Culture Consumption: May 2020

Hi, lovelies. Coming in rather late this month, because I’ve been rather overwhelmed. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, games, and podcasts.

Books

house of whispers by nalo hopkinsonNeil Gaiman’s The Sandman is one of my all-time favorite comic book series. When I learned that the characters would live on through stories told by different authors, I was both excited and wary. However, with Nalo Hopkinson (who is known for putting a Carribean spin on fantasy and horror), I knew the story would be in good hands. Her take, The House of Whispers is phenomenal, with gorgeous illustrations by DOMO.

When the Dreaming begins to be disturbed by unusual occurrences, it unleashes strange affects upon the worlds — releasing a strange magical pandemic that makes people to believe they are already dead and causing  Erzulie, a deity of voodoo mythology, to crash into the Dreaming. I love all of the characters, all the additions to the world building. I fully appreciate this new perspective. I’ve only read volume one, but I haven’t been this excited about a comic series in a long time. I can’t wait to dive into more.

Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching is the story of the Silver family and their house in Dover, England, which has converted to a bed-and-breakfast. The house, however, has a will of its own — and though it loves the women of the family, it has a malice for strangers.

The youngest daughter, Miranda Silver, developed a pica as a child, an eating disorder that causes her to consume non-edible substances, such as chalk and plaster. After experiencing an intense episode as a teenager, she returns home after a period in the hospital, hopeful of pulling her life together.

Oyeyemi tells the story from multiple points of view, with writing style is rich and lyrical, evoking complex emotional structures of family and home.

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Culture Consumption: April 2020

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

Books

Shutter by Courney AlamedaAs I mentioned last month, I was struggling a bit with reading — until I switched away from the book I was struggling with to read Shutter by Courtney Alameda instead. It was the perfect choice.

Shutter is a a fun YA horror novel about teenagers battling ghosts and other evils. Micheline Helsing is one of the last descendants of Van Helsing, who uses a combination of guns, knives, and a uniquely rigged camera to destroy monsters and exorcise ghosts. When she takes on ghost hunt that turns out to be too much to manager, Micheline and her crew of fellow junior agents find themselves all cursed, fated to die if they can’t find a way to break the soul chains that bind them.

The characters are smart and skilled, and yet still young enough to make mistakes. One of the things I appreciate was how the story handled its elements of romance. The affection between Micheline and Ryder comes from years of growing up together and a sense of earned-respect from working side-by-side in the heat of battle. It feels natural and genuine that they would fall for each other — the only obstacle being Micheline’s father and his expectations for the kind of person she should marry in order to continue to the Helsing line. It makes sense in the context of the world in which they exist and feels natural.

On the whole, this book features a nice blend of action, horror, and teenage romance — making for a fun, quick paced read and the perfect escape.

Sealed by Naomi BoothAnother great (though very different) read this month was Sealed by Naomi Booth. Set in rural Australia, Sealed is a psychological body horror novel. Much of the tension is driven by the anxieties of the main character Alice, who is heavily pregnant and her fears about rumors of a bizarre disease that seals people within their own skins. When her obsession with the disease nearly threatens her government job, Alice and her boyfriend Pete (who I find annoying) travel to the countryside in search of solitude and safety. But Alice still sees signs of the disease all around her and she increasingly questions whether they made the right decision.

This book is brilliant in the way it slowly builds uncertainty and tension. The world Alice and Pete inhabits is frightening even without the threat of this new disease, between concerns of poverty, privately controlled social services, and environmental pollution. However, the overshadowing threat of this skin-sealing disease and Alice’s distrust what lies beneath the skin of her pregnant belly amps everything up. It’s a brilliant novel, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more from Booth.

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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.

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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.

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Culture Consumption: December 2019

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.

Books

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 PowerWilder 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.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: December 2019”