Culture Consumption: September 2018

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

Books

I read and adored I Am Not Your Final Girl, a collection of horror-themed poetry by Claire C. Holland (review) and Nova Ren Suma’s latest eerie YA novel, A Room Away from the Wolves, for which I’m hosting a giveaway. Although each has a very different tone, both books explore the strength of women when faced with unsettling or violent circumstances. I highly recommend them.

I also enjoyed Jeremy C Shipp’s novella The Atrocities, which is a tightly told horror story. Ms. Valdez is hired as a private teacher for Isabella. She journeys to an labyrinthine estate adorned with grotesque statues and painting, where she learns that the young girl she is supposed to teach is dead and a ghost. As Ms. Valdez begins to uncover the truth about this strange family, she faces the hauntings of her own past. Great story.

Sticking with the horror theme, I finished the graphic short story collection Fragments of Horror by Junji Ito. I adore Ito’s work in general, though this collection didn’t quite meet the same level of unsettling beauty as Uzumaki or the stories in Shiver.  Still, there were a couple stories that stood out for me, with images that linger, including “Dissection-chan,” in which a woman is obsessed with the idea of dissection, and “Blackbird,” in which a man survives a hiking accident through horrific means.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: September 2018”

Book Love & Giveaway: A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma

A Room Away from the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma

Feeling betrayed after her mother kicks her out of the house after another supposed indiscretion, Bina takes immediate action — choosing to leave of her own accord. She grabs what money she can and travels not to the family friends her mother selected, but to Catherine House in New York City, the woman’s residence her mother once lived. Bina has heard many stories of Catherine House, stories to fascinate her, stories to make her believe she can regain some connection to her mom by going there herself. But when she arrives at Catherine House, she is confronted with dark secrets she doesn’t understand and which may leave her trapped within its walls.

Nova Ren Suma is one of my favorite authors. I love the way she builds unsettling atmosphere into her stories and how she complicates female relationships, which are never simple in her tales. A Room Away From the Wolves does both of these things — both Bina’s relationship with her mother and her strange friendship with her downstairs neighbor Monet are complex, loving, and problematic. Much of her story is trying to find herself outside the context of her mother, while also confronting her own fears.

As Bina learns about herself, she works to understand the mysteries surrounding Catherine and the house. One of the things I love and am frustrated by in this book is how the story is comfortable allowing some secrets to remain secret. Not every mystery is explained. Not every dark corner is revealed. And the reader is left wondering. It makes me want to pick up the book and start rereading to see if there were some clues I missed the first time around, knowing that I would get to enjoy the beauty of Suma’s prose and storytelling all over again.

Footnote: This is the second book by Suma that I immediately saw being perfect for movie adaptation (the first being Imaginary Girls). This could be made into a beautiful kind of haunted house movie, one with complicated female characters at its center.

Giveaway

So, it turns out I have an extra copy of  A Room Away From the Wolves. How? Well, I’m a goof.

It went like this: as soon as I found out it was available for preorder, I clicked the order button. Then, time went by — and I saw another mention of the book. How have I not preordered this yet? I demanded of myself. It’s absurd! So, I ordered it again.  Hence: extra copy.

And what am I do with this extra copy? Why spread the love, of course.

If you would like to get your hands on my extra copy of A Room Away From the Wolves, all you have to do is leave a comment with your name and email by October 25th.

Want an extra chance of winning? Then, also subscribe to my newsletter, where I talk about books, poetry, and the writing life.

That’s it. I’ll use a random number generator to select the winner.

THE WALLS AROUND US book review and giveaway

“We went wild that hot night. We howled, we raged, we screamed. We were girls — some fourteen and fifteen; some sixteen, seventeen — but when the locks came undone, the doors of our cells gaping open and no one to shove us back in, we made the noise of savage animals, of men.”

A few years ago now, I read and fell in love with Nova Ren Suma’s Imaginary Girls, an emotionally complicated sister-centered story with a touch of creepy and unsettling magical realism. It’s a story that still haunts me, sneaking from behind the shadows into the foreground of my mind. A book that I treasure in my soul and a level of achievement that I aspire to in my own writing.

