…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.

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

 

 

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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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8 Sep
2021

This month’s stacked was last month’s YouTube video if you’d prefer to listen rather than read! 

Be Scared of Everything by Peter Counter is a tremendously thoughtful, smart, funny, book combining essay and memoir celebrating all things horror, from cinema and video games to heavy metal and haunted houses. His writing examines popular horror media from such a wonderfully lively place of vulnerability and curiosity and reads like many conversations I’ve had with myself about horror. Except, he’s a million times more articulate about the meaning-making to be experienced, where in this cauldron of horrifying influences and inspirations, and I’m quoting from somewhere else here, he finds “…poetry in madness, and beauty in annihilation–” I’ve been reading this book a little spooky snippet at a time every morning to get my day started with this very excellent spooky energy

A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa was an interesting read for me, because the narrator of the book has four children and there’s a lot of baby making and nurturing and maternal feelings. Which is very uncomfortable for me, So it has been interesting to sit with that. I guess you could say the book is about a poet who becomes obsessed with another poet across time. But there’s also a lot of visceral baby stuff and daily ritual involving homemaking. The latter thing definitely more relatable than the former, but I think to experience this book, you gotta be all-in with all of it. So I’m trying!

The Hole by Hiroko Oyamada An odd little story of mundane strangeness, this story follows the story of Asa, who after her husband’s work transfer, gives up her own job and moves along with him to be close to his employer. This entails living in a house in his hometown, next door to his parents. Both the town and the parents are strange in unsettling, dream-like ways, and Asa spends a sticky, aimless summer bored and adrift, and trying to figure out this weird place and its equally weird inhabitants.

Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric Larocca. OOOOOF. I saw this book mentioned all over YouTube for the better part of a week and so I thought, ok sure why not. I had some reservations as the title reminded me a bit of I’m Thinking Of Ending Things by Iain Reid, a book which I wanted to throw into the ocean after I read it.  My review, such as it is, can be found here. Thankfully, these books are nothing alike. Not so thankfully, I did not really enjoy Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke. A story of two lost and/or lonely souls meeting through the internet and their developing relationship, which escalates pretty swiftly and in really distressing ways. I personally found it hard to read–and maybe a little bit distasteful– because it felt awfully familiar. I am not trying to kink-shame anyone but the master/slave or sub/dom dynamic is hugely problematic for me because I experienced that to a large degree for a time in a former relationship, the really awful, toxic, and abusive one that I have written about previously on this blog. So…it turned out I was the wrong audience for this book. But while I found that aspect of the story intensely disturbing, I wasn’t disturbed by the details? Maybe I’m jaded or really hard to gross out. I don’t know. It just wasn’t that freaky.

In That Endlessness, Our End by Gemma Files. Funny thing. I wrote this review before I wrote the one above it, so I think this is book to follow it with, and a good one to end on until next time. I have been reading horror for a very long time and there just isn’t that much that freaks me out anymore. In the past few years if I want to get freaked out, I’ll go to the /nosleep subreddit for an unsettling dose of writing deeply weird and disturbing yet which still contains a soupçon of those “this happened to a friend of a friend” vibes. Stuff that reads like anecdote or tall tales or urban legend…strange, but not so fantastical you don’t believe it at midnight when the house is settling and the world is silent and the darkness is absolute.

There is always a moment in my dreams where space shudders and what was fine and well is suddenly not. Gemma Files’ stories contained In That Endlessness Our End begin in that shiver just before the nightmare. It’s unnerving how preordained the descent feels, yet how abrupt. The horror is always uncharted and inevitable. Her writing feels like some of the best /nosleep narratives in their eerie inventiveness, their proximity to real life (but really there’s no comparison here, it’s just the best I can offer, is all) but with a precision of language and astonishing detail that comes from someone whose imagination has been guiding her hand for an impressive amount of time, and knows exactly how to take those things that frighten her and unleash them on us.

Honestly, there is no one who scares me like Gemma Files and HOLY SHIT do I love her for it.

