Book Review: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

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Image from my library’s Instagram @jkmlibrary

As part of the ReVisioning American History series, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz is critically eye-opening to everyone living in North and Central (and maybe even South) America, most especially if you do not identify as native or indigenous. I’m sure some native folks would learn something from this book as well due to the state of education in this country.

I grew up with a lot of native visibility around me in Upstate New York, and yet there is an enormous amount about the history of European invasion that I was never taught. We got the hits of course…Manifest Destiny, the French and Indian War, the Trail of Tears, Little Bighorn, etc. But we got them with a slant steep enough to Olympic ski jump off of. We definitely were taught about these things with a tone of “this was in the past, the Indians were in the past” despite living not even a full hour away from the reservation of one of the most important tribes of the Haudenosaunee (the Onondaga). Even our class trips to the Iroquois Indian Museum placed our point of learning in the past, looking at artifacts and practices that felt ancient and not at all contemporary (although many of them are). This is not a jab at the museum, it’s just my experience and interpretation as a child (it’s honestly a lovely museum, go). Erasure was happening in our education, and I’m sure it was happening in yours too.

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Book Review: The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters

OUT DECEMBER 10th! Thank you to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Image from Goodreads

Every year I usually end up picking up a book I know little about and then get my socks blown off by how exciting and entertaining it is. Last year it was A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay. This year, it’s The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters. Wow, this book was a complete blast! A wild ride from beginning to end!

Heather is a successful therapists who works with troubled children. This might seem ironic, considering her own childhood holds an extremely troubling and traumatic event that begins to come back to bite her. Her best friend Becca died the summer they were twelve. More accurately, Heather killed her. But it wasn’t just Heather…The Red Lady was there too.

I loved this book. I loved the “kids going on an adventure during summer break” vibe it had. I loved the constant ramping up of action, and I loved the paranormal elements. Coming of age stories will always suck me in, and as a child who grew up in a small town where I was constantly running off with my group of friends to play a town-wide game of manhunt, build forts in the woods, and tell ghost stories in the graveyard, books like The Dead Girls Club and IT really click with me. That depiction of youthful nostalgia will get me every time, and Walters does a great job of it here.

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Book Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Thank you to Doubleday Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Image from Goodreads

The Night Circus was a bit of a slow burn phenomenon for the bookish world. Over the 7/8 years since it was published, people have found it and fallen deeply in love with it at their own pace. I didn’t go crazy over The Night Circus when I first read it, but all these years later I find myself thinking about it a lot. The atmosphere, the setting, the magic, the character relationships. It really stuck in my brain, so I was very excited to hear that Morgenstern was finally coming out with a new book this year!

I was shocked when I saw The Starless Sea available for request on NetGalley. I had just assumed it would remain elusive and exclusive to only the most renowned of book reviewers. I was even more surprised when I was approved for the digital ARC.

A real quick synopsis: Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a grad student studying immersive media (video games) design and storytelling. One day he stumbles on a mysterious book in the library that appears to be a collection of short fairy tales and folklore. The thing is…a true story from his childhood is in this book. No one else knows this story but Zachary, and on top of that, the book looks to have been written way before Zachary was born. He starts to do some digging and in the process gets stuck down in a weird underground magical library where clothes are perfectly tailored for him and the food is exactly what you need and cats wander everywhere. But there is like, no one else in this library. The space itself is confusing and labyrinthine, and time and place don’t hold much power.

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Book Review: The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

OUT OCTOBER 1ST! Thank you to Gallery / Saga Press and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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My Aunt’s dock at Bloody Pond

A few years ago, I went with my Mom to stay with her and my Aunt at my aunt’s new cabin on a kettle lake in upstate New York. Kettle lakes look like ponds, but they were formed by ice blocks melting many a year ago. Bloody Pond, the kettle lake my Aunt has her cabin on, is spring fed so the water is crisp and clear. It’s very refreshing! My Aunt’s cabin is set deep among some pines, and it feels very bewitching to be there.

We had a lovely weekend in her adorable cabin, swimming, reading, eating, and drinking. There was, of course, an amazing campfire, and we stayed up late talking and laughing. But the later we stayed up (and the more red wine I drank), the more I couldn’t stop looking out into the pines. It got really creepy. What could be in those pines? Were there creatures watching us? What kind of creatures?

