WHEN BOOKS WENT TO WAR by Molly Guptill Manning

when books went to war by molly guptill manningWhat they couldn’t foresee was a mass audience swollen by the millions of veterans who’d acquired the reading habit overseas, thanks to the Armed Services Editions of popular paperbacks distributed free to the troops. After the war, many of them would go to college on the GI Bill, as Gorey and O’Hara had. Vets made up a sizable part of the new book-hungry audience that gobbled up 2,862,792 copies of Pocket’s Five Great Tragedies by Shakespeare the year it was published.

The above was essentially a throwaway detail in Born to Be Posthumous, Mark Dery’s biography of Edward Gorey, which I read at the beginning of the year, included to add context and texture to Gorey’s post-military service life. It stuck with me, though, mostly because it felt like something I should have come across before, given my interests. I highlighted the passage, with the intention of looking more into it later.

As it happened, a couple of weeks later Literary Hub published an article about the Armed Services Editions. I read it with interest, thinking what a great coincidence it was that an article about something I just recently learned would show up so soon after my learning about it.  My life is riddled with these serendipitous happenstances, though, (enough that I have my own name for them: coincidencias cósmicas — my cosmic coincidences), and whenever I stumble upon one, I’ve learned to give it more of my attention. The piece goes on to cite When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning, and I figured this was the universe’s way of telling me to read it. The fact that I also picked this up at a time where book bannings are rampant all across the United States was yet another cosmic layer on top of it all. (I don’t believe in destiny, but I believe in confluence.)

War is not a subject I tend to want to read much about, not unless it’s something the caliber of Band of Brothers or Maus. But When Books Went to War proved to be a powerful and poignant story, with far more disquieting relevance than one would initially expect. In the Western world especially, we tend to view moments like the Second World War as these distant events, when in reality that are often so terrifyingly recent — a paragraph or two above us in the grand narrative of history. We also have the tendency to view the past as Things That Happened to Other People. It’s not our problem anymore. We don’t have to worry about these things any longer. This lack of concern and awareness is the privilege of the complacent and ignorant, and why we constantly repeat the mistakes of the long ago. We did not learn, and so we continue to err. 

When Books Went to War is the account of a very specific, seemingly trivial endeavor of U.S. military history. About a group of people who, sensing the despair and general lack of morale in those sent to fight a relentless ideologue of an enemy, understood the need and the importance for emotional escape and release. They developed organizations with the purpose of sending books — of sending stories — to the troops, fighting in lands where so many of those books were now forbidden. 

A small matter in the grand scheme of things, but one that was endlessly, massively appreciated by its recipients. Guptill Manning fills her book to the brim with letters and accounts of appreciation from countless soldiers. About how this book or this story or this writer saved them from anguish amidst a bleak situation. “I don’t think I would have been able to sleep this night,” wrote a Marine to author Betty Smith, “unless I bared my heart to the person who caused it to live again.” Hospitalized with malaria, in a deep depression caused by the trauma of war, he picked up a copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn on a whim, and it made him feel human again. An invaluable feeling to those in service who often felt like they were treated as no more than cannon fodder.

Much of the book focuses on the many innovations the publishing industry developed as they produced these books during wartime, having to meet special, intensely specific and rigorous requirements. It’s fascinating to read about, to be sure, but the emotional crux of Guptill Manning’s books lies with the moving reactions of the readers of these cleverly constructed books, as well as  the passionate efforts of the people who made them possible. Myriads of bureaucratic hurdles had to be jumped through; endless delicate political issues had to be finessed. People who ought to have known better sought to restrict and censor the types of books being sent out, worrying that some of their content would encourage dissent and discord — a motion that was fervently fought against. Pushing through all the nonsense and obstacles was the sheer conviction that getting books into the hands of these soldiers was not only important for their morale, but vital in the war effort as a whole. In a conflict where the idea of free speech was at its very center, against an enemy that concerned itself with the burning and banishment of books, meant that books and the written word were now, quite literally, weapons of war.

when books went to war by molly guptill manning 2

It was a bittersweet thing to read about a United States of America who fought and felt so passionately for books and the rights they represented, especially considering the current climate, where so many Americans who believe themselves to be patriots ban books with abandon, who are, indeed, eager and ecstatic to do so. They would do well to read the words of the soldiers so revered in American culture, of people who not only fought against the suppression and eradication of ideas, but actively rejoiced in the right to read whatever they damned well pleased.

