Review: The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

Part fantasy, part horror, all quirky and darkly humorous. My second T. Kingfisher novel, and I loved it just as much as The Twisted Ones.

What it’s about

From the Goodreads description:

A young woman discovers a strange portal in her uncle’s house, leading to madness and terror in this gripping new novel.

Pray they are hungry.

Kara finds these words in the mysterious bunker that she’s discovered behind a hole in the wall of her uncle’s house. Freshly divorced and living back at home, Kara now becomes obsessed with these cryptic words and starts exploring the peculiar bunker—only to discover that it holds portals to countless alternate realities. But these places are haunted by creatures that seem to hear thoughts…and the more you fear them, the stronger they become.

As is often the case, the description is a bit off… it’s not her uncle’s house, it’s his tacky, kitschy ‘wonder museum,’ which is chock full of old taxidermy and oddities. It’s like a door to Narnia, only from a weird tourist trap, and leading to a creepy Lovecraftian nightmare-land.

My thoughts

I find that I really like an oddly specific type of horror novels… is there a genre for weird-gory-funny-scary horror? Maybe that’s what is normally called ‘weird fiction.’ If so, this book, like the other Kingfisher novel that I’ve read, fits into it nicely, along with books like The Library at Mount Char and John Dies at the End (which I also love). All of this to say, The Hollow Places is different… it creeped me out more than once and parts of it were downright gross, but I laughed out loud more than once and really loved the way the humor broke up the tension.

T. Kingfisher (a pen name for Ursula Vernon) is a gifted writer. While I’ve not read any of her non-Kingfisher books, I have been mesmerized by both of her weird fiction-horror novels. Both feature strong prose, excellent character development, and smart, fast-paced stories that grabbed my attention and didn’t let it go.

In The Hollow Places, main character (and delightfully sarcastic) Kara is regrouping after divorce and comes to live in the back room of her uncle’s mystery museum, an odd little tourist trap that she grew up hanging out in and where she still feels comfortable. The museum receives a creepy new piece, and that’s when things start to get weird. After discovering a crack in an upstairs wall leading to a concrete hallway that has some House of Leaves-level dimensional issues, Kara and her friend from the coffee shop next door find themselves in a fascinating but sinister other world.

I’m not going to spoil any of the fun/terrifying stuff going on in this other place, but let me say this: I loved willow trees as a kid—one of my favorite childhood reading spots was a big rock under a willow tree—but I’m not sure I will ever look at a willow the same way again. Heebie. Jeebies.

I loved the museum and the characters, and I got completely wrapped up in this fun story, even if it did freak me out a little. I recommend this book to readers who appreciate that weird fiction-funny horror thing. It’s done very well in this book.


Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my copy in exchange for this honest review.

Review: Stakes is High by Mychal Denzel Smith

I read this book as part of my continuing efforts to be antiracist, and while I didn’t necessarily learn a lot of new information, Smith’s voice and personal insight were incredibly affecting.

What it’s about

From the Goodreads blurb:

The events of the past decade have forced us to reckon with who we are and who we want to be. We have been invested in a set of beliefs about our American identity: our exceptionalism, the inevitable rightness of our path, the promise that hard work and determination will carry us to freedom. But in Stakes Is High, Mychal Denzel Smith confronts the shortcomings of these stories — and with the American Dream itself — and calls on us to live up to the principles we profess but fail to realize.

In a series of incisive essays, Smith exposes the stark contradictions at the heart of American life, holding all of us, individually and as a nation, to account. We’ve gotten used to looking away, but the fissures and casual violence of institutional oppression are ever-present.

There is a future that is not as grim as our past. In this profound work, Smith helps us envision it with care, honesty, and imagination.

My thoughts

The six essays that comprise Stakes is High are insightful and thought-provoking. Smith takes a brutally honest look at the myth of the ‘American dream’ and how the Trump presidency is not an anomaly, but the end result of years of inequality and unjust policies.

Brilliantly written pieces with lots of history and diverse voices woven in. If you have liberal progressive politics—and if you have read widely about antiracism—it’s not likely that you will get a lot of new information from these essays, and it’s very likely that you will agree with much of Smith’s arguments and with his call to action. Still, everyone should read it for the powerful introspection and intelligent analysis of racism, sexism, poverty, and the lie of the American dream:

“Where America has fucked up is by telling the myth as history—pretending that who we want to be is who we have always been—then building a proud and belligerent national identity out of the myth. American myths obscure a shameful past and protect the powerful.”

You should read this book, and read it soon.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my copy in exchange for this honest review.