I was also raised on a very healthy dose of creepy folklore. My family has a lot of Scottish and Irish blood, so stories of changelings and brownies and selkies etc. were very common. I’m convinced my mom is in good with some faeries. I think it’s because of all of this that I loved T. Kingfisher’s The Twisted Ones so much. I think I love folk horror best now.

Mouse lives in Pittsburgh (heyo, local gal!), and she doesn’t see much of her immediate family. Her Aunt raised her after her Mom died, but she talks to her Dad every week on the phone. Her Grandma lived in rural North Carolina (I also have family in North Carolina…too many coincidences), but now that both she and her Step-grandpa are dead, their house is just sitting vacant. Mouse’s Dad calls her up and asks a huge favor…would she please go down and clean the house out so they can decide what to do next with it? She can’t say no.

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Book Review: The Tenth Girl by Sara Faring

OUT SEPTEMBER 24TH! Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Image from Goodreads

I say with no exaggeration that Sara Faring’s The Tenth Girl contains the biggest twist and flip I have ever witnessed in fiction. This book is a slow burn that ends in the most unexpected way. In my wildest dreams, I could never have predicted what happens at about 80% of the way through. I can’t even truly review it because I don’t want to spoil anything!

A split perspective narrative, The Tenth Girl bounces back and forth between Mavi, a young woman in 1970s Argentina beginning work as an English teacher at a secluded prestigious boarding school in Patagonia (such a stunning place on this earth), and Angel, an American teen in the 21st century (I think) suffering from the loss of her family. Through a series of  events, Angel’s spirit finds itself at the very same boarding school as Mavi, and she soon learns that other spirits are hunting and feeding from the residents of the school.

Angel and Mavi make an unlikely connection but strong, and together they decide to fight the seemingly paranormal forces bent on destroying everyone and everything around them. These forces seem linked to an old indigenous Zapuche (mapuche) legend, where the tribes attempted to protect themselves and their lands by inviting back the spirits of their departed, but instead opened the floodgates of hell. The only way to quell The Others, as these destructive spirits are called, is to sacrifice a young girl.

If it seems like I’m being cagey here with details, it’s because everything I thought I knew about this book through 3/4ths of it is a lie. One of the biggest twists I have ever experienced in a book (perhaps even bigger than Gone Girl), occurs with only a fourth of the narrative to go, and from there on out it completely defies genre and expectations.

Up until that twist, I felt like The Tenth Girl was really dragging, lacking in character development, and uninventive with its plot. Most of the book, and it’s not a short book, is rather dull. After the twist, those potential faults are explained away, but I honestly don’t know if I like it any better. I wish the twist occurred sooner, and we got to spend more time acclimating to the new reality of the situation. And what Faring explores in the last ten percent of the book is more fascinating than anything that happened in the preceding ninety. I desperately want her to write THAT book, exploring the events that lead us to the conclusion and after.

Faring’s writing is beautifully descriptive, but it can drag in places. The Tenth Girl is written for a Young Adult audience, but it contains some very dark creepy moments. As I mentioned, it is hard for me to nail down an actual genre for this book, but predominantly I would say it’s a YA psychological thriller with elements of horror and historical and science fiction.

The Tenth Girl is Faring’s debut, and while I only rated it a 3/5 stars, I would definitely pick up another of her books in the future. She intrigued me with this one, and her sensational end saved it for the most part. Once you’ve read it, I’d really like to know what you all think!! It’s really frustrating to not be able to talk about the most interesting part of this book.

Book Review: The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht

OUT SEPTEMBER 24TH! Thank you to Macmillan-Tor/Forge and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review. (Trigger warnings for child abuse, sexual abuse/assault, murder/violence, family death)
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Image from Goodreads

This is a nasty little book, brutal and beautiful. To call it simply atmospheric would be doing it a great disservice. Jennifer Giesbrecht’s debut novella The Monster of Elendhaven is absolutely phenomenal. In a short 160 pages, Giesbrecht paints a world of cold, dark filth. It drips with pain and sorrow. The characters are wretched but fascinating and fully developed. I use these descriptors not as a way to dissuade you in reading it, but to let you know what arena you’d be playing in. The characters are wretched, yes, but you love to follow them in their dastardly plots. The setting is stark and harsh, but you will not be able to look away. And while the story is creepy and gory, it has moments of true tenderness and humor.

