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Book Reviews

In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado

“Putting language to something for which you have no language is no easy feat.”
★★★★★

In the Dream House is such an excellent, beautifully written book that I don’t feel capable of writing a review that does it justice. 

Machado’s writing is lyrical and complex and layered, and hearing her read it aloud in audiobook form was transformative for me. She recounts the tale of her own same sex intimate partner abuse, seamlessly weaving in references to history, pop culture, and archival works. The entire time I listened I just kept getting the feeling that I was experiencing something groundbreaking and vitally important. Everyone should read In the Dream House, no matter their age, sexual orientation, race, gender, or typical reading preferences.

Synopsis:
“In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado’s engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad, and a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing relationship with a charismatic but volatile woman, Machado struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming.

And it’s that struggle that gives the book its original structure: each chapter is driven by its own narrative trope—the haunted house, erotica, the bildungsroman—through which Machado holds the events up to the light and examines them from different angles. She looks back at her religious adolescence, unpacks the stereotype of lesbian relationships as safe and utopian, and widens the view with essayistic explorations of the history and reality of abuse in queer relationships.

Machado’s dire narrative is leavened with her characteristic wit, playfulness, and openness to inquiry. She casts a critical eye over legal proceedings, fairy tales, Star Trek, and Disney villains, as well as iconic works of film and fiction. The result is a wrenching, riveting book that explodes our ideas about what a memoir can do and be.”

Final thoughts: In the Dream House is a brilliant piece of literature, but it is also extraordinarily heavy and difficult to read. I highly recommend you check it out, but please read with care. I found it helpful to take my time with this one and limited myself to a few chapters per day.

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Note: I haven’t formally reviewed any non-fiction books yet, but the ‘at a glance’ template I use for fiction didn’t feel right for Dream House, so I’ve adjusted it slightly.

In the Dream House At a Glance:
Genre:
Memoir
LGBT Rep?
Yes. In the Dream House explores Machado’s personal experience of being in an abusive relationship with another woman.
Own Voices?
Yes. Machado is also a WOC (woman of color).
Content Warnings (CWs): Descriptions of intimate partner abuse (both emotional & physical), trauma, gaslighting. Honestly, it’s a very heavy book and it would be impossible to fit all of the CWs into a short list. Read it, but read with care.

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Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb #1) by Tamsyn Muir

“We do bones, motherfucker.” (★★★★★, 5/5)

Where to begin with Gideon the Ninth? Perhaps with its tagline: “Lesbian Necromancers in Space.” If that’s not enough to hook you, I don’t know what is.

Gideon the Ninth was one of the most unique, fun, and imaginative tales I’ve read in a long time. I started with the ebook, proceeded to become engrossed to the point I could accomplish absolutely nothing besides reading it, then decided to spend an Audible credit on the audiobook so that I didn’t completely wreck my GPA and could instead listen to the novel while working on graphic design homework.

I don’t buy many audiobooks, but Gideon the Ninth, narrated by Moira Quirk, was hands down the best one I’ve ever listened to! Quirk gives an amazing performance and really makes Muir’s words come to life. I’ve seen other reviewers say that they found Gideon to be dense and confusing for the first bit, but I honestly feel like listening to the book instead of reading it outright helped me circumvent that issue. It’s a lot easier to avoid getting bogged down by the spelling and pronunciations of complicated, fantastical names when someone else pronounces them for you.

That aside, I loved Gideon the Ninth to absolute (bone fragment) pieces. This imaginative tale fused two of my favorite genres (fantasy & sci-fi, aka “science fantasy”), and checked all of my boxes – lesbians, necromancy, political intrigue, witty repartee, enemies to lovers subtext, and sword play! There wasn’t a single thing about this novel that I didn’t like.

Gideon was so deliciously wild and complex that I won’t kid myself into thinking that any plot summary I could write myself could possibly do the book justice, so here’s the official blurb:
Gideon the Ninth is the most fun you’ll ever have with a skeleton.
The Emperor needs necromancers.
The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.
Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as necromantic skeletons. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.”

In closing: GO READ GIDEON THE NINTH!!! I don’t care who you are, or what sort of books you usually read – this is not one you want to miss. Though Gideon does include horror aspects, it isn’t particularly scary. Definitely creepy, but more fun than terrifying. This is important for me, as I’m generally not a fan of ‘scary’ books, because I’m kind of a giant weenie. So I would encourage my fellow weenies to give Gideon the Ninth a shot, because it’s seriously worth it.

If you’ve already read Gideon the Ninth and, like me, are chomping at the bit for Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb #2) to come out later this year, Tor has your back! You can download the entire first act of Harrow the Ninth from their website, for free, here!

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Gideon the Ninth At a Glance:

  • Genre: LGBT, Dark “Science Fantasy”, Action/Adventure
  • Themes/Tropes: Reluctant Hero, Enemies to Lovers (Subtext), Thawing the Ice Queen/Taming the Beast, Swords & Sorcery
  • LGBT Rep? Yes! The main character, Gideon, is a useless lesbian who essentially falls for every beautiful woman she comes into contact with.
  • Content Warnings (CW): Graphic violence & gore, Death (like lots of death, but that’s to be expected in a book about necromancers), multiple conversations about suicidality, in depth discussions of trauma & grief, a few instances of self-harm (as a means for necromancy rather than for its own sake, if that helps)