Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea by Sarah Pinsker A few friends read this before I got around to it, and at the time I felt so left out of their awestruck conversations revolving around these innovative, imaginative stories, it was starting to rub me a little raw. I wanted in on the Sarah Pinsker magic, too! And when it finally happened, wow. It’s been a few months since I finished the collection, but even now, attempting to pin down a favorite (I do have a clear favorite—“Remembery Day”) I am flooded with rememberies of all the best snippets from these tales. The narwhal car, the clockwork grandma, the dynamics of friendship and tiny murder homes, the mystery at the Sarah Pinsker multiverse Con! I don’t think I’ve given much away with that weird slurry of words I just typed out, but if they don’t pique your interest, I just don’t know what will. Read this book and join us in the Sarah Pinsker 4ever Fan Club.
In A Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware I don’t know what my problem is. I always refer to books like this with such an air of dismissiveness. That’s a dick move. They’re really popular and there’s a good reason for that–they’re female-centric thrillers which are a little twisty, a little dark, and super compelling and unputdownable. I think I like to think of myself as swanning around and reading inscrutable poetry all day but the truth of the matter is I’m reading books like this and dropping Cheeto crumbs into them just like everyone else. In this one, our reclusive (and probably unreliable) narrator is invited for a weekend away to an English countryside home by an old friend she hasn’t spoken to in years. Secrets and suspense abound, and even though I have only read two Ruth Ware offerings, I can see how the house itself is frequently a large, looming character with a life and personality of its own. I’ve learned to lean into these stories and accept that I might actually love them; there is such a tinge of the gothic to them, and in their day, gothic stories, or “horrid novels” were pretty crazy and considered trashy, too–and literary history has never been able to decide whether they’re any good. Just embrace it, Sarah. You’re, no good, horrid trash. Wheee!
The Deep by Alma Katsu Like the last offering I enjoyed by Alma Katsu (The Hunger, briefly reviewed in our Stacked May 2018 installment) The Deep is another historical reimagining, which in this instance centers around the voyages of two legendary ships, The Titanic and the Britannic, and their doomed maiden and last voyages, respectively. Recounted in alternating, interwoven timelines, the tale incorporates real-life millionaires embroiled in personal and spiritual drama, with one of the most iconic tragedies in human history–alongside ghostly elements, Irish mythology, ill-fated romance, and once again our old friend, the unreliable narrator, haunted by memories and possible madness.
My Sister The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite Slasher, satire and sisterhood tangle and twist together in this taut tale where Korede is a nurse who is used to the sight of blood and cleaning up the stuff, which is great, because her sister Ayoola can’t (won’t?) stop stabbing her boyfriends to death. My favorite part is how lonely, put-upon Korede spills her woes concerning her sister’s murderous activities to a long-term comatose patient…who eventually wakes up.
Into The Water by Paula Hawkins Turns out that this was the summer of murder mysteries, and here’s one more from the author who also wrote The Girl On The Train. Women in the small British town of Beckford have been drowning since 1679, and Into The Water opens with one more dead body in the murk–Danielle Abbott, a writer and photographer who was working on a coffee-table book about the spot the people of Beckford call the Drowning Pool. I actually really liked this story, even though lots of reviewers weren’t terribly impressed. One of the characters in the book itself actually sums it up brilliantly: “Seriously….how is anyone supposed to keep track of all the bodies around here? It’s like Midsomer Murders, only with accidents and suicides and grotesque historical misogynistic drownings instead of people falling into the slurry or bashing each other over the head.”
Beloved by Toni Morrison I initially read Beloved, Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work in 11th grade, and though I believe that young people of high-school age are absolutely capable of grasping serious, weighty material, and all kinds of complex concepts and notions…I also believe that sometimes you just don’t “get” stuff until you’re older. Or at least I think it is fair to say..there’s a lot of things you miss.
Inspired by the life of Margaret Garner who escaped slavery in Kentucky in late January 1856 by crossing the Ohio River to Ohio, a free state, where captured, she killed her child rather than have her taken back into slavery, Beloved takes this hideously horrific scenario and explores what happens when pain and anguished ghosts from the past assume human form and haunt the present from the earthly side of the veil. It is a brutal story, brilliantly written, and while never “scary” per se, it will both horrify you and give you profound chills. And yet…it has the most beautiful, hopeful ending scene I have ever encountered. I think they should make you sign some sort of contract if you’ve read this in high school. That you’ll vow to read this at least once a decade for the entirety of your existence until you too, depart from this plane.
Why Art? by Eleanor Davis A graphic novel manifesto/guidebook on the power of art and its function in society, Eleanor Davis’ offering is…not at all what I thought I was getting in for. The first part, an instructive treatise on how to categorize art, to include things like size, color, function, etc.–okay. Got it. Playful and insightful and predictable–not in a bad way, but just…sort of what I expected, I guess?
And then, there’s the second part. What WAS that?
