All’s Well- Mona Awad

I hope you’ve dusted off your Shakespeare, because you’re gonna need it. In Awad’s latest, Miranda Fitch works as a university theater director after an absurd stage accident ended her own acting career, leaving her with chronic pain. She feels stuck in her job and her life, hanging on to memories of her ex-husband & what might have been. This year might be different, she thinks, if only she can put on her dream presentation of Shakespeare’s All’s Well that Ends Well. However, the students and board members want to do Macbeth, so her dreams are dashed. She soldiers on against the constant and near-crippling pain and opposition.

Everything changes for her when, at a bar, she meets three weird gentlemen who offer her a solution in a golden drink. Amazingly, her pain recedes. Things begin to go her way. But in reality, a nightmare is unfolding around her, and it will only end on stage.

This is truly a Shakespearean fever-dream! Everything seems fairly normal and then slowly devolves until you’re not sure what is real and what isn’t. Awad has given us another story about female agency and the female voice. In this case, can anyone actually hear Miranda when she is voicing her own pain? How does a woman have to perform to finally be heard?

Awad tries to answer some of these questions with the most biting humor. While much of the subject matter is serious, the tone is often sarcastic and witty. While working your way through the hallucinatory sequences, you would be forgiven for getting mildly confused at times, but overall, this was a twisted and extremely enjoyable read! I give it a strong 4 stars.

Scoring Can be Fun! & The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

and I twisted myself about like the twisted ones…

As soon as I finished this book, I knew I wanted to give it 5 stars- the first 5 star rating I have actually given in quite a while. I know that some reviewers hand out those 5 stars like they are Halloween candy, but they’re precious to me. That feeling of knowing about a perfect rating made me think about my personal scoring method, and how random it is, and how I often feel that I’ve rated some books completely wrong when I go back and compare them to other books. So I did a very English teacher-y thing (even though it has been a LOT of years since I’ve been a teacher). I made a rubric!

I’ve given each category a number of points, and the total points available are 600, so each star rating has a hundred point range. That way I could also let you know if it is 4.5 stars if the book got 450 points. I gave heavier weight to the categories I think are most important: Plot/Story and Characters (150 each), then Emotional Reaction and Voice (100 each) and finally Connections and Other (50 each). This is just how I read & react to books, so I made it very personal to me, and that other category is in there so that I could have some extra points for books I just loved or hated for some reason I just couldn’t put my finger on.

More specifically:

Characters: 150 pts- Did you like the characters? Were they fully realized & fleshed out? Were their reactions realistic? Were they relatable. Did you have any emotional connection to them?

Plot/Story: 150 pts- Was the basic storyline good? Did it catch your interest & make you want to finish the book? How did it flow? Did it continue well throughout, or was one part better than another?

Emotional Reaction: 100 pts- Did the book make you feel what it meant to make you feel? Angry, sad, happy, scared, whatever? Were you emotionally connected at all?

Voice: 100 pts- Did you like the way the story was told? Did that type of POV make sense for that story? Was the narrator reliable and if not, did that work? 

Connections: 50 pts- Consider the genre & the specific story- is it trying to make connections with past stories or authors in style or content? How well is that done? (even if the PR is pushing that connection, it affects the reader)

Other: 50 pts- Other things like cover art & gut reaction that might affect you. Personal connections.

Here’s how I rated The Twisted Ones:

I gave it 125 points for Plot. This is essentially the story of a young woman who goes to help clear out her dead (hoarder) grandmother’s house, and she discovers some dark secrets. When Mouse takes her dog on a walk in the woods behind the house, she finds herself on a hill that is geographically impossible covered in strangely carved stones. It all feels wrong. It’s not really a super-original plot, but it’s not meant to be. It’s a retelling, and a very good one, at that. It’s well- paced & I was hooked in fairly quickly. It is a retelling of Arthur Machen’s The White People, which I hadn’t read when I first read this, but I have since. It doesn’t matter if you have read it, but it is a fascinating connection. I think it also helps if you’re a dog person!

Next it got 100 points for Characters. Honestly, the character I connected with the most was the dog, Bongo! I spent most of the story reading as fast as possible just to see if he would live. (if you need to know before you read- DM me & I will spoil it for you) What a great dog! And Mouse loves him, so I cared about her too. But I was even more interested in the quirky side characters like the goth barista, and the strange punk/hippie woman across the street.

