8 Black Voices to Read for Pride Month

To uplift black voices as much as possible in light of George Floyd’s murder, a new hashtag was created for PitMad today: #BVM for Black Voices Matter. As I was trying to think about what I could possibly do to help, I realized books were the answer for me. Racism trains people to not see a certain group of people as fellow human beings, whether in almost unconscious ways or blatant, intentional ways.

As author Matt Haig has eloquently stated,

reading “is how human merge. How minds quietly and deeply connect and expand. Empathy. Understanding. Escape. Reading is love in action.”

Hearing black voices and “merging” with their experiences is so important as we fight to overcome racism (This is an eye-opening thread on the development of racism in a baby’s brain). While I was thinking of doing a list of recommendations for pride month, I tried to think of black voices I’d read in this genre, and I was disappointed in how little there were. So I’ve compiled this exciting list of books to read representing black voices in LGBTQ literature.

1. The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum

I read The Wicker King by Ancrum–another great book for Pride Month–and was blown away by what Ancrum captures in such short, breathless chapters. I don’t read as much f/f as m/m books, and that needs to change. So why not start with a delinquent-meets-loner enemies-to-lovers romance with space themes? And it’s only 2.99 on Amazon right now!

2. Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

I am a sucker for mental health books. This Stonewall Book Award Winner with Suzette returning home from boarding school to be there for her bipolar step brother and—not intentionally—fall in love with his crush had me even before that gorg cover. Nicola Yoon calls it “beautifully insightful, honest, and compassionate. Brandy’s ability to find larger meaning in small moments is nothing short of dazzling.”

3. Real Life by Brandon Taylor

An introvert Southern black queer trying to eke out his post secondary education in biochem has his walls unexpectedly broken down by his community of classmates and friends. Goodreads says Real Life has been “named one of the most anticipated books of the year by Entertainment WeeklyHarper’s BazaarBuzzFeed, and more.” I need this book in my life immediately.

4. By Any Means Necessary by Candice Montgomery

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Stories about kids trying to rise from their rough beginnings will always have a special place with me. Throw into that a late beloved uncle’s bee farm at risk for foreclosure and a boy navigating first love while trying to pin down a college major, and I am THERE.

5. Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

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Nominated for the Lamda Award, best horror novel for the Locus Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Speculative Fiction (Ray Bradbury Prize), this African history and myth-inspired novel appears to dispense universal messages while providing an engrossing adventure. I can’t believe I haven’t already read this book.

6. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

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I wish I had explored more novels by authors whose short stories I loved in school. “Everyday Use” had such a powerful effect on me—I haven’t read it in years and my throat just got tight thinking about it. I had no idea this novel had LGBT themes though!

7. Go Tell it On the Mountain by James Baldwin

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Another one of those authors who I wish I had checked out their novels after reading their short fiction. I loved “Sonny’s Blues”, like exactly every single other person who has ever read the story, right? I am eager to read this passionate coming of age classic about a 14 year old stepson to a minister, exploring his identity in 1935 Harlem.

8. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

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I picked up this novel years ago and was absolutely engrossed by Ellison’s prose. I never  got as far as the horrifying sequence of the narrator’s story, however, so I will be changing that and picking this book up again.  In researching, there is some intriguing literary criticism regarding homoerotic undertones depicted in the novel. I look forward to unraveling it all. I think the novel’s difficulty renders it indispensable to this list.


Have you read any of these? Or do you have another favorite LGBTQ novel by a black author? Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments! 

Women in Horror Month

I listen to film scores…recreationally. I would say this is just a thing I do when writing, but it’s also when I’m driving, coloring with my kids, at work–it’s often, okay? I remember hearing one composer and thinking wow but not recognizing it because I hadn’t seen the movie. The composer was Rachel Portman (the song was the main title for Chocolat). I looked into her and found a massive body of magnificent work. I realized I had not heard of her because female composers in film are a rare breed–whether there really aren’t that many or that it’s hard for them to break through in a field dominated by men.

