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Look at that little tower of books! If ever there was a time to finally resort to pithy reviews, it’s now…
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi – Though most often billed as fiction, interviews of Akwaeke Emezi that I’ve read make it clear that this liminal marvel of a story is very much a deeply personal autobiographical novel, “a breath away from being a memoir…the things that people think are fictionalised are not fictionalised,” and I’d wager you’ve never read anything quite like it.
Heartbreaker by Maryse Meijer – These short stories are dark, jagged, and very raw, as gripping as they are deeply unsettling. I love finding authors who lead me to and through places my instincts otherwise tell me to avoid, but I go willingly because I trust that they aren’t writing to exploit anyone or anything. Thus the experiences are rich and challenging and thought-provoking, challenging without leaving me feeling violated. It also helped that this book was recommended by an implicitly trusted friend. Now I’m hooked on Maryse Meijer.
Northwood: A Novella by Maryse Meijer – So struck was I by Heartbreaker that I immediately sought out more of Maryse Meijer’s work. Printed in white ink on black paper, this haunting novella is a crash course in tempestuous love, torturous heartbreak, and unceasing longing.
Short Dark Oracles by Sara Levine – Ever since I read the obsessive and demented caper that is Levine’s Treasure Island!!! I’ve been hungry for more of her work. When I happened to spot our very own S. Elizabeth reading this, I immediately snatched up a copy for myself. This collection of short fiction is every bit as creative, hilarious, and strange and Levine’s novel. I want more!
Aetherial Worlds: Stories by Tatyana Tolstaya – We all have our internal paradoxes. One of mine is the coexistence of a long-standing disconnect with blood relatives and a fascination with my cultural heritage. Both sides of my family have extensive roots in Eastern Europe, so, while perusing a list of women authors of weird short fiction, I happened upon Tatyana Tolstaya, a marvelous Russian writer whose Russianness is an intimate part of her work. Her stories are the sort where I can never tell if she’s writing about actual experiences or artfully weaving herself into her aetherial fiction. Perhaps both. There’s a wonder, a melancholy, and an edge to all of these stories, even the most mundane has an otherworldly feel, that tastes distinctly Russian to me. I loved them and will be seeking out more of her work.
What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi – I loved this collection of fantastical, magical, achingly beautiful, and delicately interconnected short stories so much, I don’t know how to start describing it. Please, read this book. Your being will thank you for it.
All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva – Reading multiple short story collections at once is one of my favorite things to do, because it’s so easy and such fun to switch between the books, one story at a time. What’s even better is when each book is so startlingly creative, I feel spoiled for the abundance of worlds, stories, and characters before me. This is another collection that defies description and demands your time. Haunting, disquieting, passionate, and poignant. The characters in these vivid tales “walk the knife-edge between wonder and terror, salvation and destruction,” and we are so fortunate to be able to walk with them.
Gotham Central Omnibus by Ed Brubaker (writer), Greg Rucka (writers), Michael Lark (Illustrator), Stefano Gaudiano (Illustrator), and Kano (Illustrator) – I’m late to this series, but when your favorite writer of crime comics teams up with another of your favorite comic book creators and creates a hard-boiled noir police procedural set in Gotham City, you buy the doorstop of a book that collects every single issue and you revel in every single dark, gritty, and ultimately heartbreaking page. This tome helped me through a miserable 2-week-long cold and, by the time I was done with it, I wished there was a second volume.
Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb, Jim Lee (Illustrator), and Scott Williams (Illustrator) – Relative to the amount of material that’s out there, I’m a noob to the world of the Caped Crusader, but even so, I suspect this fantastic story is a standout no matter how many Batman comics you’ve read. The writing, the art, the character arcs… This is as much a noir detective tale as it is an action-packed superhero adventure. For too long I ignored most mainstream superhero comics, not knowing where to jump in or what about them might compel me. Now that I happen to have a fabulous guide to the world of Gotham, I’m loving my time there and so excited by how much there is to explore.
Paper Girls Vol. 5 by by Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Cliff Chiang (Artist), Matthew Wilson (Artist) – With each successive volume this fantastic adventure grows bigger, stranger, more mysterious, and tenderly queer. I love that I have absolutely no idea where this story is going, but I’m along for the ride with this awesome group of friends for as far as they go, into the future and into the past.
