15 Apr
2022

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!

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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!

https://www.quarto.com/campaign/art-of-darkness-preorder

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10 Mar
2022

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.

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

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Maika is again joining me for this Winter installment of Stacked! And for more Maika-related goodness, be sure to listen in on their Pages & Portents series over on TikTok, wherein they share bibliomantic reveries, passages divined from books chosen at random from their mysterious shelves, on a  daily basis. 

Maika

The Houseguest and Other Stories by Amparo Dávila – This slim volume of short stories caught me by surprise, which is silly because it was showing up on numerous recommended reading lists not too long ago. Meanwhile it’s been patiently biding its time in my to-read stacks for a couple years. Shame on me. These are intensely disquieting and unnerving tales deceptively dressed in mundanity. It’s what you do not see or are not permitted to see that’s truly disturbing here, along with narrators you cannot trust, and the sparest settings that allow your mind to freely dress them in whatever ways haunt you best. I’ve seen Dávila’s writing likened to Poe, Leonora Carrington, Shirley Jackson, and Kafka, and that all rings true for me. This is the first collection of Amparo Dávila’s work to be translated into English. I dearly hope it’s not the last.

And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe by Gwendolyn Kiste – This is exactly what I want from a short story collection: intensely creative and vivid tales that are equal parts weird fiction, horror, and deep feels woven together with lyrical, evocative writing. It always feels like a cop-out to say this in a review, but the less you know about these atmospheric stories, the better. Let each one be a dark new experience for your imagination, your mind, and your heart.

The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste – I was so taken by Kiste’s short stories that I immediately sought out another of her books. This novel was every bit as creative and beautifully written as the stories in And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe. I’d call it a dark fantasy meditation on loss, grief, and change. Our narrator, Phoebe, tells her tale both in the present-day as a 40-something woman, and back when she’d just graduated from high school and something very very strange began happening to other girls in her class, including Jacqueline, her cousin and dearest friend. Set in an Ohio town whose fate is tied to the existence of a dying steel mill, the atmosphere is heavy with grief and dread, but also an inescapable, bittersweet wonder. What happens to the Rust Maidens is visceral, horrifying, heartbreaking, and beautiful, and decidedly unlike anything I’ve read about before. And as I read, I found myself hoping that someone will option this to adapt as a miniseries or movie, if only because I’d love to see just the right SFX team bring the metamorphosis of the Rust Maidens to life. This was one of those stories that I worried might not stick its landing as it developed, but I was as satisfied as I was emotionally spent by the end.

In the Forest of Forgetting by Theodora Goss – I love how many dreamy and quite short short stories were packed into this book. It felt like a vivid feast of dark fantasy, dark fairy tales, and magical realism. Reminiscent of Angela Carter and Kelly Link. Surreal and unsettlings, enchanting without ever being saccharine or twee. I’d read another volume in a heartbeat.

The Seep by Chana Porter – I really enjoyed this queer sci-fi novella – about the softest alien invasion of Earth by The Seep, a hive mind species that merges with nearly every lifeform on earth, including most of humanity creating a seeming utopia – but I was very frustrated by it all the same. Everything I liked best about it – The Seep itself, the Seep-related technology and the way humans interface with and utilize it – only came in tantalizing glimpses and all-too-brief descriptions. On one hand, I appreciate how The Seep and its (their?) technology are technically secondary to the story itself, which is the journey of a trans woman who loses her wife and, secondarily, their shared community to divergent paths in the Seepified world. However none of that would’ve happened without The Seep, so the fact that we get so tormentingly little of it left me feeling unfulfilled by the story. Had this novella been part of a collection of stories or ongoing series set in this world, meaning I’d learn more about The Seep and Seeptech with each tale, that would’ve made this story able to stand on its own better for me. Nevertheless, it’s fascinating, poignant, and beautifully written, and I will gladly read more of Chana Porter’s work in the future.

Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children #3) by Seanan McGuire – I think there are currently 7 books in this ongoing series, which means I’m way behind. But I’m not in a hurry and I thoroughly enjoy how, each time I start a new Wayward Children story, it feels like I never left that world, but without the tedious hand-holding exposition that some authors employ to make sure you’re caught up on previous events in their series. I love the combination of melancholy and hope that permeates these imaginative, wonderfully queer books, whose characters are bereft outside of their respective magical worlds, yet refuse to stop searching for their respective ways back, and in the meantime find true kinship and relatably imperfect friendship with each other. If you were one of those kids who ever imagined a world made of sweets, this particular book is both a dream and nightmare come true. That is, for as much as the experience of reading a book you consider to be a lived experience.

