Curses, Inc., Tristan Elwell, 1997, oil on board.

My AC has been out for five days, and I’m hot and tired and existing in a sort of fever dream fugue state, but I wanted to get it together for long enough to share some art that I am SO freaking beyond excited about in the pages of my forthcoming book, The Art of Fantasy: A Visual Sourcebook Of All That Is Unreal.

Fantastical artists pictured here, names all out of order because I cobbled all these words together from something I already posted on Instagram: Chie Yoshii, Colleen Doran, Paul Lewin, Tristan Elwell, Julie Bell, Atsuko Goto, Brom, Carrie Ann Baade, Julie Dillon, Victo Ngai. And I would love to include 200 more artworks in this post, but why would you bother buying the book if I did? Hee hee!

And don’t forget to get your preorder goodies, including a signed bookplate, by clicking on this link and doing whatever it tells you to do. I don’t honestly remember. I’m too hot!

 

Red Lady, Gerald Brom, 2015, oil.

 

CHARACTER III, Atsuko Goto, 2022, pigments, gum arabic, Japanese ink, gold powder, silver powder, silver leaf, gold mica, natural mineral pigments, lapis lazuli on glued cotton cloth.

 

Visionary, Carrie Ann Baade, 2018, oil on canvas.

 

Hemera, Chie Yoshii, 2014, oil on wood panel.

 

Cover art for Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman, Dark Horse Comics, Colleen Doran, 2019, pen and ink.

 

Little Sister, Julie Bell, 2011, oil on panel.

 

Medusa II, Julie Dillon, 2022, digital.

 

Arrival on Ganymede, Paul Lewin, 2021, acrylic on wood.

 

Frogfolio Utopia, Victo Ngai, 2012, mixed media with digital.

Pre-order your copy of  The Art of  Fantasy by August 1 from any retailer and be one of the first 100 readers to receive bonus goodies! Details here.

 

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Behold, my office wall’s final form! Did it take a lot of holes in the wall to get here? Sure it did! Did I drop many tiny nails on the carpet and retrieve far less than I lost? I mean, it happens. Did I map out a strategy for efficient use of time? Look—

Top and going clockwise:

Center: The Uninvited by David Seidman
Lights: teardrop fairy lights from Lumina of London

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Summer is rough for me. Always has been. I know it is for a lot of people. From mid-June until late August, I feel like the human equivalent of a rotten, infected belly button, and the mere act of existing feels like an enormous effort.

As we’re getting into the part of the year when the seasonal ennui really gets its grip on me,  I’ll let you know that this installment of Stacked is very half-assed. Why bother at all, you might wonder? I’m wondering that as well. But if I don’t follow through on at least something, I will feel like an even lousier rotten belly button, so here we are.  While I’ll make sure to share all the titles of everything I read from April through June of 2023, not all of those books will get a review.

Here’s where I try to explain my process, how some of these things have reviews, and some don’t, even though some of them might actually have been more exciting or compelling reads. I try to be diligent about recording my thoughts pretty quickly when I finish a book I’ve read for NetGalley (I don’t want my rating to go down, hee hee!), and so once I’ve written it for Netgalley, I just put it in a draft here to hang out on the blog. But library books or items from my personal collection that there’s no urgency to review right away? If they are exceptionally blah, I’ll forget them in a day or two. And if conditions are right, like, say, I’m hot and tired and miserable? I’m apt to be forgetting the really good ones, too. Suffice it to say, there are a lot of Netgalley ARCS in this blog post, though it’s possible some of those ARCS are published now.

You might wonder how I grow my “To-Read” lists or where I get my recommendations. I was going to start that sentence, “People often ask me…” but that’s a total lie. No one ever asks me that. Sadie Hartmann has loads of horror suggestions over on Instagram, and on YouTube, Elizabeth has tons of thrillers and horror reviews at Reading Wryly, and Jen Campbell’s channel brims with lists of speculative and literary fiction as well as poetry.

When I was in elementary school, in the sixth grade, I was a bookworm. Are you shocked?? I hope you were sitting down for that!  I never really thought of myself as a nerd, though. Until popular mean girl Mary Josenhans told my sister (also named Mary), “Your sister reads ALL the time. She’s a NERD.” First of all, I don’t know why sixth-grade Mary J. was talking to my fourth-grade sister. Stay in your lane, kid! Secondly, she said “nerd” like it was gross, dirty, or bad. Like it was something to be ashamed of. Like my sister should have been ashamed of me.

I don’t think my sister ever was, but from that day forward, I harbored a fierce, fiery hatred in my heart for Mary J., for trying to make my sister feel something ugly about me. It was worse than making me feel directly bad about myself, see? And those feelings of shame and ugliness and uncoolness were wrapped up for me in nerdery and book wormery for the longest time. Not that it ever stopped me from reading or loving the things that I loved, but it sure put the kibosh on ever getting a sense of feeling …”cool” for loving any of it at all?

(Also, for the longest time, I dreamed about walking up to Mary J. and straight up punching her in her mean, stupid face.)

But yesterday, while exchanging book recommendations via Instagram DMs with one of the very coolest humans I know, it occurred to me…wait a second. This person is COOL AS HELL. And we are talking about books. One of my favorite things in the world. We are having a cool conversation about a cool thing. AM I A COOL PEOPLE???

Oh, fuck off, Mary Josenhans. Go read a book.

 

 

Linghun by Ai Jiang The grieving families who inhabit the neighborhood of HOME will go to unspeakable lengths for the opportunity to move into houses which *may* possibly be haunted by their loved ones. That’s what Wenqi’s parents are hoping for, the chance to connect with the spirit of their son, Wenqi’s older brother. Wenqi herself, as do many characters in this story, suffers from heartbreaking neglect– her parents and the other mourners are so obsessed with communicating with the dead and those they’ve lost, that they’ve nothing left to give the living.  An aching meditation on the unclimbable mountain, the unhealable wound of grief, and how the melancholy of loss makes for dolorous ghosts among the living, Linghun will surely haunt my heart for some time to come.

This Thing Between Us by Gus Moreno is another book about grief and loss, but this one gets really freaky, glitchy, and hallucinatory. Thiago tells us of his late wife Vera, her funeral, the day she died, the life they shared, the…haunted, or possibly possessed, or possibly interdimensional cosmic horror entangled smart home device Vera ordered and installed before her tragic demise. Anyway. Grief fucks you up.

A Good House For Children by Kate Collins is a spooky, spellbinding contemporary gothic haunted house story, following Orla, a former artist/current mother who acquiesces to her husband’s wishes that the family pick up and move to a grand old house in a small village by the sea. The villagers hint at the house being “bad,” and a string of deeply unsettling things begin to occur in past and present timelines. A feminist ghost story with a haunted house where time isn’t quite fixed or linear, A Good House For Children is gorgeously creepy with many marvelously cozy elements, and the writing was lovely & soothing like the author also writes about knitting & baking in their spare time.

Looking Glass Sound by Catriona Ward Looking Glass Sound lulls you with the setting and circumstances of a coming-of-age experience that takes place among three friends over the course of an ill-fated summer in the late 80s. It’s one of those stories that softly strangles with a fraught, undefined sense of doom and vague, looming dread that has nothing to do with horror but rather the sweetly unbearable, eerily desperate poignancy of the passage of time, how hope and youth and friendship and loyalty will never feel the same again after you cross a certain threshold. It becomes a kind of fever dream, turned around and bewildering, where the people and their stories keep changing, moving, slipping from your grasp; nothing’s as you thought, and maybe you never properly understood the stakes of the story to begin with–or even whose story it really was. Circuitous and labyrinthine in its leading one towards and away from the truth, depending on whose truth it was, Looking Glass Sound left me with the most breathtakingly frustrating and beautiful ache in my heart, and honestly, it’s all I could want in a book by Catriona Ward.

Spin a Black Yarn; Novellas by Josh MalermanIt’s not enough to say this collection of stories was “weird.” I read a lot of weird stuff. I genuinely can’t say, story or theme-wise, if this collection was any more or less weird than anything else. I guess I mean to say it was a bit weird in tone and consistency. These five stories were at turns sinister and suspenseful, with two tales that actually elicited a proper goose-fleshed shiver, but then two other stories were a bit of a slog. The good: a nice balance of haunted house eerieness, cosmic horror mental deterioration, and creepy deathbed confessions. The not-as-good: a horrible couple gets what they deserve, and Russian brothers avenge the murder of their sibling. This last story read almost like something by Dostoevsky, with all the suffering, nihilism, intensity, and tedium I recall from Crime and Punishment or The Brothers Karamazov. I will always read a new title from Josh Malerman. Will I always love them? Probably not. And I can’t say that I loved this one, but the three stories I enjoyed in this collection were particularly good.

No Child Of Mine by Nichelle Giraldes I typically enjoy ghost stories with haunted houses and family curses, but this story of a couple’s unraveling after moving into a new house and learning of their unplanned pregnancy really missed the mark for me. It wasn’t the dual timeline element; I really enjoyed learning of Essie and Sanjay’s relationship in the present day, as well as Ana and Isabel’s beautiful bond in the past; it wasn’t the slow-burn pacing, I can appreciate taking the time to thoughtfully build a story up. No, I think what was missing is that the circumstances which connected these two couples across time was a more complicated situation than the author ultimately addressed, and I think the whys and hows of it even occurring at all needed more exploring. I get that the mystery of the paranormal should leave something up to the reader’s imagination, but I think, as a reader, I needed just a little bit more to work with.

The Sight by Melanie Golding Faith has grown up in the Harrington Carnival and loves her life with the performers–but they haven’t always loved her family back. A strain of divinatory curse seems to afflict some of the women in her clan, and the rest of the circus seems to think having death-predicting soothsayers hanging around is extremely bad luck and probably not great for business. Her grandmother Daisy was more or less banished when she spoke of a tragedy she foresaw, and Faith, having acquired the same “gift” as a child, has experienced similar visions –and their consequences in terms of being ostracized from her carnival friends and family. Now a pariah with no income, Faith must find a way to pay for her terminally ill mother’s home care, and along with her best friend Betsy, they hatch a scheme to capitalize on Faith’s gift. But what happens when in one of her “Oracle of Death” visions, it is Faith herself who is seen wielding the knife responsible for a stranger’s death? This is a fairly straightforward thriller with a hint of the supernatural and a twisty bit that I will admit I saw coming about 3/4 of the way through, and I won’t say what it’s about or who it pertains to, but if you’re paying attention to what’s there in front of you–and maybe what’s not actually there–it will fall into place for you as well. I thought this was a fairly compulsive read weaving together ideas of fate and destiny, family and tradition, and death and loss.

The Stranger Upstairs by Lisa Matlin Social media influencer and self-help author/therapist Sarah Slade thinks she’s hit upon a great idea–buy a notorious murder house, make renovations while documenting the whole thing and hopefully getting lots of likes and follows along the way, and then sell the restored home for a tidy profit. Right away, things seem a little weird; her husband barely wants to sleep in the house, no one local wants to do any work on the place, not only do the neighbors refuse to interact with them, but someone is actively trying to drive them away with threatening notes and dead rats, and even Sarah’s cat, Reaper, is acting off. The house, however, is the least of Sarah’s problems. The glossy social media facade hides a failing marriage, a past scarred by secrets, and, as it turns out, a host of mental, emotional, and pathological personality issues; Sarah is not the person her clients and employers believe her to be and for all of these reasons and more, she is probably not the best choice for providing anyone any therapy or counseling. As we watch as Sarah becomes ensnared in the house’s grip, we wonder if it’s the house itself or Sarah’s spiraling mental decline (and if you’ve read enough haunted house books in the past decade, you may have some other theories.) I enjoyed this story for its atmosphere and tension, and I loved the bones of the story itself. I even loved the *idea* of Sarah. I am not sure that I loved how the character herself was handled, especially all the wine-drinking. Far be it from me to say how characters suffering with substance abuse issues should be written, but something about Sarah’s drinking feels sloppily approached. Then again, alcoholism is kind of a sloppy thing to deal with (my family is full of them, so I feel like I can comment on this somewhat.) And this could just be a me-problem. But I found those portions of the book very uncomfortable to read. Otherwise, The Stranger Upstairs was pretty solid.

