Last Five Books

Hello! It’s been TWO YEARS since my last post. Unlike some, including my spouse who somehow was able to read the most that he’d ever read in his life, I was unable to read or listen for the entirely of the pandemic. (Pandemic-ish? We’re still in it.) My brain froze, and what little concentration I could muster was expended on figuring out how to work and be at least somewhat of a good boss from home. Within the last two months, “hello, brain!” It’s (kind of) back.

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller

At 39, I have joined my first official book club. It may be shocking to read this, being that I am a librarian, but I am a selfish one and guard my time like a precious, tasty snack. The Paper Palace was the club’s first title and I listened on audiobook, which has a fantastic narrator. In a nutshell: affluent, dysfunctional WASPS unite. It’s a true, solid book club read. Lots to discuss and dissect about class, marriage, abuse, family, sisterhood/siblinghood (the parts with her sister were my absolute favorite of the book), mother/daughter relationships, and sometimes curious sex. A few scenes left us pondering, how can this sex be done? How would this happen? In all, it’s chock-full of all the good guts that make up a spirited discussion.

While reflecting on the seemingly constant ups and downs of the main character’s life, a memory floated up from when I interviewed Aimee Nezhukumatathil about her fabulous nature diary/autobiography, World of Wonders. She told a fascinating story about how her now hugely popular book was rejected by several publishers because it lacked drama and/or conflict. She got along with her mom, she loved her husband, she delighted in fireflies. If those elements are indeed the common criteria for major publishers to even consider a title, it’s no surprise that The Paper Palace has been on so many best-of lists over the past year.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

This book is a trip. Original; weird; unexpected; peculiar; very, “what the fuck is happening?” for much of the book. I truly delighted in reading a story where I had no clue what was happening, if I liked the narrator or not (I still have no clue), if I knew what the hell happened in the end or not. It kept me on my toes.

The story follows the main character, a woman in her 20s who decides to tap out of life for a year by plying herself with drugs and alcohol. She holes up in her apartment with the singular aspiration of sleeping for as much of the 365 days as possible. When she wakes in her foggy, drug-induced hazes, she finds herself participating in activities that are a mystery even to her in her more lucid states. Though published in 2018, this is the perfect pandemic read where it’s easy to identify with the character and her medicinal companions after our own two years of physical, mental and emotional solitude.

When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen

Chosen as one of the Stoker Award’s 2021 ballot finalists, When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen is at the top of my list (the winner will be chosen in 2022). I was enthralled from the beginning, following the story of three childhood best friends: Mira, Celine and Jesse, as we follow them from an incident in their childhood that takes place on an abandoned plantation through adulthood by way of flashbacks recalled by the main character, Mira. After the incident, the three friends part ways in the rural South, only to reunite when Celine, who’s white, plans to marry on the same plantation from decades ago. The plantation has since been turned into an extravagant wedding destination, despite it’s history of slavery and the ghosts that still remain at the plantation, which fuels the story of the tenuous friendship.

Author LaTanya McQueen weaves a tale that highlights nuance in a world that often seems to lack the boldness of delving into the grey areas of life. Much of the story is told through Mira’s internal monologue and we are privy to her confusion and consideration of deeds of the past and present; her past, the South’s past, and how those histories are ever present.

Road of Bones by Christopher Golden

It was news to me that the Road of Bones is an actual place in Russia where a mass amount of prisoners of war were buried into the road, otherwise known as Kolyma Highway. Author Christopher Golden uses this real-life highway with its heartbreaking past, mixed with the severe temperatures of Siberia to create a desolate, desperate, dark and mythical place that places the reader in a mental solitude of their own as they become more and more immersed into the story.

I first learned of Golden’s writing when I read Ararat, where much like Road of Bones, Golden uses history and legend, in Ararat’s case, the story of a devil lurking in Noah’s Ark. His books are what I’d call beach reads for horror lovers; nothing too heavy but with clever plots and interesting characters that you hope to God don’t get killed off by an archaic creature awakened after thousands of years.