For Emotional Reaction, it got a solid 100. It was full of creepy stuff & slow moving discomfort as well as outright scares. I was spooked.

It got 75 points for Voice. I enjoyed Mouse’s narration, and she had a snarky sense of humor that would break up the tension sometimes, which was good. Her descriptions of her walks through the woods were very atmospheric, and I was drawn in. It was a little repetitive here & there.  Her grandfather’s journal is a direct reworking of the journal in The White People, so it makes more sense if you’ve read that.

I gave it 50 points each for Connections and Other, because of the way it connects back to Machen’s story and because of the way I just can’t resist a little backwoods faerie spook. 

And that is how we get to 500 points and 5 stars for this fabulous book!

Ring Shout- P. DèjIí Clark

Here there be monsters…

What if those monsters that we deal with, even today, those monsters with so much hate in their hearts, turned out to be actual monsters? Evil to the bone monsters that needed to be fought with sword and magic? That’s where Clark takes us in this fast-paced novella that will leave your heart racing. 

Ring Shout takes us back to 1920’s Macon, Georgia, to the heart of Klan country. But these aren’t just regular hate-filled Klansmen, these are Ku Kluxes. If you have the sight, you could see that these are true monsters. They are 9 feet tall, bone white, with ivory claws and 6 eyes on their pointed heads. Our hero Maryse and her friends are tasked with fighting them. On their side is the power of the Shout, and of old Gullah magic. As the Klan sets out with a plan to use the movie Birth of a Nation to unleash an ancient terror on the earth, Maryse must make some horrible choices in order to save the world from the hate that would overcome it.

I loved this little book & I give it a solid 4 stars- I mean, how timely did it end up being?!  It is full of stellar body horror in just the right amounts, and then it adds in a big shovel-full of Lovecraftian monster madness- who could ask for more? But Clark also includes just enough true history to feel uncomfortably realistic in the worst ways. One thing it is not is subtle, so be prepared for some full-on, swords-out racist fighting! And that is something we surely need more of!

Many thanks to NetGalley & Tor for this e-arc in exchange for an honest review.

Mexican Gothic- Silvia Moreno-Garcia

If you love a slow burn, look no further!

When you put the word “gothic” in the title of the book, you can bet your sweet butt I am looking for that book to fulfill some certain things. Some things that are very special to me, because I’m kind of obsessed with the gothic- it was my specialty in grad school, and I even taught guest spots in some of my peer’s classes on gothic novels. Sooooo, does this one make the cut?

First of all, a brief summary: this is the story of Noemi, a socialite from Mexico City who is pulled from her fast city life to go to a small village in the mountains to check on a cousin who sent a very disturbing letter after a too-quick marriage. Catalina dropped away from her family after her marriage to Virgil Doyle and now Noemi’s father is concerned for her. She arrives at the Doyle family home, High Place, which is situated near the defunct silver mine that had made a fortune for the family years ago. But Noemi finds that everything about High Place has gone a bit…moldy.

Now- is this a gothic? Oh, yeah! Not only is it, but it was clearly written by someone who has the same kind of love I have for the genre- respect and even some gentle tongue in cheek ribbing!  Here’s the standard way to check if a book is gothic: the laundry list!

Old & maybe haunted house/castle– Check, and the house even has a name!

Subterranean spaces/live burial- There are tunnels under that damn house for sure.

Sublime nature- Moreno-Garcia fills the book with lavish descriptions of the landscape, which at times, can be dangerous (huge ragged cliffs & misty forests)

The forest around High Place, El Triunfo

Females who generally fit into either a virgin/whore stereotype– Noemi vs the somber Doyle women.

Themes of decay, madness, secrets, and persecuted women– This is all over this novel, from the wallpaper to the constant gaslighting of the women.

A Tyrannical older man

A Villainous and usually very handsome younger man

A “hero” who is not as stereotypically manly as the others

“Supernatural” events that can be explained logically– well, it’s a crazy explanation, but…

There we have it! Moreno-Garcia packs this book full with all the classic gothic tropes, and it is beautiful to behold. I loved every moment of it, and I give it all 5 stars.  I’m not going to get into the details, because a review spoiled it for me & I don’t want to spoil it for anyone else. But if you love gothic novels, go get this right now!

