In this month’s newsletter, I featured artwork by Frants Diderik Bøe (1820-1891), a Norwegian painter of still lifes, landscapes, and nature scenes, who studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. As a lover, though certainly not even close to an expert, of floral still lifes, I had never seen his work before and was immediately enthralled with his frequent painterly inclusions of my two favorite things: flowers and jewelry.
At the height of his career in the mid-19th century, Bøe is established as having been internationally recognized painter, though sadly, according to the Norwegian Biographical Lexicon, “posterity has not paid much attention to Frants Bøe…[which]…may be connected with the fact that he cultivated a genre that has never been particularly strong in the Norwegian context.”
He seems to have been a restless soul on his artistic journey, traveling between Copenhagen, Belgium, The Netherlands, and France, but his eight years in Paris are noted as having been his most creative period as an artist, selling pictures to the French government, King Oscar 1 and the National Gallery, as well as in Great Britain and America. In 1855 he was given the very cool and honorable task of representing the Scandinavian countries during the World Exhibition in Paris.
In midlife, his body betrayed him –as our human meat suits are wont to do once we pass a certain bummer threshold–and this one was a particularly nasty affection for an artist: Bøe experienced a marked weakening of his color vision– a disorder which periodically made him unable to paint and when we was able, the results were sadly, seriously noticeable. These later works were said to be lacking in the quality seen in the paintings from his glowing Parisian heyday.
It was an unfortunate end for Bøe, I’m afraid. In November 1891, he was found unconscious on a bench in Nygårdsparken, affected by what was later recognized by a stroke. The constable who found him disastrously misread the situation and placed him in drunk custody. By the time the mistake was discovered, it was too late to do anything to save him.
What an upsetting close to the story of Frants Diderik Bøe! Still, I am glad to have learned about him, and below I’m including my favorites amongst his œuvre of luminous, jewel-scattered floral tableaux.
Did you watch Darryl Hannah in Splash at a young age and dream for the next decade of diving into the ocean and magically becoming a mermaid with a sparkly orange tale? Did you regale your siblings with stories about fairy kingdoms and unicorn friends and revel in the imaginary worlds you created? Did you long to soar on a luck dragon, visit the Gelflings on the planet Thra, or envision yourself friends with a Fraggle? Were you a little weirdo who sat alone at recess or in the lunchroom, totally oblivious to what was going on around you, lost to the imaginative realms of immersive library books? Did you obsessively read pages and pages of D&D handbooks and manuals, familiarizing yourself with all kinds of monsters and spells and silently cursing yourself for being so shy and squirrelly because you’d love to actually have fantastical adventures with like-minded companions?
That was me! I did those things! (Or, in the case of Dungeons and Dragons, I never really did the actual thing, but that’s okay, RPGs are too much for this introvert!) I lost myself in fantasy via colorful fairytale picture books when I was younger; as a pre-teen, I grew into epic novels of the sword and sorcery variety, action-packed comic books, gritty contemporary folklore and fables, bizarre speculative fiction and weird tales, and of course, vast cinematic otherworlds –and whole other galaxies! – the fabulous and fantastic writ large on the big screen. And let’s not forget how I became a MtG enthusiast in my mid-30s!
I have been slipping into the other worlds of my imagination for as long as I can remember. It’s my favorite getaway, my default move. In short: I can’t help it! There is something irresistible about the imaginary, the uncharted and the unknown, worlds full of magic and mythical creatures, epic journeys across otherworldly landscapes filled with secrets and treasures. And I bet you’ve let me blather on about this for several paragraphs before busting out with I KNOW SARAH! I KNOW BECAUSE I DO THIS TOO! Well, okay, jeez.
So where is it that you disappear when you set reality aside, become entangled in a web of daydreams or lost in your own little world, and vanish into the fantastical landscape of your imagination? How are these far-flung realms of all that is incredible and unreal portrayed in the canvas of your mind? I don’t know about you, but I’d never be able to translate these highly imaginative but weirdly nebulous visions in my brain into some sort of tangible art form, but lucky for us, artists have explored imaginary worlds and fantastical creatures for centuries, expressing the mystical and mythical via various marvelous mediums.
Our most madcap adventures and extraordinary flights of fancy – the impossible stuff of daydreams and reverie – this is the fabulous realm of fantasy, and the spectrum of fantastic art is an abundant, richly diverse wonderland to explore. Artists throughout history have offered us myriads, multitudes, and multiverses of fantastical visions.
And I, in 2023, am pleased to announce that my forthcoming book, The Art of Fantasy: A Visual Sourcebook Of All That Is Unreal, is brimming with these irresistible artistic impulses…and it is available for preorder today!
Okay, so I’ll be honest with you. There are a lot of commercial enterprises tied up with fantastical art, some of them very big deal Intellectual Property, copyright, or franchise type of things, and so many artists/galleries/estates associated with these works are too big to notice lowly me or be particularly interested in contributing to my book. This made acquiring many of the works you might expect to see in a book like this pretty challenging; just look to my references in the first paragraph for an example or two of things I might have liked to have, but it was an utter impossibility*.
But you know what? Even with these struggles and issues, we were able to include SO! MANY! amazing artists and incredible works! I’m so unbelievably grateful for every single one of these creators, and there aren’t words enough to express my thanks. Some are beloved old favorites to soothe your soul, some I guarantee will be exciting new treats and surprises to thrill your eyeballs, and several for me personally– total dreams come true!
*I’m mentioning the absence of specific works or artists because I foresee a lot of fantasy-nerd-bros coming at me, hollering, “You forgot x/y/z!” and no, bro, I probably didn’t. Also, don’t be a bully; we’re all nerds here, we know better.
