Does horror have to frighten us? by Jess from Jessticulates

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‘I don’t read horror’ or ‘I don’t like horror films’ are things I’ve heard plenty of times, and they’re even things I’ve said at points in my own life—which is odd when I spent so much of my childhood obsessed with ghost stories and loved anything spooky. I do have an overactive imagination, though, so if a story freaks me out it’ll stay with me for weeks and, during my childhood and teens, I’d genuinely lose sleep because I was too frightened to close my eyes.

The older I got, the more I decided to prioritise my sleep over anything else. Yet now that I’m older still I’ve begun to appreciate the horror genre more and more, and so much of that has come from discovering the kind of horror I like. Like any genre, there’s so much within the horror umbrella and, if one story doesn’t work for us, we can’t assume that any story that falls under that umbrella won’t.

As Halloween approaches, it’s the perfect time of year to read and watch horror—but, in my opinion, that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to terrify ourselves in the process! Have you ever watched Sleepy Hollow (1999) or The Mummy (1991)? Congratulations, you’ve watched a horror film!

They might not seem like the kind of stories we’d define as horror today because, for many people, I feel like the term ‘horror’ has become synonymous with body horror films such as the SAW franchise or slashers like Halloween, Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. In comparison, Sleepy Hollow and The Mummy (which just so happen to be two of my favourite films) are campy, adventurous romps. (This is no shade on you if you do find either of these films scary!)

But if you were investigating a series of murders and found yourself pursued by a headless horseman, or you accidentally woke an ancient Egyptian mummy who started sucking the flesh off his victims, you’d be pretty horrified, wouldn’t you?

The scenarios the characters are in are 100% horror scenarios, but the stories are told in such a way that we don’t want to sleep with the light on. So when we talk about the horror genre, I guess we have to ask whether it’s ourselves we expect to be horrified or the characters? And if it’s the latter, does that mean these stories don’t count as horror?

Personally, I think we can definitely call a story a horror story even if it doesn’t frighten us—in fact that’s the kind of horror I love! I enjoy being a little creeped out, but I hate that kind of sick fear that makes you wish you’d just decided to watch that rom-com instead.

Body horror, for example, isn’t my thing, and it’s why you’ll never catch me watching a SAW film. They’re too gross for me, and I don’t like the kind of horror that comes from physical torture. I’m also not a big fan of anything with creepy dolls and, while I love ghost stories, I tend to stay away from horror films with ghosts because I will never sleep again.

For me, the kind of horror I love is the kind of horror that gives me characters I love and root for. Horror is a genre built on putting its characters in danger, and if I don’t care about what happens to them then, for me, that story isn’t doing it right. Horror is at its best for me when I desperately want the characters in danger to be safe.

It’s why IT: Chapter One was such a successful film for me, despite my fear of clowns that initially made me unsure if I’d ever watch it. Now it’s one of my favourites, and I’ll often put it on in the background while I do chores because I love those kids so much. The idea of something happening to them had me on the edge of my seat. That, for me, is horror done right.

Since then (and before then, too) I’ve even read horror I’ve enjoyed! I loved Joe Hill’s NOS4R2 because he made me care so much about his heroine, Max, who has to face the biggest fear from her own childhood to save her son. The Diviners series by Libba Bray has become one of my favourite series, and it’s definitely a series that falls under the horror umbrella; Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation and Deathless Divide are alternate history novels that are also horror thanks to her inclusion of zombies; Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic is a fantastic, fresh homage to classic Gothic horror; and let’s not forget Mira Grant’s Feed and Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, which are both horror and both two of my favourite novels.

So, for someone who once said she doesn’t read or watch horror, it looks as though I actually like it quite a lot!

Still not sure where to start? No problem! Why not check out some of the short stories published in Nightmare Magazine? I personally really enjoyed Nibedita Sen’s ‘Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island‘, which was short-listed for a Hugo Award earlier this year.

Alternatively, I recommend giving the Books in the Freezer podcast a try; the hosts focus on a different theme in each episode, from underwater horror to romance in the horror genre, and I’ve found the podcast so helpful in discovering the kinds of horror that sound right up my street. They also give each book they mention a rating so, if you’re still a little nervous around the genre, you can pick up a book that’s guaranteed not to give you nightmares.

Like any genre, we just need to find the branches of it we like before we dismiss it completely.