Burn Our Bodies Down- Rory Power

Look at this gorgeous cover!

“How to keep a fire burning. How to stitch a fight up until it’s only a scar. That’s the kind of thing you learn with a mother like mine. Mostly though, you learn how to be loved without proof.”  

This is what 17 year old Margot Nielson thinks of her own mother. And the other very important thing she has learned is never to ask about her own history. She and her mother live alone and isolated from any other family members, and Margot is beginning to question why. When she comes upon an old family Bible with a photo in it, her journey to find her own past begins.

Upon the photo was the name of her family farm- Fairhaven- and a phone number. When she calls the number, she finds that her grandmother has been waiting for her to call for years, hoping to hear from her. But her mother FREAKS and forbids her from seeing or speaking to her.

So what’s a teenager to do? Run away of course! Margot heads out to find her Gram in Phalene, which turns out to be not far away. The day she arrives, she meets some local teens who recognize her immediately as a member of the Nielson family and tell her when a fire has broken out on her family land. When they arrive, Margot finds a young woman dead in the corn fields, a woman who looks so much like her they could be sisters. But could they be?

As Margot’s family history unfolds, she learns about their connection to the land, to the corn, and to eachother. Family secrets come to light, and they are horrifying.

she who walks behind the rows…

I read this book in one day, hardly wanting to put it down. The story was just so compelling to me, and so very weird! Now I will note that I always judge YA fiction a little bit differently than I do adult fiction- I feel that story is far more important for it. And I also try to keep in mind that I am not exactly the target audience, given that I am 45 years old! 🙂 There were aspects of this story that you could see a little ahead of time, but maybe not if you were 14 or 15. And I was actually surprised by some of it. I understood that there was going to be a deep connection between the crops and the family, I just didn’t realize exactly how deep. 

I also enjoyed Margot as a character; watching her try to find some sort of individuality where there was little to be found was fascinating. I have been enjoying the move towards queerness in YA literature often being a very small thing. The same way it is in many heterosexual stories. As if being gay was only one part of who a person is (imagine that!); I think that is so important because it makes it all that more “normal,” and it’s just as important as the stories that focus on it.

I should also add that I also loved this story just because of the CORN! I have an odd fascination with corn, and a huge collection of corny items, and this book with all it’s weird corn imagery was just my style.

I gave this strange little book 4 stars! I wish some of the other characters besides Margot had been given more fleshing out, and the same with her relationships with those characters. But all in all, I really enjoyed this read.

The Loop- Jeremy Robert Johnson

A bloody good read….

But when I try to picture a utopia, where we, like, all rise above, and we’re kind and we grow as a species, I can’t see it. So either I’m too dumb to have that kind of vision, or I’m just smart enough to know that humans could never pull it off. It’s way easier to imagine dystopia, and war, and all the bullshit we’ve been living in.


Strap in, bitches! We are not in a utopia, that’s for sure. This book is a high-octane ride from the very beginning. Lucy and Bucket are best friends, and just about the only brown kids in their crap hillbilly town of Turner Falls, Oregon. But Lucy is confident that they can make it through their senior year and put the town in their rearview as long as they have each other. Unfortunately, their plans fall apart one day in school when one of the rich kids attacks & kills the teacher with a textbook. In a matter of minutes, the room is swarming with police and he is shot. But not before Lucy & Bucket saw his strange blue eyes and saw that weird thing in his neck.

Something very wrong is going on in Turner Falls. And it all connects back to the giant biotech company IMTECH, who has decided to use the children of its own execs as guinea pigs for an insane experiment.

Now Lucy, Bucket, and another of their outcast friends Brewer are on a mission to save the world.

The promo material calls this book a conspiracy thriller, and that’s just about right- it will take you down all the rabbit holes of all the conspiracies you’ve heard out there: drones, government monitoring, implants. But it does it all through the lens of a bad-ass female protagonist, so there’s that! Lucy is easy to root for. This book has everything a horror/thriller lover might want: lots of gore, a fast paced plot, and so much action! 