 

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9 Jul
2021

The Low, Low Woods  is the brooding and utterly unnerving graphic novel debut by Carmen Maria Machado, an atmospheric and surreal horror story set in the dying coal town of Shudder-To-Think, Pennsylvania. Teenage best friends El and Vee experience strange incidents of missing time and decide to investigate the mystery behind that gap in time and the strange happenings around the community, where time and memories, as well as the women themselves, often go missing. A female-centered queer and diverse cast of characters navigating friendship, grief, rage in the midst of digging for truth in this tale of body horror, hybrid creatures, mysterious portals–in the course of doing so they realize the stories of their town hold more darkness than they could’ve imagined. 

Fangs by Sarah Anderson. It’s not fair to an author to give a starred review hinging on something like “well, I would have given this more stars, but I wish it would have been longer.” I mean, you can see how many pages a thing has before you buy it, you can hold its heft in your hand and get a sense of its length or brevity. And I also no longer base my reviews on what I expected vs. what I got. Not having been familiar with Sarah Anderson’s work, I don’t think I realized it was cutesy-fluffy kind of stuff and that there wasn’t much story there or investment of time. I probably wouldn’t have purchased the book if I had known this. But I got suckered in by the stark glamour of the illustration on that blood-red cover when Amazon suggested that I might like it, and so I threw it in my cart as an impulse purchase. Why did I bother saying any of that? It’s not the book’s fault. I’m just annoyed with myself about it, I guess. This is a charming, light-hearted, slice-of-life, 4-panel peek at the budding romance between a vampire and a werewolf. It’s sweet. It’s fine. It would make a darling gift.

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi. Ooof. Is there a better phrase than “coming of age” to describe a story about some young people figuring stuff out? I wish there were. (I guess I wish the same about “slice of life,” which I just used above.) Well, these are young people in an artsy-farty high school, there’s shaping and shifting of the power balances between friends and lovers, and there’s the abuse of power by adults who should know better. There are narrators who aren’t telling the whole truth, or maybe it’s the truth as they recall it or as they wish it had happened, and there are other narrators who are furious about this; interesting commentary, I suppose, on who it is that owns a story. This was a complicated read, but I don’t mean dense or heavy or anything like that–rather, I felt complicated things while reading it, and I’m still not sure what my takeaway is. But thanks to some of the extremely, uncomfortably visceral scenes in this book, I never want to have sex again. And my libido is already pretty much non-existent. Thanks, Susan Choi

This summer I read a bunch of mysteries. And I am done feeling weird or ashamed or guilty about it, which then turns into a weird snobbery, like “I DON’T USUALLY read this type of thing, BUT.” Come off it, Sarah. You read it, you liked it. There’s nothing wrong with that.

And so I find myself reading a lot of Ruth Ware over the past year. I think I may have written about her in the last edition of Stacked as well. This time around, it was One By One , which I think you can already tell from the title is an Agatha Christie-style whodunit. A group of start-up company employees are on a retreat at a posh ski lodge and they’re being murdered one by one. The company has developed a social media app that allows you to listen in on the music your friends are listening to, and maybe it’s just me, but that seems like a really dumb and pointless idea. It’s a predictable story but it’s mildly entertaining, so that’s ok.

I also read The Likeness by Tana French, which I believe somewhat picks up where In The Woods left off, but this time the main character is Cassie Maddox, who was Rob’s partner in In The Woods. And I am happy to be done with Rob, so that’s fine by me. In this story, Cassie is called to the scene of a murder where the victim looks almost exactly like her, and if that weren’t eerie enough, the victim possesses ID indicating she was going by the name that Cassie used in a previous undercover operation. Cassie must again go undercover (her first go-round, she was attacked and transferred out of that unit) and gain the trust of a local group of college students to try and figure out who this person was and why was she killed. This sort of puts into Dark Academia territory, which is another aspect of it that I liked. This was definitely a weird, insular group of young people.