Smile by Sarah Ruhl

I didn’t want to read Smile. It was a memoir about a playwright who gets Bell’s palsy after having children. Not being a theatre type of gal, nor a children type of gal, I read it because I needed to lead a book club discussion at my library, and Ruhl also has Chicago ties. However, as book clubs often tend to do, I was delighted by a book that I was reticent to read but was so immensely glad that I did.

I listened to the audio, narrated by Ruhl herself, and if Ruhl ever chooses to stop writing plays and narrate audio going forward, the woman has a promising career. Though I’d never read or watched one of Ruhl’s plays, it’s plain to see that her experience with writing about the human condition, specifically that of the female kind, translated impeccably into the memoir genre. What amazed me was her incredible insight into her surroundings, her observations about life and how women are treated by society, men, other women, careers, et al. Her ability to put a spotlight on what seems mundane or matter of fact and make it seem as if it’s the most important point of discussion is truly a gift.

Dissecting a Dirty Word in Libraries: Science Fiction

Let’s do a little Reader’s Advisory, shall we?

When Emily St. John Mandel’s book Station Eleven came out, it quickly became my hot pick when a patron came in and asked if I had a recommendation for a “good book.”  I had them hooked from the get go, “it’s really a book about memory: family, relationships, love and how we move forward and connect in times of tragedy.  It’s a beautifully written story, and I love how just when you think Mandel is going to follow a predictable plot line, she flips the script, and it includes a travelling band of Shakespearian actors!”  Then, I’d start to lose them when I said, “it takes place after a plague… “ (patron’s eyes begin to widen and glaze over) “and it’s about how we regroup and reflect on our lives..” (me, beginning to talk really fast to keep their attention) “wait, it’s a gorgeous book and it’s not sad!”  Patron says, “is this sci-fi?!”  Me: “yes, but it’s sci-fi light! I promise! It’s really not that much sci-fi!” Annnnnd, I’ve lost you.

Science fiction gets such a bad rap in libraries to a general audience.  It has a reputation for going right to the “hard stuff” that we may collectively imagine, such as machines and far-out technology, space and interplanetary travel, cyborgs and the like.  Yes, while that is a portion of the genre, it encompasses so much more that deserves your attention and yes, maybe even your love. 

A more exacting definition of science fiction is that it takes place in a world/space/time different than ours now.  It can indeed be on other planets or places, or it can be earth, and is typically a little further into the future, or maybe even in the past.  There usually has been a mass societal change and could have been brought about by some shift in the environment or technology. uses a phrasing that I like, that it’s imaginative and based on science, but whoa doggie, science is huge!  It encompasses so much!  (Side note: You may have also heard of other similar genres such as speculative fiction, which can include magic or the supernatural, think of it as a subset of sci-fi.)

Science fiction runs the gamut of hardcore to the most softest of core, and I’d like to recommend some of the latter so that you may just turn into that person who attends that post-shelter-at-home party and can wow your friends with how awesome and smart you are because “oh yeah, I’ve read some sci-fi in my day, no big deal” as you cooly sip your cocktail or mocktail. 

Here are some great, softer-core science fiction titles to get you going: 

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson 
American War by Omar El Akkad
Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
The Passage by Justin Cronin
Recursion by Blake Crouch
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
The Wanderers by Meg Howrey
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel 
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
The Farm by Joanne Ramos
You Have Never Been Here: New and Selected Stories by Mary Rickert
Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories by Vandana Singh
The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

*Please note that many of these titles can fall into the subgenres of the sci-fi umbrella, which can include fantasy, speculative fiction, and dystopian fiction to name a few.

The Last Five Books

American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment  by Shane Bauer (2018)

Reporter Shane Bauer goes undercover in the South as a guard for a for-profit prison and shares his experiences, most of which are documented via hidden surveillance and notes taken during his time “inside.” What Bauer recounts conjures the plethora of human emotion; his experiences with the administration, inmates and system itself are gripping, shocking, bittersweet, appalling, and beautiful. Reminiscent of In Cold Blood in its narrative style, Bauer leaps ahead of the genre by using source material as opposed to imaginative retelling because oftentimes reality is more heart-wrenching than any mind could create. The chapters alternate between the daily ruminations and experiences of both author and inmates, and a history of slavery and its direct link to the current-day for-profit system, throwing into stark reminder that the institution of slavery in America has never really ceased, only donned new mask.