But it just wasn’t my style. I’m more of a slow burn kind of gal. What really saved this book for me was the ending, where the language shifted from crass teenage dialogue (which was realistic, I thought) to a more poetic style. I won’t tell you why, but I’m glad I hung in until then. It really opened up at that point for me.
I gave this one almost four stars 3.75! But that is just a matter of personal taste. This book is well written and a lot of fun, and I think a lot of other people will just love it!

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue- V.E. Schwab

Addie danced with the devil…. did she win?

Rock bottom. No way out. Those Gethsemane moments, sweating blood, crying out to God for any kind of help. Have you been there? What if, at that very moment, someone actually answered? But it wasn’t God who stepped up.

That’s exactly what happened to young Adeline LaRue at her darkest moment. It is 1714, and she was about to be forced into a loveless marriage with an old widower, so she prayed, and prayed. But she prayed for so long that she didn’t notice that the sun had gone down- even though she had been warned not to make offerings to those that might answer after dark. She felt that her life had been too sheltered, too short- she wasn’t allowed to live the way she desired. All she wanted was more time.

And so it was that she was given her wish. But you and I both know that when you bargain with the devil, it comes with a price- and also with quite a bit of fine print. Of course the price is Addie’s soul, and the fine print is that she will live as long as she likes, but she will never be remembered. And what is a life, if not the traces it leaves behind?

We follow Addie’s story through 300 years of detailed history and art- all beautifully rendered and interspersed with Addie’s present-day life. A life that has been lived in fleeting moments, captured occasionally on canvas or in sculpture, but never in memory. She cannot even speak her real name. Until one day, out of the blue, a young man says the words she has been waiting to hear, “I remember you,” and everything changes….

I loved every second of this book! It felt like an artful blend of historical fiction and fantasy and it seriously surprised me. I did not expect where it ended up, and it was a delightfully dark twist. 

I absolutely give this book all the stars!

The Bookmistress’s Best of 2019

Another year down, and it was a fantastic year of reading! I met my goal of 50 books, and actually exceeded it by four. Part of this is because I’ve begun listening to books in my car on the way to work. This is now primarily how I read my YA! And thanks to finding the wonder of bookstagram, I have done a much better job of keeping track of my books and reviewing them. I slipped on keeping up this blog, but my instagram page was always kept up. I can’t believe how much I love the community I found there, and the friends I have made, and the amazing books I have found and shared. It’s honestly one of the best things in my life, and I am thankful for it every day.

But, #becauseofbookstagram, I found that this year I read WAY more horror than usual! I kind of went overboard with my favorite niche, and next year I would like to find my way back to a more well-rounded reading list. Oh- don’t worry- it will still be chock-full of horror! Because, like my nightworms friends know: “Horror is my happy place!”

I also found myself reading fewer new releases; this is mostly because I have been reading less on my Kindle & more physical books. So my Top 10 list this year has a bunch of older stuff on it. There are a bunch of books on all the standard “best of the year” lists that I need to get to!

So in no particular order, here they are:

BUNNY– Mona Awad

This is the best book I read this year, maybe even this decade! I can’t even tell you how much I loved it. Its slang has become shorthand with my real life friends. Get out there & read this!

I don’t want to tell you too much about it, because it’s best to go in without knowing too much. 

But here are the basics: Samantha is a scholarship student at a schmancy New England school, in the creative writing department. The other students in her writing group are rich, beautiful girls who call each other Bunny, who smell and look like cupcakes, and who don’t like Samantha’s writing at all. Until one day the Bunnies invite Samantha to one of their Smut Salons, where they make her exotic drinks and recite weirdly erotic poetry. And then they ask her to bring them a bunny. A real one. 

This book is everything- it is a little bit horror and a whole lot weird, it’s about friendship and loneliness, it’s about the pain of creation and the agency of womanhood, it’s about madness, and it is also so very funny. 

Sawkill Girls- Claire LeGrand

This was my first read of the year, and it was a great one! This is a YA murder mystery that is at its core a coming of age story about really powerful girls. The girls of Sawkill are full of fire and electricity and they are using it to fight real monsters. One thing I really loved about this story is how beautifully it treats the girls’ various queernesses- there is no big deal if they sleep together or decide that they don’t want to sleep with anyone. I would just love to see more books about kick-ass ladies like these!