In The Monster of Elendhaven, a superhuman man named Johann stalks the dark and seedy streets of Elendhaven, acting as the city’s own Jack the Ripper of sorts. There’s something unique about Johann though: it appears he can’t be killed. He’s tried. Multiple times. When he encounters Florian, a man from one of Elendhaven’s oldest families, he sees a kindred spirit. Soon they team up, Johann acting as the strong arm for Florian’s dark revenge fantasies. But even the best laid of evil plans can experience some hiccups. Someone is hunting Florian, and they mean to kill.

Magic plays a huge role in this book, but it’s the kind of magic that you need to look at out of the corner of your eye. Sorcerers and magic used to fill the world, but as time passed it became dangerous to be a sorcerer. It was punished, shunned, and bred out of society…but not entirely. Elendhaven, being a fantasy mirror of a Germanic/Nordic country, has old magic and old lore that does not forget the truth behind the universe. It is a place where fantastical things can still happen. I love settings like this, that exist in the spaces between the modern mundane world and an older magical world.

What Giesbrecht does in such a short space is so impressive. She gives us a fully realized story, equipped with rich characters, a visceral setting, a deep mythology, and a satisfying end. And while we only get a fragment of the lore this world contains, it is robust and offers the appropriate support to the tale at hand. I could read a whole series based on these characters or set in Elendhaven or its surroundings.

The Monster of Elendhaven is like if Tim Burton and Rob Zombie collaborated on a film together. It’s a Dickensian tale on crystal meth. It will chill you to your core but leave you wanting more. I wait in eager anticipation for whatever Giesbrecht publishes next!

Book Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

OUT SEPTEMBER 10TH! Thank you to Redhook Books and Netgalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.

43521657When I read Alix H. Harrow’s short story “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” in the February 2018 issue of Apex magazine, I cried. That story hits on a very deeply rooted value I hold in librarianship and illustrates the life-saving abilities of literacy.

In it, a librarian watches a young boy come in to the library time and time again, lingering longer each time, using the books to escape whatever real life horrors were happening outside of the stacks. In the story, the librarian is a witch. There are rules to the magic of librarianship. Some magical books are not to be offered to patrons, and there is knowledge that should be locked away safely, protected. The librarian knows this, and she knows what will happen to her if she breaks those ancient rules. But she also knows the exact book this boy needs to break free of his oppressive life and find happiness in a new world. She gives him the book and watches him escape to better life, risking her own exile and ostracism.

This is important to me not only because of the obvious metaphor concerning literacy, education, and freedom, but also because of what it says about librarianship. It’s hard to explain fully to folks who don’t work in libraries, but there is a bit of a split between librarians and what we think librarianship should be. I belong to the camp of disobedient witches.

I bring all of this up to say that Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January is written with just as much passion using similar plot devices and metaphors, and it’s fucking beautiful. January Scaller and her father Julian are outsiders to the wealthy white elite of Vermont in the early 1900s. The color of their skin makes that known immediately. But January has the privilege of growing up in a fine mansion under the care of their benefactor, Mr. Locke. Julian travels the world for Mr. Locke, bringing back rare artifacts stolen from other cultures in exchange for taking care of his daughter. Mr. Locke then takes these items and “safely” preserves them by locking them away in dusty rooms and cases.

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Book Review: Violet by Scott Thomas

OUT SEPTEMBER 24TH! Thank you to Inkshares for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Image from Amazon

I grew up on a lake. My grandparents had an adorable lake house on one of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York very close to the small town I grew up in. We spent most of our summer days making the quick drive to their house and enjoying the fresh, cool water, the slight breeze, the gorgeous and magical woods, and the secret worlds we created. There were caves, waterfalls, glens, clearings, fields of wild flowers, and of course the lake itself. We learned how to swim and sail on that lake, and spent countless hours sunbathing on the dock and telling ghost stories around the fire on the beach. Our favorites were about the ancient monsters that lived at the bottom of the deep Finger Lakes, which were formed by glaciers making giant cuts in the land thousands of years ago.

