Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

“The world might indeed be a cursed circle; the snake swallowed its tail and there could be no end, only an eternal ruination and endless devouring.”

If you are looking for an uncanny and spine-chilling read for Halloween, you won’t want to miss Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Set in Mexico in the 1950s, young socialite Noemi Taboada is asked to visit her cousin, Catalina, in the country upon her father receiving an unusual and seemingly delusional letter from her. In it, she claims her newlywed husband and the mansion they live in are trying to poison her, among other ramblings Noemi and her father can’t make much sense of. While Noemi isn’t keen on leaving her life in Mexico City, she embarks to the countryside for an undetermined length of time to attend to her cousin’s well-being, half-expecting to bring her back to Mexico City to see a psychiatrist.

It doesn’t take long upon arriving, however, for Noemi to experience the unnatural, isolating, and menacing ambiance of this mansion, also known as High Place. Along with Catalina and her husband, Virgil, the manor is home to Virgil’s ancient father, aunt, cousin, and a handful of servants. In addition to the family living with no electricity and in complete silence most of the time, which is very unnerving for the loquacious and lively Noemi, she is also made very uncomfortable when introduced to Virgil’s father, a man completely enamored by the notion of eugenics.

In addition to the dismal demeanor of the house’s occupants, the decrepit house itself is a character of its own. It is truly the epitome of a Gothic setting from beginning to end, complete with the dark and derelict interior, the haunted neighboring cemetery, and the insane, enigmatic descriptions of the house coming to life. Within the grasp of the house, Noemi begins to have horrific dreams of the house as a living organism and of inhumane events occurring within its walls, and she soon realizes her cousin has been subjected to something far worse than she could have ever imagined.

For me, this Gothic tale was Jane Eyre meeting “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which then met Stephen King. I have always been a fan of Gothic literature, and this was a fresh, chilling, and creepy story I didn’t want to put down. While I didn’t initially relate with the protagonist and the story had a bit of a slow start, I found the suspense, plot, and imagery to be completely worth the small wait. I will make a disclaimer that it does have some pretty morbid descriptions and imagery at parts (hence, Stephen King’s shout out), but if you want something to leave you haunted and squeamish, even with the lights on, you will definitely enjoy this novel!

This book is also available in the following formats:

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Overdrive eBook

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

“We all live in an unwalled city, that was it. I saw lines scored across the map of Ireland; carved all over the globe. Train tracks, roads, shipping channels, a web of human traffic that connected all nations into one great suffering body.”

I have to admit, I took a risk reading The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue due to its extremely timely and grisly content but, that being said, I am extremely glad I read this novel and am excited to share it with you.

This historical fiction novel is set in Dublin, Ireland, and takes place during the most lethal wave of the 1918 Flu Pandemic and WWI. The story primarily revolves around Nurse Julia Powers, who works as a midwife and cares for expecting mothers who have contracted the virus. Not unlike conditions we have witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals were described as being completely overrun with patients, severely understaffed, and lacking necessary medical supplies. With that being said, there were also some very different hardships people experienced over a century ago, so this is a very enlightening and humbling glimpse into the experiences of a past pandemic. Taking place over the span of three days, you will experience a whirlwind of emotions as you follow Julia through her incredible work at the hospital and meet several unforgettable women who will haunt you long after you finish the story.

Overall, I found this book to be extremely intense, but definitely worth the read. Not only does this subject hit close to home as we are living through a pandemic ourselves, but the fact that Julia spends most of her time working in the maternity ward lends itself to several passages with explicit descriptions of medical procedures (albeit they are noted as being extremely accurate for the time according to the notes at the end of the book). While I definitely found myself feeling squeamish at times, I was truly in awe and astounded by the seemingly impossible work Julia did for her patients during such a trying time.

This story is also brimming with character development, as you get a chance to intimately meet several women in the confines of the maternity/fever ward and learn their stories over the course of three days. You will definitely find yourself on an emotional rollercoaster, experiencing sorrow and sympathy, hope and love, shock and awe, life and death, and everything in between. I was extremely inspired and humbled by the strength and resilience of humanity in this novel, and this is what ultimately made it well worth the read while living in the midst of COVID-19.

I also found myself extremely interested in the setting and time period of this story itself, as I didn’t know too much about either the 1918 pandemic or the history of Ireland during this period of history before reading. In fact, I was drawn in so much that I immediately found a documentary and podcast to listen to after finishing the book.

All in all, I found this novel to be worth its intensity and, while it may not be the best time to read this particular book for some, it may be relatable and inspirational to others as we live through a pandemic in our own time.

This book is also available in the following formats:

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OverDrive eBook

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste whose forebears designed it. A caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep the ranked groupings apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned places.”

In the bestselling book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of the title The Warmth of Other Suns, draws parallels between the often-unspoken caste system in the United States with those of India and Nazi Germany to elucidate the innate, systemic racism that is intentionally rooted and entwined in the history and core foundations of our country. This work combines deep, immersive research and moving narratives, such as Wilkerson’s own experiences, to express and relate how this invisible hierarchy affects the opportunities, safety, and day-to-day life of black Americans today.