All the Birds In the Sky– Charlie Jane Anders

This one is the most amazing blend of sci-fi and fantasy!  The story opens up on two children, Patricia and Laurence, both outcasts who feel alone in the world. Patricia once speaks to birds, and a tree told her she is a witch. Laurence has built a time machine, but it only goes forward 2 seconds. They find each other and become fast friends, learning the other’s deepest secrets and making promises. 

Then they are separated when they both go off to special schools, the schools of their dreams, and their paths diverge. They are connected, though, and they orbit around each other throughout their lives, sometimes converging, sometimes flying apart, but always tethered. In the meantime, the world is coming down around them.

Will their crazy orbit tear the entire world apart? Anders skillfully warps all the standard concepts of science-fiction by integrating it easily with the world of fantasy and magic. Can magic save the world that technology is tearing apart? Or is it some act of magic that has destroyed the world, and only the brightest scientists can save it?

Are the birds the only ones who know the answer?

Is a tree red?

Hell Hound– Ken Greenhall

I didn’t expect to like this novella- I guess I was expecting some sort of story about a ravenous Cujo-dog. I was not expecting this. This book is so smart and so very disturbing. This book is primarily told from the point of view of the dog, Baxter. Baxter struggles to understand human emotions, and if he were a human he would almost certainly be diagnosed as psychopathic. But he’s a dog, so he works through them himself- when he deems something (or someone) a problem, he just rids himself of it.

The best part of this book is the relationship between Baxter and his owner, who is a Nazi-sympathizer and budding psychopath himself. The two slowly begin to understand each other, and then truly awful things begin to happen

I read this stunning little novella in one sitting, but I thought about it for days afterwards.

Experimental Film- Gemma Files

I have no idea how I missed this one when it came out a few years ago. This absolutely goes on my favorites of all time list.

In this novel, we follow film critic Lois Cairns as she digs into the history of Canada’s first female filmmaker- Iris Dunlopp Whitcomb. The subjects of Mrs. Whitcomb’s very experimental films are always the same: the noon witch of slavic mythology, Lady Midday. She appears at the very moment of noon to tired field workers, asking them questions; if they answer wrong, they lose their head to her scythe! She also causes physical distress- she is the personification of heatstroke.

The Noontime Witch takes over everything in Lois’s life and she becomes obsessed. Her goal is to make a film about it, of course. An old colleague is also following the story, putting obstacles in her way. Lois becomes increasingly physically ill until she reaches a breaking point.

How many people will she drag into the light with her?

Because this book is about film, Files has to make the reader SEE the story. She does a brilliant job of this; I could feel the brightness, my eyes tearing up at the glare off the screen. All the characters are intricately drawn, and the story moves at a quick pace even with all the detail. And most of all, it was scary! Not like gore & killers scary, but real disturbing deep down in your stomach scary. Like the next time I had a migraine, I thought about Lady Midday kind of scary. And that, my friends, is real scary!!!

In the Valley of the Sun- Andy Davidson

It’s been a very long time since I have read a “vampire” book that touched me like this one did. Davidson’s prose is gorgeous and lush, in stark contrast to the arid desert setting of his story. Listen: “His name. Spoken with the same luscious sound as the first bite into a red, raw apple, a delicious wet sound…”

This is a slow story, no rushing, and so at first I put it in my DNF pile. But then, tired of shorts, I picked it up again and just couldn’t put it down. When I finally did put it down, I found tears in my eyes.

This is the story of the slow ending of Travis Stilwell, who was unfortunate enough to encounter a woman-creature named Rue in a Texas honky-tonk. The story is laid out through inter-woven chapters focusing on Travis and a young mother and son he meets, the creature Rue, and the federal agents tasked with finding the serial killer working through Texas. And his story is heart-breaking, from neglectful parents to his time as a rogue soldier in Vietnam. This is one of those stories where you find yourself sympathetic to the monster.

As Travis is changing, he pulls into the Sundowner Inn, where he meets a young mother, Annabelle, and her son Sandy. Travis sets to helping Annabelle with small tasks around the Inn, and begins to find in their small family things that he believed to be lost. But can those things be found by the thing he is becoming?

Saturday Night Ghost Club- Craig Davidson

This was a quiet ghost story that really moved me. It is a coming-of-age about a bullied young boy and his new friends who have the summer of their lives learning about their town’s ghosts from his odd uncle. It is both spooky and sweet. Davidson gives us hints of first love and plumbs the depths of human emotion.

