The Art of Fantasy now has a Korean-language edition! So this was actually a crowd-funded project, I guess? It looks as if all three of my books were crowd-funded by this particular Korean publisher. That’s wild!

 

 

I probably wouldn’t be so ridiculously excited to receive these foreign language editions of my books if I hadn’t had to fight so hard for the publisher to send them to me. It still feels quite novel and thrilling!
Ah, that’s silly. I’d be excited regardless.

 

 

I love this About the Author translation: “S. Elizabeth is a writer and curator who pursues decorative beauty. Her essays and interviews on esoteric art are published in [a whole bunch of stuff] …and her shaman culture blog ‘Anxious’, which covers music, fashion, horror, nostalgia, sadness, etc…”

My blog ‘ANXIOUS’. I have never felt so seen.

 

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9 Jan
2024

I’m coming to the realization that it is the act of *reading* that I love, not so much having/retaining the physical book in my possession. Is anyone else coming around to feeling that way?

This may be due to the fact that in the past two years, I have moved almost exclusively to reading on devices because my eyes can’t see the printed page very well in an actual physical book. And this is even after I got my new glasses prescription! So, most of the things I have read are ebooks from the library and digital ARCS from Netgalley.

I have got so many books on my shelves that I will never read again, and they are just taking up space and gathering dust. And if we move house again, I’ll be damned if I am packing up and hauling around 60 boxes of books that are no longer doing me any good! Not gonna happen!

And so, I am downsizing my library, and I have opened up a little bookshop over on Pango. I’m not over here trying to make a living with it, and I am not deluding myself that there is much money to be made, but I imagine I’ve got some gently used titles that people wouldn’t mind having in their collections at a pretty discounted price, so why not!  So, if you follow my book reviews and recommendations and would like to get your hands on some of those books, have a peek at my shelves over on Pango. Any and all of these titles could be yours! I am continually adding more every day, so make sure to follow my shop and check back often.

PSSSST…I am currently offering 10% off on all orders because I accidentally activated the discount while I was tooling around, so take advantage of it while it is available!

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Björk photographed by Jurgen Teller, 1993

I did it! I read hit my 200-book goal in 2023! As a matter of fact, I read 220 books. I do not feel the need to ever do that again. Especially since in the last month of the year my iPad died and I was reading on my PHONE. If my eyes were bad before, they are a million times worse now!

I did, however, learn that I have more time available during the day to sneak in some reading than I previously took advantage of. I am already someone who wakes up ultra-early to read while it is still dark and quiet, so I couldn’t really improve upon that. Technically, I don’t really “break” for lunch; I generally just inhale my food while continuing to work. I know a lot of you already know this, but if you’re new here, I do have a day job that’s pretty consuming and which has absolutely nothing to do with anything you will ever read about here. Anyway, instead of hoovering up my salad and checking emails, I began opening a book during my lunch. It definitely helped with my reading progress, and it also helped with my indigestion, ha! I am not someone who likes to read in bed, but I did start bringing my books with me during my little foot baths. I also listened to way more audiobooks this year than I ever had previously. On an evening when I might typically knit while watching a supernatural murder mystery or someone on YouTube making dinner for themselves, instead, I listened to lots and lots of audiobooks.

I also got very back into poetry this year, and while I read a lot of poetry that left me feeling pretty “meh,” I also read some stunningly beautiful collections–and the great thing is, these are pretty quick to get through. I’ve taken to keeping a stack of 4-5 poet’s collections on my desk, and throughout the course of the day, when things are a bit slow or during a particularly tedious conference call, I’d read a few pages. It adds up! This is also how I read a lot of nonfiction this year. It is also how I read drafts of things I was asked to blurb or share commentary or critiques on. For some reason I can concentrate so much better on my reading when I am actually supposed to be doing something else, heh heh.

And lastly, if I was not enjoying what I was reading, I learned to get way less precious about DNFing it. I didn’t want to waste my time with something that was rubbing me the wrong way, or grossing me out, or just generally not tickling my fancy. Life is too short. If you don’t like it, move on to something else that you like more. No sense in torturing yourself because something was positively reviewed and you feel like you “should” like it, or because everything else is reading it right now. Nope. Read what you like. If you don’t like it, maybe it is meant for someone else, and that is ok.

As in the past reading updates, I have not written reviews for everything I’ve read–it was just too much, and if I expected that magnitude of dedication of myself, I’d probably never have written a single word about any of it.  Below there are 25+ reviews of the things I have read during this last quarter of the year, and everything else that I read is at least listed, linked to, grouped by category, and asterisked if I really enjoyed it.

Björk photographed by Jurgen Teller, 1993

You Know What You Did by K.T. Nguyen While I enjoyed this book to varying degrees, I am having a terrible time with the process of revisiting and gathering my thoughts for a review. The themes of Intergenerational trauma and mental illness in this one may hit a little too close to home for some readers. It did for me. Annie appears to living a beautiful life–one worthy of being featured as a magazine spread, as evidenced by the journalist who is visiting to get some accompanying photos the piece. A gorgeous home, a handsome, doting husband, and an art practice that while not yet a flourishing career, may be poised to take off. However, Annie’s mother just died and theirs was a terribly complicated relationship. Things begin to unravel for Annie soon after her mother’s death; neuroses, once under control, are resurfacing to a debilitating degree, and what’s even more terrifying is that people around Annie are starting to die. I found Annie difficult to empathize with. Grief can cloud your thinking, and compounded with mental illness it’s a combination not conducive to making great decisions, but I more and more began to find Annie’s choices mind-bogglingly frustrating to the extent that the story became physically painful to read. Of course, I am coming into this book with my own experiences and I know that’s not entirely fair to the story. YMMV. (reviewed copy provided by NetGalley)

Where He Can’t Find You by Darcy Coates Abby and Hope’s father disappeared several years back and their mom hasn’t been quite right ever since. It’s safe to say almost everyone who lives in Doubtful has suffered a similar tragedy, whether it’s a family member or friend, most residents of this haunted town know someone who has been taken by The Stitcher. Or worse, who has been returned by The Stitcher, chopped and mangled and sewn back together, hideously mutilated and utterly unrecognizable. More often than not, these grotesquely damaged corpses are missing several parts. Abby and Hope aren’t alone, though; along with loyal friends Rhys, Riya, Connor, and Jen, the new girl who refuses to believe in town conspiracies or things that go bump in the night–they comprise The Jackrabbits. A jackrabbit never drops its guard, it’s always ready to run–and run fast. And most importantly, it survives. And then Hope gets taken. From her bedroom, in the middle of the night, without a sound. Desperate to find her sister and to find answers, Abby will stop at nothing to get Hope back–and her friends are with her every step of the way. I shared a few more thoughts on this one for 31 Days of Horror if you’d like to read more.

A Haunting On the Hill by Elizabeth Hand Holly is a struggling playwright who has been awarded a grant, and, being in the area and happening upon the expansive opulence of Hill House, she immediately falls under its spell. She becomes convinced that it would be a grand idea to rent it out for a few weeks and invite a group of her actors and collaborators to work on her current project together. The intimate gathering, sequestered away from the bothers of the world for a time, would afford everyone the opportunity to appreciate the material and put their own spin on it and sink into their roles, etc. Once ensconced in its oppressive walls, the group begins to realize that the space is not as luxurious as it might have initially appeared. Rooms are dimly lit, dusty, and damp. There are more rooms and twisting hallways than would seem possible, and it is easy to become lost, alone, and open to the awful energies of the place. All of the members of the troupe begin to encounter varying degrees of strange and terrifying weirdness inside Hill House but because of their various agendas and commitments, they each have their own reasons for looking the other way (or in some cases, leaning into it) and seeing it through. This is another one I reviewed for 31 Days of Horror, if you want more details.

The Dead Take A Train by Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey I’d found the previous title from Cassandra Khaw that I’d read (Nothing But Blackened Teeth) a bit off-putting. In that story, five friends convene to have some pre-wedding adventures at a purported haunted castle– but I have never in my years of reading been subjected to a group of friends who hated each other more. The Dead Take A Train, for all its bombastic horror and gore, ruthless demons and repulsive gods…is actually a tale of love and friendship? I liked that. I found the writing lush and disgusting and completely over the top –which is very much my thing!– and the story itself, that of self-destructive demon hunter/supernatural-squasher Julie attempting to prevent a cosmic-horror-end-of-the-world scenario and save her friends in the middle of New York’s gritty, magical underbelly–was an absolute hoot. It reminded me a bit of the post-apocalyptic demon-punk romp of Simon Drax’s A Very Fast Descent Into Hell!

Out There Screaming: An Anthology of New Black Horror by Jordan Peele Exploring “not only the terror of the supernatural but the chilling reality of injustice that haunts our nation,” this was an outstanding collection wherein almost every story was so good that I wish it could have been expanded on for a full-novel experience. What I find interesting in these gatherings of tales across cultures, is seeing what it is that scares me (the end-of-the-world ones are particularly freaky) as opposed to something that while perhaps fascinating, doesn’t seem all that frightening–because it comes from a part of the world so wholly different from what I know. Even as I am writing those words, I realize that is some privileged white lady shit. I am not unaware. Three exceptionally memorable ones in that sort of personally-scary-for-me apocalyptic vein are Invasion of the Baby Snatchers, which is as outlandish and otherworldly as you might imagine, and both “Flicker” and “Pressure,” which begin as mundane little tales but are –absolutely– not. (reviewed copy provided by NetGalley)

Godzilla: The Half-Century War by James Stokoe Ývan surprised me with a copy of this Godzilla story about a soldier who spends the entirety of his career tangled in kaiju conflict, up to and including the very last seconds of his life. Bold, exciting, and unexpectedly poignant, I sped through this excellent graphic novel in an afternoon.

