First off, it never gets old, seeing a book that you’ve written on a shelf–whether your own shelf or someone else’s or in a bookshop or the library or wherever! I haven’t been to a bookstore since 2019, so seeing The Art of Darkness on my own shelf will have to do for now I guess. (Ok I just remembered that’s not true. I went to *one* but they didn’t have my book.)
But secondly …it’s time for a giveaway! Wouldst thou like to win a signed copy of The Art of Darkness: A Treasury of the Morbid, Melancholic and Macabre AS WELLS AS a print of the phenomenal cover art, Antiquity V, by Alex Eckman-Lawn?
Eagle-eyed readers of this blog may have noticed that I accidentally published the bare bones of this bookish round-up last month. Le whoopsie! I unintentionally hit the “publish” instead of “save draft” button, and I totally blame WordPress for not throwing up a “are you sure you want to publish now?” warning on the screen to alert me! Yes, it is WordPress’s fault! At any rate, if you caught that, I guess you got a bit of a sneak peek!
It appears that I read quite a few books over the summer! I am not sure how many! I’ve added this up several times, and keep coming up with a different number, but it’s somewhere between 25-29 books. Including 5 graphic novels, which I didn’t write reviews for, but if you are curious, they were: Neil Gaiman’s gorgeous Snow, Glass, and Apples and the swoony sadness of The Dream Hunters; the chaotic dystopian frenzy of Philippe Druillet’s The Night; Jude Ellison S. Doyle Maw, teeming with terrible, monstrous rage, and Dracula, Motherf**ker which had a very cool cover going for it but, sadly, not much else.
Anyway, I suppose “quite a few” books could mean different things to different people. To some of you, 25+ books is probably nothing, you do that in a few weeks. And to other folks, that number is your reading goal for the year. It’s all pretty subjective, I guess. But that many books read in three months feels pretty good to me!
Back to the subject of being eagle-eyed, or, in my case–quite the opposite. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but the problem with being active on so many social media platforms is that I forget where and when, or if I have already shared something. But with regard to all of the books I have written about below, they’re digital versions. Until I get my eyeballs looked at and get some new glasses, my physical books are gathering dust, unread, because I can’t see well enough to read them anymore. And before you get on me about the frequency of eye exams or whatever, lemme stop you there. These are (relatively) NEW glasses I’m wearing right now. I think I got them in late 2021. I’ve been wearing glasses since I was ten years old. My vision is terrible and it’s been getting worse. But in February or March of 2022, I just woke up one day and just couldn’t see the words on the page. It seemed to have happened overnight! So I am waiting until I can get on Yvan’s insurance because my glasses always end up being expensive as hell, and in the meantime, I am muddling by with my Kindle.
(Please don’t ask me if I am still, even as recently as last week, buying physical copies of books anyway. Because I think you know the answer. It’s a problem!)
Let’s dive into the stacks!
Unnatural Creatures by Kris Waldherr. Oh, how I adored the lush, transportive, and terribly heartbreaking beauty of this Frankenstein revisiting and reimagining, lensed through the perspectives of three women, all incredible in their own right. Caroline–Victor Frankenstein’s exquisitely gentle, selfless mother; Elizabeth, the beautiful and accomplished cousin betrothed to Victor, with secret torments and a mysterious past of her own; and poor, broken, and orphaned Justine, devoted to the family–but just how far will she go to prove it? I loved how richly imagined and fully realized these three characters were, and in my rapt, convulsive reading of this tale it dawned on me how desperately it needed to be told. (via Netgalley)
All’s Well by Mona Awad. I’m here for any old weird story that Mona Awad wants to tell us, the more unhinged and unraveling the better (see Bunny, which is a book I have recommended more than any other in the past year or so.) Miranda Fitch, a former actor/current theatre professor, suffers agonizing chronic pain due to injuries incurred in a stage accident a few years prior. Despondent at the lack of compassion and effective treatment from her dismissive, disbelieving doctors, frustrated and furious with the staff and classes who seem to be undermining all of her plans to stage a production of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, and disturbed by her one semi-close friend’s dwindling rations of empathy, Miranda is going a bit out of her mind with grief, pain, and exhaustion. And then: a weird trio of “doctors” grants her a strange, golden cure. Delirium and chaos ensues where wrongs are twistily righted, just desserts are served, as if things are looking up for Miranda it may well be a dizzying descent into “be careful what you wish for” territory. I won’t promise you will love this one if you loved Bunny...but if you did love Bunny, you owe it to your love of Awad’s deliciously dark writing and magically bizarre stories to give All’s Well a read.
