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review 2018-06-19 02:55
Michael Blumlein, Keeping House

From Casual Debris.

 

 

Following her appointment as Associate Professor of Classics at the nearby university, a woman, along with her husband and their baby daughter, move into their new home. Rather than taking on the challenges of the shabby, broken down yet affordable house on the block, they settle on the more costly, yet renovated house beside it. What is quickly set up as a ghost story becomes something entirely difficult, relying on the psychological rather than the paranormal to illustrate an intelligent and hard-working woman's mental decline.

The story toys a little with the conventions of haunted house stories, referencing some of its tropes, like unpleasant scents and mirrors that reflect things that don't appear to be present at all, but instead of being a ghost story, it is far more akin to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's excellent psychological tale of deterioration, "The Yellow Wallpaper" (1892). Like Gilman, "Keeping House" is told through the point of view of a new mother in a new environment who begins to believe that her surroundings are coming alive. Rather than believing someone is living trapped in the wall or its paper, Blumlein's unnamed heroine believes that threatening spirits are trying to infiltrate her home, entering from the adjacent, broken down eyesore of a house she chose not to purchase. To prevent this threat from destroying home and family, she does battle via an obsessive cleaning/cleansing routine.

Though the story can arguably be read ambiguously, there is enough evidence in the text to indicate that the visions and scents stem from the woman's overwrought mind. Possibly following postpartum, as is the case in Gilman, the un-named narrator goes through various extreme mood swings, which eventually culminate in her taking on all aspects of a family provider, and believing there is a threat attempting to pervade the house and harm the order and harmony she is struggling to maintain. She fights back by increasing the need for order and cleanliness to a dangerously obsessive degree.

Our narrator finally snaps as she begins preparations to have sex with her husband. This is the only indication in the story of any form of intimacy between them, hinting that they have not been physical sine conceiving their only child. Like her obsessive cleaning routine, her preparations for sex become ritual-like, and the story hence makes a connection between the couple's intimacy and the invading spirits, at least in the woman's mind. As she fights to prevent threats to invade her home, she is fighting to prevent her husband's invasion of her body. Following this scene we are informed that the husband is grumpy and increasingly absent due to work, though likely he is staying away from his wife in response to her increasing obsessiveness ("You are sick," he tells her), and perhaps also out of basic sexual frustration. The consequence is simply that mother-wife, as in Gilman, becomes increasingly isolated in response to the husband's unsympathetic assessment of her condition.

 
Thematically the story can be read as a modern woman struggling with the pressures of a career and balancing the traditional mother and wife requirements of home. Husband is absent from much of the story as he is struggling at a new job, or so the narrator presumes, and in a sense re-living the postpartum environment as mother is trapped at home with baby. Whatever we wish to read behind the woman's deterioration, it is the process itself that is the focus of the story. Again as with Gilman, our heroine is at the outset of the story already in her isolated state at home, though Blumlein's narrator does have the freedom of escape as she goes to work. The latter portion of the story, however, takes place during the summer, and as a teacher she drops her summer work option and remains at home to battle the demons behind the walls. The ending lacks the pure creepiness of Gilman's final scene, but does give us quietly depressing final act of cutting oneself off entirely from the world that surrounds.
Source: casualdebris.blogspot.com/2018/06/michael-blumlein-keeping-house.html
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review 2018-06-18 16:13
"On The Prowl" by Patricia Briggs, Ellen Wilks, Karen Chance, Sunny
On the Prowl - Patricia Briggs,Eileen Wilks,Karen Chance,Sunny

"On The Prowl" is an urban fantasy short story collection in which each of the four authors has a story.

 

I bought it (despite the tacky cover art that makes me glad I'm reading the ebook version) because Debbie's Spurts told me that I should read the Patrica Briggs' prequel to her Alpha and Omega series before starting the series.

 

The stories by the other three authors were by way of a bonus as they are all new to me.

 

Alpha and Omega by Patricia Briggs

 

On her website, Patricia Briggs describes the Alpha and Omega series as:

Patricia Briggs"...set in the same world as the Mercy Thompson Series, but on a slightly earlier time line. It begins with a novella titled Alpha and Omega published in the On the Prowl anthology. The decision to continue the story was made after the anthology had already been published, which has caused some confusion, since "book 1" is a actually a continuation of the short story."

She characterises the series as placing:

"... more emphasis on the romantic attraction between the hero and heroine. On a romance-readers scale, this series is sweet rather than steamy."

While it was interesting to see more of the world the Mercy Thompson novels are set in, I was a little disappointed in this novella. The story works as a standalone. The action is well-done. I just found myself thinking: "Patricia Briggs can do much better than this."