Books were intertwined with the values at stake in the war, and Americans would not tolerate any restriction on their reading materials.

Ultimately, I choose to take solace, encouragement, and inspiration in reading about those who have actually fought for democracy and freedom and the written word. When Books Went to War is a celebration of these ideals, and it makes for an uplifting read.

When there were more men than ASEs, it was “not unusual for a man to tear off the portion of a book he had finished to give to the next man who doesn’t have a book to read saying — ‘I’ll save my pages for you.’” 

PET by Akwaeke Emezi

pet by akwaeke emeziWe are each other’s harvest. We are each other’s business. We are each other’s magnitude and bond.

In Pet, author Akwaeke Emezi shows us a world full of hope and empathy. The town of Lucille, like the rest of the world, used to be riddled with society’s vile and vicious monsters. Until one day the people decided to get rid of them, burning the old world and the old ways to the ground. From the ashes, the victorious self-proclaimed angels constructed a community centered around compassion and comprehension. A place in which everyone is free to live out their truths. Without monsters there is no fear, after all. No vulnerability. No peril.

“Step one of making a new world is that you have to be able to imagine it. I think sometimes that’s where the storytellers come in. Some people might have difficulty imagining a world where black trans kids are safe, where there are no police, where there are no prisons. So books kind of help you. Or Pet, in this case, can help create that window of possibility. If you can imagine it, that’s the first step in making it happen.” 

Akwaeke Emezi

But humans have a tendency of manifesting our own monsters. And monsters have a tendency of slipping through the cracks. Convinced that their way of life is changeless, the residents of Lucille begin to forget, and their willful ignorance makes for fertile soil, allowing bad things to take root once more, hidden and unseen by the complacent crowds.

Rising up to face this veiled evil is Jam, one of my favorite protagonists in recent memory. With Jam, Emezi showcases the very best of their imaginative community: a trans girl who is immediately, readily accepted, supported, and nurtured by her family and her community. A trans girl in a story that’s not about the pain and struggle of her identity. A story in which she does not get hurt. A story in which she, instead, gets to be the hero.

“If I’m writing something for black trans kids, what spell do I want to cast? I want to cast a spell where a black trans girl is never hurt. Her parents are completely supportive. Her community is completely supportive. She’s not in danger. She gets to have adventures with her best friend. And I hope that that’s a useful spell for young people. I hope that’s a spell where someone reads that and they’re like, this is like what my life should be like. This is a possibility.”

Akwaeke Emezi

Ultimately, Pet is an optimistic tale, one that dares us to imagine a world where we can not only recognize our own faults but actively do the work to fix them. But it is also, at times, a very rough, disturbing read — it’s a story about evil, after all. And although the reader is never subjected to anything explicit, the text is evocative enough to unnerve. Those particularly sensitive to distressing subjects, I’d recommend looking up this book’s trigger warnings (which I don’t include here mainly because I think they contain spoilers for the story). 

Pet is unlike anything I’ve read lately, and it shines all the more because of this distinction. It’s a wonderful tale, wonderfully told, and I was particularly taken with Emezi’s writing, which is lyrical and visceral — veritably virtuosic. Theirs is a language that feels intrinsically organic, and it boasts some seriously beautiful, bustling phraseology and wordplay. An overwhelming read, in the best possible way.


brighter than the sun by daniel alemanPublisher’s summary:

Every morning, sixteen-year-old Sol wakes up at the break of dawn in her hometown of Tijuana, Mexico and makes the trip across the border to go to school in the United States. Though the commute is exhausting, this is the best way to achieve her dream: becoming the first person in her family to go to college.

 When her family’s restaurant starts struggling, Sol must find a part-time job in San Diego to help her dad put food on the table and pay the bills. But her complicated school and work schedules on the US side of the border mean moving in with her best friend and leaving her family behind. 

With her life divided by an international border, Sol must come to terms with the loneliness she hides, the pressure she feels to succeed for her family, and the fact that the future she once dreamt of is starting to seem unattainable. Mostly, she’ll have to grapple with a secret she’s kept even from herself: that maybe she’s relieved to have escaped her difficult home life, and a part of her may never want to return.


