Reviews included so far
The Violet Eden Chapters
by Jessica Shirvington
Review by Morgan Ingram
Let me preface this review with a request to the reader: Let go of everything you expect from the Young Adult Paranormal Romance genre. Just let it go. You don’t need it here.
The Violet Eden Chapters by Jessica Shirvington begins with book 1, Embrace. I was introduced to the headstrong (however swooning) main character, Violet Eden, who I found highly relatable and charismatic from the beginning. Violet has some serious past trauma, but it doesn’t define her entire character. She is also an artist who has ambition for her education and talent. The discovery that she is a Nephilim (an angelic creature), and thus a defender of humans, and thus mythically soul-bound to the man she loves in a way that is supposed to be completely platonic kind of throws a wrench in those plans. Violet becomes a triumphant heroine as her life as she knows it is thrown into a mythological blender and scattered across the world. All she knows at the beginning of this beautifully orchestrated series is that her best friend, Lincoln, is hiding something from her and she is determined to uncover the truth about Lincoln, the world, and her own identity. By the end of this series, she has transcended her role as a learner and become the beacon of strength that the race of Nephilim desperately needs. This is a story of creating a love that is healthy, consensual, and impenetrable to even the greatest of forces. This is a story of growth as a woman, as a leader, and as a lover. This is a story of sacrifice in every definition of the word. You will be positively invigorated by the triumphs of Violet. You will mourn her losses, and beam at her victories.
For the drama-cravers, prepare to indulge in a wicked, tantalizing (heterosexual) love-triangle that will have you enthralled. For the action-loving thrill-seekers, get ready for some epic battle and combat scenes that will have you vigorously flipping pages. For those history buffs and theology majors who are fascinated by biblical mythology, you will be precisely in your element to apply your knowledge. For those who have a special bookshelf for feminist characters, Violet Eden makes the cut with her grit, strength, wit and leadership.
There are many characters in this series and all of them will give the reader a sentiment to be cherished. There are characters who do not speak English, Characters who are explicitly part of the LGBTQ+ community. Characters who are traumatized. Characters who defy stereotypes. Seemingly irredeemable characters who you will still ache for in months and years after the last back cover has long since closed. Be ready to fall in love. Be ready to be proud of them. Be ready to see yourself in every one of them. Be ready to wish you could leave the world in which you live behind for another.
Shirvington has artfully orchestrated all of these characters and plots with more than just the story in mind. She has, like a careful seam-hand, pulled the threads of free will, consent, trust, and honor through the entire series, weaving ruminative wisdoms into each chapter. Every book is consistent with the themes and touchstones Shirvington has incorporated. Even though I read this series in my early 20’s, I would have resonated with the lessons it gave me at ages 13, 16, 18, and probably the rest of my life. Having said that, this YA fiction should not be missed by those who enjoy the more mature themes in the genre, as this series will give you what you are looking for. It challenges the meaning of love and reminds us of how dangerously close to hate that emotional phenomenon can tread.
Read The Violet Eden Chapters, and you will reach many epiphanies about what it means to be human. I hope Violet’s story gives you what you need from it. I recommend it so adamantly because I believe it will give you exactly that.
Favorite Quote: “Love will kill us all.” – Phoenix (Shirvington, Emblaze)
Favorite Scene: Empower (Book 5) Pages 432 - 433
by Stacy Halls
Review by Madeline Wagoner
While browsing the book spines in the Adult Fiction section of my local library, a font that read The Familiars while being surrounded by intricate, floral patterns had me reaching to pluck it from the shelf and gaze over the summary on the back cover. The book is advertised as a historical fiction with a twist of the supernatural; however, this work teetered between psychological thrills and the paranormal as more and more is uncovered by the plot. This story taps into the power of atmosphere that leaves the reader with the debate of turning the page a bit quicker than usual or dreading to go onto the next chapter. With this, it is able to lead the compelling plot that follows a pregnant Fleetwood Shuttleworth through an uncertain path of trusting a mysterious midwife which gives her hope after receiving dreadful news. The stranger only raises the suspicions of others who accuse her of witchcraft which leads the protagonist, Fleetwood, in a journey of saving her own life, her unborn child’s, and the midwife Alice’s.
After receiving a letter in the mail from her doctor addressed to her husband, Fleetwood Shuttleworth finds out her life will be coming to an inevitable end by the time she gives birth to the growing baby in her belly. The protagonist has not had the best luck with pregnancies so she is desperate to save not only her own life but the child who will be coming in just a matter of months. The story takes on a supernatural twist when she meets the midwife Alice who promises her continued life after child birth for both her and the infant. This story takes place during the seventeenth century where witch trials were ramped and punishable by death. What raised suspicion even more for Fleetwood was the scuttling of a petite fox around the borders of the house when Alice was not around. She had heard of the stories of familiars; animals who assisted witches in their magic. It comes as a surprise that Fleetwood does not want to expose Alice. After all, she had not witnessed this magic. The constant investigation of Alice leads this story down a path of unbreakable bonds between the two women while tapping into controversial time in history of whether or not to put proclaimed witches to death. It also showcases a breakdown of social classes through the encounters Fleetwood has with servants and eventual other witches who are awaiting their trial of execution.
