Shelf Control #272: Dreadful Skin by Cherie Priest

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Dreadful Skin
Author: Cherie Priest
Published: 2007
Length: 184 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

I ducked into a niche between a cabin and the pilot house and hiked my skirt up enough to reach down into my garter holster. I’ve heard it said that God made all men, but Samuel Colt made all men equal. We’d see what Mr. Colt could do for a woman.

* * * * *

Jack Gabert went to India to serve his Queen. He returned to London a violently changed man, infected with an unnatural sickness that altered his body and warped his mind.

Eileen Callaghan left an Irish convent with a revolver and a secret. She knows everything and nothing about Jack’s curse, but she cannot rest until he’s caught. His soul cannot be saved. It can only be returned to God.

In the years following the American Civil War, the nun and unnatural creature stalk one another across the United States. Their dangerous game of cat and mouse leads them along great rivers, across dusty plains, and into the no man’s land of the unmarked western territories.

Here are three tales of the hunt. Reader, take this volume and follow these tormented souls. Learn what you can from their struggle against each other, against God, and against themselves.

How and when I got it:

According to my Amazon records, I bought the Kindle edition of this book in 2011. (Interestingly, while I still see a physical version available to purchase, a Kindle edition does not appear to be available any longer.)

Why I want to read it:

I think — ??? — this is supposed to be a werewolf story. At least, that’s what I seem to remember hearing about it when I first picked up a copy 10 years ago! I’m always up for a good supernatural-infused Western, and this sounds weird and offbeat enough to appeal to me.

I know I got Dreadful Skin soon after reading Boneshaker, when I was itching to read more by Cherie Priest. And while I didn’t continue with that particular series, I’ve read a handful of her books over the years. She’s such a talented writer and writes on so many different themes. I don’t always love every single one of her books, but I can say that I’ve never been bored with the ones I’ve read!

What do you think? Would you read this book? Have you read any other books by Cherie Priest that you’d recommend?

Please share your thoughts!

Stay tuned!


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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
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Have fun!

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Book Review: Outlawed by Anna North

Title: Outlawed
Author: Anna North
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication date: January 5, 2021
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Western/speculative fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Crucible meets True Grit in this riveting adventure story of a fugitive girl, a mysterious gang of robbers, and their dangerous mission to transform the Wild West.

In the year of our Lord 1894, I became an outlaw.

The day of her wedding, 17 year old Ada’s life looks good; she loves her husband, and she loves working as an apprentice to her mother, a respected midwife. But after a year of marriage and no pregnancy, in a town where barren women are routinely hanged as witches, her survival depends on leaving behind everything she knows.

She joins up with the notorious Hole in the Wall Gang, a band of outlaws led by a preacher-turned-robber known to all as the Kid. Charismatic, grandiose, and mercurial, the Kid is determined to create a safe haven for outcast women. But to make this dream a reality, the Gang hatches a treacherous plan that may get them all killed. And Ada must decide whether she’s willing to risk her life for the possibility of a new kind of future for them all.

Featuring an irresistibly no-nonsense, courageous, and determined heroine, Outlawed dusts off the myth of the old West and reignites the glimmering promise of the frontier with an entirely new set of feminist stakes. Anna North has crafted a pulse-racing, page-turning saga about the search for hope in the wake of death, and for truth in a climate of small-mindedness and fear. 

Hey, look! I guess feminist westerns are a thing now? After reading Upright Women Wanted earlier this year, I was excited to get my hands on yet another revisionist/feminist western adventure.

In Outlawed, we meet 17-year-old Ada at what should be the start of a happy future. Newly married, she loves her husband and is enjoying a robust married life with him. Except she’s not getting pregnant. As the months go by, the pressure mounts, until finally, after a year of marriage, she’s kicked out by her in-laws.

Being barren is considered the utmost failure for a woman, and failing to conceive is always considered the woman’s fault. Maybe it’s her family background? Maybe it’s punishment for sin? Or worst of all, she could be a witch, and most likely to blame for all the miscarriages and other tragedies in her town.

In the world of Outlawed, a terrible Flu years back wiped out 90% of the world’s population. In the pandemic’s aftermath, a new religion has blossomed, teaching the gospel of the Baby Jesus, who promises healthy futures to people — so long as they go forth and be fruitful, to repopulate the Earth. Barrenness, therefore, is not just a personal misfortune, but a sin against Baby Jesus. Barren women are outcasts, and once facing accusations of wrong-doing, are more likely than not to be hanged or imprisoned.

Ada, the daughter of the town’s only midwife, has been trained all her life by her mother to follow in her footsteps, and she understands that there must be scientific reasons for why some women get pregnant and some don’t. This conviction doesn’t save her when she’s accused of witchcraft, and she’s forced to flee for her life, eventually ending up with the Kid and the Hole in the Wall Gang, a group of outcast women who band together for survival. As Ada is given a place with the gang, she begins her days as an outlaw.