Not at all my standard fare. In these days of stress and anxiety, I tend to lean towards stories that deal with either comforting subject matter, or that provide pure, unbridled escapism. Things which realistic fiction doesn’t really concern itself with much. I recognize their importance, though, and an excerpt of this novel was compelling enough to make me want to pick this up.

Daniel Aleman’s Brighter Than the Sun is a hard-but-heartwarming read about a young woman carrying entirely too many burdens and responsibilities on her shoulders. Protagonist Sol, true to her name, is really the shining star in this book. Resilient and vulnerable, her efforts to provide for her family while still being a rock and an anchor to them are often difficult to witness. But Sol’s journey is ultimately one of identity, of finding peace and stillness within herself in spite of all the chaos that surrounds her external life, and, as someone who has never had to confront the choices and conflicts this character comes across with, this aspect of the story is what resonated with me the most. 

A major recurring theme is that Sol feels like two different people: she lives in Mexico with her struggling family, but goes to school and works across the border in California*, leading a hectic, harried life, but one with friends and — she feels — more opportunities. In one world she feels restrained, and in the other she feels like she could grow. And then there’s her name: Soledad — Spanish for “solitude.” Not wanting to be defined by this isolating feeling, she decides to go by Sol instead, a nickname that begins as an aspiration but then quickly becomes an elusive ideal.

Sol’s attempts to consolidate these different aspects of herself form the crux of the story, and make it a wholly compelling one. You want her family to be better off, yes, but you also want Sol to realize and embrace all of her strength and potential. To live up to her chosen name and nature — and to then overcome it, to rise even higher and shine brighter than—

* Before picking up this novel I was entirely ignorant about transborder students. Reading about this particular aspect of the immigrant experience was fascinating and eye-opening.

AIR by Monica Roe

air by monica roeTwelve-year-old Emmie is an entrepreneurial daredevil. Along with her best friend, Ale, they’ve started an online business selling crafting supplies, with the purpose of raising money for their respective goals and passions: Ale for better beekeeping gear for her apicultural dreams; Emmie for a new decked out, reinforced wheelchair, the better to withstand her WCMX ambitions. Emmie says she was born for speed, what with having a father who was also an avid extreme sports athlete, and a mother who never told her to hold back. The tight knit community of her small town is used to Emmie’s antics, and they only become an issue when her school’s new principal, a stickler for rules and regulations, treats her like she’s made of matchsticks. A situation that is only made worse when Emmie, in part due to the school’s outdated facilities, takes a spill and breaks her wheelchair while attempting a trick she’s done hundreds of times before. Instead of updating the accessibility issues of the building, the school provides her with an aide that Emmie does not want and definitely doesn’t think she needs. Worse, the optics-obsessed principal and his staff decide to form a fundraiser to get Emmie her new, tricked-out set of wheels. Emmie knows she should be grateful, but part of her feels that these decisions made for her supposed benefit are being made without her involvement — that her choices have been taken away from her. And so she takes matters into her own hands, determined to show the school — and her town, and her grieving dad — that she knows exactly what she wants and needs and, more importantly, how to get it on her own.


I think that sometimes there’s a default assumption that all help is helpful as long as intentions are “good.” But plenty of clear feedback from within the disability community begs to differ. At its heart, Air is a story about community and accessibility — and how hard it can be to change long standing assumptions, especially within one’s own largely loving community, and how hard it can be to speak up for oneself in the face of well-intentioned ableism.

— Monica Roe,  in an interview

Air by Monica Roe was just a lovely, lovely read. Started it in  a somewhat gloomy afternoon and got so into it I literally flew through the whole thing — something that I’ve done only a handful of other times. A fun, lively book about disability rights, and the importance of agency in the lives of kids. Emmie is a wonderful protagonist: strong-willed, determined, and definitely not above being a bit of a huge jerk. The supporting cast is just as charming, in particular an old woman Emmie meets through her online business and with whom she strikes up a friendship. Known only as AK_SalmonGranny, she also uses a wheelchair, and spends the story dispensing valuable and delightfully direct and irreverent advice to our protagonist. She’s great.

