What did I Read During my Blogging Hiatus?

I’m back! I had to take a hiatus from book blogging while I prepared for the horrendously maddening customs broker exam. Thank goodness I passed! I don’t know how I would’ve coped with failure knowing how many books I could’ve been reading instead. In between slogging through thousands of pages of dry customs regulations I was able to sneak in some reading for pleasure.  

Here are some brief thoughts on the books I read during those trying times.  I’m hoping to expand on some of these with full reviews in the future.

True Story:  What Reality TV Says About Us by Danielle Lindermann: To make my guilty pleasure of watching reality television less guilty, I read this sociological take on my favorite tv genre (I watch Survivor religiously). I didn’t find any of the content to be groundbreaking, but I did enjoy learning some of the basic concepts of sociology through a topic of personal interest.

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio: My first foray into dark academia was fantastic. This murder mystery within a prestigious Shakespearean acting program was brilliant! Upon finishing I immediately googled lists of must-read dark academia books. I’m thinking Donna Tart’s The Secret History is up next.

Seeing Ghosts by Kat Chow: This is an excellent memoir, though be warned it will get you in your feelings. Kat Chow writes of the loss of her mother to cancer, and her family’s subsequent grief. The author beautifully weaves stories from past generations of her Chinese American family into the narrative. Anyone who has lost a close family member can relate to this book. I sure do.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin: I finally read Giovanni’s Room! This has been sitting on my TBR for far too long. This novel has been referenced in many contemporary queer books I’ve read and for great reason! It is a powerful story that I highly encourage everyone to read.

Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite: This book is beautifully written, yet highly disturbing. Equally disturbing my younger sister gave me this book as a Christmas gift. Gay serial killers killing gay men, cannibalism, necrophilia, AIDS, gay men being rejected by family, this book is packed full of gay trauma and gross violence. It is easily one of the sickest stories I’ve read. Somehow the quality of writing kept me reading.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: This was a wonderful novella that made me nostalgic for the fantasy I read as a child. Anyone looking for a short book to get back into reading should give this a try.

Her Body and Other Bodies by Carmen Maria Machado:  This is a highly creative short story collection from Machado. I honestly didn’t understand most of the stories’ plots because they were loaded with ambiguity. Nonetheless this collection is powerful and still lingers in my thoughts months later.  The Husband Stitch is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. Many of the themes in this collection are especially relevant today with the infuriating possibility that Roe v. Wade will be overturned.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers:  I love my wholesome science fiction!! I was disappointed when I realized this did not follow the main characters from the first book in the Wayfarers series. But I quickly got over it and fell in love with these new characters.

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny: I read this for a book club, and it was a major struggle to get through. The premise, which blends Hinduism and science fiction, was cool, but the language was so dense it was a slog to get through. I found myself skimming and relying on the Wikipedia summary. It was comforting when I got to the book club meeting and realized that many of my fellow members had a similar experience.

How Long ‘til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin: Jemisin is a major talent, and I will read anything she publishes. But I do question her decision to include so many stories in this collection, quite a few were weak in my opinion. It was neat to read earlier versions of what she later fleshed out into full novels. Favorite story:  L’Alchimistra

To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara: Oh Hanya Yanagihara, I’m still not over the piece of garbage that is A Little Life. I’m aware most people love that book, but for me it’s a piece of hot, stinking trash (maybe one day I’ll get around to writing my planned rant). Out of curiosity I read her newest novel and it was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t offensive or distasteful. I think it could have been edited down to fewer pages, but I enjoyed its unique structure and prose.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism

My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
Published by Quirk Books on May 17, 2016
Genres: Coming of Age, Fiction, Horror, Supernatural, Thrillers
Pages: 336

Full of ‘80s nostalgia and supernatural hijinks, Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism is an excellent, spooky read. The story focuses on the friendship of high school sophomores Abby and Gretchen. After Gretchen spends a night lost in the woods at a sleepover, her personality and behavior drastically change. Abby investigates, with the help of a bodybuilder exorcist, to determine whether her friend has become demonically possessed.

Normally I don’t comment on a book’s cover in my reviews, but this book looks awesome. My edition is designed to look like a VHS box, with a classic ‘80s horror movie poster on the front. The ‘80s references are non-stop in this book. Every chapter is titled with the name of a classic ‘80s song. I found Spotify playlists that compile all the songs mentioned in the book, which made for a fun reading soundtrack. My favorite horror element in the novel was the well written body horror. My favorite scene, involving the character of Margaret plus oodles of worms, was outstandingly disgusting. There is a group of bodybuilding brothers that speak and perform at high schools to spread Christianity (one of the quirkier additions to the story). One of the brothers also happens to be an amateur exorcist that helps Gretchen later in the novel. The heart of the story is the friendship of Gretchen and Abby. Their love for each other is a powerful force in the book and comes into play at the novel’s conclusion. Like many of these high school, supernatural stories, I wish the parents were less absent and clueless. I also wish that Hendrix had broken more of the typical demonic possession tropes in this book, but what he has created is well done.

There are many instances of characters saying problematic, homophobic, or racist things in this book. Memorably, for spirit week the high school has a slave day where “slave” students must serve their “masters” for the school day (WTF). I went to google and was horrified to learn that this was a legitimate thing that used to happen in some US schools. I believe that Hendrix included these problematic moments intentionally, to critique the past. While the book celebrates the ‘80s, Hendrix does not shy from showing some of the era’s flaws.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a Halloween read that isn’t too intense. Fans of Stranger Things, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or ‘80s movies and music will find a lot to enjoy. I’m looking forward to reading more of Hendrix’s horror novels in the future.