In the weird, woodland magics of of Brett Manning’s art, one will find a labyrinth of moss-covered pathways and mushroom-dotted clearings, where one might imagine hearing the whispers of faeries and the footsteps of forest spirits.

Whimsy dances hand in hand with shadows and decay, creating a thicket of contrasts that defies simple categorization. While her creations exude a playful charm, there’s an underlying hint of shadow that adds depth and complexity to her work. Think Beatrix Potter goes to the Goblin Market, told via the forested strangeness of a gloomy Twin Peaksian folklore, tinged with the cryptic mystery and intrigue of the X-Files; channel that through an impish imagination, a flair for visual storytelling, and an eye for the uncanny, and you begin to grasp the enigmatic allure of Manning’s realms.

Basically what I am trying to say here is that Brett Manning’s artworks embrace the wild and the wondrous, they are the artistic equalivalent of the unhinged urge to disappear from society and rewild as a feral forest goblin, and embody the idea of a gnome riding on the back of a possom, rolling up to you in a little car made of autumnal forest detritus and saying, “get in losers, we’re gonna admire moss and mushrooms in the forest.”



Faerie Music, Brett Manning, 2021, ink.


Faerie Music in The Art of Fantasy


Faerie Music caption, Korean to English translation


The three images above, let me explain them. The first is “Faerie Music,” which Brett kindly permitted me to include the the pages of The Art of Fantasy: A Treasury of All That Is Unreal.

Here is the caption I wrote for it and which you will find included in the book:

“Fiddling, strumming and tootling through the twilight while lounging about on cosy toadstools, the faerie folk musicians by contemporary artist Brett Manning are a captivating blend of dainty and earthy, and seem envisioned from both ancient books of forest folklore and your favourite well-thumbed local woodland cryptid guide. A maker who wears many hats (probably woven by gnomes with spider silk and beetle wings), Manning’s whimsical, magic creations take the form of illustrations as well as cavorting and capering all over the clothing that she designs.”

The second image is a photo of Brett’s artwork in the Korean language edition of The Art of Fantasy, and the third photo is from where I ran the Korean caption through a translator, and it gave me back an English version. I don’t think this is actually how it reads in Korean, but …I also kind of hope so?

“Modern painter Brett Manning sat on a cosy poisonous mushroom, in the twilight, played the violin, ripped the harp, drew fairy flute musicians, capturing the elegant earthy nature. In this paining, we can think of both ancient folk tales and our favourite guides to unidentified creatures in our woods and our neighborhood. Manning’s quirky and magical creation, which mainly uses a hat (like a fairy in the ground woven with spider’s webs and beetle wings), is not only embodied in illustrations, but also plays cheerfully in the clothes she designs.”

I love the idea of Brett sitting on a mushroom, playing a violin and ripping a harp, and using a hat to create! Honestly, that may have been better than what I wrote.

Bauchan, Brett Manning
Springtime, Brett Maning

Through her art, Manning invites us to peek into hidden nooks and corners where we can almost hear the lilting melodies played on instruments of nature, a secret serenade echoing through the twilight woods, performed by faeries, cryptids, spirits, and other strange entities that exist on the fringes and in the peripheries.  So next time you find yourself wandering through a sun-dappled sylvan setting, keep an ear out. Perhaps you’ll catch a glimpse of Manning’s whimsical creations, their music weaving a spell of wonder and enchantment, their whispers urging you to get lost in the woods and never to be seen again.

As you contemplate trading modern trappings for the untamed beauty of fanciful forest realms, and perhaps even become one with moss and bugs, indulge in daydreams of the things between and unseen.

Below, a gallery awaits, showcasing my favorites among Manning’s works, inviting you to embark on your own journey through her weird woodland worlds.



Artwork by Brett Manning
Artwork by Brett Manning


Artwork by Brett Manning
Snarly Yow, A West Virginia Cryptid


The Seven Whistlers, Brett Manning


Find Brett Manning: Etsy // Instagram // Book: One Foot In The Green


If you enjoy these art-related writings, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

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Could it be that our Ten Things feature has returned, for real? Well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves (I’m a bit superstitious like that and don’t like to make those kinds of declarations, BUT…)

I am extraordinarily pleased that this month we are hearing from my long-time internet friend, Jack Guignol, whose dark, gothic tastes in literature, music, and film are absolutely impeccable, and whenever I peek over at the atmosphere and ambiance of the stories/supplements he shares on his blog, it always makes me wish I were way more into D&D than I actually am. For reference, I am zero percent into D&D–it makes me very anxious!–but his blog posts make me YEARN!

Jack is also the co-host, along with Tenebrous Kate, one of my other favorite internet people, of BAD BOOKS FOR BAD PEOPLE–a podcast where two ridiculously smart people talk about the weirdest, kinkiest, most outrageous books they can unearth. I can count the podcasts I am interested in on three fingers, and these guys consistently invite us into insightful and entertaining discussions on truly offbeat literature. They are the ultimate excavators of the darkest corners of the bookshelf and my go-to for bizarre literary deep dives.

When Jack asked me last month if we might be interested in a Ten Things focused on …well, whatever he wanted to write about… I said HELL YEAH. And now, today, we have ten glorious recommendations from the realm of Euro-Gothic cinema, where classic Gothic themes like vampires, haunted castles, and dark family secrets intertwine with distinct national filmmaking styles and historical anxieties, creating a truly unique and unsettling cinematic experience.

I found some beloved favorites listed below and some thrilling titles I’ve never even heard of, so I think you’re going to have a lot of fun with this one. Thank you kindly, Jack!


Jack Guignol, Morbid Scholar

Jack is a scholar of all things morbid and literary. He is a cohost of the Bad Books for Bad People podcast, the creator of the PLANET MOTHERFUCKER roleplaying game (better have your “show me adult content” filter checked for that one, it’s outrageous), and has a chapter in the forthcoming book Something Wicked: Witchcraft in Movies, Television, and Popular Culture from Bloomsbury Academic.

Black Sunday (1960): Loosely based on Nikolai Gogol’s Viy, Black Sunday (also known as La maschera del demonio or The Mask of the Demon) was Mario Bava’s directorial debut–and what a debut it is. Barbara Steele, the stunning Queen of the Euro Gothics, does double duty starring as both Asa Vajda, a condemned witch, and Katia Vajda, a haunted and beautiful young woman in danger of having her youth and vitality drained when Asa returns as the undead. Black Sunday is a gorgeous film; from the famous opening scene in which a mask is nailed over Asa’s face before execution to the big reveal of the final reel, you could press pause at any point and come away with a stunning still image that captures the macabre beauty of the genre.

The Church (1989): The literary Gothic tradition is rife with convoluted storytelling combined with a heady brew of anti-Catholic anxieties, so why should its cinematic counterpart be any different? Originally intended as a sequel to Lamberto Bava’s Demons series, director Michele Soavi insisted that The Church be a separate entity with its own filmic identity. There’s a lot in the mix in this movie, but it’s all classic Gothicisms: a gloomy cathedral whose catacombs harbor a dark secret from the medieval past, something-something about Teutonic Knights, and a priest who just wants to watch the world burn.

Dark Waters (1994): Straddling the line between Gothic horror and folk horror, Dark Waters is a dream-like film that should appeal to viewers who have room in their hearts for both H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and Mattew Lewis’s The Monk. Elizabeth (played by Louise Salter) arrives at a convent on an isolated island during a tempest; she is assigned Sarah (Venera Simmons), a young novice, to be her guide. The two women delve into the forbidden mysteries of the convent’s library, the secrets in the convent’s catacombs, and even Elizabeth’s own tainted familial history.

Eyes Without a Face (1960): Who needs “elevated horror” when we have Georges Fanju’s 1960 classic Eyes Without a Face? Dr. Génessier (played by Pierre Brasseur) will do anything to restore the beauty of his daughter Christiane (Édith Scob), who was disfigured in a car accident. And by “do anything,” I mean abducting and murdering young women so he can attempt to graft their faces onto Christiane’s damaged visage. The masked Christiane is a truly tragic figure; even with her face hidden behind a stoic expression, Édith Scob manages to convey an overwhelming sense of sadness that spills over into madness. Despite being such a dark film, it’s also one of the most beautifully shot on this list.

The Gorgon (1964): You could put just about any Hammer Horror joint with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee on this list, but I’m including The Gorgon here for one simple reason: instead of the usual Gothic monsters such as vampires, werewolves, and mummies, this movie has a snake-haired lady who turns people to stone as its central figure of terror. There’s a fun wrinkle with the monster here too–an otherwise normal-looking woman becomes a gorgon on nights of the full moon! You will have no trouble figuring out who the gorgon is (there just aren’t that many women in the movie), but you’re sure to enjoy the schlocky thrills of a Hammer movie made from a story submitted to the company by one of its fans.

Lady Frankenstein (1971): Lady Frankenstein is a film of star-studded madness that features the considerable talents of Rosalba Neri, Joseph Cotten, and Mickey Margitay. Tania Frankenstein (played by Rosalba Neri) arrives home from medical school, but she’s already well aware of what her father’s experiments are really about. No shrinking violet, she wants in on the transgressive mad science action! Of course, like most Frankenstein flicks, this one features a monster running amok–though this one is doing his best “Jason will kill you if you are nude romping in the woods” gimmick. That would be enough for most movies of this ilk, but Lady Frankenstein doesn’t know how to say “no” to excess: add in brain transplants, seductions and murders, and the obligatory peasants with torches and pitchforks storming the castle.

The Long Hair of Death (1964): The Long Hair of Death, which also stars Barbara Steele in dual roles, would make an excellent pairing with Black Sunday for a Euro-Gothic double feature. Steele plays Helen Rochefort, a woman whose mother was burned at the stake as a witch for the “sin” of being desired by a powerful man. Helen, too is killed for confronting male power and its base lasciviousness. But the story doesn’t end there! On a stormy night, a mysterious woman named Mary, who is uncannily identical to Helen, appears at the castle to pursue revenge against patriarchal hypocrisy in an extremely morbid and overheated Gothic way.

Mill of the Stone Women (1960): Hans (played by Pierre Brice) arrives at an obscure island to research a legendary carousel of female statues created by Gregorious Wahl (Herbert A.E. Böhme). During his visit to the mill, Hans falls in obsessional love with Wahl’s supposedly ill daughter Elfie (Scilla Gabel). What follows in the film is an absolutely insane tangle of psychological fixations, corrosive love, and murderous desire. And the titular carousel of statues? Absolutely unhinged when they appear on screen. I can practically guarantee that you will be haunted by the film’s final images.

