Hello, I’m Rogan and welcome to a completely different background. I’m currently in the middle of a renovation of my room! You will eventually see what I’m doing, maybe? Anyway, let’s wrap up the books I read in March! This month, I read six books and did *not* like two of them, unfortunately. You’ll see why when we get to them, but luckily, I was able to end the month with a couple of good reads. Let’s get started!
First up, Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. This incredible book tells the tale of Noemí Taboada who is living it up in 1950s Mexico City as a debutante, enjoying the wealth and partying the days away. One day, her family gets a very strange letter from her cousin who recently married and moved to High Place. This house is in the Mexican countryside, and her cousin is begging for someone to help save her. Worried about her cousin’s safety, Noemí’s father decides to send her to check on her cousin and take her away if needed. Noemí arrives to find a very hostile house – her cousin’s new husband who is menacing but also somehow enticing, his father who also rules the house with an iron fist and is fascinated—maybe even obsessed—with Noemí, house staff who barely interact with her, and it would seem even the house itself doesn’t want her there, causing her to have nightmares of doom. It’s not all awful though, the brother seems to be friendly enough and wants to help Noemí out. However, Noemí is determined to dig past the walls the family has around them. She starts learning more of the history behind High Place, the darkness that surrounds the area, the violence and madness that’s happened, and realizes there’s far more happening here than seemed to be at first. She’s trapped in more ways than just one as she struggles to figure out what she should do. — *faces of amazement, just wordless* There is so much happening that I didn’t mention in that description, mainly because this is a Gothic horror, and a lot of elements depend on you not knowing too much detail to be truly effective. But again, this is horror and it is chock-full of content warnings. A few major ones are graphic violence, murder, incest, racial supremacy, sexual and physical assault. There are also some related to body horror. You can easily find a full list of content warnings in places online. I said earlier that there’s a lot happening, and there is! However, it is also a very slow build-up. The horror slowly creeps in as Noemí learns more and more, and has a big, intense ending. The horror does become gory at times, but it’s also very cerebral, making you question things and struggle to separate fact from fiction. I was blown away by this, because while it starts out as your “traditional” haunted house and horror story, it doesn’t take long for it to swerve away from that and throw you into some dark situations. I’m going to just stop talking about this because you really should check this out if you like Gothic horror or just horror in general. By the way, I am so excited to see the Hulu adaption of this!! I hope it lives up to the book! Also, I definitely recommend another book of Moreno-Garcia’s that I’ve read, Gods of Jade and Shadow, which is also incredible.
Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay. This is a twisty story told from multiple perspectives and goes between the past and present about the Pine family and the tragedies that have struck their family. Present: Matt Pine, a current NYU student, just finished a night of partying to find out that his family has been found dead while on vacation in Mexico, and local police are claiming it was an accident. It seems too suspicious though, and no one is telling Matt why. This makes news everywhere, because the Pine family is a known name. Past: Matt’s older brother, Danny, was accused of murdering his girlfriend and was handed a life sentence. There was a viral true crime documentary made, suggesting that Danny was completely innocent, but Matt saw something that makes him sure Danny did it. Back to present day, Matt is thrust back into the trauma of the past, a media frenzy, and the mystery behind his family’s death in Mexico. He wants to find the truth to everything – the original murder, his family’s, and confront all of his fears. — I was sent an ARC, and a final hardcover copy, of this book by Minotaur Books for review. Thank you! I’ll be giving the hardcover to a friend of mine. I really enjoyed this! It’s a thriller, drama filled, very twisty, and the characters are great. They all felt very fleshed out, even the ones who appeared for only a brief time. Matt is surrounded with great friends who do their best to support him in this traumatic time, even when he tries to push them away and go it alone. The FBI agent that’s in contact with Matt, Sarah Keller, is fantastic and she deserves more! I’m not going to talk too much about this, it is a thriller after all, and the plot moves very quickly. It reads very much like a movie, and it’d adapt really well, I think. I do wish it had a bit more atmosphere, and maybe a little more depth with the Pine family, but I get that this is more focused on the after and the surviving members. Still, I really enjoyed this and would recommend if you like action/thriller stories.
Fabulous in Tights by Hal Bodner. Alec Archer is the owner of a successful male escort service in Centerport, where sex work has been legalized. He lives there with his husband, Peter, who he loves very much. Centerport also happens to be the place that a lot of villains choose to kick off their career. Luckily, Alec is also Whirlwind, a superhero that works to protect Centerport from all of these evil plots. We encounter Thanatos, who has a mysterious plot to twist a plan to end world hunger, which is led by Peter. Thanatos is very, very clever and has figured out things about Whirlwind that no one knows, not even Whirlwind. Whirlwind and his friends race to stop Thanatos before the plot is unleashed. — Quite bluntly, I didn’t like this. I gave it two stars out of five. Honestly, the only reason why this book still has two stars is because I really like the concept of this book, some of the worldbuilding, and we need more queer superheroes and villains. But there’s too many issues with it for me to give it anything higher. This book is extremely campy, which isn’t really a problem in itself, but combined with everything else, it just was too much. I didn’t really like Alec as a person. Sure, he had some great banter, but overall his personality is kind of trash. Near the beginning, we meet him as Whirlwind and he’s rescuing civilians from a burning building. He made way too many fatphobic comments, used several slurs, had a really creepy attitude towards a wheelchair user, and has the attitude of sort of a mean old queen. Weirdly self-absorbed at the same time as being a superhero who actually does care about the safety of other people. Just overall not a great person. There’s also a slightly confusing thing with the marriage between Alec and Peter. It’s said pretty early on that the marriage is secret, because Peter works in corporate, and people aren’t all that open-minded and such. But later, it’s said that people kinda just know about it, it’s not really a “secret” and it was kind of just brushed off. Plus, Alec is a pretty well-known figure, being the owner of an escort business, so it’d be really difficult to keep that marriage a secret anyway. What was even the point of that? Let’s talk about Thanatos. The whole description of his appearance was very interesting, and I did like it. There was also some sexual tension between Whirlwind and Thanatos. However, there’s some inconsistencies in the physical description. For example, he’s described as having a monstrous mask and it seemed to be something that fully covers the face. But then a leer and grin are described later on, it’s just unclear on what the mask looks like. Because of certain things and the way that were described about Thanatos, I was able to guess who he was *very* early on. Overall, I just didn’t really like the characters, it was very predictable for me, and kind of disappointing.
The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson. This is the second queer book this month that I really did not like, and I’m going to tell you right now—if this book is on your list, take it off. There are so many problematic aspects, and I already saw them coming just from the blurb. This is supposedly about a trans girl, Kate, figuring herself out, how to move through the world and come out to people, but for maybe 90% of this book, her deadname and he/him pronouns are used. There’s this whole thing of “wanting” that doesn’t feel like a trans girl wanting to present as who she is, but is clearly written by a cis author with the mindset that this character is “a boy wanting to be a girl” which is just wrong. There’s a lot of transphobic things said by Kate, which is sort of understandable, because there’s a lot of internalized transphobia she has to work through, but there were also transphobic things said by Leo, the other trans character in this book. I will tell you this “”””twist”””” of both main characters being trans, because how we find out about the second trans character is just not right. Leo’s transness is used as a plot twist and he gets “found out” when he’s shoved into a room with a popular girl, being expected to have sex together and revealed that way. No, just no. When Leo found out that Kate was trans, he didn’t immediately switch to she/her pronouns in general and for his internal monologue. He pretty much used her pronouns and called her Kate only when she was in more feminine clothing, which is just not right. In the author’s note or afterword, whatever it was, she says that she worked with an UK-based gender clinic (this was set in the UK) to ensure the representation was done well. I— I disagree. I might have been more forgiving if this had been written in the early 2000s, but this was written in 2015, and I was just really annoyed the whole time I was reading this. Just don’t pick up this book.