From this point, we follow Ada and the gang as they plot a daring heist that should enable them to provide a haven for other outcast women, but their plans are risky, the group faces divisions about their mission, and the Kid, their leader, suffers through bouts of depression that leave them unable to lead at a critical moment.

I mostly enjoyed Outlawed, but a few elements hold me back from giving this book a rave review. The pacing sags in the middle, once Ada arrives at the Hole in the Wall’s hideout, as she struggles for acceptance and to learn their ways. At this point, the plot slows down and becomes mainly focused on arguments and resentments within the group. Also, Ada’s transformation into a western outlaw seems a little too abrupt, and given her vocation as a healer, she appears to accept the more violent aspects of their lives without too many qualms.

My other complaint, which may just be a “me” thing rather than an issue with the book, is that the gang’s members are introduced all at once. We see them all as Ada first approaches, with physical descriptions of the people she sees around a campfire. Later, we learn their names as Ada does too. And for the life of me, I could not match the names and the people — while a few were distinct, for the most part, I could not really distinguish the characters as individuals or figure out who was who. It was annoying, and I gave up trying after a while.

Still, there’s a lot to love about Outlawed. The Western setting is familiar, but it’s turned upside down in this new version of the Old West, with fertility being the highest measure of a woman’s worth and a belief in witchcraft that seems like it should already be a thing of the distant past. I liked the sense of inclusion among the outcasts — any woman in trouble is welcome, and as we see later, there are plenty of reasons for people to end up ostracized, cast away, and forced to seek sanctuary among the outlaws.

I also loved Ada’s devotion to healing and to learning. The desire to learn what causes barrenness is what drives her, not only for her own sake but for the purpose of helping other women who suffer.

Once I’d picked up Outlawed and read the author bio, I realized that I have an earlier book by this author (America Pacifica) on my shelves. While I wouldn’t say that Outlawed was a complete hit for me, it intrigued me enough that I’ll definitely want to read more by this author.

And PS – is that cover amazing or what?

Book Review: Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

Title: Upright Women Wanted
Author: Sarah Gailey
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: February 4, 2020
Length: 176 pages
Genre: Speculative fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In Upright Women Wanted, award-winning author Sarah Gailey reinvents the pulp Western with an explicitly antifascist, near-future story of queer identity.

“That girl’s got more wrong notions than a barn owl’s got mean looks.”

Esther is a stowaway. She’s hidden herself away in the Librarian’s book wagon in an attempt to escape the marriage her father has arranged for her–a marriage to the man who was previously engaged to her best friend. Her best friend who she was in love with. Her best friend who was just executed for possession of resistance propaganda.

The future American Southwest is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing.

Are you a coward or are you a librarian?

Just from the tag line on the cover, not to mention the awesome cover art, I knew this would be a great read.

In a future society that seems like a totalitarian version of the Old West, Librarians work for the State, riding from outpost to outpost delivering Approved Materials.

Esther stows away in a Librarian’s wagon after watching her best friend hang. Beatriz was more than Esther’s friend, though — the two were lovers, although they recognized that what they were doing was wrong and needed fixing.

Esther comes to the Librarians seeking refuge and a chance to fix her life. She pleads with Bet, the Head Librarian:

“Please,” she whispered one mroe time, fear tart under her tongue because she knew this was it, this was her last worst hope and this woman who could turn her in to the reaper was looking at her with precisely zero mercy. “I know I’m not supposed to be like this. I want to be like you.”

The response is not what she expects:

“Well, Esther,” Bet said, that irrepressible laugh trying hard to shake her voice, her thumb tracing the back of Leda’s. “Well. I’ve got good new for you, and I’ve got bad news.”

The good news is that Esther will be allowed to stay and ride with the Librarians. The bad news is that she’s not going to get the “upright” life she anticipates. The librarians are queer freedom-fighters, using their sanctioned role for decidedly unsanctioned purposes, smuggling unapproved materials and people past sheriffs and posses looking for insurgents, helping rebels get to safety so they can fight back another day.

Upright Women Wanted is a terrific romp through the new Old West, with gun battles and pursuits on horseback and corpses left for the vultures… plus the moving journey of Esther, learning how to be herself and not feel shame for who and what she is.

It’s an exciting story, with memorable characters and entertaining action sequences. My only quibble is that the novella length left me wanting more. How did the world end up this way? How exactly does this State work? How are the librarians organized, and who is their mysterious leader?

I do hope there’s a follow-up, because I definitely want answers! But in all other respects, Upright Women Wanted is a sparkling read that definitely satisfies.

I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Sarah Gailey, and can’t wait for whatever they write next!

Interested in this author? Check out my reviews of:
American Hippo
Magic For Liars

Shelf Control #126: Abandon by Blake Crouch

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.png

Title: Abandon
Author: Blake Crouch
Published: 2009
Length: 521 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

On Christmas Day in 1893, every man, woman, and child in a remote gold-mining town disappeared, belongings forsaken, meals left to freeze in vacant cabins—and not a single bone was ever found.

