducting research, trying to figure out how to prevent the Dark One from actually rising up.  This is all extremely Lovecraftian, including the fact that some of these developments don’t make a ton of sense, but things just don’t make sense in the dark fantasy world of Lovecraft, so I was ok with that.  Readers new to the world of Lovecraft might be a bit more frustrated by how inexplicable most things to do with the Dark Ones and the deep are, however.

I particularly enjoyed how Priest explores how societal and cultural norms of 1890s New England affects women’s lives.  Emma could be a scientist now that women are being accepted into colleges, but she chooses to instead write her scientific papers under a male pseudonym because she believes she would never garner respect otherwise.  Lizzie and Nance are in love and must hide it, although Lizzie often feels why should she bother when she is already disgraced after the trial.  The clashes between Lizzie and Emma regarding both her affair with Nance and the fact that Lizzie believes in trying out magical and fantastical defenses against the Dark One whereas Emma believes purely in science are interesting reading.  They are two very different people who are thrust together both by virtue of being siblings and by the fact that as women in the 1890s their lives are limited.

On the other hand, in spite of liking the characters of the neighbor doctor and the Miskatonic professor and enjoying the exploration of Lizzie’s and Emma’s relationship and getting to see some of Emma’s character, I couldn’t help but feel that Lizzie didn’t get a chance to be enough in this book.  Lizzie Borden is such a looming large figure in local history, even on the book cover she presents as a bad-ass in a period skirt holding a bloody axe.  In contrast in the book she spends a lot of time dealing with her annoying sister.  Similarly, I’m not a fan of the fact that Lizzie does very little of rescuing herself in this book, which is, I believe, if the historic Lizzie really did kill her parents, what she actually did in real life.  To me Lizzie has always been a woman who said fucking enough and took an axe and dealt violently and finally with her problems.  Whereas in the book, she starts off off-screen that way (we don’t actually see her kill her parents) and she sort of tapers off.  Much as I enjoyed seeing her messed up relationship with Emma, I couldn’t help but feel it would have ended more powerfully if she’d said fucking enough and whacked Emma through the skull for being such an insufferable bitch and in the way all the time.  This was my main issue with the book.

My second, more minor, issue is that I felt the plot takes too long to build up to actual horrifying events and/or murders.  The first murders, as I mentioned before, happened off-screen.  The beginning of the book then is a build-up of a lot of tension with not much actual gore or murder occurring.  I should mention that I was watching “The Lizzie Borden Chronicles” on tv at the same time as I was reading this book.  In that show, Lizzie kills at least one person an episode.  Now, some of that gets over the top, but it does get the idea of the pacing one would expect from this type of story right. More mayhem. More murder. More danger. More often.

On a positive note, the scenes between Lizzie and Nance are beautifully done, and while I was frustrated to see Lizzie turn a bit into a lovesick fool, I was very glad it was happening with Nance.  Their relationship and dynamic jumped off the page and really brightened up the book for me.

The set-up at the end of the book for the sequel is well-done, although I’m uncertain how the series can proceed forward so far removed from the actual historical event, I am excited to read it and see what happens.

Overall, this Lovecraft fantastical take on the Lizzie Borden of history and what led to the murders of her parents hits just the right note for Lovecraft fans.  Readers who are new to the dark fantasy world of Lovecraft may be a bit surprised by the slow burn of the horror and how much of it winds up not making much sense, but those readers who can embrace this style of dark fantasy will enjoy it.  Those looking for a bad-ass Lizzie should be aware that this Lizzie only acts when absolutely necessary and then with restraint, and they should perhaps tune into the made for tv movie Lizzie Borden Took An Ax instead.  Recommended to fans of Lovecraft who are interested in getting some local history woven in to the New England settings they are familiar with from the Lovecraft universe.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Counts For:
Once Upon a Time IX

Reading Challenge: R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (RIP) IX

September 4, 2014 4 comments

Banner for the RIP IX challenge.Hello my lovely readers!  Many book bloggers are already familiar with Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings’ RIP Challenge.  For those who aren’t familiar, it’s a reading challenge, covering the months of September and October, during which you read delightfully creepy / horror books to go along with the feelings of fall.  The books can be in any of the following genres:

Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.

There are multiple different ways to participate, including reading short stories and watching movies, plus there’s now a readalong you can participate in.  I’ve participated twice before purely in the book reading portion of the challenge, and that’s what I’m going to be doing again.  I’ll be doing Peril the First, for which you read four books that broadly fit in any of the categories above.

Books I already own that I could select for the challenge are listed below.  I’d love to hear from you in the comments if there’s one you’d particularly like to recommend to me from my list!