With The Familiars, it is more than a story of your stereotypical, magical story of witches. The ending leaves readers with an ambiguous answer as to whether Alice was indeed a witch or not. The story’s atmosphere is unique, unsettling, and a refreshing twist to what one might expect from a historical fiction. It is a stand alone read which challenges the readers to set aside expectations by opening the mind to challenging the laws of what is deemed moral and vice versa.
Favorite Quote: “Loyalty is earned, not demanded.” - The Familiars (2019)
by Neal Shusterman
Review by Louisa Parrish
“Human nature is both predictable and mysterious; prone to great and sudden advances, yet still mired in despicable self-interest.”
What would the world be like if humans cured death? In Scythe, natural death (except by fire) is eradicated. So the Sycthedom was created. They are death, and while they are seen as necessary when faced with “being gleaned” (their euphemism for killing), no one willingly surrenders their life. Scythe follows Citra Terranova and Rowan Damisch as they are Scythe apprentices. Through them, the reader gets to understand their world and the intricacy of the Scythedom. With the government being only the Thunderhead (who evolved from “the cloud”), whose knowledge is basically infinite, politics resides only in the Scythedom, which the Thunderhead removed itself from entirely. As Rowan and Citra start their apprenticeship together, they are separated eventually. Rowan to the “New Order” Scythes, and Citra to the old school Scythes. Newer Scythes think that gleaning is something to flaunt, to enjoy, to relish in doing. Older Scythes believe it is a necessary evil, but you should never enjoy gleaning. With infinite knowledge and no worries of death, aside from being gleaned, Scythe highlights how humanity is determined to be able to show its faults.
This story is so compelling to me and so well written. I love seeing how Scythes approach their gleanings. Some are malicious about it, some are purely statistical, some look for those who seem done with this world, and it is all very interesting and beautiful to see how people approach being Death in a world where Death is mostly temporary. The characters are beautifully written and the ideologies are executed in an alluring manner that keeps the pages turning. The world of Scythe is one I do not think I would ever want to live in, but it is one I would love to visit and observe. I get to do that through these amazing books, so I highly suggest getting your hands on a copy of Scythe.
My favorite selection from Scythe is a journal entry from Scythe Curie at the end of chapter 18:
“If you’ve ever studied mortal age cartoons, you’ll remember this one. A coyote was always plotting the demise of a smirking long-necked bird. The coyote never succeeded; instead, his plans always backfired. He would blow up, or get shot, or splat from a ridiculous height.
And it was funny.
Because no matter how deadly his failure, he was always back in the next scene, as if there were a revival center just beyond the edge of the animation cell.
I’ve seen human foibles that have resulted in temporary maiming or momentary loss of life. People stumble into manholes, are hit by falling objects, trip into the paths of speeding vehicles.
And when it happens, people laugh, because no matter how gruesome the event, that person, just like the coyote, will be back in a day or two, as good as new, and no worse—or wiser—for the wear.
Immortality has turned us all into cartoons.”
The Bully and The Gun
By Paul Langan
Review By Kyleaf Holland
Heavily thoughtful, unique, diverse and emotionally provoking are the very terms for Paul Langan’s series of books such as The Bully and The Gun. For example, The Bully reveals a humble beginning to readers through a character by the name of Darell Mercer who is constantly mistreated, seen as less valorous, vulnerable and unconfident. The typical highschool stereotypes such as the bully, the nerd, and the peers who hop on bandwagons of whatever seems cool. However, Darell falls into the nerd stereotype until he learns to face his fears, which is arguably his internal and external conflicts. He struggles with self esteem(inner) and Tyray, the cool kid/ bully who is his external conflict. The same could be said about Langan’s sequel to the book entitled, The Gun.
Secondly, the readers get a glimpse within Tyray’s character to see why he was a bully in the first place. We see almost every aspect of Tyray’s life and possibly even empathize with Tyray’s character traits as well as reasoning. Even though Darell was portrayed as weak, unconfident, and vulnerable physically as well as emotionally, the same is in fact very much the case with Tyray. However, Tyray’s weaknesses/ internal conflicts are emotionally more hectic through violent altercations through physical means with family members instead of peers at school. Once Tyray reaches his melting point it is hard to say whether or not he will be able to redeem himself from his transgressions to move on for the betterment of his life.
Overall, I highly recommend these books from Langan’s Bluford series because it relates to many situations of physical/verbal abuse in households, the struggles of urban cities which impacted many friends I know from Philadelphia. I have personally encountered fights with people of similar backgrounds who reverted to guns as a resolve for losing fights in school. Another feature I relish from the book is that the characters feel like real people to me. Darell was born in Philadelphia just like me and raised by his mother just like me and had a difficult time adjusting to his new school in California as I did when I first moved to North Carolina.
In Conclusion, Darell Mercer moves from Philadelphia to Bluford high in California with his mother. It is in this moment that every life changing interaction is introduced between him and Tyray. Tyray bullies Darell to hide the weakness his father provokes on him at home when he beats on him and in turn takes such anger out on Darell. Darell’s weakness for a short period in the book is Tyray’s anger and his own low self-esteem. These moments are shared through the Bluford series’ books made by author Paul Langan which is Purchasable through Amazon.
Where the Crawdads Sing
by Delia Owens
Review by Louisa Parrish
Before I say anything else, I have to say this: Holy Sh*t. Whether you like a coming of age, murder mystery, or any good story, you will like this book. It is in the works of becoming a movie right now, and if it follows the essential plot points, it’ll be a damn good movie. This story follows Kya from a little girl to a strong old woman. She is connected to the marsh she lives in. The marsh is her home, her family, and her most constant companion. The marsh never leaves Kya the way people do throughout her life. The town calls her “The Marsh Girl,” and she is treated like an outcast by the town her whole life. You have characters you hate (**cough cough** Chase Andrews **cough cough**) and characters you love.
I initially did not want to read this; it felt like it was too hyped up by everyone for no good reason. I was very, very wrong. This book is an excellent example of the snowball effect, though. The more I read, the more I not only wanted to read, but I needed to keep reading. So whether it’s Kya, Tate, Big Red, Jumpin’, or Sunday Justice, you will love these characters, even if you don’t want to. You’ll follow Kya as she grows up alone and learns how to survive, and then she learns how to live. Throughout the twists and turns of this story, you’re always rooting for Kya —and if you aren’t, no one cares — be quiet :)
This book was everything I needed and nothing like I expected. So do yourself a favor and read it. If you have already read it, good job, buddy! Sunday Justice is proud of you!!
“Sometimes she heard night-sounds she didn’t know or jumped from lightning too close, but whenever she stumbled, it was the land who caught her. Until at last, at some unclaimed moment, the heart-pain seeped away like water into sand. Still there, but deep. Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.”
“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.”
A Man Called Ove
By Fredrik Backman
Review by Jen Sherrill
“He’s the kind of man who points at people he doesn’t like the look of, as if they were burglars and his forefinger a policeman’s torch.” Ove is exactly like every senile old man you know. He’s candid, scornful, a traditionalist, mildly racist, and hard-working—he thinks that everyone else, especially those in younger generations are indolent and work-shy. From this initial description, you may think he sounds like a person you might hate, or at least strongly dislike if you met him. However, Ove is one of the most masterfully crafted characters I have ever read about as he is layered with both good and bad, full of abundant contradictions, all of which make him human. This causes this old man to be lovable, almost like a grandfather-like figure, if you will.
The story follows Ove as he goes about his normal, daily routine. He spends his days enforcing block rules that are only important to him and visiting his wife, Sonja’s, grave. To quote Backman, “One finds a way of living for the sake of someone else's future. And it wasn't as if Ove also died when Sonja left him. He just stopped living.” This routine that Ove finds himself trapped in leads to a depressive monotony that causes him to want his life to end. Suddenly, that normal routine is interrupted by loud and nosey neighbors. A flattened mailbox leads to an unlikely bond between neighbors that brings both new meaning and joy to the once isolated Ove.
This story is well-written and beautiful. If you’re looking for a book that you won’t be able to put down once you start it, this is it. No, literally. Each chapter ending leaves you on the edge of your seat and yearning for more. You’re going to fall in love with the complexities of this Swedish neighborhood and its inhabitants—Parvaneh, Patrick, Jimmy, Rune, to name just a few. These characters and relationships that are portrayed are indicative of reality; they aren’t stagnant, but, rather, constantly evolving. It’s a book that will make your heart feel full one moment and shattered the next. For example, something as simple as buying an iPad, putting flowers on a grave, or making a morning cup of coffee is twisted to evoke emotion in the reader. It’s full of amazing plot twists that will leave you in awe. Backman, in all his writing, though especially in A Man Called Ove, crafts these very complex networks of characters that make the story detailed, vibrant, and heartwarming. I would simply describe this book as a form of intellectual stimulation created by an emotion-evoking story. If you’re looking for your next book, look no further. This is it.
“Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it's often one of the great motivations for living. Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury. Some need its constant presence to even be aware of its antithesis. Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival. We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.”
― Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ove
“He was a man of black and white. And she was color. All the color he had.”
― Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ove
House of X / Powers of X
by Jonathan Hickman
Review by Dr. Royston
It’s about time we here at the Niche Nook tell you all about a comic book. Why? Because we’re not here to be snobs about Literature ; we’re here to tell you about great books you should read, and well a comic book is definitely a book.
So why should you read this particular comic book, or to be more accurate, this particular comic book series?
Because it is absolutely hands down one of the best super hero stories of the century, it’s chock full of gorgeous art by Pepe Larraz and R.B. Silva, and it reinvents and reinvigorates Marvel’s most meaningful mutants after years of neglect while all hands were focused on the MCU.
House of X/Powers of X is a pair of intertwining six-issue comics miniseries written by Jonathan Hickman and released from the summer to winter of 2019. It has now been collected in trade paperbacks for those who missed out on the monthly releases.
House of X details Professor X and Moira McTaggart’s efforts to recruit mutant heroes and villains to create a new mutant nation on the living island of Krakoa. Their plan is for a new home for all mutants no matter their loyalties or morals, and their efforts see them recruiting everyone from Cypher (because someone needs to talk to the island) to Magneto (because, y’know, he’s friggin’ Magneto) to help forge this new land (and yes, Forge is there too). Through their efforts, we see the current state of Marvel’s mutant population and their hopes for a better future.
Powers of X details the results of their efforts at the years X0, X1, X2, and X3, or their present, ten years in the future, 100 years in the future, and 1000 years in the future. Yes, the title is a play on “powers of ten”. Yes, I think that’s awesome. At each point in time, we see humanity’s efforts to oppress and destroy the mutants escalate and the mutant’s own efforts escalate in response. We soon learn that these are different futures, different potentialities resulting from the mutants forging a new nation on Krakoa.
And then we discover that they aren’t just futures; they’re pasts. They’re Moira’s pasts. Yes, the Mutant’s closest human ally is revealed to be herself a mutant, and her power is the ability to live serial lives. Moira has lived through many futures. In each, she dies along with her mutant family and friends. And each points to the ultimate threat against mutants, humans, and eventually all organic life: massive artificial intelligences so dense with information that they collapse under their own mass and become black holes. Jonathan Hickman’s galaxy brain idea is that the ultimate bad guys are literal galaxy brains!
So you have all the classic X-motifs: island nations, heroes and villains uniting in shared trauma, time travel, killer robots, and bonkers space opera. But Hickman spins them all in new and exciting ways while also weaving them all together into a single thread, united by Moira, Xavier, and their hopes for a better future.
As the two books pivot and weave on each other, we witness two suicide missions, one in the present and one in the future time X2. You’ll feel heartbreak as Jean feels her oldest and dearest friends die one-by-one. You’ll feel triumph as Apocalypse makes his glorious final stand against Nimrod. In these tragic sacrifices, we see the loyalty and often-denied humanity that make the X-men such poignant protagonists, and we are reminded that no matter how much time travel or space shenanigans enter into the equation, they are always an allegory for marginalized people and their fight for acceptance.
And then you will see Professor X tell you and gathered mutant-kind not to mourn the tragic deaths of your favorite X-men, because he and Moira have one last trick: a way to outwit death itself. No matter what arrays itself against them, no matter who or what tries to destroy them, the X-men will always return. And in House of X/Powers of X, they have returned in glorious fashion.
Best Line: “When you wake from this earthly slumber my friend, look for me. I will be there, waiting for you, radiant and with arms wide open.”
The Song of Achilles
By Madeline Miller
Review by Louisa Parrish
I opened the first page of this book blind to its contents and when I met the last page I was blinded by its heart-desolating beauty. The Song of Achilles tells the story of Patroclus and Achilles as they become friends, and eventually lovers. You are charmed by Achilles the same time Patroclus is, you smell the oils, feel the heat, and taste the figs that have been flying through the air, and you can hear Achilles playing the lyre that belonged to Patroclus’ mother.
This beautiful writing is soulful and heart-wrenching. You want to keep reading to experience the world Madeline Miller creates, but you want to stop to stretch out this story as long as possible. Fate and dealing with kings and gods is no feat for the weak. You feel the danger and worry over Achilles just as Patroclus does. Born from the god Thetis, Achilles is a character you love, envy, and want to know. Patroclus is awkward and an exiled prince who finds himself in a common standard; everything was taken from him. Then Achilles takes him under his wing, and even though Achilles is famous for his alleged skill of fighting and being a better warrior than Hercules, Patroclus feels safe with Achilles, and as the reader, you do too.
It is devastatingly beautiful to read about a love that is so profound, and it almost hurts to read just how much Patroclus and Achilles love each other. It is the most beautiful pain, so you endure it anyway. From training with Chiron, to being disguised as a woman, to the Trojan War, you follow Achilles just as Patroclus does, love him as Patroclus does.