You can find Jess on Twitter @jessticulates and at her blog Jessticulates where you can find the ramblings, rantings and ravings of a self-described book unicorn.

Review: THE YEAR OF THE WITCHING by Alexis Henderson

Book Reviews

First off you can’t tell me you looked at that cover without wanting to drop whatever you’re doing and charge through the doors of the nearest bookshop to demand they sell you a copy right now. I mean I guess you could, but I wouldn’t believe you, cos it’s actually not possible. That daguerreotype picture, the gold lettering, the fucking blood splatter. Don’t let anyone tell you covers don’t sell books; I was hooked on this well before I knew anything about the plot or the author. And a good thing too, cos THE YEAR OF THE WITCHING might well turn out to be one of my top books this year!



It’s the story of Immanuelle Moore, a young mixed race woman in the puritanical settlement of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law and women are expected to be meek and obedient. Her white mother’s union with a black ‘outsider’ has cast her once proud family into disgrace and rumours of her ancestors consorting with the witches of the Darkwood cause many to look on Immanuelle with fear and suspicion. When a chance mishap forces her into the depths of the woods and she finds herself face to face with those same witches, Immanuelle begins to confront why her mother chose to consort with them, while uncovering even darker secrets surrounding the prophets and the stifling theocracy that rules over Bethel.

I expected this book to be dark, but I didn’t expect it to be this dark. There’s a lot of troubling themes explored, from severe misogyny and racism, to paedophilia and sexual assault. Like the best horror stories, it shows us that the most disturbing things that can happen to us are all to real and are committed not by witches and monsters, but by people and the oppressive systems that rule over our lives. I really came to despise the Prophet and his egomaniacal lust for power, but what this book did well was put him in context; he’s the result of a social system that places people like him beyond reproach and all others (but especially women, and even more especially, black women) as subject to his whims and desires, dressed up though they are in the words of holy scripture.

Opposed to this it would have been easy to root for Immanuelle regardless, but Alexis Henderson didn’t take anything for granted. Immanuelle is everything. I’d probably die on a pyre myself to save her from all the shit she goes through in this book (and reader, she wades through a ton of shit). She’s a mixed race woman in a white society that quite literally frames whiteness as all that is good and holy, and blackness as cursed and evil; she’s a woman in a violently patriarchal society, where men can take as many wives as they wish (literally carving sigils into their wives foreheads to display ownership) while women are subjected to corporal punishment for the crime of ‘tempting’ men into indiscretions. Despite this, Immanuelle is strong-willed and refuses to be entirely ground down by her oppressive environment. She’s still very much a part of her society though and conforms to most of the strict customs demanded of her. Henderson does a phenomenal job of portraying the contradictory push and pull of these two forces shaping Immanuelles’s actions and changing views of the world as she navigates through the story and, for me, that was one of the most compelling parts of this book.

And what is any horror story without a hefty dose of atmosphere? Henderson absolutely nails this. From the oppressive puritanical land of Bethel, to the Darkwood with its legends of witches and missing children, to the horrifying effects of the plagues that promise to be unleashed should Immanuelle fail to defeat the power of the vengeful witches of the wood. I was honestly pretty well freaked out at parts of this story, it was really bloody disturbing actually. It’s a tale built on tropes we’re very familiar with, but Henderson wields them with such power and skill that they buzz with a seemingly uncontrolled energy that fills your imagination with horror and anger and hope all at once, finally building to a crescendo that floored me stone dead. And when I say that I mean I was listening to the audiobook on my walk to work and literally stopped in my tracks, standing stock still, mouth hanging wide at the nightmare that was unfolding before me.

THE YEAR OF THE WITCHING is utterly compelling, horrifying and knows exactly what it wants to say and doesn’t flinch at saying it. It explores some very difficult topics with a deft skill that still doesn’t shirk from laying bare the injustice and abuse of power on show. And it’s all told in a perfectly-paced story that sticks the knife in at just the right moment, lets you rest, think you might be ok and then twists that fucker in again. Alexis Henderson is a wonderful writer and, given that this is her debut novel, I’ll no doubt be reading everything she publishes forevermore.


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BOOKISH SHANGRI-LA by Maddalena from Space and Sorcery

Updates

Fellow book blogger JonBob is celebrating the first anniversary of his blog – by the way, Happy Blog-versary! 🎂 – and he was so kind to ask me for some help with the festivities by writing a guest post, which is both a delight and a privilege for me. And what better way to get into the spirit of things if not by talking about what makes this community one of the best and most welcoming in the whole Web?