How We Disappear Novella and Stories by Tara Lynn Masih. I loved how this captivating collection of diverse stories felt like the intimacy of sharing a strange series of dreams with a friend. Each vignette was as distinct from the other as they were vague in form…they often seemed to begin at the middle, or the end of a journey, and yet they only seemed like a beginning. For all that, though, they were all emotionally filling enough to feel complete. I feel to say more than that is — (via Netgalley)
Daphne by Josh Malerman. I’ll be honest. I went into Daphne a bit skeptical. “A basketball ghost?” I know that’s a lazy summarization but after reading the book’s synopsis, that was my takeaway. A vengeful spirit brutally stalking a high school basketball team. Huh. I don’t know about all that. I mean, I am the reader who skipped through several chapters of Quiddich matches in the Harry Potter books because they were “too sportsball-y.” (Yes, I know JKR is a problem, but I can’t pretend I never read the books.) So when I admit that I found this psychological horror/slasher-esque/coming of age story about Kit and her teammates and the terrifying events befalling them in their beloved hometown of Samhattan to be immediately, irresistibly compelling, I think I was more surprised than anyone. So, yeah…not really a book about basketball. I mean there’s practice and there are games and there’s sportsy jargon being tossed around and camaraderie between the friends, but running through all of that, overshadowing it, underscoring it, are a number of other things. How secrets have a habit of festering and never staying buried, how darkness and demons are better faced than ignored, how it’s important to talk about the uncomfortable things, the painful things, even the pants-shittingly terrifying things. How we are more than the sum of our parts–more than our anxiety, more than being a basketball player, more than being the “funny one”, or “the good one”–but that said, we have to acknowledge and honor those parts of ourselves, too, and that’s what makes us whole. So well done, Malerman. I guess you made me read about a basketball ghost, after all.(via Netgalley)
The Wilderwomen by Ruth Emmie Lang was a unique coming-of-age tale about the bonds of family, both sisterhood and motherhood, and how those threads, through time and circumstance, can tangle and strain, and not always weave the sort of tapestry that you had envisioned–or in retrospect, was perhaps threaded with more secrets and unspoken private darknesses than you had realized. Zadie and Finn are two sisters with special gifts; elder 20-something Zadie has a future sight that she refuses to use, and just-graduated-from-high school Finn has the ability to step into the echo of a memory. Their relationship in a tenuous place after their mother’s mysterious disappearance 5 years prior and Finn’s subsequent placement into a foster home, they embark on a post-graduation beach vacation-turned cross-country adventure, in search of their mother. The sisters reestablishing their trust and rekindling their connection provided some lovely, grounding moments during a journey that proves to be unexpectedly, beautifully magical, and ultimately, happy-sigh-inducingly satisfying.(via Netgalley)
The Memory Librarian by Janelle Monae Well. This is embarrassing. I read The Memory Librarian earlier this summer and I just don’t remember much about it. I was really good about writing up reviews for most of these books immediately after finishing them because I knew there was no way I’d ever be able to remember all of them otherwise. It seems I didn’t even take any notes for this one, just one highlighted passage and an Instagram story where I demanded that everyone “READ * THIS * FUCKING * BOOK.” (Wow, so bossy.) But please don’t take my failings here to mean it wasn’t immersive and really just extraordinary. If you enjoyed or were intrigued with the dystopian world of Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer album, then I think you’ll really savor this speculative anthology that expands on the concepts and narratives she introduced there. Monae and her co-authors expand on this world and explore themes of dreams, imagination, art; time and memory, resistance, identity, and community building, all through the lens of gender-expansive, marginalized people. The quote I highlighted if you’re curious, was this: “… the hard, old way of forgetting, which is remembering with grief.”
Though wildly different in place and setting from the previous books I had read by Catriona Ward, (The Last House on Needless Street and Sundial) the hallucinatory gothic mysteries playing out in the pages of Little Evewere equally, if not twice as compelling. I didn’t quite know what sort of story this was, or where it was going, when I began reading of this enigmatic, isolated family living in a strange, crumbling castle at the watery edge of a small village. As the tale unfolded and I began to settle in, a slew of things happened, murderous things, secret and sacred and brutal things, melancholic and tender things. As the past and present converged, these things twisted in and upon one another, and my “settling in” became increasingly unsettled…but of course in the very best, Catriona Wardiest-sort-of-way. (via Netgalley)
Zoje Stage’s Mothered brought to mind a funny thing I see on the internet sometimes. “Are you funny?” a meme with forgettable visuals asks… and then the gut punch of a punchline: “…Or did you have a happy childhood?” This never fails to elicit a bleak cackle from me, and I gotta tell you, Mothered is a mother-frikkin’ bleak cackle of a book. If you had a happy childhood, then perhaps the book’s premise doesn’t seem like the trappings of a potential horror movie: wherein Grace has just lost her job and her elderly mother, recently widowed and just out of the hospital, has moved in with her. Seems win-win; Grace needs the financial support as she has just purchased a home and being unemployed during a pandemic makes it tough to pay the mortgage, and her mother obviously is going to need a bit of help recuperating after having been unwell. And there is of course a lot of unhappy history there; Grace and her mother are estranged, there’s childhood neglect and trauma –and maybe some other stuff!–that’s never been adequately addressed and with all of this in their past, they are really struggling to reconnect and communicate while living under the same roof again. Grace begins having nightmares, losing time, and sleepwalking, and endures a heartbreakingly gruesome accusation by her mother. What’s going on? Is Grace slowly unraveling from sleep deprivation? Is her mother the one who is losing it? Maybe it’s both?! If you’ve got a dark sense of humor and that cackling darkness was developed as a defense mechanism, I think that you, like me, will find Mothered a grim, gripping giggle of a summer read.(via Netgalley)
I read Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas in one freaking sitting and I can’t remember the last time I did that! It’s got that lush, gorgeous, dark academia “we were perfect and beautiful because we were young” cloistered university student vibe, there’s these gothic, dilapidated structures the students are living in, the whole institution has this vaguely cult-like energy AND there’s a weird, speculative element to it as well. I will say that it is very long on atmosphere and maybe a little short on the plot. Ok, that’s not quite fair, in retrospect, but, and this is why I will never be a fantastic reviewer…I can’t quite put into words what I mean here. But when you dial the atmosphere up to 20 I can forgive anything! A few of the things I liked about this tale of sequestered students in this hidden-away and vaguely controversial school are the things it didn’t have going for it: it didn’t feel YA to me (I don’t know if the book is or it isn’t, but once I get that vibe, I lose interest) and it wasn’t too “here’s a 30-year-old thinking about that time their friend was murdered in college and hey look here’s a class reunion where secrets are going to be revealed” and it wasn’t too “wizarding world of whatever.” It was very much set in the real world of things…but just slightly…not. And don’t get me wrong, I’ll read all of those things I just pooh-poohed, but Catherine House was the perfect combination of none of those things and it was exactly what I needed.