I hope you decide to accompany Patroclus and Achilles along their breathtaking journey throughout The Song of Achilles. It is one I will not soon forget and one I think about often. “I am made of memories,” is a quote from the book and The Song of Achilles is something that will remain in mine forever.
“You can use a spear for a walking stick, but it will not change its nature.”
“They leaned towards him, like flowers to the sun, drinking in his luster. It was as Odysseus had said: he had light enough to make heroes of them all.”
by Cheryl Strayed
Review By: Barbs Stuckey
Have you ever been assigned a book for class that you were just simply not looking forward to reading? That was my first instinct when it came to reading Strayed’s book, Wild. However, throughout the book it became more and more apparent that I was falling in love with her writing style, even if all I could do was shake my head at some of the decisions she was making in this non-fiction recollection of her experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).
This book delves into her life after the death of her mother and her divorce as she decided to embark on the journey of a lifetime hiking the PCT. Cheryl has become a heroin addict and has thrown her marriage away for random encounters with less than stellar men and is simply lost in her life. She decides to go on a three-month journey to become sober and to find herself hiking the PCT. This journey is no easy feat for experienced hikers, much less for someone who has no prior hiking knowledge and is in as vulnerable a place as Cheryl.
Throughout the book you see as she tackles many issues logistically on the trail as well as facing her own inner demons. She runs into issues finding water, cooking, and dealing with the environment she now finds herself surrounded by. She shows throughout her journey how over and underprepared you can be when tackling areas of the world you are not familiar with. She is honest and raw throughout her memoir in a way that is completely refreshing to see as a reader. She doesn’t hide the bad and the ugly, instead, she embraces it as part of her own story. Throughout the book, you are given a glance into her way of thinking and it makes it easy to connect with her story. It is easy to find yourself in her work, no matter how different your journey may be from hers.
Overall, it is a unique read and is entertaining, even for those who do not find themselves typically enjoying the genre.
“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.”
“The universe, I'd learned, was never, ever kidding. It would take whatever it wanted and it would never give it back.”
“It seemed to me the way it must feel to people who cut themselves on purpose. Not pretty, but clean. Not good, but void of regret. I was trying to heal. Trying to get the bad out of my system so I could be good again. To cure me of myself.”
“I'd finally come to understand what it had been: a yearning for a way out, when actually what I had wanted to find was a way in.”
by Cornelia Funke
Review by Amber Corn
At the age of 12, this was the first fantasy novel I had ever picked up. This book is a hidden gem that most people have never read, it has everything that a good book needs from characters you fall in love with to crazy adventures that pull you into a book, literally. Inkheart follows Meggie as she discovers that book characters can be brought to the real world by her father Mo. I can't go into detail about this book because to really enjoy this novel you need to go in blind, but one thing I can say is this book will give you a new found love for book characters as Meggie gets to fall in love with her favorite characters not only in novels but in her own life.
Even though I have met barely anyone who has even heard of this book, it is a book I will recommend to anyone who will listen. Anyone who loves literature or even has a favorite character in general, will love the Inkheart trilogy.
This book gave me my first glimpse into fantasy novels and inspired me to read more. Before reading Inkheart, I hated reading. I found novels draining and nothing pulled me in, but this book made me realize reading could be fun, that characters could be engaging and entertaining. Inkheart was my gateway drug into a love of reading, creating characters, and storytelling in general. It makes me wish for my own abilities to bring characters into our world or even go into theirs…
So take a chance on the hidden gem that is Inkheart by Cornelia Funke.
My favorite quotes,
“If you take a book with you on a journey, an odd thing happens: The book begins collecting your memories. And forever after you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it. It will all come into your mind with the very first words: the sights you saw in that place, what it smelled like, the ice cream you ate while you were reading it... yes, books are like flypaper—memories cling to the printed page better than anything else.”
“Books loved anyone who opened them, they gave you security and friendship and didn't ask for anything in return; they never went away, never, not even when you treated them badly. Love, truth, beauty, wisdom and consolation against death. Who had said that? Someone else who loved books.”
“Writing stories is a kind of magic, too.”
“You know, it's a funny thing about writers. Most people don't stop to think of books being written by people much like themselves. They think that writers are all dead long ago--they don't expect to meet them in the street or out shopping. They know their stories but not their names, and certainly not their faces. And most writers like it that way.”
There are two different flyers for this Niche Nook review because Inkheart has many beautiful covers, the one pictured with the red cover is the original cover art of the book and the second with the cover art that is blue is my favorite version of the cover.
Both are fantastic artworks that portray the story inside beautifully.