The Internet is an amazing place for finding information and meeting with people who share our same interests, bridging vast distances and canceling borders, but it can be also a battle ground for conflicting points of view, the heat of those battles made even fiercer by the anonymity afforded by a remote connection and the possibility of letting the worst humanity has to offer out in the open, unchecked and unrestrained.

I have been lucky enough in my journeys as I pursued my “infatuations”, and never truly encountered mean-spirited people whose sole goal was to seed discord: for example, at the time I was following a few discussion groups on Usenet (ancient history, I know…), there were the so-called trolls, who liked to foment virtual skirmishes, or flame wars, by simply dropping a controversial opinion and then watching the ensuing mayhem from the sidelines. We learned quickly enough that as long as we ignored them, they would soon vanish.

Now the debate, when it occurs, is much more heated: people appear to enjoy taking sides – no matter the topic – in a vicious way that is the sad reflection of the “us vs. them” mentality that seems to have taken hold of the world in a form of collective madness. Those trolls of old have evolved, and probably it’s because some mad scientists altered their DNA to make them more aggressive…

But there are a few islands of peace in the Web, and the book blogging community is one of them – what’s more, my experience with it showed me that it’s one of the most welcoming, easy-going and above all relaxing you could find in cyberspace.  Much depends, I believe, on the way book lovers are structured, the way our passion for reading shapes us: our favorite pastime is to sit comfortably with a book in our hands, and through those books (particularly if we enjoy speculative fiction) we visit and envision new worlds, new cultures, new ways of facing issues. It would not be an exaggeration to say that those stories broaden our minds, opening them to infinite possibilities: the end result is that we are more ready to accept a different view, or at the very least to take it into consideration without judgement or scorn.

And that’s the beauty of this community: the respect we have for the stories we read translates into the respect we hold for our fellows’ points of view, even when they differ from ours. Each time a controversial book is discussed, or an unpopular opinion voiced, there is no danger of… armed conflict: the worst that can happen is that we can agree to disagree, and move on. It’s a rare and precious gift, because we can approach this community with the certainty that it will offer us a pleasant, relaxed experience – and in these times you can’t certainly take that for granted.

So, as we celebrate the first anniversary for JonBob’s blog, I wish for it to be only the first of many more in this amazing and inspiring world of books.


You can follow Maddalena on Twitter @Maddalena_T55 and on her blog Space and Sorcery, where she enjoys losing herself in the imaginary worlds of SFF.

Review: BAPTISM OF FIRE (The Witcher #3) by Andrzej Sapkowksi

Book Reviews

Ah, feels good returning to my poorly-written guilty pleasures haha. I’ve had complicated feelings about The Witcher books so far. They’re not very good and I wouldn’t for a second recommend anyone actually read them, but I sort of enjoy them regardless. I dunno, they just have a kind of raggedy charm, like an old scabby dog that just wants to be your friend. Having read the two short story collections and the first two novels, how did number three fare?



Not as entertaining as the first two novels unfortunately, though still enjoyably shit. At the end of Time Of Contempt all hell broke loose and I was ready for things to kick up a gear in BAPTISM OF FIRE, with lots of intricate kingdom politics and armies on the move, scheming mages conniving behind closed doors, and Geralt maybe finally becoming…interesting? We get some of this in a very patchwork sort of way, but what I really got struck by was just how much the pace of this book slooowed everything the fuck down. Like too much. Geralt actually just spends most of his time being injured, slowly trying to make his way to Nilfgaard in pursuit of Ciri, though meeting quite the colourful cast of characters along the way which, admittedly, was very enjoyable.

First he meets Milva, a baller archer who stalks the forests of Brokilon. She’s not very interesting actually but we do get an absolute treat when Sapkowski uses her knowledge of archery to give us a much-too-long lesson on composite bow craftsmanship. It was totally self-indulgent and absurd but I lived and loved and laughed while reading it. Anyway, she joins the party for this book and decides to travel with Geralt. Obviously Dandelion turns up, everyone’s favourite misogynist (I’m still bitter about his antics in the short stories), as well as a medicine man harbouring a dark secret who becomes an unlikely ally. My favourite addition to the troupe though was the dwarf, Zoltan Chivay, and his band of mercenaries, who provide some good old rollickin’ humour.