The Rule of Threeby E.G. Scott was sold to me as “three couples whose game night goes horribly wrong”…and that’s not quite it. I was expecting all three couples in the same house, playing the same game, and you know, someone’s necromancer summons a foul entity that shows up in corporeal meatspace and does some real-life murder and mayhem. No. That’s not this book. I probably should have read the whole synopsis, not just one line (but I think they need to revisit that line!) So, actually, the wives are having a book club night and at the same time, the husbands are having a poker night. All three men end up either dead or hospitalized, and if you’re thinking “gee, I bet they deserved it,” you’d be right; all three of them were pieces of work. So, who did it, and why? In this exclusive, posh community, it seems like every neighbor has a motive…and that’s not even counting the various reasons and resentments their own spouses might be harboring. Speaking of the wives, their internal dialogues/external conversations sound so familiar to one another that at first, I had a hard time telling who was who among the three main characters. They eventually differentiate themselves, but the “hive-mind” feel to their thoughts did throw a bit of a stumbling block for immersing myself in their story. Was it still a gripping story, fraught with tension, intrigue, and drama? Sure, it had all of that, and it was a fast-paced story that eventually drew me in and kept me engaged. I’ve just got a few nit-picky problems, is all. (via Netgalley)
The Sacrifice by Rin Chupeco A legendary island notorious for curses, missing people, and human sacrifices becomes the set for a Hollywood film crew in this tale of you-dumb-people-shoulda-left-well-enough-alone. Mysterious local, teenage Alon, becomes the guide for the documentary team, which is headed up by their fearless leader, a reality show survivalist who is hell-bent on making a comeback. Or is there more to it than that? Everyone is a bit more, or a lot more than they seem on this island where mysterious things breathe and move and won’t stay dead …or were never really alive…if they were ever really there at all? I loved the setting and the atmosphere of this story, which I thought was thrillingly original. The nonbinary Alon was aloof and enigmatic, and very, very cool, and if I was looking for some YA horror, I would have loved this. But I wasn’t, and I didn’t realize that’s… sort of what this story is. is. If that’s your thing, you’ll dig this.(via Netgalley)
Earthlings by Sayaka Murata. This book is profoundly weird and unpleasant, tackling themes of abuse and control and personal autonomy and individual spirit vs. tradition and conformity–and there is absolutely nothing subtle about it. Which is not to say I didn’t like it. Young Natsuki doesn’t feel that she fits in, is treated horribly by her own family, and is in fact convinced that she is an alien from another planet. Her only comfort is her cousin Yuu, who either feels similarly on the alien front–or whom she has convinced that he feels that way because he does seem easily led. After a disastrous family visit to her grandparent’s mountain home where in the course of the stay she is forbidden contact with Yuu (maybe for good reason), she is thrust back into regular home/school life again, where she is being molested by a teacher, but no one believes her. Natsuki’s existence as an adult is deeply informed by her experiences as a child and she’s grown apart from society with, some might say, fairly antisocial and anti-establishment beliefs–and she still believes she’s an alien. She meets a man that she relates to, in a way, as he has had traumatic childhood experiences of his own and has grown up a jaded individual who also holds some unorthodox beliefs as well. In a bizarre bargain struck between them, they marry, but it’s definitely the sort of marriage made to keep their respective families off their backs and certainly not a love match. It doesn’t necessarily work as they’d hoped, and to escape scrutiny, they reconnect with cousin Yuu and go to stay in the now-abandoned family home up in the mountains. I’ve toned down the bizarre elements of the plot, so I don’t think I’ve actually given much away… even though it seems like I’ve walked you through the whole story!