The Vampire Lovers (1970): Did you really think we’d get through this list without running into a vampire movie? Specifically, a lesbian vampire movie? The Vampire Lovers is an adaptation of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic Carmilla with all the sapphic dials and opportunities to exercise the “male gaze” turned up to eleven; with Ingrid Pitt as the vampiress Carmilla Karnstein and Madeline Smith as her desired prey, The Vampire Lovers is the epitome of “Hammer Glamour.”

The Whip and the Body (1963): We started this list with Mario Bava, and by God, we are going to end it with Mario Bava too. Whereas Black Sunday is an undeniable atmospheric classic, The Whip and the Body is for the sickos only; if you’ve made it through the other films on the list, you can have The Whip and the Body as a little sadomasochistic treat. It really does what it says on the tin–it features both whips and bodies. Make no mistake, this is a vile little movie, but it has got Gothic nonsense like familial strife, transgressive sexual desire, and dubious inheritance claims galore.

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Anna Mond, Swan Lake


The creations borne of Anna Mond’s marvelously strange brain noodles are gleefully grotesque, wickedly cheeky, ghoulishly precious brouhahas with a through line of the weirdest humor steeped in simultaneous cups of cracked darkness and silliness. A chorus line of goggle-eyed electric blue skeletons pirouette madly; a fuzzy mushroom-homunculi-thing drunkenly rides on the back of a bewildered spider; a celestial diablerie of witchy critters deliriously possess the midnight sky.

All manner of creatures and beings and God knows what else cavort and caper in garish, gooey blurbling blobs of color drooled across the canvas in a vibrant rascality of shenanigans. I stare at these paintings rapturously, my bones all vibrating in a mad, magic jig and they make me want to do something crazy!


Anna Mond, 1am
Anna Mond, 1am


…and I don’t think I am the only one! The comment section of the artist’s Instagram account are frenzied fever dream free-for-all digital art raves where everyone’s losing their minds in the best way possible.

Fans are obsessed with the imaginative artist’s work and are moved to express their wild interpretations and emotions. They compliment the canvases, caption them with an imaginary script or song lyrics or meme du jour, analyze the content, the inspiration, the technique; they ramble at length with the fables and fictions the work evokes in them; they share last night’s unrelated dream, and recipes, and various theories and conspiracies!


Anna Mond, Schatz


From what I can tell, Anna Mond is a somewhat enigmatic individual. The artist’s website doesn’t offer much in the way of information, and although the handful of interviews do illuminate various inspirations in the form of artists: Atsuko Tanaka, Clementine Hunter, Zinaida Serebryakova, Sister Plautilla Nelli and music: Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and Elvis and a love of fairy tales and horror, I haven’t found much more insight into the mind of this artist.

One thing I did learn was that Anna Mond refers to the work as “Fantasticalizm”–and really, how peculiar and playful and perfect is that? Fantasticalizm! I don’t need to know anything more, really!

Just let me fill my eyeballs with these visions of wild, wondrous, weirdness forever, please.

Find Anna Mond: website // Instagram


Anna Mond, Let me show you my bats


Anna Mond, Homeric Poem


Anna Mond, Mad Mushroom


Anna Mond, Wish-Fish


Anna Mond, Peanuts


Anna Mond, Wolfgang


Anna Mond, Rebirth

If you enjoy these art-related writings, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

…or support me on Patreon!

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4 Apr

Heart Beet (raw, wet beets, pulsating blood musk, and raw wild ginger) I was a little scared to try this one because I’ve read that the same component that gives petrichor, that old rain-whisperer, that wet, mineralic tang, is also present in beets. Geosmin. This irregular sesquiterpenoid explains why I do not care for the scent of petrichor and cannot stomach beets. Except for pickled beets, which I love, but I’m a bit of a pickle fiend; you could probably pickle up an old boot, and I’d love that, too. But in Heart Beet there is only the swiftest, most fleeting whiff of dirt and stony dampness and then the immediacy of what I think of as shampoo ginger. We have a profusion of ginger-but-not-quite-ginger growing wild in our backyard, and when you dig it up, it looks just like ginger, and it has that same fiery-floral tang of fresh ginger too, but there’s something that smells a little soapy about it, as well, which gave us pause and made us think maybe we shouldn’t be eating it! We looked it up, and we are pretty sure it’s “shampoo ginger,” which could be eaten (but it’s bitter) but is more often used in toiletries and cosmetics. And then, at the back of that zesty-floral-freshness is a murky musk, slightly sweet, subtly earthy hum that is so weirdly, unexpectable wearable.  This scent is as if you dug up a magenta-blooded, lumpy, heart-shaped taproot and deemed it a quirky imaginary friend and shared all your juicy secrets with it…and then that dang beet tried to give you some sassy advice.

Pistachio Ambrosia (a whipped green dream, pale and pillowy with multicolored mini marshmallows, densely studded with bits of pineapple, mandarin, and shredded coconut) Well, you thought this was a Tupperware party – Jello molds, covered casserole dishes, PTA gossip. But you knew different the moment you saw those seafoam green formica counters had been converted to a burlesque runway. All your friends do shots of ground pistachio paste lightened with pineapple juice’s fizzing neon effervescence, folded into the creamiest, velvety custard…laced with acid. You don’t want to seem like a square, so down it goes! The last thing you remember is your hostess’s outrageous shimmy and the mesmerizing billowing twirl of her whipped cream pasties. You awake on your front lawn, the technicolor escapades of the night before swimming before your eyes, the taste of an astronaut ice cream tiki drinks on your tongue.

Rhubarb Custard Muffins (tender chunks of tart rhubarb stalks spangled with oven-browned sugar crystals, nestled in a crown of golden cake generously marbled with jet-streams of warm custard) Last year, I bought a quartet of Strawberry Shortcake-themed candles. My excuse for this foolishness, not that anyone is asking me to justify myself, is that I’d had a bad day, which turned into a series of bad days, culminating in a whole-ass bad month. I was excited to illuminate these little beacons of nostalgia, but sadly, each was more disappointing than the last. If I’d had Rhubarb Custard Muffins and unscented wax (and, I suppose, any amount of ambition or motivation to speak of), I could have recreated exactly what I, as an adult now, was seeking in those candles with this scent’s vibrant bracing blush of rhubarb enlivened further by the jeweled, juicy tang of strawberry, and tempered–only slightly so– by a creamy vanilla drizzle of custard and scant dusting of oaty streusel. This is a scent brimming with cheeky, exuberant optimism that rips its tart heart right out of its chest and offers it to you immediately upon meeting you, no questions asked. This is what that drab stable of Strawberry Shortcake candles should have been!

Green Maraschino (peppermint-laced preserved cherries soaking in thick lime syrup, dashed with a sliver of yuzu) Have you ever wondered what the juice of a green traffic light smelled like? A vibrant emerald energy, an invigorating jolt of minty-metallic kisses and 1000% saturation sugar syrup highs, punctuated by the fleeting tang of the citrusy unknown; it’s the electrifying hum before the exhilarating rush.

White Chocolate and Taro Cream A dusty, earthy white chocolate that initially smells, texturally, like the nostalgic magics of those light, crispy, waffle-stamped wafer cookies.  A starchy vanilla-almond floral creme sandwiches them together, and suddenly it becomes something too pretty to eat. This smells both familiar and dreamlike in the way that pictures from half-remembered childhood storybooks still feel like familiar friends, so keep that in mind when I tell you that this scent smells like the art of Amy Earles.

White Chocolate, Orange Blossom, Sugar Crystals, & Champagne Talk about the unexpected! I was expecting a soft white chocolate and orange blossom water scent, but this one is unexpectedly nutty- toasty-malty with a bit of oaky-leathery-coffee and plummy-orchid-florals! But if you wait a bit…that’s when things get really good. On the dry-down, this becomes a velvety soft cocoa butter, warm brown sugar musk, and it’s just the perfect balance of intriguing/familiar and comforting/captivating, sweet-but-not-too-sweet, close-to-the-skin scent.

Roses, Pearls, and Sapphires (lavender rose petals, coconut husk, cerulean blue musk, agave, and blueberry resin) I smelled this one, and I thought so many things all at once! Firstly, this scent and its kin are inspired by one of my favorite fairy tales, “Toads and Diamonds,” by Charles Perrault. It impressed certain things upon me so vividly that to this day, I am not sure if I am nice to people because that’s in my nature, because it’s the right way to act, OR is it because who knows when you might meet a secret fairy and be gifted with pie-hole baubles because you were kind to them! I mean, you never know! So am I being nice to people so that it will result in material gain? That’s not great, right? Conversely, this made me think about how all of my life, even up until now, because I’ve never learned my lesson and I don’t know any other way to be, I give away everything I have. As a child, I’d give my classmates my pretty markers, my plastic jewelry, and my favorite Barbie dresses–all with the hopes of someone being nice to me. I do it still. I love my material things, but I will shove them in your face and shout, “Take them!” if I think there’s a chance it will make you like me. Just last week, someone I barely know DMed me and asked me for money to help pay their rent. I don’t have money to throw around, but I thought, “But what if not helping them makes them not like me!” Then I Venmoed them $200. I thought getting older meant caring less about stuff like this, but somehow it’s even worse now. You might think, hey, Sarah’s written three books; she must be making some kind of money! WRONG! Do you even know how many books I have just outright given away? I haven’t made money, friends. I have lost money. It all makes me feel very foolish, like a big joke if I am being honest, and also very small. And feeling small gets me thinking about little-Sarah and all the things she loved best but never really shared how or why, because she thought giving her things away was the silver bullet to making connections with people. As opposed to giving of myself, sharing things about me and who I am.  So, I will share with you now. Dolls with blue hair, the Mermistas and Frostas, the Ajas and the Stormers, the Blueberry Muffins and Lily Fairs and Sailor Mercuries. These were my favorites. I thought they were like me. Shy, sweet, maybe a little sad, definitely a little spacy. But your spacy friends are your dreamer friends! When you’re being mean to us, you’re being mean to this perfume, which smells of all of the gentle blue haired dolls that we channelled all of our love into, and then gave it all away.

Roses, Pearls and Emeralds (rose sap, gleaming ivy, orris root, sweet oakmoss, pine needle, lime rind, and juniper) In Tiffany Morris’ novella Green Fuse Burning, the author writes, “Spring was an assault that arrived at the door with flowers in hand…” and Roses, Pearls, and Emeralds is the olfactory equivalent of that neon green revelation. The lime, juniper, and pine comingle to create something surprisingly unarboreal, more oceanic, but also unnervingly electric. Massive bioluminescent algal blooms cause ocean dead zones, and ultraviolet radiation runs amok in wild grottoes and caverns. The rose, oh wily troublesome rose! (Me and rose have history!) is the unexpected, benevolent note-wrangler in this composition, reigning in the maritime radioactivity and lending a soft floral haze that settles and soothes and coaxes it back to land. A little cottage garden that sometimes dreams of kaiju.