Dark Corners by Megan Goldin So a lot of this murdery thriller following a true-crime podcaster took place around Daytona Beach. And as a more or less lifelong resident of the place (I moved away last year), I was curious to see if they could convey the true and utter nastiness and skeeziness of the shitty little town I grew up in. I don’t want to give the author too much of a hard time or focus on the wrong thing here. but a major plot point was an “influencer convention” that was being held at a hotel in Daytona, and the main character was unable to find a room anywhere because there were IT, energy, and medical conferences being held in town at the same time, and all of the hotels were full. Yeah…no. No one will ever have an IT, energy, medical, OR influencer convention in Daytona Beach, FL. Bikeweek? Sure. NASCAR? Of course. Anything that requires a few more IQ points is most assuredly not going to happen in Daytona. And the influencer convention would have to take place somewhere much more glamorous than the sandy cesspool of Daytona could offer. All that aside, the story of this podcaster getting pulled in by the FBI to find a missing influencer was compelling enough to tear through it in a few days, and I will say that reading about social media influencers is a lot of fun, like reading about rich people is always a hoot. It’s a trip to see how the other half lives. And technically, while I found the writing and the language to be pretty plain and simple, no bells or whistles, the pieces of the story came together in a satisfying way in the end.

Mister Magic by Kiersten White Is there anything weirder and eerier than a childhood mystery recalled through an adult lens? Something you may have done or experienced or been a part of that, in retrospect, as an older person, just seems so surreal and farfetched and bonkers that there’s no way that could have happened, you must have dreamed it or imagined it? That’s how a swath of internet users of a certain age feel about an eccentric show called Mister Magic that mysteriously disappeared from the airwaves many years ago and which, strangely, one can now find no evidence of having existed. There are no producers, transcripts, camera people, or records of the show online–the blog posts and message boards even speculating about it seem to vanish without a trace. But the child stars who were at the heart of the show are quite real and are being gathered together for a podcast interview, which may, in fact, be heralding a reboot of the show. Once reunited, the characters start to feel pieces of themselves clicking back into place, it feels like being home–but at the same time, something strange is happening, and the reconnecting that’s happening is more than just lonely adults reunited with old friends. Wounds are being reopened, and traumas are surfacing. There is so much from their past with this tv program that has been repressed or that they never realized the truth of, to begin with, and there is more at stake with the reboot than they could possibly know. The author seems to be exorcizing some intensely personal demons with the book–which once you think about the locale and start putting pieces together, you guess it before the story gets there. But whether you relate to or have experiences with that kind of trauma or not, this was a great read, and I tore through it in less than a day.

Maeve Fly by CJ Leede Oh my god. Imagine a love letter to Los Angeles, written by a savage, sociopathic Weetzie Bat; a Takashi Miike film inspired by a series of Lana del Rey songs; a main character who is a Disney Princess channeling Patrick Bateman. Imagine there is also a reference to “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” in these pages. You guys–the perfect book really does exist.

All the Dead Lie Down by Kyrie McCauley I really connected with our main character Marin. Always anxious, with a perpetual pit of dread in her belly, constantly fretting at how things can go wrong, a permanent state of caution and worry. And a perfect foil to Evie, the beautiful eldest sister to the girls Marin has been charged with nannying after her mother has died, and she has accepted an invitation to live with the Lovelace family at their secluded New England estate. Evie is bold and brash, and beautiful, and Marin is instantly intrigued. But the sisters are hiding something, and strange, unsettling things are happening in the old home and on the spacious, increasingly spooky grounds, and as Marin and Evie’s romance blossoms, a sinister decay deepens. I didn’t realize this was YA before I read it, but I found it to be the perfect balance of cozy-creepy atmosphere and charming love story, with some delightfully disturbing surprises.

 

Bluebeard’s Castle by Anna Biller So you take the Bluebeard story and give it a contemporary setting by way of a heroine obsessed with gothic romance tropes and 1950s Hollywood glamour and wrap it up in Anna Biller’s exquisitely packaged campy ambiance that borders on satire (but is it satire, or is it a very genuine homage?) as well as her very specific feminist philosophies revolving around catering to the male gaze and misogyny as a form of agency and empowerment, throw in some sketchy ghosts, family trauma, toxic friendships, terribly chic fashion, and salacious food porn and you have this head-scratcher of a book that you can’t seem to put down even though you find this brand of feminism too uncomfortable to either contemplate or participate in.

The Chateau by Jaclyn Goldis Four friends convene for a girl’s trip at a luxurious French estate, the ancestral home of grande dame Seraphine, who has called the women together for reasons of her own. There are tensions between the group from the start, and it’s not an entirely comfortable visit, despite the opulent accommodations. A shocking murder delays Seraphine’s revelations, however, and the four work mostly separately and against each other to unravel the mystery of the brutal crime–and why they were summoned to the chateau in the first place. Much in the way of secret, scandal, drama, and tragedy tangles these women together, and they’re not the most likable bunch, so it’s tough to know who to root for with these unpleasant characters. Despite that, this is definitely the sort of summertime twisty suspense r that I’m always happy to find and immerse myself in over the course of a June or July evening.

You Can Trust Me by Wendy Heard I had such a good time with this one! At first, as the story and the characters were being built up, I didn’t quite know where things were headed. Summer and Leo are two kindred spirits who found each other at just the right time in their lives. Summer is unbearably lonely having lived off the grid, with virtually no identity for her entire life, and gets by on her clever thievery and pickpocketing skills. Leo is a young woman who experiences a terrible tragedy, leaves home and winds up desperately panhandling in the streets of L.A. Their paths crossed, Summer took Leo under her wing, and they now live a free-spirited, nomadic lifestyle, stealing from clueless strangers and scamming bored rich men. And then, having come upon what she thought was a major score, Leo unknowingly targets the wrong billionaire and disappears somewhere on his luxurious private island. Frantic to reunite with her one true friend, Summer uses every trick up her sleeve to scam her way onto the island during an investor’s retreat so that she can get to the bottom of everything and bring Leo home safely. Despite being a somewhat twisty thriller, I loved how the themes of friendship, found family, and long-term effects of grief and loss were woven into the fabric of this story, and overall, I thought it was a really good time (which I always feel weird saying about murdery books, but eh, you like what you like.)

