and such a long journey, the heart expands to claim this world, bring me that horizon, anywhere but here, I need things on a grander scale

Two recent books, because I really need to get back to writing reviews

The Betrayal of the Duchess: The Scandal That Unmade the Bourbon Monarchy and Made France Modern by Maurice Samuels. Nonfiction about the 1830s in France. After the Bourbons had been kicked off the throne for the second time, the duchesse de Berry, widowed mother of the theoretically legitimate king (who was only 11), attempted to lead a civil war in rural France to retake the crown. This obviously did not go so well, and after her defeat she went into hiding, only to be betrayed to the police by one of her followers named Simon Deutz. Deutz had been raised Jewish, and despite his recent conversion to Catholicism was best-known for being the son of France's Chief Rabbi. Unsurprisingly, his actions led to an upswell of antisemitism, and Samuels argues this moment was one of the key shifts from antisemitism's medieval form (blood libel, backwards religiously) to its modern form (global capitalists, pushing the New World Order).

Even if you don't exactly agree with the duchess's pro-monarchy politics, she's a fascinating figure: despite being frequently described as "not pretty" by other members of the nobility, with bad teeth and a wandering left eye, she became a fashion icon who set the most glamorous trends of Parisian style; only 4'7, she was an inspiring military leader and modeled herself after Joan of Arc; idealized as the perfect, devoted mother by her followers, she had an affair and bore a child out of wedlock, who shortly thereafter died, probably due at least partly to parental neglect.

Deutz seems like a bit of a terrible person, even ignoring all of the racist accusations of his detractors: unable to keep any job for long, constantly running up debts and taking advantage of anyone foolish enough to loan him money, given to violent outbursts and heavy drinking and self-aggrandizing. As the aftermath of the clash between him and the duchess played out in newspapers, books, caricatures, and politics, it's easy to see how she came to represent old-school values of honor, trust, courage, and loyalty, while he stood for the modern world of hard cash, putting yourself first, individualism, and immigration (having been born not only Jewish, but in a German village before moving to France as a toddler). Of course, it's the tragedy of the last two hundred years that these symbols accrued not only to Deutz himself, but to all Jewish people.

It's a very relevant piece of history, and one that I'd never heard of before. There's all sorts of interesting repercussions to other areas, from Les Miserables to Alexandre Dumas to the Dreyfus Affair, the more recent and more well-known outburst of French antisemitism. I was particularly interested in the history of French Judaism in the early 1800s, the way the community gained rights and lost them in the swinging pendulum of Revolution, Napoleon, and Restoration. The writing style is smooth and engaging, and Samuels does a very good job of drawing parallels from this singular event to its still-ongoing repercussions.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland by Gretel Ehrlich. A nonfictional account of an American's time in Greenland. I was never quite sure why exactly Ehrlich went to Greenland – early on, she alludes to a medical problem, something to do with her heart, but I'm not clear on how that would lead one to travel to Greenland, and there never is more of an explanation than that brief allusion.

Regardless, once there, Ehrlich sets out to better understand traditional Inuit (Eskimo? she uses the terms interchangeably, but that might have been more common in the 90s when she was there) life and beliefs, and to experience them for herself. Ehrlich structures her trips around those of previous travelers, particularly Knud Rasmussen, an explorer/anthropologist of the early 1900s, and Rockwell Kent, a painter who lived in Greenland in the 1930s. Mostly though, Ehrlich records her perceptions of months-long night, months-long day, dogsled trips, and icebergs. It's a book that's almost more poetry than it is memoir, travelogue, or history. Unfortunately, the quality of the poetry varies enormously. Sometimes it's lovely. Sometimes it's entirely nonsensical:
Now circling sun augered light down like an arrow of time, pushing us across the great expanse because there was nowhere else to go. Ice is time solidified.
Solid space stands for emotional grasping; an ephemeral cataract, making opaque what it is we long to see.


More than anything, Ehrlich needed a better editor. Both because someone should have urged her to cut the more ~abstract~ bits of poetry, and because she began to repeat herself frequently in the second half of the book: she tells the story of the ill-fated Greely expedition twice, chapters apart; she repeats the same descriptions of people (not in a poetic way, just in an "I forgot I already used this very distinctive phrase" way); the same conversations with the same people are retold, word for word.

I was also made uncomfortable by some of Ehrlich's relationships with local Greenlanders. It's never quite clear if she was compensating them in any way for taking her on weeks-long trips or allowing her to stay in their homes for months at a time. In particular, she has a relationship with a young girl that veers hard into White Savior territory; at one point, Ehrlich offers to take the girl with her to California so that she can attend a better school, despite the fact that would mean leaving her parents (and younger brother, who Ehrlich doesn't seem to care as much about) behind. Ehrlich's writing style treats all emotions and relationships so opaquely that I have no real sense of how the girl's family felt about her in return, or if she bothered to keep in contact with them when she wasn't in Greenland. It was all just weird and awkward.

I would have given this one star, except... well, it did really make me want to visit Greenland! So I suppose I have to give Ehrlich some credit for that.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
and such a long journey, the heart expands to claim this world, bring me that horizon, anywhere but here, I need things on a grander scale

Reading Wednesday

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths. A murder mystery set in modern-day Norfolk, England. Ruth is single, overweight, nearing forty, and lives alone with her two cats – all of which is extremely horrifying to her religious parents, though Ruth herself couldn't give a fuck. She's also a professor of forensic archaeology, and is called in by the police to investigate the discovery of a child's skeleton in a nearby bog. The skeleton turns out to be two thousand years old, which is unfortunate in the mind of Detective Nelson, who'd hoped to solve a ten-year-old cold case concerning a missing child. When another young girl disappears, Ruth and Nelson team up to investigate if the two cases are linked, and what clues might be hidden in a series of anonymous letters about archaeology and pagan beliefs.

I was super excited for this book, because bog bodies + murder mystery is basically what I want to be reading all the time. Alas, the execution was not what I was looking for.

It's not terrible; Griffiths is particularly good at describing a landscape, and the windy, barren (fictional) Saltmarsh, haunted by the cries of birds and the smell of the sea, is a fantastic creation. I also found Ruth herself an extremely likeable character; the scene where she turns down her ex-boyfriend because she'd rather be alone than with someone she only has a vague fondness for made me very happy. And as a mystery, The Crossing Places works perfectly well. I didn't guess who the killer was until the reveal, though mostly because every single character seemed suspicious.