Where Monsters Lie by Kyle Starks and Piotr Kowalski (Illustrator) If you’ve ever wondered where slashers shack up between murder sprees, well, you probably would not have envisioned them as a coterie of killers relaxing in a gated community–complete with an HOA and monthly meetings. This short, vicious collection of issues 1-4 comprises those dysfunctional group dynamics, the story of a kid who can’t seem to escape them despite his best attempts, and the agent that’s been training to hunt them since the slaughter of his own family when he was a child. Be forewarned–this experience really does put the “graphic” in graphic novel, but it was SO much good(bad/awful/murderous) fun!

The Keeper by Tananarive Due When it comes to a Tananarive Due story, I know I’m always in for a treat that’s going to tug at my heartstrings before straight up ripping my heart out of my chest –and The Keeper with its proliferation of childhood fears and trauma does just that. Aisha’s parents are killed in a car crash and shortly after moving in with her elderly grandmother, the ailing woman’s health takes a rapid decline.  Before dying, she calls forth a dark spirit to protect her granddaughter…or is this entity actually an ancient curse?

The Amulet by Michael McDowell Good lord. There is no one, NO ONE who writes Southern small-town nastiness like Michael McDowell. Sarah Howell finds herself trapped in a nightmare. Her husband, Dean, had a rifle blow up in his face during a training exercise before he shipped out to Vietnam. He’s been horribly disfigured (the extent of which we never even find out, he’s swaddled in bandages like a mummy through the entirety of the book) and more or less left a living corpse. Sarah is forced to care for him, while also enduring the scorn of her hateful mother-in-law, Jo. Jo is truly one of the most awful fictional characters you will ever encounter. Dean’s friend Larry pays a visit, hoping that he is doing the right thing by stopping in, but is feeling terribly guilty and uncomfortable about being there. Larry was unable to secure a job for Dean at the rifle factory in town, which led to Dean ending up in the army. Jo has a laundry list of grievances about everything in general, but she especially blames the town for her son’s circumstances, and Larry in particular. Jo sends him away with an unusual amulet to take home as a gift for his wife Rachel. That night Larry and Rachel’s house burns down, with them and their three children inside. The amulet inexplicably passes from one hand to the next, wreaking havoc and leaving extraordinary carnage in its wake. Not even a quarter of the way through the book, the undertaker is running out of coffins! And no one is safe–while it may have started with someone linked to Dean’s accident, it doesn’t limit itself to locals with those sorts of ties…a poor woman passing through town with her husband gets her throat torn out by her own hogs when the amulet makes its way into her possession. Sarah begins seeing a connection in the string of bizarre deaths and becomes convinced that somehow, the trinket is involved. As the body count rises, Sarah realizes that she must somehow stop the amulet before it’s too late. But how can she defeat an evil she can’t understand or even hands on–especially when no one believes her?

I literally exclaimed OOOOOOF aloud when I finished this book. GOOD LORD.

Björk photographed by Jurgen Teller, 1993

 

Nowhere Like Home by Sara Shepard Toxic friendships, lying liars, and murderous stalkers with far-fetched, convoluted schemes for vengeance–does this sound eerily, excitingly familiar, and quite possibly AWESOME to fans of Pretty Little Liars who were hoping for an adult version of all that nonsense where if one person told the truth, even once, the whole story would fall apart? Throw in cults, communes, and kidnappings and it sounds like you’d have a winner, right? And you more or less do with this story of intense friendships and women trying to either fit in or find family …and how it can all go so very wrong. Told from multiple perspectives in past/present timelines, we are introduced to Rhiannon and Lenna whose friendship burned fast and bright and fizzled unexpectedly when Rhiannon disappeared. Enter Gillian, whose social anxiety keeps her on the outside looking in, until she catches Lenna vulnerable after Rhiannon’s disappearance. And then Sadie, Gillian’s roommate, who Gillian describes to Lenna and all of her social media followers as unstable to the point of becoming threatening…but is it Gillian who is actually the problem? Fast forward to a few years later, Lenna is married with a child, desperately unhappy and haunted by a mysterious incident. Rhiannon resurfaces and invites her for a visit to a serene desert commune, where she will have a chance to recalibrate and spend some time with like-minded women. Or …is there an ulterior motive to Rhiannon’s timely reappearance in Lenna’s life? Why did Rhiannon disappear in the first place? Whatever happened to Gillian? What sorts of weird shenanigans are going on at this isolated commune? Will anyone ever utter one true thing, clear the air, or fess up to anything? Eventually yes, but unfortunately, the book doesn’t quite stick the landing. Still, it’s so much fun getting there. (reviewed copy provided by NetGalley)

Come Closer by Sara Gran Amanda, seemingly living a relatively happy life, finds her world slowly unraveling as she starts to hear strange noises, begins losing time, and then…things get much, much worse. Gran masterfully builds a sense of dread and paranoia, leaving the us questioning not only the reality Amanda experiences but also the very fabric of own own. The subtle horror lies in the insidious way Amanda’s agency is stripped away, replaced by a dark entity that feeds on her desires and vulnerabilities. Come Closer invites readers to grapple with an unsettling blend of horror and humor, showcasing Gran’s ability to craft a narrative that is as darkly entertaining as it is psychologically unnerving.

Black Sheep by Rachel Harrison Vesper, the exiled and estranged daughter, reluctantly returns home, only to find herself thrust back into the chaotic whirlwind of her family’s dynamics. A dysfunctional family reunion with a gleefully infernal twist, where long-buried grievances and unspoken truths fester beneath the surface of a seemingly ordinary gathering.

Good Bad Girl by Alice Feeney is a skillfully crafted mystery that weaves a web of secrets and betrayal amidst the seemingly idyllic setting of a nursing home. Twenty years after a baby is stolen from a stroller, a resident is found murdered, setting in motion a chain of events that threaten to unravel the carefully constructed lives of those involved. As they delve deeper into the investigation, they uncover a tangled web of lies and hidden agendas, forcing them to confront uncomfortable truths about themselves and those they thought they knew.

None of This is True by Lisa Jewell Alix, a successful podcaster, becomes enthralled by the captivating story of Josie, a woman whose life seems too perfect to be true. As their connection deepens, Alix finds herself drawn into a web of inconsistencies and contradictions. Jewell expertly builds suspense, slowly revealing the cracks in Josie’s carefully constructed facade. Despite a nagging sense of unease, Alix chooses to overlook the weirdness, continuing their association despite Josie’s increasingly uncomfortable and unhinged behavior –and this line of thought process on Alix’s part really stuck with me in relation to this–“I overrode my instincts when I said yes.” A stark reminder of the trouble we can invite into our lives when we prioritize social graces over listening to our intuition. As Alix delves deeper into Josie’s world, the lines between reality and fabrication blur, leading to a series of chilling revelations that will leave you questioning everything you thought you knew.

Thorn Hedge by T. Kingfisher A grumpy toad with the biggest heart and a lovely peach of a knight with a gentle soul meet in a prickly twist of a familiar fairy tale curse. I have adored every single thing I have read by this author; I find her particular blend of delicious wit, whimsy, and weirdness the perfect recipe for something that will resonate with me on every level.

The Haunting of Velkwood by Gwendolyn Kiste The Velkwood Vicinity, a once-ordinary suburban cul-de-sac, now stands shrouded in a sinister veil, its inhabitants forever trapped as ghostly echoes of their former lives. Twenty years ago, Talitha Velkwood, along with her two childhood friends, inexplicably escaped the nightmarish fate that engulfed their town. Now, haunted by fragmented memories and an overwhelming sense of loss, Talitha finds herself drawn back to the site of the tragedy, lured by the promise of answers and a chance to finally confront the demons of her past. (reviewed copy provided by NetGalley)

The Deep by Nick Cutter plunged me into the abyssal depths of terror, both literally and metaphorically. Eight miles beneath the surface, where darkness reigns and pressure crushes, a research team unearths a substance that unlocks primal fears. As sanity unravels and the lines between reality and nightmare blur, the crew’s fight for survival becomes a descent into the very heart of horror. In the midst of the escalating terror, I found myself so engrossed, so utterly swept away by the story, that I literally forgot to breathe.

The Whispers by Audrey Audrain A Desperate Housewives-esque affair, focusing on fractured friendships amidst the gilded cages of suburbia, at the center of which lies a troubled and comatose young man –and the individual who may be responsible for the accident.

The Reformatory by Tananarive Due Set in the Jim Crow South of the 1950s, the narrative delves into the horrific nightmare of the Gracetown School for Boys, a notorious reform school shrouded in a legacy of brutality and injustice. Through the eyes of young Marvin, wrongfully imprisoned for a petty offense, we witness the unimaginable horrors inflicted upon the boys within these walls. Due’s prose is both poignant and unflinching, exposing the raw pain and trauma endured by these victims while simultaneously weaving chilling supernatural elements that whisper of a past unwilling to be buried. The ghosts of Gracetown are more than spectral figures; they are the embodiment of systemic racism and the enduring legacy of cruelty, resonating with a chillingly familiar truth. I can’t even look at the cover of a Tananarive Due book without weeping, and The Reformatory was no exception.