Women in horror presents and simultaneously disproves a similar statistical situation. But that’s another endeavor entirely. THIS post is about celebrating women in horror across a variety of mediums. Last year, in honor of Women in Horror Month, I wrote a post on my experience reading 44 books by only women authors in 2017. This year, I’m recommending some contemporary (and one classic) works by women in horror for you to sink your teeth into.

Novel

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Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage was an unexpected read last year. It was an audiobook I chose on a whim, and I’m glad I did. Gabra Zackman did a phenomenal job of narrating. I feel like the blurb is a little reductive of the sophisticated exposition and themes at play in this psychological horror. The end culminates in a different revelation than the reader carries from the beginning, leaving awe and sharp discomfort in its wake.

Actually, it reminds me of a short story I recently read by Annie Neugebeauer–

Short Story

“That Which Never Comes” by Annie Neugebauer appears in the first volume of Tales from the Shadow Booth, edited by Dan Coxon. This story is all about painful anticipation, but, there was something at the end, that really, truly terrified me and it had nothing to do with that which never comes. This story is such a full representation of a difficult, often deliberately misunderstood genre. You should also read her manifesto on why women in horror month matters.

Film

This article on 15 female horror directors revealed the director of my favorite horror film, American Psycho, to be another woman in horror to celebrate, Mary Harron. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a black comedy and psychological horror. My husband and I always reference it as the movie which you can play at any moment and it’s a good and/or hilarious part.

The article also reminded me of Honeymoon, a film that has stuck with me since watching it five years ago. The acting is seamless with tension that builds and builds to a gut-twisting crescendo.

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A more recent achievement for women in horror was Toni Collette’s complex, layered performance in one of the most startling, horrifying films I have ever seen, Hereditary. I can’t even say anything about this film. You just have to see it.

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Art

One of my absolute favorite mediums of horror is art. Dappermouth is an artist I discovered on tumblr a couple years ago. Every one of her pieces is so evocative and makes me feel things I don’t understand.

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Another artist who dabbles in horror is the author and musician, Maggie Stiefvater. Her tarot cards, The Raven’s Prophecy, are stunning. If you’re just beginning with tarot reading, the images are extremely emotional, making them easier than some decks to connect with.

Music

I want to recommend two artists, Meg Myers and Banks, with music in this genre.

The first video I saw for Meg Myers was Desire and I kinda fell for her. Her music is something that is waning in a very self-conscious field: it completely gives in. This song and video is so dark, she revealed in an interview, that a boyfriend broke up with Myers after experiencing it.

Banks is another phenomenal artist–I like earnest female artists, okay? She writes electronic, contemporary R&B-inspired confessionals. Her song “Fuck With Myself” examines the interplay and imbalance between self-love and self-hate. The video, in which Banks abuses a bald effigy of herself, is a horror gem.


 

Do you have an women in horror recommendations? Favorites? How will you celebrate the month? 

Top 6 Reads of 2018

The time has come again for a book wrap up. Here are my 6 favorites from last year.

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The Secret History

I finished this book at the beginning of 2018, and I still crave the feeling I got while reading it. There are books you love because the world feels real and transports you (Harry Potter) and books you love because of the characters (The Catcher in the Rye). Then there books that read like shooting a FEELING directly into your veins. And this one is it. The Secret History is dark, smart, and will leave you tense and gasping all the way to the end.

 

 

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

I notice a theme with some of my favorite books and that is setting, which Call Me By Your Name has in spades. Italy. Good god, it’s lovely. But also, Elio. Elio is the sweetest summer child that ever was. His emotional narration rips into your heart with teeth that will leave their venom behind, forever infecting you with FEELINGS. Elio’s narration will blur your vision with his angst. You will remember your exact self at teenage-years-old. In short, you will fully comprehend the concept of “shook” when you finish this novel.

Six of Crows | Crooked Kingdom

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Four words for you: No mourners, no funerals. I feel like I need a rollie and a burning  whisky as I write this. I’m kind of cheating on this one saying both were top reads of last year, but really, this entire universe is just…wow. The first novel in this duology gave me a revelation about how I read. The world is flat-out stunning–sexy, smart, but the characters and plot are phenomenal too. If you love action, slow burn, heists–shit, I didn’t even care about heists until reading this–smart heroes, villains, and the gray ones between, read Six of Crows. If you want to be completely transported, this series is your ticket to Apparating.