I thought I’d also mention some books I’ve been leisurely snacking on while reading things like all of the above, because some books are begun, steadily read, and finished, while others are best visited, tasted, and inhabited intermittently:

Emily Dickinson’s Poems: As She Preserved Them

The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

The Essential Gay Mystics by Andrew Harvey

Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane

The Conspiracy Against the Human Race by Thomas Ligotti

For Small Creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World by Sasha Sagan

 

Sarah 

My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones If you were the weird outcast kid who grew up loving all things horror then you may see pieces of yourself painfully reflected in Jade, the tough, traumatized main character in Stephen Graham Jones’ My Heart is a Chainsaw, a love letter to horror if there ever was one. And I know, I know, everyone says that about this book, but it’s so true. Jade, a graduating senior, lives in a nowhere town, has a go-nowhere job, and lives in an internal world of slashers and gore and horror as a self-preservation in dealing with her abusive father, absent mother, and creepy predators everywhere she turns. Jade, convinced that the beautiful new girl in town is a “final girl”, fixates on this character, and in the wake of several murders, becomes increasingly obsessed and excited as she believes that she may be living through a real-life slasher movie in her own town. SGJ’s books are bleak and require a fair bit of patience from a reader, but man are they worth it.

Flowers for the Sea by Zin E. Rocklyn A harrowing fantasy of fate and power and vengeance that reads like “Rosemary’s Baby by way of Octavia E. Butler”, along with some Lovecraftian elements and a desperate mythology all its own, this was a quick, brutal read that I began and finished in the course of one afternoon. Survivors from a flooded kingdom struggle alone on an ark, among them the ostracized, despised Iraxi, pregnant with a child that might be more than human. This is the author from whom a few years ago I purchased my “support black women who write weird shit” tee-shirt and it’s one of my favorites and now she’s out there publishing magnificently weird shit and I am thrilled.

The Girls Are All So Nice Here by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn I keep getting sucked in by books like this, even though I know better. Another tale of people in their late 20s-early 30s looking back on something mysterious and murderous that happened during their time at university. And YES, on the surface, I love these plots, but it’s the characters that populate the stories that make a huge difference to me. Are they weird and prickly and have incredibly peculiar interests? Great, gimme gimme! Are they people who are desperate to fit in and be popular and it’s just a bunch of dreck about trying to be liked by everyone while desperately praying that no one sees what a pathetic loser they are? Ugh! I need more books about pathetic losers finding their own people and being fun, sociopathic pathetic losers together and then also add some murder and mystery, and that, for me, is *chef’s kiss.*

Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff Vandermeer Have you been dying to get into Jeff Vandermeer’s brain-bending weird fiction/eco-horror, but were perhaps intimidated by his non-linear games with time and sometimes abstract storytelling to really give it a shot? I feel like Hummingbird Salamander might be “Vandermeer-lite”, and maybe a good place to jump in. It’s still got those familiar themes of nature, power, and persistence, sand ecrets and isolation, but the structure is almost that of a detective noir mystery and it may be easier to follow along. A security consultant, “Jane Smith,” falls down a paranoid rabbit hole of eco-terrorism conspiracies and illegal wildlife trafficking after a barista chases her out of a coffee shop to hand her a random envelope. Vandermeerity ensues.

The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell Stricken by an illness that has left her fragile and vulnerable, Agnes Darken struggles to provide for her elderly mother and her beloved orphan nephew Cedric. As the age of the photograph dawns in Victorian Bath, Agnes’ business as a silhouette artist is dwindling, and money is ever more scarce. When her silhouette clients start turning up murdered, Agnes, frantic and terrified, consults Pearl, a young spirit medium. Laura Purcell’s stories are always evocative with rich descriptions and historical details, whether its spiritualism and silhouette making as in this tale, or prisons and phrenology, as seen in The Poisoned Thread (also titled The Corset.) Wintry and eerie and immersive, they are all wonderfully haunting tales for curling up on a chilly evening. Although! I will say that the first of Purcell’s books that I read, The Silent Companions, will forever remain my favorite.