Ciri, meanwhile, is absolutely nowhere near where Geralt thinks she is, having made a home for herself with the notorious group of brigands known as The Rats. I really like the direction Ciri’s story has forked off in, it’s far from the noble hero coming to the rescue of the helpless princess; for one thing Geralt is totally mistaken as to her whereabouts, so he’s actually not coming to rescue her at all, but also Ciri trained to be a witcher herself and, despite being a politically-important princess, is becoming quite a brutal criminal on the fringes of society. I really can’t tell where her story is going, but I’m intrigued to find out.

The part of this book I found disappointing though was the newly-formed Lodge of Sorceresses. Philippa Eilhart founds The Lodge after leading the coup against The Brotherhood of Sorcerors. The idea itself is amazing. A disparate group of female mages from conflicting sides of the nascent war coming together to set aside their political allegiances and elevate the cause of magic above the interests of petty kingdoms. It has so much potential for the various members to be distrustful of one another, for backstabbing, fear of backstabbing and all the conflict that could arise with it. All this conflict actually does play out but it’s made very difficult to buy into because Philippa Eilhart just straight up tells all the members her plans before they even know why the first meeting has been called and (crucially) before they’ve agreed not to go straight back to their respective kingdoms and spill the beans to the various kings. It made no sense! None, not a bit. Throughout all these scenes I was left scratching my head about whether I was missing some vital piece of the puzzle that allowed all this to make sense. I’ve read enough Sapowski now though to know I probably wasn’t haha.

You know what though, I still enjoyed this book despite its many flaws. There’s a big part of me that wishes I could read Polish cos I can’t shift the feeling that a lot of my criticisms of this series stem from translation issues. Not all, but certainly a sizeable chunk. Regardless, I’m gonna carry on reading these books to the bitter end; they’ve got a hold on me that I can’t quite shake. I enjoy them, even though they’re a bit shit, and I’m quite happy with that 😀


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Readers’ Glee; or a Reader of Older Books Reflects by Mayri aka bookforager

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Hi! I’m bookforager and JonBob has very kindly given me leave to take over this little portion of his blog today as part of his first blogiversary celebrations. Thank you so much for having me over!  Now, before I start blathering please join me in raising a glass to JonBob and wishing him a very HAPPY BLOGIVERSARY and many more to come. Woo!

My husband and I love junk shops. And second-hand bookstores, and charity shops. In a world seemingly obsessed with the new, the bright and the shiny, we must have some kind of jumble-sale gene because we both get far more of a kick out of rummaging through piles of old tat than visiting pristine stores in which goods are sorted by size, colour and category. And when it comes to books I could blather on forever about the beauty of preloved volumes, with their comfortably broken-in spines, thumb-softened pages and scumbled edges, but in a Herculean feat of self-control I am instead here to witter about some of the joys to be had from reading older titles; those books for whom, alas, the publicity train has now passed on, who find they must now fend for themselves in the cold shadows of their newer, more sparkly brethren.

Joy #1: Recommendations

One of the delights of belonging to the blogging community is that you can get recommendations for absolutely anything. Fancy reading something about space monkey pirates? Someone out there will know just the book for you. Maybe you’ve just read and loved the latest steampunk sensation, someone else will tell you about a book published twenty years ago that your book was riffing on. Recommendations can only ever deepen and broaden our reading. More importantly perhaps, they create connections between us, lines of communication, and they keep the conversation – between books, between eras and between readers – alive.

Joy #2: Anticipation

Sure, there’s an element of anticipation in all reading, but what I’m thinking of here is that very specific feeling of excitement and expectation that comes from having read your very first book by an author and knowing that there is a back catalogue to explore. I am currently reading my second Tim Powers book and am feeling this heady pleasure right now. The Anubis Gates bowled me over, but it could have been a fluke, his one great book in an otherwise mediocre oeuvre. Now, reading Hide Me Among the Graves I am practically bouncing up and down with glee because I’m loving it and at the same time anticipating how much fun I’m going to have reading the rest of his work. There should be a word for this feeling.



Joy #3: Discovery

Is this not every bookwyrm’s dream? To discover that unknown, unheard of slice of awesomeness in a bookstore, drawn to it as if by an invisible force or perhaps by its truly terrible cover, and have it become your favourite book of all time? To guard the secret of it, maybe, and only share your knowledge of it with those you deem worthy?
No?
OK. Just me then.

