Hi, lovelies. Here’s my last couple of months in books, movies, television, and games.
So, I was apparently so excited about reading Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir that I accidentally bought it twice … at the same bookstore … within just a two week time period. I mean, the blurb on the cover describes it as “Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space” — which was a string of words I didn’t know I wanted until reading this book.
Gideon is an orphan and a skilled sword fighter determined to leave the bleak shadows of the Ninth House. But her nemesis Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter and bone witch, refuses to release Gideon until she completes one more task. Invited to compete in a deadly game of wits and skill to become a powerful servant of the Emperror, Harrowhark demands that Gideon become her cavalier (companion, sword master, and guard) for the extent of the trial.
Gideon the Ninth is gorgeously written, presenting a world of secret chambers and walking skeletons and the whispers of the dead that I absolutely adore. Gideon is a wonderfully snarky character, with a mixture of determination and skill that makes me want to root for her all the way through — and most of the enemies and companions she meets are equally interesting in their own ways. I love her journey and I love this world and (though I’ve heard the second book isn’t quite as good) I absolutely want more of it.
I grabbed How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix as I was heading through the airport on my way out of town. Based on my past experience with Hendrix’s work, I expected a fast-paced, fun horror read — which is exactly what I got. What I didn’t expect was find myself wanting to cry within the first few chapters — but I got that, too.
When Louise learns that her parents have suddenly died, she quickly finds herself overwhelmed with the prospect of returning home and dealing with the collection of dolls, puppets, art, and other objects that her parents have amassed over the years. But dealing with her estranged brother, who is known for drinking and bouncing from job to job, might be even more overwhelming.
Aside from the horrors of a haunted house involving both dolls and puppets (shudder), this book is also a moving story about family trauma and grief. Louise and her brother Mark are both dealing with their grief in unique ways, and both also are holding onto secrets about their childhood that they would rather forget. In the end, it’s the coming together that helps them survive the hauntings from their past and present.
In Premee Mohamed’s And What Can We Offer You Tonight, a group of courtesans in a dystopian future cling to what little graces they can claim as their own — including a secret ritual to honor the dead. That ritual is disrupted, however, when one murdered woman suddenly wakes up and promises revenge.
I love that this book is told from the point of view of a woman still constrained by the house, rather than the dead girl set free from constraint by her own death. In this way, we see how a person can hold their anger tight within their ribcage, unable to let it loose for fear of loosing the small slice of comfort that remains to them. This makes for a darkly beautiful novella that explores what a person is willing to sacrifice of themselves in order to survive a terrifying world.
Breakable Things by Cassandra Khaw is a fantastic collection of stories, ranging from horror to dark fantasy, fairy tales, folk lore, and beyond. Many of these stories explore the nature of stories themselves. As the opening story, “Don’t Turn On the Lights,” begins, “Stories are mongrels… no story in the world has a pedigree. They’ve all been told and retold so many times that not God himself could tell you which one came first.”
The ensuing story then proceeds to share alternative versions of an urban legend, spinning the viewpoint through the socially acceptable versions and the mean versions, exploring the guilt or innocence of the protagonists, the playfulness of the killer until it’s hard to tell what is real and what is not — and it’s a powerful opening to this fantastic collection, which has a wealth of fantastic stories to enjoy.
Erase the Patriarchy: An Anthology of Erasure Poetry edited by Isobel O’Hare is a powerful anthology of poetry that uses the act of erasure to engage and argue with existing texts written by men. I loved seeing the variety of diverse voices and seeing how each one interacts with their selected text, using the medium of their erasure to enhance the message of their poem. I also appreciated reading each accompanying artist statement by the authors, explaining their process.
Books Finished This Month:
1. Erase the Patriarchy: An Anthology of Erasure Poetry edited by Isobel O’Hare
2. How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix
3. Breakable Things by Cassandra Khaw
4. Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
5. Finches by A.M. Muffaz
6. And What Can We Offer You Tonight by Premee Mohamed
Total Books for the Year: 11
Still in Progress at the End of the Month: A House with Good Bones by T. Kingfisher, M Archive: After the End of the World by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Interstellar Flight Magazine: Best of Year Three, Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games by Tracy Fullerton
Short Stories & Poetry
“She Speaks Her Mind” by Theodora Goss —
“I am too old
to fall in love for the first time,
to scrape my knee on the slide or break my ankle
roller skating, although I once did these things,
too old to sit on the swings
in the playground failing to properly smoke
my first cigarette, or spend summer afternoons
lying on the grass in the back yard, staring
alternately at the sky and the veined insides of my eyelids,
dreaming of things that haven’t happened yet.”
“Rabbits or Tulips” by Theodora Goss —
“I told the tulips that it’s not spring yet,
but they’re not listening to me.
Instead, they’re poking green leaves out of the ground,
like the ears of rabbits,
and I wonder, idly, if green rabbits are growing
in my garden. When spring comes,
the real spring, in April or May,
will they poke green noses out of the soil,
dig themselves out with little green paws,”
“The Portal Keeper” by Lavie Tidhar (Uncanny Magazine) —
“The rabbit was back this morning. It stopped outside the portal like it always does and it checked its pocket watch like it always does. It doesn’t matter—the rabbit’s always late.”