I had no knowledge of WCMX as a sport until reading this book. I have since then looked up videos online and encourage you to do the same. Athletes in general are an amazing lot, but the people who do extreme sports are the ones that truly astound me. Human beings are awesome.

Also, as an aside: Air reminded me so much of the movies about extreme sports that were seemingly everywhere during my childhood in the nineties, specifically the early Disney Channel Original Movies. Brink!, in particular, kept coming to mind. Which I guess is why I pictured a present-day Eric von Detten as Emmie’s dad here. Which means, of course, that I am old. Always and forever a soul skater, though, brah.


from the desk of zoe washington by janae marksImmediately after her twelfth birthday, budding baking big shot Zoe Washington stumbles upon a letter from her father. She’s conflicted about this for various reasons. For one, she’s never received any sort of communication from him before. They have no real relationship of which to speak, him having been out of the picture even before she was born. Indeed, considering the fact that he is currently in jail for murder, Zoe’s not entirely sure she wants any sort of relationship with him. Still,  she knows precious little about her father, since her mother has all but forbidden the subject. Curiosity wins her over and she ends up replying, starting a series of correspondence that will upend everything Zoe thought she knew about her estranged father.


From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks is a quick and lovely read about a seriously heavy topic. The fact that it also happens to be about the baking dreams of a twelve-year-old girl and that it doesn’t detract from the seriousness of the more somber theme of wrongful incarceration is yet another testament to the versatility of children’s fiction, as well as the resilience of its target audience, who can — and should — read about weighty, complicated issues.  

There’s a lot to like here, starting with Zoe herself. The book is told from her point-of-view, and she has a playful, sagacious voice. The letters between her and her father, Marcus, are as charming as they are heartbreaking. She also has an inquisitive nature, which shines in the more mystery-inspired sections of the story. Given the themes here, adults obviously play a large part, and I like that they are portrayed in a reasonable and realistic manner, rather than the bumbling, oblivious way that is still the norm in a lot of children’s fiction. A great read, overall.


these fleeting shadows by kate alice marshallPublisher’s summary: 

Helen Vaughan doesn’t know why she and her mother left their ancestral home at Harrowstone Hall, called Harrow, or why they haven’t spoken to their extended family since. So when her grandfather dies, she’s shocked to learn that he has left everything — the house, the grounds, and the money — to her. The inheritance comes with one condition: she must stay on the grounds of Harrow for one full year, or she’ll be left with nothing.

There is more at stake than money. For as long as she can remember, Harrow has haunted Helen’s dreams — and now those dreams have become a waking nightmare. Helen knows that if she is going to survive the year, she needs to uncover the secrets of Harrow. Why is the house built like a labyrinth? What is digging the holes that appear in the woods each night? And why does the house itself seem to be making her sick?

With each twisted revelation, Helen questions what she knows about Harrow, her family, and even herself. She no longer wonders if she wants to leave…but if she can.


Well, this was damn good.⠀

Buddy read this with my main spooky pal (and soon to be published author), Ally Russell, and I’m happy to say we both dug it a hell of a lot. Which is only slightly surprising, considering we both went into this book with wildly different assumptions: Ally thought this was a middle grade affair; I thought it was a new adult sort of deal. Both of us thought it was a murder mystery with hints of horror. It took a couple of chapters for us to realize that, actually, this is a YA horror story, and that — ha ha!— we were both bamboozled by blurbs. (Whoever wrote this was Knives Out meets The Haunting of Hill House: you are a sick and twisted person.)

It was probably these misconceptions that made Kate Alice Marshall’s These Fleeting Shadows feel slow for me at the beginning (I wanted a murder mystery, what can I tell you). Eventually, though, the story managed to hook me with all its fascinating intrigue and, most crucially, its impeccable atmosphere (Marshall can set a mean mood). I finished the book sure that it will end up being one of my favorite reads of this year. 