No, what bothered me was the archaeology. Which actually surprised me! I'm not generally picky about the accuracy of fictional portrayals of archaeology; I can watch Indiana Jones with a content heart. And yet, the archaeology in The Crossing Places drove me crazy. I think because Griffiths was so clearly trying to be accurate, while actually being, uh... extremely dubious (they find a well-preserved bog body in 2010, and the excavation is finished after a weekend and didn't even make the local news? people are stashing two thousand year old gold artifacts in their houses? a tiny, community-college type university has an entire department of archaeology complete with PhD students?). Oddly, the police work is equally full of mistakes (random consultants can just take home letters from serial killers – not photocopies or scans, but the actual, original letters?). There was also an attempt to draw a meaningful parallel between the bog bodies of the Iron Age and the modern killer that just wasn't informed enough or insightful enough to work.

In short, a book that just wasn't successful. However, it's the first in a series, and I think I might go ahead and give the sequels a try? My copy of The Crossing Places included the first few chapters of Book #2 in the back, and they already seem to be much improved, archaeology-wise. If Griffiths realized that she needed to do more research after finishing this one, I can hardly criticize her for that.

The Red Chamber by Pauline A. Chen. A retelling of the Chinese classic 'Dream of the Red Chamber' with more focus on the female characters and with a style more in line with modern tastes (that is, not being 2,500 pages long and with an actual ending). The story in set in mid-1700s Beijing, in the women's quarters of a rich and influential household, and focuses on four of the younger members of the Jia family:
– Daiyu, an orphaned teenager who was raised in the south in a poorer branch of the family; she's sent to join the main household in Beijing where she's not always prepared for the level of opulence and politicking expected of her. She's naive, idealistic, and earnest, which quickly leads to her falling in love with main character #2, Baoyu.
– The heir of the Jia family, Baoyu is hugely spoiled: a handsome, charming, intelligent young man who's never been forced to actually work at anything. He refuses to study for the Imperial Exams and get a job, despite the family's need for both his future income and influence. For most of his life, it's been expected that he would marry main character #3, Baocai.
– Baocai is not as beautiful as Daiyu, and she has a reputation for being cold and stiff, but underneath her outer poise she's insecure, worried about her good-for-nothing brother, and uncertain of how to deal with Daiyu stealing Baoyu's affection, despite her early friendship with Daiyu.
– Finally there's Xifeng, who married into the family. She's smart, organized, good with money, and keeps the entire household running, but she can't get pregnant, leading her husband to desert her and turn her best friend into his new concubine.

I haven't read the original 'Dream of the Red Chamber', so I can't comment on how true this version is to the original. The writing here is nothing special – if anything, frequently too blunt and plain – but the story is engaging, with frequent twists and turns, and nice shift from individual personalities to larger cultural trends. I also quite liked Chen's new take on the ending; I can't imagine it's how the original planned to wrap up, but it worked for me.

Overall, I can't say that The Red Chamber does anything to stand out from the rest of the extremely large genre of historical fiction/women's lit, but hey, at least now I'm somewhat closer to having read one of global classics of literature that I've always meant to get around to. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
and such a long journey, the heart expands to claim this world, bring me that horizon, anywhere but here, I need things on a grander scale

2020 in podcasts

I did a post like this last year, but thought a new year was a good time for an update. Though there's certainly a lot of overlap! So here are my Top Ten Favorite Podcasts of 2020 – or, at least, the podcasts I listened to the most often, which oddly doesn't always translate to 'favorite'.

10. The Dollop: Two male comedians tell one another weird stories from American history.
This podcast is probably the one I'm currently listening to that makes me laugh the hardest. The hosts are both straight white men and that can sometimes be a little too obvious in their blindspots, but they have a real talent for finding the most bizarre true stories and turning them into comedy gold. It's sort of like 'Drunk History' with less slurring.

9. Moby Dick Energy: A chapter-by-chapter breakdown of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. The female host has a different guest on for each episode/chapter, who have ranged from comedians to English professors.
I love the idea of this podcast – Moby Dick is so well-suited for this sort of deep-dive – but so far I'm not loving the execution. The show has struggled with what it wants to be – it's not going hard enough on the comedy to be funny, but it's also not going hard enough on the research to find worthwhile insights. By trying to do both it's just failing at both. But I haven't listened to many episodes yet, and I get the sense that it might find its balance soon, so I'm not giving up yet.

8. Ologies: A woman journalist/comedian interviews scientists from every -ology imaginable (gemology! paleontology! cosmetology! you get it).
I only discovered this podcast in December or else it would probably be much higher on this list. I worried that the interviews would be too much about the scientists' personal lives and not enough about their cool research, which is a problem I have with a lot of science journalism, but this show doesn't strike that note at all! It's really exactly the Cool-Things look at various sciences that I've always wanted.

7. Lore: A male host tells creepy true stories from history.
I honestly don't know why I'm still listening to this show, because every episode drives me crazy. The host is so gullible – recounting stories that are clearly nothing more than creepypasta (or sometimes the 18th century equivalent of creepypasta) as though they're plausible real accounts – or maybe he's not gullible and just doesn't care to do adequate research, which is equally annoying. His attempts to derive deep philosophical meaning out of stories about haunted puppets and werewolves are also ridiculous. I also generally don't like single-host shows; I much prefer the flow of conversation you get once there's multiple people involved (the main thing that has prevented me from starting my own podcast!).
And yet, I keep not unsubscribing. I can't explain why, but I find myself hitting play on this show more often than on ones where I don't outright hate the host. I can't explain it. Maybe hate-listening turns out to be pretty solid entertainment?

6. The Magnus Archives: A fictional series about an archivist who records the stories of random people's horrific supernatural encounters. Gradually he becomes more and more pulled into an adventure involving worm-monsters and a supernatural conspiracy that seems to have it out for him specifically.
So many people have recommended this podcast to me. So many! But sorry, guys, it's just not working for me. I prefer the Monster-of-the-Week episodes (though even those are never as scary as I want them to be) to the overarching narrative, and the more we get of the latter the more bored I become. I'm near the end of Season One, and I think I might drop it at that point – I've heard it becomes much more focused on the characters and plot in subsequent seasons, and that's exactly where I don't want it to go.