Lost and Wanted by Nell Freudenberger (2019)

In this haunting book about friendship and memory, author Nell Freudenberger creates a beautifully complex portrait of the intricacies, intimacy and miscommunication that accompanies all relationships, but especially friendships between women.  The entirety of the book details the friendship between Helen (astrophysicist) and Charlie (Charlotte, writer in Hollywood), on and off best friends since college.  We are placed in current day, and then taken back through time and forward again with a bird’s eye view of the ebb and blow of their lives in micro and macro ways, with a subtle emphasis on how powerfully one person can shape us, while continually remaining a mystery.   Freudenberger weaves memory with the wonder of space;  the validity, and lack thereof of what cannot be seen but proven, and the ambiguity of what lies within that space.

The Pandora Room by Christopher Golden (2019)

It was a surprise and delight to see Christopher Golden reprise a number of characters from his previous novel Ararat, about the discovery of Noah’s Ark with an evil presence lurking within.  The Pandora Room is what you could call a “sequel-light,” where it’s not necessary to read the first but if you do, it’s a fun little insider nugget to meet up with some old friends.  The Pandora Room leads us down a literal cave into the depths of  Northern Iraq as archaeologist Sophie Durand unearths (so many puns) a jar that much like Noah’s dubious ark in Ararat, may be an actual Pandora’s Box, containing within it the pleasures of all the world, or the alternative, all of its evil.  This is a perfect “outside of the box” summer read, containing romance, action, history, mythology, memory and longing, family, and most of what you’d want to transport you to another world while reading on your lunch break or sitting at the beach.

What to do When I’m Gone: a Mother’s Wisdom to her Daughter by Suzy Hopkins and Hallie Bateman (2018)

By far one of the best graphic/illustrated works I’ve read to date.  A mother/daughter duo write and illustrate this sometimes day by day, month to month and year by year guide from a mother to her daughter on what she can do/how she can cope following her death.  The illustrations and advice work seamlessly together, giving the reader a clearer picture of how they can take small steps after the death of a parent with visuals that seem to make it somewhat possible.  The advice begins concretely, such as “clean your house,” but is often followed up by tender life lessons, “You are numb. It’s time to put your home in order.  Give everything a place. Make it make sense.  Make your room the exact opposite of the randomness of existence, the mercilessness of mortality.”  This was day five, after her mother’s eventual death, written by her mother.  The book follows the daughter into old age, so that the mother may still impart lessons of moral standing and self-care that she won’t be able to relay in person.  The distillation of the book results in one whose reach extends beyond parent/child grief.  This book is for anyone who needs a guiding hand from a parental figure, and mother/author Suzy Hopkins fills in that space with encouragement and permission to switch jobs, take a mental health day, protest, travel, and pursue anything and everything that speaks to your individual soul.

Eat a Little Better : Great Flavor, Good Health, Better World by Sam Kass (2018)

This is a cookbook and thankfully it stole an entire weekend of my life that I’ll never want back–the recipes were that good.  That makes sense.  The recipes were awesome.  It’s very vegan and vegetarian friendly, and though about half of the book is meat/fish related, as a vegetarian it would still be a valuable part of any collection for the vegetable and grain recipes alone.  The basic tenet is eat healthy food that tastes good, without depriving yourself.  All I can say is that faro risotto with spinach pesto is my new GOD.  Plus, nearly all of the recipes are comprised of simple ingredients, minimal work and Chef Kass uses everyday ingredients to pack a lot of flavor, such as salty cheeses and lemon juice.  In my world, I don’t feel full unless there are carbs, cheese or a particular heartiness to the meal, and these recipes check the essential boxes, and I always felt satiated, for you, “it’s not a meal without meat” people.  For those people, the author advises utilizing meat and fish with a low footprint that’s both healthy for you, the planet and the animal.