It is incredible is what it was. It somehow became a fairytale-esque philosophical parable that I found myself in the middle of before I even realized what the author was doing, and once there, I was utterly captivated. I had gone into this small book expecting something a bit dry and static, and what I got was witty and weirdly action-packed, and just, well… weird. I adored Why Art, and now I am seeking out everything Eleanor Davis has ever had her hands in.
Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan HAHA remember what I said about reading snobby, obscure poetry? Oh, Sarah. You’re not fooling anyone. This book is as preposterous as romantic comedy gets but it was honestly the best of the series. I mean…I get that it’s supposed to be satire, but Kwan is too good at it, there’s such a fan-boy gawker type lens through which the lavish escapades of these Southeast Asian multibillionaires are revealed, I almost can’t believe he’s poking fun at it. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a great deal of fun and a superb escapist read. In the third installment of the Crazy Rich Asians series, there’s less of a focus on the two previous main characters (Rachel and Nick) who I honestly couldn’t stand. But not enough of a spotlight on Kitty Pong, gold-digging former soap actress of questionable origins, who managed to marry her way into the Singapore elite. Kitty is fabulous!! and I want a whole book about centered on her extravagant, petulant nonsense. Has anyone else read this trilogy? Let’s dish in the comments.
Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead by by Olga Tokarczuk. Imagine your most eccentric retirement-aged astrology-enthusiast, PETA-supporting, conspiracy theorist neighbor. You never know what odd belief she’ll express, what strange tales will emerge from her lips, what peculiar perspectives she possesses. Imagine this woman wrote an entire book. About a mess of neighborhood murders. That were being committed by animals!
Louisiana in September was like an obscene phone call from nature. The air–moist, sultry, secretive, and far from fresh–felt as if it were being exhaled into one’s face. Sometimes it even sounded like heavy breathing. Honeysuckle, swamp flowers, magnolia, and the mystery smell of the river scented the atmosphere, amplifying the intrusion of organic sleaze. It was aphrodisiac and repressive, soft and violent at the same time.
I’m living these lines now, the air is thick and tangible and dripping with algae and hurricanes. It breathes down your neck and sticks to your shirt, fanning yourself only makes waves.
Jitterbug Perfume has the same viscosity, something sultry and surreal and out of time.
I had no curtains, and every morning when the sun rose, so did I. That’s not entirely true: there were curtains, but they weren’t tall enough, so I woke when the light would start to fill the red rented room, and I was always very tired and very alone. I read Circe on one of these mornings, and felt less alone, and less in exile.
They live! More to the point, they still read! With the notable exception of Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein, I hadn’t read anything besides ongoing comfort re-reading of Discworld books since last October, because death, life, plague, and so on. Hence why it feels like a million years since I last contributed to Stacked. Well, that and the fact that time is a doubly meaningless construct these days. Fortunately, I recently figured out that I can once again read new books as long as I stick to the comforts of Discworld as my bedtime reading.
The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi – Books are magic in so many ways, including how some books find their way to you when you most need them. As I finished this heartbreakingly beautiful and powerful book, tears in my eyes, I knew I wanted to recommend it wholeheartedly. I also knew I didn’t want to give away anything about it, so as to completely preserve the experience. Some stories feel sacred. So this is all I’ll say: The Death of Vivek Oji was exactly what I needed to read when I read it — an affirming literary lifeline. There’s no telling what it might be to you, but I suspect you’ll be better for having read it.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Read enough gothic horror and you develop a good sense of what to expect from these deliciously dark and twisted tales. The ability to tick all of the boxes that make a satisfyingly gothic story while still surprising you along the way is what elevates books like Mexican Gothic to an exceptional example of the genre. Wonderfully atmospheric, suspenseful, very dark, and as floridly beautiful as it is grotesque, Mexican Gothic caught me unawares in the best way just while I thought I had a handle on what was happening. Also, while I was reading this book, it was announced that Mexican Gothic is being adapted as a limited series on Hulu. I’m very excited to see this impressively unsettling story adapted for the small screen. Also, I can’t wait to read more books by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.
Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre by Max Brooks (audiobook) – Once upon a time in a previous edition of Stacked I went on at length about how much I enjoyed the audiobook of World War Z. Listening to that was such an immersive and riveting experience that, as soon as I heard Max Brooks had a new book coming out, I knew I wanted to skip right to the audio version. I was hoping it would be a similarly engrossing experience and I was not disappointed in the least. Devolution is similar to World War Z in so far as it’s told via a narrated collection of interviews, testimonies, and journal entries that are a clever blend of equal parts exhaustive research and imagination. However Devolution is a much more localized tale than its predecessor, and much more intense for that fact. Also, we’ve traded zombies for Bigfoot. And, wow, Bigfoot has never seemed so terrifying. I had to pause my listening for a little while because I was having vivid Sasquatch nightmares. This intense and often uncannily timely story was everything I hoped it would be and then some. Now I’m just hoping Brooks plans to write a sequel. Please, please write a sequel. Also, Judy Greer deserves an award for her performance as the book’s main character.