The Serpent in the Carnations (Snake Oil-soaked carnation petals, spiked with a dash of clove and allspice.) Often times I get an idea in my head that one scent from these collections is DEFINITELY going to be my favorite, but I am often wrong because I’ll get surprised by something else along the way. I think this time, my prediction was correct. I had a feeling I would love this slithery scent, and I do–it smells exactly like being mesmerized by an art nouveau femme fatale sorceress, just like the gal in Karl Alexander Wilke’s artwork we see here on the label art.  The eerie mortuary spice of carnations alongside Snake Oil’s thick, heavily sugared incense makes for the most wicked avant-garde bohemian ghoulishness; I want to bathe in it, poison admirers with it, all the things.

Our Lady Of Pain (Sumatran patchouli, blood musk, white lavender, opium tar, and black orchid) Aloof and alluring, a cool, bitter metallic shiver, like poison painting the tip of a small curved blade; musk and throbbing darkness, like psychic muscles cramped around the remembrance of a wound. The scent of duels lost, blood on the ground, moonlight elegies–all impressively tragic stuff, outrageous melodramas played out on the stage of one’s own mind…as is the wont of those of us who are really good at hurting our own feelings. Our Lady Of Pain is the most beautiful, most diabolical of Mean Girls…but as they say, the calls are coming from inside the house. 

There Yet Shall Be Sorrows (white sandalwood, black cypress, wormwood, creeping willow, and rue) A damp, earthy green and cold minerality like a shroud of moss scraped from a frost-flowered gravestone. A soft, dusty herbal whisper, like crushed leaves scattered in wild, wet weather.  A path of long silence and deepening shadow.

The Shrine Where Sin Is A Prayer (deep purple Syrah, calamus, myrrh smoke, hyssop, opoponax, bitter clove, burgundy pitch, opium poppy, and violet leaf) Thinking about this perfume is akin to thinking about stars, or color; as in, the light we’re now seeing is from a star already dead, or how the color of an apricot is what we perceive it to be because some wavelengths of the spectrum are being absorbed and some are bouncing off and what we actually see in the end is all of the colors that it is not. Speaking of apricots– this is how I know that no matter how many perfumes I smell or reviews I write, I am still no closer to knowing anything at all. Despite not being listed in the notes, apricot is what I smell here. A thickly jelled apricot marmalade into which the slow poison of sweet herbs are suspended and inky drippings of wine swirl like smoke. Imagine dipping a quill into this sticky jam jar; envision penning your deepest buried needs and secret yearnings. Consider that each word preserved in these conserves comes at a cost; know that when you’ve emptied the pot, the bill comes due. Though much like million-year-old starlight and all the colors we cannot see, these are abstract repercussions, problems for future-us to solve. Let’s gather our marmalade wishes while we may, then. The pot is full for now.

Sister Death (pale gilded lilies and roses in the labdanum shadow of a yew tree, a sprig of forget-me-not, the dwindling memory of a genteel cologne, and the honeyed breathlessness of a kiss) A sharp inhale of florals with something, a sweet pang of memory, a tender, fruiting slip of dream, floating just underneath the surface, just beyond your grasp that you can’t touch no matter how you reach for it; the reflection in the pool that no matter how deep you swim, you can never close the distance.

Poets Hearts Break So (bourbon vanilla fougere, violet leaf, iris root, Italian bergamot, porcelain accord, and a trickle of red musk)Sun-leached bitter citrus, vanilla dust motes trembling in fractured light – lace curtains, cobwebbed and frayed. A single wilted violet bears witness to the fleeting nature of affection; a shattered porcelain angel weeps tears of melancholic orris-tinged grief; the air is thick with a euphoric effluvium of malefic ecstasy, the intense overripe sweetness of red musk and ravaged souls, beauty tinged with madness, a poet’s overwrought breakup sonnet forever immortalized in a single, gleefully melodramatic, flamboyantly maddening scent.

Delightful Gargantuan Vagina (red mango pulp, sugared orange blossom, mimosa, pink musk, and sweet incense)  There was a poem I once read that introduced to me how I now consider the mango. This occurred during the years of what I now like to think of as “another life,” and I don’t think of those years often or the person I shared them with because it was not a good time. At any rate, it was this person who shared the piece of writing with me quite early on in our relationship in that love-bombing kind of way where someone showers you with excessive, special attention as part of their arsenal of manipulative tactics. Starved for feeling special, I ate it up. This was circa 2000 or so when Flash websites were all the rage, and it was not an easy thing to copy and paste or print out or whatever, and so I don’t recall the whole thing, and I’ve never been able to find it again. I only remember the first line: “The flesh of a mango…reminds me of rot…” I never forgot that. I also came to the conclusion that mango’s musky, sweet, slightly sour pulp smells very much like kissing the mouth of the person who has just moments ago been intimately tasting you. I told my sisters about this realization a few years ago, and I was shocked at how upset they were hearing this… and, to this day, neither of them has ever forgiven me for it!  I find this absolutely wild because none of us are prudes, we talk about all kinds of stuff, so I honestly didn’t think I was saying anything beyond the pale! And being an obnoxious older sister, instead of apologizing, I have since doubled down on my opinion. I am rambling at this point because I think I am struggling to say anything coherent, let alone clever or poetic about this scent, so I’ll just leave it here: mango, with its unsubtle dissonance between desire and decay and overt suggestions of eros and thanatos…is actually quite subdued in this scent. What I smell instead is the zesty, juicy piquancy of a perfectly sectioned mandarin orange, and the complex, fragrant secrets of orange blossoms in April, and a fizzy, powdery vinegar shrub of mimosa honey. It’s quite lovely, and definitely more palatable than my mango analogy, I guess!

Encounter With A Female Ghost (cypress, immortelle, and white amber enveloping red spider lily petals, dragon’s blood resin, and black plum) A single, spectral bloom tucked amidst the cypress trees; rainwater which has caught the reflection of the moon; the shimmering peal of a cracked bell at the 13th hour–

The Shimmering Mirror (pine pitch brocade, amber incense smoke, Mysore sandalwood, myrrh, red benzoin, inky patchouli, and an oakmoss fougere) The red benzoin and amber incense smoke combine to make a strangely sultry balsamic floral scent that brings to mind some sort of supplication to a saint of dangerous sensuality, a prayer along the lines of, “Poppy crowned queen of night, patroness of thieves and robbers, friend, and light to all that burns.” I wish I could remember where I read that! Which has nothing to do with this next reference, but you know all those romantasy books that are all the rage right now? Like “A Court of this thing and those things?” This is a perfume that smells like the heady promises of those lavishly fantastical, come-hither book covers.

Chestnut Vulva (sweet chestnut, vanilla cashmere, toasted cardamom, and caramel) is an unexpected autumnal fantasy of comforting warmth and intriguing depth. Velvety chestnut puree, smooth and sweet, with a subtle hint of milky creaminess; a touch of unsweetened cocoa powder adds unexpected depth, grounding the sweetness with a hint of earthiness, like fallen leaves crunching underfoot, while geese fly low on the horizon. Cardamom’s delicate floral spice is whipped into a toasted meringue, a luxurious garnish in a thermos full of this enchantingly warming fall beverage in the dying light of an October afternoon when the spring sun showers seem a long way off.

The Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab 2024 Lupercalia collection is currently live and available for purchase. As this is a limited edition series, sample sizes imps are not available.

Need more Lupercalia scents? Have a peep at my Lupers reviews from 2023 and 2022 and 2021 and 2020. Looks like I skipped a few years but we’ve also got 2017 and 2016 reviews as well!

…PSSSST! Did you know I have collected all of my BPAL reviews into one spot? I’m about a year behind with adding new stuff to the document, but as it stands, there are over 60 PAGES of my thoughts and rambles on various limited-edition scents from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab over the years: BPAL REVIEWS BY S. ELIZABETH (PDF download)


If you enjoy these fragrant musings, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

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Stephen Mackey, Never Sleep With Your Eyes Shut

There’s a world veiled in static on the periphery of our vision, where dreams and nightmares bleed into one another. Glimpsed in flickering candlelight and whispered shadows of tangled vines in fairytales, we sense it creeping, seeping into our reality.

We’ve entered the unrestful realms of British artist Stephen Mackey, where his paintings serve as portals to lands of darksome lullabies, unsettling dreamscapes of perpetual twilight evanescence. With each brushstroke, Mackey weaves secret tales of the precious and the sinister, the twisted romance of unquiet beauty.

Stephen Mackey, A Scented Mourner


Stephen Mackey, Meniscus


Stephen Mackey, Dressing Up As People

Beneath the whimsical surface of Mackey’s paintings lies a darkness that lurks, unseen but palpable. Ethereal maidens appear to frolic with fantastical creatures, beauties dream soundly in enchanted canopied beds, and primp before shimmering mirrors. Yet, closer inspection reveals scenes fraught with lurking tension – the subtle dance between predator and prey, the maze of perils and pathways dark and bewitched.

Are these glimpses into a world existing just beyond our perception, where fairytales take a darker turn? Or are they manifestations of Mackey’s own subconscious, a shadowy reflection of the human psyche?

Stephen Mackey, House of the Somnambulist


Stephen Mackey, Keep Your Secrets

Mackey himself comments wryly about his cryptic creative persona, ‘No information = mystique . . . You can have any facts you want, but you’re sworn to secrecy.’ Keep your secrets then, Mr. Mackey! We’ll develop some haunted and outlandish theories of our own!

Self-taught and inspired by the great French, Dutch, and Italian masters of the Renaissance, there’s a definite echo of Romanticism in his works, a touch of Fuseli’s nightmarish visions and Blake’s mystical explorations. Yet, a distinctly modern disquiet prowls beneath the surface. Peer deeply, and you’ll find unsettling details: the death-curses of butterflies in spring, a somnambulist’s fear of the dark, a crescent moon glowing eerily in a noontime sky. These subtle elements disrupt the tranquility, hinting at a world teetering on the edge of something unknown.

In these scenes of capricious glooms, somber palettes, velvety textures, and hushed intimacy, one also senses that the sleeper may awaken at any moment, and these menacing monsters and melancholic mysteries? Perhaps we’ve shattered the illusion, and they were never there at all.

Stephen Mackey’s The Sandman can be seen in the pages of The Art of Darkness: A Treasury of the Morbid, Melancholic and Macabre. You can find more of Stephen Mackey’s art over on his Instagram.