Librarian’s Pick of the Week: The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Library patrons are always asking me, “what have you read (sometimes seen) lately that you loved?”  This is what I loved this week.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Why:  Even with the string of fabulous reviews from journals, newspapers, radio shows and even coworkers, I hesitated reading this book.  As a librarian, why would I care?  I LIVE THIS  LIFE EVERY DAY.  Fast forward a bit to being on a nonfiction judging panel and guess what shows up in the mail? THE LIBRARY BOOK.  Cruel fate.

Though the print version is filled with wonderful photos that correspond to the text, I downloaded the audio, read by Orlean.  First off, why isn’t this woman a professional voice-over actress?  Her voice is soothing, strong, and emphatic–all the most exquisite ingredients that strengthen the truly captivating contents.  Orlean’s research into this book alights with the Los Angeles Public Library and a fire that just short of decimated the building and its contents.  From there, we are taken on a journey through time and space, pulling fantastic tidbits from library history that intersect with the history of the LA Public Library.  True crime, women’s history, women’s library history, sexism (UGH, the sexism in library!  The sexism!),  library history, world library history, homelessness, arrogance, death, legacy, love, eccentric patrons, eccentric librarians, fire history, book conservation, and that’s like, the first half.  Orlean’s way with words is never tortured or cliche, but awes you with its simple complexity.  One of my favorite lines describes the library fire to a monster eating chips.

If you’ve ever stepped into a library, even just to use the loo, place your hold now with your local library.  And oh, be nice to your librarians.

Readalikes: The Bad-ass Librarians of Timbuktu : and Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer (NF)
The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne (NF)
The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai (F)
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (F)
Party Girl dir. Daisy von Scherler Mayer (film, starring Parker Posey)


Librarian’s Pick of the Week: Jonesy: Nine Lives on the Nostromo

Library patrons are always asking me, “what have you read (or seen) lately that you loved?”  This is what I loved this week.

Jonesy: Nine Lives on the Nostromo by Rory Lucey (2018)

Why: When you look up “adorable” in the dictionary, this graphic novel is the tippey tops.  The author/illustrator Rory Lucey retells the film classic Alien from the point of view of Jones the cat, affectionately referred to as Jonesy by his human friends, and what he actually may be doing during the siege.

What follows is an imaginative foray into the life of your typical not-shit-giving feline as he nonchalantly licks his behind while those around him get skewered.  Author Lucey does a fantastic job of capturing the common thread that connects all cats: their sense of wonder, fun, cuddly warmth, and head butts that can quickly transform from ear-shattering motor purrs to a sudden nip on the nose.  The illustrations are a sheer delight as you focus in (glasses, people) on the finer details of each picture and compare them to the scenes in the film, except here you see the little tips of orange ears curiously sniffing at an alien.  What also makes this retelling so captivating is that unlike the film, wonderful and horrific in its own right, the graphic novel inserts a sense of whimsy and joy, enabling you to re-imagine each scene through the eyes of a curious kitty.

This would also be a perfect holiday or birthday gift for anyone who both loves cats and horror films, and is obviously an especially amazing human.

Banned Books Week-Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

What is Banned Books Week anyway? “Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information.” *

To this day, “don’t ever laugh as a hearse goes by for you may be the next to die…” still dances in my brain at random moments.  Having grown up in a funeral home, I knew this held no validity but still felt that thrill of the forbidden, the unknown.  Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark was a staple in my and my family’s collective experience during childhood, and may also be the reason we’re all extremely morbid adults.  Who knows?

The American Library Association conducted a study from 1990-1999** of the most commonly challenged books–guess who was #1 for a decade?