Shadows is also part of that growing, provocative trend of Lovecraftian revisionism, subverting the often racist and misogynistic tropes that plague the subgenre by spinning eldritch yarns from the perspective of its most marginalized characters. Our heroine in this instance is Helen, a young woman who, due to the machinations of her most manipulative family, doesn’t feel at all in control of her life. Helen’s story is about reclaiming autonomy, of getting back her very sense of self. Her journey is harrowing, and at times difficult to witness, but that only helps make the explosive denouement that much more cathartic.⠀

These Fleeting Shadows is truly a wild, wild ride. I’m fairly sure it’s the only book I’ve read where the tone changes constantly — and often suddenly — but still manages to work for the story. There’s a certain chaotic thread that runs throughout, and the way the book is written complements it exceedingly well. Brava, Marshall.⠀

Very much recommended.


born to be posthumous by mark deryEdward Gorey is someone who is in my pantheon of personal icons, so Mark Dery’s exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) biography of this somber cypher of  a man definitely made for some fascinating company these past couple of weeks.

Written in the affected and often ornate style of its subject, Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey is chock-full of fascinating and gossipy anecdotes, and a myriad of quotations from people who belonged in circles that Gorey, being the consummate loner, was never really an intimate part of, but frequented enough to leave a lasting, singular impression, like a particularly epigrammatic, histrionic spectre.

[Gorey] asked some friends to move everything out of his apartment (“because I was already back up here on the Cape”) but had neglected to tell them about the mummy’s head gathering dust in the closet. “It didn’t occur to me to say, ‘And don’t forget the mummy’s head'” As it happened, they didn’t notice the mysterious object swaddled in brown paper on the top shelf. The super, however, did. “I got a call from a detective at some precinct or other who said, ‘Mr. Gorey, we’ve discovered a head in your closet,’ and I said, ‘Oh for god’s sake.'” 

Posthumous is not a perfect biography by any means. It could have done with some more thorough editing, since Dery has a tendency to repeat himself. He also devotes far too much time and space speculating about Gorey’s sexuality, a fruitless endeavour if there ever was one, as Gorey’s life — much like work —  defied any real categorization. As Dery himself notes in the introduction, Gorey  “was inscrutable because he didn’t want to be scruted.” Gorey was famously evasive when it came to questions about his sexuality (as indeed, to questions about his personal life in general), often providing vague, demurring answers. The closest he ever came to admitting anything was in an 1980 interview for Boston Magazine. When asked directly, he responded, “I suppose I’m gay.” A declaration that is then, in typical Gorey mercurialness, immediately followed up with, “But I don’t identify with it much.” Dery seems to take issue with these sorts of statements, making the argument that they come from a privileged position and that they actually prevent Gorey from being properly considered as an important and prominent queer icon. It’s a fair assessment, and I’d allow that a more concrete answer would certainly add another interesting perspective from which to look at the life and work of the artist. But I don’t really see the point in making the “sure he says he’s this here but was he really” type of speculation Dery repeatedly insists on doing. Especially when Gorey’s declarations, while admittedly glib, seem to be fairly definitive. (For whatever it’s worth, Gorey was most definitely queer, and also assuredly asexual.) Ultimately, though, as fashion writer Guy Trebay is quoted as saying near the end of Posthumous, remarking on the futility of sexual speculation, Gorey was “far queerer than queer.”

Gorey didn’t fit neatly into philosophical binaries: goth or Golden Girls fan? “Genuine eccentric” or (his words) “a bit of a put on”? Unaffectedly who he was or, as he once confided, “not real at all, just a fake persona”? Commercial illustrator or fine artist? Children’s book author or confirmed pedophobe who found children “quite frequently not terribly likeable”? 

Rampant conjecture aside, Dery truly shines when it comes to analyzing and discussing Gorey’s diverse variety of work, looking at much it from the lens of movements and philosophical schools of thought like Surrealism, Dada, and Taoism, all of which Gorey actively dabbled in throughout his life. They are also all topics that involve many complex and enigmatic ideas, but Dery does a commendable job at getting them across clearly. (Posthumous may be a hefty tome of a biography, but it is also an eminently readable one.) Dery’s admiration for Gorey is particularly palpable in these segments, which made for some of the most enjoyable parts in this book.

In the end, Born to Be Posthumous is a fascinating deep dive into the life of one of the most fascinating and brilliant literary eccentrics of the twentieth century. Or whatever.