Influencer Islandby Kyle Rutkin. I can’t decide if this book was dumb or brilliant. Or maybe the brilliance lies in exploiting how dumb we are, the people reading this, or those who would watch something like this if it actually existed. A concept consisting of obnoxious social media celebrities lauded for …nothing, really– just as influencers in real life–pitted against each other on some desert island version of Big Brother Battle Royale Hunger Squid Games Or Whatever. Masterminded and orchestrated by some enigmatic avant-garde artiste who paints portraits of famous people right before they die. NONE of these contestants found that suspicious enough to have qualms about being under this guy’s thumb for a whole season’s worth of a tv show? But as obnoxious as the personalities were, I would have liked these characters to be more fully fleshed out, to feel something (even triumph!) when they die. But no, I felt nothing. I will say though, that as silly as I thought the story was, it did absolutely suck me in and keep me feverishly reading to find out who this masked artist was and what the heck was their deal. So I don’t know, I was brilliantly suckered in because maybe I too, am dumb. Or maybe the book was a brilliant commentary on all of this dumbness? At this point, I don’t even know. (via Netgalley)
In Full Immersion, Gemma Amor deftly spins a web fraught with deeply uncomfortable themes. Depression, grief, and trauma are tangled with ideas of memory, potential, possibility, and the vagaries of the human mind, and at the center of this cat’s cradle of weird science, pseudo realities, and the expanding horizons of dreams, is a woman in a medically-induced state of hypnagogia, deeply immersed in an experimental therapy. Will these pioneering explorations into her psyche save her sanity– and her life– or is she the catalyst for something much bigger, and is there much more at stake? I have a lot of admiration for the bold breadth and scope and vision of this story, all of the difficult fears and issues it examined and disturbing themes explored, without once losing sight of the human at the heart of it, the humanity at risk. If Full Immersion is a general indication of what to expect of this author’s works, then I look forward to reading many, many more of their offerings (via Netgalley)
An almost unbearably slow burn of creeping dread and atmosphere dialed up to 20, Darcy Coates’ Gallows Hillkeeps its secrets close…until you learn all of those bonkers secrets and they’re getting *too* close, as a matter of fact, now they’re getting in the house and they are after you! Or after Margot, that is! Margot Hull has just inherited the family business, a winery up on Gallows Hill, on land that the townspeople believe is cursed. Her parents, from whom she has been estranged for reasons unknown to her, have recently died mysteriously in their beds, and the undertaker is doing nothing to convince her it was a peaceful passing. Alone in the rambling house that’s falling into ruin, Margot begins seeing strange, awful visions, and hearing noises that panic and terrify her. She comes to learn that the property’s curse–a terrifying bane about which the housekeepers. maintenance people, and workers at the winery are disturbingly nonchalant– is in fact, shockingly real, and that Margot herself may be at the heart of it… and that it will get much, much worse (via Netgalley)
Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney is a locked room mystery featuring an estranged, dysfunctional family with lots of secrets, and a really atmospheric location in the form of a crumbling old gothic home that gets cut off from the world when the tide is high. Our main character, Daisy, was born with a bum ticker and may be …an unreliable narrator? It’s Daisy’s beloved Nana’s 80th birthday and the family is gathering together for the first time in years, for the celebration. Everyone is already having a perfectly awful time…and then someone is murdered. It’s a bit much, in an over-the-top Clue murder mystery sort of way, and there is a twist, which you may either love or hate. I thought it was fun!
The Hollowsby Daniel Church is proper scary. I found myself during the course of it –quite literally– forgetting to breathe! I have a fondness for mysteries and murder set in small, isolated wintry settings, and anything supernatural is a plus, so I was sure to have a good time with this intensely creepy story of a tiny village, trapped, cut off from the world, and banding together against terrifyingly vicious nocturnal creatures in the middle of a once-every-century strength snowstorm. And of course, there are the human monsters to contend with, in the form of a murderous clan of scumbags living in a farm at the age of town, and the subterranean Boss Monsters, who if, awoken, usher in the end-times. All this from a story that started with a dead guy, mistaken for a hiker who froze to death! This is the case of a story delivering much, much more than I was expecting, and it was indeed, a lot of fun. (via Netgalley)
Some titles with the word “Dark” in it, that I enjoyed but don’t have much to say about are: Dark Things I Adore by Katie Lattari: artists, secrets, dark ambitions, trauma, murder, and revenge–very good, I liked this one and Things We Do In The Darkby Jennifer Hiller: murder, dark pasts, celebrities, podcasts, not super dark- I would recommend if you’re looking for a fluffier mystery
The It Girlby Ruth Ware: I will always read Ruth Ware, but her stories are consistently mediocre; college secrets coming back to haunt a 30-something, blah blah murder and twists and whatever)
Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter(thanks to Elizabeth of Reading Wryly for recommending this one) I had never read any Karin Slaughter before but she is definitely the antidote to the ubiquitously fluffy, mediocre Ruth Ware (sorry Ruth.) Karin Slaughter goes there and goes pretty hard while she’s at it. In Pretty Girls, the Carroll family is ripped apart when oldest sister Julie goes missing and in the ensuing years is never found, either dead or alive. The remaining siblings, Claire and Lydia, have grown apart, live drastically different lives, and are virtual strangers to one another –until Claire’s husband is murdered right in front of her and then in the following days, finds some truly distressing, reprehensible things on his computer. What follows is a gruesome, graphic, twisty, and harrowing story the likes of which I have not read since I was really young, like eleven years old or so–which id immensely, intensely disturbing itself– and picking out paperbacks from the used bookstore solely based on their lurid, provocative covers.
Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough. While I really enjoyed the last title I read from this author (Behind Her Eyes) this one was pretty forgettable. As Emma approaches her 40th birthday, she is quietly freaking out. But not for the typical, over-the-hill reasons. Much like her own mother in the weeks before her 40th, Emma is experiencing increasingly worse (and terrifyingly weird) bouts of insomnia, which in her mother’s case, resulted in the attempted murder of her own child, and a mental breakdown. And it’s possible Emma may share the same fate. I don’t want to say I didn’t enjoy the journey of this story, but the fact that I really had to struggle to recall how it ended is a bit telling, right?
Any Man by Amber Tamblyn. So the actress from Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (which is how I tend to think of her, sorry if that’s reductive Amber T.) is also an author and I do actually own a book of her poetry (Dark Sparkler, which I have never read. Again, sorry Amber.) In Any Man, we learn the stories of a handful of men, their harrowing experiences of sexual assault, and their attempts at picking up the pieces and living through that trauma. What makes this interesting–if that’s the right word to use here– is that this shockingly violent serial rapist is a woman. I don’t think I want to share any more than that.