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Braiding indigenous stories, science, and personal stories together, Kimmerer takes us on a journey through the living world to see what we can learn from it. Kimmerer talks about her childhood, her wonder at all of the living things around us and the stories that they have, the secret language of plants and how we can learn it if we just slow down enough to listen. She tells us of how she decided that she would become a botanist and was trained to ask questions with the cold lens of science, then eventually realizing that she’d lost her way and worked on returning to her indigenous ways of learning and being. Kimmerer emphasizes the importance of reciprocity in everything – our relationship with each other, the earth, animals and plants. By accepting the gifts of others, the earth, we grow and thrive but only if we give our own gifts in return. We learn about Kimmerer’s thoughts on western science and worldview compared to indigenous ways of thinking, the relationship between those, and how all of that affects the way we live today. — I had been reading this throughout the month for Signed Out Loud, a book club. It’s a lot to take in, and I think it is best if it’s read in parts. There are three major themes being woven (or braided) together: the long tradition of sweetgrass and indigenous traditions involving it, her own journey as an indigenous scientist and professor, and her life as a mother. While I did enjoy all parts, I feel like this book could’ve been a little more focused on one or two themes. That might help the book not feel so long and slightly meandering. That aside, Kimmerer’s writing is beautiful and very evocative. She takes the time to describe the nature she sees around her, how she interacts with it and learns from the land, and how she teaches her students about the earth. I really appreciated all of the stories that she shared, both personal and from the various tribes she’s connected or worked with. I learned a lot more about various indigenous traditions, and how they make sure they give back more than they take. This book reminded me how much I really miss being out in nature for longer periods of time, and I’m honestly excited for spring and summer to be able to really enjoy being outside. I would certainly recommend this, but I’d also encourage you to seek out indigenous reviews of this and not take just my white perspective on this.
Our Bloody Pearl by D.N. Bryn. Perle is a siren that’s been trapped in a tub on a pirate ship since Kian, the captain, created a device that allowed her to cancel out all siren song and capture them. Perle finally sees a chance to escape from Kian’s hold when the ship is attacked by another pirate crew, and is found by Dejean, the captain. Despite Perle growling at Dejean and being hostile, he simply treats them with kindness and does what he can to gain Perle’s trust. Slowly, the two of them build trust and a language of signs, quickly turning into banter and a tenuous relationship. Dejean devises a plan to relocate Perle and eventually help them return to the sea, and discovers Perle’s far more injured than first suspected. Their tail doesn’t work, and the best they can do is wiggle their hips. Dejean and Murielle work together to help Perle adjust to their new situation, recovering from being stuck in poor conditions and figuring out an aid to allow Perle to swim again. However, it’s not all calm. Kian is angry her first siren catch isn’t under her thumb anymore and is a looming threat above Dejean and Perle’s heads. They both know they have to kill Kian, because she’s been so destructive to the sirens and her own crew. — I’ve been seeing this book talked about a lot by my BookTube friends, and I am so happy I finally got around to reading this! First, let’s go over the fantastic representation in this. Perle, and the rest of the sirens, don’t have a concept of gender like humans do, so they/them pronouns are used for them throughout the whole book. There’s a lesbian couple, ace characters, and disability rep. There’s probably more that’s slipping my mind right now, but it’s incredible. I really appreciate that while this sort of has romance, it’s never obvious. It’s much more subtle and gradual. I absolutely love Perle and their dry sarcasm, the banter between them and Dejean when they’d built up enough language to communicate. I was fascinated by how Bryn did that part, the sign language, because by some of the descriptions, I can see the parallels with ASL. But at the same time, it certainly fit in the world and made sense. Of course, sign language is incredibly difficult to portray using English because there’s so much lost in translation, but the way it was done in this book worked for this situation. To be clear, there aren’t any deaf characters. The sign language was developed because humans can’t understand the vocal language of sirens, and the sirens already use signs in some situations. Perle simply taught Dejean those, and they created more as their bond developed. I really liked the siren mythology in this, how pods work, their views on social and gender constructs, territories, and the conversation around disability in terms of life in the sea versus on land. I could go on and on, but I think I’ve said enough! I really liked this and encourage you to go read it!
That’s all for my March books. I am SO glad that I was able to close out the month with two good books after those awful ones. Leave in the comments a book that you enjoyed recently or are currently reading.
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