Joy #4: The Great Winnowing

Surely we all do this to some extent: letting the world do some of the work for us when it comes to choosing what to read? Yes, I’m seeing all those new releases and drooling over them along with everyone else, but due to money, time and attention span I couldn’t possibly read them all, even if I only read brand spanking new books all the time. So I wait. I buy a few, I make tbr wish-lists that run on for pages, and I keep an eye on what my bloggy friends are saying about the rest. And I see what survives. I’ll go back to those wish-lists twelve months later, or twenty-four, and see which books are still getting mentioned in lists and tags and suchlike, which books have won awards or sparked the most discussion. (I also like to see which books make it onto my lists multiple times because I’ve forgotten that I listed it previously … these are nearly always guaranteed purchases: why did I keep forgetting this title? Was it aliens? Am I the unwitting victim of a mind-control experiment? I should probably read it and find out what They don’t want me to know!)

Joy #5: Serendipity

And sometimes I believe a book does just show up at the right time. This might sound like wishy-washy nonsense to you, but I came across many of my most important, favourite reads not when they were new and shiny, but when I needed them. The Hobbit and I crossed paths when I was about nine years old, bullied mercilessly and hating school, and unsure of how I was supposed to fit in. I picked it up because it had a dragon on the cover and reading it was like being given a doorway to a magical elsewhere. It was respite in paperback. The books that cross my path, no matter their age or condition, so often come at just the right time, when I’m most open to the story they have to tell me. It’s a pretty great feeling, even if it is all in my head.



Joy #6: Rereading

Last, but not least, there is the delight and comfort of rereading. I know this isn’t a popular choice. I know there are so many books out there that rereading can be seen as time wasted, but, for me at least, rereading offers the unmitigated pleasure of returning to an enchanted place (and armchair travel is not to be sniffed at in this world of pandemic and political horror), reacquainting myself with beloved characters, and often seeing things I didn’t see before.

What about you, dear reader? Do you read older works, or are you all about the new? Do you think books are in conversation with each other and with the world, or do you think they each stand alone? And (I dread to ask) … do you reread?


You can find Mayri on Twitter @bkfrgr and on her blog, bookforager, where she writes wonderful book reviews and is always super friendly, despite claiming to always be late to the SFF party.

Review: GOLDILOCKS by Laura Lam

Book Reviews

The Earth is in environmental collapse. The future of humanity hangs in the balance. But a team of women are preparing to save it. Even if they’ll need to steal a spaceship to do it. The elevator pitch for this book perked me up instantly. Imminent climate catastrophe, a crack team of all female astronauts and grand theft auto on an interstellar scale? I’m in. Sadly, this story just didn’t end up pulling me in. Usually if I don’t enjoy a book it’s because I think the writing is bad or the characters are two dimensional, some craft reason I can point to and say here’s is why I this book isn’t good. With Goldilocks though, I don’t even think it’s a bad book; it just didn’t work for me. Let me try and pick apart why.



First off I just didn’t get the narrative structure right off the bat. The book opens far after the events of the main plot line of the book have taken place, with the main character, Naomi Lovelace, in the throes of old age, finally relenting to tell the full story of her life to her daughter, who is ostensibly the narrator. I’m not against that in principle, but it felt so out of place here given that the rest of the story is just told in close third person from Naomi’s perspective and there’s no more reference to this narrative device until the final chapter, when whoops, we’re reminded again that this was Naomi’s daughter telling the story all along. I just found it incredibly jarring and pointless. On top of that, just before we dive into the main story, there’s the old “We’ll start at the beginning” line, except it’s really not the beginning at all because the story proceeds to jump back in time again to many years prior. Look, I love a good non-linear story as much as the next guy and think it would still have worked well here, if it wasn’t for the first chapter that just made everything afterwards feel weird to me.

Another unfortunate aspect of the story being told via an intermediary and far removed in time from the events of the story was that I just didn’t feel connected to what was happening from the get go. There are other books that have done this well (Nghi Vo’s The Empress of Salt and Fortune does it masterfully) but for me Laura Lam just didn’t quite manage it. I actually think I would have enjoyed the book a lot more if I hadn’t immediately been thrown off in the first few chapters.

