I Went to the Boston Book Festival!

This weekend was tons of fun, and I got to have some very cool Bostonian and bookish experiences! I went up to Boston on Friday for a weekend with my friend Emmaline from college. She graduated before me, so aside from a couple of brief visits, we hadn’t seen each other in over a year.

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She met me at South Station and guided me to Downtown Crossing, where she left me to my own devices, needing to get back to work. I grabbed some lunch, then walked over to Boston Common. It was still fairly green and yellow considering it’s now mid-autumn, but still gorgeous! It was my first time visiting Boston in the fall (insert Veggie Tales joke).

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After a while, I headed to King’s Chapel, where a tour was about to start. What I didn’t realize until I got there was that it was a crypt tour! Our educator, Lauren, taught us all about the history of the crypt and the bell tower, and she also told us about the work she’s doing for her master’s degree. I would write about everything we learned, but I’d rather recommend visiting in person if you can. If not, their website is here!

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When Emmaline got out of work, we had a girls’ night in, and the next morning we went to the Boston Book Festival. Our first event of the day was “Sister Resisters: A Celebration of Feminism through Romance,” a panel talk by five romance authors. I’m not an avid reader of romance, but Emmaline is, and one of her favorite authors, Sarah MacLean, was on the panel. The discussion was intriguing even as a non-romance reader, and I only wish that we didn’t have to clear out of the reserved space after an hour.

The authors stayed back to chat and sign books, and I appreciated that compared to busy single-author book events, we were able to actually converse with authors without being rushed along. Sarah MacLean was super friendly to both of us, and she gave me a free signed copy of one of her books, making me promise to give the genre a shot. In both the panel discussion and our conversation with Sarah, what struck me was the warmth and close-knit feeling of writers in the romance genre.

After that, we checked out some booths and had lunch, and we tried to get into the “Myth, Fate, and Family” talk to no avail. Madeline Miller, author of Circe, was speaking, and the crowd she drew left no seats for us. That left us with ample time to get seats at an overlapping talk we wanted to see, the “Authoritarianism” panel. I’ve been following Amy Siskind, author of The List, since around the 2016 election, and it was fascinating getting to hear her expertise in person. Another of the panelists, Tim Snyder, also impressed me with his insights.

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After checking out a few more booths, we sat down to watch the live performances. We caught most of a set by the singer Malaya, and after that came a performance called the Shakespeare Time-Traveling Speakeasy. We knew it was some sort of Shakespeare hip-hop act, but we weren’t sure exactly what to expect. It turned out that these guys were incredibly knowledgeable Shakespeare scholars, skilled rappers, and fun dudes. They didn’t act out direct scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, but rather performed songs about his life, what London was like at the time, and scholarly controversies about him. They also made a case for why Henry V is cooler than Hamlet and did a rap battle between Iago and Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth won, of course.

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By the time that was over, it was getting to be evening. We ate dinner at a cafe and had another chill night in, then I took the train home the next morning. Overall, I had a blast, and it was especially nice to get to experience all of this with Emmaline. One more thing — the Boston Book Festival, aside from some keynote events that we didn’t attend, is completely free and non-ticketed. If you ever get a chance to go, I highly recommend it.

Have you ever been to a book festival? What was your experience like? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Spooky Video Games I Love for Halloween

I’m not much of a gamer, but I do have certain games that I love and come back to time and time again! Today I wanted to share some of my favorite games to play in October. I’ve picked out just four, but it’s a pretty diverse set, so it should be easy to find one you might like!

1. Hollow Knight

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For a game with a dark, moody aesthetic that isn’t actually scary, I love Hollow Knight. You’re a bug-like creature exploring the ruins of what was once a thriving bug civilization. The enemies you fight are mindless zombies, once citizens overtaken by disaster. It’s a game that takes a lot of patience and skill, but the world is huge and gorgeous, so it feels worth it when you finally defeat a boss or maneuver through a tricky piece of platforming.

2. Undertale

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If you’ve played a video game in the past three years, it would be hard to have missed the massive hype around Undertale. This is another Halloweenish game that isn’t too scary… unless you make it that way. You are a human child who has fallen into an underground world of monsters and must find your way back to the surface. It’s easy to play with a cheerful retro aesthetic, so it’s great for beginners, but be careful–your choices matter. If you haven’t played it yet, do it! It’s incredibly refreshing and creative.

3. Detention

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This is one of the only real horror games I’ve played, and it’s terrifying. You’re a student stuck alone inside a school in 1960s Taiwan that’s haunted by spirits and the undead. There are political, cultural, and religious elements that give the story a unique flair, but it can be hard to appreciate that when you’re scared out of your wits. I can only take this game in small doses.

4. Doki Doki Literature Club!

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It may look cute, but Doki Doki Literature Club! is a psychological horror game. Personally, I didn’t find it that scary, but that’s because it doesn’t tick the boxes of things that freak me out–others have said it’s one of the scariest games they’ve ever played. I think it’s a very clever deconstruction of the visual novel genre (even if Hatoful Boyfriend did it better). Do pay attention to the content warnings, though.

Have you played any of these? What are your favorite games to play in October? (Seriously… I’m on the lookout for more horror games.) Let me know in the comments!

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What’s on my Nightstand?

I’ve been letting a lot of books pile up on my shelf recently. If I won’t be getting reviews out anytime soon, I thought I could at least show everyone the books I’m constantly “getting to!” Here goes!

  1. The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson (halfway there, living on a prayer)
  2. The Tragedy of Mariam: The Fair Queen of Jewry by Lady Elizabeth Cary
  3. Renaissance Women Poets anthology by Isabella Whitney, Mary Sidney, and Aemilia Lanyer (this and the book before it are borrowed from my cousin who read them for a class)
  4. The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction edited by R. V. Cassill (been lying around the house for eons)
  5. Calvin & Hobbes: En avant, tête de thon! by Bill Watterson (a gift from the same cousin)
  6. Lion Hearted by Andrew Loveridge (freebie from a Tricky Tray)
  7. The Princess of Cleves by Madame de La Fayette
  8. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  9. Silas Marner and Two Short Stories by George Eliot (these last three are acquisitions from a used bookstore)

What’s on your shelf? Which books are you constantly planning to read, but never reading? Tell me in the comments!

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Quick October Book Recommendations

I’m a busy bee this weekend, but I still wanted to put up a post today! Here’s a quick rundown of books I think are great to read in October. It’s a good mix of creepy and fun, so I think there’s something for everyone here!

1. The Vegetarian by Han Kang

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If you love psychological horror and aren’t averse to gore, The Vegetarian will be a gourmet meal for you (ha!). Yeong-hye, an ordinary woman, starts to have intense, bloody nightmares involving meat, and to make them stop, she decides to become a vegetarian. Her traditional family don’t understand the changes in her behavior, and as Yeong-hye’s mental state deteriorates, she faces hostility rather than support from the people around her.

2. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame Smith

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Fan of the classics? Put a spooky spin on it with this fun and campy take on the text of Pride and Prejudice. It sounds like a gimmick, and it is, but it’s also extremely high quality. Confession: I read this version before actual Pride and Prejudice, and it helped me follow the story and the somewhat archaic writing style when I did read the original. It’s not a total rewrite, but rather a rework with interpolations.

3. Charlie Bone/Children of the Red King series by Jenny Nimmo

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These were some of the first “big” books I read as an elementary schooler, back when I thought 400 pages was an absolutely colossal book. Charlie Bone is a kid who discovers an unusual ability to see into the past through photographs, and he’s packed off to school with a group of children, the Endowed, who each boast their own specific magical talents. It’s Harry Potter-esque without being a carbon copy, and I think it’s an underrated pick for kids who want “something like Harry Potter!”

4. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

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Here’s the pitch: a buddy comedy about an angel and a demon during the Apocalypse. If that idea strikes you as overly blasphemous, I wouldn’t bother picking it up, but if you have more of a sense of humor about such things, you’ll probably enjoy it. It taps into ideas both Biblical and cultural about what the Apocalypse will be like and pokes gentle fun at them. I actually learned a thing or two from it!

5. The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

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You’ve already read it, right? If not, now’s the perfect time! If you have, what’s stopping you from rereading them for the third or fourth or eleventy-second time? Nothing, that’s what. Aside from being a tale of magic, Harry Potter has the best Halloween-oriented plot points in the game.

Have you read any of these? What are your favorite Halloween reads? Let me know in the comments!

