Tag Archives: Fantasy

Bad Apple

Women are fascinating, and for a man, they’re also quite confusing. Because of this, one of the things I love in literature is when you’re handed insight into the mind of the opposite sex. It’s like being given a silver decoder ring, only now you have to figure out how to use it. (Yeah, there’s excitement in the unknowing, too, similar to putting together one of those monochrome puzzles.)

All of which brings us to Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s Bad Apple.

The story is told from the point of view of a peculiar girl named Scarborough (Scree to those who know her), who grows up on an apple orchard in Maine. Raised by her mom and stepdad, she has a rather mundane, if not comfortable, childhood. That is until a tragedy comes about (one that is ostensibly young Scree’s fault), leaving her one parent short. Scree comes to long for something other than what she has known her whole life. She feels trapped, and when her brother comes back, his girlfriend pregnant, Scree is dead set against that poor baby being confined in the same life she has been subjected to.

The girl saves up her money working at a restaurant, steals the child, and then flees, ending up in an odd yet opulent resort. It is here that the bulk of the tale takes place, as Scree is haunted by strange visions while she tries to learn to be happy, to find love, and make peace with her guilt.

This truly is a wonderful tale, completely feminine in the best of ways. Some might find the storytelling to be languid, or even meandering at times, but that’s only because Schoonover dives headlong into her character, letting the reader get to know Scree in an intimate way. We know her thoughts, her longings and fears, and since the story is told from her viewpoint, the clues as to what is actually happening are hidden in plain sight, beneath the miasma of Scree’s desires.

As I said earlier, this is an insightful novel. It might not be an illustration of all women (or girls, as the case may be), but in the specific instance of Scree, Schoonover manages to create a sort of everywoman, one who’s believable despite the fantastic situation she finds herself in. She’s a female character that isn’t simply a reflection of the men around her, one that indeed longs for love and affection yet also strives to become powerful and independent, and it is that inner struggle that drives the book’s plot. And the author also does something quite strange for a work of fiction such as this: the settings, even the previously mentioned ritzy resort she finds herself in, are presented in an ordinary, almost dreary manner. It is the character’s interactions and viewpoints that matter, what she makes of the setting rather than what the setting actually is, that gives it depth.

As you can plainly see, I adored this book…until the very end. At that point the author uses a writing convention that is tantamount to cheating in order to manipulate the reader’s view of the story being told. I hate to be vague about it, but to give away what happens in the very last section would be to give away the twist ending, which would be a shame. However, I was slightly disappointed when I came across this last bit, and felt it took a little of the power away from the tale. Which was a shame.

That being said, it didn’t dishearten me enough to alter my view of what came before. I still feel Bad Apple is a powerful and enlightening tale, and in the end, I think the author was painted into a corner by just how personal a story it is. Tell the tale in third person, and my problems with the ending disappear…yet at the same time, the intimacy of the first-person narrative is lost. It’s a no-win situation at best.

In closing, I give this book a hearty recommendation. There are worse sins an author can commit, such as telling a substandard story. And Bad Apple is certainly not that.

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One of Our Own Journeys North

We’re very proud to share that our great friend Robert J. Duperre, who also occasionally writes for Shock Totem, has just signed a three-book deal 47North, Amazon’s publishing imprint. The deal is for three books, all to be co-written with fantasy author David Dalglish.

The first book, Dawn of Swords, will be released in January 2014, with Wrath of Lions and Blood of Gods to follow.

Yes, these are fantasy novels, but we read widely here at Shock Totem HQ and are very much looking forward to these books. And you should as well.

If you want to sample some of Duperre’s writing and would rather something a bit closer to horror, check out his four-book Rift series—The Fall, Dead of Winter, Death Springs Eternal, and The Summer Sun. If you don’t want individual books, buy the entire series as a very affordable digital omnibus.

You can also check out The Gate 2: 13 Tales of Isolation and Despair, which not only features three stories by Duperre, but also a story by Mercedes M. Yardley and yours truly.

You can read more about this deal on Duperre’s blog, The Journal of Always.

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What Happened Here?

Sometimes in one’s life, you run across an author whose vision you see clearly, as if your minds are somehow connected across the vast expanse of the universe. The author’s voice resonates in your mind, the words he or she places upon the written page are the entirety of your hopes and dreams, your nightmares, your fears, your sorrows, your ideals, and perhaps the longing for a happy ending that you know your own life may not have in store.

For myself, that author is Ben Duiverman. The man has captured my soul, has given to me a mirror through which I can gaze and see the humanity that lies within with startling clarity. His writing is that of a fever dream, a never-ending kaleidoscope of terror, introspection, and eventual acquiescence that permeates my own thoughts each and every day.

What Happened Here? is a collection of seventeen stories, each of which ponder the universal questions that we all ask daily. Be it a question of duty, as in “The Sweeper” or “Lost Over Tokyo,” or the issue of culpability and its price, be it historical or otherwise, and its grip over our hearts, like “The Gathering Place” (the greatest story in the entire book), “The Battle of the Bulge,” “Never Late for Work,” or “An Unnatural Death,” each story resonating, building upon the next, constructing a wall of emotional bricks that, by the time you are done reading, is destined to be torn down.

There are inquiries into the depths of darkness that reside in the hearts and minds of each of us, such as “Trick or Treat,” “The Circus Is in Town,” “A Family Portrait,” and “My Domain.” And there are even those that cast a critical eye on society itself, like the deliciously haunting “Dining with Sharks.” And with “Bogeymen,” perhaps the most frightening of all the stories, the author paints (literally and figuratively) the image of the fate which may await us all, and illustrates with startling ambiguity how we very well may be the unwitting authors of our own demise. As in “A Two-Way Street” and “Cruel and Unusual Punishment,” selfishness leads to self-wrought destruction, the bane of man since the beginning of the human race.

This volume, published by the author himself, is truly a great and worthwhile read. It is a paragon of creation and subsequent deconstruction, a masterful work of art using the written word to tear down what we know of reality and to then build it once more in ways we may not have thought of before. Duiverman is a master storyteller, an author with something to say, whose own inner turmoil is laid out for the whole world to see, if we should be brave enough to take that leap along with him. Reading this was a unique and wholly rewarding experience for this reviewer, and it is my hope that any who stumble across this review will take the plunge as well.

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