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Spinning Silver 

I was looking for good fantasy feels when I started this book; let’s just say I struck gold (*waves hand* you’ll get it when you read it). It was even better than Uprooted (which I reviewed as one of my best reads of 2017) a feat I never dreamed possible, in this dimension or its parallel. I was craving fantasy, and this book is the genre’s epitome. When you read this, you will want to be zipped up in a sleeping bag and buried in a tomb with Spinning Silver clutched to your chest.

 

 

Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren

I have read four of Christina Lauren’s books and nary a one has disappointed me. But this one…whew. This is one of those books that overreaches its genre and plucks the strings of your soul and stays and stays and stays. I just got all mushy thinking about it again. This book is about gangly teens, growing up, reading in reading nooks, overcoming loss, and finding your soulmate over books. It’s endearing, funny, heartfelt, hot, and now I want to read it all over again.

 

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Annihilation

I did not read a lot of horror last year–three, in fact, and one was a novella–and it will show in how inadequately I will sing the praises of this novel. But this book, this little iridescent bundle of sci-fi horror like you’ve never seen  before had me holed up for days and contemplating which lines I wanted to tattoo on my body. The setting is stunning, but the narrator, and the way in which she just wields a good story like a shank in a psychologically and physiologically threatening frontier, is VanderMeer’s prize piece.

 

 

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Have you read any of these? What did you think? Did you have any favorites from last year? Please, share in the comments. I’m always looking for my next fix. 

6 Reads of Unexpected Horror

My sisters and I used to have an ongoing competition to see who could scare the other two the most by jumping out at them. I never begrudged them whenever they would win, because it meant that I had been scared. That game was how I got my original horror kicks.

Nowadays, I’m a little less spastic (not really, I keep the legacy alive with my husband and daughters) and far more cultured about my love of horror. I love horror in art, horror movies, and of course reading horror. While movies spoon feed it all to you, seeing and reading it involve a little more on the part of the viewer/reader. Art requires you to create a story in your head, consciously or subconsciously, that makes it horror to you. You fill in the blanks the artist left behind. Whereas when reading it, you’re given the story and you make up the rest with the images dancing in your brain. It depends so heavily on the writer’s skill, their understanding of fear and fearlessness in employing that understanding.

Below, you will find a little reading list of horror in surprising places. Because what better time is there to scare yourself as we approach Halloween? None, I say.

Horror in Middle Grade (MG) Fiction

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The Nest

It’s not that I think it isn’t possible for a children’s book to be scary. I started my avid reading career in Goosebumps, okay? But I became physically uncomfortable when reading this book, squirming throughout most of it. On the surface the premise might seem innocuous: A boy worries about his sick newborn brother and develops a complicated relationship with the wasps building the nest outside his bedroom window; I assure you, the novel is anything but. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. Extremely original and skin-crawlingly creepy.

Horror in Young Adult (YA) Fiction

My Best Friend’s Exorcism 

Yes, it’s shelved as horror.  But I have read plenty of horror novels I enjoyed but that didn’t scare me. You know what I mean? It’s hard to do.

In this post last Halloween, I recommended this book as quirky horror. And it was. But I have to be honest, there were a couple scenes in this 80s-centered novel that terrified me more than any Stephen King scenes.

Horror in YA fantasy

The Raven Boys

If you’ve been following me on Twitter or have read my most recent post, you know I’m obsessed with this series. On the real though? My body broke out in chills while reading The Raven Boys, and I had to stand up away from the book to pace while my husband politely listened to my hysterical string of curses. The horror was intense, and it’s not even marketed as horror! This author does atmosphere so well, so when she wants to scare the shit out of you, she’s pretty damn successful. Also, it doesn’t stop with this book. It’s strung throughout the series.