The Invited by Jennifer McMahon A chilling tale of haunted land and the enduring pull of the past. In the seemingly tranquil Vermont countryside, Helen and Nate embark on the dream of building their own home, unaware of the dark history buried beneath the soil. As construction progresses, whispers of the deceased residents become increasingly insistent, blurring the lines between past and present, a haunting that extends beyond the spectral, echoing unresolved trauma and the weight of generations past demanding to be acknowledged and finally laid to rest.  I don’t think this was my favorite of this author’s offerings, and I kind of love/hated one of the twists–it’s always a bummer when a favorite character isn’t quite what they seem, and not in a good way.

Starter Villain by John Scalzi Charlie, a recently divorced substitute teacher, inherits his estranged uncle’s unconventional business: supervillainy.  Thrust into a world of lasers, talking cats, and unionized dolphins, Charlie embarks on a journey of self-discovery amidst the absurdity. Humor and intrigue simmer –dangerously, delightfully!–beneath the surface of a dormant volcano in a remote island lair.  Themes of morality, responsibility, and the intricacies of family, remind us that sometimes, even the most unconventional legacies can hold unexpected possibilities for redemption.

The Book of the Most Precious Substance by Sara Gran is a most excellent blend of all of my favorite things to read about–rare book enthusiasts, forbidden knowledge and people doing desperate things to unlock those arcane secrets, and …detailed descriptions of what people are eating. Lily Albrecht is a writer who hasn’t written in years. She cares for her declining husband, who has an undiagnosable form of dementia, in their remote home in upstate New York while she hunts down rare books for rich buyers to make ends meet. When a rare grimoire promises the granting of your deepest-held desires comes across her radar, Lily follows its siren song e across the globe in desperate pursuit of its power. A heady cocktail of shadows and secrets in which even the strangely mundane thrums with the thrill of the occult, this book was a gritty, intimate rabbit’s hole of delights. A note to those looking for smut–this book is kind of spicy, but not wildly so. There’s lots of sex, but it’s not very interesting sex. (Which is fine with me; I’d rather read about the books and the 10-course meals)

101 Books to Read Before You’re Murdered by Sadie Hartmann. This is exactly what it sounds like, and a really great resource. I actually found a handful of authors I never heard of in Sadie’s lists, and I had both my Goodreads and Libby apps open the entire time I read this so that I could add titles to my “to read” lists and find them to borrow from the library. Sara Gran’s Come Closer (above) was one of these books, and I really really loved it! One thing in particular I loved about Sadie’s approach is that the books she has included are all fairly recently written. We’ve all seen these

Kindle Unlimited has some great collections of 90-minute short stories by familiar, beloved authors, and Goodreads actually counts these as full books, so maybe this is a cheat, but whatever.

In Joe Hill’s The Pram,  secrets in a dilapidated farmhouse blur the lines between grief and macabre secrets. In The Backbone of the World, Stephen Graham Jones treats us to his signature brand of weird wit, weaving a chilling tale of vengeance on the desolate plains with Millie Two Bears facing an unrelenting tide of prairie dogs that seem to possess an almost otherworldly intelligence. In My Evil Mother,  Margaret Atwood cooks up a darkly humorous stew of family dysfunction, where the ingredients include teenage snark, questionable parenting decisions, and a generous helping of the uncanny. I also Ankle Snatcher by Grady Hendrix, In Bloom by Paul Tremblay, The Tiger Came To The Mountains by Silvia Moreno Garcia, Bloody Summer by Carmen Maria Machado, Wildlife by Jeff Vandermeer, and Wehr Wolf by Alma Katsu. Now I just need to remember to cancel by Kindle Unlimited subscription.

Graphic Novels

A Guest in the House by Emily Carroll

Tomie by Junji Ito (I’d never read all the stories before!)


Poetry

Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass by Lana del Rey

Please Do Not Touch This Exhibit by Jen Campbell

The Shining by Dorothea Lasky

Sad Math by Sarah Freilgh *

Without Protection by Gala Mukomolova

Clock Star Rose Spine by Fran Wilde

Registers of Illuminated Villages by Tarfia Faizullah *

 

Mystery/Thriller

The Resting Place by Camilla Sten

She Started It by Sian Gilbert

The Sanitorium by Sarah Pearce

The Venue by T.J. Payne * (this was ridiculous and fun)

#FashionVictim by Amina Akhtar * (this also was ridiculous and fun)

The Disappearing Act by Catherine Steadman (I listened to this on audiobook, read by the author, who is also an actor, and it was pretty decent)

The Fury by Alex Michaelides  (this was an ARC and it was…not good. I have to eventually write a review for Netgalley, but I won’t waste your time with it)

 

Horror/Supernatural

The Switch House by Tim Meyer

The Hacienda by Isabel Canas (this tricked me into reading a love story and I’m not sure how I feel about that)

September House by Carissa Orlando * (this was a hoot and I loved it so much)

The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw

Rites of Extinction by Matt Serafini

Schrader’s Chord by Scott Leeds * (this book mentions one of my favorite perfumes! Chanel Sycomore. That has nothing to do with the story, though. Which is also good.)

Nestlings by Nat Cassidy * (Nat Cassidy sure can pen an afterword.)

Nordic Visions: The Best of Nordic Speculative Fiction by John Ajvide Lindqvist; Maria Haskins; Karin Tidbeck

 

Weird/Speculative/Magical Realism

Children of Paradise by Camilla Grudova * (I think this weird, crusty little slice of life story was one of my favorites of 2023)

 

Nonfiction

Worlds Beyond Time by Adam Rowe * (read more here)

Death’s Garden Revisited by Loren Rhoads * (full review here)

 

DNF

Midnight is the Darkest Hour by Ashley Winstead 
Goblin
by Josh Malerman (I got 67% of the way through it and I DNFed it anyway; I usually love this author, but Goblin was a slog)
Everything the Darkness Eats by Eric LaRocca (I think I have given up on reading this guy)
Number One Fan (the early mention of a UTI made it too real)
Rouge by Mona Awad (I’ve previously enjoyed her stuff alot but this one felt experimental in a way I didn’t enjoy; probably my biggest letdown of the year)

 

If you enjoy my reading roundups 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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Adelaide Claxton, Wonderland.

As the magic of the winter holiday season takes hold, filling the air with anticipation and wonder, it’s time to find gifts that spark joy, ignite curiosity, and open doors to new worlds. Whether you’re searching for the perfect offering for a loved one or seeking inspiration for your self-discovery, the following captivating books offer a journey beyond the ordinary.

 

1. Lapidarium: The Secret Lives of Stones by Hettie Judah: This mesmerizing guide invites you to explore the captivating world of gemstones, delving into their rich history, folklore, and practical uses. Referencing science, history, chemistry, physics, literature, philosophy, and pop culture, Lapidarium is an extravagantly storied chamber of stones, richly abundant with interesting facts, poignant stories, and weird anecdotes about stones. An absolute feast for the senses, this book of charmingly illustrated essays feels very much like a collector’s treasure hoarded wunderkammer of mythic and mysterious curiosities. Recommended for magpies and dragons.

 

 

2. Death’s Garden Revisited by Loren Rhodes: Embark on a poignant and thought-provoking exploration of the myriad, complex ways that people connect with cemeteries and graveyards, through this sweeping collection of personal essays accompanied by evocative, full-color photos,  A gathering of tapophilic musings from all walks of life, throughout these pages, genealogists and geocachers, travelers and tour guides, academics, and amateur sleuths examine, and excavate the culture, zeitgeist, landscape, philosophy, and history of cemeteries, as well as the stories of the people, both infamous and obscure, buried there. Recommended for those with a perpetual case of the morbs.

 

 

3. Worlds Beyond Time: Sci-Fi Art of the 1970s by Adam Rowe: Step into a vibrant showcase of retrofuturistic visions with this captivating book celebrating the groundbreaking sci-fi art of the 1970s, an era brimming with dazzling dreams of fantastical futures and explorations of the vast cosmos. Stuffed to the gills with phenomenal science fiction art–from the abstract and avant-garde to the trippy and surreal, from the murky and lurid to the vivid, vibrant, and hyperrealistic, Worlds Beyond Time ignites your imagination and inspires you to dream beyond the horizon. A perfect gift for those who yearn to explore the infinite possibilities that lie beyond our reality, Worlds Beyond Time is an incredibly curated gallery-in-a-book, alongside ridiculously well-informed, engrossing essays written in Rowe’s warm, chat, irreverent voice.  Recommended for your space cadet friend.

 

 

4. Little Hidden Doors: A Guided Journal for Deep Dreamers by Naomi Sangreal: Not merely a journal but a sanctuary for the dreamer’s soul, Little Hidden Doors encourages introspection and self-discovery for those who seek to unlock the secret chambers of their minds. Filled with reflective prompts, insightful passages, and imaginative pathways and portals, it’s a guide to a deeper understanding of our inner realms and the images, patterns, and connections we find there. Explore your dreams, delve into forgotten memories, and nurture your creative spirit as you embark on a transformative journey within. Recommended for your dreamiest friend.