Why the most frequent challenges?  My guess is that Schwartz’s lighthearted treatment towards death and all that nitty-gritty, such as rot (specifically humans), worms, corpses, et al, commonly introduced to younger audiences is a lot for the general public to welcome, especially given our pervasive avoidance of the topic of death.  More specifically, according to the Intellectual Freedom Blog via The Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association*** by way of the Banned Books Resource Guide, the reasons are commonly cited as:

  • “too scary and violent”
  • “too morbid for children”
  • “shows the dark side of religion through the occult, the devil, and satanism”
  • “cannibalism”
  • “unrealistic view of death”
  • “cause children to fear the dark”
  • “cause children to have nightmares”

You know what?  All of the above is true!  The stories are morbid, they do discuss death, and who didn’t fear the dark as a child?  Luckily, parents have the choice as to whether or not to allow their small children to read them, but do not have the right to make that decision for everyone else who patronizes their local library.


Last Five Books

The last five books that I’ve read-typically independent and off the beaten path.

Zero Day by Ezekiel Boone (2018)

(3rd and final of the Hatching Trilogy.  ancient & hungry spiders are unearthed and eat their way across the globe in terrifying & amusing ways. well-written, fun, smart, well-developed characters.  highly recommend the audio version.)

The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford (2017)

(a highly enjoyable shorter novel detailing three friends post-high school tangling with the darker forces of nature, the past, skeletons, and haunted people and places.  humorous, compulsively readable and original.  great novel to throw in your bag before a flight.)

No Excuses Detox: 100 Recipes to Help You Eat Healthy Every Day by Megan Gilmore (2017)

(accessible clean-eating.  appetizing, whole food recipes with everyday ingredients.  the spaghetti squash pad thai is heaven.  muffins made with cashew butter & no flour of any kind-it can only be sneaky sorcery that makes them so GD delicious.)

Self-Care for the Real World by Nadia Narain & Katia Narain Phillips (2018)

(down-to-earth life lessons & suggestions on how to discover what self-care means to the individual reader.  a book you buy and leave next to your bed.)

The Undesired by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir  (2017)

(icelandic thriller weaving two stories from decades apart.  unconventional story, unexpected twists, & engrossing characters.  shocking, unpredictable ending.  the audio narration is wonderful.)



Librarian’s Pick of the Week: The Unrepentant Cinephile by Jason Coffman

Library patrons are always asking me, “what have you read (sometimes seen) lately that you loved?”  This is what I loved this week.

The Unrepentant Cinephile: Collected Reviews of Cult,                                                   Exploitation, Horror and Independent Films by Jason Coffman

Why:  When this substantial book arrived in the mail, I was surprised by its impressive size due to the healthy amount of reviews contained therein, especially given the modest price of $15.99 on  With a decade of film criticism under his belt, local (to my neck of the woods) Chicago critic and filmmaker Jason Coffman has complied a truly impressive tome of reviews from the 1960s (or even earlier, there are a lot of reviews) to present day.  Coffman’s reviews will speak to even the lay audience to the titled cinephile as he discusses such films as the most recent Ghostbusters, Jack Frost, Let the Right One In, Scott Pilgram v. the World to more independent films such as Mercury in Retrograde, Nude Nuns with Big Guns (definitely on my list), to my favorite indie horror flick, Basket Case.  The charm of the book lies within both the variety of reviews coupled with the author’s laid-back and warm affection for all his subjects, even if they are “complete trash,” prefaced by an endearing, “Goodness me” (The Nail Gun Massacre).  Coffman also includes a hilariously entertaining chapter entitled “Bad Movie Night” of the best of the worst films which scream to be viewed.  I’d recommend this book (it would also be a wonderful gift) to anyone who loves film, whether it be a penchant for Steel Magnolias to Un Chien Andalou.  Fingers crossed for Frankenhooker in the second printing.

Feminist Short Stories: Horror & Sci-Fi (Part 3)

Spotlight on Five Feminist-Minded Short Stories with Elements of Horror & Sci-Fi

Joyce Carol Oates once so perfectly wrote, “One criterion for horror fiction is that we are compelled to read it swiftly, with a rising sense of dread, and so total a suspension of ordinary skepticism, we inhabit the material without question and virtually as its protagonist: we can see no way out except to go forward.”  This quote perfectly encapsulates why so many love the horror genre; it transports its reader to another world where one can observe, and be an entirely new entity, whether person, monster, witch, or troll.  When you combine horror with the feminist short story, you enter a whole new realm that’s even more terrifying than any Pinhead from Hellraiser or Damien from the Omen.  The horror delves into reality, where much can be hidden beneath the facade of such vanities as a life of wealth, the perfect marriage, or an idyllic community.