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Uprooted

A note about horror in YA and MG: I would never recommend these books to anyone looking for “lite horror”. When I say unexpected horror, that’s exactly what I mean. These novels scared me, and I didn’t expect it. When reading this novel, I experienced utter physical discomfort and psychological…interruption.

Do not let that cover fool you. This novel was stunning, but it has an inky darkness made all the blacker beside the life and love it struggles to consume.

 

Horror in Poetry

Satan Says 

There were some lines, shit, entire poems in this collection that grabbed me by the throat and still haven’t let go (I reread the first poem in this collection for this blog, and it was even scarier because I unlocked a little more of its meaning). I’ve also talked about Sharon Olds here. Poetry is a perfect way to inject your Halloween with atmosphere. This article on Lit Reactor has more fantastic suggestions.

Horror in the Classics

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Dracula

Now I knew going in that this novel is horror. I guess I just wasn’t expecting…well, horror. I feel like Hollywood has desensitized me with jump scares and Frankenstein creations of mismanaged lore and urban legend. But Dracula reminded me vampires can be scary, that they actually ARE monsters. Which makes sense, since Dracula is the OG of the vampire myhthos–as original as we’re getting in this post anyway, and most everything after are watered down reinterpretations.

Parts of this novel lured a visceral reaction from me. The narrative structure definitely makes it a work of psychological horror, which always sticks fast with me (House of Leaves, Bird Box, A Head Full of Ghosts).  The narrators’ heads, as they face down the monster, are our landscape and it’s just as rich as the physical landscape.

Have you read any of these novels, and were you at all surprised by the horror? Feel free to leave additional suggestions for books or poems that gave you unexpected chills.

I hope everyone has a safe, horror-filled Halloween, and at least one evening curled up with a blanket and a scary read in hand.

6 Awesome Books I Read in 2016

I read approximately 30 books last year, and there were some gems among them, including a new favorite. I narrowed it down to six favorites for this post. I can only tell you what I loved about these books, sans spoilers,  and maybe convince one or two of you to pick up something that you wouldn’t usually turn to.

Sharp Objects (Mystery/Thriller)

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This book, this book right here. Wow. You want to be punched in the face and then falsely comforted by a book? Look, I didn’t think I did either, until I read this. All you have to do is go ‘look inside’ on amazon, and read the first couple pages. Flynn reads like a Sylvia Plath poem in a crime noir. Every sentence builds on the previous all the way to the sick-to-your-stomach merry-go-round ride at the end. Read Gone Girl or Dark Places? Great, now read this, and be happy you saved the best for last.

Camille Preaker, fresh out of the psychiatric hospital and looking for approval from her editor, is sent back to her hometown to look into a potential serial strangler of little girls. Problem is, returning to Wind Gap means facing her past, specifically her mother, with whom she has a strained relationship, her ethereal half-sister Amma, and the ghost of her dead sister, Marian.

Sisterland (Contemporary/Women’s Fiction)

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A compulsive contemporary read with a semi-fantastical element, this book was shocking in its vivid realism. Kate is the good girl of the sisters, the one that cares about what other people think, the one that ‘does things right’. Violet is the non-conformist, brutally honest, true to herself sister that embraces the psychic ability that they discovered at an early age and her premonition of an impending earth quake that gets her a spot on the national news.

This novel should not be written off as only chick-lit or a book about psychics. Sittenfeld combines masterful storytelling with subtle acknowledgement of all those what-if forks throughout our lives. Bringing to mind Niffeneger’s deft handling of that slice of magic through ordinary life in her Time Traveler’s Wife, Sisterland observes friendship, and romantic and familial relationships with a sharp emotional clarity.

Night Film (Mystery/Thriller)

10112885Horror is a third genre in which this novel fits (from my 2016 reads, see also A Head Full of Ghosts and My Best Friend’s Exorcism). Though this novel did call to mind House of Leaves in its experimental story-telling method, it is also unique.