5. History is Gay: Two queer women cover queer history with a sense of humor.
I discovered this podcast while doing research for a class I was teaching on the history of same-sex marriage, and I have to give it to them: this is the best queer history podcast I've found, striking an excellent balance between general and specific knowledge. They cite their sources, and the Notes post that accompanies each episode is a great supply of art and other images.
All that said, I find the hosts incredibly annoying and their jokes dumb and cringeworthy. So why am I still listening? Well, I do learn something interesting or useful in each episode, so I feel obliged to continue. Still, I'll be glad when I run out of new episodes.

4. Apocalist Book Club: Two women read every post-apocalyptic novel ever written, in chronological order starting in 1805.
Most of the books the hosts review are bad, so very bad (they're only up to stuff in written in 1930 so far), but they do a wonderful job at providing context for the author and literary trends of the time, along with hilarious recaps of the plots themselves. My one complaint is that this show only updates once a month, so I can't listen to it as frequently as I wish I could.

3. The Baby-sitters Club Club: Two thirty-something male comedians review every book in Ann M. Martin's classic preteen-girl series, The Baby-Sitters Club.
The show is so much sweeter than that description might make you assume, and I adore these guys and their humor. They've finally run out of Baby-sitter related material to cover (after reviewing every spinoff imaginable, the Netflix series, the graphic novels, and the computer games), and I have no idea where they will go next, but I do hope they continue because I love this show.

2. Alternate Ending: Three friends discuss movies: one's a legit film critic working on his PhD, one dropped out of film school, and one's a 'casual viewer'.
Another slightly odd choice for 'favorite', since I'm not actually that big of a movie watcher and frequently haven't seen any of the movies they discuss. Nonetheless, I really love the banter between these three and am always excited whenever a new episode drops.

1. My Favorite Murder: Two women comedians discuss true crime.
After avoiding this hugely popular podcast until late 2019, I promptly was sucked into a massive binge. Considering that there's something like 470 episodes, I had plenty to listen to, and easily spent hours listening every day. I'm not really sure why? I don't dislike the humor or the hosts, but I'm also not that big of a fan of true crime. But something about MFM soothed my brain during all of the stress and bizarreness that was 2020. I've very nearly hit the end of my binge (there's only 12 new episodes left!), and I'm not sure I'll continue to feel the same way about it once I can no longer listen endlessly but have to wait for updates like everyone else. I suspect that might break whatever spell I've been under. Still, it's been a good thousand hours of listening.

What do you listen to? Recommend me new shows! This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
and such a long journey, the heart expands to claim this world, bring me that horizon, anywhere but here, I need things on a grander scale

Books of 2020

2020 was not a great year for reading, as many people have been pointing out for months now. For me, I managed to finish a fair number of books, but am horrifyingly behind in writing them up.

I had a couple of different themes to my reading this year. On my trip to India (late Feb-early March), I focused on books set in or written by people from the specific cities I visited. After the pandemic set in and quarantine became mandatory, I decided to tackle the massive pile of books that I own but haven't read, also known as Mount TBR. And "Mount" is really the right word, given that I'm now eight months into that task and it's still at an intimidating size. On the one hand, my girlfriend is extremely happy to have fewer stacks of books in our apartment. But on the other hand, this focus means I did very poorly at my goal of reading books by authors of color – I'm kind of stuck with what I purchased years before or was given as gifts. I also pick up a decent number of books from stoops (in my neighborhood, it's extremely common for people to leave books out on the sidewalk/in a cardboard box/some other public location as a signal that they're done with them and the books are looking for a new home. It's common enough that I easily acquire several books a month this way). A free book is hard to resist, but the selection does tend to lean toward white authors.

I also read plenty for research related to my work. I generally don't include those on my official "books read" list, both because I frequently don't actually read them cover-to-cover but skim for relevant information and because it always seems so pointless to write up reviews of academic texts or PhD theses; I mean, no one's checking out “The Decision to Hire German Troops in the War of American Independence: Reactions in Britain and North America, 1774-1776” for its readability anyway. And if I include my research books, what do I do about articles or chapters? See, it just all gets very complicated.

Ah, well. My reading goals going forward are about the same as always: continue to diminish Mount TBR, read more by people of color, read more by women. Hey, they're good goals!

My Statistics
Total Read: 76 books
By women: 48 books, 63% of the total
By People of Color: 16, 21%
Mount TBR: 37, 49%
Reviews written: 24, 32%

Collapse )

I think it would be overly optimistic to promise that I'll write a review of everything from 2020; it's probably more reasonable to start with a clean slate going forward in 2021 and try to review everything from here on out. But that said, if any of these titles look interesting to you, please let me know and I'll give you a brief review based on my months-old memories! This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
and such a long journey, the heart expands to claim this world, bring me that horizon, anywhere but here, I need things on a grander scale

Wednesday Reading

The Case of the Reincarnated Client - Tarquin Hall.The fifth book in the Vish Puri series, murder mysteries set in Delhi. This one, though set in 2016, mostly concerns a murder that took place in 1984 during the anti-Sikh riots that followed the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Puri's own father was a police detective at the time, and investigated the death of Riya Kaur, suspecting that she was actually murdered by her husband, who used the riots to cover up his own crime. Unfortunately Puri's father was never able to prove anything, and the case haunted him until his death. Now Puri's mother ("Mummy-ji") believes she has found the proof – in the form of recovered memories from a woman who claims to be Kaur's reincarnation. Puri's skepticism about the supernatural runs up against the impossibly accurate information Kaur's supposed reincarnation is able to provide.

Meanwhile, the government of India releases a surprise announcement that all paper money must be exchanged at banks for new paper money within the next 48 hours, or else it will become worthless. It's part of a plan to reduce the black market, but Puri finds himself both with a buttload of cash to exchange and no time to do so, and clues to a suspected money launderer.

Despite the seriousness of both cases, the Vish Puri books are always funny, cozy, and full of lots of food porn – especially street food. They're light mysteries, overall; a subplot concerns a bride who wants to know why her groom is such a loud snorer, for example. I didn't enjoy this one quite as much as I've enjoyed the previous books, unfortunately, but it's still a fun series that does a wonderful job at capturing the feel of Delhi.