 

 

5. Blood, Sex Magic by Bri Luna With a pen dipped in the ink of ancient wisdom and modern insight, Bri Luna honors traditions from her roots and culture and celebrates magic that is “from dirt and blood, jewels and bones, moon and sun.” Encouraging readers to embrace their shadows and embark on a journey self-discovery through the sacred and the profane, this empowering guide invites us to explore and express the beauty and magic that we all inherently possess. The incendiary aesthetics of the book are a visual feast, art and imagery are interwoven with the text, creating a tapestry of beauty that mirrors the multifaceted nature of the divine feminine. Recommended for your most badass friend.

 

 

Bonus Suggestion: Bibliomancers’ Trifecta of Enchantment

Biblomancers is a Los Angeles-based small press formed in 2023 by a occult, collage and new media artists Astroleyez and Speedgallery. Biblioancers’ curated mosaic of books invites the viewer to have their own experience within the framework of carefully selected images and texts.

SPELL BOUND : Exploring Witchcraft And The Occult Through Vintage Paperbacks

The SPECTRAL VISION of GOTHIC ROMANCE : Paperback Dreams and Nightmares

MASK GARDEN: Revealing the ecstatic horror of hidden identity through the paperback cover persona.

 

 

 

Bonus Suggestion No. 2 : Mystical literary treasures, myriad esoteric pamphlets, zines, anthologies and ephemera from either Peculiar Parish or Fiddler’s Green.  These arcane emporiums offer an array of bewitching books that beckon to each reader’s individual desire to explore art and magic together through stories, illustration, and other creative forms.

This Hexmas, let your gifts be a celebration of weird beauty and strange moods– whether it’s in the brushstrokes of a surreal, space-age painting, a journal of nocturnal travels, or the sage words of an empowering guide. May your loved ones find inspiration and enchantment in these curated reads, each a portal to a world where dreams, art, and magic intertwine.

 

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I wouldn’t necessarily say that cemeteries have always fascinated me. I think it might be more truthful to say that I never really gave cemeteries or graveyards all that much thought as a kid, except as something that occasionally showed up in cartoons with rattling skeletons dancing a crazy jig.  Death itself was an abstract concept, and I certainly didn’t spend any time thinking about where we kept our dead.

What I did spend a great deal of time thinking about between the age of 6-9 was how to weasel out of my weekly Brownie meetings. My mother was on a mission to socialize shy little Sarah and had signed me up for everything from gymnastics to ballet– and as none of them stuck, we’d reached Brownies as a last resort. I hated it. It was just like the agonies of a school day– where girls separated into cliques, everyone had their own friends, and no one was friends with me– except to add insult to injury, the meetings took place after school, in what was supposed to be my free time. It was lonely, awkward, and miserable. Most of our gatherings occurred in the troupe leader’s basement where we did little crafts, ate snacks, and probably did something to earn badges, but I couldn’t begin to tell you what those things were. I was mostly in my own head, pretending I was somewhere else.

One afternoon we were shuttled over to a local cemetery. I don’t think I realized that’s where we were–again, zoned out and daydreaming when I should have been paying attention–but when we arrived and I saw the shadowy tree-lined paths winding past weathered gravestones, I recall feeling a vague sense of trepidation. After all, wasn’t the graveyard where all the spooky bad guys from Scooby Doo lived? It turned out that we were tasked with wandering around on our own, looking at nature, and making grave rubbings. When I learned what was expected of us, I couldn’t have been more thrilled; even at that age, I’d take alone time over group activities, any day!

That afternoon was one of the most peaceful I’d ever spent in my young life. I chose a crumbling grave marker with a garland of flowers carved into it, and as I rubbed with my grey chalk on tracing paper, I didn’t even get myself worked up, as I often did, dithering and fretting, worrying as to whether I was “doing it right” (a concern that plagued me constantly.) It was enough to be in solitude, lost in thought on a late autumn day while chipmunks chattered and acorns dropped at my feet, and my companions’ voices grew fainter and disappeared, the further everyone roamed. It was as if I had drifted into another world. I’d carry those feelings with me into adulthood and in the past several decades, I’ve often found myself seeking out the silence and stillness of a local cemetery when life feels overwhelming.

I realize that to those who know me through my writing or internet presence, my fondness for graveyard sojourns might seem to be connected to my inclination toward darkness and the macabre– but it’s not that at all. I don’t have a morbid obsession with death, it’s not some sort of goth predilection…it’s more like…as an introvert’s introvert, I know in my heart that the cemetery is probably the one place on earth I don’t have to feel anxious about talking to people! The quiet and solitude is such a balm for the soul and cemeteries themselves feel like a place outside of time, so the overall experience of spending time in a cemetery is not haunted or full of horrors at all, but rather a hushed, halcyon dream.

I thought of that formative afternoon as I began reading Death’s Garden, Revisited, a poignant, sweeping collection of personal essays accompanied by evocative, full-color photos, about the myriad, complex ways that people connect with cemeteries and graveyards.

I’ll confess, I felt a terrible sense of guilt and shame as I initially thumbed through these pages; Loren Rhoads, the creator of this project, had generously sent me a copy sometime late last spring, and it has taken me a very long time to read it. My vision has been deteriorating so badly–and at an essay a day, all my eyeballs can handle, that makes for slow reading. Not long into the book, though, I stopped feeling bad about myself, and, much like my experiences with cemeteries themselves, I totally lost myself in the worlds of emotions that these wonderful writings evoked.

I should also mention that being contacted by Loren or even being on her radar at all, was a bit of a dream come true. I’ve been low-key obsessed with this author, editor, and lecturer ever since Rue Morgue Magazine featured a brief review of Loren’s book Morbid Curiosity Sings the Blues all the way back in 2009!

Death’s Garden, Revisited is a gathering of tapophilic musings from all walks of life. Over the course of these pages, genealogists and geocachers, travelers and tour guides, academics and amateur sleuths explore, examine, and excavate the culture, zeitgeist, landscape, philosophy, and history of cemeteries, as well as the stories of the people, both infamous and obscure, buried there.  Told from the perspectives of a thrillingly diverse group of voices from around the globe, these writings adeptly illustrate one of the included author’s observations that “once we escape from the bony grip of mortality, we find common ground.”

We read stories of joy and mirth: first dates, weddings, reunions, ghost tours! We also read of sadness and rage and things vile and unconscionable: vandalism, descration, racism, revolutions, murders. We read over and over, of the peace to be found at the end of all things. That despite their eerie and unsettling associations with ghosts and the supernatural, despite often being thought of as bleak, gloomy places, the taboo nature of their existence…well, as one writer declares, “That’s not scary, it’s family.”

Places of both beauty and sorrow, where the living and the dead come together, cemeteries offer glimpses into the past, and teach us about the history of a community. These are spaces that remind us of the enduring power of love and memory, and nudge us to reckon with our own mortality, reminding us of our own fragility and the brevity of life.

Though out of necessity I read this book at a snail’s pace, I think that might be the best way to take in these stories. As lovely and thought-provoking as each author’s contribution might be, reading about death is, after all, a pretty intense and heavy experience. “Grave” subject matter, if you’ll pardon the pun. I found myself either delicately weepy or hiccuping with unexpected sobs after sitting with quite a few of them. It’s a profoundly affecting, powerfully beautiful collection.

My life in the past few years, however, has not been moving at a snail’s pace. I myself have written three books. I’ve moved house, and gotten married. The elders in my family have died one after the other–my mother and all her siblings, both sets of my grandparents, and just a few months ago, my father. They have all been cremated; none of these folks are buried in a cemetery, and I have no one to visit there.

I’m not visiting these silent, sacred spaces for them, though, am I? As the song goes, “Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.” Life has been overwhelming and a bit bonkers in recent years. It’s time to visit a soft, silent, sacred space where I’ll have more solitude than I can shake a stick at, and no matter how much talking I do into the metaphorical darkness… I won’t hear a peep in return.

Purchase Death’s Garden Revisited in paperback or hardback, as well as in ebook format. Find Loren Rhoads: Website //Instagram

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Book cover art by James Jirat Patradoon for ‘The Dead Take The A Train’ by Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey

Despite the fact that my reading has been on the back burner this month, I did manage to finish a few things in the almost-final-days of October…

The Dead Take A Train by Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey I’d found the previous title from Cassandra Khaw that I’d read (Nothing But Blackened Teeth) a bit off-putting. In that story, five friends convene to have some pre-wedding adventures at a purported haunted castle– but I have never in my years of reading been subjected to a group of friends who hated each other more. The Dead Take A Train, for all its bombastic horror and gore, ruthless demons and repulsive gods…is actually a tale of love and friendship? I liked that. I found the writing lush and disgusting and completely over the top –which is very much my thing!– and the story itself, that of self-destructive demon hunter/supernatural-squasher Julie attempting to prevent a cosmic-horror-end-of-the-world scenario and save her friends in the middle of New York’s gritty, magical underbelly–was an absolute hoot. It reminded me a bit of the post-apocalyptic demon-punk romp of Simon Drax’s A Very Fast Descent Into Hell!

The Keeper by Tananarive Due When it comes to a Tananarive Due story, I know I’m always in for a treat that’s going to tug at my heartstrings before straight up ripping my heart out of my chest –and The Keeper with its proliferation of childhood fears and trauma does just that. Aisha’s parents are killed in a car crash and shortly after moving in with her elderly grandmother, the ailing woman’s health takes a rapid decline.  Before dying, she calls forth a dark spirit to protect her granddaughter…or is this entity actually an ancient curse?