I still can’t get over the beautiful vision that Alyssa Thorne brought to life with the darkly flamboyant gorgeousness of these promotional photos for The Art of Darkness. I mean…JUST LOOK AT THEM.
I realized that I’d shared them everywhere except for here on the blog, so today I am rectifying that oversight. And once you are done gorging your eyeballs on the profound beauty of these images, I entreat you to have a look at Alyssa’s website, where she has this week released her stunning Autumn Collection!
These reviews were originally shared at Haute Macabre in 2020 but I realized I never posted them on my own blog!
In celebration of The Art of the Occult: A Visual Sourcebook for the Modern Mystic, the aromatic adepts at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab have summoned forth a rare opulence of fragrances inspired by a handful of these curious images that transcend time and place. The Ars Inspiratiocollection is comprised of five artful scents corresponding to five mystical artworks; these pairings serve as anointed access points to all manner of fabulous occult inspiration– perfumed pathways to unknown realms for extraordinary seekers and dreamers and magic-makers.
This is indeed a truly magical collection and one that is so incredibly dear to me–many thanks to our BPAL family for creating them, and I hope that you all love these captivating scents as much as I do! Below you will find individual reviews for each scent, as well as ruminations on how these wondrous works hold me spellbound, why my gaze returns to them again and again. May these perfumes, paintings (and pages!) serve as a portal for you, too.
Altarpiece – No 1 – Group X. Hilma af Klint 1907 (A prism of sacred frankincense refracting a golden amber light into a spectrum of daemonorops draco, King mandarin, golden oud, verdant moss, blue tansy, indigo vegetal musk, and wild plum.) I was privileged to visit the ‘Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future’ exhibit when it was at the Guggenheim in 2019. The scale and scope of some of these visionary works were of such a breathtaking nature that I grew faint and strange; I thought (hoped, even!) I might be experiencing an art attack, a psychosomatic episode, a soupçon of Stendahl Syndrome. What made the afternoon complete was when my boyfriend’s mother wandered into the Mapplethorpe exhibit and was a bit scandalized. not having any familiarity or context before doing so. All kinds of feels on this day!
A brightness as glimpsed through shadow, a keyhole’s view of the sun. Small and still as a single candle’s flame against the immense dark; as vast and total as annihilation’s afterglow. This is a scent that proves to me, more than anything, how much I have to learn about fragrance and perfume, how little I know. I can only speak of this in terms of fractured, fragmented imagery, the slivers and splinters of a dream. “It’s beyond everything,” is a phrase I just read in a (totally unrelated) book, and that’s how I feel about this gorgeously evocative offering: a bright, dry citrus haloed by amber’s translucent sweetness, bound by the spiced warmth of dragon’s blood and fixed in a state of permanent darkness by the heady, heavy imprint of where oud once was.
Circe Invidiosa, John William Waterhouse. 1892 (Salt-spray dotting an azure cove, its waters swirling with noxious poisons and venom drawn from dreadful roots: a cascade of blackcurrant and crystalline blue-green waters infused with theriac accord, bruised henbane accord, white gardenia, pear, cedarwood, emerald mosses, tuberose, and bitter almond.) The colors in this painting are so lush and beautiful that they defy description. I have always thought that tipping dish of poison, the shade of crushed emeralds and mantis wings, must be the precise color of our heart’s blood when we are in the venomous throes of enraged, envious desire.
Circe Indiviosa captures the scent of exercising one’s powers…one’s divinity…in murky and dangerous and exhilarating ways. It’s such a gorgeous fragrance, mossy and musky with a subtly bitter treacle, and vaguely electric in the way that euphoria resulting from ill-advised behavior makes you feel. Sort of like WHEEEEEEEEE OH SHIT WHOOPS.
The Choirs of Angels, Hildegard von Bingen 1151-1152 (A radiant blend of three frankincense oils, white bergamot, crystallized cistus, lavender, angelica root, and fiery neroli) I always thought these holy mandalas looked a little bit like saintly Spirographs. Also: can you imagine peeking into the inner sanctum of a superfluity of mysterious nuns and discovering them lounging around, playing with Spirographs and Fashion Plates and LightBrite toys?
This is a lullaby. But not one of those dark Icelandic cradle songs about sleeping black-eyed pigs falling into deep pits of ghosts or the children of the ogress growling in rocky caves. This gentle scent is a blessing, not a warning; a dozy, tranquil cocoon of soft mallow, honied ambrette, and kindly, calming musk, ensconced in a delicate, opalescent radiance, like the promise of the not-too-distant dawn.
The Wish, Theodor Von Holst, 1840 (An incense of candied smoked fruits, Oman frankincense, red oud, labdanum absolute, sheer vanilla, patchouli, red musk seed, osmanthus, and datura) I’ve always wanted to know what wishes are longed for in the dark-eyed gaze of this intense young woman. Myself, I simply wish to rifle through the box of baubles and jewels in the bottom right of the canvas. Maybe help myself to that pearl-tipped hat-pin.
Rich and decadent but wonderfully absent of drama, like late-night Nigella Lawson b-roll. Watching the dying embers of the midnight hearth from the luxurious comfort of a generations-old leather chair, while shamelessly munching on leftover desserts after the rest of the house has gone to bed. Canelés, deeply caramelized, redolent of vanilla and an herbal liqueur that someone swapped the rum out for because they thought they were being clever…and strangely, it works, it really does.