(Also, I read this book while on a trip to India earlier this year, and it finally cleared up my confusion at why everyone refused to take my old cash!)
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

The Italian Boy: A Tale of Murder and Body Snatching in 1830s London by Sarah Wise. Nonfiction about a historical true crime case. The late 1700s and early 1800s saw the fantastical-sounding profession of "resurrection men": specialists in grave-robbery who stole fresh corpses to sell to doctors and medical schools, who needed them to practice surgery, study anatomy, and expand our knowledge of how the human body worked. The most famous of these Resurrection Men are probably Burke and Hare, who in Scotland in 1828 got tired of digging up bodies and decided to create their own instead. Eventually convicted of sixteen murders, Burke and Hare and their crimes became enormously famous.

Less well-known is that, a few years later, London had its own murderous Resurrection Men. In 1831, several of them shopped around the corpse of an dark-haired fourteen-year-old boy, until one of the prospective clients decided the body was just a little too fresh and detained the Resurrection Men until the police could be called. Ultimately the corpse was identified as that of an Italian beggar-child who had made money by displaying white mice – though, as Wise shows, there's an equal amount of evidence that he was just a regular English kid, and the popular identification of him as the "Italian Boy" probably has more to do with contemporary Londoners' romanticization of the attractively-exotic poor than anything else.

I love historical true crime because it's capable of being a fascinating window into a particular time and place, and Wise really delivers. She provides deep dives into topics like the rivalries between London's various medical schools, the functioning of the Smithfield Meat Market, the child trafficking between Italy and England for a constant flow of those "adorable" beggars, the inner workings of the Newgate Prison, and daily life in a poor suburb of 1830s London. If you're only looking for the details of a gorey crime, The Italian Boy is probably not the book for you. But if you, like me, are excited to learn the intricacies of the politics of police uniforms in 1820, than I highly recommend it.

The Italian Boy also had a lot more pictures than is typical for a nonfiction book, nearly one for every other page: maps, portraits, images from broadsheets, newspaper headlines, etchings of famous beggars, and more. It was a surprise, but a nice one.

The Fall of the Wild: Extinction, De-Extinction, and the Ethics of Conservation by Ben A. Minteer. A collection of six essays on the philosophical considerations involved in protecting wild species. I picked up this book because I'm hugely interested in de-extinction (the actual ongoing research to try and revive various extinct species through cloning and/or genetic engineering; the passenger pigeon is one currently closest to success, though the project on the woolly mammoth is probably more well-known), which Minteer is not a fan of. In general, I'd call Minteer a moderate for his views on conservation. Take the issue of zoos, for example. Several groups have called for their widespread closure, but Minteer doesn't go that far; instead, he points to the role of captive breeding in preventing the extinction of the California Condor or the Arabian Oryx, as well as the possibility of zoos inspiring visitors to become more involved in conservation. But he's not for massive deregulation or the too-close confinement of animals either.

Unsurprisingly, he's against de-extinction. His argument mostly centers on the idea that if humans know that we can 'fix' extinction, we won't try to prevent it as strongly. I don't find this convincing; it's not like de-extinction is easy, cheap, or simple, and I can't imagine extinction ever coming to seem unimportant, no matter how many technological fixes might exist.

But despite my disagreement on that issue, I very much enjoyed The Fall of the Wild. Minteer's writing is thoughtful, clear, and engaging, and he doesn't stick to theoretical philosophy, but tells multiple interesting stories. I particularly enjoyed his descriptions of Zootopia, a not-yet-built zoo in Denmark that will be an immense, wall-less, cage-less landscape where animals wander free and humans peek at them from hidden enclosures. The story of the relocation of 500 elephants from one nature preserve to another several hundred miles away, done via helicopter and trucks, was also fascinating. Minteer frequently refers to Aldo Leopold (an American conservationist from the early 1900s), whom he has modeled his thinking after. Leopold sounds incredible, and Minteer's summaries of his life and philosophy were a new area to me, but one I found very compelling.

Overall a very intelligent and readable book if you're at all interested in the topic.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
and such a long journey, the heart expands to claim this world, bring me that horizon, anywhere but here, I need things on a grander scale

Non-Horror Reading

The Moon and the Sun by Vonda N. McIntyre. An absolutely fantastic fantasy novel set in the court of Louis XIV. Marie-Josephe is a naive, relatively poor, convent-educated young woman working as lady-in-waiting to the king's niece. Her brother, Yves, is a Jesuit and natural philosopher, particularly interested in dissecting and studying a 'sea monster' he's just been the first to successfully capture. Louis XIV believes the legends that say sea monsters (perhaps more recognizable to us as 'mermaids') can grant immortality to the person who eats them, and is determined for Yves to prove this to be so and figure out how to make the king immortal. Lucien, a dwarf and a courtier, is the closest thing the Sun King has to a best friend and trusted advisor, but repeatedly finds himself called upon to protect these newcome siblings from the various troubles they get into as they try to maneuver through the court of Versailles. Meanwhile, Marie-Josephe is becoming increasingly convinced that the sea monster is in fact a sentient human, who needs to be protected from Yves's experiments, Louis's hunger, and, oh yes, the visiting Pope Innocent XI's determination to declare her a demon.

The novel's real strength is in its incredibly well-researched portrayal of life at Versailles, both in the good (jewels, dresses, the Hall of Mirrors, concerts), the bad (the constant threat of rape for women without status, drafty attic rooms, occasional slaves, zoos that would count as animal abuse by modern standards) and the downright weird (bowing to portraits of the king, the levee ceremony, the king's special gout carriage, the conclusion that being a Protestant is worse than being an atheist). Plus all the standard fun of any book with court politics (the incredibly complicated geometry of who's having an affair with who, arranged loveless marriages, legitimated bastards and secret bastards, how to figure out who's trustworthy and who would sell your soul for an invitation to that levee ceremony). It's captivating and marvelous historical fiction – even before you add in mermaids! I read the entire book in one big gulp, because I was just having too much fun with it to put it down. I've never heard many people talk about The Moon and the Sun, which is too bad because I absolutely loved it and wish it were better known. I mean, the Sun King plus mermaids! It's everything I've ever wanted out of a novel.