That being said, the content of the plot and the detail of the world building was super interesting. From massive sea walls off the coast of California to slow the rising sea levels to state-mandated mask-wearing (ahem) to protect against air pollution and from vat-grown babies to an operational Alcubierre drive to achieve FTL travel, there’s a lot going on in the background of this story. Some of it is done well and I appreciated the detail, but parts also felt a bit too hasty and left me feeling a bit unsatisfied with what could have been explored. But hey, Laura for sure knew what story she wanted to tell and it’s not objectively bad that she devoted more time to exploring the parts she wanted to explore. The one thing I felt really did deserve more attention was just how the women managed to steal a fucking spaceship without anyone noticing or being able to stop them in time. Launching a shuttle isn’t like hotwiring a car, that shit’s gotta take time and set off all kinds of instruments and technological gadgets that’s gonna alert someone. It’s kind of waved away as AI took care of all the stuff required for launch which, ok fine, it’s a plot device and there’d be no story if these guys got busted before getting the shuttle off the ground. I just felt, given how much detail was put into other aspects of the story, this part felt a bit too rushed and hand-wavy.

I think an inevitable repercussion of having a wobbly start with a book is that it makes you less forgiving of other minor things you may have otherwise been more forgiving of. Psychologically it means that once you’re a bit down on it from the start, it’s much harder for the story to dig itself back out of the hole and get you back on track. I’m consciously aware of that, which is why I would still recommend this book to certain people despite not really enjoying it myself. Comps for this book have described it as The Handmaids Tale meets The Martian and that sounds pretty darn accurate and, while I personally just didn’t manage to gel with it, I think if you’re looking for a bit of a dark, feminist, near-future science fiction story there’s definitely a lot to like in here for you.


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Review: MEXICAN GOTHIC by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Book Reviews

It’s Mexico, 1950s. Noemí Taboada receives a letter from her recently-married cousin, claiming her husband is poisoning her and that she hears voices in the walls of the dilapidated, isolated family mansion they’ve removed to. Noemí agrees to travel to the mansion, aptly named High Place, up in the hills and abandoned silver mines of Triunfo. There Noemí discovers her cousin is certainly not herself and the family she’s married into harbour sinister secrets and a murky past that she must uncover, or she may never leave the house at all.



MEXICAN GOTHIC has solidified the gothic genre as a new found love for me. I read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein many years ago and just didn’t get it (looking back I fundamentally misunderstood it I think) so it wasn’t until I picked up Jeannette Ng’s dark gothic fantasy Under The Pendulum Sun last year that I read anything remotely like it again. I loved that book and I’m so grateful for it, because otherwise I wouldn’t have paid much attention to this book when it came out – and MEXICAN GOTHIC turned out to be an absolute dread-inducing delight.

Moreno-Garcia’s writing is a master class in invoking a claustrophobic, paranoid feeling in the reader’s mind, expertly mirroring Noemí’s spiral towards an increasingly sinister and surreal Stockholm Syndrome under the roof of High Place and its ageing eugenicist patriarch, Howard Doyle. The setting is just as much a character as the people in it and the writing gives the house a menacing and confining aura whose presence weighs on you throughout the story. So much so that in the brief interludes when Noemí manages to escape to visit the nearby town, I could practically feel myself breathing easier, as if I’d been almost suffocated the whole time she was stuck between the watchful gaze of the walls of High Place. Moreno-Garcia uses language in clever ways to invoke this feeling. When Noemí is walking the darkened corridors she feels she is being watched by the family portraits and Moreno-Garcia uses active verbs to make us feel it with her. This is the kind of writing that sets good writers apart from great ones; knowing how to manipulate language to invoke the feelings of your characters in the reader is something that makes me sit up and take notice.


There was a woman, her hands tightly held in her lap, her light hair pinned up, who regarded Noemí with large eyes from her picture frame.


Noemí tried to think of the house filled with the noise of children’s laughter, children playing hide and seek, children with a spinning top or ball between their hands. But she couldn’t. The house would not have allowed such a thing. The house would have demanded they spring from it fully grown.