Anyway, here it is! Due out into this terrestrial realm on September 12, 2023, The Art of Fantasy is the third installment in my “Art in the Margins” series, along with The Art of the Occult and The Art of Darkness. I hope you will consider pre-ordering a copy today or, you know, sometime! And please check back here at Unquiet Things over the next few months for some sneak peeks, previews, and extra goodies!
This article was originally posted at Haute Macabre on October 3, 2018.
There is much speculation regarding Baroness Mathilde de Rothschild’s extravagant collection of skulls and macabre artifacts, bequeathed sans explanation to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris after her death in 1926. Was this French socialite’s fascination born of her time becoming intimately acquainted with death while training as a WWI nurse? Or perhaps a passion for hunting sparked an urge to collect such grisly trophies? One wonders if all of these experiences culminated in the Baroness unlocking for herself the inevitable recognition of the passage of time, that life is fleeting and transient, that pleasure and human activities are ultimately empty, and which led to collecting these tiny allegorical representations of death? Maybe it was a comfort for her to surround herself with reminders of her mortality.
Then again, maybe skulls just look really cool.
The late Baroness de Rothschild’s collection was available for viewing for the first time in a show called “Même Pas Peur!” — “Not Even Scared!”, or “Fearless!” — at the Fondation Bemberg in the southern French city of Toulouse. The exhibition ended September 30th 2018, so in lieu of time travel (even though seeing these beautiful pieces in person would be totally worth futzing with the space-time continuum), have a look at the selected works below and contemplate your own mortality.
Despite the fact that my first read of the year was a major, super gross dud, I’ve read so many amazing books during the first few months of 2023! I almost didn’t want to include that crappy one in this list; I’d rather not review “bad” books (believe it or not, I like to say nice things!), but because it was actually the first book I chose to read this year, I do feel an obligation to disclose that yes I read it and to share my few thoughts.
So how am I doing with my goal to read 200 books in 2023? I’d say it’s going along pretty well–I have read, in total, 55 books in this first January-March quarter. Everything counts, from wordy novels to audiobooks to single-issue comics. And it’s a lot to get to, let alone write about afterward, so I’m not reviewing everything I read. For posterity’s sake, I am at least listing all of the titles below, and if it affected me enough to write about, or maybe more importantly, if I remembered it well enough to write about, you’ll find a review for it.
Gothic by Phillip Francassi Were you a young horror fan in the 80s? Did you cut your teeth on stories full of misogyny and the male gaze and jam-packed with sexual violence? Do you long for times when stories were just, you know, a lot rapey-er? If so, Philip Fracassi’s story of an ancient evil lurking in a cursed desk and the washed-up horror author who falls prey to its thrall is definitely going to tickle your disgusting fancy, you disgusting piece of shit. Crawl back into your hole and read this gross, awful book, I guess.
The Spite House by Johnny Compton Eric and his two daughters, Dessa and Stacy, are on the run, skipping from town to town, taking odd and dangerous jobs, and generally just evading…something. Eric finds a situation that could mean a lucrative payout for him, thus ensuring the safety and security of his girls, even though this strange situation is anything but safe or secure. He has applied to live for a time in a possibly haunted house…a spite house. Which I had never even heard of until I read this story, but look them up; they’re a thing. His employer? An old woman who has a vested interest in the property for reasons of her own, reasons which hinge on his findings. I found myself rooting for the family and compelled by the story, which, while I don’t think I have read anything quite like this story, it wasn’t really breaking any new ground, either. Not quite “just another haunted house story,” but …close enough.(
Burn the Negative by Josh WinningI do have a soft spot in my heart for horror novels about fictional horror movies, and Burn the Negative is twisty-plotted and swiftly paced, with compelling, and cinematic elements as if it were already an actual movie itself! Laura, a former child actor renowned for her role in a cult fan-favorite but “cursed” horror film where tragedy befell almost everyone involved, has escaped her life of traumatized childhood stardom and now makes her living as a journalist in England. As luck would have it, though, she is sent on assignment back to LA to cover a reboot of the scary movie that made her famous. And once again, people start dying in horrific ways that correspond with the script. I read Burn the Negative while also reading Jeannette McCurdie’s I’m Glad My Mom died. There were so many interesting parallels with regard to the horrors of child stardom, especially the mentally unstable mothers obsessed with Hollywood fame, celebrity, and perfection. Growing up in that kind of environment is horror story enough, never mind the murders and the slasher villain and the various supernatural/haunted/thriller aspects. But with this story, you get all of the above, and it’s a pretty intense ride.
Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno Garcia. Fans of Gemma File’s Experimental Film or Archive 81 on Netflix will love this one! In 1993 Mexico City, Montserrat is an audio editor deeply obsessed with old movies and horror films. She’s tough as nails and suffers no fools…except for her lifelong pal, Tristán, a film industry veteran himself with a soap career that has all but dried up, as well as a massive man-baby who is incredibly self-involved and all said, a pretty terrible friend. You spend most of this book wanting to punch him in his stupid face. Tristán and Montserrat become friendly with an old-timer who lives in Tristán’s building, the elusive but once-famous director, Abel Urueta. Abel draws them in with his Golden Age stories, and a general air of mystery that hints at the occult, and then convinces them both to assist him with a weird little project that involves dubbing strange lines over an unfinished old film. What ensues magic, menace, and mayhem in equal measures. I enjoyed the heck out of this romp, except for the final few pages. I won’t elaborate, but when you get there yourself, you’ll probably (?) understand and agree.