A Touch of Jen by Beth Morgan I first saw this title recommended by Roxane Gay sometime last year. And when Roxane Gay shares reading suggestions, my ears perk up. The kind of story I’ve taking to internally referring to “MFA nightmare-induced weirdness,” A Touch of Jen is about an awkward couple who is weirdly obsessed with one of their former coworkers. They stalk her on social media, they roleplay as her in the bedroom–it’s a little creepy. After running into her they somehow garner an invite as guests on one of her group trips, and things between the couple begin to splinter and fracture as they both become more obsessed in their own, separate ways. In addition to interpersonal weirdness and fucked up relationships, there are self-help cults and actual supernatural things going on in the story (or at least we are led to believe there are) and this is just weird and fun. If you liked Mona Awad’s Bunny, I think you will enjoy A Touch of Jen.

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…but okay, see, here’s the thing with my gift lists. I’m really not creating them for anyone who isn’t… me?

But if you’ve got someone in your life who is maybe 75%-95% like me in some way or another, then I think you probably can’t go wrong with any of these titles. These books–fiction, short stories, essays, memoirs, poetry, cookbooks, etc.– are all steeped in varying amounts of strangeness or magic and were all enjoyed over the course of the past year, although they weren’t all necessarily published in 2021. Any single one of them would make an excellent Hexmas/holiday gift for a like-minded friend or kindred spirit!

I have already read and written about a majority of these books in the semi-monthly Stacked installments here at Unquiet Things, so in the lists below I won’t be retreading ground I’ve already previously covered. I mean, it’s the holidays! I’m busy! I don’t have time to write that all stuff up again, but differently, so it sounds like you haven’t already read it! But if you’d like to know more, you can use my blog’s search function for reviews and further thoughts. Otherwise, you can judge by the beautiful cover art and trust that they wouldn’t be on this list if I didn’t love them and think they were the best of the best of everything I have read since January of this year. To make it easier, the favorites from each list will be bolded and at the top.

I will note that there are maybe 2-3 books listed below that I haven’t finished, or read the whole way through. They’re either the kind of book that lends to reading between other things, or else they are the pages you dive into at random when the mood strikes, or when you are looking for inspiration.

 

Fiction

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
A Ghost In The Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa
The Lightness by Emily Temple
The Hole by Hiroko Oyamada
A Touch of Jen by Beth Morgan (Just finished this yesterday, it’s wild. Roxane Gay recommended it. If you liked Mona Awad’s Bunny, you’ll enjoy this.)

 

Short Stories

In That Endlessness, Our End by Gemma Files
Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung
The Houseguest and Other Stories by Amparo Davila

Nonfiction, Essays, & Memoirs

Be Scared of Everything by Peter Counter
Crying In H Mart by Michelle Zauner
Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert McFarlane
Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers by Jude Ellison S. Doyle

Magic & Mystery

City Witchery: Accessible Rituals, Practices & Prompts for Conjuring and Creating in a Magical Metropolis by Lisa Marie Basile
Witch Hunt: A Traveler’s Guide to the Power and Persecution of the Witch by Kristen J. Sollee
The Moon Book: Lunar Magic to Change Your Life by Sarah Faith Gottesdiener

(Sorry, I couldn’t pick a favorite! There’s a vast wealth of insight, inspiration, wisdom, and wonder found among these pages.)

 

Additional Goodness

Poetry: And The Whale by Sonya Vatomsky, Homunculus by Poetess Mori
Graphic Novels: The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado
Kitchen: Cheese Sex Death: A Bible for the Cheese Obsessed by Erika Kubick

 

Extra Goodies

As a bonus, include a few small gifts with the books you generously gift away, to ensure an even more pleasurable reading experience for your recipient!

Idea one: a reading journal. Something to scribble thoughts or questions in as they read. This can be any blank book that catches your eye or one of which the aesthetic seems a fit for your friend. Here’s mine!  I always keep a notebook and a pen nearby when I’m engrossed in a book. Whether it’s to jot down an unfamiliar word or turn of phrase, to capture a phrase or sentiment that particularly ensnared my heart or set my imagination alight, or make notes on this, that or the other interesting tidbit or topic for further research, I have found my book notes absolutely essential to deepening my experience of and engagement a story while I’m reading it.

Idea two: bookmarks! Does your friend have a favorite artist? Sometimes these creators sell miniature versions of their works in the form of bookmarks or postcards. Otherwise, you can find beautiful and unique bookmarks in museum gift shops, or you could even try your hand at watercolors or decoupage or whatever and make one yourself! Me? I’m not super crafty so I just pick up bookmarks from artists when I see that they offer them. Here is a gorgeous one from Caitlin McCarthy that gets quite a bit of us.

All of the above titles are Amazon Associate links. I don’t do ads on my site or make any money from it, but as an Amazon Associate, I earn a tiny bit from qualifying purchases. I just realized that I’m supposed to be putting this disclaimer on posts that contain these links, le whoopsie.

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

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Maika is joining me for this Autumn installment of Stacked and I couldn’t be more excited! They’ve recently read several books that I have had my eyes on, so I am very keen to know their thoughts! Also, in a relevant tidbit of Maika-news, be sure to listen in on their Pages & Portents series over on TikTok, wherein they share bibliomantic reveries, passages divined from books chosen at random from their mysterious shelves, on a somewhat daily basis. I love this.

Certain Dark Things Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Neon noir vampire fiction, where have you been all my life? At once grimy and sexy, mysterious, alluring, and very violent. I loved so many things about this book – the luridly vivid Mexico City setting, the ominously atmospheric yet wondrous world-building… This is a world in which a fascinating variety of species of vampires exist, with varying abilities, appetites, strengths, weaknesses, and life expectancy. Humans have been aware of the existence of vampires as very real and dangerous creatures since the late 1960s, reacting to this alarming news by doing things like banning them from entire nations and turning cities into fortified, ostensibly vampire-free zones. The characters, human and vampire alike, felt as rich and well-realized as the menacing world around them. If you’re looking for a book like Moreno-Garcia’s , this is not it. But I love how distinct they are from each other. Their wildly different styles make me even more excited to read more of Moreno-Garcia’s work. I have no idea if she plans to write more books in this world. I’d be here for it if she did. Either way, I hope someone options this harrowing and beguiling tale and then throws oceans of cash at the project. Done well, this would make a jaw-dropping and riveting miniseries and, one can only hope, result in some seriously sexy cosplay as well.

From the Neck Up and Other Stories by Aliya Whiteley – My first experience with the work of Aliya Whiteley was a novel entitled The Beauty and I…did not love it. However, I did love the way it was written and the startlingly creative mind behind it enough that I pre-ordered this collection of short stories as soon as I read about it. And I’m so glad I did. These stories were all so beautiful, so deeply strange, so poignant, freaky, fascinating, and astonishingly inventive… At the risk of coming across as lazy, I don’t want to go into detail about any of them because most of them are so short, gripping, and peculiar that I don’t want to spoil a single detail. I hope you go into this book as in the dark as I was. Finishing the last story was like eating the last bite of a delicious meal – every bit as satisfying as all the bites that came before, but tinged with sadness by signaling there are no more bites to come. I want more.

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolvesby Karen Russell – More dark, weird, fantastical short fiction comfort food for me. Short stories are such mercurial creatures. Sometimes they’re absolutely perfect as they are (*cough* From the Neck Up *cough*). Other times, such as with this collection, they feel more tantalizing than satisfying. By which I mean that I wish they were either much longer or entire books unto themselves. Perhaps that’s not a flaw, but instead another possible form that a good short story can take: an all too brief, in media res glimpse of a world, a moment, or a character’s life that leaves you desperately trying to continue the tale in your own head after you’ve read the last page. These brief, evocative stories are so detailed, affecting, and fascinating, surely there must be more…

All’s Well by Mona Awad – After the singular experience that was Awad’s novel Bunny, I was champing at the bit to read her next novel. While the two books share academic settings in common (albeit different ones), the similarity ends there. Awad has a knack for not just placing you inside a well-realized character, but for virtually sinking you into their very marrow. Miranda Fitch, the central character of this book, an actor-turned-theatre professor, suffers from intense chronic pain. As I’ve seen other reviews mention, I found the first 100 pages or so incredibly difficult to get through because Miranda’s life is such relentless agony. But as punishing as that was, it was also brilliant, because it meant the moment things start to change for Miranda, the moment there’s even a hint of relief, however transient,I felt it too. And it’s intoxicating. As with Bunny, though in its own completely unique way, as soon as this story takes a turn for the strange it just gets darker, stranger, and increasingly intense with the turn of each page. It’s a whole-body Shakespearean fever dream of a novel driven by one character’s unbearable pain, heartbreak, desperation, and a profound love of theatre. I can’t wait to see what Mona Awad does next.

Never Have I Ever: Stories by Isabel Yap – This a wonderfully varied collection of strange short stories – some of them terrifying, some tender, some wistful, some monstrous, some mischievous, and often beautifully queer and infused with marvelous Filipino folklore. This is Yap’s first collection of short fiction. I hope there’s more to come.