One hundred sixteen years later, two backcountry guides are hired by a history professor and his journalist daughter to lead them to the abandoned mining town so they can learn what happened. Recently, a similar party had also attempted to explore the town and was never heard from again. Now the area is believed to be haunted. This crew is about to discover, twenty miles from civilization with a blizzard bearing down, that they are not alone, and the past is very much alive.

How and when I got it:

I picked up Abandon when there was a Kindle price drop a few years ago.

Why I want to read it:

Ooh, sounds creepy, doesn’t it? I’ve only read one book by this author (Dark Matter, which I loved), but I’d like to read more. And hey, I’m a sucker for a good ghost story… eerie disappearances and deserted western towns are definitely a plus!

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Book Review: Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman

 

Carol Evers is a woman with a dark secret. She has died many times . . . but her many deaths are not final: They are comas, a waking slumber indistinguishable from death, each lasting days.

Only two people know of Carol’s eerie condition. One is her husband, Dwight, who married Carol for her fortune, and—when she lapses into another coma—plots to seize it by proclaiming her dead and quickly burying her . . . alive. The other is her lost love, the infamous outlaw James Moxie. When word of Carol’s dreadful fate reaches him, Moxie rides the Trail again to save his beloved from an early, unnatural grave.

And all the while, awake and aware, Carol fights to free herself from the crippling darkness that binds her—summoning her own fierce will to survive. As the players in this drama of life and death fight to decide her fate, Carol must in the end battle to save herself.

What a strange book! The concept is pretty cool. Carol is a wealthy, well-loved woman, esteemed by the townsfolk of Harrows, but her husband fakes affection while yearning for her money. Dwight knows her deepest secret — that every once in a while, with no predictable pattern or symptoms, Carol falls into a coma indistinguishable from death. When Carol’s closest friend dies, she realizes she should take someone else into her confidence, in case she should have an episode while Dwight is away or too ill to intercede, but before she can share her secret, she goes under again, and Dwight launches his dastardly plan.

But all is not lost. Carol’s faithful maid alerts the man Carol once loved, the outlaw James Moxie. Moxie sets out on the dreaded, dangerous Trail to rescue Carol before she can be buried alive. But Moxie doesn’t ride alone — he’s pursued by a deranged, deadly assassin known as Smoke, who seems unstoppable and completely devoid of humanity. It’s a race against time, as James tries to reach Carol, Dwight tries to get Carol buried before she wakes, and Smoke keeps on coming and coming and coming.

There are some horrific moments, especially the scenes with Smoke. I won’t tell you why he has the name that he has, but trust me, it’s well-deserved and awful. As James rides to Carol’s rescue, we learn more about their sad history together, and meanwhile, we accompany Carol as she lies helpless in what she refers to as Howltown, the coma world she inhabits in which she’s aware of what’s going on around her, but unable to speak, move, or save herself from the terrible fate Dwight has planned for her.

The writing gives a classic Western twang to everything — gritty and profane and swaggering, with hints of violence and danger all at the same time.

It once was he rode into town and people blanched. Men avoided his eyes and women turned their backs, hoping not to be seen. It once was the domesticated dogs of the Trail-towns barked at him from afar. It once was he was whole, he was awesome, he was dread.

But he had no way of knowing that his loose lips, wet still with whiskey, had allowed powerful words to escape, words that would travel, mostly innocently, all the way to Sheriff Opal, who would consider it very odd indeed that someone with as many bedrooms as Dwight Evers would keep his dead bride in a cold, drafty storm room in a cellar.

There’s a difference between bad and evil, John Bowie once told her, his voice slurred with brandy. Bad is when you ignore the one you love. But evil is when you know exactly what that person wants, what means most to them, and you figure out how to take it away.

I liked the swear-words and cusses and exclamations the characters all use, such as “hell’s heaven” and “heaven’s hell”, and once (my favorite), “Lord of all hogs and pink piglets…”!

The drama mounts as the book progresses, as the stakes get higher and higher. We see the local sheriff trying to balance suspicion and facts, the maid who loves Carol drinking herself silly over her horror, Moxie’s reluctant return to his days of inspiring awe and terror in all he meets, Dwight’s mounting desperation, and Smoke’s unrelenting pursuit of Moxie and torment of anyone who crosses his path. It took me a while to get into the rhythm of the storytelling and the writing itself, but once I did, I was hooked.

I’m not usually much of a fan of the Western genre, but this odd book ended up appealing to me in an unexpected sort of way. I liked the grimness and the feel of listening to an old-timey story about legendary figures of a by-gone time. I haven’t read anything else by this author, but I understand that Unbury Carol is quite a different feel from his other books (and yes, I know I need to read Bird Box!).

Overall, I found Unbury Carol really weird and off-beat, but in a good, creepy way.

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The details:

Title: Unbury Carol
Author: Josh Malerman
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication date: April 10, 2018
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Western/horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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