Cover Image: The Cherry Robbers

The Cherry Robbers

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“Against the haystack a girl stands laughing at me,
Cherries hung round her ears.
Offers me her scarlet fruit: I will see
If she has any tears.” - D. H. Lawrence

Sarai Walker says in the acknowledgements for “The Cherry Robbers” that the poem “Cherry Robbers” (from which this stanza comes from), was the main inspiration for what became the tale of the Chapel sisters and their untimely deaths. Other inspirations were, of course, Sarah Winchester (of the Winchester Rifle fortune and the now-infamous San Jose tourist attraction that used to be her home) and Georgia O-Keefe (famous artist known to most for painting portraits of flowers that also greatly resembled biological female genitalia). 

To me, the book also has a sort of claustrophobic, humid feel that I associate with the movie “The Virgin Suicides”, a dreamy sense of females set apart in their own world I associate with the movie “Heavenly Creatures”, and, of course, (as even the books points out), that sense of intense sisterly push-and-pull dynamics that comes with having a gaggle of daughters that’s so familiar from “Pride and Prejudice”. There’s also intense themes running through the whole book about the loss of identity for the wife that comes with marriage and childbirth, the common phenomena (that persists to this day) of not listening to women when they speak their truths or sometimes even just when they speak, of men always thinking they know better than women, about women not feeling complete without marriage and children and the social pressure that tells them they are less without these things, and about how women who are in any way different will always be looked at askance by society. Some of the rest of it, well, it’s going to be left up to the reader to interpret. Violence, intercourse, innocence, and death. These four things are all intrinsically tied together in this novel, and how you interpret the connection will go a long way into how you view this whole novel and how it will feel to you at the end. 

For me, this was a page-turner. I couldn’t put it down. It’s exactly the type of gothic, haunted house, psychological family drama I like to devour in one piece. I knew where it was going, but that was absolutely okay with me, because like the protagonist, I faced it with a sense of staid inevitability. As she told the story and expunged her demons, I cried for her and her sisters and her mother and for myself, in a way. If I had been alive in the 1950s I’d probably have been in a sanitarium. I’m not exactly what they call stable, and some of the prescriptions I take hadn’t even been invented back then. 

It’s dramatic, it’s riveting, it’s horrific, and it’s absolutely worth reading. 

Thanks to NetGalley and Mariner Books for early access to this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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There is nothing that could have prepared me for this read or how consumed I was by it.

Gothic fiction is outside my normal genre, but I was caught up in the suspense and horror anyway. This is a story about six sisters who are haunted by the ancient feminine fear of death as a result of marriage, sex, and childbirth. 

You are told immediately what happens to all the sisters, and yet, you still dive into the read with your heart in your hands hoping against hope that the outcome will be different. A sense of dread clings to every line but you can’t stop reading.  

At its heart, Cherry Robbers is an exploration of the bonds of love and family and how societal norms impact the experience of sexuality, grief, and liberation. 

Walker's writing is evocative - she draws you into a world of unease, violence, and natural beauty. You can't help but feel the unbridled rag and despair shimmering on each page

Though some questions are left unanswered - was the curse real? Why was this happening to them? Was Belinda really touched by madness or was she just ahead of her time and punished for it? - I still felt satisfied with the conclusion. Cherry Robbers indeed….

If you loved the Haunting of Bly Manor, Mona Lisa Smile, or the Virgin Suicides this is for you. (and then come talk to me about it)
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If I had to describe this book in three words, they would be: on the nose. I wanted to shout “a rose is a rose is a rose!” But in this book each primary female character is given a floral name and those petals do a lot of heavy lifting. There’s so much I wanted to love about this book including the descriptions of flowers, perfumes and 1950s fashions, but I felt like I was constantly being hit over the head with symbolism and foreshadowing. The book is framed as sort of a retrospective journal entry by an artist reflecting on her haunted childhood, however the writing does little to acknowledge the fallibility of memory. This seems like a missed opportunity to me since the story revolves around women being seen as unreliable narrators of their own experiences. 

I had high hopes because of the inspiration Sarai Walker said she loosely drew from Sarah Winchester, the widow to the Winchester rifle fortune. I grew up near the so-called Winchester Mystery House that Mrs. Winchester built and have visited it multiple times. In her acknowledgements, Walker says she drew from historian Mary Jo Ignoffo’s book <I>Captive of the Labyrinth</I>, which challenges the stories that frame Mrs. Winchester as a crazy woman haunted by the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles. I was disappointed that The Cherry Robbers was driven so much by that legend instead or Mrs. Winchester’s interest in architecture.  