The tales below are a sampling of five feminist short stories that do indeed leave us with a “rising sense of dread” because sometimes, the horror is too personal.

Manuela Saragosa

In this thoroughly creative and universal short story, author and journalist from the BBC World Service (photo above) explores the strong connection between scent and memory, how a simple whiff can conjure and propel us back into the most painful of past memories.

We are privy to a snapshot into the life of Kathy and her young daughter Ellie  one year post Kathy’s husband, Eric’s untimely death.  When she brings home a resale shop teddy bear to her daughter, Ellie names the doll after her father citing a similar scent to which Kathy agrees, much to her dismay.  As the story unfolds, the bear becomes a compulsively constant companion to the girl, complicit in her whispers behind closed doors.  He seems to perpetually stare at the mother and her new boyfriend, communicating a feeling of ultimate betrayal, an emotional neglect as Kathy forges her new life.  This new man, his presence betraying the memory of Ellie’s father.

In this shorter short story, Saragosa flawlessly commands and transforms the mood of the plot with only a few sentences, morphing the daughter from saint to sinner, the mother from dubious parent to survivor.  The scent of the father, though comforting to Ellie, becomes reminder of the terror endured by the mother during their marriage.  The smell becomes the personification of the dead man, inviting him back into the house as not only a bear, but possibly inhabiting the form of their daughter, an inescapable entity of memory now passed through the possession of DNA.

It’s the perfect short horror story–it’s a seemingly simple story that takes you on a subtle though impactful emotional ride that encompasses memory, single parenthood, death of a parent, and the complexities of grief.

from Six Scary Stories, selected and introduced by Stephen King

The Summer People
Kelly Link

Two years after reading The Summer People over a snowy Chicago winter weekend, the mystery and magic of the tale, written by short story maven Kelly Link still fills me with wonder every time it springs into my psyche.  The basis is magically fantastic in every sense of the word.  Similar to American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Link creates a world where many of us wish to live, where the ordinary is peppered with the extraordinary, living as one, though the extraordinary is often hidden to most.

The story focuses on its main protagonist, teenage Fran, caretaker of everything and one in her life–her father, her home, the people who vacation in their southern part of the US and the homes in which they stay.  Fran is a tough cookie; she’s weathered so much burden throughout her life, including an absentee mother, an unreliable and alcoholic father, and the knowledge of necessity.  Fran knows that if she doesn’t keep up the adult responsibilities for her father, no one will, including the care of their otherworldly summer inhabitants who keep Fran’s mother, father, and now Fran captive by location.  They are both blessed with the presence of magical beings who care for the family, and damned by them as their perpetual caretakers.

Link entwines the complicated plight of a lower income, broken family expressed through the steadfastness of a young woman and the whimsical quirks of the Summer People.  Though Fran has grown weary of their antics with slight sprinkles of amusement, the readers learn of their supernatural abilities as they gradually unfold to Fran’s friend Ophelia.  Almost by happenstance, Ophelia innocuously inserts herself into Fran’s life and naturally that of the Summer People, unknowingly entering into a world which may cost her more than her curiosity.

from Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link

In the Water Works (Birmingham, Alabama 1888)
Caitlín R. Kiernan

Ireland native Caitlín R. Kiernan is so damn fascinating that it can’t help but steep into her writing.  Aside from her fiction career she has been a professor, having studied zoology, geology and paleontology in addition to publication in various scientific journals.  In the Water Works (Birmingham, Alabama 1888) reflects that respect for all that is old and of the earth by its setting, late 1800s and the unspoiled, soon to be colonized land of Alabama during that time period.

