- A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik (★★★★★)
- The Patient by Jasper DeWitt (★★★★☆)
- Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell (★★★★☆)
- The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay (★☆☆☆☆)
- Clean by James Hamblin (★★★★☆)
- Home Before Dark by Riley Sager (★★★☆☆)
- Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (★★★★☆)
- The Gothic: A Short Introduction by Nick Groom (★★★☆☆)
- The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix (★★★☆☆)
- Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin by Megan Rosenbloom (★★★☆☆)
- Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall (★★★★★)
- Horrid by Katrina Leno (★★★☆☆)
- The Diviners by Libba Bray (★★★☆☆)
MONTHLY TOTAL: 13
YEARLY SO FAR: 107
I read a lot this month, which isn’t surprising considering I am at my most powerful during the month of October. It’s my favorite month of the year.
My favorite book of the month is A Deadly Education, which has been mired in some controversy. Most of my thoughts are aptly summed up in this review, but basically, I think this is a clumsy but well-intentioned attempt at a diverse magical school, and that most* of the missteps being pointed out as racist actually make perfect sense within the worldbuilding. Of course, BIPOC are allowed to react differently to the same source material, but as a POC myself, I felt really seen by this book, and I appreciated that the lead was a WOC surrounded by other POC. I just found this book really, really fun, with really hilarious narration and fantastic dynamic between the two leads. Very excited for the sequel.
I also finally finished Harrow the Ninth, and, somehow, despite it taking me so long to read it, I ended up loving it. You can check out my full review for it, but suffice it to say I have been inducted into the cult of the Locked Tomb.
My intended binge-read of Libba Bray’s Diviners series was aborted. Sadly, I discovered that my tastes have changed, as I didn’t really love this book as much I did the first time I read it. My main issue with it is that it’s just too damn long for what it is. I also didn’t jive with the writing style. At least that’s one less series for me to finish!
My reading goals for November mainly involve a lot of fantasy; I have a lot of library holds coming in with new fantasy releases!
I am currently reading:
The Haunting of Bly Manor
Wow, did I love this. I haven’t seen The Haunting of Hill House, but if it’s anything like this I gotta get on it. Bly Manor isn’t really scary at all, though it’s certainly got some creepy moments. Really, it’s more sad and romantic, and, as the final episode declares, it’s more of a love story than a ghost story. It’s about love and friendship and found families. It’s about the immense weight of grief and suffering and trauma and guilt, and the effects of all that on our psyche. The penultimate episode of Bly Manor, shot entirely in black and white and set in the 17th-century, is one of the most dramatic and tragic things I’ve ever seen; now that is how you set up a haunted house story. And guys, it’s gaaaaaaaay. It’s so gay. The main love story is sapphic and I just. It’s beautiful and the last episode made me cry.
Evil (Season 1)
I absolutely love themes of demonic possession, which is what Evil is all about. The premise is this: a priest-in-training seeks the help of a forensic psychologist to determine if the cases he is investigating are in fact possession or if they are mental illness. At the same time, said forensic psychologist is teetering between the worlds of science and supernatural herself, as she keeps encountering strange things that test her sanity. I believe the show is committing itself to the belief that the supernatural does, in fact, exist, but it always leaves you with just a little bit of doubt. It’s a surprisingly creepy show, with a brilliant performance by Mike Colter as the aforementioned priest-in-training.
I’ve already made a whole post dedicated to this very strange and melancholy show which I maintain is less about monsters than it is the failings of the American Dream. It’s a very 2020 show, and accordingly, is extremely bleak, but very affecting.
Links to Letterboxd reviews. Some pretty decent horror movies, nothing mind-blowing, though it is notable that two of these (Demonic and Hell House LLC) have almost the exact same plot, and even utilize the same twist at the end, but I didn’t mind, because I love this very specific twist very much. As for the Rebecca remake, well, it misses the point of the source material so much it is almost comical. I enjoyed it fine as a movie, but as a Gothic adaptation it is…really really bad. Such a missed opportunity.
Monologue by an unnamed mage, recorded at the brink of the end by Cassandra Khaw: There are some stories that are just, well, cool. This is such a short piece, but it feels grand and epic, like there’s so much history and lore behind it. The writing is gorgeous: evocative and complex and poetic. There is an undeniable grief and tragedy accompanying every line, since these are last words, but there is also a deep meditation on the power of love, memory, and stories. This is a very affecting piece that I will definitely be reading again and again.