The book is also littered with allusions to real life classics of gothic literature, including Shelley’s Frankenstein as well as Jayne Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I’ve never read Jayne Eyre, but I’m still familiar with the story and themes simply through a process of cultural osmosis and from that limited baseline I think Mexican Gothic takes a lot of inspiration from Charlotte Brontë’s social commentary on feminism, sexuality and class and updates it for the twenty-first century, yet still makes the themes relevant when the story itself is set in the 1950s. I don’t know if this was a deliberate theme of the book, but it felt to me it was saying that, despite the social advances in intervening years, women still put up with a lot of the same shit that decades of ingrained sexism has instilled in society. There’s a lot of overt sexism in the book, from Virgil Doyle pronouncing that Catalina is his wife and he decides whether she leaves High Place or not, even when her mental well being is at stake, but also a lot of subtle social interactions that highlight the myriad ways men interact with women in belittling or dismissive ways. For instance, Virgil making a slightly inapproapriate comment with sexual undertones that makes Noemí uncomfortable and yet she doesn’t say anything “because it wasn’t really that bad of a comment, a few words, and she didn’t wish to start a fight in the middle of a dark hallway over what amounted to almost, but not quite, nothing”.

I particularly liked the book’s exploration of class and how wealth and ownership is such a massive instrument for the wealthy to lever their power. The Doyle family historically owned the defunct silver mines in the hills around High Place and an important sub-plot in the family’s history is their repression of a labour strike when the miners downed tools amidst an epidemic that was killing a large proportion of the workers (seems particularly apt now, in the Covid era where some sections of workers are rediscovering their power by going on strike in protest at lack of protective equipment). This element of the story highlights the racism and white supremacy of the ruling class in post-independence Mexico. Howard Doyle is particularly overt in his racism and passion for eugenics and doesn’t mind Noemí knowing it. There’s even some dark humour in parts of the book when Noemí wonders if he keeps a pair of calipers to measure his guests’ skulls. The Doyle family are particularly hung up on the Mexican Revolution, which they lament as taking everything from them, despite their continued exploitation of Mexican workers to profit from the riches of the silver mine.

There’s a lot of great social commentary in this book and the writing is superb, but the plot and character relationships are also top notch. The slow burn unravelling of the story, the Doyle family’s sordid, shady history and Noemí’s relationship with Francis, the one seemingly-decent member of the Doyle family all weave together to tell such a compelling, eery story that on many occasions had me shuddering and mouthing oh my god at the sheer creepiness of it all. It’s paced so perfectly and I’m awed by how natural it felt that a story beginning with a young socialite leaving a party in Mexico City ended up in the utterly messed up place it did. MEXICAN GOTHIC is excellent and a solid recommendation from me.


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Birthday Build Up

Updates

Hi folks, just a very quick update for you all to let you know that this coming Sunday is going to be Parsecs & Parchments’ very first birthday! And to celebrate I’m gonna be posting every day this week with a glut of reviews and guest posts from some of my fave bloggers and bookish folks from the community.

On top of that, Rin from The Thirteenth Shelf is also hosting a giveaway of some beautiful SFF art! Her post highlighting some of her favourite artists is already up. Go check it out and enter the giveaway here.

So I hope you’ll join me in the festivities this week and raise a glass in honour of a whole year of P&P. Here’s to many more.



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SFF prints and ART GIVEAWAY by Rin from The 13th Shelf

Updates

Happy birthday to Parsecs & Parchment! Throughout my time in the SFF book blogosphere, Jon’s blog has been a must-read for me, as his stamp of approval is rare and hard-earned. He’s introduced me to some fantastic authors that really made my year, and my TBR is littered with his top recommendations. I’m honored that he has asked me to write a guest post to help him celebrate his blog’s anniversary.

My own blog, The 13th Shelf, is not just about sci-fi and fantasy books. I think one of the best things about SF&F is that it’s a genre that has affected all sorts of media and art forms. I love how the limitless potential of speculative fiction finds its way out of book covers and into our lives in beautiful and inspiring ways.

Today I’d like to share some SFF art prints to decorate the walls of your reading spaces, and in celebration of Parsecs & Parchment’s birthday, I’d like to host a giveaway for one of the prints featured here. Read the rules and requirements at the end of this post!


Last Studio – Travel Middle Earth Print Set, $40 USD for eight 5.5″ x 7″ prints

Rather than the somber greens and grays of a Peter Jackson movie, these depictions of classic Tolkien locations pull inspiration from American mid-century animation styles to show Middle Earth as a bright and vividly detailed world that would not be out of place in a 1950s Disney movie. Framed together near your favorite reading nook, they bring a refreshing pop of color to SFF shelves that are often rife with book covers dominated by blacks, blues and washed out pastels.


