11 Mar
2024

Marie Antoinette, 2006

As winter’s grip weakens and the days stretch ever so slightly longer, I haven’t been over here hibernating –  far from it! Instead, nights (and mornings, and a few minutes here and there during workday Team meetings, if I am being honest) have been lit by the flickering glow of my Kindle and the pages of some unforgettable stories. From spine-tingling chills to pulse-pounding thrillers, and speculative fiction that will make your reality wobble at the edges, this reading stack for the past few months has been brimming with treasures that I am, of course, compelled to share.

This, my fellow bookworms, marks the glorious return of Stacked for 2024! So, grab a steaming mug of something fortifying, settle in by your preferred source of illumination, and let’s delve into all the things I have read in January, February, and the first few weeks in March.

 My Husband by Maud Ventura In this slice of life domestic thriller, a woman suspects her husband does not love her as much as she loves him, and punishes him accordingly. I was a cohost over at the Midnight Society Bookclub over on YouTube for this one a few weeks ago, and we get into a more in-depth discussion about it if you want to hear more! Plus I am wearing a very great and cozy cardigan which I think deserves its moment in the spotlight because it is SO good.

Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield The ocean floor holds its secrets close, and Leah, returned from the abyss silent and strange, carries them with her whole being.  Miri, adrift in the wreckage of their love, desperately grasps for answers, but the truth might be more monstrous than the silence. This was a shimmeringly unsettling read that drowns you in more questions than answers really; I find those to be my favorite stories.

Mona by Pola Oloixarac Haunted by the specter of her unfinished second novel and the tantalizing possibility of a prestigious literary award, Mona, a Peruvian writer with a penchant for self-invention and self-destructive recklessness, embarks on a journey from sunny Californa to the chilly lakeside of a Swedish literary festival.  Along the way, she encounters a surreal cast of characters, both vibrant and unsettling. (PS horny warning)

Useless Magic by Florence Welch There’s really not much to say about this one, it’s just a beautiful book of song lyrics and poetry. I read a digital version from the library, and I think I missed out on having a physical copy in my hands. There were photographs and loads of beautiful scraps of snippets of imagery, with many pages embellished by William Morris designs and motifs, lots of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and similar things in that vein–even a Vali Myers portrait! Which gave me an idea. If anyone amonst you know a way to get in touch with Florence Welch or her people …I would love to send her copies of all three of my books! Is that a bit cheeky? I don’t know. But I think she would appreciate them.

Midnight on Beacon Street by Emily Ruth Verona In Emily Ruth Verona’s debut novel, the night of October 1993 unfolds into a heart-stopping ordeal of terror. Cool single mom Eleanor leaves her children, Ben and Mira, in the care of anxiety-ridden babysitter Amy. As the night progresses, seemingly innocent activities spiral into a chilling nightmare—unexpected visitors, mysterious calls, and a shocking discovery with young Ben standing in a pool of blood. Drawing inspiration from classic horror films, Verona crafts fun twists,  and keeps readers on edge, but the heart of this thriller is a tale of responsibility to those in our change as well as the profound strength of familial bonds.

The Eyes Are the Best Part by Monica Kim Ji-won’s descent into darkness–fueled by twisted cravings and a simmering rage against a world that’s crumbled around her– is as thrilling as it is disturbing. I questioned my own morals while squirming deliciously in my seat as I devoured this unsettling exploration of family, identity, and monstrous hunger. (via NetGalley)

Love Notes From the Hollow Tree by Jarod K. Anderson  More poetry from the Cryptonaturalist! I mostly really enjoy his musings on the mysterious and extraordinary in the natural world and affirmation of our place in a wild universe through a unique love-lettered lens…although sometimes I do feel it meanders down a schlocky Rupi Kaur path. Still, even if the delivery doesn’t always work for me, I always appreciate the sentiment.

Stay Close by Harlan Coben Suburban facades reveal a festering underbelly where Megan, Ray, and Broome – each burdened by a shadowed past and tangled webs of secrets- find their paths colliding. Soccer moms and psychopaths and hidden depths in seemingly ordinary lives. I think maybe Harlan Coben writes the same story over and over and not only do I keep reading them, I keep watching the Netflix adaptations as well. Somebody, please stop me.

