Wild Geese by Soula Emmanuel

Wild Geese is a novel about a woman who spends a weekend with her ex-girlfriend and explores the messiness of life. Phoebe is trans and Irish and lives in Copenhagen, where she moves through the world largely alone, with the company of the dog she looks after, Dolly. When her ex-girlfriend Grace suddenly appears on her doorstep, visiting the city for the weekend, something is kindled between them, but it isn’t straightforward, and both of them have pasts and places to reconcile and a sense of being lost to face.

This is a beautiful novel, set over a single weekend (with timestamps) from Phoebe’s point of view, and manages to capture a lot of wistfulness, loss, and hope within the writing. It combines poetic, literary prose with modern references (Blåhaj being my favourite, but I was sat with one whilst reading) and the limited timeframe of the narrative allows for a lot of space for not only thinking about the past, but also plenty of thoughts about the present and future. I spent a fair bit of the book worried about how sadly it might end, but actually I think it was a powerful narrative with a conclusion that was satisfying and shows how things can be complicated and messy, but also help you to move forward.

As the title suggests, this is a book about two women chasing things and hoping to find them in each other as they reunite. Wild Geese is both an emotional look at a relationship and the changing nature of one, and an exploration of escaping place and gender and how these can feel intertwined.

Blessing The Boats by Lucille Clifton

Blessing The Boats is a book of Lucille Clifton’s collected poetry spanning 1988-2000, now published under Penguin Modern Classics in the UK. The poetry within spans a huge range of subjects from injustice and race to motherhood and health, the Garden of Eden to Superman. Clifton’s style is deeply engaging, with a lot of precise and concise lines and imagery and short poems, sometimes in a sequence talking to each other.

 Some of my favourite poems in the collection were the ones about Lucifer and Adam and Eve (strangely the collection had already got me thinking about writing poems about Lucifer before I reached multiple of them to read) and the poems to Clark Kent. I also really like the ‘shapeshifter poems’ which I think would sit very nicely alongside a lot of modern poetry. In general, the poems felt really timeless to me, and it is the sort of collected poems that makes you want to return to it, and also read more of Clifton’s individual collections.

Synthetic Jungle by Michael Chang

Synthetic Jungle is a poetry collection that plays around with space, words, and humour, questioning what poetic language really is and what people want in a poem whilst also looking at identity, self, and shared reference points. I enjoyed the witty, catchy lines (one of my favourite things in poetry) – “app says our order’s in the river / you’ll be the one getting wet” being one example of some that stood out to me on first reading – and the range of pop culture references, but also the metacommentary on what poetry is and who can and should read poetry. Fresh, compulsively readable, and very funny: Synthetic Jungle is great if you like poetry that doesn’t take poetry too seriously, but still says some interesting things.

A House with Good Bones by T. Kingfisher

A House with Good Bones is a horror novel about a woman who returns to her family home to find things not quite right, the house seemingly returning to how her dead grandmother would’ve wanted it, and uncovers some family secrets as she attempts to work out what is going on. Sam is a specialist in bug archaeology who ends up back visiting her mother, who lives in the home that was Sam’s grandmother’s before she died, a house they briefly lived in too during Sam’s childhood. Gone are the signs of her mother’s quirky personality and in their place is the severe normality of her grandmother and also her grandmother’s roses in the garden. As Sam worries about her mother, things keep getting weirder, from vultures watching the house to ladybirds appearing, and Sam must work out what she believes is happening.

I’ve read a couple of other T. Kingfisher horror novels and I was interested to see what this one brought, even though I don’t always enjoy her writing style. There were points in this one where I didn’t like the style (particularly the tendency for random parentheses to make offhand comments), but the story was gripping and I enjoyed the creepy world created in the novel. The narrative has a slow lingering build up as Sam tries to work out what might be going on and then a fast paced conclusion that really twists the book from quiet family secrets horror into something more supernatural. There’s some good creepy moments as roses and bugs seems sinister and though the book has gothic and magical elements, it is balanced in an interesting way by Sam’s scepticism.

Though at times the writing style wasn’t for me, A House with Good Bones is a gripping book that you can read quickly, centred around a house I could really picture whilst reading. I think fans of Kingfisher’s other horror books will enjoy this one, with a memorable quirky protagonist who is sure of herself and a weird family to unravel.