The Witch/Strega, Angelo Caroselli, 17th Century (Leatherbound tomes and rose cream, flickering flames of twin ambers, and a cascade of shadows: black oud, teakwood, black beeswax, 13-year aged patchouli, cinnabar, balsam, sweet labdanum, tonka bean, and smoke.)
Look at this witch’s face! You know she’s going to be a cutting-clever one, uttering snarky-sneaky observations that make you both gasp and splutter with repressed laughter about mutuals you can’t stand. I want to be her Facebook friend. She’d be a scream in a Netflix watch party.
Somewhere between angelic and infernal is a mercurial earthiness that tips the scales, either way, depending on where you’re standing. And then: venomous vermillion kisses, a canopic jar of scorpion dust, and the scent of rock reacting to the draw of the moon. That’s just in the first sniff. Later, there are phantom beehives teeming with smoke and shadows and an unforeseen katabasis with a delicious consequence: there’s something decidedly Smutty happening with this scent, but almost as if you are translating the notes of the First Smut from ancient etchings in interconnecting caves far under the earth’s surface, each carved by water seeping through the rock over thousands upon thousands of years. That’s it, then. This witch has journeyed to the underworld and, having discovered the centuries-old grocery list for the Ur-Smut ingredients, delights gleefully in her findings in this vision before us.
There are nearly 20 books in my reviews below, but I’m afraid that I have a physical copy of only one of them. So our Stacked feature photo is not exactly a “stack” but it’s a very good book, so we’ll just have to be okay with it!
An Arrow to the Moon by Emily XR Pan. I do so love a re-imagining of age-old mythologies and I especially love magic woven throughout a contemporary, real-world story, so for these reasons alone, I was already poised to love this story of star-cross lovers Luna Chang and Hunter Yee, born on the same day and bestowed with inexplicably mystical gifts. Along with the silvery, expressive gorgeousness of Emily XR Pan’s writing and the beautifully bittersweet story arc of secrets and struggles and moon-struck mysteries, I adored Luna and Hunter’s journey together even more than I thought possible.
I can’t count the times my jaw dropped when reading Catriona Ward’s Sundial, a seemingly domestic drama of a novel comprised of secrets between mothers and daughters, the fierce and fearsome bonds of sisterhood, and the visceral, chilling effects of generational trauma.
Rob, a suburban housewife just trying to live a normal life despite her toxic relationship with her odious husband, senses with growing horror a chilling and evolving darkness and in her eldest daughter, Callie. Desperate for a solution for her child with whom she struggles to connect and doesn’t actually even like very much, Rob journeys with Callie to her childhood home, Sundial, in the middle of the Mojave desert. Shocking secrets are revealed gradually, nothing here is as it seems or as you expect, and once you think you’ve got the story straight, your expectations are subverted and turned upside down and inside out. This is an intensely brilliant, brutal, breathless tale that kept me guessing right up until the end.
A powerful and propulsive historical horror novel following a mysterious outbreak in a Japanese American internment camp during the fraught nationalist days of World War II, The Fervorexplores a supernatural threat inspired by the Japanese yokai and the jorogumo spider demon. Meiko Briggs and her daughter, Aiko, were taken from their home in Seattle and forcibly relocated and incarcerated in an internment camp in Ohio while they await the return of husband and father Jamie, an airforce pilot stationed in the Pacific. A strange contagion spreads among those in the isolated camp, with minor illnesses evolving into episodes of aggression, violence, and death. After a sinister team of doctors arrives, Meiko and her daughter unite with a gutsy newspaper reporter and grieving missionary widower to investigate. Alma Katsu’s stories are always fiercely fascinating affairs and this does not disappoint.
It Will Be Just Us by Jo Kaplan. I haven’t been so simultaneously immersed in and wonderfully creeped out by a book in a long time. In brooding, labyrinthine Wakefield Manor, phantom images of the houses’ past events and inhabitants perpetually loop through the rooms and corridors. But history can’t hurt you, no matter how dreadful, right? Sam, who lives there with her mother and sister, begins to glimpse what she believes is a faceless spectre from the present, a vicious entity bent on brutality– one who is able to move through time. Though its identity and motives are unclear, its intent is horrifically, and murderously apparent. This family thought themselves safe from the past, but can they protect themselves from madness and violence from the future?
Motherthing by Ainsley Hogarth. WOW. I am putting this book at the top of the list of the best things I have ever read. It’s sad and funny and disturbing and weird as hell. I love authors who can capture and articulate the disjointed strangeness and disconcerting intimacies of our inner monologues, those thoughts we’d never say aloud, and yet we recognize so much of ourselves in them when we get to listen in on someone else’s interior conversations. Hogarth also does a tremendous job of navigating and revealing the aching weirdness of relationships–both in the heartburstingly good and fun ways and the heartrendingly tragic and traumatizing ways. Dead moms and complicated mothers are a huge theme in this book, so if that’s a triggering topic, be wary. What is a mother’s love? Who deserves it and who does not? What happens when we’re deprived of it and in striving to be everything our mother was not, are we not also becoming that shadow, as well? In this story, Abby has found her true-love soulmate in Ralph and hopes to create a family with him, giving their child everything positive and good as a parent that neither she nor Ralph experienced as children. In the wake of Ralph’s cruel and emotionally controlling mother’s suicide, Ralph is succumbing to a deep depression and is also insisting that he is seeing his mother’s ghost. More troubling still, Abby is beginning to sense a presence as well. Feeling her dreams threatened and her fragile sense of self crumbling, Abby becomes …quite desperate. Motherthing is released in September, but I acquired an advance copy through Netgalley.