Stephen Mackey, The Sandman


Stephen Mackey, The Honey Tears
Stephen Mackey, Music For Night Children


Stephen Mackey, The Mithering


Stephen Mackey, The Thousand and One Afternoons


Stephen Mackey, The Bringing Spell


Stephen Mackey, Introducing The Dark


If you enjoy these art-related writings, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

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Earlier this month, I was one of the co-hosts for Elizabeth/Reading Wryly’s Midnight Society Book Club, and in her introduction of us, she mentioned I was someone she admired for actively “romanticizing my life.” And that surprised me because I don’t think of myself as someone who does that. But that’s the thing…I don’t think about it. When I paused to ponder for a moment, it occurred to me that, sure, of course, that’s exactly what I do! I’ve just been doing it so long that I never even considered it was a “thing,” let alone a thing I spent time doing.

I’m not even sure I understand what it means to “romanticize your life,” but for me, I think that looks like taking the things I do every day and just making them more…special, I guess? I’ve always wanted to live a life that looked like the pictures in my late grandmother’s Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cookbook. I think a lot of us have those formative memories of what we think/hope adult life is supposed to look like, and somewhere along the way, we realize, nope, adult life is ugly chaos– and that you’ve got to actually work to make it look like a scallop-tiered, charming cupcake cutie carousel. And really, that’s all I am doing. Trying to conjure meringue-frosted, angel food cake feelings as I go about my daily experiences.

At least on the surface, that’s what it looks like I am doing. But then I thought about it some more…

In my early twenties, I was living in a tiny, crappy Daytona Beach riverside apartment; fifteen minutes away was the enormous racetrack that NASCAR fans flocked to, and a two-minute walk away was the Boothill Saloon, where the bikers congregated during bike week. Compound that with living directly in the middle of a tacky spring break town, and you could definitely say I did not feel like I was living the most elegant of lifestyles. At that time, I was in community college, I was working dead-end part-time jobs, my boyfriend was a flaky musician who was involved with some shady stuff with his brother, and they would both disappear for days on end. I was constantly broke, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and I was constantly living with the disappointment and dread that I was going nowhere fast–and I didn’t know the first thing to do about it.

My baby sister and I would sometimes meet up at our local Barnes and Noble, scrape our money together to buy a few coffee drinks in the cafe, and look at beautiful books. We wanted to “live elegantly.” We wanted to create spaces for ourselves that felt not only safe and comfortable but fulfilled that longing to be living a life that felt special, somehow. It wasn’t enough to be living in a world where we were barely scraping by; we knew there was beauty in the universe, and we wanted our fingers on the pulse of it.

And I could, I could really feel that haunting tug of loveliness in the world…but it was just beyond my grasp, constantly dancing outside my periphery and I could never sustain it. Because lived right on the river, where there was a little dock jutting out from the crusty parking lot in the back of the building. Whenever I’d park under the crumbling carport after work in the evening, I’d pause a moment before heading up the dim, narrow staircase to our one-bedroom apartment with the janky AC that was broken more often than not, and just watch the sun reflecting off the water, glittering wildly like a handful of carelessly tossed coins. I lived for that moment, and I wanted more. But I didn’t know where to find it. So, that’s where the books and Barnes and Noble came in. We would sit there for hours reading books we couldn’t afford (we spent our money on the coffee!) And we dreamed.

Two books in particular I remember from this time are Alexandra Stoddard’s Living A Beautiful Life and Living Juicy by Sark. They must have been gifts, either from my family or the members of the poetry society I was part of at college. They have been savagely well-loved over the years, even though something inside me rebelled against Sark with her bright colors and relentlessly cheery affirmations!

Circumstances changed, and a decade or so later, I found myself in New Jersey! Despite working two jobs to pay rent, I had no friends and very little in the way of social life, so I found myself with a lot of time on my hands. This is when I truly began to take notice of and appreciate art and music; I spent a lot of time on Tumblr, curating an ongoing gallery of eyeball-pleasing things, and, constantly seeking new sounds and eager to share them, I would make weekly playlists over at 8tracks. I frequented the MakeupAlley and BPAL forums and became more and more fascinated with fragrance. It was the heyday of food blogs and knitting blogs, so I was forever trying new recipes and patterns, and just blogs, in general, were feeding my curiosity and appetite for learning about new and intriguing things. This was when I moved my blogging from Live Journal to something I built and hosted myself so that I could write about and photograph all of the things I was reading, watching, baking, and listening to, in a way that felt more personalized, that I had more ownership of.

My photography skills were abysmal, and many years later, they are not all that much better, but it was in the attempt to capture images of all the things I had made that I began paying more attention to how they looked. And they didn’t look anything like those Betty Crocker cookbooks! So I kept trying! I still don’t have an eye for balance or symmetry or lighting or perspective, but if nothing else, I think have an eye for detail, and a “more is more” instinct that gives my images a sort of special je ne sais quoi, even if they are not technically great pieces of art. During that time, I had a lot of fun creating little “Adornment Tableaux,” where I would try to artfully arrange and photograph my jewelry and perfume for the day.

I was sad and lonely a lot, and I was in a shitty, abusive relationship with a shitty, awful person…but I had a burgeoning perfume and art collection, I could escape into books and movies, and came to know the terrible joy of throwing oneself into their writing. I took long, long walks in autumnal graveyards and frozen river strolls and immersed myself in neighborhood explosions of spring florals. I experienced what beauty I could, and I survived.

Time flies! Another decade has passed! I am back in Florida. Daytona-adjacent again. But I have now got a partner who is loving and encouraging of my hobbies (which is great because not only do I no longer have to hide them, I have got someone who will actually offer to help me!), and I do not have to pay the rent all by myself, so now I have a bit of discretionary income. My collections of beautiful things grow, and I grow tiny followings on social media sharing these things. My mother gets cancer and dies a year later. My grandfather dies two summers after that. Two years later, the day after Valentine’s Day, my grandmother passes away as well. A lot of turmoil and sadness in a few short years. Still, I have my sisters, and I have Yvan, and I have late summer roses and the ocean at sunrise on New Year’s Day, and I have so many artists, old and new, that I am learning about and obsessing over and interviewing and writing about.

And then I am signing a contract to write a book about some of that art! And then the world goes weird and sick and sideways. People are unwell and dying, and we are quarantining ourselves away for a long time from everyone, even those we know and love best in the world. Now I have more time than ever before. I don’t have to cancel plans in a moment of introverted panic; plans never got made in the first place. We live like this for a year and a half.  My first book is released at the height of the pandemic. Within the next six months, I am contracted to write another. And then another.

During this time, there is also a lot of baking and and growing and knitting–and the arranging prettily and immortalizing the results of these things.  I continue to share them, and to write about them, even though I never know if anyone is listening or if it is just so much throwing flowers into the void. In 2022, with nothing tying us to the area anymore, we decided it would be smart to move closer to Yvan’s parents. They are getting on in years, and it would be better if we were nearby. We pack up house and move two hours north. I collect assorted blooms from our ragtag little gardens and jam them into a McDonald’s cup as we drive away from our old neighborhood for the last time.

We’ve now been in this new house for almost two years. It’s too big for us, so we’ve filled it with too much junk. It’s draped in perpetual twilight, and all of our indoor plants die… which is just as well because we’ve got a hyper-strict HOA and we have to spend all of our time outside trimming, mowing, raking, sweeping. It’s been one thing after another, constant chaos. We’ve had to remove trees because they were growing under the house the the roots were breaking up the garage floor. We had to have the entire house’s worth of ductwork replaced. We are redoing the flooring by replacing all of the nasty carpets with wood (or woody bits; I don’t know the difference) at the same time as knocking down walls and building closets, so all of the stuff and furniture at one end of the house has all been stuffed into the other end of the house, and it’s a big, dusty, messy mess. As someone who loves the safety and comfort of home, this has neither felt comfortable nor 100% safe, and all in all, it’s most unlovely. I was joking with Yvan the other day that the only way I have made it through the past three months is by just disassociating entirely. I was mostly not joking.

But what also got me through it is remembering all of the other things I got through to get here. And here, for all its messiness, is a really good place to be. And to be in this good place with such a good person by my side? I never thought that would be me. Sad, scared 21-year-old me looking out over the Halifax river, wishing for another kind of life, or really, any kind of life at all–she had no idea. 28-year-old me was going to have to go through a lot of shit to get here, too. 20-years later-me gets it. Maybe? But 47-going-on-48-year-old me recognizes the hubris in saying such a thing, too!

I have cultivated a life rich in experience, even when the circumstances weren’t ideal. My story hasn’t been about curating some pristine pretense of perfection, like those retro tableclothed displays of fake cakes–it’s about acknowledging the messiness and finding the poetry within it. I still don’t actually properly know what it means to “romanticize your life.” (Sort of like I never figured out what people are getting up to when they do “shadow work.” Like, I know we have to explore and integrate our wounds and traumas and whatnot, but HOW?!) But I reckon, at least for me, viewing your life through this lens of the romantic has to do with using your dreams as guiding stars, your darkness as a catalyst, and finding a light in the cracks. Finding solace in art, writing, and the beauty of nature; channeling creativity through the darkness. The quiet joy of everyday moments that become infused with a touch of the extraordinary through the active practice of those creative rituals.

Those cookbooks and early Barnes and Noble dreams fueled a lifelong quest for beauty, a journey that unearthed glittering moments in the most unexpected places – a sunset on a river, a meticulously arranged perfume tray. Even during dark times, the embers of that yearning for those moments glowed, transforming sadness and loss into art, stories, and photographs. My life may never resemble a picture-perfect still life, but it’s a weird, wild, wonky knit stitched from experience, resilience, a big imagination, and a healthy dose of accidental romanticism. And that, I believe, is a story worth sharing. Whether anyone is reading, watching, or caring at all.

If a seed is thrown into the void and no one is there to catch it on the other side, does it still bloom? I’ve dreamed these flowers my whole life. They’re waiting for me.

If you enjoy this navel-gazing nonsense, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

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“Flacon de Parfum” costume designs attributed to “Madeleine Vilpelle” for a French music hall 

Over on TikTok this month, I shared a not-quite-a-review for a bland freebie from Sephora that actually gave me a lot to think about; I share a “get to know me in 10 perfumes“; and I give a peek into how I store my myriad perfume samples. And below are a handful of the things I smelled this month!

19.1 Neroli Ad Astra by Pierre Guillaume Paris is a galactic striptease performed by a dazzling spectacle of radiant holographic beings. ​​The opening is a burst of effervescent pear, the fruity flamboyant fizz of a champagne fountain in zero gravity. Showstopping neroli swoops in, opulent, heady with a teasing coolness, like a sheen of ice crystals on silvery spacesuit pasties reflecting the glitter and glare of a distant sun. There’s a green velvet gloved graze of herbaceous, rose-tinged geranium, a coy peep at jasmine’s rich floral sweetness, and the low cosmic hum of a soft, deep musk, anchoring the fragrance even as it reaches for the stars, a celestial burlesque performance amongst the glimmering expanse of forever.