Blue Hunger by Viola Di Grado

Blue Hunger is a novel about an Italian woman who goes to Shanghai after her twin brother’s death and finds herself in an obsessive love affair. The narrator, who doesn’t share her name but often goes by her brother’s, Ruben, moves to Shanghai to fulfil the dream of her brother, who recently died. She teaches Italian and meets Xu, a Chinese woman also trying to avoid the past. They meet in abandoned factories and slaughterhouses and in Xu’s apartment, filled with rotting food, where they take yellow pills and hunger for pleasure and pain, but the narrator always wants more.

This is a dreamlike novel that combines the imagery of consumption with ideas of grief and need. It also explores language, particularly the gaps in between Chinese and Italian (the novel is translated from Italian), and how language impacts self and identity, and the narrator’s views of different cultures. The relationship between the protagonist and Xu is filtered through this, and through the fact that you can only see the relationship from one side. The relationship itself is a fairly classic kind of all-consuming love in a foreign city, focused on hunger and need, and whether what we want is good for us, though blurbs describing the book as abolishing all taboos are definitely over-exaggerating.

The book presents an interesting, uncanny view of a grieving person in a foreign country, seeing both place and language through their own lens, and someone looking for an all-consuming kind of pleasure to erase the past. As you’d expect from the premise, it isn’t really a book with much of a plot, but more moves through scenes in an artistic way, more surreal than engaging with the realities of their lives.

The Trees Grew Because I Bled There: Collected Stories by Eric LaRocca

The Trees Grew Because I Bled There is a collection of dark short stories by Eric LaRocca, exploring some of the more sinister side of human nature as well as trauma, body horror, and twisted relationships. From people having to make horrifying decisions about what to do with family members to blog posts detailing a cancer diagnosis, the stories delve into very human moments in weird and unexpected ways.

Having read LaRocca’s Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke and Other Misfortunes and You’ve Lost A Lot of Blood, I wanted to read this collection, and it has a fair amount in common with the former book, in the way the stories have an ominous tone and generally explore strange dynamics between people, but also weave in queerness without it being the focus of the stories. As with any short story collection, there’s going to be stories some people prefer and others don’t, and for me I think my favourite was ‘You’re Not Supposed To Be Here’, a tale of two men in a park with their young son who suddenly meet some very odd strangers, as it felt like a classic horror film concept distilled into a short story. I also enjoyed the lingering body horror of ‘The Trees Grew Because I Bled There’ and the gradually unfolding darkness of the final story, ‘Please Leave or I’m Going To Hurt You’.

As with other LaRocca stories, these have some truly stand-out titles, and though I didn’t enjoy some stories as much as others, there’s a lot of gripping premises, weird goings-on, and protagonists making horrible choices to make this collection an enjoyable and occasionally uncomfortable (in a good way) read.

Bound In Flesh: An Anthology of Trans Body Horror, ed. by Lor Gislason

Bound in Flesh is a trans horror anthology that brings together thirteen body horror stories to explore the extreme limits of flesh, gender, and humanity. From people exploring their desires, as weird and body horrific as they might be, to those just looking to exist in a body, there’s a huge amount of variety in the stories in this anthology, despite the fairly niche theme of trans body horror, both in terms of plots and general vibes.

The opening story, ‘Wormspace’ by LC von Hessen, is a great way to set the tone, delving into weird desires and changing your body (and has a fantastic ending). One of my favourite stories in the collection is ‘The Haunting of Aiden Finch’ by Theo Hendrie, due to the way it uses the format of transition-charting videos to tell a horror story, one which is perhaps more slow burn and ominous than others in the book and with some creepypasta vibes. ‘Mama Is A Butcher’ by Winter Holmes takes a story of acceptance with a Frankenstein-type theme and makes it a friendship story, with the sort of lingering ending that you want from good body horror where the image feels seared into your head.

Though not all of them jumped out at me quite as much, there weren’t any stories that I didn’t like in the collection or any that I found too hard to get into. There’s some really great, twisted ways in which the stories use body horror as a lens to consider transness, for example if you are forcibly shape-shifted into the wrong gender, but also stories like the closing piece, ‘Looking For The Big Death’ by Taliesin Neith, in which the body becomes a different kind of place, something to desire death but also, it seems, resist it, and being trans is just a part of that complexity.

Trans horror is one of the best kinds of horror (of course) and this anthology shows some of the wealth of options for using trans writers using body horror as a way to tell stories, whether directly or not about being trans. There’s lots for body horror fans and lots for trans horror fans, and plenty to wince at in general.