The first half of the book introduces characters and sets the scene for something terrible to happen and by the time it happens, I was too exhausted from all the heavy handed foreshadowing to care. The second half of the book was far more interesting than the first, but it was still quite slow and every bit of metaphor was spelled out for the reader in a way that felt redundant and pulled me out of the story. There are some good feminist and lesbian themes in this book, but it just wasn’t enough to make me want to recommend this book to anyone.

I received an advance digital copy of this book from NetGalley and Mariner Books in exchange for an honest review.
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If you like gothic fiction, you'll enjoy The Cherry Robbers. I had heard great things about it and was excited to dig in. The description of the book drew me right in with its haunted feel. Overall, I found the book interesting, then slow, followed by a good ending. 

We first meet famous artist, Sylvia Wren at her home in New Mexico where a young reporter has started sending her letters, unearthing Sylvia's past. She decides to write all of it down in journals, and that's where a majority of the story lies as we learn about Sylvia's true identity, her family's history in the gun industry, and how she ended up as Sylvia. 

It's definitely a very gothic and atmospheric story and will remind you of the infamous Sarah Winchester.

While I enjoyed it, I felt like it could have been about 100 pages shorter.

3.5/5 stars
Thank you Mariner Books and Netgalley for the eARC!
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In a Nutshell: Great premise, could have had better execution, disappointing ending, slow! Unlike what many reviews tell you, this isn’t a Gothic horror. More like a historical atmospheric suspense.

New Mexico, 2017. Sylvia Wren is a well-known but reclusive artist. She stays on the outskirts with her partner Lola. But when a persistent journalist hints at digging into her family roots, Sylvia knows that she can’t hide under the assumed identity anymore.
Flashback to Connecticut, 1950s: Iris Chapel is one of the six Chapel sisters. With the Chapel name being known for their firearms fortune, Iris’s mother Belinda is convinced that their house is haunted and cursed by the spirits of those killed by Chapel guns. The six girls are fed up of living with a weird mother and an absentee father and they see marriage as their only means of escape. However, not long after the first sister is married, tragedy strikes, and keep striking with devastating consequences.
Why and when did Iris Chapel become Sylvia Wren? You need to read and find out. 
The book comes in the first person perspective of Iris/Sylvia.

What genre it is: Atmospheric, historical, drama, minor traces of suspense and magical realism. 
What genre it is NOT: Horror, Gothic, murder mystery, thriller, paranormal.

❌: It is a slow read. (which is not a good thing for a 430+ page book.)
✔: it still kept me hooked as the suspense made me go faster and keep flipping the pages. 

❌: Lots of depressing stuff. Too many deaths.
✔: The foreshadowing helps you be prepared for the deaths.
❌: Too much of foreshadowing can also spoil the suspense.

✔: Loved the complicated relationship between the six siblings. Never goody-goody. Very realistic. All six named after flowers and have personalities almost matching their flower-names. 
❌: When you like the characters, you do feel sorry for what happened to them. And what happened to them isn’t good. 😩

✔: There are some really spooky scenes. Some elements of magical realism too.
❌: All the spookiness is in the background. Nothing to make you get nightmares. The fantastical elements are underutilised.

✔: Great themes – Feminism, LGBTQ, gender discrimination, patriarchal dominance.
❌: I didn’t like the portrayal of one of the LGBTQ characters; it felt stereotypical.

✔: Great cover, representing the book perfectly. Nice title too if you understand the meaning and relevance of it. Hint: It has nothing to do with the fruit. 
❌: You won’t understand the relevance of the title even after you read the author’s note, which only reveals the poem the phrase is borrowed from. I can take a stab at interpreting the title, but it will be a huge spoiler. 

✔: It’s a women-dominated show all the way. 
❌: Not a single good/memorable male character.

✔: Excellent start and a gripping storyline, almost till the end. Though you know what’s going to come, you still want to read it.
❌: The ending is so disappointing. No explanations provided at all. You just have to accept what happened without knowing why. Not fair! 

I have a few more ✔s and ❌s but I want to keep this review spoiler-free. So this is all you get! 