 

My main problem was the lack of emotional depth. It seemed to me that the "focus on romantic attraction" translated into making other emotions take a backseat.

 

The main female character, Anne has been attacked, forcibly turned into a werewolf and passed around the Pack by her Alpha as a rape-toy so often that she's attempted suicide.

 

The main male character is a laconic, emotionally withdrawn enforcer whose job is to kill those who break his father's rules.

 

Perhaps I'm not widely enough read on the topic but none of this sounds romantic to me.

 

The idea that these two would be able to set aside trauma and learned low self-esteem on Anne's side and a long lifetime of keeping emotionally distant in order to be able to kill on command on Charles' part and find a mating bond instantly was hard to take.

 

The attraction was well described but it seemed to be at the price of downplaying the baggage the pair have.

 

I think one of the strengths of the Mercy Thompson series is that when a rape occurs there, it is not downplayed and its effects are felt for a number of books.

 

This story felt like "Mercy-Lite". Still, perhaps Patricia Briggs needs the novel format to do what she does. I'll read the rest of the story in the first Alpha and Omega novel and find out.

 

"Inhuman" by Eileen Wilks

 

eileen wilksThis was my first Eileen Wilks story so everything had the advantage of being new.  The world building was original and stimulating. There was a relatively complicated plot for a short story. It managed to surprise me more than once, making me revisit the meaning of the title repeatedly.

 

The romance part was a little plodding. The people felt half-formed and inappropriately inexperienced or inarticulate. On the cusp between cute and you've-got-to-be-kidding.

 

The heroine's name confused me at first as everyone I know called Kai is male. Here it's pronounced like Sigh, not Hay. It took me awhile to work out that this was Kay with innovative vowel usage. I was also unclear how I was supposed to know that Kia was Native American (other than who isn't in Urban Fantasy - being WASP is so uninteresting).

 

The ending was a good set up for an upcoming book but I felt it walked away from a lot of what the plot was set up to do. I'd been following a hunt for a killer and when the hunt was over the outcome left me wondering what all the look-how-awful-this-killer-is build-up was for.

 

Even so, I was impressed with the originality of the ideas and the pacing of the execution.

 

"Buying Trouble" by Karen Chance

 

Karen ChanceThis made me laugh and it took a turn that I really didn't see coming.

It's a fast, light read filled with fast, light violence and sex and sprinkled with slightly indignant humour.

 

The ending was a bit - whoops-running-out-of-space-let's-skip-to-an-epilogue for my tastes but the story was a smile and the world was original so it was worth the read.

 

 

 

"Mona Lisa Betwining" by Sunny

 

SunnyI'd wondered why there was no editorial credit for this collection. The inclusion of "Mona Lisa Betwining" suggests to me that the ommission was driven by sheer embarrassment.

 

It's a short story that I lacked the stamina to make it to the end of.

 

First, there was this set of sentences which read like a rough first-draft yet are offered as the finished product:

"He was handsome, strikingly so. Like a Greek god of old. And he was more than just a pretty face. He was my new master of arms."

A little later I dragged my mind through the following sentences and realised that this prose was too awful to live with.

 

"I moved toward the door but he did not step away, allow me to pass. I stopped a mere foot away and looked askance at him."

 

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review 2018-06-18 08:36
Review: “The Flesh Cartel #8: Loyalties (The Flesh Cartel Season 3: Transformation)” (The Flesh Cartel, #8) by Rachel Haimowitz & Heidi Belleau
The Flesh Cartel #8: Loyalties (The Flesh Cartel Season 3: Transformation) - Heidi Belleau,Rachel Haimowitz

 

~ 4 stars ~

 

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review 2018-06-17 17:37
Review: “The Flesh Cartel #7: Homecoming (The Flesh Cartel Season 3: Transformation)” (The Flesh Cartel, #7) by Rachel Haimowitz & Heidi Belleau
The Flesh Cartel #7: Homecoming (The Flesh Cartel Season 3: Transformation) - Heidi Belleau,Rachel Haimowitz

 

~ 4 stars ~

 

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review 2018-06-16 16:13
Review: “The Flesh Cartel #6: Brotherhood (The Flesh Cartel Season 2: Fragmentation)” (The Flesh Cartel, #6) by Rachel Haimowitz & Heidi Belleau
The Flesh Cartel #6: Brotherhood (The Flesh Cartel Season 2: Fragmentation) - Heidi Belleau, 'Rachel Haimowitz'

 

~ 4.5 stars ~

 

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