The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell – Once again Laura Purcell satisfies my craving for gothic horror with a dark, sinuous tale of brutal murders, grief, silhouette artistry, and Spiritualism. A thoroughly haunted page-turner with the unexpected bonus of a charismatic pug named Morpheus.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner Even if I was not myself a member of the dead moms club, I would have sobbed my way through every page of this intimate, vulnerable memoir. Firstly, I love Japanese Breakfast, and I am kinda peeved that I was not the first person on the planet to hear about Michelle Zauner’s music– and now that I have found out about her, I’ve grown so obsessed with her that I’m certain I’d be into whatever new project she puts out into the world, no matter what it might be about. In the case of this book, it is an exploration of grief, identity, and food (!!) throughout which Zauner grapples with her mother’s death and a painful disconnect with her heritage.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily XR Pan.  I was fairly certain I knew what was in sort for me when I originally purchased this book, but by the time I finally read it I had forgotten even the tiniest inkling of what it was about. And it turned out that reading this immediately after Crying in H Mart was both a beautiful and terrible idea.

My heart hadn’t yet recovered when I began this new story, wherein burgeoning teenage artist Leigh struggles with her mother’s devastating suicide. She comes to the conclusion, after a visitation from a mysterious scarlet-plumed bird late one night, that after death her mother has somehow taken the form of this otherworldly creature. In a journey of smoke and secrets and strange, insomniac magics, Leigh travels backward and forward in time, in addition to traveling to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. As she explores her new relationship with her grandparents, she attempts to unravel the mystery of what the bird wants from her–or maybe what it wants to give her– and how it ties in with her mother’s past, a good deal of which Leigh increasingly realizes that she doesn’t know what she thought she knew, and maybe she knew nothing at all. If you are into a story about art and grief and family and poetry and friendship and love and loss and pain and anger and forgiveness and food and hungry, lonely ghosts, then grab of copy of this book. If you have even the slightest bit of imagination, The Astonishing Color of After will thoroughly capture it. When I turned the last page of the book, I thought to myself while choking back a sob, that this story is the whole reason I read.

Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung. I had not before heard of this Korean author, but obviously, when I saw the cover of this book I couldn’t resist it. These are bizarre and distasteful, strange and sickening, uneasy, queasy little tales but, and maybe this is the translation, they’re written in a wry, remote tone, which somehow make them easier to stomach. A blend between magical realism and horror, fairy tale and science-fiction, in “The Head”,  a woman is tormented by a creature that keeps appearing in her toilet bowl, and ‘The Embodiment’, where a woman somehow gets pregnant just from taking the pill for too long. The final story of a woman who meets a stranger in Poland while visiting for studies is perhaps one of the saddest I have ever read. In my Winter Stacked, I talked about the liminal dread and unidentifiable weirdness of the stories in Ampara Davila’s The Chair. If you liked that one, I think you’ll enjoy Cursed Bunny as well. 

…a bunch of mysteries/thrillers that I read in early September and I barely remember:

In The Lightness by Emily Temple Olivia searches for her absent father at a meditation retreat/contemplative penal colony/Buddhist boot camp for wayward girls. A story encompassing some of my favorite dark academia cliquey-schoolgirls doing mysterious stuff feels, but in an unexpected setting, and exploring some interesting themes. That’s intentionally vague because I don’t remember what they were. I didn’t take very good notes on this one, sorry!

In My Dreams I Hold A Knife by Ashley Winstead, we’re again exploring themes of friendship and outsiderness, secrets and murders, and unreliable narrators– with Jessica, as she attends a college reunion ten years after graduation, as the best version of herself. But of course, she wasn’t always this polished and perfect. I want to love this sort of story with insular and intimate and highly fraught university friendships, but the thing is…I want the stories of the losers and the weirdos. This was a popular group of kids. Fuck them. Don’t care.

Broken Harbor by Tana French, the fourth in her Dublin Murder Squad series, was a weird one. It didn’t seem to have that wallop of beautiful sadness exuded by, say, The Likeness. It was missing the rawness and intensity of Faithful Place. Maybe lacking the profound eeriness of In The Woods. But! It’s still the unmistakable, strange melancholy of a Tana French mystery, and I will gobble up every sentence. In this installment, we follow Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy (whom we met in Faithful Place and I think we were meant to dislike him, but I was kinda living for him in that story) as he investigates a murder that occurred at the half-abandoned “luxury” developments that litter Ireland. This is a case with a lot of bizarre bits and pieces that don’t seem to fit anywhere, with an atmosphere made even more tense and charged by his own tragic history with the locale.