I really loved this book. But I’ve found that Tana French is one of my favorite authors of mysteries/thrillers, and so I wasn’t surprised that I loved it. Some reviewers complain that she’s an overly wordy writer (“I get board with details!” notes one Goodreads user. Hee!) But it’s her beautiful prose that makes her stories so wonderfully compelling! And also the fact that in her mysteries, there frequently seems to be a mystery A. and a mystery B. and while the case may get solved, there always seems to be a piece that’s left without clear answers– and I really appreciate that.

Finally, on the mystery front, there was Lock Every Door and The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager. First I should note that several times I learn and then forget immediately that Riley Sager is a pen name, and this author is not a woman–this has happened to me with every book by him that I have read. Maybe it shouldn’t matter, but it does: I typically do not enjoy books wherein a male author has written a female protagonist. (See: boobs bouncing boobily) Is this a little problematic to admit? If so, I’m sorry. However, I don’t detect any issues like that with Sager’s stories, and as a matter of fact, I kind of enjoy the characters moving through his books much more than, say, Ruth Ware’s people as she writes them. In Lock Every Door, a woman gets hired as an apartment-sitter for an empty apartment in a mysterious Manhattan apartment building. I don’t think I am the first to make this comparison, but it’s got a Rosemary’s Baby vibe that I found delightful, even though it didn’t quite head in the same direction. In The Last Time I Lied, an artist is invited back to a summer camp she spent a week in as a teenager, and while she was there, her cabin-mates disappeared. She accepts the invitation in present-time, because she’s got some digging around to do regarding those past events, and as strange things start to happen during her stay, her suspicions mount. Though I didn’t really love his first offering, Final Girls, the more Sager writes, the more impressed I am with his stories. They all seem to involve some sort of horror trope, but they are not exactly horror stories. I think it’s an interesting angle, and it pretty much guarantees I’ll continue reading as he publishes more.

Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert MacFarlane. I am not sure what I can say about this book that might convince you to read it. I started it a year ago, last July, and I have only just today finished it. I wept a little, as I did. An exploration of the Earth’s underworlds–perilous caves atop impossible cliffs, labyrinthine catacomb crawls, the darkness under our feet through which mycelium tendril, the drop even further below to starless underground rivers, and the unfathomably deep descent into the backward-reaching time machine of ancient ice.

McFarlane writes in melancholic, claustrophobic, prose of transcendent, breathtaking, heart-stopping beauty, and as fascinating as I found his adventures, the relationship he formed with the land he explored, the connections he made with the strange and wonderful people who followed similar passions to dangerous and extreme ends–it’s how he wrote about these experiences that truly captured my heart and brings tears to my eyes even as I type this out.

There’s an exchange between McFarlane and a scientist, and while maybe I am missing the bigger point of everything here, it really sums up…while not exactly the spirit of the book, but rather why I personally love the book so much. When shown some microscopic sediment from the ice that points to the fact that the land a kilometer below the ice used to be a Sahara, McFarlane muses: “They’re beautiful…desert diamonds from the end of the world.” His companion in conversation replies laconically, “I can tell you’re not a scientist.”

Many people confided in me that they didn’t get very far into this book, I think, for precisely the reason I fell so profoundly in love with it. This is a man of words, writing about the science of things explored in deep, dark places, and the deeply philosophical questions and issues that this knowledge points to when brought to light. And while passionate about these issues, not being a scientist himself he grapples with and presents these ideas in inventive and otherworldly language that might be challenging to wind your way around if you’re looking for a book that is a straight, clear path. And, well,  I suppose if this was sold to you as a travel book (as I see it is marketed in some places as such) , in that case, you have every right to be confused and not get very far in. For as much as I enjoyed this book, I sure never want to travel to any of these places. That aside, Underland was truly a descent into the sublime.

Two books that I read over the past two months and I had utterly forgotten about were The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle and Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.

The Ballad of Black Tom was on a lot of horror-lists in the past few years, and it’s easy to see why. A gripping novella that revisits HP Lovecraft’s particularly xenophobic The Horror of Red Hook but from the point of view of a Black man, it was a nerve-prickling thrill that I read in the course of one evening while cat-sitting at my sister’s house. Here’s a great interview with Lavalle over at NPR where they talk with him about his conflicted feelings for Lovecraft, and which gets more into the story itself.