Revelator by Daryl Gregory In the Appalachian backwoods,  a bootlegger named Stella wrestles with the weight of her lineage as she returns home to confront a chilling legacy –an ancient entity called “Ghostdaddy.” This haunting blend of Southern Gothic mystery and simmering family drama was one of the first things I read this year, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! Even as I type these words, I realize how very out of order this list is.

Mothman Apologia by Robert Wood Lynn Dive into the twilight of the Shenandoah Valley with poet Robert Wood Lynn, where the cryptid of legend becomes a poignant symbol of grief, love, and the echoes of loss resonating through a community grappling with addiction and its far-reaching, deeply troubling scars.

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee A historical epic with a few operatic twists, more than several dashes of intrigue, and a heroine who sheds identities as often as normal people change their underwear, this book of a farm girl’s journey to Parisian courtesan and iconic opera star somehow took me four months to read. The prose was lush, the protagonist cunning and captivating, and overall I can say that I had a good time with the book, but for some reason I couldn’t sit with it for very long on any single occasion? Was it too intense? I don’t think it was that. I can’t put my finger on it. I’d be curious to hear what you thought of this one, if you read it.

The Husbands by Chandler Baker If you ever felt your blood pressure about to explode after watching The Stepford Wives or any adjacent material, this might be the book for you. In The Husbands, attorney Nora Spangler’s exploration of the seemingly utopian community within an exclusive neighborhood takes a dangerous turn as she delves deeper into a lawsuit that might involve murder while also trying to ingratiate herself into the HOA and buy a home and then finds herself in the midst of the hidden secrets and power struggles. Oh, and of course, she is doing all of this while being a wife and mother and taking care of a home and holding down a full-time job, and all of the ceaseless, thankless struggles that accompany those roles! As Nora unravels the mysteries surrounding the community’s dynamics, she finds herself entangled in other people’s business to a degree she could not have foreseen–and that business turns out to be much more bizarre –and perilous– than she could have possibly anticipated.

 

Interview with a Vampire, 1994

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen If you liked the bleak humor and outsider perspective of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Loga Tokarczuk, I think you’ll enjoy Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch  where a 17th-century herbalist accused of witchcraft navigates small-town paranoia and the absurd logic of witch trials with a sharp wit and wild wisdom.

Dead Silence by SA Barnes Dr. Ophelia Bray, a psychologist specializing in a space-induced psychosis known as ERS (and who is also burdened by its looming specter in her family history) joins a small crew tasked with a seemingly routine exploration of an abandoned alien planet. However, beneath the mission’s scientific veneer lurks a sinister agenda, and Ophelia soon finds herself entangled in a web of secrets held tight by her motley band of untrustworthy crewmates. As they investigate the mysteries of the derelict planet and its buried civilization, tensions rise, a crew member meets a gruesome end, and Ophelia’s worst nightmare unfolds as she puzzles with whether this is the descent into madness she has long feared or is there something far more sinister at play? Ghost Station was a gripping sci-fi horror adventure much like the author’s previous offering, and what elevated it, in my opinion, was that though it skirted around a burgeoning romantic element, it thankfully did not involve as much of that sort of thing as Dead Silence did. (via NetGalley)

The Main Character by Jaclyn Goldis Rory is gifted with a lavish trip on the Orient Express through Italy, a reward from literary diva Ginevra Ex for her participation in her unorthodox writing process. But there’s a twist – she’s not the only one aboard. Her brother, best friend, even her ex-fiancé – all Ginevra’s guests, all harboring secrets and agendas. Each among the quartet is given drafts of the author’s forthcoming book, for which they were all interviewed extensively, as part of Ginevra’s rituals for fleshing out her “main character.” We experience the trip through each of their perspectives, and as the train rolls along, the intrigue picks up as we realize that even the secrets we thought we were privy to begin to twist in unexpected ways and lead to new revelations. Rory increasingly supects that she is much more than a mere muse to Ginevra and that no one, even those she loves dearest, are being honest with her. I thoroughly enjoyed this thrilling romp filled with history, glamorous travel, and juicy family drama. (via NetGalley)

Everyone Who Can Forgive Me Is Dead by Jenny Hollander There was a lot about this story, as well as the characters and their behaviors, that just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but overall, I thought this was a real page-turner of a thriller in what is fast becoming one of my favorite trashy genres, let’s call it “annoyingly successful and attractive 20-somethings perfect lives disrupted by that whoopsie of a decade-old university murder and how you can’t forget/self-medicate/bury/whatever the past.” (via NetGalley)

BTTM FDRS by Ezra Clayton Daniels and Ben Passmore Last year I read Out There Screaming, Jordan Peele’s anthology of Black horror, and while I really loved most every story included, my favorite was by a writer named Ezra Clayton Daniels. I forget what the particular story was called, but there was a man who was visiting his family, and some shit quietly started to happen. I know that’s not a great description, but I can barely remember the details of a story I read yesterday, let alone six months ago. Anyhow, I wanted to find some more things this author has had a hand in, and that’s how I found BTTM FDRS, a gross, grisly, but also funny and goofy, and at times poignant graphic novel about an urban haunting but also gentrification, hip hop, and cultural appropriation.

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam A weekend getaway for Amanda and Clay’s family curdles into a nightmare when Ruth and G.H., the owners of the luxurious rental, return with news of an unseen apocalypse. Huddled in the opulent yet isolating house, the lines between host and guest, privilege and precarity, blur as fear simmers and tensions fester. Crackling with tension and a suffocating atmosphere, where the unknown outside isn’t the only threat, we confront uncomfortable truths about power, class, and the fragility of our constructed realities.

How to Restore a Timeline: On Violence and Memory by Peter Counter Peter Counter’s world shatters on a Costa Rican pier, his father’s blood staining a family vacation, and his own memory fracturing. Trauma becomes a kaleidoscope, where pop culture fragments mingle with the shrapnel of personal tragedy and, in some instances, rend the very fabric of time. “How to Restore a Timeline” is a gut punch of a memoir and not always a comfortable read, but I always thoroughly enjoy Peter Counter’s excellent writing on pop culture and horror and the parallels he draws or connections he makes between those things, and trauma and grief, or social issues, and or philosophical notions—these tangled musings are very much my cup of tea. Even so, I did not expect to find a chapter about Dragonball Z, an anime series I have literally not seen a single episode of, as poignant and inspiring as I did. That’s the hallmark of an incredible writer, I think. To make you give a shit about things you previously never spent a single second thinking about.

Everyone Is Watching by Heather Gudenkauf   Five contestants have received a mysterious email and an invitation to compete on the new game show, One Lucky Winner (think Big Brother meets Squid Game, but the contestants don’t know that yet!) The Best Friend. The Confidante. The Senator. The Boyfriend.The Exec. This seemingly randomly chosen quintet will compete for a prize of $10 million after a series of challenges–live-streamed to millions and millions of viewers around the world. Gathered together at a secluded estate in Northern California, the five embark on a series of challenges that test their fortitude and capabilities, both mental and physical–and in the course of these battles of wits and prowess, it soon becomes clear who among them is willing to be ruthless, even murderous, and that for all of them perhaps–it’s a fight for their lives. But who is the mastermind behind the show, what are their motivations, and to what end is this game being played out? The dramatic reality show element, along with the complex character dynamics, made for a riveting, fast-paced mystery that I couldn’t put down. (via NetGalley)

Penance by Eliza Clark In Penance, we descend with ghoulishly unscrupulous journalist Alec Z. Carelli into a Yorkshire town scarred by the immolation of Joan Wilson, a monstrous act perpetrated by her classmates.  A decade later, he unearths the story: witness accounts, broken families, and chilling exchanges with the perpetrators. Clark dissects dark truths about gender, class, and power, and the relationship between truth and the media’s true-crime obsession. As compulsively readable as it is horrific, what I find even more fascinating is how Penance explores the digital age’s grip on these teens, the online pressures shaping their lives, and blurring their real selves with their projected online personas. A chilling reflection of our hyper-connected world, “Penance” forces us to confront the dark intersection of real crimes and the digital shadows they cast. Readers who tend to skip long passages of extraneous-feeling information, take note–there’s a lot of journalistic diving into the history and lore of the town, socially and geographically, that might trigger your “ok, we’re done here” page-turning finger.

The Mobius Strip Club of Grief by Bianca Stone is a collection, and I am being lazy by taking this straight from the Amazon description, which “takes place in a burlesque purgatory,” a sort of labyrinthine underworld where the poet confronts and investigates complicated family relationships “in the hopes of breaking the never-ending cycle of grief.” It’s a clever idea that works sometimes until it doesn’t; it feels more like a creative concept that’s getting old, but the poet committed to it, so they are gritting their teeth and powering through. I found the poems that didn’t hew so closely to the strip club idea were the ones that affected me most profoundly.

Pet by Catherine Chidgey  Justine, like everyone else in her class at school in 1980’s New Zealand, loves their glamorous new teacher Ms Price, with each and every one of them longing to be class pet.  A 12-year-old girl who is dealing with epilepsy, mourning the relatively recent death of her mother, and trying desperately to fit in and be liked, Justine is particularly susceptible to Ms. Price’s charms.  But something…isn’t quite right, and everyone’s favorite teacher isn’t quite what she appears to be. Everything about this book–Justine’s coming-of-age story, her flashbacks as an adult, the oppressive atmosphere of manipulation and corrupted power –is just told so perfectly. The ending might have been wrapped up a little too neatly, but as I say all the time, if I’ve had a good time with a book, I can overlook a misstep with the ending.

The Gathering by CJ Tudor: I already hit “publish” on this blog post and realized I didn’t mention The Gathering, which was definitely an oversight because I actually really liked it! A detective is sent on an assignment up in Alaska to investigate a murder that possibly (probably) is vampire-related. In the world of this story, vampires are a part of society…which doesn’t mean that humans like them or accept them, but they are there to stay. And, of course, this causes a lot of tension. If you enjoyed this latest season four of True Detective, I imagine you will like the frozen isolation of this small-town supernatural murder mystery. (via Netgalley)

If you enjoy these bookish musings, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

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The Sword, 2016

It’s possible that Laurence Schwinger is one of those artists you know but don’t know that you know. At least that much was true for me.

His artistic fingerprint adorns countless book covers, beckoning readers into the captivating worlds within. If you’ve delved into the realms created by David Eddings or Andre Norton, you’ve likely encountered Schwinger’s visual magic. To a lesser extent, if you’ve read a bit of Anne Rice, Marion Zimmer Bradley (not a stellar example considering what we know now, but we’re familiar with the name, which is my point), or Alan Garner, you’re probably familiar with his art, as well.

Particularly thrilling to me: a glance at his online portfolio reveals an intriguing array of works, including a tantalizing glimpse at a cover for Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind At The Door--though I am uncertain as to whether that imagery ever found its way to the public eye by way of the publisher. But as I think you know, we’re big fans of a Madeleine L’Engle book cover around these parts!

A jolt of recognition shot through me as I discovered Laurence Schwinger’s art had been gracing my shelves all along – he was the artist behind the haunting cover of Octavia Butler’s Kindred – a story I’d cherished for years. I felt an absolute need to secure the cover art for The Art of Fantasy, then in the works. Permission from the artist – essential. And miraculously–secured! About the piece I wrote:

“From phantasmal spectres to mythic beings to epic adventures, the intriguing portfolio of Laurence Schwinger includes fantastical fodder across many genres, and his book cover roster is a masterful Who’s Who of beloved contemporary fantasy authors. Many of the artist’s visions have a multi-layered, hazy atmosphere and a gorgeously subdued color palette, and his cover art for pre-eminent twentieth-century science fiction and fantasy writer Octavia E. Butler takes that a step further. In this earth- and flesh-toned moody, evocative conjuration of the author’s most popular and enduring work, our eyes are drawn to the two figures – each drawn to the other through time – with the negative space between them cleverly forming the top half of an hourglass.”

Fall of the House of Usher

 

Ghost Story 3

Schwinger’s artistic odyssey transcends the boundaries of genre, forging a path that traverses the rugged landscapes of Westerns, the tender realm of romance, the cosmic expanse of sci-fi, and the eerie domain of horror. This journey demonstrates his remarkable versatility and shape-shifting ability to adapt, seamlessly integrating his visual language into diverse narratives by various authors.

The contrasting nature of his style further enhances the mystique – from the gilded intricacies that grace fantastical epics to the haunting, foggy washes that veil tales of the eerie unknown, Schwinger’s art refuses to be confined. I mean…the guy also likes to paint a beautiful, glossy pepper! So many multitudes!

Here are a few more works below that I particularly enjoy…

A Wind At The Door

 

The Owl Service

 

The Glass Flame

 

Black-Eyed Susans

 

Untitled
Dracula’s Castle

 

Dr. Frankenstein

 

Illustration from Typhoid Mary

 

If you enjoy these artsy-fartsy musings, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

…or support me on Patreon!

 

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I did a thing this weekend! Elizabeth of Reading Wryly invited me to be a cohost along with Ashley of Ashley’s Little Library for a discussion of The Midnight Society Book Club’s pick this month, My Husband.

This was to be a live-streaming event that I agreed to several months ago on one of those days when I was having an “outside your comfort zone is where the magic happens!” pep talk with myself…and then I proceeded to approach each day with increasing dread as the date loomed ever closer. As we anxiety-riddled folk tend to do.

Last night was the night and I was terrified and forgot half of the points I wanted to make– but the good thing is, I remembered the other half of the things I wanted to say. And I had a really good time!

If you enjoy peeks at the weird interior lives of unhinged characters and quotidian domestic drama, you may be interested in giving this one a read, and listening in to our chat! Tune in here.

This morning I came across this sentiment on Instagram via Yumi Sakugawa’s account and it resonated. I said I was going to do a thing, so I committed to doing the thing. Even if it went terribly (which of course it did not), I did what I said I would do. I did the thing. I did the scary thing.

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Roja Midsummer Dream is the olfactory equivalent of the urge to disappear into a haunted glade and become local folklore or of how your body isn’t a temple, it’s the moss-encrusted altar where primitive rituals once unfolded. But we are a soft, suburban people, and I think this sense of longing is tempered with the fog of nostalgia for something we’ve never possessed –and quite frankly, might not be equipped to handle. So sure, be the cryptids or feral forest witch you wish to see in the world or become one with your inner family of raccoons, but also remember that you don’t actually like the cold very much, and getting your hands dirty isn’t your idea of a good time, and a dark moonless night where the only sound is that of your own frantic breath, and the invisible scurrying of nocturnal creatures would be better spent dreaming indoors under a downy granny quilt. Roja Midsummer Dream is the best of all these worlds– a gentle elven chypre, an ancient amber that hums like skin warmed by forgotten fires, the faint rust of autumnal spice, and the phantom sting of bitter grapefruit in the golden memory of sun-dappled woods. It’s like a gentle ghost story of arboreal elegance told under the soft glow of glittering fairy lights, except, unfortunately, the ambient lighting costs four hundred bucks, and the only ghosts you might encounter are the missing funds in your bank account. All this existential exploration, this whispered communion with the primal self, sounds delightful, but I’m afraid I prefer my delights slightly less expensive. These enchantments are best enjoyed in my dreams, where perhaps money grows on moss-covered trees.

…as opposed to Shangri-La from Hiram Green, and how do I say this without being unkind? This fragrance is less lush and harmonious utopian promised land and more a Hieronymus Bosch-envisioned hellish menagerie/paradise, blighted and bedeviled, doomed and damned, all the horror and grandeur and unbridled madness of the cosmos, distilled into one raspingly chaotic scent. The initial blast of overripe, fermented peaches and citrus fruit frizzles acridly at us, trumpeted straight out of a bizarre monster’s glossy pink backside; jasmine’s balmy decay wraps us in a fuzzy, fevered winding sheet of a golden-throned man-eating bird, to remind us that all is vanity and the pleasures of the flesh are fleeting, and the strangely spiced kisses of a porcine nun linger on your skin like a grotesque memento from a carnival of depravity. In what twisted mind is this a Shangri-La?  think Hiram Green is having one over on us.

Upon smelling Flos Mortiis from Rogue Perfumery, I have a sense that for casual perfume wearers, this is going to lean either one of two ways. “Old lady” or “headshop.” While I don’t consider my enthusiasm for fragrance casual by any sense of the word, I certainly don’t want to imply that I am better or smarter than any casual perfume-wearers–there are definitely aspects of both a sort of vintage costume jewelry cough drop mothball glamour and that ubiquitous champaca incense element of a bohemian bazaar. But it’s all wrapped up in the shadows of an Edgar Allan poem, the honeyed sweetness of romantic sentiment laced with the crumbling bitter mausoleum creaking coffin lid tang of decay, rounded out with the tart crimson kiss of red currant fruiting sickeningly in the dirt of a freshly turned grave. So maybe this is old lady juice, but it’s definitely the grand dame in the ancient portrait above the mantel upon which perches a resin-feathered raven, whose tarnished visage follows you in every corner of the drafty parlor, whose bones creak under the floorboards you are standing on, whose phantom hand rests lightly upon your shoulder even now.

Génération Godard from Toskovat is the scent of sticky soda spills on old seat cushions, the mouth-mangling sour and sugar of chewy citrus candies, and a greasy popcorn machine’s dying wheeze. A troupe of wounded, reckless weirdos working shifts in the grimy glamour of a historic cinema, their secrets and strange kinship the illicit musk and leathery glue that holds the decaying dream of this crumbling landmark together; the moody rose perfume steeped into the velvet lining of a moth-eaten fur coat pilfered from the musty lost and found closet a final sigh before the building is condemned.

Sarah Baker Charade I am an absolute fiend for the lush, fevered va-va-voom of tuberose, and it’s always a good time to see how that is interpreted through the lenses of different perfumers. Sarah Baker’s Charade bursts onto the stage with a ditzy dame of a tuberose, not the classic, opulent diva you might have been expecting. This one’s all mischievous effervescence;  imagine the voices of Queenie Goldstein or Betty Boop, breathy, giggling champagne and honey whisper. But plot twist! While our dizzy tuberose distracted you with her artful, ambrosial chicanery, a vegetal ferniness emerges, and a Lothlorien elf steps out of the shadows, a sylvan arrow aimed at your heart. The luxuriance of the tuberose intertwines with the verdant notes, vining our two stars together, creating a captivating tension. Ylang-ylang adds a softly decaying languor, while styrax and benzoin weave a faint trail of smoky, balsamic sweetness. The leather accord seems like it would be out of place, but it’s the earthy, oily leather fanny-packed director holding this unlikely theatrical production together.

Eris Perfumes Mx I hate to give an explanation for my reviews because part of me feels like I should never have to explain myself…but there’s a needier, people-pleasier part of me that also never wants to be misunderstood. I also don’t typically bother going into notes or what the perfumer’s vision is, because that’s all great and stuff, but once it gets in our hands, humans who are going to draw from our own dreams and memories and experiences, I feel like we’re going to interpret it our own way anyway. But I do think it’s really important to note that this is a scent that celebrates the notion of freeing oneself from gender binaries, and I think that it’s fabulous in both concept and execution! But after I’d written this review about a very strong, slithery association that the fragrance brought up for me, I realized that what I’d said might be taken the wrong way, and in rereading it, I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking so.  So please know right off the bat that this review was prompted by how the fragrance reminded me of a character in Lois Duncan’s 1981 YA Thriller Stranger With My Face (wherein a teenager realizes that her jealous twin sister has been astral projecting into her body at night and making her do terrible things!) ALL THAT SAID, Mx is a  slithering, unsettling echo of an intrusive thought, a fixation, a compulsion that thrums beneath your skin and stirs unease and intrigue in equal measure. Hypnotizing tendrils of saffron, a musky murmur of something primal, something unnerving. Velvety sandalwood, a plushness of warmth, of comfort, but something’s not quite right. A nip of ginger, a prick of pepper, sharp, sudden, jolting you awake, reminding you that you’re not yourself. The mirror wavers reflect the eyes of a stranger you don’t recognize, a smile playing on lips that aren’t yours. The scent is secretive, intimate, and sheer, a whisper that clings to you, the memory of actions you can’t explain, of choices you didn’t make. Are they yours, these yearnings, or have you become a fascination, a vessel for the uninvited, a maddening allure let loose from the dark? Specifically this edition with this cover art.