LESS by Andrew Sean Greer

less by andrew sean greerArthur Less is concerned. About getting older, for one (his fiftieth birthday is fast approaching). About his stalled career (he has written one moderately successful novel, but has been unable to sell anything else). About love, most of all (a past flame is dying while a more recent one is moving on). And so when he receives an invitation to the wedding of his most recent ex, he just decides to run away. In true chaotic and novel fashion, he does this by accepting each and every invitation to a talk, interview, conference, teaching position he has been offered over the past year. His hasty, haphazard plan ends up taking him around the world — literally. But while Arthur Less will find that, however far from home he may be, his worries and anxieties that have caused his life and career to stagnate, are never really far behind, and somewhere along the way, he will have to find the courage to finally face them.


First read of the new year! It was fine! That was my reaction immediately after finishing Andrew Sean Greer’s Less. Just… this is fine. At best, I thought it was a clever, charming little book; at worst, I wondered just how this managed to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction because it seemed — as the title suggests — such a small and slight story. Not really an auspicious start to my reading year, to say the least.

But it’s a week later and I reflect back on the story and go through my notes, I find myself responding much more warmly to it. (That happens with books sometimes. Some stories just need a little space.) I rather liked a lot of the acerbic humor and dry wit of the book (courtesy of the novel’s mysterious narrator), with the first half of the book boasting the kind of carefree, irreverent tone that I just really enjoy reading. 

“As with almost every sunset, but with this one in particular: shut the fuck up.” 

And actually the reason I was so initially underwhelmed after finishing the book mostly had to do with the fact that it abandons this tone towards the end, in favor of a much more contemplative, maudlin mood. Which is fine and lovely, but not what I wanted out of the novel.

What I responded to the most was the novel’s protagonist, who, appropriately, turns out to be the book’s saving grace. Less is an absurd, lovely mass of anxiety and contradictions who has, as one character points out, “bumbled through every moment and been a fool; you’ve misunderstood and misspoken and tripped over absolutely everything and everyone in your path” but who still manages, somehow, someway, to come out the other side relatively unscathed and, indeed, somehow, someway, better than before. As someone who inadvertently wanders and wonders through life in a similar fashion, I found Arthur Less highly relatable. I wanted him to emerge from his trials and tribulations, not victorious, but enlightened. He’s the sort of character who, while frustrating and ridiculous (again: highly relatable), you can’t help but cheer on.

So while it may initially ring hollow and superficial, Less is actually less that, and more of a modest and understated meditation on love and lust and loss; on writing and wandering; on anxiety and acceptance. It turns out to be well worth your while.

(And maybe it’s an auspicious start to my reading year after all.)


2022 has truly been the definition of a roller coaster year. It began with the ending of a relationship and the beginning of a move to my own place. Halfway through the year I caught the dreaded Plague after avoiding it for so long. Then at the end I got sick with something the tests assure me wasn’t the Plague but it certainly knocked me out like it, making me miss a large part of the holidays with my friends and family. Add to that my general constant struggle with anxiety and… well, it’s been a lot. I don’t need to tell you it’s been a lot. You know it’s been a lot.

How I managed to read close to a hundred books along the way is honestly a mystery to me. I try to not put much stock in challenges or numbers. I use my Goodreads Challenge not as a challenge but, because I am a ridiculous person, as a memento mori instead, plugging into it whatever age I’m going to be that year. It’s not that hard to meet — I’m not that old yet. But I would be lying if I didn’t like looking at those large numbers. That I didn’t like feeling like I Read A Lot Of Books.

But the thing that I learned this reading year is that I really don’t. Yes, I read a lot of books, but I don’t feel like I have much to show for it. I didn’t read many books that blew me away, for one. Most that I read were just okay. Which is perfectly fine — not every book I pick up has to blow me away. I just wish to pick better choices.

It’s the pursuit of comfort, I suppose. I don’t blame myself for going for the familiar and the comfortable, especially not during fickle, precarious times. But a thought I kept coming back to as I reflected on my reading throughout the year was how I read a lot less when I was younger, but how so many of those books form an integral part of my soul now. And how that had less to do with the quality of the books themselves than it did with the quality of the time I spent with them. I didn’t finish a book and immediately jumped on to the next, on that neverending search for serotonin. I finished them, and dwelled on them. Sometimes I even read them again, which I scarcely do these days. I gave them time to become a part of me. This wasn’t a conscious choice on my part. I just didn’t have the resources that I do today, which I guess made me more deliberate with my reading. And much more adventurous, too, as I often went with books that seemed interesting and new and challenging.