The Only One Left by Riley Sager The anticipation for a new Riley Sager book is exciting and nearly overwhelming. The plots, usually consisting of a woman realizing she’s in a strange/perilous/weird/haunted situation and trying to get to the bottom of things while staying alive, are the sorts of tales, written in Sager’s relatable (but never “basic”) voice and propulsive storylines, that immediately hook you and leave you breathlessly tearing through the pages. And then you get about 3/4 of the way through the book and realize, “Huh. Riley Sager’s done it again. I’m gonna hate how this ends, aren’t I?” The Only One Left, the story of a 30-something caregiver with a troubled past put in charge of caring for an old woman long suspected of murdering her entire family in an enormous crumbling cliffside mansion, is another one to add to the list. The stories sail along so thrillingly and adroitly, you can’t imagine how they’ll be wrapped up in a clever bow at the end…and that’s the thing. They never are. They always go off the rails in the most head-scratchingly unsatisfying way. This one plays out the same way. I know reviews are for readers, not authors, but Riley Sager, if you ever read this–I do actually love your books quite a bit, and I will be chomping at the bit to read every single new one you write. I don’t love how most of them end, but honestly, that’s a minor complaint. If I’ve enjoyed the journey–and I always do, Riley Sager– the ending isn’t the most important thing.

My Darling Girl by Jennifer McMahon If you’ve been looking for the Hallmark Christmas movie cozy-times version of an “is it family trauma or is it demonic possession?” horror novel, Jennifer McMahon’s My Darling Girl is everything you’ve been pining for. And you might think I’m saying that in a snarky, sneery way, but you know what? I am totally not. My advice? Save this for December when the wooly socks, hot chocolate, and twinkle lights come out of storage, and have a good time with it.

Her Little Flowers by Shannon Morgan Prickly middle-aged loner Francine lives with her occasional lodgers and her full-time ghosts in the relative isolation of her family’s crumbling estate. She spends her days tending her garden, immersing herself in herbal lore and the language of flowers, and silently communing with the various spirits on her property. Francine’s sister Madeline comes home to stay for a spell after the death of her 7th (!!) husband, and with Madeline’s arrival–which happens to coincide with the arrival of a handsome new lodger– there is no small amount of sudden and terrifying upheaval. Francine’s small world, kept so quiet and well-guarded, explodes around her in a whirlwind of long-kept secrets, terrible tragedies, and ghostly heartbreak. I found this story to initially be a bit meandering, but it picked up near the final chapters, and near the end, I was weeping uncontrollably.

The Fetishist by Katherine Min This book was an unexpected jolt, a startling “zjzjzjzzttt!!” metal fork to the socket of my reader’s soul. I had no idea what it was meant to be about other than a philandering Asian fetishist of a mediocre white man–but really, that’s just dumb Daniel, and that’s not even the whole of him, and he’s not even the half of it. There’s dazzling, dizzyingly passionate, and talented Alma, the love of his life, but whose orbit he felt eclipsed by; brittle desperate Emi whose affections he spurned; and furious, grief-stricken Kyoko–Emi’s daughter, hell-bent on vengeance, for she is convinced her mother died by suicide after Daniel ended their affair. Tackling themes of classism, racism, colonialism, and exploitation, as well as of regret, revenge, and redemption, and motifs of art and music and beauty, and language and imagery that is at turns bleak and playful (a passage in which comatose Alma, her coma toes, coma tossed comes to mind, hee!) these characters are full of surprises and The Fetishist is a singular and extraordinary book.

 

Malice House by Megan Shepherd Bamboozles and bonkers! I began reading this book because I thought it was one thing but it veered in a weird and wild direction and has become something else entirely! Is there a specific term/phrase/genre for the kind of book where everything goes along all normal-like, and then the story just veers sharply and becomes super weird and crazy? I am not talking about speculative fiction or magical realism. Have you read this book? Can you talk to me about what I’m getting at here. I also thought it was kind of funny that the character name-dropped Kelly Link (well, she mentioned Get in Trouble) and Victor LaValle.

Upgrade by Blake Crouch (audio book)Who knew being preternaturally smart could be so annoying?

Station Eleven by Emily Saint John Mandel People, patterns, the passage of time. Humanity, the interconnectedness of it all, this beautiful, lonely planet. This story is not at all what I thought it was going to be.

Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan A suburban neighborhood turns against a new family in a series of flashbacks and have never had a book make me feel so distressed and uncomfortable.

The Wanderers by Chuck Wendig in which I finally read a Chuck Wendig book and learn I am perhaps not a Chuck Wendig fan. Was this the wrong book to start with? It left a horrible taste in my mouth.

Carmilla: The First Vampire by Amy Chu this was an interesting adaption of Sheridan Le Fanu’s story, but is it weird to say that I wish that beautiful sofa had featured more prominently in the plot?

The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling was my first DNF of the year. I had to read 74 titles before I found one I couldn’t force myself to read; that should give you an idea of how patient I can be. I had my suspicions about it but gave it a go anyway. It turns out that I truly hate love stories. I got about a quarter through the book when I realized I was just wasting my time and could/should be reading something I enjoyed. Shortly thereafter, I had to do the same with The Quiet Stillness of Empty Houses by L.V. Russell (which sounds like something I should have enjoyed from the title, so I’m still a little sad about that one.)

Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire A really beautiful YA (?) thriller (?) about a school for children who tumble through doorways or portals to fantasy lands but who are cast back into the real world and who are now unmoored and adrift. The boarders at the school begin dying in brutal ways, and they must solve the mystery of what’s happening. I think this is a series?

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage Psychopathic Hannah terrorizes her mother because she wants her papa all to herself. It was an interesting premise, but I found Hannahs’s machinations remarkably sophisticated for a seven-year-old? I think I might have really enjoyed this book anyway.

Such Pretty Flowers by K.L. Cerra In investigating her brother’s gruesome death, Holly cozies up to (and with) his shady girlfriend Maura, a florist, who lives in an amazingly atmospheric gothic apartment, which was almost a character itself. And that’s…all I remember. I really loved the idea of that apartment, though.

The Island by Adrian McKinty Against her better judgment Heather, a young, new stepmother, goes on a side trip with her bratty stepkids and her husband to a remote Australian island, and not long into their jaunt, they meet a strange pair of brothers, part of the larger clan that owns the island, and a terrible tragedy occurs. Poor choices and bad decisions worsen things, and Heather and her family soon realize they may not make it off the island alive. I had a weird time with this book. Half the time, Heather annoyed me, I thought every time she opened her mouth, she made the situation worse, and yet she really was a great character, and this book had some unexpectedly beautiful writing, far more gorgeous than you’d think a story like this might have called for.

 

SO. YEP…I READ ALL OF THESE…

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

The Night Shift by Alex Finlay

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

Creeping by Mike Richardson

The Decacon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji

We Had To Remove This Post by Hanna Bervoets

The Marigold by Andrew Sullivan

…again, just because I don’t have anything to say about these books doesn’t mean they weren’t good, or even great (looking at you, The Marigold!) My head’s just not in it at this point. Anyway, that’s it for this quarter!

 

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28 Jun
2023

Three new scents from Bloodmilk…

LEKYTHOI Smells of the brine of the ocean and resinous petrified sap of ancient trees, like cool, polished sea glass and golden amber laced with tiny bubbles, heaped tall in vessels of dusty clay and submerged in rich, grassy olive oil. Offerings to appease the sirens, left on the crashing tides of lonely islands amidst tumbling, clackering piles of sailor’s bones.

PELANON There is a work by pre-Raphaelite artist John William Waterhouse that depicts two robe-draped figures refreshing a small altar of bronze statuettes, making humble offerings to the household gods. Not of divine nectar and sacred ambrosia, but rather commonplace, earthbound flowers, honey, and fruits –a quietly luminous but very human and everyday moment of ritual and reverence. This fragrance is the incense of that span of heartbeats and intent, ensconced in a golden beam of fading afternoon sunlight.

ENAGISMATA Translations of Homer turn up many instances of the evocative phrase “the wine-dark sea,” which, if parsed literally, may simply be describing rough, stormy seas–but I first heard the turn of phrase as the title of one of Robert Aickman collections of weird, unsettling stories. If you’re unfamiliar, this author revels in disquieting tales of haunted psychology and thoroughly unnerving but initially routine and unremarkable experiences. They’re not quite ghost stories but perhaps just quotidian situations and circumstances, slightly off-center, low-key, and almost indefinably mysterious.

If you’ve ever observed the turned-inside-out-mixedup-madness of a multicolored knitted sweater, you can see how you wear the chaos of your clothing so close to the skin, the nightmare side of something so ordinary, carried unknowingly right next to your heart. Enagismata smells of the syzygy-space where these weird divisions of unbothered/uneasy align: both a dark-fruited velvety-opulent wine with a strange, vaguely unearthly terroir and a secretive, slithering salinity, dark and bottomless from the most lightless depths of the ocean; the ways in which these elements relate to each other is in a constant flux that recalls shifting voids and pocket dimensions just outside our experience of reality. But so close, we can almost feel it. Hear it. Smell it.

Five scents from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Felius Silvestris Catrus Collection

A Girl Knitting smells milky and fruity, except not fruit, but milk that once held fruit. And not even real fruit, but Saturday morning cereal fruit-shaped puffed grains and marshmallows. There’s also a textural element; it smells of rustic textiles, musky, warm fleece with tiny flecks of twig and vegetal detritus not entirely combed out, a fuzzy, wooly strand of yarn spun straight from a freshly shorn sheep, knit with clacking wooden needles into a bulky beanie to keep your ears warm while you slurp your sweet, creamy, fruity cereal milk.

By Day She Made Herself into a Cat is a deep, profoundly relieving gasp of cool, nocturnal air when you’ve been exposed too long to a brutal slash of sunlight.  It’s exactly as the notes suggest, amber and inky black musk in perfect proportions. It smells like swallowing the dark stillness of a midnight dream. This is one of those scents that is very much A Whole Vibe, and if your vibe is Must Love Cats And Darkness, you will probably dig this one.

White Cat is a crisp, airy lemon wafer with a creamy, fluffy vanilla marshmallow filling. But there’s a resinous, ambery element as well; it’s a cookie by way of incense– you don’t eat it,  you scent the room with it.

Portrait of Magdaleine Pinceloup de la Grange née de Parseval is the perfumed approximation of your favorite TikTok cat; a whirlwind of musky fur, murky herbs, and backyard grassy litterbox bedevilment scratching at your tattered window screen to the frantically building beat of Darude’s Sandstorm. This review will not hold up with time, and it won’t make sense a year from now, and I don’t even care because I know in my heart this is true. This is a scent, that, like the silliest memes, makes me giggle and makes me want to share it with someone and make them giggle too.

Cat at the Table has notes of gentle white tea and mellow, soothing sandalwood and boasts label art by Leonard Foujita (whose paintings of unsettling girls with their unsettling dolls are some of my favorites!), and maybe it’s because Foujita’s cat has a Richard Scarry Huckle the Cat quality, but or maybe because it’s just a still cat at a table, the calm before the storm, but there’s an undeniable air of charming mischief to this scent, but also of quiet playtime, of nurseries and storytimes and naps. Of milky tea parties in heirloom china cups, puddings sticky with drizzles of marmalade, and the amber-eyed gaze of an old family cat watching with interest as the children’s tea play and sup and grow.

BeauFort London Terror & Magnificence. This is the very gothest thing: tarry, leathery shadows, wet stony paths leading into the teeming dark, and moonless midnights presiding over all. Like being enfolded by bat wings, encased in obsidian, enveloped in a stark abyss. A silent secret from the mouth of one just dead. This departed speaker whom no one hears is you.