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates.Historical fiction with a magic realism bent. Hiram is born into slavery in 1840s Virginia, the son of the master of the plantation and an enslaved mother who disappeared when Hiram was still very young and whom he can't remember. Given who his father is, Hiram is allowed an education and a relatively high-status position as his half-brother's assistant in running the plantation. But soon enough shit abruptly gets real, and Hiram is forced to face the fact that for all his relative privilege, he's still enslaved: his father sells him, the woman he loves is taken away, he ends up in a slave jail, he's physically and psychologically tortured, he runs away, he gets involved with the Underground Railroad, he meets Northern abolitionists including Harriet Tubman, and many more plot twists. Throughout all of this, Hiram slowly discovers he possesses a power called Conduction, which essentially allows him to teleport from one location to another. Such a power would obviously be hugely useful to the Underground Railroad, among other groups, and while their attempts to push Hiram into gaining better control over Conduction are well-intentioned, they fail terribly at treating him as a full person. Hiram's ability to Conduct ultimately seems to depend on recovering his memories of his mother and reclaiming his own history.

Coates obviously knows his history, and is an incredibly talented, powerful writer, but this is his first venture into fiction and unfortunately I think it shows. For all the details of the setting and insights into the psychology of slavery, the characters and situations just never engaged me. I set this book down in the middle several times and went to read something else, and ultimately had to force myself to finish it. Maybe it's just that I've read several other takes on "escape from slavery + magical realism", but I felt like there was nothing new or exciting in The Water Dancer. It's a very cool premise, and it's not a bad book by any means, but there are better books out there doing very similar things.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
and such a long journey, the heart expands to claim this world, bring me that horizon, anywhere but here, I need things on a grander scale

One more edition of Halloween Reading

The Elementals by Michael McDowell. A horror novel set in 1970s rural Alabama. Family matriarch Marian Savage has died, and her relatives gather for a period that's half mourning and half summer vacation. They consist of her son Dauphin and his wife Leigh; her other son, single father Luker, and his 13-year-old NYC-raised daughter India; her best friend Big Barbara, who is also Leigh's mother; and long-time servant Odessa. They head to Beldame: three massive houses perched on a sandspit that arches right out into the Gulf of Mexico, so isolated that they can only be reached at low tide. But only two of the houses at Beldame are inhabited; the third has long been abandoned, left to slowly fill with the omnipresent sand.

The real star of The Elementals is its sense of place, and Beldame is a location to stick in your mind. It features the exact opposite of every horror cliche, and yet is still wonderfully terrifying. The inescapable, languid heat of a Deep South summer; the blinding white sunlight; the feel and sounds of a wooden house sucked dry of any moisture; and most of all, the constantly shifting, blowing, trickling sand. The characters are interestingly fucked-up, with the sort of complex family dynamics and long-held secrets (except for Odessa, who is one hell of a Magical Negro stereotype, so be prepared for that) that is required of a Southern Gothic novel, full of tensions that are revealed and become more relevant as the horrors mount up. And speaking of horrors, they're left fascinatingly unexplained – the elementals of the title live in the empty third house, but what they are and what they want and exactly what they did or did not do are all left as open questions. There's no resolution to them, no rules they obey or clear story tropes they follow, and that sense that they might disappear or they might follow you home and there's no way to know which really adds to the lingering creepiness of the novel.

Still, it's all about Beldame. God, there's a haunted house that deserves the renown of the Stanley Hotel and Hill House.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley. A thriller novel (whoops, picked it up because I thought it was horror, but it doesn't quite fit into that genre) set on a small island off Ireland in the modern day. Jules is the CEO of an extremely successful lifestyle website; Will is the star of a 'Man vs Wild'-esque reality show; together they are having a lavish wedding designed to be focus of many a Pinterest board. Unsurprisingly for the reader, the night of the wedding a massive storm hits the island, knocking out the electricity and cutting them off from the mainland. And then a dead body turns up.

The book immediately jumps back in time to a few day before the wedding, allowing us to slowly meet the many guests and employees, all of whom have conveniently linked Dark Secrets. Meanwhile, the clues build regarding A) who's dead, and B) who killed them. By the end, it's less a question of "who had a motive", and more "Jesus Christ, everyone on this island has a motive, it's just a matter of who got to [Dead Person] first".

This is a supremely silly book that should only be read while sitting on a beach half-drunk on something fruity. I read it two weeks ago and already most of the characters and details have slipped forever out of my memory, which tells you a lot about what to expect. The sheer overload of tragic backstories, unlikely coincidences, dumb motivations, and shocking twists means that it's hard to take any of it seriously. That said, if you're in the mood for a compulsively readable collection of cliches, you really could do worse than The Guest List. It's a lot of fun in its tropiness.

Experimental Film by Gemma Files. A horror novel set in modern-day Toronto. Lois is an ex-professor of Canadian film history and a local film critic, desperate to find some sort of work in her field. This search is complicated by her young son Clark, who has severe autism and needs more patience and attention than Lois is able to give him – at least in the opinion of Lois's mother. Then Lois stumbles across several film reels from the 1910s made by a woman named Iris; the movies are all variations on the same bit of Slavic folklore, a dangerous entity known as Lady Midday (who I totally thought had been made up by Files until googling just now, and I was going to congratulate her on a truly realistic-feeling bit of fake folklore, but never mind!). The production date of the films would make Iris the first Canadian female director, and Lois sees the chance for her career to skyrocket: her research on Iris could lead to a book, a documentary, traveling exhibits, and more. There's just the matter that Iris's connection to Lady Midday seems to have been more literal and supernatural than anyone can rationally accept, and that Iris's life parallels Lois's in eerie ways, including another autistic son.

Gemma Files is an author I've been meaning to check out for ages; I've pushed her off for no better reason than that I have a ton of authors fighting for the top of my TBR list. But I'm very glad I finally made it to her, because Experimental Film is a FANTASTIC book. It's absolutely, wonderfully creepy (definitely outright scarier than most of the books I read this Halloween – the only contender would be The Only Good Indians), though surprisingly I'd classify it as folk horror, not what I expected from a book themed around film. Nevertheless, that's what it is, and really really good folk horror at that. But in addition to being scary, Experimental Film is an incredibly well-done take on several different topics: motherhood and the expectations parents put on their children, the value of work (not in a Protestant-ethic-Capitalism way, just the joy of creating something meaningful and lasting), and the difficulties and bliss of finding someone who understands you. The writing is lovely and plays around storytelling structure – not excessively so, this isn't House of Leaves, but enough to be interesting – the characters are compelling, the horror is supremely horrific, and it's just a good book all around.