RE: Tóor Tóor by Régime des Fleurs, usually, it’s a bit fraught with this brand; it’s an “oh, PLEASE, don’t be good!” ordeal because they are usually too good and TOO expensive. But. I needn’t have worried this time. I’m still in the early stages of trying it out, but my immediate and initial thoughts are that it’s like a vampire with a bizarre sweet tooth stumbled into a Precious Moment gift shop and drained all the sugary charm out of a figurine, leaving behind this twee, creepy, bloodless husk at the bottom of the trash bin, slowly dissolving in a puddle of garbage juice. The predominant notes of this unfortunate incident are of this anemic citrus and a wan, powdery floral, and the strange cloying rot, spoiled nectar, and sour candied sewage of something that might have been cute, once? Like the undead remains of a Sanrio character, maybe? I don’t know but it’s not good! Seems like my wallet is safe from you this time, Régime des Fleurs.

Annacamento from Toskovat is a fragrance that I have a difficult time picking the notes apart, but the overall creation is one that resonates with every fiber of my being. How could it not, with the melancholic poetry of its description referencing a kid seeing the sea for the first time…or maybe an adult seeing it for the last, and the observation that “If you look back at that beauty, you’ve most likely already lost it.” This sentiment reminds me of another similar one that I loved, evoking the fleeting purity of a moment, wherein Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, the narrator opines, “Beauty consists of its own passing, just as we reach for it.” The ingredients list citrusy elements in the form of fruits and herbs and a handful of bakery case items, alongside various woods and marine botanicals- and its overall impression is of a faint, sad sweetness that’s also somehow… not exactly fresh and not quite clean but some secret third thing that’s somehow adjacent. It’s a bittersweet dream you once had of sitting by the ocean and eating a small, cold dish of ice cream as the skies darkened to grey with the promise of rain on the horizon. As the tide rolls in, you realize that the dampness on your cheeks is not the brine of salty seaspray but streaks of drying tears, though you had no idea you were weeping or why that might have been.

Copal Azur from Aedes de Venustas  is a prophecy rustling on the wind, woven from copal and frankincense fumes that billow from temples guarding secrets older than gods. Meditate on these vapors of incense and antiquity, and you’ll find it’s a salty, bittersweet paradox, a wisp of sacrificial smoke laced with the unexpected sweetness of caramelized ambers. A sacred offering – a glistening, balsamic lacquered glaze burnishing a forgotten feast, a tang of something primal, both savory and sweet. A taste of eternity, a sticky fever dream forgotten ritual, clinging to your ribs long after the final swallow. The jungle itself seems to hold its breath as explorers, trespassers who believe they understand the weight of the past, navigate its sun-dappled heart toward the source of the scent. The air hangs heavy with it, a fat, golden sigh that twists through the foliage–which, wary of the intrusion, whispers not of secrets but of warnings from the dusty pages of history, hinting at unknown chapters these interlopers were never meant to be a part of. A golden condor soars overhead, its wings brushing against this intoxicating residue; it, too, is aloft on a dream of following the path of the setting sun.

Benjoin Boheme from Diptyque unfurls like a clinging veil of memory, a scarred ridge of sepia dreamscape where an ache of memories and ancestral yearning shimmers at the edges of perception. The heady, honeyed sweetness of balsam, benzoin, and amber mingles with the dry herbal whisper of rockrose, but it’s a displaced, disconnected twinge of borrowed nostalgia –it’s not yours, it doesn’t belong to you, this dusty incense of melancholic longing, and yet it’s tethered close, entangled with damp, earthy tendrils of patchouli and a woodsy musk,  Beneath it all, a static unease hums like the feel of cobwebs brushing against the skin, like your reflection as it fades into the darkness behind you, like glimpsing the subject of a gauzy, blurred antique photograph and looking closer only to discover your own eyes gazing back at you from across time.

Dirty Rice from Born to Stand Out conjures a gorgeously lensed photo of aspirational bathtime, a clawfoot tub of opaque opalescent milky bathwater (but not in a Saltburn way; this is more like a meticulously curated, aesthetically pleasing Pinterest board of self-care fantasy photo milky bathwater kind of way) with hundreds of fresh, soft petals floating on the surface. It’s the woody-floral sandalwood bath salts perfuming the water, the sweet, creamy almond musk of soaped skin, and the intimate warmth of steamed air. It smells of subtle indulgence and casual luxury.

From Poesie’s Weekend in Paris discovery set

Au Vieux Paris opens with a gentle wisp of coffee, not the spine-straightening jolt of a morning brew, but the lingering aroma after a long afternoon spent in conversation. It’s the ghost of a perfect cup. As the fragrance settles, a delightful treat emerges – the unmistakable tang and sweetness of a homemade preserve, something like red currant and rosehip jam, filling a barely-there pastry where the real star is the summer-bright, ruby red jelly. In a twist of olfactive alchemy, it is no longer the quaint cafe scent of a sip or a bite to savor but the elegant poetry of a classically beautiful perfume wafting from a sophisticated shop window. It’s a wearable memory that captures the essence of an ambrosial Parisian afternoon in a single, unforgettable drop.

Champs Elysées is a scent for those who see the world through rose-colored, cat-shaped spectacles. In alternate reality Paris, there is a tearoom where you’re urged to give a soft, secret handshake to a sentient cloud of cherry blossoms. Puffs of petals clinging to your fingers, you’re whisked through a tiny rose-trellised door to a pastel Hello Kitty wonderland, where you’re immediately greeted with a towering plate of buttercream sandwiched macarons in every shade of rose quartz and baby pink. A mismatched porcelain tea service is spread before you, mischievously clattering cups of pink lemonade and strawberry milk tea. You realize with a sip that you don’t need a single cube of sugar.

La Vie en Rose — Cicely Mary Barker, as far as I can tell, never illustrated a peony version of her flower fairies, but that’s what I envision with this fragrance, especially since pear and rose notes together in a fragrance always brings to mind the dewy floating floral of peony blossoms in a way that’s both bright and delicate, rosy and soft, with the ephemeral fizz of a spring breeze. If that flower fairy existed, and if she were taking along a signature scent for her weekend in Paris, she would smell of La Vie En Rose.

Marché aux Fleurs is the embodiment of when people say “stop glamorizing the grind and start glamorizing whatever this is” and what it is is Frog and Toad dressed in their dapper corduroy best, perusing a riotous profusion of blooms in a Parisian flower market, little webbed feet slipping through slick cobblestone puddles on a drizzly spring afternoon.

Montmartre, a clandestine gem in this collection, embodies a twilight tryst beneath the city’s soft glow. A whisper of stolen moments, the soft musky warmth of a forbidden embrace, the bitter mystery of absinthe kisses, and the provocative perfume of hidden gardens revealing itself in the illicit magic of secret thrills.

Rue Saint-Honoré – Imagine a Parisian fashion week gone deliciously astray. Step through the portal of an elegant oaken wardrobe onto a runway where the cashmere is woven from brittle threads of vanilla honeycomb, the leather-look boots are actually carved from warm, toasty hazelnuts, and the tiny details on the lavishly embellished clutches are intricate burnt sugar swirls. Would you believe this decadent spectacle fits cozily into an aromatic sandalwood box? “Bite-size haute couture gourmand-adjacent opulence” is a mouthful of a summation for this fashion statement in the whiff of extravagant indulgence.

And finally, I have a little sampler from Dark Tales Perfumery. I ordered a few of the usual suspects I know I will like, woody, incense, or green stuff, and so far I have only tried one: Medieval has notes of lavender, some other florals, black musk, sandalwood, and myrrh. I think the lavender and musk give it a slightly leathery quality, but overall, it paints a shadowbox woodland picture in shades of gray, etched with something desperately melancholic, like this excerpt from Barry Eric Odell Pain’s poem, Ainigmata: 

What could they tell us? We see them ever—
The trees and the sky and the stretch of the land;
But they give us a word of their secret never;
They tell no story we understand.
Yet haply the ghost-like birch out yonder
Knows much in a placid and silent way;
The rain might tell what the grey clouds ponder,
The winds repeat what the violets say.

If you like this kind of somewhat gloomy, dolorous poetry–which I obviously do–this poem goes on and on, you should look it up.  But alternatively, if John Koenig’s Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows had a scent, it would 1000% be this.


If you enjoy these fragrant musings, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

…or support me on Patreon!


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Far Away Tended In Darkness, Jason Mowry

I have been meaning for several months (maybe almost a year now? Le whoopsie!) to continue my “spotlight” series on the incredible contemporary artists that have allowed me to include their gorgeous creations in my books.

Today celebrates a return to that practice and delivering on that promise to myself with a further look the languid dreams and unsettling poetry of Jason Mowry’s artworks. Jason’s splendid watercolor and gouache canvas, “The Sphinx, the Substance and the Dreamer,” can be seen in The Art of Fantasy: A Visual Sourcebook Of All That Is Unreal.

The Sphinx, the substance and the dreamer, Jason Mowry (as seen in The Art of Fantasy)

Expressed in the languid dream of a somber, sumptuous palette and resplendent with atmosphere and emotion, the work of Jason Mowry trembles in a thrillingly familiar way, caught between the border of formal and fantastic. We may not know who these subjects are or what they’re up to, but from the monstrous figures to the human characters that look just like us, there is something in their story that we recognize nonetheless.

These strange, sentimental visions combine myth and legend, personal narrative and symbolic imagery in a visual language that speaks a timeless spell. Mowry’s artistic alchemy bypasses the modern viewer’s analytical safeguards and sings to something ancient and ancestral in the blood. It’s a captivating push-pull quiver between violence and stillness, simplicity and opulence, the familiar and the fantastical.

The Instrument and the Fading Roar, Jason Mowry


Amabie, Jason Mowry

Jason Mowry’s artistic vision draws from a rich tapestry of influences from the Golden Age of fairy tale illustration and its giants like Rackham and Dulac to the dark beauty and natural poetry of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, simmering with primal truths that speak to our fears and desires.

We can feel the shape of this interplay between the fantastical worlds and unsettling narratives in the light and shadows of Mowry’s paintings, and though we may not grasp the entire plot, the emotional undercurrents resonate deeply.


Blessings from the maw, Jason Mowry


Cloaked, Jason Mowry

Raised between the hushed halls of art museums and the vibrant chaos of comic book shops, Mowry’s artistic heritage is a fascinating paradox, embuing the figures he coaxes onto the canvas a captivating duality. They flirt with a formality that reveals classical training, yet their surreal, elongated forms and expressive poses hint at a wildness and wonder born from years spent devouring comic panels.

This tension fuels Mowry’s storytelling. Each piece feels like a glimpse into a larger narrative, a dream told by a dreamer still in the midst of a dream; fraught and frozen, a moment of drama and crisis preserved in amber for one hundred years;  each an oracular murmur of impending psychic annihilation–or a trilling song of complete rebirth.