In Natural Beauty by Ling Ling Huang our unnamed narrator (which becomes a more and more interesting choice the further into the story we delve) is a former musician of formidable talent, who has abandoned her passion for the piano after her beloved parents are in a terrible accident. The story opens as she is struggling in NYC, living in a cruddy basement apartment with crappy roommates, barely eking out a living, let alone earning enough money to pay for her parent’s rehab facility. She is then offered the opportunity to work at Holistik, a boutique selling wildly coveted, expensive–and perhaps experimental– products and services to beauty, age, and wellness-obsessed celebrities. The story is a beautiful meditation on grief, and family, and beauty itself. And while it skewers the cult of beauty in a surreal and, I might even say satirical way –it also it feels utterly, gorgeously sincere. The writing is lyrical but it doesn’t veer purple. And the story is at turns beautiful, horribly grotesque, and very sad. If you like the imaginative strangeness of Mona Awad’s books, the crusty, bodily grossness of Otessa Moshfegh, or if you enjoyed the weirdness and WTFery of A Touch of Jen by Beth Morgan then you may dig this one. Magical realism, alternate reality, speculative fiction? I don’t know what you call these stories, but if you gravitate toward books like this, Natural Beauty will be a favorite.
The Woods Are Waiting by Katherine Greene. I was pretty excited about this book; theoretically, it sounded like a great idea, and initially, I thought it ticked all of my boxes: the superstitious and isolated small town, the sinister traditions and local legends involving evil entities, basically all of the folk horror kind of stuff that I usually love. But getting through this story was a struggle and a slog. I didn’t enjoy getting to know the characters, and it didn’t help that the perspective kept switching between them. I couldn’t muster any interest in a single one of them or what they were going through. And the plot itself just moved so agonizingly slow. I found myself switching out to another book to reenergize my brain, and more and more frequently, I found that I dreaded the thought of even switching back to The Woods Are Waiting. Eventually, I stopped trying, and so I imagine this book will probably remain unfinished.
Dead of Winter by Darcy Coates grips you from page one with an intensity that may not allow you to catch your breath again before turning the final page. In this story, a group of strangers is traveling via a private tour to a remote resort in the snowy wilderness when they are stalled along their journey by a felled tree across the road. The book opens with our main character Christa and her fiance Kiernan attempting to find their way back to the bus after taking a short hike to stretch their legs after the long ride. Lost in the rough weather and whiteout conditions, they become separated, and next thing you know, Christa topples off a ledge and is buried under the snow. She awakes, injured, in a cabin, surrounded by the other passengers on the bus. As the story unfolds, we learn just enough about the other characters in the claustrophobic confines of the cabin to realize that no one is trustworthy and may, in fact, be rather treacherous–which they discover as, one by one, members of the group are each brutally murdered. Are these strangers really strangers to one another, or are they brought together by design? What is it that ties them all together, and will any of them remain alive to learn the truth? Caveat: while I did enjoy the story, I did piece together what was happening pretty early on. I don’t know if it’s because the twist was fairly obvious, or if I’ve read enough of these stories to look for the clues, but the clues–they are there. Even so, I was riveted from beginning to end.
Graveyard of Lost Children by Katrina Monroe. Part mystery/horror/psychological drama with themes of intergenerational trauma and the various things you can thank your family for–such as a genetic propensity for mental illness or inherited curses and the likelihood that your baby will be swapped for a changeling–and told from two different mother/daughter perspectives and timelines, Graveyard of Lost Children is an eerie, unsettling story of motherhood, madness, and myth. It was a bit of a slow burn, which isn’t always a bad thing, but the pacing felt a little weird, picking up and quite suddenly zooming toward an ending. An ending that felt strangely frustrating. (But if I’ve enjoyed the journey, a sour ending isn’t a huge deterrent for me, and I did find it a very hard book to put down once I got started–for what it’s worth!)
The Drift by CJ Tudor is a book I finished in the course of a day. I began it with my morning coffee, devoured it on my lunch break, and read desperately late into the evening, keeping me up way past my bedtime because I was so keen on discovering what it was all leading up to. An addictive, adrenaline-filled story of three separate groups of people suffering dire circumstances and carnage while trying to reach a place called the Retreat in the midst of a horrifying viral outbreak. This uniquely structured story was brutal, twisty, and intense, and it blew the top of my head right off!
The Puzzle Master by Danielle Trussoni There were so many interesting facets to The Puzzle Master— history and lore, mysticism and technology, puzzles and porcelain, and creepy antique dolls (my favorite thing in the world!) — that I don’t even know where to begin. So I’ll start by saying that if you like the idea of this particularly esoteric combination of ideas, entangled in a thriller, interwoven with the supernatural, you’ll enjoy this story. Mike, a man with an exceedingly rare medical condition involving patterns and puzzles, experiences a strangely deep and profound connection with Jess, a woman serving prison time for murder, and they are drawn into an ancient–and dangerous– mystery. Aside from the romantic aspect of the story, which I never love in any story, this was right up my alley and a great deal of fun. If you are not a fan of purple prose or a flowery turn of phrase, you’ll appreciate the direct, uncomplicated tone and writing style here. I found this a bit weird because I recall Trussoni’s The Ancestor being a bit more descriptive, with more ornate prose and poetic language. But The Puzzle Master reads more like a fast-paced, pulpy mid-century men’s adventure story. I’ll have to read more from this author to get a more complete sense of their range, I suppose.
White Cat, Black Dog by Kelly Link is everything I love about dreams, fairytales, and stories told by imaginative misfits and oddballs, shaken, stirred, and served up with a twist and a flourish in a teacup spilling with the wildest, most wondrous nonsense. These are tales you think you know–ballads, lore, bedtime stories you barely remember– but turned inside out and upside down and unraveled and zigzag-patchwork-rebound until they are all but unrecognizable…and yet they still sing to something familiar in your blood. The twists, turns, and surprises are bizarre, sure–but they also feel beautifully and exquisitely inevitable. Kelly Link dreams up the weirdest of cozy, comfort reading, and I guess that’s where all my analogies of teacups and stitched quilts come from; these stories are pretty bonkers and follow only the logic of dreams…but for daydreamers, woolgatherers, stargazers–that’s our sweet spot, our safe space, our favorite place to be.