In The Dream House
By: Carmen Maria Machado
Review by Louisa Parrish
I don’t know how else to tell you to read In The Dream House other than to just say please. Carmen Maria Machado dabbles in many forms and genres of writing in her memoir that so many have related to in different ways. Machado tackles the subject of her abusive relationship with these different genres and she’s able to dig her hooks in you. I have never read anything like this memoir and I hate that I cannot find more books that scratch the itch I did not even know I had until I read In The Dream House. Machado takes you through her abusive relationship from the beginning to the end. In The Dream House is a haunted house and it is addictively terrifying, but Machado holds your hand through the journey, which you come to realize is more than she ever had in that relationship. She had no one to guide her, which makes the story even more haunting.
Take the journey of reading this book, the evening I started reading I was sucked into a reality that I could not stop turning the pages. One after the other, every word Machado would give I was willingly taking until there were no more words for her to give and me to take. This is not the first work of Machado that I have read. Her Body and Other Parties, a collection of short stories, was first, but damn after In The Dream House I will be buying any words that Machado will give. Carmen Maria Machado has successfully cast a spell that has hypnotized many from beautiful, mystical, and addicting words and stories.
Ghosts, demons, and stories we tell to scare children or make into movies are nothing except our inner demons personified. So, pick up In The Dream House, go on the journey of the most haunted house I have ever experienced.
“A reminder to remember: just because the sharpness of the sadness has faded does not mean that it was not, once, terrible. It means only that time and space, creatures of infinite girth and tenderness, have stepped between the two of you, and they are keeping you safe as they were once unable to.”
“Our bodies are ecosystems, and they shed and replace and repair until we die. And when we die, our bodies feed the hungry earth, our cells becoming part of other cells, and in the world of the living, where. we used to be, people kiss and hold hands and fall in love and fuck and laugh and cry and hurt others and nurse broken hearts and start wars and pull sleeping children out of car seats and shout at each other. If you could harness that energy – that constant, roving hunger – you could do wonders with it. You could push the earth inch by inch through the cosmos until it collided heart first with the sun.”
Calling all Commitment-Phobes:
Try The Love Songs of W.E. B. Dubois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
Dr. Danielle Donelson
Review from a wonderful professor from Pfeiffer University, where The Phoenix is based.
Topping off at 800 pages, The Love Songs of W.E. B. Dubois is a novel that undoubtedly requires some time commitment. And yet, the journey, for those who see it through, is so very worth it.
The author, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, self-identifies as an Afro-Indigenous American (with both American Indian and African roots). Given the book’s historical depth and accuracy, it is understandable she took more than a decade to research and write this magnum opus. She has noted in recent interviews that she was aware of the need to represent the historical context of Native peoples and their experiences accurately. Her intense work paid off; what is more, these Cree stories do not exist as a mere footnote in her text, but as foundational to the central family’s story.
The book traces the family lineage of a mixed-race family in Chicasetta, Georgia. This area, once home to the indigenous Cree people, is an integral part of the story and the author’s own native ancestry. While Jeffers does center the stories and experiences of African and African-American characters enslaved on plantations, we also get a rare opportunity to understand more about the embodied experiences of the indigenous characters, how both groups interacted, and their similar and distinct racialized experiences alongside the white slave owners. This book offers a unique exploration into the intricacies of complicated cultural and racial identities and how they came to be.
Though we are introduced to bits of this ancestral narrative at the beginning, we are later treated to more details, as the primary story focuses on character in the 20th century punctuated with trips back in time. A great portion of the story highlights the narrative and the archival work of, the protagonist Ailey, a budding historian who is also on her own ongoing, captivating journey, developing her own sense of self as well as embracing her complex identity.
Jeffers’ writing is lyrical but not overly complex; the narrative non-linear without becoming convoluted. Through these intertwined and captivating family stories, the book confronts the intense themes of colorism, incestual abuse, rape, classism, elitism, and drug addiction through the lens of the racialized experiences of multi-dimensional black characters.
Some readers may find the recurring debate between the ideas and contributions of Booker T. Washington versus W.E.B. DuBois to be an intriguing aspect of the book. Others may relate to, or learn from, the stories of black experiences in college. The ways in which characters must navigate racism and elitism in graduate programs are important issues for contemporary academic conversations as well.
Though a family tree may have been helpful for casual readers in order to understanding the lineage, active and engaged note-taking is well-worth the effort to understand these characters. Perhaps history buffs, commitment phobes, and those inclined to enjoy genealogy may embrace this endeavor, assuming a more interactive role in keeping track of the characters’ relational ties. Though the book is indeed massive, the chapters move forward quickly as we drop in to
visit different characters’ storylines. As the story traces the paths of many different family members, readers are unlikely to feel that Jeffers’ editors should have been more incising; instead, readers will walk away in awe of her ability to interweave historical accounts and how they inform multi-racial identities and contemporary characters’ experiences.
What Remains of Edith Finch?