Survive The Night by Riley Sager Typically I enjoy Riley Sager’s books. I don’t know that they’re amazing, but they’re usually a lot of fun while I’m reading them. Survive the Night felt …a little lackluster in some way. Also, it seems all over the place. In this story, college student Charlie Jordan grabs a ride home with a stranger just as Christmas break begins. She’s not doing well in general, reeling from grief and guilt after her roommate’s murder, and plans on not returning after the break. During the course of the cross-country drive, Charlie realizes that she knows nothing about her road-trip mate, and, unnerved by his increasingly strange and suspicious behavior, comes to the conclusion that she may be sharing vehicular space with the campus killer. Forget about not coming back after she gets home, she might not come back from this trip at all! It was fine. This was a twisty read, but maybe I expected the twists? Not my favorite from this author, but still a decent afternoon’s diversion.

…and here are several Halloween/horror reads that I mentioned over the course of the month of October, but I thought it might be helpful to have them all in one place!

The Good House by Tananarive Due
Ghost Summer was previously my only experience with Tananarive Due’s writing, and though I believe that it was published more than a decade after The Good House, which I just read, it had all of the hallmarks that I’ve now come to expect from her work. I feel like it’s almost trite to say that a story or a book has “a lot of heart”…I mean, I say that a lot, but what does that mean, anyway? It’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of this author’s writing, I am tempted to say “horror with a lot of heart.” I suppose what I’m trying to get across is that her stories seem to be written through an empathetic, compassionate lens. That her characters are fully fleshed out, down to their annoyances and imperfections, and their stories are treated in such a way that they’re wholly, profoundly human, and we really grow to care about them.

Also, Tananarive Due writes in such a way that you don’t feel punished for having read and connected with the work. I sometimes feel like a certain subset of writers must really hate us, the reader. That’s probably not true, but it’s easy to feel that way when you see your favorite, beloved characters brutally dismembered on the page before you. I just…never get a sense of that with Due’s writing. Of course, in her books, there’s horror and heartlessness and heart-stopping moments…but there’s also hope. I love that she gives us that, too. I guess that’s what I mean when I say a story “has heart;” that no matter what else transpires, no matter how big and expansive the horror and heartbreak is, she leaves the door open for goodness and hope, as well. I come away feeling good about what I read.

The Good House (unlike the House movie that I wrote about yesterday) is actually a pretty scary story in concept, and I did find myself a little freaked out while reading it. The home that belonged to Angela Toussaint’s late grandmother is so cherished and revered that the local townspeople refer to it lovingly as the Good House. All of this changes one summer when a terrible tragedy takes place during a Fourth of July celebration at the house, and both the Toussaint’s family history and its future is irrevocably altered. Two years after, following her son’s suicide in the house, Angela returns and finally starts to unravel what happened and put things right.

Masterful storytelling combining multiple perspectives across different timelines, witchcraft and family curses, the burdens of inherited guilt, trauma, rich history, and mythology, and an overwhelming, palpable sense of stomach-curdling dread present from almost the very first page made this a vividly enthralling read and an intense page-turner, and I’m going to make it my mission in life to read everything author has every written.

The Man Who Came Down The Stairs by Celine Loup
On a whim, I started looking into lists of fairly recent horror-adjacent graphic novel releases, which is how I happened upon The Man Who Came Down the Attic Stairs by Celine Loup. Surprisingly, I was able to find a digital copy through my library. The book follows Emma, who after giving birth, fears a threatening supernatural force in the house. As her husband becomes increasingly remote and less involved in the life of Emma and her baby, she begins to unravel, growing more and more desperate between the lack of sleep and a newborn that won’t stop crying. Loup explores themes of the isolation of postpartum depression and being an exhausted mother with an unsupportive partner, and weaves in elements of unease and eerie horror for a story that is uncomfortable, unsettling, and profoundly sad.

Goddess of Filth by V. Castro
Things take off pretty swiftly in Queen of Filth by V Castro, as something terrifying and unexpected happens to Lourdes and her best friends, after a boozy seance staged on a summer evening before they get on with the business of adulthood and going their separate ways. Because, of course…someone gets possessed. Don’t they always!

This too, is an interesting spin on a possession story, as it’s not a demon inhabiting the body of shy, smart Fernanda, but instead something significantly older, and perhaps not as evil as they would have thought. The bonds of friendship and female empowerment, contemporary realities, religion, and ancient beings weave together in this short novel to create a story that though I read it in the course of an evening, I won’t soon forget these characters or their ordeal.