On an entirely random note, why are Yazidi beliefs so incredibly popular with horror writers? Nothing wrong with the Yazidi, of course, but they're quite a small ethnic group, and it's odd to see them appear everywhere from Lovecraft to Experimental Film, when there's nowhere near the same name recognition for, say, Mende or Sami beliefs. I suppose it's probably a case of once one person does it, everyone else follows, but it's still odd to me.

A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill. A novel set in modern-day small-town Texas, whose genre is extremely difficult to describe. The best I can come up with is "literary fiction about horror fiction". The plot is similarly difficult to describe, primarily because the narrator isn't even born until about a hundred pages in, but I will try: Noah's family has always had an intimate relationship with horror. His mother and father's courtship centered around horror movies, Lovecraft's stories, and haunted houses; when Noah was a child, their primary income was from a haunted house run by his family; he met his own future wife when she was an actor at one of those evangelical Hell Houses. On another level, Noah's family has dealt with less fictional horror: the death of his father at a young age from brain cancer; a sister's sudden disappearance, presumably kidnapped; another sister's deep depression and suicide attempts. And on yet another level, Noah has been regularly visited from a young age by a werewolf-like monster who only appears when Noah is alone, but who can fly and take Noah other worlds. This monster is real within the world of the book but is also a fairly unsubtle metaphor for inherited mental illnesses and family trauma, and it usually works better in that regard than as an actual character.

Horror fiction that is not-so-secretly a metaphor for real issues is a longstanding tradition within the genre, from Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House and "The Lottery" to more modern examples like Get Out and HBO's Lovecraft Country. Yet I don't feel like A Cosmology of Monsters fits in with those. It doesn't take the horror half of the equation seriously – there's no attempt to be scary or take the supernatural aspects as a real problem to be solved. It's more like Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation: a film that uses Japan as a setting to evoke a certain mood in the characters, but which is very much not *about* Japan. That's exactly A Cosmology of Monsters's relationship to horror.

Since it's not horror, that leaves only literary fiction: a deep dive into the personality and dysfunctions of one particular character and one particular family. Which is all very well for those who enjoy literary fiction, but unfortunately I tend to find it boring, and A Cosmology of Monsters was no exception. I mean, yes, it's well-written, it's insightful, it's a sharp portrayal of loss and depression and disconnections, and yet... I just wasn't engaged. Recommended if you're a fan of literary fiction, but not so much for the horror fans.

And I have now completed reviews of everything I read in October! \o/ This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
and such a long journey, the heart expands to claim this world, bring me that horizon, anywhere but here, I need things on a grander scale

Today's theme: catching up on Halloween review-writing while anxiously awaiting election results

The Lost Village by Camilla Sten, translated from Swedish by Alex Fleming. A horror novel set in modern-day Sweden. In 1959 an entire village of 900 people vanished – leaving behind no bodies, no footprints, and no trace of where they'd gone. The only clues were one newborn baby, abandoned in the local schoolhouse, and one corpse, that of a woman who'd apparently been stoned to death in the village square.

In 2019, a group of five young filmmakers arrive at the still-abandoned Silvertjärn to investigate the mystery and film a documentary, led by Alice, whose grandmother lost her parents and sisters when the village disappeared. The others are Tone (Alice's best friend, with her own secret connection to Silvertjärn), Emmy (Alice's ex-best friend and there is quite the backstory there), Max (who provided most of the funding and is interested in being more than friends with Alice), and Robert (Emmy's partner and kinda just there to provide another body). In appropriate horror tradition, Silvertjärn mysteriously renders cellphones unuseable and the only way in or out is a long, nearly overgrown dirt path. In other words, once the five arrive, there's no way of getting help from the outside. Weird stuff immediately begins to happen: muffled voices, half-seen glimpses of silhouettes, rotted buildings collapsing around them. Is it paranoia from being so isolated? One of the five fucking with the others? Ghosts of the vanished? The cause of the disappearance, come to claim more victims? Or something very human and non-paranormal, but using the empty buildings to stalk the five?

In between the chapters set in 2019, flashbacks from the POV of Alice's grandmother's family show Silvertjärn in 1959 in the months leading up to the disappearance and slowly revealing exactly what happened. There's a nicely creepy solution, and one that proved satisfyingly difficult to guess ahead of time.

First of all: the entire premise of this book is self-evidently silly. There is no way nearly a thousand people disappear from a Western country in the 1950s and said country doesn't flip its shit attempting to find those people, or that such an event could be half-forgotten and degrade into a generic interesting factoid and not be, like, the most famous event in history. I mean, people still can't shut up about the Roanoke Colony, and that was a) in the 1500s, b) only 100 people, and c) has a fairly obvious answer. But it doesn't really matter; plenty of horror has a silly premise and still manages to be perfectly effective! One you accept the whole 'lost village' thing, The Lost Village has some very creepy scares.

It is also incredibly femslashy. So much so, in fact, that I spent a significant portion of the book convinced that Alice and Tone were current partners and Alice and Emmy were ex's, and in neither case just in the friend sense. I mean, here's Alice describing the tension between her and Emmy:
“Alice, we need to talk,” she says, then sits down cross-legged on the cobblestones. She does it smoothly, in a single movement. She never used to be so agile. She used to be stiff and a little lazy, slow in the mornings and energized by night; used to yawn like a cat, wide-mouthed and red-tongued.
How many times have we eaten breakfast together? One hundred? One thousand? Her with hair wet post-shower, like now, me with yesterday’s makeup still clinging to my eyelashes. But this time my face is bare, and hers is closed.


Overall, The Lost Village is a good source of page-turning chills and thrills, but also the kind of book where you're likely to forget what happened as soon as you finish it. It's a popcorn movie in horror novel form, but hey – sometimes that's exactly what you want.

