Culture Consumption: February 2020 – Women in Horror Month

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, games, and podcasts.

Books

February was women in horror month, so I focused as much of my reading as possible on this subject area and read some fantastic and fun books. I enjoyed pretty much everything I read, but here are some of the standouts.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria MachadoI finally got around to reading Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado — and I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to read this book. The stories in this collection explore the place of women in the world, with each story having its own intimate horrors. Many of these stories also explore female desire and sexuality, diving into that longing for pleasure in a world that would traditionally deny them that.

All of the stories in this collection are complex and powerful in their own unique ways. Here are a few that I adored the most. In “The Husband Stitch,” a woman relates the story of meeting, falling in love, and living with her husband. She gives him everything of herself, with the only thing that belongs to her being a green ribbing she wears around her neck — which her husband over time grows more and more eager to understand and claim. The story is beautiful, intimate, with a truly unsettling ending.

“Inventory” tells the story of an apocalypse in a series of gorgeous, heartbreaking vignettes, each relating intimate moments and relationships with a variety of people in the narrator’s life.

In “The Resident,” an introverted, anxious writer begins a residency in the mountains near where she once went to Girl Scout Camps. The residency brings up memories of being at camp, illnesses and afflictions to her body, and anxieties about who she’s supposed to be around other people and writers. It’s intense and verges on horror, but mainly focuses on the internal struggles of the character. It’s a haunting, beautiful story.

“Especially Heinous” is an utterly fascinating story which reimagines 12 seasons of Law and Order: SVU. In the story, Officers Stabler and Benson each become increasingly haunted and stalked by strange forces in unique ways. The short snippets of scenes are listed as episodes and everything unfolds as a compellingly surreal experience in which the city thrums with a living heartbeat and dead girls ring through the halls of apartments.

“Real Women Have Bodies” is a beautiful story of love in a world where women are loosing substance, fading away. It just about broke my heart.

Bunny by Mona AwadIf you’re into dark and bloody academia stories, then you should definitely consider reading Bunny by Mona Awad. Samantha Mackey is struggling through her MFA program at a prestigious university, where she’s finding herself unable to write and is repelled by the clicky group of women in her fiction writing workshop, who all call each other “Bunny.” Her one comfort is her friend, Ava, who is fierce and doesn’t give a crap what anyone else thinks And yet, when the Bunnies invite Samantha to their infamous Smut Salon, she goes and discovers the group has dark secrets.

The voice of Bunny is biting, the descriptions of the world edged with a sharp irony. It’s funny and brutal and sometimes aching with longing and sorrow. This novel was beautifully and darkly compelling, drawing me into its strange, surreal world. I honestly never knew what was going to happen next. I loved this book.

The Twisted Ones by T. KingfisherI went through several audiobooks this month, all of which were great, but I particularly loved The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher, which was narrated by Hillary Hubert. When asked to clear out her grandmother’s house, Mouse travels with her dog to rural North Carolina where she discovers her grandmother was a hoarder and the mess is bigger than she imagined. As she sets to work, she’s able to almost ignore the strangeness of the woods around her — but that changes when she discovers her step-grandfather’s journal, which relates the story of terrifying things. At first, she chalks it up to the delusions of an old man, until she starts to witness the horrors herself.

The Twisted Ones is a pitch perfect horror novel, made all the better by being filled with a cast of fun, interesting, and sympathetic characters. Mouse herself is entirely relatable, and the neighbors she meets and wonderfully, generous human beings. It makes it far more scary when you care about the characters involved and want them all to survive and return home safe and sound.

When I Arrived At the Castle by Emily CarrolI’ve read Emily Carroll’s graphic novel collection of utterly horrifying fairy tales, so I was excited to pick up When I Arrived at the Castle, a wholly original and haunting fairy tale. An eerie fairy tale, in which a young woman travels to a distant castle with the purpose of confronting the lady of the house. As she follows the lady through the house, she learns how truly monstrous she is. The art work is beautiful, with its stark black and white imagery highlighted with pops of blood red color. The visuals switch between being dreamlike and utterly horrifying — and combined with the text, it makes for a compelling tale.

The Spinning Place by Chelsea WagenaarOutside of the horror genre, I read the The Spinning Place, a collection of poetry by Chelsea Wagenaar (which was provided to be by the publisher, Southern Indianan Review Press, for the purposed of an interview). The poems in this book explore the things the body carriers, whether its a growing fetus in the womb with all its demands on existence and the future or the emotional weight of family and relationships. I’m hoping to have an interview with Wagenaar in an upcoming episode of the New Books in Poetry Podcast.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: February 2020 – Women in Horror Month”

On Reading and the Writing Life

Apparently, there’s communities of folks making Book and Authortube videos, in which they essentially talk about books, writing, and publishing. Since I’ve been wanting to get back into making videos, these community topics seemed a good way to focus my ideas around.

One of the things that a lot of folks in this community do is the Newbie Tag  — which is essentially a list of questions about you and your interests as a means of introduction. It sounded like fun, so I thought I’d go for it — although with my own flare.