The story begins with an introduction to Henry S. Matthews, professor of geography and math who’s painted as a solitary, quiet man with a calm mind only stirred by fossils and the primitive.  He picks through the strewn aside “antediluvian seashore in hardened bits and pieces” that the workers unintentionally unearth, armed with axes that bore through the Red Mountain to bring industry and water to Birmingham.  The miners, referred to as “hard men” view Matthews as some curious creature that he himself surveys from the ground as he tags along during their work to reap the underground gifts.  The mostly silent relationship eventually turns into one of ominous kinship as something is unearthed deep in the Red Mountain. Matthews is called to witness this unknown thing, lurking in what may should not have been disturbed.

Throughout the story Kiernan’s descriptions of mud, mountains, rocks and earth mirror that of a living being; nature itself is a body of organs, blood and bones.  Kiernan expertly uses such personifying phrases to set her mood: “iron-ore bones…Appalachia’s long and scabby spine…fresh wound, these walls, this abscess hollowed into the world’s thin skin…”  The tenor throughout the story is completely intoxicating; it’s dark, it’s wet, it’s cold, it’s eerie, it’s grey and unknown; “the autumn sky growls…”  It’s everything you want in a short story, leaving an unforeseen punch that becomes part of your psyche.  Bookmark it in your collection, or if from the library, make a copy and keep it near.  You will never again look at the reaping of the earth the same again.

from American Supernatural Tales, edited by Guillermo del Toro (among others) and can also be accessed via Google Books here.

The Lady of the House of Mirrors
Rafaela F. Ferraz

Portugese author and natural history buff Rafaela F. Ferraz reimagines Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein where our traditional Victor is Rosie, the recent inheritor of the store Dolls for Dreamers, where unique and sometimes supernatural dolls are crafted for the wealthy.  Aided by her Igor (Theo), they set out to create a companion for an eccentric shut-in, the woman known as the Lady of the House of Mirrors.  While they typically sculpt with clay and brass, this time they seek a human body to equip with the workings of a robot, a dead though living doll who is able to manage not only servitude, but also conversation.

We don’t know a lot about time frame, location of the story or much about Rosie’s past, but the crumbs gathered give way to glimpses of a world of awe.  The upper class has seemingly cut themselves off from a seedy underbelly where Rosie’s workplace resides; there are bodies being sold for wings, young dead men in corsets, missing limbs and glass eyeballs.  The world created by Ferraz is one of evocative imagery, all of which serve to create a highly sensual locale. Besides the allure of this new world, the real meat of the story lies in Rosie– the creation of a complicated, sometimes flawed and confused human being.  A renown business on her shoulders, trying to fill the shoes of a genius inventor whose prestige may be unattainable.

The ending is ambiguous, leaving you with more questions than answers and much like the world of the house of mirrors itself, at its conclusion you are left in a state of wonder, which is consistent with the vibe of the story.  Prior to viewing the tv show, Twin Peaks: the Return I may have yearned for that Hollywood ending, but Ferraz creates a Lynchian twist where the reader can inhabit a space where they both ponder the possibilities while accepting the mystery of that which may not be explained.

from Daughters of Frankenstein: Lesbian Mad Scientists! edited by Steve Berman

The Sleep of Plants 
Anne Richter

The Sleep of Plants, written by Belgian author Anne Richter details the life of “she,” our protagonist who willfully transitions into a plant, seeking silence through a world of observation.  Similar to In the Water Works, we see repeated allusions to nature, the inextricable connection between humans and the natural world and how one cannot removed from the other.      

Our protagonist, “she” lives quietly with her mother and spends the majority of the story reflecting on how she seeks a life of solitude.  The vehicle for this solitude manifests itself as the desire to transform into a houseplant and begins her metamorphosis by “planting” herself into a pot of soil.  Her mother, upon finding her daughter upstairs in a flower pot, seems to decide to ignore the dirty secret and avoids her altogether.  “She’s” fiance finds her and brings her water and food in the form of insects.  Eventually, she transforms into a being that exists on water and sun, living as one that contently observes and never speaks.