One of my favorite things about this book is how it tells the stories of the town’s ghosts. All the twisted and oft-told legends that schoolchildren hear from their parents and friends over the years.

The things that scared you “as you get older, the texture of your fear changes. You’re no longer afraid of the things you had absolute faith in as a child…the magic gets kicked out of you, churched out, shamed out- or worse, you steal it from yourself… By degrees, you kill your own magic.”

So this book brings all this magic back, if even just for a moment, and it was lovely.

Shadow & Bone Trilogy- Leigh Bardugo

I listened to this whole trilogy this year- I’ve taken to listening to books whenever I’m driving, and I really loved these. They are really everything I love in a YA fantasy series. It’s got intricate world-building, engaging characters, action, and a splash of romance. Bardugo sketches characters that feel real, which is the most important part of making a fantasy work. The story is familiar; a young girl, an orphan, grows up to discover that she is special and that she alone can save the world. But the world building and the fantastic setting- I love that it is Russian & not another British type series- make up for the familiar story.

I can’t wait to read more by Bardugo

The Book of Dust- Phillip Pullman

I can’t say very much about this book without getting spoiler-y. But what I can do is tell you to do yourself a favor and listen to the audio. Michael Sheen’s reading is just amazing, and it made a kind of slow middle part go much better.

If you thought that these were going to continue to be kid’s books, they are not. Pullman makes sure that we know that by using the f-word loud & proud. Lyra is not a child any more. She is a grown woman, and she has changed. Not necessarily for the good.

This book broke my heart, and left me hanging, and I am just hoping that the next one will be there to pick up the pieces.

Once Upon a River- Diane Setterfield

“Along the borders of this world lie others. There are places you can cross. This is one such place.” At its heart, Once Upon a River is a story about stories. How they begin, how they are told, and how they evolve in the telling. This story begins at an ancient inn in France, right along the Thames, in about 1887. The Swan at Radcot has a history of storytelling; it is a place where 

people gather to get drunk and hear and tell stories as they travel along the river. 

On the longest day of the year, the Swan is packed with drinkers and stories, when the door bursts open and a man comes in carrying a young girl who is declared dead by the local nurse/doctor, Rita. But before the night is out, that girl draws breath again, as if by magic. Multiple people come to make a claim on the girl, who does not speak.

This story, like the Thames itself, winds and twists; we meet a large cast of characters all connected by their association with the girl found at the Swan. Setterfield has written a masterful story with elements of both historical fiction and magical realism. This period of time is rife with superstition and fortune-telling as well as great advances in science and medicine. All of these elements are used together to weave a story that dances on the very edge of fantasy.

This story is definitely a “slow-burn,” and it took me quite a while to get through it. I even put it down briefly to read something else and returned to it. However, once I got about halfway through, it really picked up. There was even a really fun play- like in Hamlet- to try and out the kidnapper at one point. And I won’t give any spoilers, but the end had me gasping in surprise! It was really fantastic & twisty. I always love it when I don’t guess the ending. 

Once Upon a River is a beautiful story that flows like the river it is set on; slow at points, madly rushing at others, but steady and constant always.

The Starless Sea- Erin Morganstern

“Not all stories speak to all listeners, but all listeners can find a story that does, somewhere, sometime. In one form or another.”  Just a few days ago, Erin Morganstern tweeted that she was becoming a bit irritated by readers telling her that they didn’t like The Starless Sea because it was confusing and not at all like The Night Circus. This is exactly what it comes down to.

This book is not at all like the Night Circus, except that it is full to brimming with magic and beauty.

Morganstern is to me a magician of sorts, a magical wordsmith, and every turn of phrase leaves me breathless. I didn’t quite finish this book by the end of the year, not because I couldn’t, but because I didn’t want to. I wanted it to go slower; I didn’t want it to end. And right now, as I have just finished the last few pages, I have a strange urge to pick it up again…”having a physical response to a lack of book is not unusual…” right???

I’m not sure I can describe the story, except to say that it is a story about stories. I know, that’s a lame description. But if you love books like I do, that might be enough to get you. It’s a story about stories and a secret society created to protect the stories. And bees and keys and swords. Read it!