We are left to wonder, are these figures facing oblivion, or a magnificent metamorphosis? And in connecting to that deep wellspring of grace and thrumming vulnerability within ourselves, what, then, are we capable of?

Fabled Monarch, Jason Mowry


Flora Persona, Jason Mowry


Her teeming coronation, Jason Mowry


Artemis and the Bear, Jason Mowry


Becoming Tears and Hunger, Jason Mowry


Clutch and Catcher, Jason Mowry


Glitter Afresh Forever, Jason Mowry


The Instrument and the Fading Roar, Jason Mowry


The Princess and the Trolls, Jason Mowry


If you enjoy these artsy-fartsy musings, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

…or support me on Patreon!


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I don’t have to look far in my home to find a beautiful item or a gorgeous offering from Roses & Rue. Kate’s meticulously curated antiques house my jewelry and perfumes; they hang from my walls, lurk on my vanity, and one particularly lovely and moody wrought iron piece of vining roses lays casually propped against a wall in my office because I don’t quite know what to do with it, but it’s such a striking visual that I always want it in my line of sight!

An aesthete with a keen eye for detail and a vast knowledge of vintage treasures, Kate has an uncanny knack for finding pieces that whisper mysteries of the past. A chipped porcelain doll with hauntingly absent eyes, a faded painting conveying the cryptic messages of flowers, a deliriously evil inkwell – these are the gems that truly spark the imagination!  Her expertise in antique history ensures each piece has a fascinating tale to tell, adding another layer of intrigue to her collection. One only need  peruse a small sampling of her Instagram stories to quickly learn this is a person of exquisite tastes; every image, whether a film still or a photo of her own collection, is deliciously arranged and luxuriously lensed, and often set to a sumptuous soundtrack, and if you’ve had the delight of chatting with Kate, you’ll know what wit and brilliance she possesses! Truly, she is one of my favorite people under the sun..

…which is why you will not be surprised to learn that the following is her second guest post here at Unquiet Things. Four years ago, she generously shared with us details of her ten favorite antique pieces from her personal collection, and today, she is back to chat with us about some fragrances from her stunning perfume collection. AND she included a playlist! I cannot imagine a more thrilling sentence to have typed out just now, and you don’t even know how excited I am to hit the “publish” button on this post.

Flowers & Flesh: 10 Fragrances from the Collection of Roses & Rue

Sarah and I are like a pair of squawking magpies: Whether it’s a fragrance, a painting, a couture collection, or a piece of 19th-century chinoiserie, our eyes are always drawn to the most beautiful, luxurious things. It was Sarah’s enthusiasm for fragrance that motivated me to explore on my own, so it would be fair to say this extravagant pile of bottles you see before you is entirely her fault. Very soon after arriving at my last day job 5 years ago, I became the go-to staff member for the store’s fragrance line. Someone else on the management team told me I knew so much, they were surprised I’d never sold perfume professionally before. Yet another fragrance fancier told me that my very good nose would make me an excellent evaluator… Heavens, what a dream come true that would be! I think that learning about fragrance is the same as learning about wine: There’s a little science and a little jargon to memorize, but beyond that, it’s simply a matter of trying everything under the sun and figuring out what you like and what you don’t. I’m not an expert- I’m just lowkey obsessed.

Today I’m sharing 10 fragrances in my current rotation. They are mostly amber florals: That’s the scent family that I am always most drawn to, no matter what. I don’t care for green florals much, nor for the dainty soliflores that would have been popular for women during my era of expertise, the 19th century. The fragrances I like best combine a dark floral with something warm and musky and something sweet.

I really loved the question Sarah asked during the last AMA I did in my Instagram stories: She asked me to pair a favorite song with a favorite fragrance I’m currently wearing. I’d already begun this article, anyway, so I was inspired to pick a song for every fragrance. Find the playlist here. 

1. Lorenzo Villoresi: Alamut

I discovered Lorenzo Villoresi only about 5 years ago: A client was wearing his most popular scent, Teint de Neige, and her fragrance suffused the entire floor. Although he’s Italian, Villoresi studied the art of perfume making in the Middle East; his work is very much a marriage of these two cultural sensibilities. Alamut is a complex, amber floral inspired by the epic One Thousand and One Nights. Building on the powdery character of Teint de Neige, which basically smells like the world’s fanciest baby powder, Alamut is a warm scent that is slightly spicy, sensuously warm, and lightly sweet. It’s very gender-neutral and about a million times more interesting than more popular amber scents like the ubiquitous but extremely dull Baccarat Rouge 540.

It truly wears its literary influence on its sleeve, so I couldn’t help but pair it with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” also based on One Thousand and One Nights. The framing device of this collection of Arabic legends is the narration of Scheherazade, who saved her own skin through storytelling: The sultan, having been betrayed by a woman, resolved to marry a different virgin every day and behead her the following morning. Scheherazade survived by telling him a story before bed and stopping in the middle before dawn. By the time she ran out of tales, the sultan had fallen deeply in love with her. She is a woman saved not just by her beauty, but by her wit and her charms.

The violin solo in Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic suite, a classic of 19th-century romanticism, represents the voice of Scheherazade. I love it the way I love mauve roses, embroidered silk, mother-of-pearl inlay, high cheekbones, good tailoring, and expensive perfume. It is everything I find delightful and irresistible in the world. The entire piece is about 50 minutes in four movements; I’ve included just a brief selection from the start of movement 2, “Tale of the Kalendar Prince,” on the playlist.

2. Rogue Perfumery: Jasmin Antique

When I was in my early 20s, my signature scent was Lust from Lush. It used to be the dirtiest, nastiest, most delicious jasmine scent I’d ever met, balanced out by a sweetness that turned heads and awoke libidos wherever I went. Regrettably, it was reformulated several years ago: After buying one final bottle on my lunch break and wondering if I was crazy, a co-worker asked, “Why do you smell like a bath bomb?” Humiliating! I would call it a ylang-ylang bomb, specifically. The ferocious musk component is entirely missing, the jasmine fades immediately; it’s now hideously, sickly sweet.

I searched for a better, more refined replacement for years and almost found it in Serge Lutens’s Sarrasins. This is why it’s so crucial to buy samples and test drive a perfume before committing to a full bottle: Sarrasins was the perfect dupe, but it’s $300 per bottle, the sillage is terrible, and it completely disappears from my skin within an hour. The performance simply wasn’t worth the price, an especially great bummer since I do adore Serge Lutens. I finally found the perfect replacement last September at Scent Bar in New York: Rogue Perfumery’s Jasmin Antique. There’s just enough musk to amp up the indolic, fleshy aspects of the jasmine. This is a jasmine that bares its teeth. It smells like a fevered, illicit tryst, your lover’s sweat mingling with the nightblooming jasmine on the warm, summer air. Wear it to seduce.

I’m pairing it with “My Birdman” by Christine and the Queens, which is the sexiest song I currently can’t stop listening to. This man makes me blush like a 14-year-old girl. I’m going to go out on a limb and presume the title is a Max Ernst reference? Whatever happened to Jamil, I wonder? It sounds like he set the bar pretty high but, Chris, beau gosse, I’m very confident I can clear it.


3. Lvnea: Babylon Rose

As you might guess from a person who put “roses” in her business name, I adore rose scents and have several. There are many, many different kinds of roses: They can smell dainty and delicate, green and fresh, jammy and rich; dark and mysterious… It’s probably obvious that I’m not much of a damask rose girl. I don’t like scents that are too polite; I’m always on the lookout for the exotic. One of the most interesting rose scents I’ve encountered in the last few years is Babylon Rose from Lvnea, which is only available from time to time due to the high cost of the real rose absolute it contains. This one needs at least half an hour to settle down and develop: It opens with a very strong petrichor top note that comes across as quite camphorous at first. This fades gently into the background, supporting the notes of clove, saffron, and black pepper that give this dreamy rose its thorns. Whatever she’s using for attar of oud and musk, this thing is incredibly animalic and dirty. Another big, sexy scent.

Its sonic complement is an early Dead Can Dance track, “Frontier,” a drum-heavy, dizzy number that sounds like a 19th-century painting of an ancient world femme fatale.



4. Serge Lutens: Chergui

Although most of my favorite scents are amber florals, as I’ve been wading more confidently into a genderfluid space, I’ve been exploring scents that read a little more traditionally masculine. (To the contemporary Western nose, anyway: Men all over the world have been wearing florals for thousands of years.) Chergui is an amber tobacco scent that I chose for fall: Its golden notes of sun-kissed hay make it feel like the perfect autumn fragrance for a New Englander who likes tweed. I thought about retiring this for the season, but I’m curious to see what qualities it takes on in the summer: Although it reminds me of fall, the Chergui is actually named after the hot, dry, easterly wind that blows from the Sahara desert into the southernmost parts of Morocco.

With this in mind, the song I chose for it is “Blues Nile” by experimental composer and trumpet player Jon Hassel. His 1977 debut Vernal Equinox is an ambient classic and one of my go-to Hot Weather Albums: It’s a sensuous soundtrack for the kind of heat that’s so oppressive, you can’t do anything besides disrobe and lie down, feeling like a puddle of molasses. His trumpet sounds like it’s drunk.


5. Comme des Garçons: Avignon

Catholic iconography is a staple of my shop and a key way that I express my spirituality, although I am not technically a Catholic. Mine are the kinds of syncretic spiritual ideas that would have gotten me burned at the stake; I like to think I’m training to become a mystic in my old age like Hildegard von Bingen, Alice Coltrane, or Hilma af Klint. I think every Catholic queer needs a good church incense scent, and in terms of mood you can’t do much better than Avignon by Comme des Garçons. It’s part of a series of 3 incense fragrances representing different spiritualties from around the world: Kyoto for Buddhism and Shintoism, Jaisalmer for Hinduism, and Avignon for Catholicism. Really, what I wanted was a fragrance version of my favorite candle, Spiritus Sancti by Trudon, which smells like a pre-Vatican II Easter mass in a stone cathedral full of frankincense smoke and newly opened lilies. I browsed at Scent Bar for a comparable perfume and Avignon was as close as we came. I really love it, but I might not replace the bottle: I blew through it in just about 2 months and wish the sillage were a little better. If anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to know!

I’ve paired it with one of my favorite medieval devotional hymns, “Beata Viscera,” which means “blessed flesh.” It written in the 12th century by French composer Pérotin for the mass celebrating the birth of the Virgin Mary, September 8th on the Catholic calendar. I think you’ll agree it’s devastatingly beautiful.