Vetiver Bucolique from Mad et Len evokes a sort of sleazy Rococco decadence stalked by a gloomy, predatory nihilism. Oh, you thought I would talk about the various notes and helpful info? Ha ha! I will not! It smells like the kooky, kinky salaciousness of Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s iconic painting, The Swing, if you scratched out the creamy pastel frivolity of the faces in some sort of freaky Raskolnokovian frenzy.

Estate Carnation from Solstice Scents is a perfume I’ve talked about everywhere else but here, I guess. Time for a proper review! Ha! As if you’re ever gonna see me write an actual, proper review! Anyhow, Estate Carnation is a deeply gothic glamour amber, a musky murky chypre-adjacent fragrance that smells simultaneously like the figure in the white nightdress running from the manor house with the lone candle lit in the window at midnight and the surprise succubus that this figure is secretly possessed by–it’s all the iconic tropes of Avon Satanic Romance novel, and it’s perfect. If you love deep, mysterious scents and only have the budget for one fragrance this year, Estate Carnation should be the one.

Her Kind from Sorcellerie is a scent and brand that I talked briefly about on TikTok, but I’m not sure I have enough thoughts about either just yet to warrant a proper review. You should watch it if you want to see some really good earrings, though.

Jo Malone’s Mallow on the Moors is a fragrance I mentioned in my Sephora Haul video the other day, and I hoped it might be a little haunted. Not really in the way I was expecting, though. More like a parody from someone who didn’t realize they were writing a parody, which some might look at as a little unfortunate for their creation (no one wants to be unintentionally funny, you know?), but hey, it could also be fun, right?

Imagine you’re a buttoned-up gothic novelist who’s never even taken a lover, and fate has led you straight into the arms of a rakish lothario, a real Bluebeard type. Imagine swoons, sighs, ghosts, old gothic castles, manor grounds, bodies buried in the poison gardens, dead wives in attics, and all that jazz. And then the camera pans out, and this is a Hammer horror production directed by Anna Biller starring Lana del Rey, and it’s trying real hard to be ethereal and phantasmal and misty moors and mossy castles, but somehow it is all high camp and glinting artifice, real Real Housewives of Manderley energy. As to what it smells like, imagine the luminous violet powder of broken, scattered Guerlain Meteorites and the brassy hairspray, champagne-tossed-in-your-faceness of Tom Ford Jasmine Rouge. Imagine all of that sprayed on Dita von Teese in La Perla clutching a guttering candelabra channeling Frau Blücher.

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There were a handful of artists of the elfin and ethereal that I would have loved to include in The Art of Fantasy who are not actually in these pages, and it’s sure a bummer, but what can you do? So life goes on. However, there is one such creator of enchantments and fantastic beings who never in my wildest dreams did I imagine would actually be in my little book, and yet…here they are! I am referring to none other than the extraordinary creations wrought by the outrageously talented Forest Rogers.

One gets the sense that Forest Rogers is an artist who has experienced first-hand both the joy and despair of mermaids singing, has felt the euphoric, incandescent flutter of angel wings, held the literal hand of the dark night of the soul, and maybe even danced a tango with a prehistoric skeleton or a luminous beam of starlight.

How else would this artist instinctively know how to sculpt the ineffable, the transcendent, and the staggeringly unbelievable into such a graceful and dynamic reality?

 

The Beautiful Crustacean, Forest Rogers, 2016, mixed media, Japanese air-dry clay with mulberry paper.

These creatures, marvels of myth and imagination, monstrously beautiful and tinged with melancholy, seem poised at the verge, a frozen moment of fragile movement – as if they may at any moment take flight and disappear with their secrets into the mist, or skitter close and whisper mysterious revelations.

Approach them with care, take only what is offered to you, and let the world go on, knowing that you have experienced a bit of the magic that made them.

You can see Forest Rogers’s “The Beautiful Crustacean” here in the Impossible Monsters chapter of The Art of Fantasy: A Visual Sourcebook of All That is Unreal, on sale everywhere on September 12th, and available for preorder now!

Pre-order your copy of  The Art of  Fantasy by August 1 from any retailer and be one of the first 100 readers to receive bonus goodies! Details here.

 

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23 Jun
2023

This past weekend included a three-hour drive through the scariest thunderstorm to the dreamiest little hideaway. Back to the stomping grounds that were never properly ours, a dream that never quite came true for us.

Even though we desperately wanted to move away from Florida, we thought, for the longest time, well, if we *have* to be here, we’d sure love to be in this particular part of Orlando. With this little ramen place, and this little record store, and this corner coffee shop. With my best friend on this end of town and my sister and her swimming pool just ten minutes away and so and so forth. But the timing was never right. I had family responsibilities in town at that time. And then folks started moving away from Orlando, and then we had to move to another part of Florida for other obligations and responsibilities. By then, it was too late.

But we had a free weekend, and we found ourselves reminiscing about a place we never knew as well as we would have liked and for some friends we hadn’t seen in a while. So! We planned a brief Orlando jaunt close to all the places we loved best  We rented a cute Airbnb. We met up with some friends for soup dumplings, we met up with other friends for board games and beers, we went out for sushi, and then the next morning we went out for coffee and stopped by our favorite nursery for some garden treats before heading back.

I guess you can’t go back, and you definitely can’t-can’t go back to somewhere you never lived in the first place. But still…it was good to see you, Orlando. For those interested in such things, I shared a “what I bring in my travel bag” over on TikTok!

Baby-me in my mid-twenties wanted to start a food blog with tons of gorgeous bread photos but it turns out I couldn’t even make a decent no-knead loaf. It wasn’t till my 40s that I learned patience with sourdoughs and the no-fail certitude of plush buttery enriched doughs that I had the confidence to revisit making just a regular old yeasted loaf of something.

This is a whole wheat oatmeal flaxseed loaf using a recipe from Minimalist Baker. It rose perfectly, it’s nice and sturdy for toasting, it’s exactly as I envisioned, and I did it! Only took me twenty years! Gonna start that food blog now; people are definitely still reading those, right?