Out There Screaming: An Anthology of New Black Horror by Jordan Peele Exploring “not only the terror of the supernatural but the chilling reality of injustice that haunts our nation,” this was an outstanding collection wherein almost every story was so good that I wish it could have been expanded on for a full-novel experience. What I find interesting in these gatherings of tales across cultures, is seeing what it is that scares me (the end-of-the-world ones are particularly freaky) as opposed to something that while perhaps fascinating, doesn’t seem all that frightening–because it comes from a part of the world so wholly different from what I know. Even as I am writing those words, I realize that is some privileged white lady shit. I am not unaware. Three exceptionally memorable ones in that sort of personally-scary-for-me apocalyptic vein are Invasion of the Baby Snatchers, which is as outlandish and otherworldly as you might imagine, and both “Flicker” and “Pressure,” which begin as mundane little tales but are –absolutely– not.

Godzilla: The Half-Century War by James Stokoe Ývan surprised me with a copy of this Godzilla story about a soldier who spends the entirety of his career tangled in kaiju conflict, up to and including the very last seconds of his life. Bold, exciting, and unexpectedly poignant, I sped through this excellent graphic novel in an afternoon.

Where Monsters Lie by Kyle Starks and Piotr Kowalski (Illustrator) If you’ve ever wondered where slashers shack up between murder sprees, well, you probably would not have envisioned them as a coterie of killers relaxing in a gated community–complete with an HOA and monthly meetings. This short, vicious collection of issues 1-4 comprises those dysfunctional group dynamics, the story of a kid who can’t seem to escape them despite his best attempts, and the agent that’s been training to hunt them since the slaughter of his own family when he was a child. Be forewarned–this experience really does put the “graphic” in graphic novel, but it was SO much good(bad/awful/murderous) fun!

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Good lord. There is no one, NO ONE who writes Southern small-town nastiness like Michael McDowell. McDowell was a novelist and screenwriter whom you may or may not have heard of depending on how much into horror you are. You may have read The Elementals (that’s the last book I read that kept me up until 4 o’clock in the morning!) or Gilded Needles or his Blackwater series. Or if those don’t ring a bell, you may be familiar with the screenplay he wrote for a little movie called Beetlejuice.  He was in the midst of writing the screenplay for Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas when he died in 1999. Horror fans, I know you already know this, but this is for the people who are hearing it for the first time. Oh yeah, McDowell, also wrote the novelization of Clue!

From the first 30 or so pages, you would not think this book will go as hard as it does. Absolutely dialogue-free and exquisitely methodical in its descriptiveness, it sets the tone and the atmosphere in the town of Pine Cone, Alabama, a town “proud of its population of two thousand, and it might well be since there is nothing to keep them there except stubborn civic pride, overwhelming inertia, or a perverse moral self-discipline bordering on masochism.”

But, our narrative gleefully divulges, ” it can also be said that there is a great vitality in the mean-spiritedness of the town’s inhabitants. Sometimes they are creatively cruel to one another, and there were seasons in which Pine Cone was an exciting place to live–if you were a spectator and not a victim.”

The events of The Amulet most assuredly take place in such a season.

Sarah Howell finds herself trapped in a nightmare. Her husband, Dean, had a rifle blow up in his face during a training exercise before he shipped out to Vietnam. He’s been horribly disfigured (the extent of which we never even find out, he’s swaddled in bandages like a mummy through the entirety of the book) and more or less left a living corpse. Sarah is forced to care for him, while also enduring the scorn of her hateful mother-in-law, Jo. Jo is truly one of the most awful fictional characters you will ever encounter.

Dean’s friend Larry pays a visit, hoping that he is doing the right thing by stopping in, but is feeling terribly guilty and uncomfortable about being there. Larry was unable to secure a job for Dean at the rifle factory in town, which led to Dean ending up in the army. Jo has a laundry list of grievances about everything in general, but she especially blames the town for her son’s circumstances, and Larry in particular. Jo sends him away with an unusual amulet to take home as a gift for his wife Rachel.

That night Larry and Rachel’s house burns down, with them and their three children inside.

The amulet inexplicably passes from one hand to the next, wreaking havoc and leaving extraordinary carnage in its wake. Not even a quarter of the way through the book, the undertaker is running out of coffins! And no one is safe–while it may have started with someone linked to Dean’s accident, it doesn’t limit itself to locals with those sorts of ties…a poor woman passing through town with her husband gets her throat torn out by her own hogs when the amulet makes its way into her possession.

Sarah begins seeing a connection in the string of bizarre deaths and becomes convinced that somehow, the trinket is involved. As the body count rises, Sarah realizes that she must somehow stop the amulet before it’s too late. But how can she defeat an evil she can’t understand or even hands on–especially when no one believes her?

I literally exclaimed OOOOOOF aloud when I finished this book. GOOD LORD.

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Abby and Hope’s father disappeared several years back and their mom hasn’t been quite right ever since. It’s safe to say almost everyone who lives in Doubtful has suffered a similar tragedy, whether it’s a family member or friend, most residents of this haunted town know someone who has been taken by The Stitcher. Or worse, who has been returned by The Stitcher, chopped and mangled and sewn back together, hideously mutilated and utterly unrecognizable. More often than not, these grotesquely damaged corpses are missing several parts.

Things go weird before The Stitcher strikes. Technology becomes unreliable and stops working altogether. The animals begin acting in odd, disturbing ways. In their homes, many folks have increasingly horrific nightmares. This is when following the rules becomes especially important. Never be outside after dark. Never walk through town alone. And keep far, far away from Charles Vickers, a bizarre and unpleasant man who most suspect of being behind the murders, and who seems to obscenely revel in the accusations. Vickers always has an alibi and the police haven’t got anything on him, though–so maybe there really is a supernatural, monstrous entity behind the killings, after all?

Abby and Hope aren’t alone, though; along with loyal friends Rhys, Riya, Connor, and Jen, the new girl who refuses to believe in town conspiracies or things that go bump in the night–they comprise The Jackrabbits. A jackrabbit never drops its guard, it’s always ready to run–and run fast. And most importantly, it survives.

And then Hope gets taken. From her bedroom, in the middle of the night, without a sound. Desperate to find her sister and to find answers, Abby will stop at nothing to get Hope back–and her friends are with her every step of the way.

This book was freaky as hell! I worried though; in stories like this, I feel that freakiness is unsustainable because it massively hinges on the unknown. When we’re left to our own devices to fill in the blanks in a horror story, almost everything we come up with is going to be scarier than the actual answer, whenever the author reveals it. Even if it’s tremendously horrific! Because as soon as we know it, the power of that fear is taken away.

I will say that even though that may be the case in Where He Can’t Find You, when the story pivots in that direction it becomes something else entirely: a high-stakes adventure where everything–the lives of friends, family, even the fate of the town of Doubtful– is on the line.

Where He Can’t Find You by Darcy Coates is available on November 7, 2023. I grabbed an ARC from NetGalley and got to read it a bit early–and it really was a great read for Spooky Season.

 

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2 Oct
2023

photo (and encouragement!) via Florence Welch’s instagram

Below are all the books I read July-September of this year; the first twenty or so reviews a bit more in-depth (whether because they are thoughtful and nuanced or I just tend to ramble idiotically, you can decide) and everything that follows is just some brief thoughts on each book. Hopefully, you will either find something that you’ve been curious about or that will pique your interest!

I had this blog post ready to go last week, but in double-checking my Goodreads stats, I discovered an extra nine books that I had forgotten to include here. I didn’t feel like writing reviews for these stragglers (though some of them are definitely deserving!) but I did go back and add them to the various sections below.

Jo Nesbo’s The Night House was a quick, fun read that had a YA haunted monster house vibe…until it abruptly didn’t, and it cycles through a few of those “…until it didn’t” iterations throughout the story. It was the sort of read that you munch cold pizza and guzzle icy diet cokes with on summer vacation while inhaling as many trashy paperback novels as your part-time babysitting money will buy from the musty beachside bookstore in your town with the amazing horror selection. In this story, 14-year-old Richard goes to live with his aunt and uncle after his parents have died in a tragic fire. Coming from a big city to a small town, Richard is lonely and bored on top of grieving the loss of his mom and dad, and is angrily acting out by bullying his classmates…who then begin disappearing in ways that he can’t even begin to explain to the authorities (because they are getting sucked into telephone booths and being turned into cicadas and other such horrifying things.) These disappearances also involve a house deep in the woods and a mentally unstable black magic-wielding individual, and the whole thing feels like maybe the whole town has gone a little nuts, or else the whole thing is happening in Richard’s head. or maybe, could it be that all of these things are true at once?

