There is good reason that The Mountains Sing [Algonquin Books, March 17, 2020], the first novel in English by award-winning poet Nguyen Phan Que Mai, has been ranked among “the most exciting writers to emerge in post-war Vietnam”--it is, in a word, breathtaking.
The Mountains Sing is an epic, multi-generational narrative that traces the arc of Vietnam’s turbulent and painful twentieth-century history as Que Mai gracefully weaves together the timeline of four generations of the Tran family—beginning during the Communist Land Reform of the 1950s and extending through the aftermath of the American bombing of Ha Noi in the early 1970s. Steeped in the storytelling traditions of Vietnam, The Mountains Sing is decadent and heart wrenching, equal parts lush and vibrant in its unfamiliar setting, and just as persistently unrelenting in its depiction of decades worth of war and conflict.
This story, although captivating and stunningly crafted, is nonetheless brutal, making its narration ring true in the heart of the reader--“The more I read, the more I became afraid of wars. Wars have the power to turn graceful and cultured people into monsters.”
Written as Que Mai’s response to single-sided, Western-written depictions of Vietnam as a place of war, simplicity, and cruelty, The Mountains Sing presents a story of history, of resiliency, and of hope as told through the indelible voices of the Tran family, alternating between the family’s matriarch, Tran Dieu Lan, and extending to her granddaughter, Huong. It is every bit a tale as much of painful desperation and the horrors of famine, war, and class struggle, as it is a moving lesson in hope, renewal, and the bond of family. “…I realized that war was monstrous. If it didn’t kill those it touched, it took away a piece of their souls, so they could never be whole again.”
On a personal note, The Mountains Sing may not have been a title the likes of which normally make its way into my library, but it has nonetheless found a place as one of the most moving, and fundamentally eye-opening, novels I feel I will read in my lifetime.
As usual, I'm a little late to the party (I will eventually manage to be late to my own funeral) but as February is Women in Horror Month, I want to share my list of some of my favorite women in horror writers today, and their incredible books. These ladies are the snake's hips, if you will, and some of the strongest--and most unusual--writers in the genre today.
(Be sure to check out this incredible list of women horror writers, hosted by the Ladies of Horror Fiction organization, t00!)
Horrors both of our own imaginings and of the supernatural come home to roost in Catherine Cavendish’s The Garden of Bewitchment [February 2020, Flame Tree Press].
When the Wainwright sisters move to the country to escape the judgmental eyes of their neighbors—after all, what could be more scandalous than two spinster sisters living alone, unwed, and wealthy in the end of the 19th-century England?—what is meant to be a quiet respite quickly becomes a tale of deadly horror. And it seems to all start with the appearance of a mysterious, eerily sentient toy called the Garden of Bewitchment.
Atmospheric and rich in detail, Cavendish masterfully draws the reader into the slow-burning horror that makes well-crafted Gothic literature so delightfully addictive. It all starts with tension between sisters. Identical twins Evelyn and Claire might share the same physical characteristics, but they exist in almost two completely different worlds. Evelyn is pragmatic and responsible, Claire unkempt and somewhat unhinged, infatuated with Branwell Brontë, who although deceased is very real in Claire’s mind—and her heart. The one thing the sisters do share: Calladocia.
Like the Brontë sisters, the Wainwrights are writing a novel about Calladocia, a universe of their own creation. Their existence at opposite ends of this imaginary world provides an unsettling allegory for the widening gap between the sisters as Cavendish’s story unfolds, pulling the sisters apart with it. When a strange toy featuring a miniature mansion surrounded by a beautiful garden, the Garden of Bewitchment, appears in their cottage, the boundary between the real and the imaged begins to crumble. As the separation between reality and the nightmare the sisters have found themselves trapped in becomes ever-frightening, Evelyn and Claire are forced to try to sort out which of the horrors are consequences of the toy’s unnerving influence, and which might be of their own making. No one—and nothing—is as it seems in The Garden of Bewitchment.
Though at time the pacing seems a little uneven, The Garden of Bewitchment delivers as a gothic tale of unexpected horror, unraveling insanity, and what happens when the realities we’ve constructed for ourselves turn against us.
This month I was excited to receive - and unbox! - the January Storytellers BOX, Vintage Collection from JeanBookNerd. This box was full of unique and exclusive items on theme, and I was blown away by the quality and craftsmanship of this box! There is absolutely no detail spared in packaging and presentation of each item included in the box - from tea-died papers to custom seals and aged felt, unboxing this BOX was like celebrating Christmas all over again, this time with a lot of bookish fun.
Since I had something to 'unbox' I thought I'd try my hand at making an 'unboxing video' for my YouTube channel. I think it's safe to say I need a little bit of practice with my camera work (yes, I even ordered a new mount), but this was so much fun to put together. I am also grateful to my good friend Matt over at Dadbod Soundsystems for letting me use some of his custom tunes!
If you like what you see in the video, head over to JeanBookNerdStorytellersBOX for more information on how you can order your very own. All orders placed by February 15th, 2020 11:59:59 PM PST will received the THE VINTAGE COLLECTION JeanBookNerd Storytellers BOX. Orders placed beginning February 16, 2020 will received the next title (HEARTBREAK COLLECTION). You can sign up for Monthly, Quarterly, or 6 Months Subscriptions. And don't forget to use my discount code SEVEN10 to save 10%!