Note: there are two characters with mental illnesses (one with severe autism, one with a psychotic disorder), who suffer due to the prejudices of those around them. I thought it was handled better than you'd expect from a trashy genre novel, but one of them dies violently, and I respect anyone not wanting to read it for that reason.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand.A horror novel structured like an episode of VH1's 'Behind the Music'. I suppose you could call it an epistolary novel, if you stretch the term to cover not only letters and journals but also recorded interviews. Said interviews concern events that happened during the summer of 1972, when folk revival band Windhollow Faire rented a rural English manor hall to record their second album, immediately after which their lead singer mysteriously and permanently disappeared. Various people give their version of events, from the surviving members of the band to various girlfriends and ex's, the band's manager, a music journalist, and a local kid with dreams of starting a photography career. The interviews come from decades after the actual events (at an unspecified date but presumably sometime around 2015, when Wylding Hall was published), which gives much of mood of the book – it's drenched in nostalgia, a group of middle-aged people looking back to the moment when they were the most famous, the most successful, the hottest, the most *alive* they would ever be. This theme is laid out for the reader right on the first page:
And of course, everyone was so young. Julian was eighteen. So was Will. Ashton and Jon were, what? Nineteen, maybe twenty. Lesley had just turned seventeen. I was the elder statesman at all of twenty-three.
Ah, those were golden days. You’re going to say I’m tearing up here in front of the camera, aren’t you? I don’t give a fuck. They were golden boys and girls, that was a golden summer, and we had the Summer King.
And we all know what happens to the Summer King.

As you might guess from that reference, the strange things that begin to happen at Wylding Hall concern British folklore. (A lot of people seem to be describing Wylding Hall as a ghost story, but it's quite obviously folk horror.) The doomed Julian becomes obsessed with recording his own version of Thrice Toss These Oaken Ashes, his bedroom fills with Tudor-era books on magic and medieval jewel boxes, there's an ancient barrow on the hall's grounds, a local custom concerning the hunt of the wrens, time behaves strangely, rooms in the hall appear and disappear, and some people see a beautiful young woman whom no one else can recall. It all adds up to an ambiguous but creepy ending.

One problem for me was that, for the mood of Wylding Hall to work, you really need to believe in that image of "golden boys and girls", of a halcyon summer, as another character describes it. And it's obviously my own biases, but I just can't take a folk band seriously as the epitome of cool. I wasn't alive in 1971, so perhaps I'm underestimating the appeal, but, like, here's an example from when the band visits a local pub: "She dressed sharp, too—long skirts and dresses, lace-up boots and flowy scarves, all kinds of shiny bits and bobs. Hippie royalty, we were. [...] Her scarf was printed with peacock feathers, and she had on earrings made from peacock feathers". And this is very popular with a bunch of elderly regulars in a small town? Look, I sometimes dress like a Ren Faire reject myself and own peacock feather earrings in multiple colors, so I get the attraction, but I'm not under the illusion that I'm impressing anyone with my style choices. Every time a character tried to emphasize how Windhollow Faire was the height of rock-and-roll glory, I alternatively giggled or rolled my eyes. Which presumably did not help to build the atmosphere Hand was going for.

Still, I assume that most people will not have this problem, and Hand does do an excellent job of building a haunted, heavy sense of dread. A really lovely, skillful take on the horror genre, with some absolutely beautiful writing.

BREAKING NEWS: THERE IS A NEW BENJAMIN JANUARY BOOK IN THREE WEEKS! AND IT'S SET IN NYC! I AM SO EXCITED. House of the Patriarch by Barbara Hambly. I would link to somewhere better than Amazon, but it appears to be limited to ebook form until January. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
and such a long journey, the heart expands to claim this world, bring me that horizon, anywhere but here, I need things on a grander scale

Horror Reading Wednesday

Motherless Child by Glen Hirshberg. A vampire novel set in modern-day small town North Carolina. Sophie and Natalie are lifelong best friends, both single mothers to infants, both doing nothing much with their lives: in their early twenties, working at Waffle House and living in a trailer park. Until one night they cross paths with a vampire named The Whistler and wake up dead. Natalie, the more steely-willed of the pair, figures out what's going on and immediately abandons both their babies to her own mother out of fear of what she might do to them, and forces Sophie to join her on an endless road trip that's more about losing themselves than going anywhere in particular. Meanwhile, The Whistler becomes increasingly obsessed with Natalie and how to shape her into the perfect eternal partner, which sets off problems with his previous eternal partner, a woman known only as Mother.

Here in the year of our lord 2020 it's more or less impossible to do anything new with vampires. Every possible permutation of the myth has already been done and redone. But having said all that, I really enjoyed the spin Motherless Child gives to the old story. It takes the route of emphasizing that vampires are dead – not sexy immortals, but cold corpses somehow still inhabited – and underlines it with gorgeous prose:

As she pushed out into the night, she realized she even knew what the whistling in her ears was. Not cicadas. Not power lines. Not the echo of the Whistler's breath in her ears. Just the sound the world makes rushing through a pipe or pooling in a cistern. Whipping through a dead place, with neither heartbeart nor blood rush to impede it.
"Does it still feel good to you? The guys, I mean."
Now Sophie looked startled, almost guilty. After a moment, she shrugged. "It feels warm."
"Yeah," Natalie said.
"Especially their mouths."
Which was exactly right. Mostly, these last few nights, Natalie found herself hovering around their lips, in the same way she'd once crouched beside the tiny space heater her mother used, on surprisingly frigid Charlotte winter nights, to heat the trailer. That, apparently, was what sex would be about from now on. The ghost of tingling. Mostly heat.

And in the meantime, through the agony and the haze of her own tears, she'd stare, like Sophie, at the way the world looked when it was lit. How could I possibly have forgotten so quickly? But she knew the answer to that. She hadn't forgotten, really. This sight – this impossible green, this radiant orange, the daily blossoming of the whole planet – couldn't be forgotten, because it couldn't be remembered. Could not be held in a human brain. That's what made it such a daily revelation. All her life, she'd been told that death was unimaginable, unknowable. When it truth, it was life that could never be imagined. Life was just too big.

There's blood and gory death and hypnosis and all the other things that go along with vampires as well, but it's Hirshberg's invocation of death that has stuck with me. And the ending. That ending! Goddamn. It's a cliche to talk about 'strong female characters', but the final choices of Natalie and especially her mother are some cold-ass, steel-spine strength to remember.