Bad days, man. Sometimes I think I’m getting better at handling them, but then sometimes, I have no idea what I’m doing. But this day is over. And I made a pretty good mushroomy fauxganoff meal, even though I wanted to order tacos and queso. I planted serrano and melon seeds. I’m having a nice little foot bath, and I’m trying a new whiskey that a lovely friend got for us. A stupid day doesn’t have to turn into a stupid evening. I’m gonna knit some muppety stitches and do my grandma knee strengthening exercises and read something deliciously creepy and be glad that I am alive in this world to have any kind of day at all. Am I doing this right? Any of it? Will I ever know?

P.S. I am fine. Most of my bad days consist of being very agitated and working myself up to a tizzy. I’m working on the “not working myself up” part. Hee hee, but, if I am being Very Real here, I will confess that my most of my agitations are for very bratty reasons. I consider it a good day if I can work on personal projects alongside Day Job things, and on days where work-work is nuts and becomes my entire focus, I get SO CRABBY. These are super privileged, very entitled crabulations and cranks, but I can’t help it.

I WANTED TO FINISH KNITTING MY BLANKET BUT MY BOSS KEPT YAPPING: The Sarah Elizabeth Story

I’m trying to keep better track of what goes into my guts and fuels my bod and my brains. This may be very triggery and I don’t want to freak anyone out, but I’ve become fixated with and terrified of the idea that as soon as I turn 49 in two years, I’m going to wake up dead.

I remember that happened to Michelle McNamara (46) and Julie Powell (49) and maybe for different reasons, but I don’t want that to be me. And you can’t foresee or control these things, I realize that, but there are some things I can control and I at least want to know that I tried my best. So logic dictates that if I do not eat at least 20 kinds of vegetables per day, I will literally die.

This not-at-all upsetting multiple ongoing existential crises brekkie thoughts brought to you by zucchini and enoki miso soup, eggy salmon rice, and lots o’ pickles.

This pattern is the Anthology throw from Curious Handmade, and it was so good for using up the gazillion scraps and scraggles of sock yarn I have amassed.

It broke my eyeballs and turned my joints to jelly but it was actually an easy-peasy project and I’d probably knit it again while my traitorous old body disintegrated around me. I will eventually gift you a pretty blanket with my skittering skellington hands and hopefully, you’ll be too enchanted to scream?

….it’s here!!

Or, well, at least my author copy is. The books haven’t hit the warehouse yet, so advance copies won’t be sent out for awhile, and regular old copies won’t be available until the publishing date of September 12th. But anyway…it is HERE!  I know I keep saying this, but I can’t believe I even wrote one book, let alone three, and yet here they all are!

Please be sure to place your preorders! Preorders are important! And etcetera! I don’t want to do the whole song and dance about it but they’re important, they really, really are!

and don’t forget…

Pre-order your copy of  The Art of  Fantasy by August 1 from any retailer and be one of the first 100 readers to receive bonus goodies! Details here.

 

 

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“my dear mary stole a rose” by Katie Eleanor

So I guess I have been making various “How to wear the summer solstice” outfits over the years and posting them willy-nilly on the internet and social media, but I have not been properly gathering them up in a blog post afterward, like I typically do with my other How To Wear collections. Le whoopsie! So that’s what I am doing today.

With such curations, I might usually include a bit of preamble about whatever aesthetic aspect of the seasons linking them with this, that, or the other kindred sartorial elements, but today I will leave the connecting of those dots to you.  I have bees to bother and cookies to think about baking (I probably won’t bake them, but I’ll think about it all day) and a mustard yellow tunic to wear, and such is the extent of my summer solstice practices in 2023. I am sneaking all of this in-between minutes of the workday, so I am doing my best with what I have to work with!

Click on each image to be wisked away to a page where you will find all of the items that comprise the ensemble. Please note that these were pieced together over the span of several years and many of these things are sold out or discontinued, but you can often find the same or similar items on resale sites. Also, my daydreams are opulent and not inexpensive, so yes–many of these things are stupidly pricey, I am well aware of that!

Summer Solstice 2023

 

 

 

Previous Summer Solstices…

 

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Wonder of the Sea, Wenzel Hablik, 1917

“Long live the imagination! Because everything that exists once was an idea.
Long live the will! For the act of wanting to change the world and make it freer.”

What else is there to say about the dazzling works of Czech artist Wenzel Hablik (1881 to 1934) other than to point to the above quote, words uttered by the artist himself? But I do have to say a little something, don’t I?

It seems like cheating to slap a bunch of paintings on a blog and call it a day– even if the works are as resplendent as those conjured by this dreamer of utopian fantasy.

Freestanding Dome With Five Mountain Tops as Base, Wenzel Hablik, 1918

I won’t lie to you, though. When I first saw his works, I thought they looked like kaleidoscopic, Expressionist versions of the She-Ra Crystal castle that my sisters and I were obsessed with as children. Listen, no one ever credits me on my impeccable sophistication, ok??

The Cloud, Wenzel Hablik, 1910

An architect, designer, painter, and printmaker associated with the German Expressionism movement, Wenzel Hablik was trained as a master cabinetmaker in Vienna and Prague but eventually pursued architectural and interior design projects. Polymorphic genius that he was, Hablik revered nature as the greatest creative force and saw the crystal as the most important symbol of natural creativity–for him, crystal architecture would become a societal utopia on the path to a better living.

Hablik also embodied his crystalline fantasies in exquisite drawings for household textiles, wallpaper, jewelry, and silver cutlery, along with designing vibrantly modern, elegant interiors, furniture, and fabrics, oftentimes in collaboration with his wife, master weaver Elisabeth Lindemann. Later works, influenced by the futuristic writings of H.G. Wells and the poet Paul Scheerbart, incorporated speculative technological ideas alongside more celestial and cosmic-oriented fancies

His vivid, experimental worlds, meditations on dazzling colors, translucent forms, luminous geological patterns, and prismatic heavenly bodies remain, even today, scintillating feasts for the eyes.  Hablik’s legacy is one of radiant beauty and hope and a reminder that imagination is everything, and that art can be a powerful and inspiring force for change. That we can dream of a better world and have hope that such a world is possible.