Prints by Ulla Thynell (pictured above: Blooming Forest, $28 USD for 18” x 13.” Pictured below: Dragon Hills, $28 USD for 19” x 11”)

Thynell’s whimsical watercolors evoke all the nostalgia of vintage picture books, with faraway castles, dragons and unicorns set amid dreamy, ethereal forests—perfect for anyone whose love of fantasy blossomed in the illustrations of hand-me-down children’s books.



Pop Chart specializes in…well, charts. Big charts, with an insane amount of detail. They have an interesting collection of book-themed posters (including scratch-off prints for those wanting to read 100 classics), but for the SFF set, the Harry Potter posted is a fun choice. (If adult fantasy is more your thing, check out their Game of Thrones print, which illustrates everything from the armor, weapons and crowns of all the houses to their castles and horses.)


Stephan Martiniere’s archival prints, $30 USD for 13” x 19” (pictured left: Elantris, pictured right: Dark Forest)

Stephan Martiniere is one of my favorite concept artists—and perhaps he’s yours too, and you just don’t know it. There’s a good chance you own his work, and it’s sitting somewhere on your SFF book shelf. His fantastically detailed art graces many of the most well-known speculative fiction books of the past 10 years, and it’s not hard to see why. He offers high-quality prints of all his book covers, allowing you to decorate your wall with the scenes and landscapes of some of the best contemporary SFF.


PARSECS & PARCHMENT’S BIRTHDAY SFF PRINT GIVEAWAY

PRIZE: ONE of the following:
Last Studio: one Travel Middle Earth Print Set, (8 prints total, 5.5″ x 7″ each)
Ulla Thynell: one (size small) unframed print of your choosing (see options)
Popchart: one Magical Objects of the Wizarding World (print only) OR one The World of Ice and Fire (print only)
Stephan Martiniere: one 13″ x 19″ unframed print of your choosing (see options)

TO ENTER: Hop on over to JonBob’s Twitter account and follow, like & retweet the pinned giveaway post. That’s it 🙂 If you know which print you’d like if you win, comment underneath. Oh, and there’s a bonus entry if you also follow the blog. The winner will be announced on Sunday 20th September. Good luck!

REQUIREMENTS: US only (sorry non-US folks)


You can find Rin on Twitter @13thShelf or over at her blog The Thirteenth Shelf, where she writes succinct reviews of books and book-ish things for the busy reader. She loves tea, mathematics, cats, French & Japanese cuisine, paranormal podcasts, journaling, enamel pins and abstract art.

Reading Update 09/09/2020

Book Reviews

Recently Finished: MEXICAN GOTHIC by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
I pre-ordered Mexican Gothic months ago, was so excited the day it came out and predictably, in true book blogger fashion, only just got round to it this weekend gone. Mortified I waited so long though cos it’s so good! Creepy and atmospheric and weeeird, it’s only the second book I can claim to have read in the gothic genre after being wonderfully horrified and disturbed by Jeanette Ng’s Under The Pendulum Sun, so I can’t claim to be well-versed or steeped in the genre, but this felt like an inspired take. I’m really keen on reading some of the inspirational material, like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, to get a real appreciation of gothic storytelling and its modern iterations. The slow, atmospheric building of dread in these stories is something I’ve realised I really love.

Currently Reading: GOLDILOCKS by Laura Lam
This is a book that has such a cool-sounding premise. A group of female astronauts steal a spaceship after the mission is taken from them by a Handmaids Tale-esque government and head to the first practically habitable exo-planet to establish a new society. Sadly I feel like it’s not living up to expectations so far. It’s not a bad book per se, it’s just not really grabbing me you know? I’m also having some major issues with the politics of the book, in that it so far it’s seemed to advocate the if only we had more female CEOs brand of feminism, which is just utter trash. It’s possible I’m misguided about that though, cos I’ve just reached a point where the direction of the story has taken a sharp turn and might actually be about to pull me in. Let’s see eh?

Next Read: THE YEAR OF THE WITCHING by Alexis Henderson
Aaaarghhh! I’m really in the mood for creepy horror stories right now and I’ve been itching to read The Year of the Witching for months. It’s got spooky dark woods, it’s got the legacy of four murdered witches and a puritanical Church with a dark history to unearth, bound up in a story about fighting patriarchy and corruption. I can’t wait!


Let me know what you’re reading and if you enjoyed this update follow the blog to never miss a post!