Booktube and Authortube each have their own unique set of questions (listed below), created by Brenda C. and Jenna Streety, respectively. Rather than making them as two separate videos, I decided to incorporate them together, editing to avoid repeated questions and (hopefully) making things flow.

I hope you enjoy the video, and if you decide to do your own newbie tag, please let me know. I’d be happy to check it out.

Continue reading “On Reading and the Writing Life”

Culture Consumption: January 2020

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, games, and podcasts.

Books

My Sister The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite was my favorite read of the month. Set in Nigeria, the story focuses on two sisters — one is who alluringly beautiful and has a tendency to kill her boyfriends, and the other who is a nurse and is often left with cleaning up the mess. At the heart of this novel  and what makes it so compelling — is how it addresses the complexities of sisterhood, with its blend of frustration, jealousy, anger, compassion, and love. Sisters, I just want you to know, I’d help you clean up your messes, too.

Another great read this month was Rivers Solomon’s The Deep, which has a fascinating genesis, as it is based on a song called “The Deep” from experimental hip-hop group Clipping. The story is about a community of mermaids living at the bottom of the ocean. A young mermaid, Yetu, carries all of the memories of her people so that they don’t have to be burdened by their weight. Among these memories is the knowledge that their people are the children of African slaves thrown overboard from the ships that were transporting them to America. The horrors of these memories are tearing Yetu apart, driving her to try to find a way to escape them. It’s a powerful novella, which looks into how our history defines us and considers its value if it’s so heavy.

I also read two stunning poetry collections last month. Soft Science by Franny Choi is a gorgeous book-length collection, which explores queer, Asian American femininity through the lens of robots, cyborgs, and artificial intelligence. Kerrin McCadden’s chapbook, Keep This to Yourself, is a stunning examination of addiction, reflecting the mix of emotions — compassion, frustration, anger, and sorrow — of watching someone go through it.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: January 2020”

My Top Ten Things from 2019

Here doth exist a video in which I talk about my top ten favorite things from last year — books movies, games, travel, writing stuff, and more. The hardest part was choosing a single novel and poetry book for the year — which is why I have separate top ten lists for each.

I’ve had a youtube account for about 11 years. For a few years, I was posting regularly on a variety of topics with no real rhyme or reason — and then I took a seven year break because of lack of time, access to technology, and other challenges. But I’ve been wanting to jump back into it, so hear we are.

This video was a fun challenge to put together. Talking to a camera is weird thing and it takes practice to get back into the rhythm of it, so it took 49 minutes to record — followed by and hours and hours of editing over the course of several days in order to eliminate all the awkward pauses and unnecessary rambling asides, finally reaching a more manageable 22 minutes. Still long-ish, but I’m pretty happy with it.

I hope you enjoy it, and I would love to know some of the things you’ve loved in 2019.


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My Ten Favorite Fiction Reads from 2019

Most everyone (as far as I’ve seen) throws up their top lists in December, but I’ve never been able to get it together to be able to do it before January — so here I am. In 2019, I read a total of 55 books, many of which were great reads. Here are the ten fiction books that stood out to me over the course of the year. I’ll be talking about my favorite poetry books in a separate post.

 

The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste

The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste

In the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, the future looks bleak, with the city in a state of decay, cracked streets lined with broken bottles and the skyline lined with factories left to rust.  Having graduated from high school, Phoebe and her best friend Jacqueline make plans to escape — but then the girls in their neighborhood begin to change, their “bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh.” No one understands what’s happening, not the girl’s parents, the doctors, or the government men. Faced with loosing her best friend, Phoebe desperately struggles to unravel the mystery of the Rust Maidens.

The body horror of the girl’s transformations is counterbalanced by the horror of how the people in the city treat them, with Phoebe at the center, caught between the two. At times this book is unsettling, and at times it is touchingly beautiful, with the relationships between the girls at the center. This was a book I clutched to by chest as soon as I was done reading. (Full review.)

 

Rolling in the Deep / Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Rolling in the Deep / Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

If you’ve been longing for a book about terrifying, blood thirsty mermaids, then   the novella Rolling in the Deep and the full-length novel Into the Drowning Deep are the books for you.*

In Rolling in the Deep, a crew of filmmakers and scientists on the ship Atargatis set out on a journey to the middle of the ocean to film a “documentary” examining the possible existence of mermaids — something no one on the team believes in. What they discover is so much more horrifying than they expected.

Into the Drowning Deep follows a number of years after the events of the first book. A new and more thoroughly outfitted team is of scientists, security guards, hunters, and filmmakers is assembled with the primarily aim of finding out the truth of what happened to the Atargatis. For all their focus on defense, none of them are fully prepared for the terrible dangers they encounter.

While Rolling in the Deep plays feels more like horror comedy, using a found footage style to express the absurd horrors that befall the crew, Into the Drowning Deep is straightforwardly thrilling and, at times, legitimately terrifying. There were moments reading Drowning Deep in which I was too scared to keep reading, but also too compelled to put the book down. Paired together, these two volumes can make anyway wary of the shadowy ocean depths and what they might be hiding.