Nova Ren’s latest novel, The Walls Around Us, has the same kind of haunting quality, and not just because it’s a ghost story. It’s a tale that lingers long after you’ve put it down.

Three girls are the center of this story — Amber is a young woman convicted of murder who has been locked in prison for years; Violet, a ballet dancer with a dark secret; and Orianna, a girl caught in a tide of misfortune who binds the other two together. Their stories weave together unveiling lies and secrets and the truth behind a murder.

Alternating between Amber and Violet’s points of view, the story unfolds with a feeling of inevitability, a sense that everything has happened before and cannot be stopped from happening again. Neither girl is nice or easy; instead they are both complicated and difficult, having made dangerous decisions that lead to catastrophes that define their lives. Where Nova Ren’s skill is clear is in how she manages to generate a feeling of fascination and sympathy for both of these girls. Violet in particular is an awful human being, and yet I found myself pitying her and how she has cut herself off from feeling for anyone else in the world and a part of me wanted her to make it to Julliard despite all the things she’s done.

Amber is particularly interesting to me in the way she erases herself into the group of her fellow prisoners, rarely using the singular “I” and more often using the plural “we”, as though their stories and her own story were the same, as though they are all one body of girls moving through the prison system. Her own personal story slowly unfolds but never quite condemns or absolves her of any crime. She is both guilty and a victim of society and circumstances, screwed over by the man her mother married and the system. A girl taken for granted, as many in the prison are.

Rich, gorgeous prose brings the world inside this prison for young women and the outside world (for this books seems to divide the world into two realms – inside and outside) to vivid, brutal reality. The supernatural aspects of this tale are subtle, weaved in among grounded real-world details enabling a level of plausibility. The effect — of not just the supernatural elements, but the entire story — is unsettling in all the right ways. Although the end is satisfying, this is a novel without easy answers, one to ponder after finishing, and then to go back and reread and ponder some more.

For a further exploration, here are some great interviews Nova Ren Suma has done regarding the book:

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Giveaway

As it turns out, I ended up with an extra copy of The Walls Around Us and I want to share the love, hence a giveaway! I’ll send the copy of the book to someone in the U.S. or Canada.

How to Enter: Just leave a comment telling me about why you would like to read The Walls Around Us.

Signups end on August 31, at which point I will pick the winner randomly.

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Loving life and being lazy

My Saturday was spent celebrating my niece’s third birthday with a pool party at my apartment. It was so much fun watching her splash around and leap off the edge into the water — that girl has no fear and I hope it stays that way as she grows up. She’s a giant piece of my heart right now, her and her baby brother both and it give me so much joy to spend time with them.

Of course, it took three hours of scrubbing my house top to bottom, while crying Oh, my gawd, why is my house so filthy, in order to have guests over, only to have to clean all over again after they left. But I have no complaints, every bit of scrubbing was worth it.

Sunday was a big fat slug-fest because I was tired of functioning for the week. I feel no regrets…., okay, I feel some regrets, but only little ones.

What I’m Reading

I’ve just started reading my signed(!) copy of The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma. As is no surprise to me, I’m already falling in love with the language and with these complicated girls. There’s a reason Suma is one of my favorite authors.

What I’m Writing

Just a little bit of writing got done last week, mostly on Tuesday night with some editing of a review I’ve been working on. I think I needed to take it easy in order to recover from the go-get-em attitude of the week before.

Accepted! I’m pleased to announce that Nonbinary review has accepted my essay, “Beyond Shahrazad: Feminist Portrayals of Women in The Arabian Nights,” for its 1001 Arabian Nights issue. I’m thrilled to know that all that hard work paid off.

Rejected! Two publishers have rejected my Sincerely Yours chapbook (le sigh), but there are two more out. If they both come back as rejections, too, I’ll have to reassess and resubmit.

Goal(s) for this week: Finish and submit a selection of poem(s).

Linky Goodness