Books That Almost Made the List

Coyote Songs- Gabino Iglesias

The Rust Maidens- Gwendolyn Kiste

Recursion- Blake Crouch

Middlegame- Seanan McGuire

Books of Special Note

Awesome Non-Fiction

Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror & Speculative Fiction- Lisa Kroger & Melanie R Anderson

This is fantastic both as an introduction to the ladies of horror and a very thorough bibliography. Even I found lots of things to read, and I consider myself an expert in the field! This was a really fun read, and it was also a beautiful book- a must-have for any horror afficianado.

Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible: Stant Litore

I wish I could gift this book to every person who claims to be a Christian and then attempts to use the Bible as an excuse to hate- to hate women or gay people or immigrants… the list goes on. This book gave me chills. And hope.

I am not a Christian, but I am fascinated with religion, and this is one of the best books about translation I have ever read. Litore reminds readers that “in the Koine Greek of the New Testament, truth is an activity, not a blunt object.” And in this work, he asks readers to join him in the activity of truth-uncovering. He reminds us that all translation involves more than just historical context- there’s our own prejudices & cultural context as well. Litore breaks down several controversial bits of the Bible- passages about the place of women, immigrants, LGBTQ people, even corporal punishment. 

Litore’s writing is accessible for anyone, you don’t need a background in Biblical studies to enjoy the adventure he invites us on. 

Favorite New Author

Matthew Brockmeyer- Kind Nepenthe & Under Rotting Sky: Brockmeyer’s work is gritty and dark and just amazing. I loved every bit of it. Besides that, he’s a really nice guy, and he loves talking literature & engages with other readers on instagram, and that’s pretty cool. You can find him at @humboldtlycanthrope .

Favorite Outside of My Usual Comfort Zone

Black Leopard Red Wolf- Marlon James

This is an EPIC African fantasy novel, and by epic, I mean long! I had to push a bit to finish it, but I did because I thought it was both beautiful and important.

I Wish I Could Have My Time Back/ Books I Disliked

Exquisite Corpse- Poppy Z Brite

Like terrible necrophilia porn with no redeemable qualities. I literally didn’t care about anyone in the book, so it didn’t really matter to me if they died. I have really enjoyed many of Brite’s short stories, so I was disappointed in this!

Tribesmen- Adam Cesare

I wanted to like this, but I didn’t. It felt scattered.

Last Days of Jack Sparks- Jason Arnopp

This just truly drove me crazy. And I guessed the ending almost immediately. I hate that. Also, maybe I really didn’t like the audio narrator and that totally colored my opinion. And nobody says the word “mate” that often. Ugh.


So thank you all for joining me on this little reading journey! Here’s to a stellar 2020 in both books and life!

Hollow Kingdom- Kira Jane Buxton

Totally a cover purchase!

First of all, a couple of things : if you’re not a fan of excessive cursing, this book is not for you. If you’re note a fan of excessive anthropomorphizing, this book is also not for you! 

If you can get by those things, then this novel is over-the-top funny, and still tender at times.

This is a story about the end of the world, the human world at least, and our narrator is primarily a domesticated crow named Shit Turd (ST for short.) His owner Big Jim starts acting strangely, and ST tries to help him until the day that Jim’s eye just pops out. And he doesn’t seem to care. Then ST decides to venture out in the world to find out what is happening to the people- or MoFo’s as he has been taught to call them. What he finds is that all the MoFo’s are zombie-like creatures now, and he makes it his duty, along with his reliable hound dog friend Dennis, to rescue all the domestic animals trapped in houses.

Shit Turd would love this!

So ST has a potty mouth, and he is really funny, but underneath the brash crow chatterings, this story is really about connections, and Buxton does a beautiful job of describing the way the natural world communicates. Once the noise of the MoFos is gone, you can finally hear the rustlings of the trees, the calls of the birds, and even the whispers of the worms beneath the earth.

There are also short chapters narrated by other living beings- a cat named Ghengis who truly believes he is king, a coddled poodle who speaks in the 3rd person, and even a polar bear, a camel, an elephant.  I love how different each of their voices are.