The House in the Pines by Ana Reyes. In The House in the Pines, we are following Maya, a young woman who is going through klonopin withdrawals and dealing with her insomnia by applying a liberal amount of alcohol. Still grieving the shocking loss of her best friend Aubrey who died–suddenly and in strange circumstances– seven years prior, Maya sees a YouTube video recording a recent death that occurred in a diner. A death that seems terribly familar to her friend’s. Sitting across from the dead woman just happens to be the man that was also with Maya’s and Aubrey on that tragic day seven years prior. Frank–the man that Maya had begun dating and found herself falling for. And who, despite having no proof, she suspected was responsible for Aubrey’s death. Frank, of whom though her memories of their time together are strangely hazy, she vividly and violently dreams of every night. At times both swiftly-paced as well as a bit of a slow-burn, The House in the Pines was a compelling and thought-provoking read, engaging the reader in explorations of loss and regret, of memory and madness, and how the past can sometimes offer deceptive and dangerous refuge. I think I see the weird, uncommon stuff embedded in a story long before I see more basic motives and logistics, so I didn’t find this twist especially twisty but appreciate its inclusion and it provided an interesting angle. This title will be published next January; I acquired a copy through Netgalley.
Billy Summers by Stephen King. I read this book about an assassin with a heart of gold who pretends to be dumber than he really is so that people will underestimate him should the shit hit the fan one day (which it does) but I don’t want to talk about it. The more I read Stephen King as an adult the more I question my deep and abiding love for him, which bloomed when I was a much younger person. I find this all deeply depressing to contemplate.
The Lost Village by Camilla Sten. In the late 1950s, the small Swedish mining town of Silvertjarn saw its entire population of about 900 disappear overnight. In the present day, Alice, a budding documentary filmmaker, travels with her crew to the abandoned town to begin gathering research and footage for her project on the town’s fate and what actually happened there. As the group begins exploring, strange and sinister things start to happen, threatening the project and endangering the crew. As things fall apart for Alice and her group of friends, the pieces of this mysterious and frightening puzzle start to come together. I think if you watched the supremely unsettling horror film Yellow Brick Road, you will probably appreciate The Lost Village.
My Dark Vanessaby Kate Elizabeth Russell. A deeply troubling but extremely readable story about a 15-year-old private school student’s relationship with her 42-year-old teacher. I’m a little bit grossed out (at myself) by how quickly I tore through this book, but there you go.
The Loopby Jeremy Robert Johnson. I read this while I was traveling and anxious, so I barely remember it, but I do recall that it was a quick read with characters I was really rooting for, and where some really gross stuff happened. A kind of weirdness and horror overtakes a small Oregon town as a government experiment fails and its manmade nightmares escape containment. Conspiracy theories and science gone wrong and hormonal high school friendships and surprisingly disgusting body horror, wheee!
Dead Silence by SA Barnes. I don’t typically read a lot of sci-fi space horror and this claustrophobic Event Horizon-esque novel has me questioning why. As we enter the story, Claire and her crew of workers are wrapping up a maintenance project in deep space when they unexpectedly pick up a distress signal from the Aurora… a luxury liner that disappeared under mysterious circumstances twenty years prior. Even dumb babies know that answering distress calls from ghost ships in the dead of space is never a good time, but Claire, the sole survivor of a tragic event from her past, is no stranger to ghostly visitations and wants to check it out.. Madness, infection, corporate politics, and pandemic themes abound in this tale of dread and despair, and there’s even a bit of romance (I could have done without even a hint of romance, tbh.) So I guess need more horror in space on my shelves?
The House Across The Lake by Riley Sager. Actress Casey Fletcher is having a rough time of it. Grieving her husband’s accidental drowning at their beloved lake house, she’s coping by applying a liberal amount of alcohol to the wound. Her drinking and depression spiraling out of control, Casey’s subsequent behavior instigates a fairly incendiary streak of bad press, and at her stage-actress mother’s behest, she retreats from the public eye to the relative quiet of her family’s lakeside home. There she meets one of her new neighbors, Katherine, when she saves her from drowning and a fast friendship begins to form– but is swiftly cut short when Katherine soon after that goes missing. Casey, whose rest & retreat habits include drinking from sunup to sundown as well as spying on her neighbors in their glass house across the water with her late husband’s high-powered binoculars (you can see craters on the moon with them, he marvels) observes some strange happenings over there and is growing suspicious that Katherine’s intensely controlling husband has done her in. Riley Sager has introduced a supernatural facet to his typical woman-in-peril psychological thriller and through the book’s twists and turns it becomes apparent that whatever you think you know, you probably don’t. Or even if you do know it…you still don’t! Ultimately, I’m not sure that this is one of the author’s strongest offerings, as the believability factor is a bit iffy, though I think if he’d perhaps built up more story and local lore around the weird bits, he might have pulled it off. Still, it was pretty binge-able –I read it in a day!–and a solid spooky summer read. This title will be published in June; I acquired a copy through Netgalley.