Published in 1967 shortly following the advent of second wave feminism, The Sleep of Plants is reminiscent of Chantal Akerman’s film, Jeanne Dielman, addressing themes of solitude, boredom of the middle-class woman woman during the 1960s, and depression stemming from the pressure of expectation; to be a social being and marry against one’s will, in this instance.  The story is compelling in its ingenuity, curious and somewhat confusing, all making it a great slice of life to ponder what the hell is going on.  For an introvert, the idea of morphing into a plant sounds more like heaven than horror, but who’d want to eat all of those bugs?

from Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer

Part 1 can be viewed here.

Part 2 can be viewed here.

On the Radar: 10 Exciting New Titles of Fall/Spring ’17-18

Ten books we should all be antsy in our pantsies to read.

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty

In the second publication since her first title, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, about her time working in a crematory, death advocate Doughty explores death rituals from around the world.

Hot Mess Kitchen: Recipes for Your Delicious and Disastrous Life by Gabi Moskowitz and Miranda Berman

This is a cookbook you buy and can bring home to mama, unlike that last tragedy of a significant other.  It’s a completely delightful and at many times hilarious cookbook with such whimsical entries as Deliver Us From Delivery, I Want to Punch You in the Face Pasta and My Ex is Engaged Enchiladas.

Logical Family: a Memoir by Armistead Maupin

Author of the before its time series, Tales of the City, continually writes with ingenuity and heart and his memoir is sure to reflect that beautiful spirit that shines through each book.

Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America ed. by Samantha Mukhopadhyay, Kate Harding and various authors

This anthology of essays addresses various issues in America after Trump (ugh) including Trump’s “misogyny army,” talking to your children about fascism, Ivanka and faux feminism, et al. Each essay is eloquently written by such powerhouses Samantha Irby and Rebecca Solnit, among many other outstanding women including Chicago’s own Women and Children First co-owner Sarah Michael Hollenbeck!

The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford

The author of one of my most favorite scary short story collections, A Natural History of Hell has written a novel consistent with his last, exercising (exorcising?) his unbelievably innate talent for that which is both fantastic and horrific.  Ford’s book also has probably one of the best cover reviews to date, “Richard Linklater meets Stephen King…”

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King

In this first collaboration between Stephen King and son Owen, the two weave together an incredibly descriptive, solid and addicting piece of fiction about a sleeping sickness that takes over all of the world’s women, covering them with silky, web-like coating.  I highly recommend the audio; the narrator’s southern accents are terrific.

Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites by Deb Perelman

The first Smitten Kitchen is a gem of a cookbook, including recipes that are a little off the beaten path, including a cookie recipe with popped popcorn and stuffed lemony ricotta shells.  The prospect of an “everyday” cookbook is exciting, one can assume it will include recipes with commonly found ingredients because when a girl needs a diy cookie, she needs it stat.

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Ijeoma Oluo!  If you haven’t heard of her, look her up.  If you’re on Facebook, follow her.  Her compassion and wit make her irresistible and as readers and learners we should all be excited to get a deeper glimpse into her thoughts on race, class, gender and our world at large today.

Strange Weather: Four Short Novels by Joe Hill

Joe Hill, author of Horns, Heart Shaped Box (my personal favorite), and numerous short stories (which I believe to be his strong point) has written a novel consisting of four shorter, creepy and inventive stories.  If you didn’t know, Hill is one of Stephen King’s sons and has earned his place in the horror fiction hall of fame of his own accord.

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Oh Hillz, if only it could have been you, we wouldn’t be on the doorstep of war with North Korea and somehow Puerto Rico now?  The word is that she gets deep into the details, much like that of a Real Housewives memoir, recalling the tiny bits that we all want to know, including what she did the day after the election and what she had for dinner.  Only unlike Teresa Giudice of The Real Housewives of New Jersey’s prison memoir, she didn’t hear women having sex in the bunk next to her.  Or maybe she did, I’m only on chapter one.


Update: Standing Strong by Teresa Giudice, previously included, was subtracted from the list after an entire chapter on her love and admiration of Donald Trump.  Bitch, please.