Wilkerson first shines a light on current events, painting a disturbing picture. She describes the escalating racial tensions in America as “pathogens” or “toxins” that were never completely eradicated with the end of slavery or the implementation of civil rights legislation, but were rather buried beneath the surface in the “permafrost” until certain circumstances brought them back to the surface. She then considers the arbitrary construction of human divisions across America, as well as in India and Nazi Germany, before exploring eight distinct pillars of caste she believes are the foundations of the caste system in the United States.

After elaborating upon these powerful pillars, ranging from topics of divine will and endogamy to dehumanization and stigma, Wilkerson discusses the “tentacles” and consequences of the caste system lingering in the lives of black Americans today. One of the most telling parts of this book for me was learning about the many forms of backlash that transpired after President Barack Obama’s election and re-election, as many claimed the accomplishment of a black man in the Oval Office was a sign that racism was “dead.” This could not be further from the truth.

Lastly, Wilkerson calls for an awakening and the need for action in order to combat the dangerous, debilitating, and ever-present caste system preserving and prolonging systemic racism in the United States and has a strong response to those who dismiss racism based on the reasoning that it isn’t “their fault,” or the fault of their ancestors:

We are the heirs to whatever is right or wrong with it. We did not erect the uneven pillars or joists, but they are ours to deal with now. And any further deterioration is, in fact, on our hands.”

Overall, this title is extraordinarily written as Wilkerson writes in a compelling, thoughtful, and revealing way about this subject, and if you are looking for a raw, honest, and thought-provoking title to learn more about the origins of systemic racism in America, I would wholeheartedly recommend picking up this book.

This book is also available in the following formats:

OverDrive eAudiobook

OverDrive eBook

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds

“This book, this not history history book, this present book, is meant to take you on a race journey from then to now, to show why we feel how we feel, why we live how we live, and why this poison, whether recognizable or unrecognizable, whether it’s a scream or a whisper, just won’t go away.”

Described as a book containing history and rooted in the here and now, rather than as a traditional history book students read in school, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds is an adaptation or remix of a longer work by Ibram X. Kendi (Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America). Written to be more accessible to younger audiences, this work presents a history of racism in America, drawing parallels to how racist notions and theories that have been perpetuated in centuries past still strongly pervade America today with deep, toxic roots in the very infrastructure, policies, and foundations of the country.

Divided into five sections highlighting different periods of history, spanning from 1415 to the present day, this title explores a multitude of historically significant people, events, movements, and ideas that have actively disseminated or combated racist theories and practices in America. Within this exploration, there are three types of people who are specifically defined and deemed crucial to understanding when considering racism: (1) segregationists, which Reynolds colloquially terms “the haters;” (2) assimilationists, or those who are accepting of Black people when they are more like White people; and (3) antiracists, or those who love Black people for who they are.

Overall, this title is eye-opening, enlightening, and extremely educational, in addition to being very accessible to read. It is also a very timely and important read in light of the growing racial and social justice movements occurring in our own time, as well as in response to the many conversations that are starting to explicate and explore the racial dynamics in existence today within the United States. I definitely plan to read Kendi’s longer work, which was a National Book Award Winner in 2016, but would highly recommend this adaptation for everyone and anyone, especially teenagers and young adults, as Reynolds is an absolute delight to read. This book is available in the following formats:

Book on CD

Overdrive eAudiobook

Overdrive eBook

Academic Overdrive eBook

Playaway

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

Reading is such an extraordinary way to escape reality, and distancing ourselves from the anxieties and uncertainties in our lives is so important for our health and well-being. One hidden gem I have recently reread (for the third time!) and would highly recommend is The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. This book journeys back-and-forth in time, place, and perspective, and features the voices of several young women who are bound by a century-old mystery.

Beginning in 1913 in Cornwall, England, this novel revolves around a young girl who is placed on a ship to Australia and arrives with nothing but a suitcase: not even a name. Twenty-one years later, this young girl called Nell discovers a secret that upends her entire world, leading her to question her identity and embark on a journey to discover who she really is.

The story then follows the narrative of Cassandra, Nell’s granddaughter, who inherits an estate in Cornwall upon her grandmother’s death. Not only was Cassandra unaware of the existence of this estate, she also never knew Nell had visited Cornwall, let alone planned to live there. Upon receiving this inheritance, Cassandra picks up the loose threads Nell left behind to unravel the mystery of her grandmother’s life, learning a lot about herself along the way. While Nell and Cassandra are the two focal characters in this story, readers also experience the journey of several other lives that are inextricably intertwined with theirs.

Filled with secrets and revelations that will keep you guessing until the very end, this novel features a mysterious, winding storyline; beautiful, elegant language; and intricate, relatable character development. On top of that, there is a dark book of fairy tales and a secret garden (I can never resist a secret garden!). Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking to be whisked away to a forgotten garden in Cornwall or immersed in a multi-generational story brimming with family secrets, mystery, and discovery. This book is also available as an eBook: