Dune & Mental Health

My Life in 2021

If you follow this blog, it should be quite obvious that it has been neglected over the past 16 months or so. The reason is both easy and difficult to explain. What it all boils down to is that I have been struggling with my mental health. If you’ve no desire to read this, please feel free to skip to the bottom – or click away if Dune doesn’t interest you either.

Early 2021 found me struggling to just keep my head above water. I knew that I probably needed to talk to someone, but I was hanging on, so I kept putting it off. Fast-forward to the summer where I found myself crushed by the weight of stress at work. Compile that with what I was already feeling in my day-to-day personal life? That was it. That was the proverbial straw. I got myself into counseling and a psychiatrist and started to take back control of my life.

Through counseling and medication, I am beginning to take back control of my life. I am getting back to myself, to the things that I enjoy and make me happy. Throughout all of 2021, I managed to read about four books. FOUR BOOKS?! Who even was this person? Reading has always been my happy place, my place to escape and leave all of my real troubles behind. The fact that I couldn’t handle reading should have been the largest, flashiest red flag of them all. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. I was too deep in my own head to see it.

2022 is proving to be remarkably better – I’ve already read about a dozen or so books and while that isn’t a lot for me, I’m okay with it. The time that I am making for myself to read is special and I am doing with it what I can. I am also enjoying other activities that make me happy and have even started to dabble in fictional writing again. I have decided to start blogging and reviewing again as well. I’ve missed it and aside from some drama, I miss the community a great deal as well. I’m ready to come back into it with new-found strength and confidence.

So. FOUR BOOKS?! It would make it seem easy to pick out my best read of 2021 with numbers like that, right? And you know what? It was. It surprisingly wasn’t even horror. It was Dune by Frank Herbert.

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect when I went into this. Science Fiction from 1965? Chosen for our office book club? I know a few people who love it, but I started reading with a fair amount of skepticism. I’d seen the old David Lynch movie, but it did nothing to set up what I ultimately found in this book.

Dune is the single-best book that I have ever read in regards to world building. It’s clear that Frank Herbert had every bit of this universe planned and well-thought out before he endeavored to create the world of Paul Atreides. I am talking about every single aspect – from religion to ecology, from politics to people. There was not a piece of this story that was not intentional and nuanced. Herbert has an acute understanding of religion and politics that I’ve not read outside of non-fiction specifically on the topic.

I’m not going to waste time and summarize this book because I think everyone knows the basic plot at this point. Here’s what I will say – stick with it. This is an incredibly hard book to start reading. Much like Paul, we, as the reader, are dropped into this new world for which we have no understanding. Use the glossary – it will become your best friend and will help you to gain a deeper understanding of what’s happening during a given scene. My glossary is worn out! Once you tackle a few chapters, you will not be able to put the book down.

Without spoilers, there is a scene in this novel that is, hands-down, my single favorite scene ever in a book. It makes up the entirety of Chapter 16 and involves a dinner party hosted by the Atreides family and invitees are both enemies and allies. There is not a wasted word during this thirty-one page sequence. Every look, uttered phrase, movement – it’s all intentional and purposeful. It’s a choreographed dance and it is exquisite.

Even if Science Fiction is not your go-to genre, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It is intelligent and relevant, even after nearly 60 years.

5/5 Stars – If I could give it 10/5, I would.

Garden of Eldritch Delights

A Cosmic Horror and Fantasy Collection by Lucy A. Snyder

4/5 Star Review

September has passed, but I am still wrapping up reviews from the month-long anniversary celebration for The Ladies of Horror Fiction. This lovely team celebrated their first full year of spotlighting the amazing ladies of horror! There was a read-a-thon taking place for the entire month of September and it featured five different reading challenges – check out this link for the details!

I read Garden of Eldritch Delights for Challenge #2 – Read a Book by a LGBTQ+Author. This was my fourth “official” pick for the read-a-thon.

Click on the cover art to purchase from bookshop.org.

This was my first read of Lucy A. Snyder and she is most definitely an author who will be making rounds in my ever-growing TBR. With Garden, Snyder weaves a wonderful collection combining cosmic horror, science fiction, vampires, witches, and straight out fantasy. Somehow, it all works very well together. Snyder has a talent for telling tight, complete stories with a small amount of words – a talent not all writers have.

Garden of Eldritch Delights starts out strong with That Which Does Not Kill You – about the real-life pains of a broken heart and Sunset on Mott Island – an end-of-the-world tale about a doctor with revelations and a woman caring for her dying mother in a dying world. It continues with some of my other favorites: The Gentleman Caller – about an unexpected sex worker, her familial gift, and how the grass isn’t always greener; Executive Functions – a story that I will always look back fondly on every time I have to deal with an asshole in the workplace; and A Noble Endeavor; about a young slave girl who changes the world.

While some stories were a little weaker than others, there is not a bad, or even a just okay, story in the whole collection. Every single one is worth a read. I love that Snyder can write strong, empowered female characters without making them feel like a trope. These women all have unique personalities, strengths, weaknesses – they are real, they are every woman. Do yourself a favor and check this one out.

Cry Your Way Home

A hauntingly beautiful collection by Damien Angelica Walters

5/5 Star Review

It’s September and I am still reveling in the month-long anniversary celebration for The Ladies of Horror Fiction. This lovely team is celebrating their first full year of spotlighting the amazing ladies of horror! If you would like to join in the festivities, there is a read-a-thon taking place for the entire month and it features five different reading challenges – check out this link for more details!

I read Cry Your Way Home for Challenge #1 – Read a Book by an Indie Author. This is my first “official” pick for the read-a-thon and what a way to kick it off! Damien Angelica Walters has some serious writing chops – this lovely lady can crawl under your skin, break your heart, cause you to look over your shoulder, and make you rethink your favorite childhood stories all in the breadth of less than a hundred pages. This book weighs in at 223, so you know you are in for a whirlwind of emotion and horror.

Click on the cover art to purchase from bookshop.org.

While I enjoy many different sub-genres of horror, my bread-and-butter, the horror that truly resonates with me, is the horror that is born out of emotion. It is the horror that comes from loving someone so deeply and watching them unravel, as in In the Spaces Where You Once Lived; the regret in knowing that you could have made a difference for someone, as in The Floating Girls: A Documentary; and handling the abiding grief of losing a child, as in Falling Under, Through the Dark and Umbilicus.

That being said, the stories collected in Cry Your Way Home are not all riddled with grief and heartache – far from it! This book is a well-blended mix of cosmic horror, fairy tale retellings, magical realism, and science fiction – all spun in a literary style with a dash of some seriously empowering female characters.

Cry Your Way Home is a gorgeous and mature collection of stories. I do not say this about many collections, but there is not one story in this book I didn’t enjoy. They would all be 4 and 5 star ratings if I had to go through each individually. Since finishing this, I have gone on to order the other books Ms. Walters currently has out – Paper Tigers and Sing Me Your Scars. The Dead Girls Club will be released on December 10th of this year. I highly recommend you all give this lady a read!

Night Shift

A debut novel from Robin Triggs

4/5 Star Review

I requested this title for one reason: Antarctica. I am endlessly fascinated by the icy, desolate continent and will devour any books – fiction or non-fiction – that are set there. There is something in the isolation that I find both alluring and utterly terrifying.

Night Shift proved itself to be an enjoyable whodunnit that contained all of the fear and paranoia of John Carpernter’s The Thing mixed with the almost cozy quality of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the basic premise is this: Anders Nordvelt is sent to the Australis base in the Antarctic as a last-minute replacement for their head of security. He joins a team of twelve others who have been working together for the last six months – each with a specific skill set geared toward the success of their mission. Anders arrives as the base is being locked-down for the winter. They will be self-sustaining for the next six months with no shipments going in or out. As the night shift begins – everything starts to fall apart.

For me, Night Shift read as a character-driven mystery more than it was a horror or science-fiction novel – although it did contain elements of both. There is an almost casual world-building element that introduces a near-future, dystopian society where most of the world is controlled by a single, governing body – The Company. I appreciate that the author did not overly saturate the novel with dry details and instead chose to divulge a little bit at a time. It allowed you both the time to slowly acclimate to the world and to crave more knowledge of it.

Every character in this novel was fully fleshed out and not a one was wasted, or served as a throw-away character. Overall, this was a mature first novel and thoroughly enjoyable. I read that this is the first of a planned trilogy and I hope that is the case – I would love to read more novels set in this new world.

As a note, I received Night Shift as a galley from Flame Tree Books in exchange for an honest review.