This month has been full of spooky, Halloween themed reads! Though I don’t think any will reach my top books for the year, I’ve still enjoyed the opportunity to pick up such diverse stories. This is also Filipino-Heritage month in the US, with First Nations/Indigenous Heritage month coming soon in November. Overall, I’m pleased with the various authors I’ve had the pleasure of reading this month and am looking forward to reading more books from these communities in the future!
All photos courtesy of Goodreads
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
It was maddening. It was not a haunting. It was possession and not even that, but something she couldn’t even begin to describe. The creation of an afterlife, furnished with the marrow and the bones and the neurons of a woman, made of stems and spores.
Short Description: A young socialite must save her ill cousin from a mysterious family, isolated in a strange mansion.
Critic Quote: “There is a gradual rise of dread in Mexican Gothic. It never quite falls off, even at the end, which I loved for its satisfying ambiguity; this is a novel that will leave you wary even after the last page.” –NPR
My Verdict: The first 70% was full of wonderful description, but was quite slow. The last 30% HIT HARD. Pick this up if you’re already a fan of gothic novels
Full Review HERE
In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
I enter into the archive that domestic abuse between partners who share a gender identity is both possible and not uncommon, and that it can look something like this. I speak into the silence. I toss the stone of my story into a vast crevice; measure the emptiness by its small sound.
Short Description: A fragmented memoir on domestic abuse from the perspective a young, lesbian writer.
Critic Quote: “For all the horror, In the Dream House is a ravishingly beautiful book, a tender, incandescent memoir like no other. There’s no doubt that Machado is one of the brightest literary talents around..” –The Guardian
My Verdict: A short but interesting read on an often overlooked subject. Though this wasn’t a favorite of mine, definitely pick this up if you’re looking for a unique LGBT+ memoir.
When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole
How they talk about all the resources in the neighborhood that are underutilized, even though we’re right fucking here? And now Abdul is gone and some racist motherfucker owns the bodega. Mr. Perkins—the Mayor of Gifford Place—supposedly just up and moved, without telling a single soul?
Short Description: A Black woman living in Brooklyn must team up with her mysterious white neighbor to investigate the disappearances of her neighbors as her town becomes more and more gentrified.
Critic Quote: “Few stories have felt so real, so visceral, or so disturbing. At one point, Sydney mentions feeling like she’s “neck deep in wet cement,” and that’s a fitting description: this is a painfully timely thriller that pulls you under a claustrophobic wave of paranoia and unease, rarely letting you surface for air. With each page, you’ll find your heart rate spiking significantly..” –Criminal Element
My Verdict: In my opinion, Cole does a fantastic job at linking the horrible history of gentrification from the past to the present in New York, and regardless of how you feel about the twist, it draws upon some intelligent, powerful thinking. A truly unique book that I feel so glad to have read.
Full Review HERE
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
For them, ten years ago, that’s another lifetime. For you it’s yesterday.
Short Description: Four Blackfeet First Nations men are haunted by a mysterious figure from a hunting trip gone wrong years ago.
Critic Quote: “. . . the novel is also an outstanding narrative of creeping horror in which guilt is so present it’s almost a character and grief, pain, and desperation combine to feed the monsters of the past and allow them to haunt the present. Jones is one of the best writers working today regardless of genre, and this gritty, heartbreaking novel might just be his best yet.” –NPR
My Verdict: The story itself is quite good, however, the writing style just wasn’t for me (also the ending felt a bit rushed).
Full Review HERE
An African American and Latinx History of United States by Paul Ortiz
In a time of endless war, with democracy in full retreat, I argue that we must chart pathways toward equality for all people by digging deep into the past and rediscovering the ideas of Emancipation Day lecturers, Mexicano newspaper editors, abolitionists, Latin American revolutionaries, and Black anti-imperialists who dreamed of democratic ways of living in the Americas.
Short Description: A brief history of Latin and North American labor movements of various African American and Latinx people groups.
Critic Quote: “While each chapter is insightful, lucidly written, and extensively researched, the book reads more like a series of articles than a cohesive monograph.” –Publisher’s Weekly
My Verdict: It was okay! A lot of the history is somewhat familiar if you’ve studied race before, however, it’s always good to have a refresher (especially one that takes a more international approach). This book takes a specific look at African American and Latinx labor movements from 1700s onward, so anyone looking for a history broader than that may be a bit disappointed. Still, there’s a lot to learn here and I’m glad to have read it (I do wish there were more mentions of people who aren’t men/straight/etc. in its recording of history though, as there certainly were other Black and Latinx activists who made significant contributions!).
The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck
Some are destined to stay behind, some to depart, and yet others to arrive.
Short Description: An overview of how an unnamed woman dies in different scenarios and times in mid 1900s Germany.
Critic Quote: “What Jenny Erpenbeck may evoke most poignantly with her prose is the emotion of infinity, and the stakes of our ever-shifting, precarious, and hopelessly interconnected lives.” –Kenyon Review
My Verdict: A beautifully written, meditative piece. Read this if you’re looking to add another translated piece into your library.
Earthings by Sayaka Murata
Survive, whatever it takes. These words were all I was left with. The only way I could survive was through my magical powers.
Short Description: After suffering a traumatic childhood, a woman and her husband find her childhood friend to pursue their strange beliefs.
