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5 Sapphic Dark Fantasies for Halloween

September 20, 2022 Leave a comment
An image that says 5 Sapphic Dark Fantasy Reads for Halloween. It has a greenish background with two smiling jack-o-lanterns and an image of a bookshelf on the borers. The covers of five books are featured. The Drowning Girl, The Haunting of Hill House, Maplecroft, The Queen of the Cicadas, and Sorrowland.

I am running A Very Sapphic Halloween Reading Challenge, which isn’t just for reading and reviewing new books but also for highlighting books you’ve read before (or hope to read) that fit the challenge. Something Halloweeny featuring women loving women.

This is my first list of suggested reads – 5 dark fantasies.

The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan

India Morgan Phelps, Imp to her friends, is sure that there were two different Eva Cannings who came into her life and changed her world.  And one of them was a mermaid (or perhaps a siren?) and the other was a werewolf.  But Imp’s ex-girlfriend, Abalyn, insists that no, there was only ever one Eva Canning, and she definitely wasn’t a mermaid or a werewolf.  Dr. Ogilvy wants Imp to figure out for herself what actually happened. But that’s awfully hard when you have schizophrenia.

A beautiful thing about this book is how it’s up to the reader to decide if fantastical things actually happened or if they’re all symptoms of Imp’s schizophrenia. Told in the first person from Imp’s perspective, it’s a uniquely different mystery. (my full review)

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Dr. Montague is a scholar of the occult, and he invites three other people to stay with him in Hill House, which is notorious for being haunted.  There’s jovial Theodora, timid Eleanor, and the future heir of the house, Luke. What starts as a light-hearted adventure quickly turns sinister in this horror classic.

This is considered a sapphic classic, but it was published in the 1950s so the sapphic part is pure subtext, due to censorship at the time. A haunted house story that’s not too scary to most modern readers but a fun, quick read. (my full review)

Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

“Lizzie Borden took an axe; gave her mother forty whacks….”
Any New Englander knows the nursery rhyme based on the true crime story of Mr. and Mrs. Borden who were murdered with an axe in 1892.  In spite of being tried and acquitted for the murders, their daughter (in the case of Mrs. Borden, step-daughter), was widely believed to actually be responsible for the murders.  In this book, she definitely was, but maybe not for the reasons you might think.
A darkness is trying to take over Fall River, Massachusetts, and Lizzie and her ailing sister Emma are all that might stand between the town and oblivion, with Lizzie’s parents being the first casualties in the battle.

Lizzie Borden’s axe murder actually had to do with an eldritch horror, plus Lizzie has a girlfriend, Nance. Think Stranger Things but in the 1890s and the lesbian is the main character instead of the sidekick. (my full review)

The Queen of the Cicadas / La Reina de las Chicharras by V. Castro

You’ve heard of Bloody Mary and Candyman but have you heard of La Reina de las Chicharras? The legacy says she’s a Mexican farmworker named Milagros who was brutally murdered in 1950s Texas then given new supernatural life by the Aztec goddess of death, Mictecacíhuatl. In 2018, Belinda Alvarez arrives in Texas for a friend’s wedding on the farm that inspired the legacy of La Reina de las Chicharras. But is it just a legacy or is it real?

This struck me as a Latina version of Candyman, where the wrongs instigating the righteous vengeance are colonization and taking advantage of migrant farm workers. I can’t reveal the sapphic content without spoilering, but trust me, it’s there. (my full review)

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Vern desperately flees the strict, religious, Black Power compound she was raised on while she is heavily pregnant with twins. Giving birth shortly thereafter and raising her babies in the woods, she finds herself transforming inexplicably. But what is she transforming into? Why? And can she protect her children from both the compound and the world?

This is a beautifully grotesque book that reminded me of watching season 1 of Hannibal – but with a Black lead with albinism who is a woman who loves women. (my full review)

Do you have suggested sapphic dark fantasy reads not on this list? Let us know in the comments!

Book Review: Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig (Series, #2)

June 25, 2013 1 comment

Woman holding a knife with hair made out of birds.Summary:
Miriam hasn’t touched a person and seen a new death in months.  She’s settled down in Jersey with Louis, and part of the deal is no touching.  But her fingers are twitching for a vision, and quickly a regular afternoon turns into a horrifying one.  Still.  Louis suggests a way for her to use her gift for the good.  Prove to a hypochondria that she isn’t dying.  But this hypochondriac happens to work at a problem girls boarding school, and when Miriam touches one of the girls, all hell breaks loose.

Review:
I was so glad to jump back into Miriam’s gritty world that is so unique in urban fantasy, although at first I was surprised by how settled down she seemed to be.  Thankfully, that quickly changes, and a disturbing, rollicking plot comes into play.