6. Lubin: L de Lubin

Leave it to me to walk into a perfume store without any ideas and to walk out with a genuine, disco- era fragrance. One of three vintage perfumes on my list, L by Lubin is a heady, sweaty floral first manufactured in 1974 and favored by darlings of the disco scene. I swear, I didn’t know this until I got it home and read the description on the back. I have surprised, perplexed, and even alienated some folks with my love for disco, which feels like a hard-left turn for those whose musical tastes tread water in the shallows dominated by Joy Division revival bands. Disco gets a bad rep: I thought it was all ABBA, goofy dance moves, and ugly polyester. Nobody told me that disco was a Black, Latinx, and queer underground movement that was quickly appropriated by the mainstream and turned into something awful. Turns out that disco is a lot less about ABBA & Saturday Night Fever and a lot more about hot gay people sweating in Paco Robanne. What sold me on L de Lubin is its earthy heart that reminds me of a very nice but too expensive rose chypre, Rose de Nuit by Serge Lutens (a name which haunts this list like a spectre). L de Lubin has a lot more going on: More flowers, spices, and bright notes of citrus.

I’m picking two songs for each of these “historical” fragrances on the list: One that best embodies the fragrance’s mood for me and another that was released the very same year, to place the perfume in its cultural context. “It Looks Like Love” is one of my favorite, girly, flirty disco bops. I know absolutely nothing about the artist, Goody Goody. I can’t even recommend any other of their songs. I just know it puts me in a cheerful mood. Being a huge P-funk fan, I’m delighted to have found a song from the very first Parliament record that fits: “The Goose” is a shamelessly sexy groove that I hope makes you think twice about dance music from this era. If you don’t like disco, don’t worry: George Clinton didn’t either. Try funk instead.


7. Santa Maria Novella: Rosa

I was first drawn to Santa Maria Novella for its remarkable history: It’s the oldest, continuously operating apothecary in the world. It was founded in 1211 by Dominican friars, who sustained their convent by selling all manner of fragrances and medicines from their garden. They made perfume for the Medicis. Although I love all their products, I’ve found the longevity of their fragrances very hit or miss: Each one is incredibly true to life, but they diminish almost completely within an hour. Again, I strongly recommend buying samples and testing the fragrances for at least a day to see how they perform on your skin before buying a full bottle. Thankfully, their Rosa perfume, my favorite rose soliflore that I own, is an absolute powerhouse. Not for the shy or faint of heart: Its sillage is ENORMOUS. Prepare to smell like the Red Queen’s entire rose garden parading down the street. These are rich, fruity, intense centifolia roses. Uplifted by a hint of citrus in the top notes and grounded by patchouli and cedar, the fragrance gives the impression of the entire plant: Petals, woody thorns, and green leaves. It makes a great base if you like to layer your fragrances: You could skew this scent in several interesting directions if you added musk, leather, oud, amber, more citrus, or more flowers.

There’s something about this scent that reads as quintessentially Italian to me, so I’ve paired it with a track by one of the great Italian songstresses, Katyna Ranieri. Spritz a little Rosa, put on “Sensualidad,” have a seat at your favorite outdoor café, and pretend you’re in a Fellini movie.

8. Diptyque: Fleur de peau

I picked this up one day on a whim simply because I don’t have anything else in my fragrance collection quite like it. What can I say? I started my musk journey on a very small, timid scale: Diptyque’s Fleur de peau (flower of skin; sounds nicer in French) is basically just a soft blend of iris and musk. I might not replace it once it’s gone: I think I’m ready for something a little more forward and bold when it comes to musk. This said, it did earn me a compliment from another girl at an annual white elephant sale at a local convent. She was very demurely dressed but looked quite curious, even more so when I told her the perfume’s name. She blushed and told me it was lovely. I hope I gave her a few bad ideas.

I’ve chosen as its song companion Leonard Cohen’s “I’m Your Man:” It’s sexy in a soft, gently insinuating, but nevertheless insistent way. Like Cohen’s voice, this is a musk that purrs.


9. Dior: Poison

An extremely loud, bombastic, polarizing classic, Dior’s Poison might be the best-known but most offensive fragrance on this list. To me, it represents everything that was the decadence of the 1980s. I have both a contemporary and vintage formulation of this: Definitely spring for an old bottle if you can. They are fairly common wherever secondhand goods are sold. I picked up by bottle for only $10 and it’s much more well-rounded than its current formulation, which fizzles down to a rather generic, spicy vanilla after a while. Poison blends a bouquet of queenly flowers with wild berries and dark plum, while anise, coriander, musk, sandalwood, and cedar lend it a dark, narcotic undercurrent. I rarely wear anything this fruity but it never veers into dreaded gourmand territory. I’ll be retiring this one soon: It’s resolutely a winter fragrance; I think it might actually be discourteous to wear it in summer. It comes alive in the bitter, winter air, transforming you into the formidable snow queen of your wildest fairytale dreams.

Hence, I’ve paired it with “Ice,” a spellbinding track from the soundtrack of Sally Potter’s Orlando. Your historical song from the year of Poison’s release, 1985, is “Boys and Girls” by Bryan Ferry. Nothing says 80s bombast quite like a cheesey saxophone and Bryan Ferry’s white suits- a whole mood.

10. Gayle Haymon: Delicious

I tested this when I found it at an antique store because the bottle looked so absolutely fucking stupid I couldn’t resist. I am astounded that I like it: Yet another amber floral, but it’s a 90s perfume through and through; I usually never like anything this… Sunny? But it makes me feel nostalgic for the fantasies of womanhood I aspired to when I was a little girl flipping through fashion magazines: Versace and Chanel dresses, big, side-swept hair, juicy red lips; skanky little pointed-toe pumps. It was a god-tier decade for the bimbo aesthetic; the 90s elevated her to very elegant, ladylike heights. A slightly more sentimental reason for its appeal is that the star floral here is mimosa: I grew up fascinated by a number of gold perfume bottles from Fragonard that my grandfather brought home to my mother from a trip to France. The mimosa fragrance was always my favorite; in fact I stole it and used to rub small amounts onto my lightbulbs with a cotton bulb to perfume the room.

Your track for this one is Mylene Farmer’s “Je t’aime mélancolie,” which embodies everything about that 90s high femme aesthetic I described. Your historical track from the year of the perfume’s release, 1994, is just as perfect a fit: “Secret” by Madonna, a favorite song since childhood.

11. Le Labo: Lys 41 (EDIT: Kate was so into writing this that there are actually eleven fragrances on this list, and man, I find this overachieving enthusiasm so wildly, hilariously marvelous and relatable on a soul-deep level. I love you dearly, my friend!)

Le Labo gets a lot of flak in the perfume world. Look, I get it: Is it too expensive? Yes. Does the fragrance ever match the name on the bottle? Nope. Are there better perfumers out there? Absolutely. Nevertheless, Lys 41 was love at first sniff. When Poison gets relegated to the back of the cabinet for the season, Lys 41 will take its place. It’s a tremendous white flower bomb: Florist-fresh lilies, jasmine, and tuberose, rounded out with vanilla and musk. Tuberose is one of my favorite florals and like rose (a different flower entirely, thank you very much), it can bend in several different directions: It can be creamy and sweet, fleshy and indolic, green, or even beachy like coconuts and sunscreen. I think this would be a great intro tuberose fragrance for someone: It’s very true to the actual flower. If you keep your empty bottle from Le Labo and bring it back to the store, they will refill it for you at 20% off, which brings the perfume down to a reasonable price.

I’ve paired it with one of my favorite songs that reminds me most of spring: “Your Dream,” a 1973 psychedelic pop track by South Korean artist Kim Jung Mi.

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11 Mar

Marie Antoinette, 2006

As winter’s grip weakens and the days stretch ever so slightly longer, I haven’t been over here hibernating –  far from it! Instead, nights (and mornings, and a few minutes here and there during workday Team meetings, if I am being honest) have been lit by the flickering glow of my Kindle and the pages of some unforgettable stories. From spine-tingling chills to pulse-pounding thrillers, and speculative fiction that will make your reality wobble at the edges, this reading stack for the past few months has been brimming with treasures that I am, of course, compelled to share.

This, my fellow bookworms, marks the glorious return of Stacked for 2024! So, grab a steaming mug of something fortifying, settle in by your preferred source of illumination, and let’s delve into all the things I have read in January, February, and the first few weeks in March.

 My Husband by Maud Ventura In this slice of life domestic thriller, a woman suspects her husband does not love her as much as she loves him, and punishes him accordingly. I was a cohost over at the Midnight Society Bookclub over on YouTube for this one a few weeks ago, and we get into a more in-depth discussion about it if you want to hear more! Plus I am wearing a very great and cozy cardigan which I think deserves its moment in the spotlight because it is SO good.

Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield The ocean floor holds its secrets close, and Leah, returned from the abyss silent and strange, carries them with her whole being.  Miri, adrift in the wreckage of their love, desperately grasps for answers, but the truth might be more monstrous than the silence. This was a shimmeringly unsettling read that drowns you in more questions than answers really; I find those to be my favorite stories.

Mona by Pola Oloixarac Haunted by the specter of her unfinished second novel and the tantalizing possibility of a prestigious literary award, Mona, a Peruvian writer with a penchant for self-invention and self-destructive recklessness, embarks on a journey from sunny Californa to the chilly lakeside of a Swedish literary festival.  Along the way, she encounters a surreal cast of characters, both vibrant and unsettling. (PS horny warning)

Useless Magic by Florence Welch There’s really not much to say about this one, it’s just a beautiful book of song lyrics and poetry. I read a digital version from the library, and I think I missed out on having a physical copy in my hands. There were photographs and loads of beautiful scraps of snippets of imagery, with many pages embellished by William Morris designs and motifs, lots of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and similar things in that vein–even a Vali Myers portrait! Which gave me an idea. If anyone amonst you know a way to get in touch with Florence Welch or her people …I would love to send her copies of all three of my books! Is that a bit cheeky? I don’t know. But I think she would appreciate them.

Midnight on Beacon Street by Emily Ruth Verona In Emily Ruth Verona’s debut novel, the night of October 1993 unfolds into a heart-stopping ordeal of terror. Cool single mom Eleanor leaves her children, Ben and Mira, in the care of anxiety-ridden babysitter Amy. As the night progresses, seemingly innocent activities spiral into a chilling nightmare—unexpected visitors, mysterious calls, and a shocking discovery with young Ben standing in a pool of blood. Drawing inspiration from classic horror films, Verona crafts fun twists,  and keeps readers on edge, but the heart of this thriller is a tale of responsibility to those in our change as well as the profound strength of familial bonds.

The Eyes Are the Best Part by Monica Kim Ji-won’s descent into darkness–fueled by twisted cravings and a simmering rage against a world that’s crumbled around her– is as thrilling as it is disturbing. I questioned my own morals while squirming deliciously in my seat as I devoured this unsettling exploration of family, identity, and monstrous hunger. (via NetGalley)

Love Notes From the Hollow Tree by Jarod K. Anderson  More poetry from the Cryptonaturalist! I mostly really enjoy his musings on the mysterious and extraordinary in the natural world and affirmation of our place in a wild universe through a unique love-lettered lens…although sometimes I do feel it meanders down a schlocky Rupi Kaur path. Still, even if the delivery doesn’t always work for me, I always appreciate the sentiment.