The Quiet Tenant by Clémence MichallonIt’s unfair to say you wanted “more” from a book when you can’t articulate what “more” means or how that would look. But I wanted more from this story of trauma, survival, reclaiming one’s power, and most terrifyingly, the invisible power one exerts over generally sensible people simply by presenting a handsome, “good” and “normal” face to the world. At first blush, this was a riveting read. Multiple narrators: all of the women close to Aidan, a charming family man/pillar of the community/twisted serial killer–his captive “Rachel,” a woman he has kidnapped and inexplicably kept alive in a shed for the last five years; Cecelia, his teenage daughter who seemingly adores him; his new girlfriend Emily who obsesses about him constantly, and the myriad voices from beyond the grave of all women he has murdered. Strangely, we don’t hear the voice of his dead wife, which is a shame because I would have loved to have heard her POV. Early in the story, the setting shifts as Rachels goes from being chained up in a shed to being locked in a room in a new house, more-or-less in plain sight; Aidan has explained to his daughter that they have a tenant living with him. I found myself really rooting for “Rachel,” who has endured so much and is doing what she can to survive, to make it out of a hopeless situation alive and intact. (Along these lines, there is much in the way of sexual violence that is only hinted at in these pages, for which I was grateful. I found absolutely nothing gratuitous about any of it.) It’s hinted that Cecelia has secrets of her own, but that is maddeningly something that is never explored. And we don’t get much internal life, if any, from Aidan, so we have no idea what is driving these violent urges; we never learn the “why” of it. And on one hand, that’s fine–that’s often how it is in real life, too. We may never know what causes humans to act like monsters. But I feel these things–the dead wife’s POV, the daughter’s secrets, the killer’s motives, and backstory (even just a hint at something!)–might be the missing elements that would have made this story stronger and more impactful for me.
How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix. Don’t get me wrong; I always love a Grady Hendrix story. This one is about squabbling adult siblings left to deal with their recently deceased parents’ haunted and/or possessed home, and it was fine. And that synopsis isn’t exactly accurate, but to be any more specific would be giving too much away. Grady Hendrix is a funny guy, so it made me laugh (“Christian puppet ministries”? That alone is comedy gold, never mind the haunted taxidermied squirrel nativity!) And he knows how to craft emotionally compelling relationships and storylines, so the unresolved sibling dynamic and their finally-maybe connecting and coming to terms with each other made me cry, as well. It had some tense moments and pretty horrific imagery; it even grossed me out in some of the more brutal/gory scenes. And it had one of my FAVORITE spooky tropes. But it wasn’t very …scary? Then again, for me, Grady Hendrix falls more on the horror-comedy side of things, so I don’t know what I expected. And come to think of it, what has really scared me lately, horror novel-wise? I can’t think of a single title. So why am I expecting miracles from Grady Hendrix? That seems unfair. Maybe I didn’t want a scarier story. Maybe I don’t know what I want. How to Sell a Haunted House had a lot going for it, it was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it while I was reading it– but after the fact, it’s left me a little lackluster. But you know what? Don’t listen to me. I think, ultimately, it doesn’t matter if I loved the story solely for the duration of time that I read and immediately forgot it or if I adore it just as intensely decades later and can recite it word for word. I just love that this book even exists and that Grady Hendrix is here writing this weirdness in the same world that I happen to be living in.
What Have We Done by Alex Finlay Four friends, foster kids who bonded over trauma and secrets, are now being targeted as adults. Who can they trust, and how far-reaching are the ties of loyalty and friendship? Again, this was fine.
A Flicker In the Dark by Stacy Willingham Like The Quiet Tenant, a Flicker in the Dark is built around the theme of fathers and monsters and a placid facade masking the darkness and violence within. But you could almost say that A Flicker in the Dark begins where The Quiet Tenant ends. Chloe’s father is in prison for the murder of six teenage girls; the disappearances and murders occurred when she was a child, and ultimately, she was the one responsible for her father’s capture. As an adult, she has channeled all of her trauma and PTSD into her occupation as a successful psychologist, and she’s engaged to a handsome guy she’s wildly in love with. Things seem to be going well on the surface, but obviously, there are still a lot of unresolved issues, and she’s been self-medicating her guilt and paranoia for a long time–so when teenage girls start to go missing again, with a pattern very similar to her father’s crimes, it becomes immediately apparent how fragile a grasp she really has on her own life. For the most part, I enjoyed the story and its unexpected twists, but I found myself increasingly frustrated with Chloe and her decisions, and I literally started to hate her as she navigated her way through the unfolding drama.
They Never Learn by Layne Fargo. I utterly inhaled this book over the course of a day, but unfortunately, that was almost two months ago now, and I barely remember it. I suppose you might typically think of a smart, successful professor killing shitty dudes on campus as “unhinged,” but I don’t think I even once thought Scarlett was unhinged. Brilliant? Yes! Hilarious? Oh my gosh, for sure. Did I have to suspend some disbelief if I thought too much about how she got away with all of these murders for all of those years? Absolutely, but details, details. Whatever! I wanted a whole series of books about this snarky, beautiful vigilante taking out the male trash of the world! But in lieu of a more in-depth review (I remember how amazing the story made me feel, I had a smile that nearly split my face in two all through the reading of it, but at this point, I recall very few details), I will instead endeavor to find and read and immerse myself in more of Layne Fargo’s writing.
Rock, Paper, Scissors by Alice Feeney I’ll be honest with you, I don’t remember this one. There was a husband and a wife and a remote getaway and a twist that I thought was really stupid
The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard It’s funny, I found this mystery involving gruesome murders, a grizzled detective, and a young eccentric cadet Edgar Allan Poe pretty lackluster, and for some reason I blame myself. Anyone else read this?
The Sensitive Plant by Percy Bysshe Shelley, with Illustrations by Charles Robinson. A fairytale-poem with gorgeous, distinctive artwork that I wrote more about here.
I have listened to more audiobooks in the last three months than I have in my entire life…and I’ve really been enjoying it! So I think the reason this has been working so well for me is that there are often books I check out from the library– books I’ve really been looking forward to! — except for whatever reason, they get pushed to the bottom of the stack, and I never get around to reading them. They’re books I really want to read…but maybe they’re not as high a priority as other titles. So they continually get returned unread. These are the books that I have been choosing to go with their audio versions, and it’s been working out really well!
Run Time by Catherine Ryan Howard. A struggling actress gets a last-minute offer to star in a horror film in a remote location, and spooky things begin to happen on set that mirror pieces of story in the script.
The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewel A woman learns she has inherited an abandoned flat in a posh neighborhood; she inherits the dark legacy, secrets, and mysteries of the former occupants as well.
Stay Awake by Megan Goldin A woman wakes in the back of the taxi with no memory of how she got there. Nothing in her life is as she remembers, and every time she falls asleep, she forgets everything again. Also: murder.
The Maidens by Alex Michaelides A group therapist with a troubled past investigates a string of university student murders at her alma mater; her preoccupation with the past may blind her to what’s really going on.
Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott A woman working in a research lab realizes that the new colleague joining the team is a former friend that she learned a chilling secret about in high school
The Honeys by Ryan LaSala At the Aspen Conservancy Summer Academy, Mars endeavors to solve the mystery of his beloved-though-estranged twin’s death by getting close to a group of rich, secretive mean girls known as “The Honeys.”
Hide by Kiersten White Deadly hide-and-seek competition in an abandoned amusement park and there’s definitely reasons the chosen contestants are the type of people no one will miss.
Hawk Mountain by Conner Habib The resurfacing of a childhood bully throws the life of a small-town New England man looking for a fresh start into chaos. This book is frustratingly, almost unforgivably tense–and I loved that.
Okay, these are some books I read, and while a few of them were freaking amazing (I noted these with a string of *****), even the thought of trying to talk about why I loved them is exhausting. So what I’ve done is checked my kindle highlight notes and shared passages that either sum up the book for me or else, at least in one instance, I found amusing.
Don’t Fear The Reaper by Stephen Graham Jones: “Listen,” Jade tells her, readjusting herself under Letha’s arm, which is trying to pull Jade’s hair out by the roots, “and I think you of all people will appreciate this. I didn’t come here to die, right?”
The Push by Ashley Audrain: “I don’t want you learning to be like me. But I don’t know how to teach you to be anyone different.” ******
Fairytale by Stephen King: “There’s a dark well in everyone, I think, and it never goes dry. But you drink from it at your peril. That water is poison.”
The following is a list of graphic novels and poetry collections that I read over the last three months; they’re all relatively recent releases (the last 2-3 years or so?) and the graphic novels all fall squarely in the horror genre.
This article was originally published at Haute Macabre on June 26, 2019.
When a friend shared with me a link to the works of Karen LaMonte, I was perfectly fascinated in an instant. Exquisite, uncanny, life-sized silhouettes with “the human body in absentia,” these sculptures depict the lavish drapery and sensual curves of Western evening gowns, as well as recreations of traditional Japanese kimonos which incorporate traditional padding and binding to mask the figure underneath. My initial, offhand observation was “GASP SWOON #invisiblesquadgoals!” (You’ll have to forgive me, I’ve got invisible girls on the brain lately.)
As it happens, the vision and concept behind this artist’s works are much, much more illuminating and relevant than the flights of fancy and frivolity invented by my foolish imagination. Exploring how clothing defines cultural identities and acts as our “social skin”– clothing which we use to obscure and conceal, to protect the individual and project a persona–Karen LaMonte’s work sidesteps traditional portrayals of the nude to reveal the female form through hollow garments created in a variety of materials: bronze, glass, ceramic and rusted iron.
In probing this disparity between our “natural skin” and our “social skin”, she investigates the premise of clothing as a divider between public from private space and ideas of transparency and transience.
Currently, Embodied Beauty, an exhibition bringing together Floating World and Nocturnes, two recent series of Lamonte’s works which examine ideals of beauty in different cultural contexts, can be seen at the Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe, through August 17, 2019. And as my imagination only extends so far, I’m afraid you must attend on my behalf and fill me in on all of the swoony details. In the meantime, however, we can scroll further down the page for additional imagery from these collections.
New Valaam from Phronema perfumes is a fragrance inspired by the Alaskan Spruce Island hermitage of New Valaam, named so by holy man and clairvoyant wonderworker Father Herman, a monk who was eventually sainted in 1970. A scent celebrating wildlife and the fertility of nature, it opens with bitter, brittle greenery preserved in a bygone botanist’s notebook: a small curl of fern, fronds fanned into shrunken shadow against the page, crest crumbling into dry dust. But by some manner of perfumer’s alchemy, you can smell where that fern once furled: the dew dewdrops on wildflowers, lily of the valley and forget me nots, yarrow and aster, the faint, wild musk of a snowshoe hare streaking through lichen. In a strange but not entirely unpleasant twist, the scent dries a bit soapy and sour and yeasty, not entirely unlike wet dog ears. This is such an interesting and unique green scent, and though it’s not something I can see myself wearing, I do think it’s nice to just spray the sample and think about it.
Corfu Kumquat from Aedes de Venustas: In a small Greek village built on the slopes of the island’s highest mountain is a quietly atmospheric little ghost town with only two or three permanent inhabitants. One of them is a kumquat that never fully ripened, too sour and pithy for marmalade and liqueurs, too small and strange to be of much practical use. Perhaps it was overlooked. Perhaps it forged its own little path in life. It’s now the local guide for the village, steering tourists hither and yon along cobblestone roads, sharing historical anecdotes and eerie legends, and finally depositing them at the gift shop once the excursion has concluded. As the crowd disperses, it reaches into its pocket for a cigarette and lights up in the cool shade of an ancient stone cottage, exhaling smoke through its citrus peel pores, whirling and curling in satisfying vaporous salt-air swirls, while catching glimpses of the sun glinting on the sea through the undulating mountains.