And boy howdy have I read a lot of women-in-peril (and adjacent) books lately. I’ve found that, at least at this stage in life, they’re the best things for me to read when I want to just turn my brain off and let it snack on junk food. The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware was probably my favorite among her books thus far. Sort of had an olde-timey golden age mystery gothic feel to it, with mysterious letters and mistaken identities and fortune-tellers and weird family dynamics A Slow Fire Burning by Paul Hawkins, well, take heed of the title. It’s a slow burn. There is a death and three different women connected to the victim. I heard someone say about this book on YouTube, “I just can’t get into books with old people as the main characters,” so I read this out of spite. It was okay. The Guest Listand The Paris Apartmentby Lucy Foley, were both fun stories that I read over the course of an afternoon or two. In The Guest List, a luxurious destination wedding goes sour on a creepy island where everyone is keeping secrets, and The Paris Apartment follows the down on her luck Jess as she goes to stay with her half brother in a posh Parisian apartment, and discovers not long after she arrives that he has gone missing. In her investigations to find out what has happened to him, she discovers the building’s dysfunctional occupants are the least of her worries. Big Little Liesand Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty were probably my favorites from among this stack of mysteries and thrillers. These are the first books I have read by Liane Moriarty, and man, her writing is so goofy and charming. I love that. Both feature vulnerable people going through their own stuff in the scheme of the larger story, but often the individual characters’ stories interlink in interesting ways as well. Both of these books have been turned into television series, so I won’t bother getting into the plot, but if you want something a bit more light-hearted than a Ruth Ware or Paula Hawkins, but still kinda murdery, Liane Moriarty books are adorable.
Okay, this is a very pretentious blog title, I just couldn’t really think of anything better. And to be fair, there are some very eerie titles on these shelves. And some fairly artful ones! So it kinda works?
So. We are (mostly) moved into our new home! Over the next few weeks I will share some peeks as we get settled, but for now: book porn! And if you have questions about titles included here, I am happy to fill you in.
As for what I am reading now. HOLY CATS. I got an advanced copy of MOTHERTHING by Ainsley Hogarth from NetGalley.* And wow. WOW. I am putting this book at the top of the list of the best things I have ever read. It’s sad and funny and disturbing and weird as hell. I love authors who can capture and articulate the disjointed strangeness and disconcerting intimacies of our inner monologues, those thoughts we’d never say aloud, and yet we recognize so much of ourselves in them when we get to listen in on someone else’s interior conversations. Hogarth also does a tremendous job of navigating and revealing the aching weirdness of relationships–both in the heartburstingly good and fun ways and the heartrendingly tragic and traumatizing ways. Dead moms and complicated mothers are a huge theme in this book, so if that’s a triggering topic, be wary. What is a mother’s love? Who deserves it and who does not? What happens when we’re deprived of it and in striving to be everything our mother was not, are we not also becoming that shadow, as well? In this story, Abby has found her true-love soulmate in Ralph and hopes to create a family with him, giving their child everything positive and good as a parent that neither she nor Ralph experienced as children. In the wake of Ralph’s cruel and emotionally controlling mother’s suicide, Ralph is succumbing to a deep depression and is also insisting that he is seeing his mother’s ghost. More troubling still, Abby is beginning to sense a presence as well. Feeling her dreams threatened and her fragile sense of self crumbling, Abby becomes …quite desperate.
Abby is quite possibly my favorite character ever and oh my lord people, I am begging you to read this book when it becomes available. With regard to NetGalley, I found out about it when I saw that some reviewers had acquired copies of The Art of the Occult through it. It’s a site that’s free to use where once you have set up an account you can request, read, and recommend books before they are published, and this provides essential reviews and feedback to publishers and other readers. You’re not always going to get every book you request, especially the really popular ones, but I received copies of Alma Katsu’s The Fervor and Catriona Ward’s Sundial(this is another really good one, don’t sleep on it!) so I guess I’ve gotten lucky so far. The only downside that I can see is that there is an expectation level for reviews; your eligibility to receive more titles is somewhat dependent upon it. So if that’s too much of a commitment or if that makes you a little anxious, you may want to keep that in mind. I’m not judging…it actually makes me a little anxious, too!
Hello, fans of moody art capturing the morbid, melancholic, and macabre! Here’s something fun!
Pre-order your copy of The Art of Darkness by August 31 from any retailer and be one of the first 100 readers to enter your information into the Quarto form and you’ll receive a lovely thank-you-package including a The Art of Darkness postcard, sticker, and autographed bookplate from me, the author! Link in comments!
Well, hello friends of midnight shadows and all that lurk in those murky corners! It is cover reveal day for THE ART OF DARKNESS: A TREASURY OF THE MORBID, MELANCHOLIC AND MACABRE.
I am so extremely-over-the-moon thrilled with the somber, surreal, multi-layered magnificence of Alex Eckman-Lawn’s cover art–it’s really a dream come true for this artist’s incredible work to be gracing the cover of a book that I’ve written. Aside from the cover art, I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to work with SO MANY DREAM ARTISTS to include in these pages!
So, what else can you expect to find this the pages of this darkly artful tome?
Throughout history, artists have been obsessed with darkness – creating works that haunt and horrify, mesmerize and delight and play on our innermost fears. While these themes might scare us – can’t they also be heartening and beautiful? In exploring and examining these evocative artworks The Art of Darkness offers insight into each artist’s influences and inspirations, asking what comfort can be found in facing our demons? Why are we tempted by fear and the grotesque? And what does this tell us about the human mind?
Of course, sometimes there is no good that can come from the tenebrous sensibilities of darkness and the sickly shivers and sensations they evoke. These are uncomfortable feelings, and we must sit for a while with these shadows – with a book, from the safety of our armchairs.
The Art of Darkness and all of its dreamy, disturbing gloomy glimpses will be released into the world on September 6, 2022! Stay tuned for more details.