Wide Sargasso Sea was a book I’d heard of for years but had just never found a compelling reason to read. This came as a recommendation from Rachel Syme on twitter who, whether she’s advising on fragrance or literature, always has some fabulous suggestions, and so when she mentioned it, I thought, ok, maybe now’s the time. This is not a new book and so even giving a synopsis feels a bit silly, but if you are unaware, Wide Sargasso Sea is a postcolonial and feminist prequel to Jane Eyre, describing the backstory to Mr. Rochester’s marriage from the point of view of his wife, a Creole heiress named Antoinette Cosway–whom we know as “Bertha Mason” the madwoman in the attic, the lunatic that is Rochester’s first wife.

I both loved and hated this book. Probably because I knew the fate of this character before I even read the first page. Lush and hazy and brimming with brutality, beauty, and an ever-present sense of dread, this was a story that I found myself wishing over and over would end differently, but it never could. There is a passage in the book describing a red dress: “The scent that came from the dress was very faint at first, then it grew stronger. The smell of vetivert and frangipani, of cinnamon and dust and lime trees when they are flowering. The smell of the sun and the smell of the rain.”

I don’t know if this perfume exists, but it should. It seems to capture the Antoinette that might have lived with less devastation, tragedy, and madness. An Antoinette who had the opportunity to experience more bright mornings and radiant sunlight. Who might have even been happy.

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Artist credit: Midori Yamada

Artist Midori Yamada has captured my memories of summer vacations, elementary school grades 4-6. They were spent in the company of books, immersed in their pages from the time I rolled out of bed in the morning until sunset and sometimes well into the evening. I sat on a cracked vinyl chaise lounge on our backyard screened porch in the searing, stifling midday heat, my hair plastered nastily to the back of my neck, and cooling myself with icy cups of Crystal Light.

I didn’t care about the sticky, sweaty discomfort or the artificial sweetness inflaming my considerable thirst. I was satiated with stories, and I wanted nothing more than to hide away with them in the hopes that everyone had utterly forgotten that I existed. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced such glorious freedom, since.

Many years later, I am still chasing that elusive high. No obligations, no intrusions, just me and the next page and the next after that. In the ensuing years I’ve probably accumulated enough books that I would never have summers enough to finish them all.

Here’s the current state of the stacks, below. How are yours looking?

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In April 2021, The Art of the Occult was six magical, mystical months old! I didn’t get too excited about it though, because a whole gaggle of shipments had gotten lost in the astral plane and I didn’t have any gorgeous books on hand at the time to wave around in front of your faces…but LOOK what has finally appeared on my doorstep!

And now HEY LOOK AT THAT! I have a PayPal link on my blog now, where, if you are in the US, you can buy a signed copy of The Art of the Occult  Now we don’t have to conduct covert deals through clandestine DMs! I am a professional! Alas, friends abroad who would like to buy a signed copy of The Art of the Occult from me, we must still resort to cloak-and-dagger communiqués. I have limited quantities at the moment, but I hopefully should be stocked up again soon, so please feel free to order bunches of books and make me a rich weirdo!

Reminder! Did you know that, in celebration of The Art of the Occult, the aromatic adepts at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab summoned forth a rare opulence of fragrances inspired by a handful of arcane masterpieces within its pages?

The Ars Inspiratio collection 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. If you’re curious about these fantastical fragrances but would like to know more about them first, you are in luck! I have reviewed them over on Haute Macabre and Tom and Galen reviewed them as well, over on the Lab’s 15 Minutes of ‘Fume youtube channel.