So…Poivre Sacre, or Holy Pepper, from Parfums Caron. For some brief backstory as to why I’m sampling this right now, whenever a perfume is mentioned in a book I’m reading, if it’s something I’ve never heard of or that I haven’t tried before, I’m always keen to track it down. I recently read Leigh Bardugo’s Hell Bent, which I was wildly looking forward to after having finally read The Ninth House, and one of the characters was wearing Caron Poivre, described as smelling of “clove, tuberose, amber.” Unfortunately, I think even the reformulation of Poivre is discontinued. So, I got the samples of the next closest things on the Caron site: Poivre Imperial and Poivre Sacre. And here we are. This is a gorgeously dry scent: the bitter, bracing bite of black pepper that somehow runs both cool and hot, leathery, smoky woods that feel like a cross between palo santo and cedar, and hints of grassy, earthy, bittersweet saffron and the tiniest dash of sour, pungent cumin, to keep things interesting. This is a very close-to-the-skin scent that makes me think of candle flames and shadows and secrets, chasing the darkness to its depths, following a temptation –without succumbing– straight to its sinful, sulfurous source, and you, glowing, incandescent, a lit match in hell.
On one hand, I am clearly enjoying my sample of Liis Luciennne— it is all but sniffed through–on the other hand, I can’t really see myself wearing this fragrance. This is not a rose perfume, and yet it’s the most beautiful rose scent I’ve ever experienced. A bright, perfect citrusy midsummer afternoon rose when there’s not a cloud in the sky, and the sun is an explosion of lemonade-scented joy, and dipping your feet in the cold water sputtering from the sprinklers sends the most delirious shivers of delight up your spine. And the more you splash around, the more you are compelled to take a deep dive to the bottom of the pool or, better yet, the tranquil currents of the ocean. This rose has a lovely, serene aquatic aspect, a fresh marine musk, and it’s less rose at this point and more mermaid, swimming in peaceful tides while the sun beams a watery light through the warm, turquoise waves. So why can’t I see myself wearing it? Honestly, it’s too perfect. It’s like a rose who is a mermaid who is also a cheerleader and valedictorian and is a natural leader and is never awkward and always knows the right thing to say and would definitely never lock themselves in a bathroom and cry in a party because they were feeling overwhelmed and shy and just wanted to go home. This is a rose that is not even actually a rose and one that is also not me, and I’d feel like a giant fraud every time I wore it. I often think of the transformative power of fragrance and how a spritz of perfume is akin to slipping into another skin and magical and liberating that can be. So why can’t I pretend for a while? I think I’m just so set in my ways as a grimy little hermit-hearted gremlin that as much as I admire that immaculately rosy person I’ve described, I’ve long let go of wanting that for myself.
Jorum Spiritcask opens with notes that waver wildly between blithe, breezy, and aerated, as well as viscous, syrupy, and raisiny. Like stewed prunes gone parasailing through the fluffiest-tufted cumulus clouds. Unfortunately, their ultimate destination appears to be a cloying, claustrophobic rootbeer-filled oak-barrel hot tub orgy, and that’s a scene I’m just not into. If you ever thought, “boy I sure wish Hypnotic Poison were 1000% more potent and suffocatingly gaggy!” this may be for you.
Fraaagola Salaaata from Hilde Soliani is fun for a split second; it smells like strawberry Jello-scented lipgloss or a tiny bottle of effervescent summer berry eau de toilette that was sold alongside Angel Face Barbie in the 80s. Very sweet, no nuance or complexity (though I do think that’s sort of the point of a perfume like this.) BUT then it becomes this monstrous vision of a wild strawberry kiwi ice-breeze-whatever vape pen shoved up a half-melted red gummy bear’s butt, and even more horrifying still, a plume of vape juice smoke billows out of its squished little vape bro mouth, and oh my god I am gagging again you don’t even want to see the face I am making just now.
I don’t want to end on a sour note with those last two bummers, so here are four more silk flower perfume oil blends from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Lupercalia Collection!
Blue Silk Rose, with notes of sugared violets and dried blackberry and elusive hints of citrusy rose and smoky musk, is a light, impish fruity floral that’s the olfactory equivalent of excellent advice from astrologist Rob Brezny, something fun about liberating our imaginations and encouraging us to visualize life as a mythic quest. It’s the playful poetry of the weightless, mid-air hops and skips between dodging the shadows or jumping over the cracks in the sidewalk, a bright pop of color on a grey day, a tiny reprieve from the everythingness of everything in a waft of fleeting sweetness.
Silk Tiger Lily very nearly gives me savory vibes when sniffed right out of the bottle–something like saffron and cumin mingled spice cupboard tendrils– and from there on, the evolution is just rapid-fire-revelatory. First, a briny ginger fire, a spicy salinity, as if the knobby little rhizome has been treated to an oceanic pickling; then, seamlessly, a warm, peppery floral with a nose-tickling lemon halo, beautiful, bracing, and buoyant.
Black Silk Orchid looms from the vase sweet and shadowy, summoning associations of a trio of BPALs I know and love: the dark brown sugared musks of Smut, the deeply vanilla-patchouli incense of Snake Oil, and Haunted‘s murky, mysterious amber glow. There’s a breezy element that runs through it, though, something that sets it apart, conjuring something wholly new. It’s a thin, weird wind, not brisk and autumnal and not of the gentle spring variety; it’s not outdoorsy at all. More like a draft from deep within your home that you can’t locate, a door that maybe you didn’t even know was there, ajar and inviting things from beyond. It’s full of darkness and a bit dusty, emanating from somewhere utterly, disturbingly unknown. A prickling shiver you feel when somewhere in the old house, in an unused, forgotten room, a vampire quietly steps out from inside a grandfather clock at the stroke of midnight.
Silk Daffodilis profoundly green and sticky sweet, a heady murmur of celadon syrup and crushed emerald honey, veined with dark whispers of woody-floral spice and a last gasp of jasmine-orange blossom-vanilla.
I first officially learned of Argentinian artist Hector Garrido when attempting to figure out the artist of the livid, crimson-shrouded book cover with an aggressive succubus hollering at a raven under a bright, glowing full moon. “Hey, bird! Fuck you, bird!” is what I imagine that she’s shouting for reasons of her own, none of my business, probably.
I had originally seen it posted on someone’s Instagram, and those images are more annoying to grab for reverse image search purposes, but not impossible, so I found it (on Will Erickson’s blog, of course!) and here we are–it’s Hector Garrido!
…and it turns out that I have been enjoying Garrido’s art for YEARS without realizing it.
Of course, the Nancy Drew mystery books that I read when I was much younger were the hardback editions with a more dated look from an earlier era and a different artist, but a few years later, when I was 9 or 10 or so, I definitely recall finding the newer paperbacks in the library and being gobsmacked that you were allowed to update and change the way the characters in these books looked! But a pretty, intrepid young detective creeping up a cobwebby dark staircase is dreamy to my eye rendered by any artist’s hand, and I got used to the changes and even found myself getting excited to see various artistic interpretations of the stories and series that I love–and I remain thrilled to this day.
Another book I was surprised to see displaying the work of Hector Garrido was The Ghost Belonged to Me, by Richard Peck, one of the eerie Blossom Culp stories I loved as a child. I’ve written before of another one in this series, Ghosts I Have Been with cover art by Rowena Morrill, and I’m always so tickled when my search for a cover artist inevitably leads me back to these beloved tales and characters.
Garrido also did a lot of G.I. Joe art, but eh. Not interested in that. I know, I know, iconic formative stuff for lots of folks! Just not my bag. However, he also did covers for several of the Avon Satanic Gothic titles in the 70s and that most definitely would have been my little ten-year-old jam!
Sadly, while looking into his life and work, I only learned today that Hector Garrido passed away in 2020. In his own words, here’s a bio on this prolific artist of the lurid and lovely, baleful and beautiful.
“As a young artist I immigrated to the United States. I was professionally active here beginning in the 1950s. Beginning around 2000, I went into semi-retirement, painting devotional subjects. I am now retired.
I am best known to fans of GI Joe and for such book series such as The Three Investigators (I painted all the Crimebusters covers), Danny Dunn, the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, The Destroyer (Remo Williams), and the Baroness.
My original artwork for GI Joe was featured on the 1980s-era merchandise packaging. For book publishers, I painted the covers of numerous sci-fi, (gothic) romance, and thriller/horror books. Perhaps most notably in the horror genre, I painted the iconic covers for TM Wright’s “Strange Seed”/”Children” series. I was also a Time Magazine cover artist, and my 1969 cover, “Astronauts” is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.”
You’ll find several albums of original paintings in Garrido’s flickr account, and here is a list at ISFDB of much, much more cover art that he was responsible for– though I don’t believe it to be at all comprehensive.
Below I’ve shared some of my favorites among the gothic romance covers he did, brimming with ghostly damsels and their requisite candelabras, haunted castles looming and leering, and ridiculously sumptuous with atmosphere and tension.
Hello friends. I did a little binge and bought some things off of my Amazon wishlist. This was inspired, in part, by my blog from a week or so ago about my ten most frequently purchased items from Amazon.
Anyway, I know I am over-reliant on Amazon for my purchases, so this was a bit of a last hurrah!
If you are not a video-watching type, no worries; you don’t have to watch it! But maybe go over there and leave a like and comment, even if you don’t watch the whole thing or any of it at all! These videos are a lot of work!
Anyhow, below is a listing of the items and various things and people mentioned found in this video, Amazon or otherwise:
I’m afraid these reviews will be a bit shorter and to the point, much more so than my typical long-winded rambles. I am suffering from some wrist and thumb pain, and I don’t know if it is carpal tunnel badness or something to do with being a million years old, but it is, unfortunately, rendering typing quite excruciating. So I am challenging myself to an economy of words, in saying what needs to be said in as few characters as I can get away with. We’ll see how it goes with the following bakers’ dozen of Lupercalia scents from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab!
Green Silk Carnation (cypress-green carnation petals crushed into grass, hemp flowers, and weed) A sweet vegetal mustiness with a tiny amount of terpenic funk, which as it wears is, at turns, sweeter and greener, never committing to one or the other. It dries to a frosty-soapy pleasantness. It has a chilly, verdant vibe that calls to mind the greenhouses in a snowstorm from the first story in Kelly Link’s forthcoming collection White Cat, Black Dog.
Pink Silk Peony (cotton candy peonies, rose cream, and white cognac) Sweet, cold strawberry ice cream scented with lush, velvety rose petals; alternatively, if the entire cast of Rose Petal Place were whizzed up in your ice cream maker, with fresh cream and tons of sparkling sugar.
How Write The Beat Of Love (red musk, red mango, labdanum, black honey, black gardenia, Indonesian patchouli, and champaca blossom) A swoon and sweep of pulpy fruits, deeply jammy, wine-drunk on umbral honey.
Dalliance With A Comedian On Stage (sawdust and red musk, blueberries, black currant, plum blossom, sake, rose petals, and frankincense) A fruity-herbal tea, left to steep and steam in a porcelain cup, now fermenting in a jar. Berries and blossoms begin as a humble, wholesome tisane but somehow end up a tart, tipsy kombucha.