All in all, I enjoyed the book quite a lot. Had the ending satisfied me, this would have easily reached, maybe even crossed the 4 star mark. But the final chapters were more like an anti-climax than a climax to the story. I wanted a lot more! Still, it is a great atmospheric read, as long as you don’t mind the slow or depressing storyline and the excessive foreshadowing.

3.75 stars. (I was confused between 3.5 and 3.75, but as both ratings round up to 4 on my scale, I am going with the higher rating as I didn’t feel like keeping it aside.)

My thanks to Mariner Books and NetGalley for the DRC of “The Cherry Robbers”. This review is voluntary and contains my honest opinion about the book.
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I normally do not go for history related titles, but this one has a very interesting premise and had me intrigued!
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Gothic Southern tales are some of my favorite books. The Cherry Robbers is set in the South in the 1950s, or at least the main part of the story takes place in that timeframe. This setting makes a great backdrop for the atmospheric ghost story.

While I enjoyed the back and forth of the story between past and present, I did feel like some sections were too long.

Overall, this is a solid story that's part supernatural, part family saga, and part coming-of-age.
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"This story is jagged, could cut a deep wound. It isn't a story I can tell with a thread and a needle, stitching in clean lines. It's shards or nothing." 

This intense Gothic novel is full of haunting, ethereal writing. It's a departure from my usual genres, for sure. 

I was hooked from the start. The author does an incredible job of bringing the women of the Chapel family to life; they all felt like the individuals they were meant to be. The mysterious tone in the first few chapters put me on the edge of my seat, and I was eager for everything to unravel. I couldn't stop reading for the first half of the book. 

The second half was a bit slower. While I appreciated the main character's development in the latter half, I found those chapters to drag on a bit. The aggressive feminism and atmosphere of doom were repetitive. The ending fit the writing, but much was left unresolved, and I was left feeling like the story was unfinished.
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The characters were each complex, fully developed to stand on their own. The writing was excellent and held my attention throughout the novel. The story switches between the present and the 1950s through Iris’ flashbacks. I enjoyed the flashbacks the most but the present POV was also interesting, especially in the end!

I get scared easily watching scary movies so this book was the best parts of scary movies for me, particularly ghost/haunting based films. It takes the great plot/storyline and ghostly vibes without any of the jump scares.

Great ending! Loved finding out that my hunch was right about one of the characters and their story being loosely inspired by the legend of Sarah Winchester. I became attached to the Chapel sisters and felt sympathy for Iris, definitely a story that will stay with me for awhile! 

You’ll enjoy Cherry Robbers if you like:
🌸Sarah Winchester’s life and legend
🌸gothic ghost stories
🌸healing generational trauma
🌸difficult family relationships
🌸strong women
🌸you like scary movies for the plot

Rating: 4.5 stars

TW/CW: pregnancy, death, suicide attempt, death of sibling, marital rape (brief mentions), grief, blood, vomit, suicide, sexual content, body shaming (brief), forced institutionalization, gun violence, childhood trauma, panic/anxiety disorder (brief)
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Sylvia Wren is a famous artist who is also famously reclusive. As Sylvia faces her mortality, her reality intertwines with the girl she once was: Iris Chapel, the fifth of the sixth Chapel sisters, all heirs to a fortune built on the sales of firearms.

I really loved the experience of reading this book. The story is elegiacally tragic, reminding me a bit of Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides (this is not a spoiler: the Chapel sisters do not have a suicide pact). I found the book compelling and engrossing - I read it all in one sitting and I did not want it to end.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read an ARC; however, all views are my own.
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𝘔𝘺𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘪𝘰𝘶𝘴, 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘱𝘦𝘭𝘭𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘴𝘶𝘳𝘱𝘳𝘪𝘴𝘪𝘯𝘨!

I was not expecting this book at all and it was the best surprise ever, just wow!
Dark, with gothic vibes, a bit of horror and addictive, I loved every page of this story, it was fantastic. All the stars!

Thank you Harper Books for this gifted copy.
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I highly anticipated reading The Cherry Robbers (2022) by Sarai Walker, author of Dietland, and I was not disappointed. Walker’s second book is different in tone and subject matter, but it is just as transgressive as Dietland was.