Alchemy: Alchemia, 2016. Gatya Kelly

And a final mention, I have rounded up all of the interviews I have done thus with artists whose works appear in The Art of the Occult. …and allow me to again express how deeply thankful I am to the artists, who, over the years, have taken the time to answer my questions and share their insights with me. I am so grateful for all of the creators who have spared a moment or two to discuss their works and practices with me. It’s always humbling and gratifying to have an artist that you admire take your queries seriously and share thoughtful, candid responses with you–so many, many thanks to the artists listed below, as well as every creator who has given me the time of day over the past decade! I am grateful for all that you do and share with the world, and I thank you for allowing me to be part of it sometimes!

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Reunited at last! For this month’s Stacked, I am joined by my dear friend and Haute Macabre comrade, Maika, as we chat about the books we’ve been reading this spring. See below for our thoughts on these witchy, monstrous, fantastical books and be sure to leave us a comment and let us know what you’ve been reading as winter slowly melts away into warmer days.

Sarah

Witch Hunt: A Traveler’s Guide to the Power and Persecution of the Witch by Kristen J. Sollée
If you have read this wondrously knowledgeable scholar, historian, and second-generation witch’s previous offerings, Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive, and Cat Call: Reclaiming the Feral Feminine, then no doubt you were over the moon to learn of her most recent title, Witch Hunt. A hybrid travel guide and memoir which at points dips into the realms of historical fiction, Witch Hunt reflects research gleaned from travels to seven countries, forty-five cities, towns, and villages. Through her intrepid adventures across Italy, France, Germany, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, Sollee explores the fraught and fascinating history of these haunting figures from the past and uncovers how the archetype of the witch has been rehabilitated as a symbol of power.

We learn of the trauma and tragedy baked into the history of these places but also of how they have resurrected and reclaimed this archetype for commerce, community, and activism. Her descriptions of the locations and spaces she spends time in are bubbling with an intensely curious spirit, wicked sharp observations, and expansive, imaginative storytelling, with an eye toward both the sensitivity crucial to the conversation of these archetypes as well as the actual people involved in these histories and an irrepressible sense of humor and the absurd. In Witch Hunt, Sollee is indisputably at the height of both her writerly and witchly powers.

Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers: Monstrosity, Patriarchy, and the Fear of Female Power by Sady Doyle.
This outstanding book by essayist, social critic, and culture buff Sady Doyle is hugely about the darkness and trauma of the narrative around what being a woman is about and sparked so many intense conversations between myself and my partner as I was reading it. This examination of the patriarchal and misogynistic fear of “monstrous” women, covering everything from literature and cinema to mythology, religion, history and current events is a maddening and marvelous (and neither of these words do the discourse any justice) exploration of interplay of the stories that we tell ourselves and the images we look at and the thoughts we have and the way that all shapes our culture; those darker feelings of powerlessness and helplessness and living inside an extremely stigmatized and vulnerable body…and how somehow these aspects make us as woman seen as also destructive and even more terrifying?

It’s a mind-boggling amount of research and anecdote and story and scholarship, and you have to imagine a painful amount of emotional labor, and Sady Doyle writes of it all in a way that’s somehow incredibly readable and even makes you laugh while reading it. FYI Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab has created an incredible collection of scents inspired by this book and the monstrous feminine archetypes which perpetually recur in storytelling and they are still available for purchase.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt.
I can’t recall if I’ve shared this article before but it will help to illustrate two points about me: Dark Academia: Your Guide to the New Wave of Post-Secret History Campus Thrillers. First, I hate it when they give names to things (whoever “they” is.) For example, I recall reading China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station in 2000 or so, and thinking how it was really unique and I’d never read anything quite like it. I was content to leave it at that. A year or so later, I heard people referring to it, and more to the point, its aesthetic, as “steampunk.” As far as I knew steampunk and all its trappings of gears and goggles and so on, emerged right around that time. However, it looks like it’s been around since the 1980’s (or maybe since Jules Verne, ha!) so what do I know, I guess. What I do know is that once you slap a label on something, I tend to lose 100% interest. I suppose I’m some sort of hipster snob, but whatever. I’m aware of my faults. So when people started talking about “Dark Academia” as a genre, I immediately tuned it out before I even knew what it was, but when I somehow found myself tricked into reading about it, I realized it’s describing a type of fiction that I enjoy immensely– and as it happens, I have written at length about my enjoyment of it. Without going too much into it, it’s a sort of mystery or thriller that takes place on a college campus, usually entangled with some weird insular student groups studying obscure subjects. There’s more to it, but that’s my takeaway. Anyway, apparently, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, a book people have been telling me for years to read, is the story that started it all.