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Fellowship of the Ring Book Tag

Today, for the very first time, I’m doing a book tag on my blog! Many thanks to BiblioNyan for tagging me. She’s very cool and kind and friendly and you should check her out.

I have to admit, I’m a poor Tolkien fan. I’ve only read The Hobbit and about two thirds of The Fellowship of the Ring, although I have seen all the movies in the trilogy & the first Hobbit movie. I’ll have to get on that sometime, but for now, here’s the tag!

Points to Note:

  1. Please pingback to Nandini’s original post.
  2. Feel free to use the banner from her post.
  3. Be as creative as you like while interpreting the prompts.
  4. Tag at least 3 people you think would enjoy doing the tag.
  5. Even though Gollum is not an official part of the Fellowship, Nandini wanted to have a round figure, so she added a prompt for this character too.

1. Gandalf – A book that taught you something

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Out of all the questions in the tag, this the the hardest to pick, because I learn something from just about every book I read. In the end, I decided to just go literal and recommend a book that taught me a lot of good information. Rubicon is a book that was assigned to me by my high school Latin teacher. It’s great because it’s a history book written in an engaging narrative style. Even if you already have a pretty good grasp of Roman history, I recommend this book just on the basis of being fun to read.

2. Frodo – A book that left a mark on you

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I read Night in my eighth grade English class. I’d learned about the Holocaust before, of course, but this was the first time I had encountered a survivor’s account. It was so visceral, dark, and disgusting. It made me realize exactly how dark human nature can be and what true evil looks like. The last line of the book has stuck with me ever since:

From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me.

3. Legolas – A book you finished in one sitting

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I very rarely finish a book in one sitting, even if it’s extremely short. Usually it’s only comics or poetry books that fit into that category, and so the last book I remember finishing in one sitting is Milk and Honey. Honestly, I didn’t really like it. While I appreciate the author’s vulnerability and expressiveness, the quality of the poetry is just poor. It’s fourth-rate Tumblr poetry. So many of the poems come across as lazily written. I’m not giving it a pass just because I sympathize with the author’s experiences or agree with some of her viewpoints.

4. Gimli – A book that features an unlikely friendship

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This sprawling masterpiece is full of strange connections and coincidences. There is, of course, Jean Valjean’s commitment to Fantine and later Cosette. His role as Cosette’s surrogate father is one of the essential relationships of the book. When you look at it more closely, though, there are all sorts of unlikely friendships. Valjean and Fauchelevent, Thenardier and Georges Pontmercy, Marius and Les Amis de l’ABC… that last one has a severely underrated backstory that’s totally glossed over in the musical. If you only know the musical, you’re missing out on so many details!

5. Merry – A book that pleasantly surprised you

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One time in middle school, I was taking way too long to choose a book at the bookstore. My mom got impatient and tried to help me pick. When she suggested The Mysterious Benedict Society, I wasn’t sure I would like it. Since we had to leave, though, I accepted her suggestion and gave it a shot. It turns out that this is one of the most clever and charming children’s books I’ve read in my life, and I later ended up buying the sequels, too!

6. Pippin – A book that made you laugh

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Nimona caught my eye at the bookstore one day, and since then, it’s become one of the most reread books on my shelf. It’s an irreverent fantasy story with lots of laughs, but it also offers a nuanced deconstruction of the line between good and evil. The main characters all have depth and make you sympathize with them at the most unexpected moments. I appreciate how this book manages to pull off light banter and ridiculous gags without feeling disjointed when it transitions to deeper and more emotional fare.

7. Boromir – A book/series that you think ended too soon

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There’s something bittersweet about Calvin and Hobbes. It’s basically how I learned how to read, and unlike most of the comics of my youth, it hasn’t grown stale with age. Instead, I find something new every time I revisit a strip. Bill Watterson has left us with plenty to chew on, but I still wish for more sometimes, or at least that the guy would come out of hiding for five minutes so I could shake his hand. These books evoke such intense nostalgia in me that it’s like some sort of drug.

8. Sam – A book with memorable side characters who stole the show

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When I think of books with a colorful ensemble cast, the Harry Potter series is the first one to come to mind. It’s hard to even name all of them, but aside from fan favorites like McGonagall, Snape, and Sirius, even the truly minor characters have their own fans. It’s partly because of the massive popularity of the series, but it’s also because Rowling gives her readers such a large sandbox to play in. Characters I think are underrated? Fleur Delacour and Regulus Black.

9. Aragorn – A good book with a bad/average cover

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My brother gave me The Dispossessed for Christmas this past year. Now, the cover isn’t exactly ugly, but it does look like a plain, cheap science fiction paperback–which, to be fair, it is. What’s contained between the covers, though, is insightful social and political commentary. Le Guin is a sensitive and thoughtful writer who knows how to capture the human condition. I slowly fell in love with this book.

10. Gollum – A book that had great potential but disappointed you in the end

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For this one, I’m going to have to go with Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. I’d heard great things about the book, and the premise excited me. I wanted to see fantasy written for young people that came from a different perspective than the typical amalgamation of various European lore. The magic system here is distinctly Nigerian, to be sure, but the influence of Harry Potter overshadows the book’s plot and style. In the end, I found it surprisingly paint-by-numbers, especially from an author who’s such a critical darling right now.

Tags:

(To be honest, I’m not sure if everyone here is a doer of tags… so if you don’t want to participate, just take it as a compliment!)

  1. Lana Cole
  2. Lorraine
  3. thebookishbohemian

 

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Scare-Free Movies for Halloween

I’m in the same camp as a lot of people, I think, in that I love Halloween, but I’m not as big a fan of being scared. Sometimes I want all the treats without the tricks. In the interest of discovering the best and worst Halloween movies, I’ve watched a whole bunch of non-scary movies and rated them by both Halloween spirit and quality. In no particular order, here they are!

1. Kiki’s Delivery Service

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Kiki is one of Studio Ghibli’s most iconic characters, and this sweet coming-of-age story is perfect for the whole family. She’s a young witch looking to make it on her own, but her only magical skill is flying on a broom, and poorly, at that. Nonetheless, with support from the people around her, she’s able to start a burgeoning delivery service.

Halloween Spirit: 2/5 black cats.

Star Quality: 4/5 big red bows!

2. Mary and the Witch’s Flower

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Mary is a young girl who manifests magic powers and is enrolled in a magic school. It all seems perfect, but there’s something off about the whole situation… This movie was made by former Studio Ghibli employees who started their own company, Studio Ponoc. It clearly owes a lot to Kiki’s Delivery Service as well as Harry Potter, and it comes together as a cute, but not entirely original film.

Halloween Spirit: 2/5 redheaded witches.

Star Quality: 3/5 magic flowers.

3. Room on the Broom

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Continuing with the witchy theme, here’s a short film based on a picture book about a friendly witch and her found family. It’s charming in its way, but I would only recommend it to folks with very young children. For older viewers, there’s not a lot to chew on.

Halloween Spirit: 4/5 broomsticks.

Star Quality: 3/5 unexpected guests.

4. The Gruffalo

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A mouse in the forest scares off predators with tall tales of a horrible monster, only to find out that the Gruffalo is real. From the same creators as Room on the Broom, The Gruffalo is another picture book-turned-short film, but it’s more suited to its adaptation than the former. Even though this story is geared toward younger children, it’s narrated so well and keeps such great tension through its pacing that older viewers will enjoy it, too.

Halloween Spirit: 2/5 Gruffalos.

Star Quality: 4/5 scrambled snakes!

5. Ghostbusters

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It’s campy, corny Halloween fun. It’s got a killer theme song and inspires oodles of nostalgia. If you’re reading this, you probably already have your own opinion of it. Here’s mine: I can see why people like it, but it’s overrated and sexist. Venkman is one of the most boring and unlikable protagonists I’ve ever seen. I’ll stick to bumping the song, thanks!

Halloween Spirit: 5/5 ghosts.

Star Quality: 2/5 tired stereotypes.

6. Dear Dracula

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This is a wholesome family film about a young bullied boy who makes friends with Dracula, who helps him to build up his self-confidence. Aside from a couple of gratingly stereotypical side characters, it’s a warm and funny movie for kids and adults to enjoy.

Halloween Spirit: 5/5 vampire bats.

Star Quality: 3/5 Dracula action figures.

7. Mickey’s House of Villains

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A collection of Halloween shorts tied together by a loose overarching plot, the best that can be said about this movie is that it contains characters your kids will recognize. The shorts themselves are mostly pretty boring, and I was much more intrigued by Jafar’s promised evil plan to upend the night, but that was disappointing as well.

Halloween Spirit: 4/5 Disney villains.

Star Quality: 1/5 spooky shorts.

8. Ichabod Crane (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

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This part two of two in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, the first part of which is The Wind in the Willows. If you’re a fan of old-school Disney animation, this is a pleasant throwback set in the newly minted USA in the late 1700s. Most of it has more of a Beauty and the Beast feel than Halloween, but toward the end it gets nice and spooky!

Halloween Spirit: 3/5 headless horsemen.

Star Quality: 3/5 feckless dandies.

9. Trick or Treaters

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Originally in German, this movie based on a picture book comes up with a unique origin story for the tradition of trick-or-treating. It’s snarky, dark, and full of plucky orphans, kind of like a Lemony Snicket novel. If you want something a bit out of the ordinary for Halloween or are a connoisseur of animated film, I recommend giving this one a try!

Halloween Spirit: 4/5 plucky orphans.

Star Quality: 4/5 wicked aunties.

10. My Neighbor Totoro

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It might not strike you as particularly Halloween-ish, but My Neighbor Totoro starts out with a family moving into what they believe is a haunted house! Sure, the spirits they meet all turn out to be friendly, but there is a bit of haunting going on. Take a break and watch this timeless family classic. Yes, this is lowkey just me inventing a new excuse to watch My Neighbor Totoro.

Halloween Spirit: 1/5 soot sprites.

Star Quality: 5/5 acorns!

11. The Nightmare Before Christmas

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I might be a bit biased, but I think The Nightmare Before Christmas is the ultimate Halloween movie. The concept is creative, the aesthetic is perfect, and, of course, it gave us the anthem “This Is Halloween.” As a kid, I would wait for it to be shown on TV every year, and that’s how you know it’s timeless.

Halloween Spirit: 5/5 skeletons.

Star Quality: 4/5 Jack-o’-lanterns.

What are your favorite Halloween movie picks? Let me know in the comments!

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Review: The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing

Harriet and David are a happy couple who want lots of children, and so they have them. The first four are perfectly ordinary. The fifth child is something else. It’s a simple premise for a horror novel–almost an obvious one–and accordingly, it needs less than 150 pages for the idea to express itself fully.

This is not a gory, blood-pumping horror novel; it’s a tale of suspense. We spend nearly the entire book waiting for the other shoe to drop. Time and time again, the fifth child, Ben, does something that sets off alarm bells in the brain, and so we wait for him to snap. And wait. And wait.

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Doris Lessing takes the story from merely psychological to philosophical, taking a figurative page from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Like Frankenstein’s monster, Ben cannot help being what he is, and he does make efforts to be human in some sense. He is doomed to be misunderstood. Unlike Frankenstein’s monster, though, it’s not that people refuse to understand him. Harriet does her absolute darnedest to love Ben like she does her other children. Chillingly, he is completely incapable of being understood.

I find The Fifth Child to be an excellent example of horror from a feminine perspective in that it comments so incisively on motherhood. What Harriet faces is an extreme version of what many mothers face. Can I love all my children the same? Is it normal to resent my child? If my child turns out “wrong,” is it my fault? Am I doing motherhood wrong? Is it bad not to breastfeed, is it uncaring not to follow all the little bits of health advice that we mothers pass around among us? So many of Harriet’s problems are just one step beyond what an ordinary mother experiences.

The thing is, her experiences are not the experiences of an ordinary mother, and whenever she tries to point this out, others gaslight her. They pretend that Ben is just remarkably strong for his age, or a bit slow, or a bit “different.” On the flip side, they treat Harriet as though this difference is her fault. It all comes to a head in her conversation with a doctor toward the end of the book:

I don’t blame myself, though I don’t expect you to believe it. But it’s a bad joke. I feel like I’ve been blamed for Ben ever since he was born. I feel like a criminal. I’ve always been made to feel like a criminal.

I think that Harriet’s predicament is relatable not only for mothers, but for any woman who’s been treated as “hysterical” or “crazy” over legitimate grievances. That realism is what gives the novel its edge.

At first, I was a bit disappointed that we never do really solve the mystery of Ben. However, how Ben came to be what he is, is not the point. The point is the effect he has on his family and the people around him.

I recommend this to anyone looking for an unsettling read that isn’t too outright scary, especially if you appreciate a tint of feminist insight.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

You can buy it here!

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