Bad Gateway by Simon Hanselmann Ooooof. When you strip away the spiteful laughter and the uncomfortable chuckles of the previous Megg & Mogg books (one of which, Megahex, I have written about previously–don’t get me wrong, I adored it, and I laughed at that one, too) you’re left with the bare bones of depression and mental illness and addiction and self-harm and a bleak, unblinking gaze at your trauma and terrible behaviors. Where do you go once you’ve hit the bottom of the bottom? If anyone could fall further, it’s this gang, and yet, I am hopeful that is not the case. CW: everything.
A Hawk In The Woods by Carrie Laben Recommended as a “best of 2019….so far” by Jack over at Bad Books For Bad People, A Hawk In The Woods was described as a “Lovecraftian sister road trip,” and OK, yes please–sign me up! Abby and Martha are twins from a weird family with weird powers and are desperately headed to the family cabin after Abby breaks Martha out of prison. Are Abby’s reasons for rescuing her sister entirely unselfish? Absolutely not. As we follow the trajectory of their journey, the timelines slips from past to present and we get a glimpse of the reasons they each wound up where they did in life, and where that path will ultimately lead them. There was so much about this story to love: the sister’s relationship, the creepy family backstory, the powers that the twins possess (Abby uses people’s energies to bend those individuals to her will, and Martha can fold time) and the only complaint I have sort of spoils an important aspect of the story, so I’ll keep mum on that point. Just…pay attention to who the characters are, and what you think you know about them. Things can get a little confusing.
The Poison Thread by Laura Purcell. I won this book in a GoodReads giveaway! I swear I get emails from GoodReads every other day about how this, that, or the other book on my to-read list is now available and they are giving away 50 copies of it, or something like that. And honestly, you won’t catch me entering a lot of random internet giveaways, but it just seems like sooner or later between the frequency of them and the amount of stuff they give away, you are going to win something from GoodReads– so why not? Seriously, just enter them every chance you get; you’re bound to luck out at some point.
The Poison Thread (aka The Corset; I am not sure why they changed the title) is the second book I have read by Laura Purcell and I was so very excited about it because I thoroughly enjoyed the first I’d read by her, The Silent Companions, a book which genuinely freaked me out last May. In The Poison Thread, the narrative is split between two women in Victorian England; Dorothea, a wealthy heiress, and Ruth, an impoverished seamstress imprisoned for the murder of her mistress. After the death of her mother, who contracted a bit of religious mania before her slightly suspect passing, Dorothea, or “Dotty” begins visiting women in prison, among other acts of charity– and I’m not quite sure if it’s to honor her late mother’s legacy or an excuse to practice her newfound fascination with phrenology. This seems an odd, throwaway theme in the greater scheme of this tale–I think you could swap in and substitute any faddish psychoanalytical nonsense from the era and it probably would not have made much difference to the story. Dotty becomes singularly obsessed with Ruth, who believes she has killed via transference of her malice and rage through the power of needlework.
This is perhaps more “gothic suspense” than “gothic ghost story”, although that thread of the supernatural does lurk throughout, even it if may only be in Ruth’s mind. But it’s an utterly riveting and twisty novel and I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know. If you’ve read neither The Silent Companions nor The Poison Thread, grab them both as we head into September and I assure you that they will make incredible early autumn reads.
As you can see from the photo above, I spent the month of July with my face buried in books and, really, they were the best places for me to be. I didn’t go out. I didn’t write much. I just read. And it was good. Very good. However, because my own list fatigue is very real, I’ve no doubt at least some of you suffer the same, so I’m going to keep most of these reviews very, very short, except for this first one:
Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, edited by Carmen Maria Machado – Even if you’ve read Carmilla before, which I had, a couple times, you’ve never experienced it like this. Carmen Maria Machado edited and wrote the introduction for this edition of J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s OG gothic vampire novella. But saying that belies the significance of what she’s done with this story, which is so much more than editing. Her touch was light, but so very thoughtful. Her footnotes are spare, but damn, they matter. When all is said and done, between the intro and the editing, Machado actually, well, mended this tale, which isn’t something I realized I needed until I started reading this edition. She magicked it into the version of my dreams that I didn’t know I’d been dreaming of since I first read it years ago. Such a gift.
Machado also agreed to a Perfectly Normal Interview about her edition of Carmilla for Electric Literature, which immediately became one of my all-time favorite interviews. Really, I wish this interview could’ve been published in the back of the novella, because the two belong together, just like Veronika and Marcia.
When I Arrived at the Castle by Emily Carroll – The month I reread Carmilla was the perfect month to also finally read this delectable treat of a graphic novel, which has been patient waiting in my stacks for ages. My only complaint is that I wish it had been longer. I wanted to spend more time in that castle.
Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea by Sarah Pinsker – For me, 2019 seems to be the year of outstanding short story collections, and this is my new favorite. Fantastic, strange, creative, poignant, diverse, and queer. I loved every single story and wish several of them could be books of their own.
Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones – How am I only now learning about Stephen Graham Jones? This coming-of-age story is an in-depth, modern day reimagining of the werewolf mythos. There’s no aspect of their intense lives that Jones didn’t carefully consider. It’s a brutal story, quite violent at times – these are wolves we’re talking about, after all. But it’s also oddly tender, even funny at times. For all their inherent monstrousness, this is a very human tale. I’m surprised it hasn’t already been adapted as a TV series.
Lanny by Max Porter – This book came to me by way of Warren Ellis’s Orbital Operations newsletter. He shared a quote and I was hooked. Lanny is a modern day Green Man folktale set in a tiny village outside London and it had me under its spell from the first page.
What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine – I was one of those kids who watched Disney’s The Little Mermaid and was furious with the ending, much preferring the ending of the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. What Should Be Wild was very readable, but the ending disappointed me in the same fashion. Pity.
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin – Reading this wonderfully eerie story felt like dreaming and hooked me on the work of Samanta Schweblin.
Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin – Another fantastic collection of incredibly strange and vivid short stories. The acute oddness and unsettling nature of these tales continues to haunt me. Schweblin is another author I’ll be sure to follow closely from now on.
Without Protection by Gala Mukomolova – Our very own Sonya already featured this remarkable book in a previous edition of Stacked in which they described it as, “beyond powerful.” I couldn’t agree more, so I’ll simply add that, much like Sonya’s first book of poetry, Salt is for Curing, these are poems I didn’t know I needed until I found them in my hands, but oh, how profoundly I needed them.
Lenz by Georg Büchner – This 19th century novella fragment also found me by way of Warren Ellis. It’s a fictional retelling of an 18th century writer’s descent into madness and the first description of schizophrenia in German literature. But it’s also so much more than that, philosophically and poetically. It’s powerfully, beautifully written and reads like experiencing an increasingly dark and distressing dream.
Stumptown, Vol. 3: The Case of the King of Clubs by Greg Rucka (author) and Justin Greenwood (artist) – After reading volume 1 last month, I continue to enjoy Greg Rucka’s tales of the Portland, OR-based adventures of private detective Dex Parios. As someone who couldn’t be less interested in sportsball, that one of these stories is about soccer yet still held my attention feels like a testament to the quality of these characters and their lives.
By Night, Vol. 2 by John Allison (author) and Christine Larsen and Sarah Stern (artists) – Forever and always reading anything and everything John Allison decides to write. No exceptions. By Night continues to be delightful and weird little yarn with this second collection. More, please.
Throw away all of your non-joyous items, but, wait, no, how can I possibly get rid of that dress I bought on Depop that doesn’t actually fit very well and that book I bought for a few cents on Amazon that I didn’t really like anyway and left no impact on me at all so I never included it in a Stacked? What does it mean to spark joy, and aren’t my items a part of my identity? However, if I do not organize out my closets and dresser, and make my boyfriend fold his t-shirts so that they stand up on their sides (for this I had to consult the illustrated edition of the book & rewatch the YouTube videos more times than were probably necessary). my life is surely to fall apart.
Having my wardrobe arranged in an ascending line from left to right sounds much more pleasing than the current Black Void In Various Lengths, so I have since ordered a new closet organizer and 200 velvet hangers, which are all waiting very impatiently for me to experience Joy Sparks.
**edited later to add, yes, I have embarked on this journey, and yes, closet clean out sales currently in effect.
The Windup Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
I’m having strange synchronicities while re-reading this book that (like all of Murakami’s books) is about strange synchronicities :
narrator has left his unfulfilling career
approaching the full moon & the narrator’s wife’s period – mine has recently synced back to the full moon.
All the horses died during the eclipse – although no horses died (that I am aware of), I read this sentence on the morning of one of our two eclipses last month.
“Fear the water”: dreams as of late including flooding, which is not entirely unwarranted, as it is storm season, and New Orleans has frequently been at least ankle deep a number of times this summer.
I have read a good portion of them, but am not hugely a fan of Murakami library. I feel he writes meandering tales (writes them very well, and very beautifully), but they mostly have no resolution and all follow a similar path: a single, ordinary young male is the main protagonist and there is an introduction of a strange event (usually accompanied by the introduction of a female character) that sets Ordinary Male Character into a series of borderline paranormal / magical realism adventures, where he constantly is saying “I’m just an Ordinary Male Character, I don’t know what I am doing here”.
Wind Up Bird was the first of his novels I recall reading, and I feel that I had been trying to chase the bird down in all of his other stories, only to find it again over a decade later, back where it had first began for me. I do love this book, and am glad I revisited it.
I did not like this book or how it made me feel like I was simultaneously being spoken down to and trying to be impressed. The author maintains a condescending tone throughout each essay, and for full honest, I put it down about halfway through. The cover is very nice, though.
Sarah Elizabeth gave it a much better review in a previous Stacked, so I am now wondering if I need to give it a second chance.
Currently Reading and/or Meandering Through:
Dancing Barefoot: The Patti Smith Story
Susan Sontag: As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals & Notebooks, 1964-1980
Margaret Atwood: Selected Poems 1965-1975