  • A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts by Ying Chang Compestine
  • Barely Breathing by Michael J. Kolinski
  • Beverly Hills Demon Slayer by Angie Fox
  • Brains: A Zombie Memoir by Robin Becker
  • Breed by Chase Novak
  • Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King
  • Deadtown by Nancy Holzner
  • Disclosure by Michael Crichton
  • From a Buick 8 by Stephen King
  • I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead by E. A. Aymar
  • The Keep by Paul F. Wilson
  • The Kitchen Witch by Annette Blair
  • Nightmare Fuel: Volume 1 by Bliss Morgan
  • The Shimmer by David Morrell
  • Smokin’ Six Shooter by B. J. Daniels
  • A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore
  • State of Decay by James Knapp
  • Still Missing by Chevy Stevens
  • The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan
  • Tales of the Chtulhu Mythos by H. P. Lovecraft
  • Unshapely Things by Mark Del Franco
  • The Veiled Mirror: The Story of Prince Vlad Dracula’s Lost Love by Christine Frost
  • The Walking Dead, Volume 16 by Robert Kirkman
  • Wanted Woman by B. J. Daniels

I think I should be able to find four books from a list that large, don’t you?

PS If anyone is doing the short story challenge, I have two short stories published that fit within the parameters (and are free!).  Also, my published novel fits into the challenge too.  Check them all out on my publications page.

 

Publication Announcement: Short Story in Dark Fire Fiction

December 12, 2013 Leave a comment

Hello my lovely readers!

Just a quick post to let you know that my dark fantasy short story “Freedom Freerunner” published today in Dark Fire Fiction.  They’re a rolling publication, so there’s no issue or volume numbers.  My story will be on the front page for at least a month.

Here’s the blurb:

The Dark Ones have taken over the city. Come along as a band of freerunners battle them with parkour skills and swords.

Also be sure to click through to Dark Fire Fiction‘s homepage to see the illustration they gave my short story!

To anyone wondering due to the Dark Ones mention, yes this is Lovecraftverse and yes there are tentacles. 🙂

I’ve added the links and information to my Publications page, so you can easily find it again later.

I do hope you all will check it out!

Book Review: Bad Glass by Richard E. Gropp

October 18, 2012 2 comments

An assortment of black and white and sepia toned photographs.Summary:
Something strange is happening in Spokane, and the US military has taken control of the city, closing it and its happenings to the press.  Dean sees this as the perfect opportunity to break into photography before he graduates from college and is forced into giving up on his artistic dreams to work a regular 9 to 5 job.  So he sneaks into Spokane, where he meets an intriguing young woman and her rag-tag household of survivors, and quickly starts to see the inexplicable things that are going on inside the city.

Review:
Dark fantasy is one of my favored genres, but unfortunately not a ton comes out in it in any given year.  So when I saw this title available on NetGalley, I just had to snatch it up.  I’m glad I did, because it’s a truly enjoyable read.

The basic plot uses a trope of dark fantasy–a creative outsider comes to a town where bizarre things supposedly happen then starts to document them happening.  The twist here is that the creative type is a photographer, so the art form being used is photography.  This was an incredibly refreshing way to approach the topic.  Each chapter opens with a description of a shot that Dean will get at some point in that chapter.  It’s fascinating foreshadowing, and also Gropp shows real talent in describing photographs of both the fantastical and more ordinary varieties.  The descriptions also talk about more technical aspects of photography, and these show up within the story too (such as lighting and shutter speed).  Describing instead of showing the photographs was a choice that I at first was not certain of but I ultimately appreciated.  By not reproducing the photographs, Gropp leaves quite a bit of the mystery up to the reader and doesn’t spoil whatever images the reader has already established within her own mind.  But the descriptions are also so well-done that the impact of seeing one brief moment in this surreal world is still rendered.  It’s a unique and well-done choice, and I’d recommend this read to people based on that creative storytelling aspect alone.

It’s also great to see a story centering primarily around 20-somethings.  Often literature tends to stick to YA (teens) or jump right over those of us who are in that truly young adult phase of our lives and into 30-somethings.  Although the primary focus of the story is what precisely is happening in Spokane, conflicts frequently faced by 20-somethings come up within this framework–what to do for a career, do you give up on your dreams and settle down into a cubicle or not, when and with whom should you settle down, should you settle down at all, when should you respect your parents and their experience and when should you stand up to them, etc…   Long-time followers know that one reason I enjoy genre literature is it addresses these real life issues within the context of the fantastic, and the good ones do it integrated and in a thought-provoking manner.  This book achieves that.

The main character also is bisexual, while being primarily interested in a woman.  It was so awesome to get to see a bi male main character and have it be presented as just a part of who he is and not a big deal at all.  Although there is certainly a need and a place for the coming out tales and stories where the character’s sexuality is a central issue, it is also nice to see glbtq characters where that is just one aspect of who they are and is not dwelled upon much.  It is just a part of who Dean is.

As for the central plot–what is happening in Spokane–I admit that I hoped for slightly more answers than we ultimately get.  Readers looking for nicely tied up endings or even a hint at an answer will be left wanting.  I enjoy an ambiguous ending, but I also felt that perhaps the plot could have been a bit clearer.  In particular, without giving anything away, I felt that the scenes revolving around the hospital while powerful left me feeling a bit like perhaps even the author doesn’t really know what’s going on in Spokane.  Perhaps that is the point, but it did leave me feeling that the plot was not as up to par as the world building and characterization.

Overall, this is a wonderful addition to the dark fantasy genre.  Gropp gives us a unique main character and also utilizes writing about photography in a creative manner.  I highly recommend it to fans of dark fantasy, particularly 20-somethings and those with an interest in photography.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

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