By Giant Sparrow Games
Edith Finch is a game that focuses on telling a story with no gameplay outside of this. Edith Finch tells its story in a way that there is a thin line between the actual gameplay and cutscenes. In this critique I will use Tom Bissell’s views on video games narratives, and gameplay to analyze if Edith Finch tells a good story, in a fun and/or interesting way. Edith Finch is a story that allows the player to learn the story of a family that is the victim of a “curse” that kills many members of the family.
Bissell writes that a game story is divided into two areas “present”, which takes control away from the player and “Ludo narrative” the parts of the game that the player has control of. Bissell calls this the “fun” parts of the played game. These two elements work together to craft story narrative. I feel that Edith Finch is an attempt to combine and/or close the divide between these two elements. Bissell mentions that no one knows that purpose a story has in a video game, Edith Finch is simply a huge story with no gameplay outside of this. It is almost a movie that lets you interact with the scenes because no matter what you do the end result will always be the same. Bissell mentions Fallout 3 and Fable 2 making use of dialogue choices, where the player can make the story, but this would never work for Edith Finch because the story is set in stone, and the game is designed for storytelling, more than having fun. There are parts within the game that can be fun. Like Molly’s story when the player transforms into many animals and travels throughout the ocean, but this was only a hallucination that was from Molly eating toothpaste that would eventually kill her.
Molly’s story is where we see the most Ludo narrative in the game. Outside of her story the most gameplay comes from Edith traveling around her home. Odin’s story would seem to have the most “present” element in the game.
Bissell also mentions how other forms of storytelling like movies and books make him feel like he is surrendering or “Allowing my mind to be occupied by a colonizer of uncertain intent”. He feels that the traditional entertainment methods are more controlling, but he says about video games that: “Playing video games is not quite like this. The surrender is always partial. You get control and are controlled. Games are partially aware of you and have a physical dimension unlike any other form of popular entertainment.” (Bissell 11). Edith Finch is a great example of this, constantly giving control to the player and back to the video game, allowing you to experience the story one-on-one with the game. Video game stories allow you to feel more for certain characters and people, primarily because you are often in the shoes of these individuals. In Walter’s story he is in a basement for thirty years, and you as the player continually open cans and eat the same food as the calendar in the background shows the time passing by and when Walter finally has the courage to leave he is hit by a train. This causes a feeling of dread, and sadness I do not believe I would feel if I had seen this in a movie and I definitely would have not have felt it from a book because I was able to see this story unfold and interact with it. Bissell would more than likely agree seeing that he was a script writer for the game.
In conclusion, I believe Edith Finch does tell a good, yet sad and interesting story. This story blurs the lines between gameplay and cut scenes and makes the player feel as if they are experiencing it themselves. Bissel writes “For the film begins at a time I cannot control, has nothing to sell me that I have not already purchased, and goes on whether or not I happen to be in my seat” (Bissel 11). This quote best describes it because Edith Finch will not go on without the player and without the player the story cannot go on. It is a perfect mix. The fun elements of the game being traveling through a house that was once occupied by many unique and interesting people who were all victims of a family curse. Learning their unfortunate, but exciting stories as if you were in their shoes is something that would not be possible or would have less of an impact as if it were told in the form of a book or a movie. The story allows one to take part in the story and not just simply watch it unfold from the sidelines. Like many video game stories, but the greater focus that Edith Finch puts on the story aspect of a video game is what makes it stand out.
By: Kurt Vonnegut
Review by Cortney Queen
Do you want to read a novel that explores the philosophy of free will? What about a science-fiction novel? A novel about war? A time-travel novel? Slaughterhouse Five completely absorbed me, lost me, found me again, and then knocked me halfway across the room over and over again. Kurt Vonnegut feeds off his experience as a POW during WWII, giving the novel a grounding in actuality.
He breaks this realism, however, as he relays the process of trauma, specifically the trauma of war, through Billy Pilgrim’s story and his ability to time travel. Vonnegut includes various science-fiction aspects like the Tralfamadorians whose philosophy of time directly plays into their lack of belief in free will. Billy’s trips to Tralfamadore and his time travels throughout his entire life (yes, even his death) gives readers a chance to see Billy as a whole and not a character within a specific moment. This loss of linearity and the introduction of other worlds allow the readers to experience, as much as possible, the confusion and trauma one might encounter after going to war; there is no coping method for witnessing mangled bodies and bunkers full of rotting bodies. So it goes.
Such atrocities bring attention to what little power you have over situations just like Billy had no control over his situation. I could write pages on Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five but “Goodness me, the clock has struck— Alackday, and fuck my luck.”
Mr. Burns: a Post-Electric Play
by Anne Washburn.
Review by Dr. Edward Royston
Review from a wonderful professor from Pfeiffer University, where The Phoenix is based.