Stay Close by Harlan Coben Suburban facades reveal a festering underbelly where Megan, Ray, and Broome – each burdened by a shadowed past and tangled webs of secrets- find their paths colliding. Soccer moms and psychopaths and hidden depths in seemingly ordinary lives. I think maybe Harlan Coben writes the same story over and over and not only do I keep reading them, I keep watching the Netflix adaptations as well. Somebody, please stop me.

Revelator by Daryl Gregory In the Appalachian backwoods,  a bootlegger named Stella wrestles with the weight of her lineage as she returns home to confront a chilling legacy –an ancient entity called “Ghostdaddy.” This haunting blend of Southern Gothic mystery and simmering family drama was one of the first things I read this year, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! Even as I type these words, I realize how very out of order this list is.

Mothman Apologia by Robert Wood Lynn Dive into the twilight of the Shenandoah Valley with poet Robert Wood Lynn, where the cryptid of legend becomes a poignant symbol of grief, love, and the echoes of loss resonating through a community grappling with addiction and its far-reaching, deeply troubling scars.

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee A historical epic with a few operatic twists, more than several dashes of intrigue, and a heroine who sheds identities as often as normal people change their underwear, this book of a farm girl’s journey to Parisian courtesan and iconic opera star somehow took me four months to read. The prose was lush, the protagonist cunning and captivating, and overall I can say that I had a good time with the book, but for some reason I couldn’t sit with it for very long on any single occasion? Was it too intense? I don’t think it was that. I can’t put my finger on it. I’d be curious to hear what you thought of this one, if you read it.

The Husbands by Chandler Baker If you ever felt your blood pressure about to explode after watching The Stepford Wives or any adjacent material, this might be the book for you. In The Husbands, attorney Nora Spangler’s exploration of the seemingly utopian community within an exclusive neighborhood takes a dangerous turn as she delves deeper into a lawsuit that might involve murder while also trying to ingratiate herself into the HOA and buy a home and then finds herself in the midst of the hidden secrets and power struggles. Oh, and of course, she is doing all of this while being a wife and mother and taking care of a home and holding down a full-time job, and all of the ceaseless, thankless struggles that accompany those roles! As Nora unravels the mysteries surrounding the community’s dynamics, she finds herself entangled in other people’s business to a degree she could not have foreseen–and that business turns out to be much more bizarre –and perilous– than she could have possibly anticipated.


Interview with a Vampire, 1994

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen If you liked the bleak humor and outsider perspective of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Loga Tokarczuk, I think you’ll enjoy Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch  where a 17th-century herbalist accused of witchcraft navigates small-town paranoia and the absurd logic of witch trials with a sharp wit and wild wisdom.

Dead Silence by SA Barnes Dr. Ophelia Bray, a psychologist specializing in a space-induced psychosis known as ERS (and who is also burdened by its looming specter in her family history) joins a small crew tasked with a seemingly routine exploration of an abandoned alien planet. However, beneath the mission’s scientific veneer lurks a sinister agenda, and Ophelia soon finds herself entangled in a web of secrets held tight by her motley band of untrustworthy crewmates. As they investigate the mysteries of the derelict planet and its buried civilization, tensions rise, a crew member meets a gruesome end, and Ophelia’s worst nightmare unfolds as she puzzles with whether this is the descent into madness she has long feared or is there something far more sinister at play? Ghost Station was a gripping sci-fi horror adventure much like the author’s previous offering, and what elevated it, in my opinion, was that though it skirted around a burgeoning romantic element, it thankfully did not involve as much of that sort of thing as Dead Silence did. (via NetGalley)

The Main Character by Jaclyn Goldis Rory is gifted with a lavish trip on the Orient Express through Italy, a reward from literary diva Ginevra Ex for her participation in her unorthodox writing process. But there’s a twist – she’s not the only one aboard. Her brother, best friend, even her ex-fiancé – all Ginevra’s guests, all harboring secrets and agendas. Each among the quartet is given drafts of the author’s forthcoming book, for which they were all interviewed extensively, as part of Ginevra’s rituals for fleshing out her “main character.” We experience the trip through each of their perspectives, and as the train rolls along, the intrigue picks up as we realize that even the secrets we thought we were privy to begin to twist in unexpected ways and lead to new revelations. Rory increasingly supects that she is much more than a mere muse to Ginevra and that no one, even those she loves dearest, are being honest with her. I thoroughly enjoyed this thrilling romp filled with history, glamorous travel, and juicy family drama. (via NetGalley)

Everyone Who Can Forgive Me Is Dead by Jenny Hollander There was a lot about this story, as well as the characters and their behaviors, that just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but overall, I thought this was a real page-turner of a thriller in what is fast becoming one of my favorite trashy genres, let’s call it “annoyingly successful and attractive 20-somethings perfect lives disrupted by that whoopsie of a decade-old university murder and how you can’t forget/self-medicate/bury/whatever the past.” (via NetGalley)

BTTM FDRS by Ezra Clayton Daniels and Ben Passmore Last year I read Out There Screaming, Jordan Peele’s anthology of Black horror, and while I really loved most every story included, my favorite was by a writer named Ezra Clayton Daniels. I forget what the particular story was called, but there was a man who was visiting his family, and some shit quietly started to happen. I know that’s not a great description, but I can barely remember the details of a story I read yesterday, let alone six months ago. Anyhow, I wanted to find some more things this author has had a hand in, and that’s how I found BTTM FDRS, a gross, grisly, but also funny and goofy, and at times poignant graphic novel about an urban haunting but also gentrification, hip hop, and cultural appropriation.

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam A weekend getaway for Amanda and Clay’s family curdles into a nightmare when Ruth and G.H., the owners of the luxurious rental, return with news of an unseen apocalypse. Huddled in the opulent yet isolating house, the lines between host and guest, privilege and precarity, blur as fear simmers and tensions fester. Crackling with tension and a suffocating atmosphere, where the unknown outside isn’t the only threat, we confront uncomfortable truths about power, class, and the fragility of our constructed realities.

How to Restore a Timeline: On Violence and Memory by Peter Counter Peter Counter’s world shatters on a Costa Rican pier, his father’s blood staining a family vacation, and his own memory fracturing. Trauma becomes a kaleidoscope, where pop culture fragments mingle with the shrapnel of personal tragedy and, in some instances, rend the very fabric of time. “How to Restore a Timeline” is a gut punch of a memoir and not always a comfortable read, but I always thoroughly enjoy Peter Counter’s excellent writing on pop culture and horror and the parallels he draws or connections he makes between those things, and trauma and grief, or social issues, and or philosophical notions—these tangled musings are very much my cup of tea. Even so, I did not expect to find a chapter about Dragonball Z, an anime series I have literally not seen a single episode of, as poignant and inspiring as I did. That’s the hallmark of an incredible writer, I think. To make you give a shit about things you previously never spent a single second thinking about.

Everyone Is Watching by Heather Gudenkauf   Five contestants have received a mysterious email and an invitation to compete on the new game show, One Lucky Winner (think Big Brother meets Squid Game, but the contestants don’t know that yet!) The Best Friend. The Confidante. The Senator. The Boyfriend.The Exec. This seemingly randomly chosen quintet will compete for a prize of $10 million after a series of challenges–live-streamed to millions and millions of viewers around the world. Gathered together at a secluded estate in Northern California, the five embark on a series of challenges that test their fortitude and capabilities, both mental and physical–and in the course of these battles of wits and prowess, it soon becomes clear who among them is willing to be ruthless, even murderous, and that for all of them perhaps–it’s a fight for their lives. But who is the mastermind behind the show, what are their motivations, and to what end is this game being played out? The dramatic reality show element, along with the complex character dynamics, made for a riveting, fast-paced mystery that I couldn’t put down. (via NetGalley)

Penance by Eliza Clark In Penance, we descend with ghoulishly unscrupulous journalist Alec Z. Carelli into a Yorkshire town scarred by the immolation of Joan Wilson, a monstrous act perpetrated by her classmates.  A decade later, he unearths the story: witness accounts, broken families, and chilling exchanges with the perpetrators. Clark dissects dark truths about gender, class, and power, and the relationship between truth and the media’s true-crime obsession. As compulsively readable as it is horrific, what I find even more fascinating is how Penance explores the digital age’s grip on these teens, the online pressures shaping their lives, and blurring their real selves with their projected online personas. A chilling reflection of our hyper-connected world, “Penance” forces us to confront the dark intersection of real crimes and the digital shadows they cast. Readers who tend to skip long passages of extraneous-feeling information, take note–there’s a lot of journalistic diving into the history and lore of the town, socially and geographically, that might trigger your “ok, we’re done here” page-turning finger.

The Mobius Strip Club of Grief by Bianca Stone is a collection, and I am being lazy by taking this straight from the Amazon description, which “takes place in a burlesque purgatory,” a sort of labyrinthine underworld where the poet confronts and investigates complicated family relationships “in the hopes of breaking the never-ending cycle of grief.” It’s a clever idea that works sometimes until it doesn’t; it feels more like a creative concept that’s getting old, but the poet committed to it, so they are gritting their teeth and powering through. I found the poems that didn’t hew so closely to the strip club idea were the ones that affected me most profoundly.

Pet by Catherine Chidgey  Justine, like everyone else in her class at school in 1980’s New Zealand, loves their glamorous new teacher Ms Price, with each and every one of them longing to be class pet.  A 12-year-old girl who is dealing with epilepsy, mourning the relatively recent death of her mother, and trying desperately to fit in and be liked, Justine is particularly susceptible to Ms. Price’s charms.  But something…isn’t quite right, and everyone’s favorite teacher isn’t quite what she appears to be. Everything about this book–Justine’s coming-of-age story, her flashbacks as an adult, the oppressive atmosphere of manipulation and corrupted power –is just told so perfectly. The ending might have been wrapped up a little too neatly, but as I say all the time, if I’ve had a good time with a book, I can overlook a misstep with the ending.

The Gathering by CJ Tudor: I already hit “publish” on this blog post and realized I didn’t mention The Gathering, which was definitely an oversight because I actually really liked it! A detective is sent on an assignment up in Alaska to investigate a murder that possibly (probably) is vampire-related. In the world of this story, vampires are a part of society…which doesn’t mean that humans like them or accept them, but they are there to stay. And, of course, this causes a lot of tension. If you enjoyed this latest season four of True Detective, I imagine you will like the frozen isolation of this small-town supernatural murder mystery. (via Netgalley)

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