Night Film had a hard-boiled tone to it in some parts, a thrilling ghost story in others, and the recounting of great and dark man’s horrific legacy overall. While about a prolific horror film director, who went to all lengths to capture true, unaffected horror, the story is told by Scott McGrath, the reporter who once tried to out director Stanislas Cordova’s sinister methods and lost everything in the battle. Now that Cordova’s daughter Ashley has turned up dead (and was pretty ghostly before she died), McGrath declares war. Will he find the truth he is looking for? You’ll have to read to see.

Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (YA)19547856

I read a lot of YA last year. My reread of Carry On aside, this was the most flawless, engrossing, teen-angst-ridden book I could have devoured in two days. And I did. (I can also highly recommend First & Then and P.S. I Like You for light-hearted, touching reads, but for heavier/darker YA, NestLooking for Alaska, and Wintergirls were also great.)

Simon’s day is already going south quick when he realizes that awkward class clown Martin (think Ackley from The Catcher in the Rye) is blackmailing him, threatening to reveal his homosexuality far before he’s ready. A timely disturbance to the butterflies he feels when emailing his also gay, anonymous pen-pal, who quite possibly attends Simon’s school. This book took me back to high school, to drama club, to starbursts in your chest of like-like and love, and to trying so hard it hurts to define yourself while defying the definitions placed on you from without.

Longbourn (Historical)

18399238After diving into Downton Abbey, I thirsted to read about how the other half lives in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, as represented by Baker. I was not disappointed. Some Austen and/or historical purists disdain this book for historical inaccuracies or perceived misinterpretations of Austen’s text. In my opinion, it is a good story beautifully written. It dug into my heart and lives there still. How can I convey how much and why I love this book? Okay, you have a certain food that you love, right? The ultimate comfort food. Maybe you throw it together on rainy days, maybe you just need it after having a really bad day…or a really good one. And you know how you feel, afterward, in the pit of your stomach? Not just full, but satiated? This is a book you will want to eat. And it will satiate you, I promise.

*FAVORITE BOOK OF 2016*

The Madwoman Upstairs

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And my absolute favorite book of 2016, which has been bumped up to my top four favorite novels ever (sitting prettily aside Jane EyreHouse of Leaves, and The Catcher in the Rye), was The Madwoman Upstairs. 

So, if you’ve ever done any type of feminist research on the Brontës’ works, you probably ran into a little tome called The Madwoman in the Attic (Gilbert & Gubar), not to be confused with the novel, The Madwoman Upstairs. Lowell’s title is a play on the excellent collection of feminist analyses, but I promise the book is less homework-y and more fun. 🙂

If you take immense pleasure in archaic romances (as defined here), you will enjoy this book. Not to be shallow, but debating great literature and semi-colon use with my hellishly good-looking Literature tutor in the pubs of England and yes, the halls of Oxford University, sounds like a little slice of heaven. Even better though, someone else struggles with inarticulateness in the face of the intimidating don. Samantha Whipple, the last Brontë descendant, was home-schooled by her late eccentric father. She is a bit of an odd ball and fairly alone in the world. She comes to Oxford to study literature, gets sequestered in what must surely be an inhabitable tower of the school, and begins to find startling pieces of her past on her doorstep. The mystery of whether her father left her the Brontë legacy, or any legacy at all, absorbs the reader into Sam’s growing obsession. Sam is far from perfect, but this is what makes her a heroine you will adore (or maybe you’ll hate her, but I adored her). Her sense of humor had me laughing out loud, ex:

“The trajectory of the academic year was now spanning out in front of me, and it looked like one blackened stream of intellectual dictatorship. The more time Orville and I spent together, the more I would become one of those pale-faced vampire children in films who emerge only to say something unsettilingly prophetic in a half whisper” —The Madwoman Upstairs

God, I could pull so many passages from this book, but I don’t want to spoil it for you (because you’re about to go buy it, right?). However, it wasn’t just about the narrator voice, or the romance, or the Brontë ghosts Sam spends over three hundred pages chasing (and avoiding in some parts). This book made me think, made me reconsider my own analyses on the literature addressed therein. Part scavenger-hunt, part romance, part spiraling descent into academia (with a touch of madness, of course), this novel leaves you struggling to discern truth from fiction.

Read any of these books? What did you think?

Other recommendations?