Lake houses mean true peace, serenity, and happiness to me, so this book hit me like a ton of bricks. I was always on the look-out for ghosts in and around my grandparents’ lake house, but Scott Thomas’ Violet has made me grateful I never found them!

After Kris’ husband is killed in a crash, Kris takes her young daughter Sadie to her family’s lake house on Lost Lake in Pacington Kansas to get away from the memories and the prying eyes of family for the summer. Kris hasn’t been back to the lake house in thirty years, since she was a child herself. Her memories of the place are happy and full of joy, and she thinks the house could help her and her daughter handle the grief of suddenly losing her husband. The issue (one of many, as it turns out) is that the lake house hasn’t been touched in years. It has been neglected and is now overgrown and even rotting in some places. And it becomes very clear early on that the state of the lake house mirrors the state of Kris’ soul, and just like with her own trauma, Kris assumes she can just slap a coat of paint over it and it will get better.

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Book Review: A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill

OUT SEPTEMBER 17TH! Thank you to Pantheon for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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From Goodreads

There are monsters in the world, unspeakable evils that rob us of that which is most precious to us. Life can break your heart and rip you apart, but Noah Turner has more to contend with than the familiar horrors of human existence. Noah can see monsters, like real monsters. Big harry creatures. And they can see him too.

Shaun Hamill’s A Cosmology of Monsters is an incredibly touching story about the Turner family. What starts off as a cute love story quickly turns to sorrow as Harry and Margaret Turner and their three children face tragedy after tragedy over the years. But in the midst of their struggles (struggles that many of us would recognize and be acquainted with), a fantastical element rears it’s furry, sharp-toothed head. A true monster has had its sights on the Turner family for decades, and Noah, the youngest, decides to let it into his home, his family, and his heart. What Noah doesn’t know is that his father also saw monsters, and his mother knew something was wrong.

I knew from the cover art that this was a book I needed to pick up. Once I read the synopsis I was hooked, and I couldn’t put it down. This stunning literary horror debut hit me in all the right places. I was up way past lights out flipping the pages, fully invested in the Turner family’s story and the monster(s) that haven’t stopped haunting them for generations. I couldn’t get enough of the throwback 80s/90s vibes mixed with Lovecraftian horror! Despite it being a horror/fantasy novel, I found it oddly relatable.

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The Books to Read When You Want to Save the World and Yourself.

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The obsession is real.

The other day, I was a little extra tired after being out later than normal for my husband’s birthday the night before. I got home and started making dinner, and my husband walked into the kitchen and asked, “Weren’t we going to go to empanada night?” Our favorite bar was hosting an empanada food truck and we had been excited for it all week. I basically had a breakdown right there because I forgot about the empanadas, desperately wanted to go get them, but was so tired and had already started making food at home. I freaked out and felt a panic attack building, and I eventually said, “I’m so overwhelmed all the time, just thinking makes me overwhelmed. I’m exhausted.”

I just planned a wedding, and that process took so much out of me. I wasn’t expecting it to be as bad as it was. I had panic attacks and horrible bouts with my anxiety. I thought I’d be back to my normal self after the wedding was done, but I’m not. I’m burnt out. And this moment has made me realize that I’ve been burnt out for a long time, not just because of my wedding.

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We got married in a library!

My anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed, even when it appears that I’m not, have prevented me from doing so many things I expect of myself. It causes a kind of paralysis that then spirals into guilt and frustration, and it just gets more fun from there. Recently I’ve realized that my anxiety and existential struggles are, in ways, directly connected to our modern American culture of achievement, consumerism, and “disruption”. With the attention economy (social and traditional media) following us everywhere we go thanks to invasive technologies, this frantic culture has infected every aspect of our lives. I’m overdue for a refocusing of my life.

Luckily, I’ve happened upon four books that, when read together, validated what I was feeling and helped me start to build a plan for how to get out of this headspace. I realized that I needed to take a step back and refocus in a way that allows me to build meaningful awareness and take pointed actions in my life. These books are The Year of Less by Cait Flanders, Braiding Sweetgrass by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino, and How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. I recommend these books to everyone.

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