*Yes, technically, this is cheating, since it’s two separate books, but the first one is a novella that you can easily read through in an hour or two, and they’re part of the same series, so they really go together — and, besides,  it’s my blog, so I do what I want. 😉 

 

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

Following her mother’s death, Mary Jekyll is left alone and penniless. Seeking a way to keep herself afloat, she dives into her father’s mysterious past and discovers that Edward Hyde, a murder and her father’s former friend, may be still be alive. With the hope of a substantial reward, she pursues the breadcrumbs before her and discovers other young women who are tied to a deep and dangerous mystery.

Many stories have taken up the task of retelling classic horror and scoff stories, from Frankenstein to Sherlock Holmes to Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Using a witty and fun style, Goss brings these stories together, centering them on clever, intelligent, and strong women, who find in each other a makeshift family. With two more books in the trilogy, I’m looking forward to reading more of these adventures.

 

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Casiopea Tun works as a servant in her grandfather’s household, dreaming of a life beyond its oppressive walls. When she opens a chest and accidentally releases the Mayan god of death, Casiopea is bound by blood and bone to help the god regain his throne or meet her own death. Their journey carries them across the states of Mexico in the 1920s — offering up a charming adventure, full of magic and danger, humor and romance. Another fantastic read from Moreno-Garcia.

 

The Houseguest and Other Stories by Amparo Dávila

The Houseguest and Other Stories by Amparo Dávila

Amparo Dávila is considered to be vital and foundational figure in Mexican horror. Appearing in English for the first time, her short stories examine the social conditions of women in Mexico under the guise of chilling tales. Whether it’s women faced with the threat of a terrifying houseguest, an unsettling breakfast conversation, or the oppression of a family secrete, these tales offer a subdued beauty that calls forth the underlying tensions and terrors of daily life. (Full review.)

 

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

When an illness decimates a large percentage of the human population, a bleak world is left behind. Children are nonexistent, women are rare, and many of the men who are left rove around in gangs claiming the few women still alive as slaves. An unnamed woman protects herself by pretending to be a male and roaming from place to place, looking for food and safe shelter in which to survive. When she encounters others, particularly women, she issues what little help she can in the form of medical care and contraceptives to prevent pregnancies that could be life threatening.

Apocalyptic stories can be bleak, presenting the worst side of humanity — and The Book of the Unnamed Midwife is no exception. However, the book doesn’t dwell there alone. For all the awful things that happen, there are people who show compassion, try to help, or at the very least try not to do harm. Ultimately, this story carries the slender thread of hope through its pages, moving me to tears several times.

 

Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

Waking in pain and suffering, Shori has no member of who or what she is. All she knows is that she is wounded, lost, and starving — and all that will sate her hunger is blood. Fledgeling is one of the most fascinating portrays of vampires and vampire society that I’ve read in a long while. Wrapped in a compelling mystery, this novel provides a number of compelling layers to unpack — from the fact that Shori is a 53-year old black vampire who looks like she’s a twelve-year-old girl to considerations like racism, genetic manipulation, familial power structures, polyamorous, just to name a few. It makes for a meaty, fascinating storyline complicated, interesting characters.

 

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Magic in Orïsha is gone, the maji long dead. Only their children remain, marked as outcasts by their silver hair. After a chance encounter with a rogue princess, Zélie learns that magic may return — if Zélie, her brother, and the princess can survive long enough to conduct an ancient ritual. With rich an fascinating world building, Adeyemi presents an epic YA fantasy with multi-layered characters and complex relationships. The second book in the trilogy comes out this year, and I’l definitely be continuing on

 

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

When a strange disease called the Tox strikes an island, the Raxter School for Girls becomes quarantined. The disease twists the people and creatures who are infected with it into strange new forms, making monsters of the wildlife outside of the school fences. The girls are changing, silver scales, seeping wounds, glowing hair, and other odd developments appearing on their bodies. In the face of hunger and near certain death, Hetty and her friends Byatt and Reese band together to survive — no matter what it takes. Wilder Girls is a fantastically told story of body horror, offset by a claustrophobic sense of isolation and complex, intimate relationships between the friends.

 

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

Established on a tidally locked planet (in which one side is always facing the sun), the people of Xiosphant live strictly regulated lives determined by circadian rhythms. Stepping out of the rules even a little bit can result in severe punishment, as Sophie learns when she is cast out into the dark beyond the city’s walls and left to die of hypothermia or at the teeth of one of the planet’s vicious wildlife. Instead, she makes an unexpected friend that who could change everything. With wonderfully complex worldbuilding, The City in the Middle of the Night offers interwoven storylines that explore how human beings can become emotionally entangled with other humans in ways that sometimes feel more like a chain than a bond. A strange and beautiful book.

Honorable Mention: Books of Blood, Vol. 1-3 by Clive Barker, because this was a phenomenal collection of disturbingly beautiful horror stories — and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the volumes.

What were your favorite reads from last year?


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