The Centre by Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi Anisa is a 35-year-old translator getting along in a somewhat privileged and rather aimless way, translating Bollywood films and living on her family’s money when she learns of an institute called The Centre where one may learn a language in the span of ten days through some sort of very hush-hush, esoteric immersive technique. Dissatisfied with her life, and bored and frustrated with her lackluster relationship with Adam (from whom she learned of The Centre), she commits to spending a week at The Centre, figuring that learning a European language like German will lead to her becoming the serious translator she’s always wanted to be. The whole place has a weird vibe, it’s all very creepy A24 energy, lots of meditation and seclusion, but hey, the meals are tasty and top-notch, so it’s not all bad. Nothing’s clicking language-wise until Anisa suddenly realizes she’s absorbing the lessons, and five days in, she understands every word of German; it’s wild! Outside The Centre, she goes on to translate a book that hadn’t previously been translated from German into English and makes a small name for herself and realizes that even as she’s become a more “serious” translator, she’s neither satisfied nor happy, and goes back to The Centre for more lessons. As she undergoes this immersion for the second time, she is becoming more friendly with the woman who manages the place, Shiba, an individual who, culturally, and perhaps in many other ways, Anisa has much in common with. And Shiba. as it turns out, is eager to share The Centre’s secrets. But is Anisa really ready to hear it? There are a lot of ideas to engage and negotiate with in this book, in exploring these characters’ relationships with each other, in how they treat language, but also in terms of feminism and friendships, class and conformity, power and consumption. I think what I found most interesting is how this author doesn’t give you a clear answer about anything, at the end, of course, in the treatment of the “big reveal” but also just in how mutable a character Anisa is. She’s really a cipher. I did not know what to make of her at all! And I really loved that.

At the End of Every Day by Arianna Reiche I am not sure if this is a book that rewards your patience or punishes it… and if I’m honest, it was a bit of a slog to get through, but then again, I can’t stop thinking about it or talking about it. This is one of those books where the author seems to have had a lot of different ideas; this could have been many separate stories, but somehow they all came together in a deep dive into the minutiae of behind-the-scenes amusement park engineering and separately, neon glass crafting? As well as old-world superstitions and modern-day celebrity worship, but not just that, really, how cults and religions are built around these things, and not just cults and religions but maybe entire experiences like movies and theme parks that shape generations and entire cultures? And there’s something about twins and doppelgangers and echoes, and oh yeah, L.A. is burning, and what if it’s not just L.A. –is there even a world outside at ALL anymore? This book is getting a lot of low reviews, and many folks are saying, “I don’t have the patience for this,” but people. You gotta. I need someone else to talk about this with. Have the patience. It’s not rewarded in the end, not really. But I think it the reward comes somewhere beyond that in some other story. I don’t know what I mean by that, but that’s why we keep reading, I guess. I’m still giving this book five stars. Don’t ask me to explain it.

Beholder by Ryan La Sala Did Ryan La Sala scour my brain for all my favorite stuff and weave it all into an electrifyingly imaginative horror adventure just for me? Threads linking the sublime nature of art and beauty, weird occult practices and secret power struggles at the heart of the elite art world, the startling and tragic connections between what we create and what we destroy, hallucinatory wallpaper (!!), and how beauty too dreadful to behold could be lurking behind any and every mirror–or, perhaps, inside the person gazing into its surface.

Midnight Showing by Megan Shepherd Take all of the bonkers ideas and concepts in Malice House – a horror/fantasy/thriller with an MC who, in the process of clearing out her estranged father’s house after his death, encounters more and more increasingly weird stuff and is eventually led along a horrific journey ending with the knowledge she is of a lineage whose artistic talents, either writing or art, brings monsters to life…and then drop this story in LA with creepy movie sets and haunted films and Hollywood urban legends and even more weird magic, murder and mayhem. Very into this series, wherever it heads next!

Let Him In by William Friend The atmosphere in this book of a father handling the tragic loss of his wife and the monstrous manifestations of his twin daughters’ grief was utterly exquisite. Combine the timeless melancholy and *extremely British* autumnal glooms of The Haunting of Julia (even the sunny scenes in this book felt remarkably bleak) with the “creeping dread in dark corners of a broken home at midnight” factor of Hereditary, and it made for a book that I couldn’t put down—an absolute stunner of a story.

The Clinic by Cate Quinn is one of those books that you can see it happening on screen in your mind’s eye, a story that seemed like it would be wildly popular as a ridiculously fun, twisty, and binge-able murder mystery series on Netflix. Strung-out Meg works undercover at a casino in L.A., catching cheaters, loan sharks, and related nogoodniks. Upon learning that her famous, manipulative rockstar twin had died after having checked into a remote, luxurious rehab facility and that the death is being passed off as a suicide, Meg decides to check herself in and investigate, believing that her selfish narcissist sister would never do such a thing. Also, Meg is in desperate need of a detox herself. The story unfolds both through Meg’s perspective and Cara’s, an individual who manages the facility and prides herself on the orderliness and beauty of the resort…and with whom Meg immediately butts heard. Meg learns the stories of the other residents, all of whom could be suspects, as well as the shady tactics of the clinic’s head psychologist and doctor, all the while Meg is struggling with her own addiction and finding herself quite against her nature, making friends and becoming vulnerable. I understand that the author struggled with addiction and has her own experience to draw from in terms of rehab and what may go on there, but I oftentimes found myself struggling with the book’s explanations of trauma and addiction and how it talked about sociopathy. From an outsider’s POV, I don’t know how much I can comment on it, but some of it felt a little irresponsible. Then again, this book was pretty absurd overall, so maybe I am overthinking it. Still–it was one of those compulsive, impossible-to-put-down reads, so maybe just don’t get caught up in the details.

The Heiress by Rachel Hawkins  spins and churns with secrets and scandal, centering on the wealthy McTavish family and its notorious matriarch, Ruby, who was kidnapped as a child and miraculously returned to her family only to grow up and develop an infamous reputation for very different reasons than her childhood disappearance (she was widowed four times over!) The story takes place in past and present timelines, spilling through a dead woman’s lips in the form of revelatory letters from Ruby about her storied life as well as the current circumstances of Ruby’s adopted, estranged son Camden. Camden wants nothing to do with his family, but his wife Jules is weirdly obsessed with getting Camden back into the familial fold despite his reluctance to reconnect with his shady relatives and tragic legacy…and, of course, claim his sizeable inheritance. Although Camden and Jules are clearly devoted to each other, you learn that they are both withholding secrets from each other and while that would seem like the worst time to reconnect with your despicable cousins in their creepy old mansion and attempt to stake your claim on the whole den of vipers, we probably wouldn’t have much of a story if they didn’t, right? And it was a pretty twisty, captivating story too, right up til the end, which I thought was exceedingly clever.

Ripe by Sarah Rose Etter was a panic attack on speed. This story, both all-too anxiously, heartbreakingly real, and yet vaguely, weirdly magical realist, follows Cassie from the cruelly competitive environment of her Silicon Valley tech/marketing job to her home life, which includes toxic, terrible friends, an occasional lover that technically belongs to someone else, and a long-distance relationship with her parents that does more harm than good. And while we follow Cassie, so too does the ever-expanding black hole that’s accompanied her for her whole life. Cassie’s loneliness and desolation –and that of the city she lives in–are captured in the author’s lush, dreamy prose and passages in which I forgot for a moment that I was reading about profoundly unhappy characters who deeply hate themselves. At this story’s heart is the question, “How does anyone bear themselves?” And the end shows us, in the starkest manner possible, that they simply don’t.

The Trap by Catherine Ryan Howard Told from multiple points of view, The Trap explores the circumstances of three missing women in Dublin and the people who are resolved to find them and/or decipher the mystery of their disappearance. There is Lucy, the sister of Nikki, who had gone missing the year before and whose life is on hold, unraveling with the unknowing. There is Angela, a civilian working in the Missing Persons Unit who hasn’t yet passed her physical but is determined to prove her worth, and, unexpectedly, the killer himself, who shares their history of urges and crimes. Though I found the premise and the individual stories intriguing, as the story unfolded and the twists were revealed, it felt like the story fell apart with the decisions and behaviors of the characters not making much sense at all. I had a lot of fun with and quite enjoyed Run Time and 56 Days by this same author, but I’m not so much a fan of this title.

In Delicate Condition by Danielle Valentine, Anna, an actress approaching middle age who has finally secured the role that’s put her on the map, is desperate to have a baby with her husband Dex. She has undergone several painful rounds of IVF to achieve this dream and finally becomes pregnant. For what should be a joyous time, however, the pregnancy is immediately fraught. Everything feels “off”, Anna is experiencing much more pain and discomfort than is normal, and there are strange and unsettling occurrences happening around her. It seems that externally, someone–perhaps a stalker?– does not want her to have this baby, and internally, the baby seems…well, rather monstrous. In this twisty, creepy thriller, nothing is quite as it seems for either Anna or those of us following along …is someone threatening Anna and her unborn child? Or trying to warn her of the danger posed by what she carries inside her? I kept shuffling this one to the bottom of my TBR pile, and shame on me for that because it’s intense and atmospheric and SO GOOD. CW: lots of pregnancy body horror and scenes of miscarriage.

The Followers by Bradeigh Godfrey As irritating as I find social media influencers, I am also hopelessly fascinated by them, so I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing them as characters in mysteries, thrillers, and horror novels. At their best, we’ll get to see their humanity and a peek behind the “highlights reel” of their life, and at worst, well…perhaps they’ll get what they deserve. Mommy influencer Molly Sullivan is more or less a good egg and in the former category, and we read of her struggling to find like-minded friends in a new town and balancing a new marriage to a Scott, a private, introverted fellow, with sharing her life on social media, maintaining engagement with her followers and making good in her promise to always let them in on her authentic life journey. Meanwhile, she does make a new friend. A young woman named Liv, who is temporarily living locally to Molly and who thinks that Molly’s husband is actually the man who killed her sister and kidnapped her niece over a decade ago. As Molly and Liv’s friendship deepens, Liv is increasingly convinced that she has tracked down the right man…but then, who is the stranger creepily sneaking around and watching all of them? I don’t love romance mixed into my thrillers and there is a lot of that in this one but it’s not shoehorned in or handled sloppily, so it’s tolerable in a story that’s fast-paced and a lot of fun.