There are two storylines: The first is set in the very recent past in New Mexico, from the perspective of one Sylvia Wren, a famous painter reminiscent of Georgia O’Keefe, who we find out has a secret, which a reporter has also found and has written to Wren to confront her about it, threatening exposure. So Sylvia decides to tell the story of the Chapel sisters beginning in 1950: six sisters, the heiress daughters to a famous gunmaker fortune, who live in a mansion in Connecticut. All of the sisters are named after flowers, from Aster to Zelie (Hazel) which their mother Belinda has painted in their rooms.

At the beginning of the historical part of the story, the oldest sister, Aster, has met a suitable man and is engaged. Iris, the 5th sister, is about 1o or 12. The girls’ mother takes to her room with “sickness” often, but the entire family is expected to appear at the dining room table every night for a civilized dinner. As we are drawn in to the preparations for Aster’s wedding, we find that Belinda often has nightmares and screams through the night. Belinda tells Iris that if Aster gets married, “something terrible” will happen. So Iris takes it upon herself to try to stop the wedding, as she cannot bear to be separated from any of her sisters, as they are each others’ only playmates and primary friends.

Nevertheless, despite Iris’s best efforts, the wedding happens, and Aster dies on her wedding night, after having been brought back to her family home by her groom, who doesn’t know what to do when Aster goes “mad”–both screaming and catatonic–after the consummation of their union.

One by one, it is inevitable-=each of the four older sisters die on their wedding night, and Belinda is wracked with grief and often sedated. She is eventually sent to an asylum, “for her own protection,” and Iris must distance herself from her mother or she will end up in the same place. One quote “Was Belinda actually sick? I didn’t think so; it was more that she couldn’t be tamed–that’s what they didn’t like, and since they couldn’t tame her, they sedated her.”

Iris is lucky in that she is not tempted by men, but the men in her life–her father, her doctor–still don’t want to allow her the independence she knows that she needs to survive. Iris attends art school in Connecticut. After Zelie is lost despite Iris’ best attempts to protect and shelter her, and Iris visits her mother one last time, she knows that if she is to survive, she needs to escape the Chapel family curse forever.

Wow! I was blown away by how creepy and transgressive it was! I’m sure it will be fodder for many classes in feminist literature. I thought the relationships between the sisters were brilliantly written, and couldn’t put it down because of the slow horror of Iris not being able to save any of her sisters. It was complete justification for her escape.

With regard to fatness, I would consider it fat positive, with a warning of some anti-fat bias that a character had to endure. A couple of the sisters were described as fat, with a “ripe roundness, which today would likely be described as fat in the negative way fat has come to be spoken about, but in those days, things were different.” One sister’s future husband takes note of her “extra flesh” and warns her not to become bigger. Another sister was described as a “luscious flower.” However, unlike Walker’s first novel, Dietland, fatness was not a primary theme of this book. It was still brilliant.

If you like creepy, gothic, feminist historical fiction, don’t miss it!

Thanks to NetGalley for an e-Galley of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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When the important and recluse artist Sylvia Wren is confronted by a journalist about her past, she sees the identity built by her threatening to collapse. Her past as one of the daughters of the wealthy Chapel family, a clan which has made money in the firearms industry is as tragic as can be and the main reason for running away from it and creating a new character.

A well-known family, the Chapels saw its rise to fame thanks to its firearms factory producing rifles that became famous for being responsible for the conquest of the West. But fame doesn’t prevent tragedy from striking the family when the eldest of the six daughters decides to get married. Overruling what Belinda, the matriarch of the Chapels, says about something terrible happening if her eldest marries, the family sees the mother’s prediction coming true the day after the wedding, when the death of Aster shocks everyone around. And that, sadly, is just the beginning of what becomes the curse of the Chapel family.

The Chapel story is told from Iris’s point of view and that gives the reader the chance to get to know a family majorly constituted of women but which still does not give them credit and value. What could pass as simply a mystery story is actually a narrative of the sorrows and prejudice suffered by women throughout the years.

Reading what Iris narrates was most of the time both bitter and necessary to show how the aphorism “a man’s world” has been incredibly harmful for women and how that contributed to turn the World into a dangerous place to be a woman. Also, the distance and stillness with which the Chapel patriarch treats the deaths of his daughters demonstrates how cheap their lives were for him and for anyone outside.