“Every Body Depicted Is Exploited” by Elise LeSage (PseudoPod) —
“Everyone knew that Pamela was the only real artist there. The rest of us were just play-acting. The sensible ones, like me, figured out pretty early on that the program was a joke. Formulaic. Easy to phone in. Still, there were plenty of students who told themselves they had a shot at creating something beautiful, even as Pamela blew them out of the water again and again.”
“Our Love Against Us” by DaVaun Sanders (Uncanny Magazine) —
“Nim clambered out of the back seat. The door locked behind him. The trunk popped. He looped his backpack on, grabbed his sweet potato pie, then released the pending crypto payment in his phone’s app. On every side, burned out or collapsed structures cradled an old retail corridor.”
“The Noon Witch Goes to Sound Planet” by Kristina Ten (Lightspeed) —
“The Noon Witch is not a cat person. She likes the color purple, hates police procedurals, loves breakfast foods, thinks scented bath products and anchovy pizza are gross. Hates platform shoes. Hates walnuts in brownies. Used to like the electropop group all the girls at school like, until they used too much synth on their latest album, so now she hates them too.”
The Menu is hard to classify — walking the line between satirical black comedy, food culture drama, thriller, and horror. An elite group of foodies travel to a remote island for the ultimate fine dining experience — but as the menu begins to deliver an increasingly bizarre selection of courses, the diners become worried for their own safety. This movie drew me in from the start and kept me captivated; I honestly had no idea how events would unfold and the journey was delectable.
When I saw the trailer for Smile, I assumed it would be just another uninteresting mainstream horror movie — but actually delivers a brutally fun horror experience. It feels odd to use the word “fun” considering the subject matter of the movie, which explores trauma, mental health, and suicide. The main character is Rose, a therapist, who attempts to help a woman being stalked by a dark being, only to witness her suicide and begins to feel as though she’s being stalked by something herself. With little support from her family and fiancee, Rose has to face down her own past trauma as she tried to attempt to escape impending doom. Though not a perfect exploration of trauma (what is?), the movie manages to hold a strong tension and uses empty space to create a sense of anxiety. It’s really well acted and well filmed.
New-to-Me Movies Watched Last Month:
1. Smile (2022)
2. Knock at the Cabin (2023)
3. The Menu (2022)
I finished the The Last of Us and to no surprise, the show finished with a strong emotional impact. Joel and Ellie’s relationship grows as their struggles to survive become increasingly intense. It’s a powerful storyline, which I loved from the original game and is so well adapted here. My only complaint — and it’s a small one — is that the last two episodes felt a bit rushed for me. I loved these characters and their story so much that I wanted to linger with them a little longer.
My niece and nephew introduced me to Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, a Japanese anime about a brother (Tanjiro Kamado) and sister (Nezuko Kamado) who are the sole survivors of their family being attacked by demons. However, Nezuko is infected during the attack and becomes a demon herself and Tanjiro vows to become a great demon slayer and to find a means of turning her human again. This show features a whole host of cool heros and villains along with some moving story moments and gorgeous fight animations. I really enjoyed all of the seasons that are currently available — so much so that I may start reading the manga while I’m waiting for new episodes to come out.
Outer Banks is a teen adventure series about a group of young people from the poor side of an island community, who go looking for a sunken ship and the hidden treasure inside. In addition to fun characters and an exciting adventure story, the show lightly touches on some of the class problems faced by the characters. Ultimately, though, Outer Banks is just a good time — and I’ll definitely be watching beyond the first season.
I watched the first episode of The Midnight Club, in which a young woman with terminal decides to live in a hospice for young people when she discovers the story of another young person who experiences a strangely miraculous recovery at the place. After only a single episode in, I’m interested to learn more about the characters and how the act of storytelling will bring them together and allow them to explore the deeper mystery of the house.
My friend and I started watching the first season of You — told from the point of view of a stalker, which is uncomfortable in the way it creates sympathy for him, considering all the way’s he manipulates the woman he’s stalking. It was interesting for a while, but we both started to get bored and so have moved on. Not sure if I’ll come back to this one or not.
Since I now have a separate website for game design, I’ve decided to put my games round ups over there, as it thematically makes more sense — especially with this specific post, which is running particularly long anyway. I don’t know if I’m going to do this in the long term, since it means I’m going to have to link back and forth between the posts. But I’m going to try it for now and see how it goes.
In the meantime, here’s the list of games I’ve played in the last two months:
- Signalis (2022, rose-engine)
- Vampire Survivors (2022, Luca Galante)
- Fallout: New Vegas (2010, Obsidian Entertainment)
- Outlanders (2019, Outbox)
- Fiasco (2009 table-top game from Bully Pulpit Games)
That’s it for me! What are you reading? Watching? Loving right now?