Never Whistle At Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology  From the beautiful cover art to the exciting line-up of authors and the enthusiastic forward by beloved contemporary master of horror Stephen Graham Jones, I had high expectations of this right from the start–and I was not disappointed. Never Whistle at Night is an outstanding gathering of eerie stories that speak to an expansive range of indigenous experiences, exploring the darker aspects of their history and culture. This felt like a thoughtfully–even lovingly–curated collection of tales involving both everyday, mundane horrors of colonialism, identity, and power dynamics as well as fantastically supernatural curses, creatures, and monsters–the monsters calling from both within the house and outside in the darkness. Though there were some offerings I liked more than others, I enjoyed almost every single one of them, with a good handful of them I would have liked to have seen in longer form because they were just that incredible. But I say “almost every single one” because there was one that bored me stiff after a few pages, and I gave up. That story aside (and who knows, I may give it another try), this was a phenomenal anthology.

The One That Got Away With Murder by Trish Lundy What are the chances of becoming involved with not one–but two– suspected murderers when you’ve transferred to a new school to run away from your own checkered past and all its demons? Lauren and her mother move to the idyllic-seeming town of Happy Valley, Pennsylvania, after a fiery incident that leaves her a mentally and emotionally scarred social pariah. Things aren’t looking so great in her new school, either, when Lauren’s classmates and soccer teammates begin avoiding her and harassing her when they realize she’s hooked up with local-rich-boy-with-a-bad-reputation Robbie Crestmont. Folks in the town blame Robbie for the death of his girlfriend, and funny enough, Robbie’s brother Trevor also has a relatively recently deceased girlfriend himself. In desperately trying to unravel the mystery of the murders and the family at the heart of them, Lauren is also tangled in the guilt and grief from her own past–which may be blinding her to dangers that are much closer to her than she can even conceive. I read this propulsive thriller pulsing with secrets and twists over the course of a single evening, and it was a great time all the way through.

Green Fuse Burning by Tiffany Morris Struggling with grief after the death of her father and coming to terms with the unsaid but inevitable dissolution-in-progress of her current relationship, artist Rita is primed for my favorite horror subgenre of a story: “artist goes off to create in seclusion; weird shit ensues.” Spending a week at an isolated lake local to where her father grew up, Rita takes advantage of her girlfriend having forged her application–and having won– an artist’s residency complete with a creepy cabin in the woods, with some local folks behaving weirdly, as an extra treat. Rita begins to experience strange visions/hallucinations and possible instances of lost time or what might seem to be out-of-body experiences, and her resulting artworks reflect both her mood, the atmosphere, and her either literal or metaphorical (both? neither? not sure what was going on, really) journeys and experiences while exploring the land and the lake around the cabin. Morris’ writing is breathtakingly gorgeous, from the descriptions of the landscape to the artful essays detailing each painting, in the voice of an art critic. Overall, I’m not sure I completely loved the story but I definitely appreciated the lens of beauty, terror, and decay that it was written through

Mary: An Awakening of Terror by Nat Cassidy This is a title that had been languishing in my TBR pile for a year or so, and man I really slept on it. Turns out that middle-aged, menopausal Mary is probably my all-time favorite character and I am sorry I waited so long to get to it! Hot flashes are one thing, but grotesque hallucinations, losing time, and homicidal urges? Mary’s pretty sure something’s not quite right but of course, her doctor just pooh-poohs her concerns. I know I haven’t said much but don’t want to say anything else and risk having said too much! This book is gross and fun and you might think “What business does a man have writing about a middle-aged woman?” I thought that, too. Make sure you read the Afterword.

Lapidarium: The Secret Lives of Stones by Hettie Judah.  Have you ever gazed into a stone and wondered as to the stories it stores? The powers it possesses? In her fascinating book, Lapidarium: The Secret Lives of Stones, Hettie Judah explores the hidden history of these lithic marvels, from their role in ancient cultures to their modern-day influences and uses. An absolute feast for the senses, the book itself feels very much like a collector’s treasure hoarded wunderkammer of mythic and mysterious curiosities. It is split into six sections (Stones and Power, Sacred Stones, Stones and Stories, Stone Technology, Shapes in Stone, and Living Stones), and each section reveals a chapter devoted to unearthing an individual stone with imaginative, artful descriptions and a pretty wild, or wildly fascinating story connected to each stone. It’s a stunningly presented and designed book, with color-coordinated pictures and beautiful illustrations by artist Nicky Pasterfield for each stone, evoking the charming pictures in old geological and scientific publications. Referencing science, history, chemistry, physics, literature, philosophy, and pop culture, Lapidarium is an extravagantly storied chamber of stones, the next best thing to having a secret sparkling cache of curios at your fingertips. Writing with humor, compassion, and wit (I cackled out loud more times than I can count), Hettie leads us sure-footedly on our craggy journey down a glittering path of 60 mineralogical eccentricities, ancient souvenirs of deep-Earth drama, and travelogues that cross the strata of time as well as space. I wrote an in-depth review of this book here on the blog earlier this summer.

Rabbit Hole by Kate Brody The older I get the more I devour stories about the messy lives of 20-somethings who seem to be perpetually teetering on the brink, or maybe perpetually trapped in free-fall. Wildly careening out of control, numbing with sex, drugs, and dangerous, stupid scenarios, it seems like they never quite hit bottom, yet it’s always too late to stop from tipping over the edge. They fixate and fuck up and fail spectacularly–out of school, jobs, relationships–they can’t seem to get a grip on the messiness of their lives and it spirals ever further into chaos over the course of the story. I might be so obsessed with these characters because, in my late teens and early twenties, my life was practical and predictable;  I held down jobs while attending school and paying rent. I didn’t always get it perfect and my family had its own issues, but my life looked nothing like these books. Then again, my sister did not disappear and eventually become an unsolved cold case, and my father did not die by suicide, consumed by grief and guilt, ten years later. That’s a lot of loss and trauma, and that is what our main character Teddy is grappling with. Teddy begins to piece things together from Reddit threads and accounts she finds on her father’s computer, she falls into an uneasy friendship with an amateur internet sleuth, and becomes involved in a fraught relationship with an older man that she suspects had something to do with her sister’s disappearance. Her job performance as a teacher at a local private school becomes more and more erratic and her life is basically going to shit –and she’s not doing anything to stop it. It’s such an uncomfortable, unrelenting study of a grieving person that it feels almost exploitative in a morbidly fascinated “I can’t look away from this train wreck” kind of way. It wraps up confusingly and abruptly, and I am a little embarrassed to say that toward the end I had no idea what was going on. It’s not that it seemed all that complicated or twisty, and yet I still couldn’t really figure out what was happening. Up until that point though, I couldn’t tear myself away.

 

MYSTERIES/THRILLERS

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell A young mother and her boyfriend go missing in an English village after partying with some friends. A year later, a writer moves into town and is drawn into the mystery thanks to some strange clues left on her property.  This was a thoroughly engrossing story, I’m learning that you simply cannot go wrong with a Lisa Jewell novel.

The Family Game by Catherine Steadman Novelist Harriet Reed is finally getting to meet her fiance’s wealthy family and soon realizes that there’s gonna be a lot of weird and dangerous hoops to jump through if she wants to be part of the clan.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley  A group of friends get together at an isolated hunting lodge during a winter storm, and the usual secrets and murders ensue. Lucy Foley’s always fun with multiple POVs and timelines that shift from the recent past to the heart-pounding present, and there’s usually never a dull moment.

I Didn’t Do It by Jaime Lynn Hendricks A murder at a mystery/thriller writer’s convention! Could anything be tackier or more sensational? If you think you know from the get-go what’s going on, you’re probably right.

The Vanishing Hour by Serafina Nova Glass After a horrifyingly traumatic experience, Grace has sequestered herself away from the world working at a small, coastal town bed and breakfast. As the season comes to an end for the summer, she is startled by a last-minute guest who brings with him the very kind of trouble she’s been trying to run away from. This is the second or third thing I have read from this author and while they all seem wildly implausible, they’re so well-written, I don’t care. (How are nit-picky details in a thriller more implausible than say, ghosts or vampires? Shut up!) On A Quiet Street x

The Last Word by Taylor Adams Even more implausible (but fun as hell so who cares) was this book about a woman staying at an isolated beach house who becomes the target of a stalker after she has written a negative review about a really terrible horror novel…and the author doesn’t much care for her opinion.

 

GRAPHIC NOVELS

Wonder Woman: Ars HistoriaThis story of how the goddesses of Mount Olympus were just fed up with men, and how the Amazons subsequently came to be, was breathtakingly gorgeous and a powerfully moving read.

Trve Cvlt by Scott Bryan WilsonWeirdly enthusiastic fast food employees get caught up in the lunacy of a satanic cult’s search for an ultimate weapon

Night Fever by Ed Brubaker This was a noir-type story of a middle-aged traveling salesman who gets caught up in a nightlife-fever dream of brutality and debauchery on one of his business trips abroad. A “shining the light on the violence within men’s hearts” series of vignettes.

Hauntology by Jeremy Haun An interesting diversion

 

POETRY

SUPERDOOM by Melissa Broder I did not love these poems nearly as much as I loved the title of the book. There was an unholy number of instances of the word “cock.” I like my poetry dickless, honestly.  Dick-free poetry only. No thank you and good day.