Nothing but Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw I imagine if you follow horror blogs and “must-read horror of X year!” type lists, then no doubt you have seen mention of Cassandra Khaw’s novella, Nothing But Blackened Teeth. A quick and compulsive read, this story of five friends who meet up at a purportedly haunted Japanese castle for pre-wedding adventures is steeped in dread and inevitable tragedy. And as someone very sensitive to confrontation and hostility…oof. There’s a lot of baggage between these individuals and they really seem to despise each other. The writing here is absolutely gorgeous, but even more than that, this atmosphere of stewing resentment and loathing is so present and palpable that it made me physically ill. Well done! I guess! Seriously though, this was enjoyable and unique and if you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix The Final Girl Support Group is handled in a decidedly slashery vein, supported by Grady Hendrix’s distinctive humor and his sometimes unexpected emotional insights. I don’t know why I phrase it that way, it’s not like you can’t be both funny and have an aptitude for writerly emotional nuance. I’m sorry to sell you short, Grady Hendrix, you pen some extremely enjoyable and satisfying reads! I tend to think of Hendrix as that really funny guy in class that I always had a crush on but I also suspected that if you scratch the surface of the jokes, there’s not much underneath. That’s not true with this author, and I need to stop thinking that way. In brief, Lynette and a handful of survivors of various massacres and murderous crimes have been meeting for therapy for over a decade–until one of the women misses a meeting and Lynnette’s worst fears are realized—someone knows about the group and is determined to pick them off one by one.

Survivor’s Club Survivors’ Club is…not that at all. This graphic novel comic series follows another handful of survivors, but these individuals are victims of supernatural/paranormal horrors from the 1980s–killer dolls, haunted houses, and possessions, etc. They meet via the internet and try to figure out what connects them, and why these things occurred, and what is it exactly that’s beginning to happen again? It’s wildly creepy and bizarre and gruesome and I’ll admit, I first grabbed it because I saw that Lauren Beuekes was one of the writers involved with it. I don’t really love how it wrapped up, and overall it felt a little messy…but if I understand correctly, it got canceled, and perhaps they had to rush the ending.

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In the current issue of Watkins Mind Body Spirit Magazine, you can read my article, “The Secret Heart of the Art of the Occult”! I can’t even begin to convey how much I appreciated the opportunity to write about…well…I guess you could say the things you can’t really include in the finished product of a book, or more specifically, the personal insights and epiphanies and education that occurred during the process of getting it written.

If I didn’t make it abundantly clear in the book itself, The Art of the Occult is not meant to be a comprehensive overview or the final word on the matter of occult art and artists, but rather a portal to inspiration and mystery, offering diverging pathways for your curiosity wander at leisure. It was really wonderful to muse on these ideas and the few bits of helpful magic from the universe that appeared along my journey while writing it!

Thanks to the folks at Watkins for printing this and to everyone who picks up a copy of the magazine to read the article…or who has grabbed a copy of The Art of the Occult!

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I have been meaning to read Tananarive Due’s The Good House from the moment that I closed the last page of Ghost Summer, which I thoroughly, delightedly enjoyed. My review for Ghost Summer wasn’t super in-depth or intensive, but about the book, I wrote the following:

These engaging short stories by Tananarive Due tick every box for what I want in a summer read. (I think I read this in September, so that still counts, as far as I am concerned!) A vast spectrum of supernatural business, characters that I care about, masterful writing that is emotive and nuanced but not super dense or difficult or inaccessible. It’s got everything!

Ghost Summer was previously my only experience with Tananarive Due’s writing, and though I believe that it was published more than a decade after The Good House, which I just read, it had all of the hallmarks that I’ve now come to expect from her work. I feel like it’s almost trite to say that a story or a book has “a lot of heart”…I mean, I say that a lot, but what does that mean, anyway? It’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of this author’s writing, I am tempted to say “horror with a lot of heart.” I suppose what I’m trying to get across is that her stories seem to be written through an empathetic, compassionate lens. That her characters are fully fleshed out, down to their annoyances and imperfections, and their stories are treated in such a way that they’re wholly, profoundly human, and we really grow to care about them.