Chocolate Chypre (no notes listed) Cocoa butter incense smoke, the mysterious aura of scholarly studies late into the evening, accompanied by a chocolatey treat rummaged from deep within velvet peacoat pockets.
White Silk Chrysanthemum (vanilla floral aldehyde laced with spicy chrysanthemum) An enchantingly fizzy vanilla cream soda/ ebullient ginger ale hybrid, but not something you’d want to drink; rather, the scent of a strange, invisible bloom trailing up a trellis, something you walk by every day without really noticing, and then one day the breeze blows just so, bobbing its petals invitingly. Intrigued, entranced, you stop to sniff it, and in that small instance, with the slightest deviation from your path– everything changes forever. This is the scent of that singular, crystalline moment, tremulous and flickering, between the before and the after.
The Morning Star Among The Living (black fig encased in saffron-threaded amber) The scent of a honeyed, floral lozenge that began as a liqueur made from macerating figs –both the delicate, fresh fruit as well as their rich, dried, pruney counterparts–in two parts bourbon to one part vanilla. Mash the pulp and the liquid together, simmer until very thick and allow to set on cool, aromatic eucalyptus leaves. Administer these sweet drops as needed to individuals who pride themselves on their brutal honesty, but you suspect they enjoy the inherent cruelty of that sentiment more than the idea of actual truthfulness and sincerity.
An Oiran on New Year’s Day (polished mahogany, black tea, green cardamom, russet peppercorn, and ginger root) Dark, fruity woods, rich, rosy, and resinous. This is a scent that becomes darker and darker and begins to smell both rare and obscure and somehow a bit crafty and cunning, something you’d find on the black market from a dealer whose expertise lies in acquisition rather than provenance.
Contest of Colors, Pink Peach Blossoms and White Plum Flowers(pink peach blossoms, white plum flowers, carnation petals, labdanum, skin musk, and white amber) Reaching down into a barrel of vibrant fruit blossom flavored hard candies, just to feel all of those thousands of small, sweet treasures with your fingertips, pushing further down through their cool weight, sugared orbs clicking together like porcelain buttons, glass eyes, faceted gems, a plume of fragrance released, boiled syrup and dripping fruit flesh, and frothy clouds of frilled, perfumed petals.
Wandering Eye (blackcurrant, carrot seed, rose otto, immortelle, salt musk, violet leaf absolute, and lemon peel) First off, get a gander at that label art! Long-time readers of this blog will no doubt instantaneously recognize what I have come to think of as The Eyes of Becky Munich, as this artist’s eerie ocular renderings are truly things of eldritch beauty. And though I was not familiar with the particular sonnet that this fragrance was inspired by, there is no denying that the scent overall encapsulates the mournful lyricism that I associate with Edna St. Vincent Millay. For me, this is more a whispery, poetic feeling with an exquisitely elegiac quality–somewhere between gothic melodrama and tragic Victorian fairy poetry– than it is an actual smell that I can pinpoint …but envision this: a handful of sweet, dried chamomile brewed in a teacup of tears and pebbled with precious stones gathered from a reliquary; left as a graveside offering on a day when the sky is sullen, and the light is bruised and the descent of evening fog, milky, opaque, thick as wool, concludes the silent ceremony.
Courtiers and Cats(amber musk, cedarwood, agarwood, spikenard, black pepper, cacao, tobacco absolute, toasted cardamom, and cream) The biscuity warmth of musk and roasted cocoa beans, a sassy spike of black pepper, spikenard’s earthy, dirt-between-paws mustiness; between the woods and the amber and the hint of creaminess, this is a softly rumbling purr of comfort and coziness.
Aristocratic Warriors (gleaming tamahagane, polished leather, and auburn amber) A clan of juicy citrus samurai brandishing swift, shining steel swords and disco dancing; not a “lemon party” in popular parlance, but also, a lemon party is exactly what this is: a party of literal lemons, jubilant and joyful, bright, bouncy, and boogieing down. “Boogieing down”? Oh, Sarah. Are you Stephen King-old now? Also, there are no lemon notes in this scent, so maybe like King’s telepathic chef at that haunted hotel, I’m smelling something that’s not there right before I’m hit with the shinning.
Dark Chocolate, Blackcurrant, Rosewater, and Apricot (no notes listed) The most exquisite chocolate truffle, hand-piped with a velvety wild woodland brambleberry jam filling, enrobed with another layer of chocolate, embellished with freeze-dried bilberry pieces and rose petals. You’ll only find this treat deep in the forest at a pop-up stand run by hedgehogs with little purple jam-stained claws and sugar-crusted quills.
Need more Lupers? Have a peep at my Lupercalia reviews from 2022 // 2021 // 2020 // 2017. unfortunately, things between and before those years were written for other sites, and I wasn’t cross-posting to my own blog at that time. Lesson learned I can assure you!
And you might be wondering, “why don’t you ever post these reviews on the BPAL forums?” I was honestly just asking myself the same question the other day. I’ve been on the forums forever but never posted reviews there because, early on, I was just too self-conscious. And if you look at my profile at bpal.org, it says I’ve been a member since 2011, but that’s not true! I was a member under another name (ok, a few other names) since the forum opened in 2004 or 2005. I’ve been there since the beginning! And now, all these years later, I have a comfort level for writing about fragrance and have more or less found my voice, but I guess it would feel weird and somehow…. interloping? overstepping? who do I think I am-ing? to start posting my reviews there all of a sudden? Am I being dumb and precious about it? I don’t know!
Anyway…PSSSST! Did you know I have collected all of my BPAL reviews into one spot? I’m about a year behind with adding new stuff to the document, but as it stands, there are over 60 PAGES of my thoughts and rambles on various limited-edition scents from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab over the years: BPAL REVIEWS BY S. ELIZABETH (PDF download)