Which is all to say that, as far as reading resolutions go for the coming year, this would be the main one: To find some of that magic younger me possessed. To be more deliberate and particular with my reading. To choose quality over quantity, always. 

I believe this in turn would result in better, more thoughtful reviews, too. My poor blog seems to be in a constant state of neglect — not to mention my bookstagram. I always make it a resolution to be better at both, but in particular my website, and that will remain the same for this next year.


I don’t want to give the impression that everything I read this year was a big pile of meh. I still had a lot of fun. Still managed to read some fine books that I hope will form part of my soul in their own way. Some that I have already revisited and plan to do so again. I always make it a point to say that books are my shining beacons of light in this tempestuous world. These were some of my lighthouses in 2022: Continue reading “YEAR IN REVIEW ○ 2022”


krampus-by-bromJesse feels like a loser. His soon-to-be ex-wife, Linda, told him as much before she left, taking their daughter Abigail with her. He needed to get his act together, she begged him. To take his music seriously. To build a better life with his family. But Jesse’s insecurities always manage to get the best of him, and so he fails to progress. Now Linda and Abigail are living with a corrupt cop who has always had it in for Jesse due to some of his somewhat illicit side-hustles. And he’s alone, living in a bleak trailer with a mood to match. To make matters worse, it’s Christmas Eve, and Jesse has nothing to show for it — no gifts to present to his adoring daughter. Jesse feels like a loser, all right. On top of it all, he must also be losing his mind, because he swears he has just seen Santa Claus drop out of the sky and run into his trailer park, and a pack of monsters following behind him.

Krampus feels like a loser. He has been imprisoned under the earth for the better part of a millennia by now, placed there by a traitorous Santa Claus, betrayer and usurper. His false holiday has overtaken the tried-and-true traditions of Yuletide, making the world forget about its old gods and spirits and, indeed, the Yule Lord himself. Full of vengeful rage, he sends his faithful Belsnickels after the jolly old fraud, intent on unleashing the spirit of Yule back into the world, where it rightfully belongs.

Fate will make Jesse and Krampus cross paths, forming the unlikeliest of duos, finding that they need one another to fulfill each of their ambitions.


I didn’t think much of Brom’s Krampus: The Yule Lord, unfortunately. It’s a shame, since Slewfoot was one of my favorite reads this past Hallowe’en season, and in many ways this is very much the proto-version of that book, with all its focus on Pagan traditions and customs, and its fervent criticism of Christianity. In Slewfoot, this angle was compelling because its main character was a woman fighting against Puritan superstition and oppression with the help of the title character, an old forest god that, to the colonists, represents the evils of the natural world. Here, Krampus — basically a more fanatical, whimsical version of Slewfoot — uses his disdain for monotheistic narrow-mindedness to… mostly help a small-time crook get back with his wife and daughter?

Which is basically my main gripe with this book. Jesse’s story, while interesting in a crime drama sort of way, bears no real relevance to Krampus’s plot against Christmas, other than in the most peripheral of ways. And the problem is that, despite this novel’s title, Jesse is very much the main character: he’s the one who gets a proper arc; the one whose journey forms the emotional center of the book. The way the story is constructed, though, ends up as acting like a detriment to both plots: whenever a particular thread is picked up it feels like an interruption of the other, rather than a complementary narrative. It makes the novel seem as if two vastly different books have been forcefully fused together, forming a very oddly-shaped beast. It doesn’t help that the characters themselves comment on this same thing, either, with Jesse forever complaining about Krampus’s obsession being an obstacle for his own objective. Again, it’s a very peculiar choice.

I didn’t hate the book, though. Even if it’s not what you expect going in, you still end up invested in Jesse’s story. And on the more fantastical side of the tale, I found Brom’s Norse take on the whole Christmas mythos fascinating. It’s a little overwrought, but it also makes complete sense to make trickster figures like Santa Claus and Krampus related to the god of mischief himself. Krampus was an interesting character — a monster with a romantic bent. I enjoyed reading his melodramatic rants and outbursts. Really, it’s just a shame that he ends up becoming a supporting character in his own book.

Once again, Brom’s art is stellar, and once again I wish there was much more of it here.