Also, Tananarive Due writes in such a way that you don’t feel punished for having read and connected with the work. I sometimes feel like a certain subset of writers must really hate us, the reader. That’s probably not true, but it’s easy to feel that way when you see your favorite, beloved characters brutally dismembered on the page before you. I just…never get a sense of that with Due’s writing. Of course, in her books, there’s horror and heartlessness and heart-stopping moments…but there’s also hope. I love that she gives us that, too. I guess that’s what I mean when I say a story “has heart;” that no matter what else transpires, no matter how big and expansive the horror and heartbreak is, she leaves the door open for goodness and hope, as well. I come away feeling good about what I read.

The Good House (unlike the House movie that I wrote about yesterday) is actually a pretty scary story in concept, and I did find myself a little freaked out while reading it. The home that belonged to Angela Toussaint’s late grandmother is so cherished and revered that the local townspeople refer to it lovingly as the Good House. All of this changes one summer when a terrible tragedy takes place during a Fourth of July celebration at the house, and both the Toussaint’s family history and its future is irrevocably altered. Two years after,  following her son’s suicide in the house, Angela returns and finally starts to unravel what happened and put things right.

Masterful storytelling combining multiple perspectives across different timelines, witchcraft and family curses, the burdens of inherited guilt, trauma, rich history, and mythology, and an overwhelming, palpable sense of stomach-curdling dread present from almost the very first page made this a vividly enthralling read and an intense page-turner, and I’m going to make it my mission in life to read everything author has every written.

Speaking of houses and homes–what’s more homey than a cozy bowl of porridge? Or steel-cut oats, to be more specific!
Here’s a little oatmeal bar I set up yesterday, with all the fixings: dates, pumpkin seeds and almonds, apricots, cream, and sugar. It was perfect for our 70-degree morning…which, if you live in Florida, you know that’s practically freezing, and about as close to autumn as we are likely to get! The little Halloween ramekins were a lovely surprise from Yvan, who picked them up for me from Le Creuset! I can’t seem to find them on the Le Creuset site (though he assures me there were quite a few in stock at the actual store and they weren’t exactly flying off the shelves) but if you are looking for them, it’s this set.

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[EDIT: A GIVEAWAY WINNER HAS BEEN CHOSEN AND CONTACTED! THANKS, EVERYONE!]

Happy birthday, The Art of the Occult! You, my first published book, are now officially a year old!

Is there anything horror-related within its pages? Well…not really. Not in a spooky, Halloween season way. We could argue that esoteric knowledge and arcane philosophies form the backbone of quite a few horror stories. Ceremonial magics gone wrong, demons conjured and gone amuck. That sort of thing. And of course witches and witchcraft–you can’t have 31 Days of Halloween with at least one witchy film, right? I mean, as far as I am concerned, you can barely have a story of any sort without a witchy character moving things along.

Here’s what I write in the Potions, Persecution, and Power portion of The Art of the Occult, wherein I begin by quoting another favorite and famous witch that you may know….

‘Witches have always walked among us, populating societies and storyscapes across the globe for thousands of years,’ writes Pam Grossman in Waking the Witch, a reflection on women, magic, and power. And it’s true – can you conjure forth a single folk or fairytale, myth or legend worth its salt circle that doesn’t contain a witch or some witchy archetype stirring up trouble and sowing supersensory seeds of discontent? The witch provides the element that surprises, startles, and scares, provides struggle and strife, a snag in the story, a shift in the narrative.

This fascination for witches has long gripped artists, both of the classical and contemporary ilk– the witchly archetype being an evocative canvas onto which some of the greatest artists have projected their most intensely bizarre imaginings. Many continue to draw inspiration from the dark and cruel origins of the classic image of the witch, and the tragic history of the witch continues to instill fear and provoke anxieties in contemporary creators today.

Here’s a handful of my favorite witches on canvas, inspiring and powerful artworks steeped in magic and superstition. What are some of your favorite visual representations of the witch?

And sneaking this in here, which means you had to read this whole post in order get to this point: wouldst thou like to win a delicious, signed copy of The Art of the Occult in celebration of its one-year anniversary inhabiting our earthly realm? If so, leave a comment! Tell me about your favorite witches! Artful, literary, cinematic or otherwise. A winner will be chosen and contact one week from today!

The Witch Barry Windsor-Smith, 1978.

 

Circe Invidiosa John William Waterhouse 1892

 

Les Sorcières Leonor Fini, 1959

 

La Sorcière, Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer, 1897

 

Morgan-le-Fay Frederick Sandys, 1863

 

Witches Sabbath Rik Garrett, from Earth Magic (Fulgur Press, 2014).

 

From Songs For The Witch Woman, Marjorie Cameron, undated

 

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