Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, games, and podcasts.
In Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw, a group of old thrill-seeking friends decide to host a wedding at haunted Heian-era mansion in Japan. As the night of drinking, food, and old memories and rivalries are consumed, events slowly start to go terribly, terribly wrong. The house is more haunted than they realized, having been built on the bones of a dead bride, who wanders faceless through its halls. KI love the way Khaw draws on historical Japanese folklore to present a wonderfully creepy and unsettling take on the haunted house genre. A great read for horror fans.
What drew me into Brenna Thummler’s graphic novel Sheets was the gorgeously detailed pastel art work, which is combined with a charming story about a young woman trying to hold it together, going to school and running her family’s laundromat. Meanwhile, on the other side of the reality, a young ghosts slips away from the afterlife to explore the human world, leaving a uncleaned sheets and other havoc in his wake. I love that the author leans into the idea of ghosts wearing sheets because it gives them form. It’s adorable all around.
Books Finished This Month:
1. Lychee Light Club by Usamaru Furuya
2. Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw
3. Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle
4. The Drifting Classroom, Vol. 1 by Kazuo Umezz
5. Sheets by Brenna Thummler
Total Books for the Year: 39
Still in Progress at the End of the Month: Little Weirds by Jenny Slate, Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap, Character Development and Storytelling for Games by Lee Sheldon, and The Mothman Prophecies by John A. Keel
Short Stories & Poetry
“Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem” by Matthew Olzmann (The Slowdown) —
“It wasn’t until I got older that I realized what I loved about love was not the drama at all, but the deep privacy of it. My kind of love was never made for an audience. My kind of love is a rapturous sort of secret, built out of unasked-for gifts, unexplainable inside jokes, the oddly impressive songs we sing to the dog in the morning.”
“Ghost Campus” by Michelle Bitting (SWWIM) —
“Mostly it’s been just me
and my winter shadow
walking the fog,
unlatched from a safe
and solitary burrow to work
my lungs and unshorn legs,
make sure I’m alive, check
my breath against a mirror
scrap of the afternoon’s last light.”
“Pomegranate Heart” by Stephanie Tom (SWWIM) —
“Say the universe didn’t begin with a bang
but with a whisper. Say the stars were
crystallized by their fear of being forgotten.
Say there was life outside of our solar system;
somewhere in a pocket of secrets is a planet
no wider than we know the sea to be deep &
there lives a child that only knows how to
bury seeds but not how to water them.”
My friend and I spent an afternoon binge watching all three John Wick movies. I don’t have much to say about them, except that they are action packed fun, with awesomely choreographed gunplay and fight scenes. I’m looking forward to seeing the fourth.
New-to-Me Movies Watched Last Month:
1. Eternals (2021)
2. John Wick (2014)
3. John Wick, Chapter 2 (2017)
4. John Wick, Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)
I’m quickly becoming a fan of Mike Flanagan’s work. I loved both The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor, both of which layered multiple kinds of hauntings, from the ghostly to the emotional kind. With Midnight Mass, Flanagen expands his horror scope, while maintaining his signature style involving stories of characters and their relationships overlain with an external horror.
After serving time in prison for manslaughter (caused by a drunk driving accident), Riley Flynn returns to the remote island community, where he grew up. The quiet community is shrinking as the fishing industry slowly dries up. Many of those who remain look to spiritual guidance from the local church, where a new priest has come to lead them, bringing with him what seems to be miracles.
This show is compelling in the way it renders the relationships within the community and the respectful ways it explores belief and faith. Everyone within this small community has their own way, and each of those believe systems, from atheist to true believer is given respectful weight within the narrative. It makes for an incredibly powerful and moving story, which is matched with an intensely unsettling and bloody horror.
I watched the first couple episodes of the live action Cowboy Beebop, and I don’t hate it. The casting is great (particularly Mustafa Shakir as Jet and John Cho as Spike), and I dig the overall visual style. However, the fight scenes are the weakest point for me, as they fail to achieve the rapid, smooth, jazzy flair of the anime. At the end of the day the live action is always going to pale in comparison, because the anime is sheer perfection. I may or may not keep watching.
November was a month of games. No surprise since I’m currently taking a game writing master class, as a result of which I’m needing to play and think about games on the regular.
One of the first games I played for class was Sea of Solitude, a beautiful indie game about a woman lost at sea in a world of giant monsters. The game explores intense issues surrounding mental health in a way that feels deeply emotional and cathartic. I wrote more about my experience playing at Once Upon the Weird.
Another fantastic game I played this month was Life is Strange, the first in a series of similar interactive adventures. In the first Life is Strange, Max is a young woman who has returned to the small town where she grew up to attend art college. When she witnesses someone being shot and killed in the school bathroom, she discovers that she has the ability to rewind time and make things right. As the story unfolds, the player has opportunities to interact with various characters and make decisions that impact the outcome of the story. The ability to rewind time is a particularly interesting element, as you can rewind and make a different decision — and at some points use this power to discover information that results in a more favorable out come.
The main relationship is between Max and Chloe, the best friend she knew since she was a child and whom Max is continually trying to save throughout the story. As the events unfold, the consequences of previous choices come into play and the decision points become more and more difficult. I don’t think I’ve ever had to make such difficult decisions in a game before. At a couple of points, I found myself just staring at the screen for several minutes just trying to decide what to do. In other words, it’s a pretty great game.
Annapurna (an amazing game publisher) held a sale for some of their iOS games earlier this month, so I picked up Donut County and If Found…, two artsy indie games that only take a couple of hours or so to complete.
Donut County was a particular favorite of mine. You play as a hole in the ground that slowly swallows up a small town, dropping the buildings and its inhabitants into a hollow earth. I honestly don’t know how to describe the level of satisfaction and delight that this experience provided.
If Found… is a game about a young woman in Ireland, who longs to study space but feels stuck in her small community. As she makes friends and lives out of a dilapidated old manor, she works to figure out who she is and what she wants. Kind of like an interactive comic, the art style of this one is stunning.
Because I’d been talking, writing, and thinking about it so much during class, I started replaying Horizon: Zero Dawn, one of my all time favorite games — and it’s just as good as I remembered it. The combination of excellent storytelling and worldbuilding with fantastic game play makes for an amazing game. I highly recommend playing it before the sequel comes out next year.
What’s Good Games is always the first podcast I listen to as soon as it’s available, but since it’s primarily a news podcast, I don’t often list it here. However, the episode Making Games is Totally Easy (LOL) is particularly fantastic, as it includes a panel of three guests Belinda Garcia (writer), Mel Ramsden (game designer), and Alyssa Harrison (producer). They have a great discussion about the Game Award nominations, the game development process, and their recent work on a new game called Stonefly.
I also learned about the The Psychology of Video Games podcast this month, which provides insight to the psychology behind how games are made and played. I’ve been working through some of the back episodes and there is a lot of great information here.
That’s it for me! What are you reading? Watching? Loving right now?