What makes this series is the characterization of Miriam.  She is not a nice girl. And she’s not bad in some fake-ass way designed to appeal to a hormonal teenage boy.  She doesn’t run around in tight leather pants proclaiming her badness while batting her eyes and tossing her hair.  Miriam is dark and brutally honest.  She has a delightfully foul mouth.  She wears what she wants to wear whether or not people like it or it’s in fashion.  She doesn’t care if she’s attractive.  She can be bitingly mean.  But she still works as a heroine because she truly has a good heart and is willing to inconvenience her entire life to help other people.  Reading Miriam is deeply refreshing to me, as a woman reader.  She’s allowed to be precisely who she is without any restraints of gender norms by the author.  Here is just a sampling of Miriam’s voice in the book:

Home Again, Home Again, Fuckity-Fuck (location 259)

A tattoo is an expression of your inner self inked on your outer self. It’s some deeply spiritual shit. (location 2143)

The plot this time at first appears to be purely about who is killing young girls, but slowly it becomes apparent that we’re learning more about Fate or what I think of as the crazy birds that control Miriam’s life.  It appears that Fate is displeased that Miriam fucked with it by saving Louis, and now it’s out to get her.  Although this addresses some of the issues I had in the first book about how confusing Fate is and what exactly the rules for this universe are, I must admit, I still found a lot of the information revealed to be a bit fuzzy, albeit wonderfully creepy.  The fantasy information was better than in the first book, but it was still a bit too at arm’s length.  I don’t want to have to wait out the whole series to finally understand even one significant aspect of what is up with Miriam.

One plot issue to do with the murders bothered me.  Spoiler ahead!

*spoilers* I have a very hard time believing that after being fooled once by the killer who can imitate other people’s voices like a mockingbird that Miriam would fall for it a second time.  She’s smarter than that, and it felt like a very clunky plot device to me.  *end spoilers*

That said, the mystery was dark, gritty, and nail-biting.  A lot happened, and Miriam’s story definitely moved forward.  There is a self-contained mystery within this book, but the overarching plot got more traction as well.

The writing continues to be a mix of beautiful and grotesque that would keep me coming back even if the characterization of Miriam wasn’t so strong.  Wendig’s description powers are truly stellar.

Her mouth brimming with foulness the way a soup can bulges with botulism. (location 2460)

They invited her to move back home but she’s not going to do that, oh hell no, she’d much rather snap her tits in a bear-trap than go back to that hell. (location 1633)

She gets on her tippy-toes and kisses him. Long, slow, deep. The kind of kiss where you can feel little pieces of your soul trading places as mouths open and breath mingles. (location 3722)

How can you not read a book with writing like that?

Overall, fans of the first book in the Miriam Black series will not be disappointed by this entry.  Everything that made the first book unique in the urban fantasy genre has returned with strength, particularly the writing style and the characterization of Miriam.  The overarching plot moves forward at a pace fast enough to maintain interest, although not enough about the rules of the fantasy world is revealed.  The self-contained plot is gritty, dark, and sufficiently mysterious, although one moment detracts from it a bit.  Miriam and the writing more than make up for it, though.  Wendig fans will not be disappointed.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Previous Books in Series:
Blackbirds, review

Book Review: The Sweet Smell of Success and Other Stories by Ernest Lehman

March 4, 2010 2 comments

Black and white image of the hood of a car.Summary:
A collection of Ernest Lehman’s noir style short fiction, including The Comedian and The Sweet Smell of Success, which was turned into a film in the 1950s.  Varying in length from flash to many pages, most of the stories address the damage caused to individuals by the overly hungry theater, movie, and television industries.  Some of the stories also look at individuals suffering from discontent in marriage.

Review:
My first entry in my reading challenge to read books I bought for university but never got around to reading.  This was assigned for my Film Noir class in conjunction with watching The Sweet Smell of Success.  I loved that class and at least enjoyed the assigned books that I read at the time.  Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for these short stories.

Lehman’s writing doesn’t just evoke the past of the 1950s, it evokes an alternate, incredibly depressing universe.  I have the feeling that was his point in writing these stories.  The entertainment industry is evil and will slowly rob you of your soul.  There’s definitely merit in that, but it can get a bit depressing and redundant to read the same theme over and over again.

I also found the dialogue jarring.  The characters do things like call other men “baby,” and I can’t help but wonder if people actually talked like that back then.  It made the stories ring a bit more fake to me than I think they should have.

Three of the stories revolve around press agent Sidney Falco and columnist J. J. Hunsecker.  While I enjoyed these short stories it felt as if someone had ripped out three chapters from a back and handed them to me out of order.  I wish Lehman had written this as a book or novella.  He clearly had an affinity for these characters, as he repeatedly came back to them to explore them, so I wonder why he never just wrote a long piece about them.

The Comedian though is where Lehman hits his stride in this style and theme.  He takes just the right amount of time to tell the story.  He subtly lets us know the background information vital to feeling something for these characters on this crucial day, and the overarching them of the story is deeper than “the entertainment industry is evil.”  Oh, it is still represented as bad, but that is not the main point of the story, which makes it stronger.  I recommend reading this short story if you can get your hands on it.

Overall, if you’re in the mood for a marathon session of dark noir, you’ll enjoy this book.  Otherwise, I’d recommend finding one of the short stories to get a taste of the 1950s version of the genre.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Source: University bookstore

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