The Cherry Robbers is an essential read for everyone, which brings important lessons about feminism, the place women has been put in our society and how it’s mandatory for that to change as soon as possible.
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Thank you to the author, Mariner Books and NetGalley, for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The premise sounded intriguing, and finding out in the afterword that this was based on a real family did make me see it in a new light. The story is told through a series of journals written by Sylvia Wren, who is introduced to us as an elusive and famous artist - and who is outed as one of the famous Chapel sisters by a journalist wanting to write about the sisters. The journals tell the story of the five Chapel sisters, four of whom - one after another - die of an unnamed illness. This shatters the family, and leads to Sylvia fleeing and establishing a new identity and life as an artist.

As we read Sylvia's account, through her journals, of the story of each sister, there is foreboding and foreshadowing as the story develops - but there is also a lot of extraneous detail of weddings, dresses, petty sisterly rivalries, which bogs down the pace of the narrative and made getting through the book a bit tedious. The illness which befalls the sisters is never explicitly named, but between the lines mental illness and the twisted expectations of the partriarchal society at the time toward women cover the bases.
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Absolutely loved this, definitely my favorite book of the year so far. Not sure how I feel about the ending but the rest of the book had me totally enraptured!
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The Cherry Robbers by Sarai Walker
This is an amazing story. It feels part gothic and part fantasy. Iris is one of six sisters born to the wife of an arms dealer. She starts to behave very oddly. She screams most of the time and then tries to stop her eldest daughter getting married. Iris her fifth daughter seems to have inherited her odd ways. The girls are all heiresses but most of them die on their wedding nights. Is this because of a curse or just a series of bizarre events?
Iris runs away to New Mexico changes her name to Sylvia and eventually becomes a world famous artist. Any curse passes Sylvia and her female partner by
The story is beautifully told but was the tale of her sisters the truth? Sylvia has to re examine her life as both Iris and Sylvia and we have to make up our own minds. This is the genius of the story
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This book is creepy yet intriguing. I had to keep reading to see what was happening, how things would come together, and what that meant for the main character. There’s a steady pace with a descriptive storytelling style, everything told from the perspective of Iris, daughter number 5 in a family of 6 daughters.

Lots of Haunting of Hill House and The Virgin Suicides vibes (the films, I haven’t read the books).
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I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying this book. I expected historical fiction and got a gothic family drama instead. 

I really admire Iris/Sylvia's tenacity in the face and aftermath of tragedy, which she has endured through most of her formative years. 

Thank you to the publisher, author, and NetGalley for the ARC. I really enjoyed it!
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The Cherry Robbers
Sarai Walker
May 17, 2022

Sylvia Wren is a renown artist and author of many books. She now lives in New Mexico, sheltered in a small town. Her work is guided by her assistant in Sante Fe. Sylvia walks to the post office or on small trails but for the most part stays in her home. Initially we are guided through her daily life. On one particular day Sylvia sorts her mail for her clerk to respond to. She takes care of bills, requests, and essential correspondence. In this delivery she finds a letter, hand written. True she has many requests for speaking engagements or interviews. Those she lets the assistant handle. This particular letter seemed interesting however when she opens it she finds a letter detailing her history, her private life describing her childhood in Bellflower, Connecticut. This intrusion kept nagging at her. She finds she must respond. Sylvia writes that she was indeed not Iris Popplewell. 
From this point, we are introduced to the Popplewell family. There was father, Henry, mother Belinda, Iris and her 5 sisters. The Cherry Robbers goes on to explain the entire history of the family. Belinda has a mental disorder that began at her birth. Through her life with the girls she passes strange behavior onto her family. This was a difficult but interesting book to read. There were times it appeared endless. I wanted to read it but the bizarre story would shut me down for a while, then I would force myself to pick it up  again. 
The Cherry Robbers by Sarai Walker will be published on May 17, 2022 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. I read and reviewed this novel via NetGalley. I am well read and enjoy most literature  but this was a tough story to process. There were parts that I enjoyed and others that frightened me. Now this is all my opinion so I expect readers to choose this one and enjoy it if they so desire.
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I really enjoyed this read. Sarai Walker's descriptive language drew me in. I did not want the story to end. It's different to what I normally read, in a good way. It's specific, it stands out. I loved the vein of feminism that existed throughout it too. She is a great writer. It's my first from her but must certainly won't be my last!!!
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