 

Starry Sky, Attempt, Wenzel Hablik, 1909

 

Interior of a Cathedral, Wenzel Hablik, 1921 

 

Crystal Castle In The Sea, Wenzel Hablik, 1914

 

Fire, Wenzel Hablik, 1913

 

Exhibition Space Wallpapers, Wenzel Hablik, 1921

 

Thunderstorm, Wenzel Hablik, 1910

 

Design for a great hall, Wenzel Hablik, 1924

 

Where to – where from? Wenzel Hablik, 1912/13

 

Cycle’s Utopian Architectures, Airplane Towers, Silos, Artist Apartments, Wenzel Hablik, 1921

 

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9 Jun
2023

 

The above is a little peek at June’s scented thoughts for my lovely Midnight Stinks Patreon supporters.

Every month I take a few moments to do a bit of scentomancy: I throw open the doors of my wooden perfume cabinet, close my eyes and take a big sniff, and reach in to choose a bottle at random. I then spritz a card with the perfume, write some thoughts, and mail them all out…hoping against hope that the aromas of the perfume will have survived the travel!

This month, the selection is Rouge from Comme des Garçons.

Comme des Garçons Rouge is an odd and surprising scent, and at all not what I expected to smell from this glossy, cherry red popsicle of a bottle. It instead reminds me of an artwork by the fabulous and flamboyant Argentinian painter Leonor Fini. In Les Sorcieres, we observe five frenzied witches swarming and swooping on their broomsticks through a swirling blood-red sky. This scent mirrors these feverish sensations of airy, dizzying fizziness and couples them with a terrestrial earthiness, like herbs and leaves and things freshly dug from a garden patch. Rouge smells like an effervescent shrub (the vinegary drink, not the bushy plant. But also minus most of the vinegar) of rhubarb and beet, fiery ginger root, and floral pink pepper. A witch’s cauldron tipple that tapers to a beautiful gingery incense.

Leonor Fini ‘Les Sorcières’ (The Witches), 1959

Les Sorcières makes an appearance in the pages of my book The Art of the Occult: A Visual Sourcebook for the Modern Mystic, although regrettably, you will find no mention of perfume in its accompanying caption. Oh, how I wish a publisher would contract me to write a kooky book pairing works of art with kooky perfume reviews! What a fun idea. Maybe I just need to write that book and hope that someone is interested in publishing it? I mean…that’s about as niche as niche can be, but surely that will appeal to a certain swath of people? What do you all think?

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Godzilla, Yuko Shimizu, 2019, ink drawing with digital color.

What comes to mind when you think of fantasy creatures?

When I think of “fantasy,” I think about the impossible, unreal creations that spring from our imaginations–and that’s not always in the form of a unicorn or an elf, you know?

Sometimes they have a supernatural origin or sci-fi or cosmic horror vibe or comic book association, and while I don’t want to say that I “want to challenge your notions of what fantasy creatures look like” –because I don’t want to be the know-it-all who makes those kinds of obnoxious declarations– I really do think that the umbrella of fantasy can encompass ALL of those fantastical things.

Anyway, there’s some art in my forthcoming book that fantasy purists will probably get on my ass about, like, “Godzilla’s not a fantasy creature!” Whatever! Write your own book! Because lemme tell you, I was never going to write a book swarming with fantastical creatures and monsters that did not include my favorite prehistoric reptilian kaiju. I don’t think any monster list is complete without our favorite enormous, destructive king of nuclear waste-spawned monsters, Godzilla.

With his gigantic stature, scaly body, and atomic breath, Godzilla is basically a dragon from ‘traditional’ fantasy art, right? Gobbling up citizens and scientists instead of knights and crusaders, devastating vast metropolises towering with glassy skyscrapers as opposed to castles and fiefdoms. Well, I think that Japanese artist Yuko Shimizu might agree if her fantastical rendering of the king of kaiju is any indication. Vividly colored, boldly realized, and with striking details, Godzilla here is a towering sci-fi fantasy dragon viewed through a surreal American pop and Japanese graphics and comic culture lens.

And since I am sharing a bit about why dear Godzilla shows up in The Art of Fantasy, I thought I’d give you a peek as to this fantastical radioactive beast’s cronies in the companion spreads

Vodyanoi, the Water Sprite, Ivan Bilibin, 1934, charcoal on paper.

Peerless illustrator of Russian folklore, Ivan Bilibin (1876–1942) was a graphic artist and stage/costume designer who was largely influenced by Art Nouveau and whose work is commonly associated with Russian fairy tales – to the extent that we could say his work very much defines our perceptions today of what Russian folklore art looks like. Seen here is Bilibin’s depiction of a water-dwelling demonic creature found in the mythology and lore of Eastern Europe – the Vodyanoi.

A bloated, cranky frog-faced old water spirit who, when angered, breaks dams, washes down water mills and drowns people and animals – the surest way to rile the Vodyanoi is to upset the natural balance of his watery habitat. Although according to legend, he can be appeased with a knob of butter. That seems fairly relatable

Creature, Vincent Di Fate, 2006, acrylics on hardboard.

A multiple-award-winning artist specializing in science fiction and fantasy illustration, the works of Vincent Di Fate span the remote frontiers of astronomical art and aerospace illustration – space chases, futuristic supermen, machines born of dreams or nightmares. Astonishing voyages of the imagination to the edge of the cosmos and vast worlds inhabited by incredible beings, light years away from planet Earth.

Some of these visions, however, live a little closer to home. Di Fate casts an eye on one of the ‘truly remarkable character designs of the 1950s science fiction movie genre’, that infamous gilled man captured by scientists in the Amazonian jungle. Thought to be a missing link between creatures that lived in the water and those that walked on land, its appearance is both fantastical and terrifying, and, in Di Fate’s hand, rendered breathtakingly beautiful, as well

Pre-order your copy of  The Art of  Fantasy by August 1 from any retailer and be one of the first 100 readers to receive bonus goodies! Details here.

 

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