Call for the Dead by John le Carré – After watching The Little Drummer Girl and re-watching Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy for the nth time I decided it was finally time to experience the written work of this legendary author of tales of espionage and intrigue. And I decided to begin at the beginning, with le Carré’s first novel, written while he was still working for British intelligence himself. These characters feel so rich, their world so immersive, and the dialogue so natural…if this is how le Carré first dipped his toe into the spy story business, I can’t wait to read more. It was a quick, delicious read.
We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix I wish I could have read Grady Hendrix’s We Sold Our Souls when I was 15 and heavy metal was the only thing my weird, lonely heart understood. But time doesn’t work like that, so here I am now, reading a horror-enveloped love-letter to heavy metal music at 42 years of age, and damn if it didn’t throb & thrum my heart in the same thunderous, fearsome ways. I’m a little biased, I suppose. I have loved just about everything Grady Hendrix has ever written; and while know I can always count on him for ridiculous hilarity (even and especially when it comes to horror), what I was not expecting was something so incredibly heartfelt. The story: decades after her rock-n-roll band was on the cusp of their “the big break”, main character Kris Pulaski is barely scraping by, toiling away at her dismal hotel job, and definitely not playing her heart out with the music she loves anymore. What happened that night, that strange distressing night so long ago, when the band was teetering on the brink of greatness? What pervasive evil has insinuated itself into the lives of her former bandmates and is pursuing her to the brink of madness? We Sold Our Souls is a thrilling extravaganza celebrating the enormous power of music, as well as a bleak reckoning with the consequences of “selling out”…and possibly losing your soul in the process.
Meddling Kids by Edward Cantero A tongue-in-cheek horror-comedy mixture of Lovecraftian cosmic horror and Scooby Dooian hijinx, this was a quick, silly read that I couldn’t totally find myself immersed in because I had a real problem with the author’s specific use of similes and metaphors. Which, I KNOW, I can’t pick on someone else’s writing (or editor, I guess) when I am not exactly sure that I even know the difference between the two, but I found the author’s use of wink-wink nudge-nudge pop culture-y type comparisons and analogies awfully irritating and gross, and every time I encountered one it took me just a little bit more out of a story that I might have otherwise enjoyed. Or maybe not, and here’s my second issue with the book. This story is full of references; it’s definitely meant for the horror geek who delights in their knowledge, but whereas the heavy metal mentions and allusions in We Sold Our Souls just felt…right…all this bludgeoning me over the head with teen detective references and genre nostalgia sort of felt like the neckbeardy masturbatory nonsense of Ready Player One. OK–maybe not THAT bad (I really loathed Ready Player One) but it was getting close to that sort of twaddle. And yet, all of my unkind complaints aside, it was sort of a fun story along the lines of “the old team coming together to solve one last mystery!” and all of the twists and turns along the way. So, I guess I don’t …totally…not recommend it?
Ok, so I read a lot of books in December and January. I don’t remember all of them very well, but I do recall thinking that I’d definitely recommend some of them! Here’s the quick rundown on a handful of quick reads.
The Vanishing Princess by Jenny Diski After reading this book of delirious interludes I’ve begun to think of Jenny Diski as Joan Aiken’s (see our July 2018 Stacked) spiky, sexy, cynical cousin; Diski’s stories are not the gentle, magical romps from Aiken’s magical realist bag of tricks, but rather feel like more adult enchantments, strange pleasures and dreams, denied or deferred, or which at the very least frequently don’t manifest as hoped or planned. Short Dark Oracles by Sara Levine is a wonderfully clever collection of playful, self-aware, and charmingly awkward story/fables. The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander, a heart-wrenching alternative history of devastating rage, radioactivity, and elephant song, is a compact story that is by no means a quick or easily forgotten read. And The Taiga Syndrome by Cristina River Garza follows an ex-detective’s feverish, poetic quest to find a woman who has run away from her husband to the forbidding boreal forests of the taiga, and who may or may not want to be found.