This brings me to my second point: if enough people tell me “you’ll love it!” about something, I get weird and squirrelly and contrarian and put on my NOPE NOT DOING IT hat. You don’t know me!

Wow, I’m like three paragraphs in and I’ve not said a thing about the book. Well, everyone but me has apparently read it by now, so do I even need to? Here’s a quick rundown. Richard Papen is our pretentious small-town narrator with an interest in the classics and humanities who is eventually brought into the intimate, intense fold of a very small Greek class at the fictional Hampden College in Vermont. Richard’s mysterious classmates are strange and compelling and he desperately longs to become part of this group of weirdos. Eventually, he does. Murder ensues. In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed this story of sadness and loneliness and romanticizing a group of people who are all, in the end, some form of deeply flawed and insecure as well. They’re stupidly privileged (who else would think they could get away with murder but a bunch of extravagant, melodramatic rich white kids?) and I guess that aspect of the story troubled me quite a bit, but nevertheless the relationships and the drama and the breathtaking prose are so easy to get swept up in, that in the end…all you people were right. I did love this book. Thank you for recommending it.

Maika

As I write this I am literally surrounded by books that I’ve begun reading, but haven’t finished. It’s not that I’m not enjoying them, but my attention span is shot. Aside from my ongoing bedtime therapy of rereading Good Omens and the Discworld books, I read in fits and starts throughout the day and have a hard time sticking with any one book. I just keep adding books to the ‘currently reading’ stack. But even at a fitful snail’s pace, I have recently finished a couple books (that weren’t written by Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman):

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern – This is an incredibly beautiful book, inside and out. The design of the physical hardcover book itself is exquisitely beautiful and the writing is intensely vivid, luxuriantly picturesque, and evocative with sumptuous descriptions of one of the most magical places ever dreamt into fictive existence. And yet…I just couldn’t get into it. You know that old breakup cliché, “It’s not you, it’s me”? That can be applied to all sorts of things beyond relationships, books included. I eagerly pre-ordered The Starless Sea as soon as it was available. It was published and arrived at my home when I was completely grief-stricken, so I didn’t touch it until the following year. Fast forward to 2020 and we were smack in the middle of a global pandemic and urgent nationwide protests, and I was deep into intense work on myself. Yet I decided to reach for it anyway. And… it took me nearly a year to read it. What should, by all rights, have been a magical escape from harsh reality felt…too enchanted and too beautiful juxtaposed with a waking world and physical self that both felt anything but enchanted. Instead of soothing and distracting, it vexed and hurt. It made me miss New York City as a whole and Sleep No More specifically even more than I already did. And so the book that took me a year to simply start ended up taking me another year to finish. The Starless Sea, you were achingly beautiful from start to finish, I dearly love the very idea of this book, and yet my heart never opened to you. It’s not you, it’s me.

Bunny by Mona Awad – The Secret History meets Mean Girls meets…well, one other book and one other movie which, if I name either of them, will reveal too much about this story. While it feels like a cop-out because it means that I can’t say much, the less you know about this book, the better. Seriously, don’t even look at the reviews on GoodReads. There are inadvertent spoilers there too. Suffice to say, it was a dark, twisted, adamantium-razor-sharp story and a thoroughly gripping read. Also, there were times when I identified so strongly with the main character and felt so intensely seen that I wondered how Mona Awad knew so much about my past. it tapped into an old well of anxious interpersonal woe that I seldom think about these days, but was surprised to find felt no less vivid for the passing of years. Equal parts distressing and validating in an ‘I thought it was just me’ sort of way. The magic of books.

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