Remina by Junji Ito. (Sometimes also titled Hellstar Remina, but my copy just had Remina) A sci-fi horror manga set in Japan in the near future. An astrophysicist discovers a new planet, whose existence seems to prove the reality of wormholes to other dimensions. A pretty significant discovery! And one that wins the scientist both the Nobel Prize and naming rights to the new planet, which he calls after his teenage daughter, Remina. Remina herself is soon a media sensation, becoming a pop star and advertising celebrity. Of course, this is a horror story, so things begin to go wrong: the planet Remina turns and somehow heads towards Earth at nearly the speed of light, and other planets and stars in its path disappear. As Remina comes closer, it becomes clear that it's not quite a planet, given that it has a massive eye and tongue; that it's eating everything it passes; and that Earth is its target. People unsurprisingly panic, and a cult suddenly arises, playing on these new fears to put the blame on Remina and her father. The cult argues that the Oguros have somehow summoned the planet, and the only way to save humanity is to sacrifice them.

The middle and late section of the book get a bit repetitive as the same plot plays out over and over again: the cult finds Remina, attempts to kill and/or torture her, a man saves her, she escapes. The only change from one round to another is that Remina's clothing becomes ever more tattered and scanty. That said, there are some fantastically creepy images throughout: Remina tied to a cross as a massive eye opens in the sky behind her; a nuclear-blasted corpse, its skull grinning through heat-tightened skin; a body melting into goo when exposed to the toxic atmosphere on the planet Remina; the constant mob of screaming mouths and reaching hands, shouting "Kill Remina!" and "Remina the witch!".

Overall, it doesn't reach the heights of terror Ito is capable of in stories like 'The Enigma of Amigara Fault' or 'Uzumaki', but it's nicely scary little story about cosmic horrors and why the brutality of man is scarier than anything out of space.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
and such a long journey, the heart expands to claim this world, bring me that horizon, anywhere but here, I need things on a grander scale

Cosmic Horror Lineup

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher. A horror novel set in modern-day smalltown America, though I can best sum it up with an equation: House of Leaves + Algernon Blackwood's The Willows + a little dash of Annihilation = this book.

Kara, a thirty-something graphic designer in the midst of an overtly friendly but low-key depressing divorce and with few job prospects, decides to move in with her uncle and help him run his small and extremely weird museum, the 'Glory to God Museum of Natural Wonders, Curiosities and Taxidermy'. Which is basically just a house stuffed full of inexplicable clutter, from a giant Bigfoot statue to a "genuine" Feejee mermaid to stuffed mice dressed in tiny armor to a collection of thimbles of the world. All goes well enough until a small hole appears in one of the walls. In an attempt to patch it, Kara and her new friend Simon, the gay barista from the coffeeshop next door, discover a mysterious hallway behind the drywall where there is definitely not enough room for a hallway, which leads to a world full of willow trees and things that shouldn't exist and multidimensional creatures that can do much, much worse things than merely eat you.

Kingfisher does an excellent job at evoking cosmic horror: the unknowable, the wrong side of reality, the just plain wrong. Which is fascinating, because now that I'm thinking of it, I can't really name many recent novels that go all in for cosmic horror, and none at all that manage to make it this scary. Because for as creepy as 'The Willows' is, its 1907 language is hard to sink into – at least for me it is. The Hollow Places very much does not have that problem. Kingfisher has done a wonderful job at taking the ideas from that story and making them entirely her own. She also is great at wringing pure terror out of some very innocuous places – an empty schoolbus, a taxidermied otter, a strangely labelled MRE.

So the horror here is A++. I can't quite say as much for the characters; both Kara and Simon felt a little flat to me, a little like fanfic cliches. But that's a very minor compliant for a book that I sped through and would highly recommend.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

Now let's review my other cosmic horror read of the week!
The Fisherman by John Langan. Cosmic horror set in modern-day upstate New York. Also it's kind of a retelling of Moby Dick, if Ahab was an evil immortal wizard.

Abe ("Don’t call me Abraham: call me Abe", goes the opening line) lost his wife to cancer after only two years of marriage; the method he discovers to get himself through the short-term grief and long-term loneliness is fishing ("Some years ago, never mind how many, I started to fish"). He shares this hobby with Dan, another young widower. As they spend their weekends and afternoons fishing the many streams and rivers scattered throughout the Catskill Mountains, they eventually hear of one with an unusual reputation: Dutchman's Creek. Dutchman's Creek flows out of a reservoir that covers an abandoned town, a town where once, in the 1850s, a man tried to raise his wife from the dead, and later, in 1907, another dead wife came back wrong. The connection between these two events seems to be a strangely ageless man, a man with knowledge beyond the human ken, a man called Der Fischer for the lack of any other name to give him. (“From hell’s heart," he shouts, when stymied of his catch, "I stab at thee! For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee!”) He also – I know you will be shocked by this turn of events – tragically lost his wife and children centuries ago, and is determined to get them back. If Abe and Dan find Dutchman's Creek, unmarked on any map, will their wives also return, or will they fall through to another, more fundamental, dimension?

The Fisherman is related through layers of story: Abe addresses the reader in direct narration, telling us the local legend he heard from a diner cook, who recounts what he heard from a reverend, who's gathered information from a nearly senile widow. Langan does an excellent job at capturing the rhythm of oral stories, the little slips and twists of dialect that make it feel like you can actually hear Abe's voice. The writing throughout is really wonderful, full of vivid images and sensory details.

The horror here is very much of the cosmic sort: questions of mortality, glimpses at the immensity that lies behind our reality, creatures too big and too ancient for humans to comprehend. Which ends up playing surprisingly well with The Fisherman's other big theme, the horror of the ocean: humans with the flat gold eyes of fish, buildings standing empty below a mile of water, immense creatures half-glimpsed through dark water of an unknowable depth. Plus, you know, the straight-up gore of a fishhook lodged in flesh.

Overall, The Fisherman is more haunting than terrifying, though one image of jaws the size of skyscrapers reaching up out of the ocean will definitely stay with me. It's an excellent depiction of loss, and the choices people make because of it. (Though I did have a minor issue in that we've got a hell of a lot of men with dead wives, and remarkably few women dealing with their own grief. On the one hand, Langan's clearly got a motif. On the other hand, if only it wasn't such a cliche of a motif.) It's a gorgeous evocation of upstate New York, a place I've only visited once or twice but which I now really want to go hiking in (not much of a fisher, sorry). In short, it's a good book! I've been meaning to read it for ages and I'm very glad I did. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.