Critic Quote: “Earthlings is an exhausting read, but one that forces the reader to confront their own biases and standards for what is socially acceptable, and more importantly, what they deem acceptable in others. Horror is often a mirror for things we’d rather not see, and sci-fi often a vehicle to places we’d rather be. Murata marries elements of both into one meticulous journey to the heart of human psychology—one that forces us to address our own reflection—if you have the endurance to get to the end.” –TOR
My Verdict: If you’re new to Sayaka Murata, read her first book “Convenience Store Woman” first and if you enjoy it, maybe graduate to this dark tale.
The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
All I wanted was a daughter to keep, a female companion to fill the void left by my sister Mary.
Short Description: After the sudden death of her husband, a new bride investigates his home and encounters a malicious set of dolls, and a series of mysterious deaths ensue . . .
Critic Quote: “An atmospheric, gothic horror set in Victorian times that did a fabulous job with the chills and thrills.” –Caffeinated Book Reviewer
My Verdict: Wow – this was excellently written – the atmosphere, the characters, the horror! Though I question some of the ways Purcell wove together themes of silence, disability, and women’s treatment, overall I would definitely recommend this.
A Burning by Megha Majumdar
Later, in the quiet of the kitchen after we had eaten, she said to me, “The system doesn’t always work for us. But you see that, now and then, you can make good things happen for yourself.” And I thought, only now and then? I thought I would have a better life than that.
Short Description: Following a careless Facebook post, a woman is unfairly targeted and tried for terrorism, and her allies must grapple with what they are willing to sacrifice to defend her.
Critic Quote: “In this way — short, sharp sentences, vivid descriptions and inventiveness of language — Majumdar infuses her text with steady exuberance to counteract the bleakness of context . . . Majumdar captures India at a cusp of change.” –HindustanTimes
My Verdict: This was an excellently paced novel that covered a variety of important themes very well. The writing didn’t grab me personally, but this is such a unique and thought-provoking story that I’m not surprised with all the high praise it’s received. Though this is not one of my favorite novels, I’d still recommend it.
Homie by Danez Smith
i too been called boy & expected to come, heel.
Short Description: A collection of poetry about the intimacy and beauty of black friendships and experiences.
Critic Quote: “Perhaps this is one of Smith’s grandest talents: diving into the pool of a poem at one angle only to emerge in a new framework that makes us see poetry and its meanings anew.” –LA Review of Books
My Verdict: A solid poetry collection, though I personally preferred “Don’t Call Us Dead” more.
Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson
An odd thought crossed her mind: she would pick up the heavy glass ashtray and smash her husband over the head with it.
Short Description: A collection of short stories that follow various white suburban families traced with horror.
Critic Quote: “In each story in the collection, the everyday world becomes tinted with an odd sheen of terror.” –Lit Hub
My Verdict: Just not for me, unfortunately. Each story felt quite slow with very little, if any, pay off.
Banyaga: A Song of War by Charlson Ong
He will be the one to bring glory to the race and to the clan.
Short Description: A multi-generational epic that follows the trials of various Chinese ethnic Filipino families.
Critic Quote: “By the end of the novel, the reader feels that Ong never set out to defend the often misconstrued Tsinoy. At the very least, what he has done is provide a more complex picture of the Filipino-Chinese.” –Mithi Book Blog
My Verdict: This was very difficult for me to get through. Though the history and descriptions were interesting, there were way too many characters for me to understand what was going on at a given moment (and impossible to emotionally attach myself to any of them). I’d be wary of picking this up if you’re not a fan of highly complex, multi-generational stories. If you’re fine with carrying a notebook and pen with you while reading to keep track of things though . . . have at it!
The Naked Woman by Armonia Somers
“They’re coming, aren’t they?” she asked the animal, stroking the painful area around the irritated flesh. “Yes, there’s no doubt about it; many more pairs of eyes will come and they’ll judge me in their murky ignorance and brash stupidity.”
Short Description: A mysterious naked woman roams a quiet Uruguayan town, changing its community forever.
Critic Quote: “Imbued with magical realism, mysticism, and biblical themes, Somers’ novella poses questions still relevant today.” –Kirkus Reviews
My Verdict: Best read in conjunction with the afterword for cultural and historical context. A short, enjoyable read – though I was confused on what exactly was happening a majority of the time, haha. I’d still recommend it though, for its themes were so powerful.
My Mother’s House by Francesca Momplaisir
It had plans for Lucien, one final coup before resigning Itself to an undeserved death that would also be a well-earned rest.
Short Description: A Haitian immigrant family purchase a spirited house in Manhattan, where dark secrets reside.
Critic Quote: “Momplaisir’s story is a challenging and complex one, but ultimately a success. Through an unflinching look at Lucien’s violence and emotional damage towards the other characters in the novel, the book does an incredible job at portraying the generational traumas that immigration and poverty can have on a family.” –TOR
My Verdict: A vivid and unique take on the haunted house. More depressing than scary and definitely not for those who can’t handle a visceral, painful story.
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
I knew then that I would be different. I knew in that moment that I would never again be able to fully control the fire inside me. I became a different creature that day, not so human. Everything that happened later, I now understand, started then.
Short Description: A young woman goes on a quest with her friends to fulfill her supernatural destiny to end a genocide in an Afro-futuristic Sudan.
Critic Quote: “There’s a journey here that should not be undertaken by the faint of heart, into a world that’s closer to our own than we might wish to admit. Brave readers should count themselves lucky to be guided through this journey by such an extraordinary and visionary talent as Nnedi Okorafor.” –SF Reviews
My Verdict: A dark but visually rich and unique tale. Though the pacing is a bit wobbly (especially in the middle of the book) as is the ending, I’d still recommend his book for those looking for a YA to Adult transition fantasy/scifi novel (so long as you can handle serious themes).