RE: Lorenzo Pazzaglia’s Van Py Rhum, my first instinct is just to tell you that it’s giving slutty bloofer lady and show you Lucy Westenra resplendent in her frilled Eiko Ishioka burial gown because that’s it right there; that’s all you need to know. But there’s a part of me that always makes things harder than they have to be and wants me to do a proper review. So. This is a diabolically sweet, cold-blooded, porcelain-moon vanilla with a buttery sour tang from the damp and rot of the crypt, that, when warmed with the venomous kisses of patchouli’s nocturnal loam, agarwood’s smoky growl and rich, oaken-casked rum, takes on the predatory edge and spectral allure of something that appears after the sun dips below the horizon, something once beloved and familiar, whose undead arms are now ravenously hungry for your embrace.

The Key of Solitude from bloodmilk x Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Soil and shadow, a subterranean ember, smoldering, The Key of Solitude is a scent that plays tricks on you, promises much, and delivers more. It’s the damp earth beneath bare feet, a bat-winged tickle of rain in the air at the edge of midnight; a primordial altar deep underground, shallow breaths sooty with ancient incense smoke and the stony language of deep time, a haunting chorus of fossil imprints and biological hieroglyphs; lights out at the last library on Earth, honeyed wooden shelves gleaming in amber candlelight, its welcoming glow extinguished, one flickering flame at a time. A keyhole cartography mapping everything, everywhere, all at once: a darkness that delights in revealing a kaleidoscope of shifting realities, where time folds in on itself, each blink twisting the vista anew. But you’ve always known how to navigate the paths of your heart’s own darkness, haven’t you? After all, both the lock and the key were shaped by you.

Beauté du Diable from Liquides Imaginaires is a heady cocktail created by a couple of eccentric bons vivants, something to celebrate an evening of decadent parlor games and general hedonism: an herbal froth of verdant absinthe, a heavy-handed crystalline pour of breathtakingly expensive gin, and a peppery crush of carnation petals– drunk copiously in smoky wood paneled secret rooms while a sweet, narcotic resin burns throughout the night, stinging the eyes and inducing a strange, mystical trance. In the morning, these self-indulgent socialites and muses of the devil send dearest Papa a telegram, demanding that he “Please sell $10,000 worth in stock. We intend to live a mad and extravagant life!”

Eidisis from Aesop is a melancholic, cedary soft sandalwood scent with a sweet, earthy hobbity funk. A hobbit who maybe stayed at home instead and never had an adventure, never became a barrel riding, troll tricking, goblin killing, elven cultural aficionado. A hobbit who never once left The Shire but who smoked his peppery pipeweed by his cozy hearth with his loamy feet propped on a hand-carved stool, who dreamed of giant eagles and great black bears and died comfortably in his bed with an adventure-shaped hole in his heart and a peculiar sadness he could never name.

Spirit Lamp (discontinued) by DS& Durga is a fragrance that evokes a forgotten corner of a botanical garden next to the highway, where a spirit of untamed wilderness thrives unchecked and unexpectedly in a slick puddle of illicitly dumped motor oil. The initial impression is a thick, oily green of some swampy primordial reed, the smell of an extinct past that’s closer than we often care to think, its roots tangled in the earth, its leaves exuding an unctuous herbal musk. This greenness isn’t fresh and invigorating; it’s greasy, thick, almost suffocating. As the scent unfolds, a metallic tang emerges, the scent of rust or singed copper, an aggressively hotwired Dodge Charger counterpoint to the glossy, verdant heart. It’s a scent that evokes anachronistic images of forgotten rituals and arcane practices, real prehistoric Fast & Furious living your life one-quarter mile at a time shit, a potent concoction brewed in the junkyard-slash-abandoned car lot cauldron of nature’s darkest recesses.

Allow me to preface the following with the observation that while I have objectively appreciated many aspects of Sarah McCartney’s 4160 Tuesdays fragrances, they are all perfumes that, for some reason or another, are just not for me. I am desperate to find one from among her creations that really works because I do think she’s super talented, and I love the artistry and ideas that go into her fragrances. Also, I really want one of her bottles on my shelf. Anyhow, I thought this would be it, but good lord. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Oakmossery promises a nostalgic chypre with all the requisite inclusions of oakmoss, peach, bergamot, rose, jasmine, labdanum, patchouli, etc., but rather than an elegant mid-century glamour, you are spoon-fed a vile puree of curdled disappointment. Rather than the gentle juice of a summer peach, it’s a shelf-stable, artificially sweetened, tiny jar of big, mushy baby food feelings. Somehow, it’s also a bit milky, but in the sense of cream that has soured and gone clumpy with a tinge of greenish mold. Swirl them together into a pudding, garnish with a jellied dollop of vaguely floral hand sanitizer, and you have some a grotesque lumpy custard of olfactorily textured nightmares. I could not scrub this off my wrist fast enough, but the joke’s on me! I still smell it on my sweater!