Even though much of the narration is cussing, there are also moments of extreme beauty, and I nearly cried several times. Once was this amazing passage, where thousands of birds are gathered, anxious, wondering how to proceed, and a young grosbeak breaks the tension by singing:

“The song was his father’s father’s father’s song, unrepeatable by any other living being. It was a song about kindness, a unique and casual caroling. It was soothing and leisurely and all his to share with the hundreds of beings around him, Nearby, a female grosbeak cocked her head in rapt attention and I wondered if this was the beginning of a new chapter for them, whether on another page further along in the book, an egg would hatch with this very song in the lining of its shell.”

Crows gathering over their dead.

My favorite thing about this story is the way the world goes on after the people & their world recedes, and we watch the natural world take over. Buxton imagines an amazing communication system between all living beings, known as Aura in the air, Echo in the water, and Web in the earth. She makes a point to emphasize how the humans were perhaps too loud to ever hear what was going on all around them. I wonder if a MoFo could be still enough to listen for a tree’s whisper. We also learn quite a bit about crows through this story- did you know that crows gather together when one of their own dies- a kind of crow “funeral?”

This book is a delight to read- but I did feel it dragging a bit in the middle. I listened to it, but I know that if I had been reading, I would have skimmed quite a bit. ST has an identity crisis- trying to determine if he is a crow or a MoFo, and it goes on for a bit too long. It is also difficult to hang on during ST’s interminable lists- lists of types of birds, lists of types of foods, just too many lists!

Here’s the book with my own stuffed corvid friend, whose name translates roughly as GARY!

In the end, though, the story leaves some hope, and I was impressed with this fresh take on the old standard zombie apocalypse. I give it almost 4 stars- maybe 3.75!

The Toll- Cherie Priest

Taken in my parent’s backyard- pecan trees galore!

I read this atmospheric Southern Gothic while I was visiting my hometown in Oklahoma, sitting on the back porch, listening to the cicadas music with something like longing in my heart, driving fast down long back roads by the lake in my daddy’s old corvette. It was the perfect setting for a book like this. The Toll is all about the atmosphere- it is set in Georgia’s Okefenokee swampland, in a town that doesn’t even show up on maps.

As it starts out, a couple is driving along State Road 177 towards the Okefenokee to some cabins they have reserved for their honeymoon. Titus & Melanie are fighting about this, as a couple might if they decided a swamp would be a good place for a honeymoon. Then they come upon a bridge. 

This is how I imagine the bridge- except you can’t see to the other side.

This bridge is unlike the others they had passed over, and it made Titus uncomfortable. Next thing he knew, he woke up on the ground. Melanie was gone… and so was the bridge.

The search for Melanie takes us to the little town of Staywater, where there is little more than a bar, a bed & breakfast, and one pizza joint. Here we learn that people have been disappearing in that same place about every 13 years for as long as anyone can remember. And the two people who remember best are the Spratford Cousins, Daisy & Claire, who live in a sprawling southern estate called Hazelhurst. Daisy & Claire are both over 80, and are guardians of a 16 year old named Cameron. But they aren’t quite ready to share.

So Titus & the local police squad (like 3 people) go through the motions of an investigation, as everyone in town looks on. Titus begins to realize that something is off when the town crazy, Netta, tries to tell him about how her own son disappeared about 13 years ago. About what lies in the swamp around them. And how the Spratford ladies once tried to stop it.

Now, I enjoy it as much as anyone else when a book leaves you with some questions. But I really felt like this one left me with far more questions than answers. And, in some ways I felt like the focus was on the wrong people- people I really didn’t care about. I honestly couldn’t bring myself to care very much about Titus & his bitchy wife, or about the bartender & his bitchy girlfriend. I wanted MORE about the Spratford witches. Because that’s what they are, really. But we don’t even get to hear about their history in any detail. Where did Cameron come from? What’s up with that house full of creepy dolls?

Nightmare fuel!

Why is the blind dog in the tree?

OK, I know there aren’t coconuts in Georgia, but look how cute this freaking doggo is!!!

And most of all…I wanted to know more about the town history. Not just a couple of quickly read news articles.

It was also missing another key element of most Southern Gothics- religion. I think that if we had learned more about the Spratford ladies & their witchery we might have gotten into that, but alas. Regardless, this was a really fun read, and I zipped through it. What the ladies do to try to defeat the “thing that pushes” again is truly shocking, and I never saw it coming. I give it a solid 4 stars!