Culture, its creation and dissemination, lies at the heart of Anne Washburn’s 2012 Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play. Set at some point in the near future after a plague has wiped out most of humanity (I swear not everything I review is about plagues wiping out humanity), Mr. Burns begins with a group of travelers gathered around a campfire trying to recreate the plot of the season 5 The Simpsons episode, “Cape Feare”, the one in which Sideshow Bob attempts to kill Bart again after finally getting out of jail. In between trying to remember lines from the show, these travelers share names of people they have lost and people they have met and discuss the imminent breakdown of America’s nuclear power infrastructure and the disasters its collapse may cause. Sideshow Bob’s absurd penchants for stepping on rakes and singing Gilbert and Sullivan operettas on demand serve as comfort and distraction from the deaths these travelers have faced and will face. Readers familiar with “Cape Feare” (and if you’re not, use yours or someone else’s Disney+ account to become so) will note that the play’s titular villain makes no appearance in this particular episode.
In the play’s second act, we learn that seven years later, these travelers have banded together into a traveling theater troupe that performs their recollections of The Simpsons episodes to the survivors of the apocalypse. And in the third act, set another seventy-five years into the future, we see that through the telephone game of oral tradition, The Simpsons and “Cape Feare” in particular have transmuted into a morality play about the decline and destruction of pre-disaster America and the need to maintain hope in the face of death and disaster. Mr. Burns has assumed his titular role and replaced Sideshow Bob as the story’s antagonist. And his role as owner of Springfield’s nuclear power plant has transformed into him being the culprit behind the plague and subsequent nuclear calamities.
As the comedy transforms into a tragedy, the tragic lives of the survivors become almost comic. The flaws of memory and the fear of death transform an attempt to recall culture into a process of cultural creation. A cartoon meant to spoof the banality of contemporary America becomes a drama by which future Americans navigate their shared traumas. Farcical and ultimately toothless (literally in Burns’ case) villains merge and become satanic embodiments of all human sin. And a cartoon boy known best for telling people to eat his shorts becomes a symbol of purity and perseverance.
Washburn’s play brilliantly captures the ubiquity of The Simpsons, the way it weighs upon American culture for both its most loyal fans and those who have never seen a single episode. Like the show, it combines arch comedy with cultural commentary. But unlike the show, it projects to the future instead of reflecting the present. And despite its tragic premise, it ultimately serves to reassure us that certain things will always be with us, if not as season 114 of America’s longest running and most beloved animated sitcom, then in some other form equally reflective of the people, time, and values from which it is born.
Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?
by Caitlin Doughty.
Review by Chris Taylor
Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs: Big Questions From Tiny Mortals (2019) with illustrations by Dianné Ruz is undoubtedly Caitlin Doughty’s most eye-catching book, by virtue of title alone. It's also the absolute perfect introduction to Doughty’s content. Host of the popular YouTube channel “Ask a Mortician,” a founder of The Order of the Good Death and previously the owner of a small funeral home in LA, Doughty spends much of her time educating people about death. This, her most recent book, is no different. As the title suggests, the book is all about questions, specifically questions from children about death. While this premise alone is a worthy reason to write a book, there is a purpose behind it. Part of the reason Doughty spends so much time educating people about death is because most people in the western world aren’t very knowledgeable about it. We’re often so afraid to talk about it thanks to cultural stigma that few even know the basics. So that's a no on any questions considered morbid. That’s where the tiny “Free range, ethically sourced” (as the book puts it) mortals come in. Kids usually haven’t learned the taboo yet; if they have morbid questions they will ask them. And Doughty answers in her usual comedic way. Have I mentioned this book is very funny? You get questions like “We eat dead chickens, why not dead people?” and “Can we give grandma a viking funeral?” and of course, the titular “Will my cat eat my eyeballs?” the answer, if you're curious, is maybe. I read this book during a time when the workload for school was very heavy and my personal life was in chaos, usually even the tiniest bit of stress for me makes it impossible to actually enjoy much of anything. However, I deeply enjoyed this book. As I said Doughty is a very funny person, her manner of writing (and speaking, I read the audiobook) is witty and very tongue in cheek. I also find this book surprisingly comforting in parts, the frank and down to earth conversations about death that spark from the often absurd questions made me smile and stupidly nod: “Yes I am wisened.” This book is definitely the closest in spirit to Doughty’s Youtube channel and it is definitely the one I would recommend to anyone just getting into her content. That doesn’t mean that “Veterans” can’t enjoy it as well because like I said I enjoyed it deeply. I was always a morbid kid and stuff like this is perfect for me. If you ever got scolded for asking too many weird questions, especially weird questions at grandpa’s funeral, this book might just be for you. Or maybe give it to the weird little kid in your life. However, I would encourage even the most pearl clutching of possible readers–you know who you are, come on–to give this book a chance and possibly unlock the morbid little tiny mortal in yourself.