The Magician’s Apprentice by Tamsyn Muir: This is a story about a magician and his apprentice, in modern times. It’s a story about grooming: not necessarily sexual grooming, though that is certainly the overarching metaphor, and there are…hints of inappropriate feelings and behaviors between the young female apprentice and her older male mentor (he gives her Lolita to read at fifteen), but really it’s about something…else. It is exactly the kind of dark, toxic, messed up shit I live for, and I absolutely loved it. It also features Muir’s sharp, exquisite, darkly humorous writing, which only enhances the dark, deathly humor. The ending is explosive. I want a full novel with these characters, because the end sets you up for more darkness, a descent into evil, and the escalation of a very unhealthy relationship.
The Woman in the Hill by Tamsyn Muir: I adore Lovecraftian horror, and this one plays with a lot of time-honored Lovecraftian tropes, set in early 20th-century New Zealand. You’ve got an unreliable narrator, penning a letter to a friend warning her to stay away. You’ve got unexplainable phenomenon, a mystery with no solution, and potentially inhuman creatures who move in ways that make your nose bleed. It’s great.
Red Goat Black Goat by Nadia Bulkin: Another Lovecraftian horror installment, this one set in West Java, integrating Javanse myth and lore with Lovecraftian mythos. Unlike a lot of Lovecraftian-inspired work that I’ve come across, this one isn’t subtle, which was a pleasant surprise. Normally Lovecraftian stuff leaves a lot of the horror to the reader’s imagination, but Bulkin doesn’t pull any punches, and she has no interest in leaving you wondering: she tells you explicitly what is happening, and it’s that this family is being haunted by some vicious and cruel deity. The bloody, harrowing conclusion is terrific and leaves no shadow unearthed.
Three Cheers for Socialism by David Bentley Hart: Hart is a philosopher and theologian and clearly, a brilliant essayist. His command of language is delightful: vivid and erudite and sardonic, clever and complex. He identifies as a Christian socialist, and in this essay he provides a sort of overview of the basics of the philosophy while criticizing modern American views on socialism and, well, everything. This quote in particular I found absolutely brilliant:
“AMERICANS ARE, OF COURSE, THE MOST THOROUGHLY AND PASSIVELY INDOCTRINATED PEOPLE ON EARTH. THEY KNOW NEXT TO NOTHING AS A RULE ABOUT THEIR OWN HISTORY, OR THE HISTORIES OF OTHER NATIONS, OR THE HISTORIES OF THE VARIOUS SOCIAL MOVEMENTS THAT HAVE RISEN AND FALLEN IN THE PAST, AND THEY CERTAINLY KNOW LITTLE OR NOTHING OF THE COMPLEXITIES AND CONTRADICTIONS COMPRISED WITHIN WORDS LIKE “SOCIALISM” AND “CAPITALISM.” CHIEFLY, WHAT THEY HAVE BEEN TRAINED NOT TO KNOW OR EVEN SUSPECT IS THAT, IN MANY WAYS, THEY ENJOY FAR FEWER FREEDOMS, AND SUFFER UNDER A MORE INTRUSIVE CENTRALIZED STATE, THAN DO THE CITIZENS OF COUNTRIES WITH MORE VIGOROUS SOCIAL-DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS.”
I also particularly enjoyed his examination of how socialist values in western Europe emerged as a rebellion against the industrial age and early modern capitalism. I really loved his writing style and will definitely be looking to read more work by him!
The Perfect Terror of the White Nightgown by Katy Kelleher: A short piece on the trope of the woman in white, and the significance of the white nightgown to femininity and female oppression. This piece is a tad bit too white feminist for my taste, and lacking in any intersectionality, but nevertheless it’s an interesting meditation on a familiar ghostly trope, and I love the very atmospheric and Gothic opening paragraph.
Consider the Snapewife by Ashley Reese: Man, this was a throwback. Remember Snapewives, those women who were obsessed with Snape to the point of believing they were married to him on an astral plane? But like, it’s a fascinating phenomena, and one I can kind of understand, having developed my own little obsessions with various fictional characters over the years, though never to this extent (self-insert fanfiction was as far as I went).
The first week of October, I went to a pumpkin farm out on Long Island. I ate the best cider donuts ever, and then we went to a seaside restaurant and had lobster rolls. Then we took a walk on the beach. It was a gorgeous day, and really reminded me how much I miss traveling. It was definitely our last outing of the year, though, given that COVID numbers are rising everywhere, so even though we were all masked up and socially distanced, it’s probably a good idea to go on lockdown once more.
I am tentatively participating in NaNoWriMo this November! The project I’m working on is an older one that has 10K words already drafted; it’s YA horror. I chose it because I already have a full synopsis for it, so in theory writing it shouldn’t be too difficult, since I already know what I want to happen. Fingers crossed.