Small Crimes by Andrea Jurjević  An intimate wander through the horror and beauty in early 90s Croatia during the war, and then later in America, after the war. Raw and rich with hope amidst ugliness and despair,  dark with the scraped and scabby wit of a perpetually open wound, this collection affected me and resonated with me much more than the one above.

The Hocus-Pocus of the Universe by Laura Gilpin Unfortunately, I think the devastating two-headed calf poem gave me higher expectations than this book could ever deliver on. At this point to make such a reference is sort of low-hanging fruit, but there was definitely a Rupi Kaur-like quality to several of the poems, a bland vapidity that was so on-the-nose that nothing actually meant anything, everything felt shallow and empty. I was disappointed to discover that, because again–that two-headed cafe poem! I cry if I even think about it! The rest of the collection gave me nothing to think about at all. That feels like a really horrible thing to write. Let’s chalk it up to an instance of over-inflated expectations.

 

 

HORROR/FANTASY/SPECULATIVE

Lone Women by Victor LaValle Adelaide is an isolated homesteader making a new life for herself out west, and her story is one of monstrous secrets and terrible burdens and dark pasts, and there is an aspect of it that reminds me in a way of a book that I desperately want to mention, but I feel like if I do, that will somehow spoil a little something about both books. I’ll just say the book that springs to mind is by Terry Pratchett. If you’ve read both and somehow are reading my mind and the connections I am making, please tell me! At any rate,  never has a story drawn me in with such immediacy and immersed me so quickly and completely.

Weyward by Emilia Hart I had been putting off reading this for the longest time. The reason is that I kept seeing on friends book lists, and these are friends that I associate with Fantasy with a capital “F.” Which is all well and good for visual art and cinema, but as an adult, I like my fantasy a little more low-key, sneaking into the lives of regular people who are firmly rooted in my world. It turns out Weyward is more witchy than fantastical, following the lives of three women across multiple genergarions who are born with mysterious gifts, and who are either learning of, accepting, or dealing with the consequences of their remarkable powers. It’s a really lovely book, and if you dream of living in a lonesome little cottage with a garden just outside your window, where you hear lashes of rain in the springtime and birdsong in the summer, you will love this book as much as I did. As I am the last one in the world to read it, I am probably preaching to the choir here.

Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle This is an unfair assessment, but I’ve never read Chuck Tingle’s books, only giggled at their silly titles. I was surprised at how…lucid… this story of conversion therapy via demonic possession was. I realize “lucid” is a very low bar for reading material.

We Spread by Iain Reid You never know what you’re going to get with Iain Reid but at least I didn’t want to hurl this particular book about an unsettling elder-care home and its appalling secrets into the sea, like I did with I’m Thinking of Ending Things. I’m afraid the title “We Spread” somewhat hints at the mystery, but even recognizing that, there’s still about about the story that I didn’t quite get.

Finna by Nino Cipri This was a quick little read about navigating codependent relationships and the messy breakups that sometimes follow…which is even worse if you have to work together. Even worse than that, when interdimensional wormholes open up at the  IKEA-esque superstore where you’re both employed. Very queer, weird, anti-capitalist fun.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix I loved Patricia, a gracious southern housewife whose family kind of sucks but who finds connection and kindred spirits in the women in her community and their unexpected book club. An interesting new element is introduced to the neighborhood in the form of James, a charmer under whose thrall the majoirty of the town eventually succumbs.  Patricia begins to suspect terrible things about James and this is where the book becomes massively uncomfortable for me. The gaslighting is off the charts, the community’s treatment of Patricia–even from her friends– and the way her husband and children behaved toward her, made me nearly physically ill. And these next issues are not typical of a Grady Hendrix story (at least not that I can recollect) but I hated the male gaze-y way the characters were handled; I am referring to scenes with both Slick and Patricia’s daughter, after their individual assaults. And even the fact that there were instances of sexual assault at all–I found pretty shocking. Not shocking for horror. Not shocking for horror written by a man. But shocking to have read it in this author’s books. It made me sad if I’m being honest. I expect all manner of marvelous, freaky ridiculousness from Grady Hendrix. But I don’t expect this.

The Watchers by A.M. Shine  This tale of a remote forest, the people who become trapped there, and the sinister inhabitants of its ancient realms is intense and creepy, but the writing is a bit weird. For example: our main character for reasons that sort of make sense as they relate to the story, gets lost in the forest with a parrot. The author frequently refers to it as “the yellow one”–not “the bird,” not “the parrot,” not even by its name. It’s one of those things that becomes stupid and annoying after a while and you’re just like, “WHY? and it begins to affect your overall enjoyment of the story. That twist at the end, though!

You’re Not Supposed to Die Tonight by Kalynn Bayron This was a lot fun

She Is A Haunting by Trang Thanh Tran I loved this one, recommend for sure

These Fleeting Shadows by Kate Alice Marshall I did not care for this one

Monstrilio by Gerardo Sámano Córdova This one was super interesting, highly recommend

Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak This was just sort of whatever

 

 

LITERARY FICTION (not trying to be pretentious here, but really didn’t know how to categorize these)

Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura  Middle-schooler Kokoro is shy and struggling and has not been to class in quite some time. Her classmates are bullying her, and what begins as anxiety and fear about going back to school becomes a phobia about even leaving the house at all. Her parents are frustrated and are seeking out alternative schooling options, but for the time being, they allow Kokoro to stay home while they work during the day. One afternoon, a portal appears in her bedroom mirror, and she enters to find herself in a castle …where six other kids her age have apparently found their way as well. They learn they have some interesting things in common and were summoned for a reason, but they only piece it all together over the course of getting to know each other and becoming friends. I loved this magical, heartwarming story, and guess what! It’s a movie, too!

The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya Two musicians connect, and briefly share a profoundly close friendship; fame, envy, self-doubt, and the internet ruins everything

The Guest by Emma Cline Alex is a hot mess express, pretending to be someone she isn’t at every turn, grifting and scamming her way through the Hamptons. I read this in an afternoon and was stressed out every second.

All-Night Pharmacy by Ruth Madievsky See above Rabbit Hole review re: chaotic 20-somethings and their messed-up, violent, strung-out, sexy lives. Sprinkle in complicated siblings, magical realism, mysticism, and a more satisfying (although maybe the slightest bit cheesy?) ending.

Maddalena and the Dark by Julia Fine  An atmospheric, dark academia(esque) fairy-tale (sorta) about the budding friendship between Maddalena, the daughter of a wealthy Venetian family, and Luisa, an orphan at the Pieta, where girls are schooled in the musical arts. At turns devoted to each other and obsessed with each other, the shifting power dynamics and feverish desire between the two will be the undoing of one of them.  Which is all to say…ooof, I hope you never have a friend like Maddalena.

Chrysalis by Anna Metcalfe Captivating and frustrating

The Vegetarian by Han Kang Skip it

Yellowface by RF Kuang Definitely do not skip it

 

I did not finish the following books. In the majority of these instances, I didn’t even make it a quarter of the way through. In a typical reading year, I might have been a bit more forgiving of plots that did not immediately hook me in, or whatever other various issues I had, but for these purposes, I figured I just didn’t have time to dick around if I am trying to reach a goal.

The Witcher this was gross and rapey, I’ll just watch the shows and play the games

The Force of Such Beauty Barbara Bourland this was taking to long to go anywhere; life is short and who knows how much time I have left

The Handyman Method under no circumstances will I partake in the tedium and existential angst of a long, boring trip to Home Depot

Everything the Darkness Eats sorry Eric LaRocca, I could not get into this at all

 

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At the start of September I was pretty bummed because Florida Septembers are not super magical.  I don’t know what it’s like where you’re at, but in Florida, autumn really seems to dither and dilly-dally and lollygag and all those funny old-fashioned words that mean something’s taking too effing long!

So I  just did all the autumn things I love anyhow, to make myself feel better and perhaps summon some autumn feels while I was at it… and I thought it might be fun to film them along the way for a MONTAGE. Who doesn’t love a montage?  So yeah, here’s 3 weeks of homebody autumnal stuff distilled into about 5 minutes worth of video.

My videos aren’t like the top quality or whatever, but I have fun making them, so I hope you will give it a watch! And as per usual, everything mentioned in the video can be found below.

🎃 wreath and felt woodland creature dangle from World Market
🎃 pumpkin spice creamer recipe
🎃 sourdough bread recipe 
🎃 pumpkin bread recipe
🎃 Dragonhoard yarn
🎃 Comfort Fade cardi pattern
🎃 Zoologist Bat https://www.zoologistperfumes.com/pro…
🎃 Chris Collins Autumn Rhythm
🎃 Solstice Scents Estate Carnation
🎃 Pineward Fanghorn II
🎃 bloodmilk x BPAL Owl Moon
🎃 Arcana Wildcraft Holy Terror 
🎃 BPAL Limited Edition Pumpkin Smut is not available but their 2023 Halloween collection is live!
🎃 Botanical Interest seeds
🎃 Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle 
🎃 Lone Women by Victor LaValle
🎃 Let Him In by William Friend
🎃 Never Whistle At Night : An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology
🎃 Mary: An Awakening of Terror by Nat Cassidy
🎃 The Watchers by A.M. Shine

 

If you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

 

 

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