Hi, lovelies. Let’s wrap up the year! I’ll be posting my favorite books and movies from the year in subsequent posts. For now, here’s my December in books, movies, games, and podcasts.
Despite all the time I had off, it was a slow reading month for me (mostly due to my gaming experiences, discussed later).
Wilder Girls by Rory Power was a brilliant book to end the year on. When a strange disease called the Tox strikes an island, the Raxter School for Girls becomes quarantined. The disease twists the people who are infected with it, the young women’s bodies distorting into strange new forms — silver scales, seeping wounds, glowing hair, and other odd developments appearing on the girl’s bodies — which is sometimes followed by death. But the disease itself is not the only terrifying thing on the island, because the infection has spread to the plant and animal life surrounding the school, and the girls have to stand guard against what hungers beyond the fences. The central story is focused on Hetty and her friends Byatt and Reese, who have banded together in the midst of the horrors they face in order to survive — even if it means breaking the rules that sustained them.
Wilder Girls is a fantastically told story of body horror, offset by a claustrophobic sense of isolation. These girls are trapped and hungering, no less than the creatures outside their gate. Practically alone in the absence of adult supervision (only two teachers have survived), the girls develop their own cultural rules for survival in the face of scarce resources and painful bodily changes. These relationships between smart young women with their own passions, complexities, and agency are what drive this story. Loved this book.
Another fun read this month was Daniel Jose Older’s Half-Resurrection Blues, in which Carlos Delacruz, a half-dead-half-alive agent for the Council of the Dead, works to hunt down ghosts and other beings who are misbehaving and messing with the balance of the world. When ngks, terrible creatures known to herald times of great disaster, suddenly start appearing throughout the city, Carlos finds himself hunting down their master in order to stop them from destroying the balance between the living and dead. Meanwhile, he’s distracted by a beautiful inbetweener like himself, who may or may not be wrapped up in the plot. This was a fun urban fantasy, all the better for the way takes into account the specific cultural identities of its characters, lending the story its own unique perspective.
Books Read Last Month:
1. Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel Jose Older
2. Wilder Girls by Rory Power
Total Books for the Year: 55
Still in Progress at the End of the Year: Children of Lovecraft edited by Ellen Datlow and Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Short Stories & Poetry
PseudoPod is one of my favorite resources for horror stories, and I did a huge binge this month. There were a number of wildly disturbing, terrifying, and stunning stories I enjoyed this month, including:
- The Boy Who Killed His Mother by Rosemary Hayes – “Nobody wanted to play with the boy who killed his mother. Nick Metcalf understood why in the same way he understood why the sun rose and set. Comprehension was simple for six year olds; things just were.”
- House Party Blues by Suzanne Palmer – “He settles into the house like a new layer of skin, this fresh shell with room to grow and thrive, for a little while. He makes the pipes in the walls sing with his own heartbeat, dresses himself in the wallpaper, clothes himself in rug and woodwork, adorns himself with knicknacks and old family photos full of forced, unconvincing smiles.”
- The Woman Out of the Attic by Gwendolyn Kiste – “Here’s what you know for sure: you won’t survive the film. There’s no chance a woman like you will live to see the end credits. Heck, you might not make it through the opening credits.”
- I Hate All That is Mine by Leigh Harlen – “The beanbag crunched and whooshed as Karla dropped into it. No one older than sixteen should have to sit in a beanbag, but she didn’t complain and did her best to get comfortable. While Hailey set up her movie, she rehearsed what she would say when it was over to cover how much she hated it.”
- Allochthon by Livia Llewellyn – “Ruth sits in the kitchen of her company-built house, slowly turning the pages of her scrapbook. The clock on the bookcase chimes ten. In the next room, the only other room, she hears her husband getting dressed. He’s deliberately slow on Sundays, but he’s earned the right. Something about work, he’s saying from behind the door. Something about the men.”
Other great stuff I’ve read this month:
White Tea by Kathryn Petruccelli (SWWIM) —
“White as the mug that holds it.
A touch of milk, no honey, just
its own sweetness.”
After the War by Mary Grimm (Linden Avenue) — “The tree is in the middle, but how they argued about where things ought to go. Remember, he says, the naming of the animals? Now all they have left are the chickens and an old dog.”
The Path of Pins, the Path of Needles by KT Bryski (Lightspeed) – “In the very heart of winter, the forest holds its breath. Frozen earth sleeps without dreaming; brittle sunlight breaks and scatters in gasps between the trees. The girl walks through the woods, boots crunching the crusted snow.”
The Wooden Box by Annie Neugebauer (Uncanny Magazine) –
“I never noticed the zipper
hidden over my chest bone
until after you died.”
Magpies Recognize Themselves in the Mirror by Kelli Russell Agodon (Poetry.org) –
“The night sounds like a murder
of magpies and we’re replacing our cabinet knobs
because we can’t change the world, but we can
change our hardware.”
Knee Deep in the Sea by Melissa Marr (Lightspeed) – “I woke early—or perhaps didn’t sleep. My body is still adjusting to the time zone hop from Southern California to the islands north of the Scottish mainland. Orkney. A series of islands, many of them uninhabited, in the cold North Atlantic Sea. To the east is Norway. To the West are Iceland and Greenland. In other words, it’s chilly even in the summer when there is endless light. It’s stunning, aside from the dead guy currently at my feet.”
What a Cyborg Wants by Franny Choi (The Slowdown) –
What a cyborg wants is to work perfectly.
To simulate pleasure perfectly. To not cry at dinner,
forget to call back. To keep her skin clear.
To keep the sheets clean. To reply-all when asked.
