May Book Club: Mexican Gothic

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

This month we read Mexican Gothic, which won the GoodReads award for Horror in 2020. As I turned the pages of the final chapter, I realized that I wanted more from this book than it was prepared to give me. I wanted to feel the house entangle itself around Noemí, choking her desire to leave, really pushing the boundary between what she saw as real and what wasn’t. Instead, I found myself being told, not shown, what was happening at every turn. Noemí’s cousin was acting funny, but what did that really mean? Sure we were told that she was a girl who believed in romance and fantasy, but the contrast of a girl who seemed to sit inside herself all day wasn’t enough to lead me to believe anything beyond the suspicion of her new husband abusing her.

I wanted more from Noemí’s eventual love interest. Honestly, it probably would have made for a better story if he was playing her all along. Tricking her into trusting him so that he could manipulate the situation. Even still, for Noemí to go from not being interested to the seemingly hundreds of boys throwing themselves at her to a fungus enthusiast seemed a bit forced. Just for fun, imagine if there hadn’t been a love interest at all…

I didn’t understand why everyone in the house was so terrible to Noemí and her cousin… surely they could have had more of a sickly sweet tone about them to entice Noemí into staying and use their false kindness to hide what they were really doing. It would have made the eventual betrayal worse.

The next important thing to bring up here is the setting. Despite taking place in Mexico, the bulk of the story takes place in an English Manor. On the one hand, this is a setting that I’ve come to know and love about horror novels and the setting of our story is more or less based on a real place. On the other hand, it’s a little unclear to me what made this story “Mexican” because it reads as though it could have taken place in England. Now, I didn’t live in Mexico during the 1950s, but perhaps there should have been more of a contrast between the manor and the world that Noemí new? Or perhaps the lack of contrast was the point because of the relationship between the house, the town and the mushrooms? Is it even fair of me to want more here?

Speaking of Mushrooms, I actually really like the idea that a fungus growing on a dead body can lead to such horrifying events. Fungi are so resilient, the idea that eternal life can be found in a mushroom if provided the right conditions is really cool! It also plays on the “whatever you do, don’t eat anything” rule that tends to go hand in hand with supernatural. Again, it would have been nice to have spent more time on this idea and to have been shown rather than told.

Finally, I wish that the first two thirds of the book read like the last third of the book. As one of my friends pointed out to me when we were discussing our feelings, “It goes from nearly Gothic Romance, with bits of ‘Oh these people are hiding a terrible secret’ to ‘Body horror and super haunted house’ within about a single page.”

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on this book as well! Where my expectations too high? Do you disagree with me on anything?

Next month, we’re going to step into The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow. The description and title make me long to reread Alice and Wonderland, I love a good portal literature story.

Cover art for The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
The Ten Thousand Doors of January

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Hawaii Retreat Cowl

I know that people have been taking advantage of working from home to travel. It’s all over my Instagram (no Facebook for this girl!) – the new trails that are being explored, the beaches that are being enjoyed, the different foods that are being tried – but I can’t bring myself to travel just yet. Part of this is due to our Spain trip imploding, we’ve already been burned by a lock down and I don’t want to relive that type of “action mode” again just yet. Some of it is a desire to not get sick/not get anyone else sick. Honestly, the biggest part is that I don’t want to travel if it means things are closed. The freedom to stop and enjoy a random restaurant, shop or museum is a privilege about traveling that I truly appreciate.

That aside, the longer we don’t travel the worse my wanderlust seems to get. I find myself daydreaming of hiking the Scotland Highlands or wandering the hills of Ireland. My partner is from New Zealand and I still haven’t explored the places he grew up. We used to be able to hop over to Canada with relative ease and there’s no end in site for the boarder closure. Needless to say, Simply Sock Yarn Company has been allowing me to travel vicariously through their gorgeous National Park Series. The first three month club focused on the Grand Canyon, Cub Lake, and the Black Hills National Forest and have each been knit up into gorgeous projects: House Slippers, Nelia Shawl, and Age of Brass and Steam. March’s colorway was inspired by Haleakala and it took me forever to pick a pattern that would suit it.

To the yarn’s credit, I felt very limited by the fact that I only had one skein. I thought about knitting a Spring Sorrel and several other DK weight sweaters before accepting the fact that I wasn’t going to get my hands on more skeins. So when I say that I settled on Joji’s Retreat Cowl, I need you to understand that there was still a lot of excitement around this pattern. In fact, the Retreat Cowl provided me with a nice break from a lace shawl that I’m passively working on.

The Retreat Cowl is worked flat after being started with a provisional cast on. After reaching the specified length, the provisional cast on is removed and stitches are picked up so that the lace edging can be worked. Simple, yet interesting. Plus it allows the yarn’s colors to bounce around and do most of the talking. I would knit this again, although probably in a tonal so that the lace edge stands out a little more.

Real talk about the lace edge: my row gauge was off and I was only able to pick up ~70 stitches. A quick search through the projects on Ravelry shows that this is a relatively common problem and results in a snug fitting cowl, even if you go up a needle size for the lace pattern. Thinking I was smart, I picked up two stiches for every stitch and worked 140 stitches (two extra lace repeats). The final result is a cowl that billows a bit at the bottom and is, stylistically speaking: a) not what I was going for and b) not really my style (or anyone else’s that I know of). That aside, it’s so frickin’ practical. The cowl will now sit slightly under the collar of a coat, as opposed to on top of it, and seal in warmth better. It’s a winter hiker’s dream! TBD if it ends up being gifted for Mother’s Day…

Close up of a multi colored ribbed cowl with lace edging being worn on a woman's neck.
Retreat Cowl, Knit by Iswimlikeafish

BSF Skyland and KAL Preview

For those of you who haven’t had the chance to pick up a skein of Blue Sky Fibers’ (BSF) newest line addition Skyland, it’s a squishy 4-ply DK with a beautiful sheen. The highland wool/baby alpaca/silk blend promises a drapey garment that will keep you warm on cool nights and I cannot wait to start knitting with it. Enter the Calgary Capelet with it’s gorgeous cabled front and combine that with the fact that I’ve been reading Outlander, it’s safe to say that I’ve spend the last couple of weeks eagerly counting down to helping host this knit-along (KAL).

Step one: Does your local yarn store (LYS) carry Skyland?

Mind does! I have a serious knit crush on the Women of Scratch Supply Co from their project choices to the yarn they carry in the store. In fact it’s been made worse by the fact that their podcast makes it feel like they’re hanging out in my family room.

Use BSF’s stock list finder to locate a LYS that carries Skyland near you.

Step two: Pick a color and buy enough yarn for your size.

My friends would be quick to tell you, I have a hard time committing to a color pallet for most of my projects. For starters, I try to push myself to use colors that are outside of my go-to section (blue, green, pink — think watermelon at the beach and you’ve got my color preferences nailed). Add that with I love most colors and hopefully my problem is seen as a desire to be inclusive and not a problem with committing.

As I mentioned above, a friend and I have been reading Outlander together and I’ve been daydreaming about someday traveling the Highlands. With this in mind, I’ve opted to use Comet, a dark green that is within my typical color pallet. Skyland is a yarn I want to wear all the time, so I refuse to feel bad about choosing a color I know matches everything I own as opposed to one I will occasionally wear as a fun pop of color.

Step three: Swatch swatch swatch.

I’ve been burned by swatching before and can probably guess what needle size I need in order to hit gauge (22 stitches and 27 rows = 4 inches in Stockinette), but at the end of the day swatching is informative. For starters, it will ensure that the garment will look the way that Mary Pranica (the designer) intended. More importantly, a swatch will give you a preview of how the yarn is going to knit up (think fabric drape). Personally, I want to make sure that I’m taking advantage of the way Alpaca drapes and that’s enough for me to knit a square before getting started.

Step four: Cast on and show off your progress!

The KAL starts April 19th 2021, aka this coming Monday! That gives you just enough time to grab your yarn (and swatch!) before we cast on together. Not ready to cast on day one? That’s ok, the KAL will run until June 2021. Grab some yarn and join us when you can.

There is going to be more information posted about this KAl on Monday, so join BSF on Ravelry and hangout with us: https://www.ravelry.com/groups/friends-of-blue-sky-fibers

Use #bsfskyland #CalgaryCapelet #CalgaryCapeletKAL on social media so that we can see your work!

I’m off to start swatching so I’m ready for Monday.

Stay tuned for weekly progress updates and possible grumblings that I can’t wear the caplet yet. It’s been so long since I’ve been a part of a KAL outside of Camp Loopy (it’s also been a long time since August 2020 when camp ended!), I’m looking forward to watching everyone’s Capelets work up and seeing how we add our own twist to the same pattern.

April Book Club: Reverie

Book art for Reverie by Ryan La Sala
Reverie, by Ryan La Sala

Perhaps one of the reasons that I enjoyed this book so much is that the idea of a Reverie speaks to me on a fundamental level. Portal literature, or literature where the main character starts in “the real world” and then falls down a hole (Alice in Wonderland), goes though a mirror (Through the Looking Glass), crosses a wall (Stardust), or goes through a wardrobe (Narnia) to find themselves in a magical land, is literature that I always seem to fall into. The idea that crossing an invisible magical barrier is all it takes to go on an adventure in a magical world was something that I spent hours daydreaming about as a child.

In this magical world, I would be something spectacular. A witch or a fairy. Perhaps a knight on quest. The options where literally endless in my mind. When you add this to the concept that reveries are a subconscious dreamscape that come alive in the real world, is it really a wonder that I quickly became enthralled with this book?

Kane Montgomery is an interesting main character because he is both who he was before his memories were wiped and who he is trying to be based upon the information that he learns about himself. Though I don’t typically enjoy plots that are driven by “amnesia”, the loss of memory in Kane’s case leads to an accepting of who he is and a desire to be better. It was his “humbling moment” if you will, the reason that he makes the choices he does when the pieces are finally put together.

One of the other things that’s interesting about this book is the mixed, and I mean truly mixed reviews on it. People either love it (me for example) or they struggle to get through it. Those who love it find themselves being swept away into the idea that you deepest fantasies can come alive just long enough for you to live them. They find themselves rooting for the Others to save the day because that means dreams can live on. Those who don’t like the book seem to be hung up on the idea of a Reverie to begin with, they didn’t like Kane as a character or they had very different expectations going in. Where do you fall on the spectrum and why?

I was patiently waiting for the library to notify me that my copy of Mexican Gothic is available, when one of my friends enthusiastically said that they had a historical fiction for me to read. When she dropped by to pass it into my hands I couldn’t help but squeal as the words Mexican Gothic poked out from her bag. This book has gotten so much hype about being a good historical horror story, let’s check it out together for May’s book club!

Mexican Gothic
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.