In Memoriam by Alice Winn

In Memoriam is a novel that tells the love story between two schoolboys-turned-soldiers during the First World War. For Sidney Ellwood and Henry Gaunt, when war breaks out in 1914 it feels far away from them at their boarding school, where their main problem is the fact they both believe their love for the other is unrequited. However, when Gaunt’s German mother asks him to lie about his age and enlist to protect the family from anti-German sentiment, he agrees, and finds himself at the front facing the horrors of war. Not long later, Ellwood joins him, and their world of schoolboy troubles seems miles away, even as more of their classmates turn up around them.

In many ways, this book is exactly as you’d expect, similar to other First World War novels and especially those that depict love stories. There’s lots of historical material woven into the plot, as the afterword explains, and a good amount of depiction of the complications around war, like fighting in one despite being against it. The move from schoolboys to soldiers and the varied ways in which the characters react to this is also very interesting, from Ellwood and Gaunt’s respective literary interests clashing with the realities of war to some of their schoolmates’ jovial reactions.

I had trepidation reading the novel as personally for me the combination of the tormented slow love story and the threat of death looming over everything doesn’t always make for a book I enjoy reading, but I did appreciate what the narrative did with the characters and the love story, managing to encapsulate horror and brutality, but also perseverance and small tender moments, making it less unrelentingly bleak and heartbreaking than I was expecting from the title and my assumptions. Thanks particularly to the characters and relationships, In Memoriam is likely to be popular with a lot of people. It is a love story that looks at war, class, and historical queerness, with a narrative that’s quite dramatic and maybe too neat, but still works for the genre.

Your Driver Is Waiting by Priya Guns

Your Driver Is Waiting is a novel about a ride share driver whose new romance sets off a dangerous chain of events. Damani drives for a ride share company to make enough money to care for her mother since her father died, trying to pay bills, and spends time with her friends. The city is filling up with protests by drivers and others against injustice. When she meets Jolene, a wealthy white woman who is an ally and cares about Damani, everything seems great, but as Damani tries to show Jolene the world she lives in, things go badly wrong.

This is a book that combines social satire and politics, particularly around what kinds of action people take and who that action helps, with a character focus that explores the varied life of Damani, who is torn in several directions but always has to return to the identity of ‘driver’ to keep existing in the world. The narrative starts quite slow and then builds up, reflecting the monotony of Damani’s days and then the whirlwind of everything that happens with Jolene. The depictions of working for a ride share company are good too, as you really get a sense of time and the desperation of needing pings on the app to actually make anything close to a living.

Through the narrative and characters, Your Driver Is Waiting explores axes of oppression and kinds of communities, particularly the coming together of people to build alternative communities to fight against societal structures in solidarity, and how other people don’t understand this. The way in which Damani thinks that Jolene’s points of connection with her—having read books, been to protests, and being queer—might bridge the large divides between them, and then her obsession with hearing from Jolene when they don’t gives the novel both emotional and political power, as structures impact personal lives.

Weaving together activism, romance, and fighting for the money to live, Your Driver Is Waiting is a gripping novel with satire and heart.Through the humour and anger, it shows how things are complex within and outside of activist spaces.

The Insomniac’s Almanac by JP Seabright

The cover of The Insomniac's Almanac by JP Seabright

The Insomniac’s Almanac is, as the name suggested, a book of poems for a year of sleeplessness, moving from January to December. The hybrid layout combines altered photographs of sleep with the poems, which are stark like the unsleeping night, and the whole collection has a real feeling of the middle of the night, of an uncertain time that people shouldn’t be awake for. Each poem ends with the sort of generic advice given to people with insomnia, really highlighting the gulf between clinical advice and the poetic exploration of dealing with insomnia.

One of my favourite poems in the book is ‘Cage & Kane’, the title a pun on the time, and the idea of being caught “between silence and psychosis” is a memorable image that lingers after the end of the collection. I also really enjoyed ‘Summer Night City’, which carefully paints a picture of a quiet, hot night, the sort of night you can’t help but feel the atmosphere of. This is a collection that feels like such a beautiful package, with the poems and images and general atmosphere all coming together to create a vivid portrait of insomnia and of the nighttime.

Note: as per the Kith Books page for the chapbook, “All proceeds from this chapbook will go to two charities that help provide that support: The Albert Kennedy Trust in the U.K. and The Trevor Project in the US”, and it is also possible to donate to other trans/queer organisations and still get a free copy, so take a look and donate!