“Hermes and the Other Woman” by Sean Patrick Mulroy (Corvid Queen) – “You know that he works hard and you like to do nice things for him, so you come home early from the office thinking you’ll clean the apartment. You’re taking a nap upstairs when you wake up to muffled laughter, him and somebody else in the kitchen.”
How We Programmed the Apocalypse by Zoë Hitzig (The Slowdown) –
“Remember the sonic attack? Kind of like that.
Simulate the sounds of crickets, then decimate the crickets.
Sounds of a lover who can see in sixteen colors.”
Personal History by Adrienne Su (Poem-a-Day) —
“The world’s largest Confederate monument
was too big to perceive on my earliest trips to the park.
Unlike my parents, I was not an immigrant
but learned, in speech and writing, to represent.”
The more I think about Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women, the more in love with it I am. Gerwig anchors the March sisters in a beautiful, grounded reflection of humanity. I’ve always resonated with Jo March and her passion for writing and independance, and in this movie I resonated with her even more deeply, understanding the complex feelings of loneliness that sometimes become tied with that freedom. All of the sisters have similar layers of depth, as well as the mother, in whom we get to see the lows that hide behind her smiling face and giving nature. This is a movie that made me weep and laugh and weep all over again. It’s beautiful.
My new year’s eve was spent watching Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, a movie that satisfied the vast majority of my desires for the conclusion of the trilogy. The story was action packed, funny, and sometimes even emotional as it wrapped things up. A solid entry in the Star Wars universe.
New-to-Me Movies Watched Last Month:
1. The Polar Express (2004)
2. Rise of the Guardians (2012)
3. Little Women (2019)
4. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
I started watching the first few episodes of The Witcher on Netflix. The show is based off of the video game series, which is based off of a book series — none of which I have played or read (although I have The Witcher 3 in my game queue.
Geralt of Rivia is a witcher, a human-mutant hybrid, which provides him with the strength to hunt monsters. I’m only a few episodes, but so far I’m enjoying the dark gothic tone (some of the monster designs are genuinely scary) and Geralt’s character (played by Henry Cavill). He’s a loner by nature and doesn’t take much interest in other people, especially since other people see him as an outcast. But he has his own clear moral compass, refusing in most cases to kill humans so that he doesn’t become the monster they believe him to be. Plus, he’s got plenty of sarcastic quips, which makes him fun to watch. There are also several other storylines and I’m interested to see how they come together.
I completed the Resident Evil 2 Remake — and it was phenomenal. To be honest, being that the game is known to be terrifying, I probably wouldn’t have played it if not for two things — 1) watching a couple of playthroughs and continually hearing about Brittney Brombacher squee-inducing love for the game on the What’s Good Games podcast. (Also, the fact that I played it on easy, because that’s how I roll.)
Resident Evil 2 Remake is a third person survival horror game, in which a zombie apocalypse has struck Raccoon City. You play as one of two main characters — Leon S. Kennedy, a rookie cop who is suppose to join the local police force, and Claire Redfield, a college student looking for her brother. From the opening scene to the ending, you’re running past, shooting, and otherwise escaping zombies and other far more terrifying creatures that have spawned.
The story itself is like a great B-movie, and the characters are fun and interesting. But more importantly, this game is legitimately terrifying, particularly when Mr. X makes his sudden appearance. Even knowing much of the story and what would happen, did not lesson the heart-pumping moments of running through the Raccoon Police Station, trying to survive with limited supplies. I dug this game so much, I might just try it again on a harder difficulty.
I honestly thought that Resident Evil 2 was going to be the highlight of gaming this month — until I started playing Horizon: Zero Dawn. When I plugged the game in, I expected to just bop around for a couple of hours, before getting some household stuff done — but instead I found myself completely enveloped by the world of the game, loosing a full eight hours in a single day (something I haven’t done in probably a decade). Fortunately, I was on holiday vacation and could allow myself the time to deep dive into this amazing world. Since then, I’ve played almost every day.
Named game of the year in 2017, Horizon: Zero Dawn is a gorgeous third person action role-playing game set in an apocalyptic future, in which machines roam the lands like wild animals. You play as Aloy, a young women who has grown up as an outcast from the tribe and longs to discover the truth about who she is and where she came from. That journey of self discovery is long and twisty, with many dangers ahead.
There are so many things that this game does well — from the deep, emotionally resonant storyline to the stunning visual art of this world, to the creative gameplay mechanics that allow you to approach battles with machines and humans using a variety of different methods. I totally understand why this was game of the year, as I’m loving every minute of it so far. At the moment, I’m around 30 hours into my play through, and I’m delighted that I have many more hours of game to enjoy.
Although the holidays are over, Book Riot‘s Holiday Recommendations episodes, Part I and Part II, are still worth listening to. It’s interesting to see how the hosts interpret listener requests, from requests for fantasy novel recommendations to cookbooks.
You Had Me at Hello put out their Pod of the Year, as in it’s literally the only podcast episode they’ve published this year. That’s because hosts Tess Morris and Billy Mernit are both working screenwriters. In this episode they discuss the future of the romantic comedy in the coming decade and some of their favorite rom-coms from the previous one.
Scriptnotes keeps on putting out amazing episodes. Another two to look for are The New One with Mike Birbiglia, in which they discuss his new one-man show and From Broadway to Hollywood, in which John August and guest host Aline Brosh McKenna welcome writer/showrunner Tim Federle of the new show High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.
Horror Queers put out a fantastic episode on A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985), which provdes in-depth look at the movie, the behind the scenes, and its impact on the gay community.
My favorite Writing Excuses episode of the month was Write What You . . . No, which breaks down what the phrase “Write what you know” and how it doesn’t really mean what people think it means.
That’s it for me! What are you reading? Watching? Loving right now?