Diptyque Tempo conjures an atmosphere of dolorous elegance,  patchouli’s murky woods and dusky loam, with a wraithlike metallic chill and an herbal shiver of something green and strange simmering underneath. It carries a disquieting heaviness, the shape of a feeling impossible to give voice to; like having to climb into bed with someone and tell them they’re dead. It also reminds me of this passage from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within… and whatever walked there, walked alone.” This is a patchouli that has walked the long shadows of Hill House, has become lost in the thick, unspoken secrets of its notorious halls, and suffered its mad face in the growing darkness. This is a twisted, haunted patchouli that has seen some shit, but all the edges of that unnerving terror have been blurred by the creeping of moss, the settling of dust, and the softness of time and memory, of unreality and dream.  

34 Bohemian Cafes from Thin Wild Mercury’s New York collection. You know, Orpheus went down to Hades to retrieve Eurydice, but he was a dumbass and couldn’t follow instructions; he looked back at her when he was expressly told not to, and then just like that, she was whisked away again. Poor Orpheus, I guess, but I feel like no one ever thinks about Eurydice. I mean, did she even want to come back? I think we imagine this terrible journey to unspeakable hell dimensions, but maybe … contemplate it…she was happy to be uncoupled from that guy and just be on her own? Maybe she got to hang out in a dim-lit, infernal coffee shop, double-fisting the most bitter espresso and a chipped glass of crisply caustic gin, wearing a deliciously pruney leather jacket, a blackened and dusty rose in her lapel and being the sole audience for a mysterious entity singing jazzy French lounge horror ballads, just the unholy instrument of her smoky voice and the demonic feminine in heavy reverb. I don’t know why how Eurydice and La Femme Pendu got to be in the same Satanic VIP room in this perfume review, but here we are and I love this for them, for me, and for this dark, gorgeous fragrance.

I have been spending a few months with Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Human Animals collection. I have finally put some thoughts together on these transformative fragrances exploring the blurred line between human and beast and the crossings of form and fate, drawing inspiration from folklore and cautionary tales of dark pacts, the consequences of forbidden desires, and yearning for power beyond our grasp or understanding.

Bringer of Evil: A heady mix of musky queen of night poppy and honeyed mimosa entwines with the zest and evanescent freshness of grapefruit, a dark wispy tremor of benzoin’s caramelized sweetness flutters against orris’ secret, rooty coolness in a shadow cast by a single, ill-fated butterfly.

Elimanzer: A bowl of oaty, grainy muesli-esque porridge, steaming and wholesome, holds the sweetness of the cream and the deep fragrant incense of jammy prunes, concealing the insidious and incendiary bite of acrid brimstone, a shivery reminder of pacts made and prices paid.

Elizabeth’s Imps: Thick, rich, molasses dreams, a soft smear of butter infused with cinnamon’s spiced fire, and the powdered musty sap and syrup of amber’s subterranean glow; a promise whispered, a bargain struck, and the cold comfort of calling darkness your own.

Lady of Saintonge: A woodsy phantom limb of creamy white sandalwood aches beneath a veil of slithery black silk, its fading perfume an opulent counter to the metallic tang of blood and the ironclad resolve of self-preservation’s small, sharp curved blade. The scent of forever caught between two worlds, a beast in disguise and a ghost not yet dead.

The Corn Spirit: Beneath the golden cloak of rye stalks, sweet, sun-warmed hay, and chamomile’s milky innocence, a feral musk stirs, and the raw, rich peaty soil hints at the darkness of this unspoken truth, the haunting knowledge that the bounty of the fields comes at a cost.

The Hound and the Milk-White Doe: The luxurious warmth of sandalwood and the sweet summer whispers of jasmine paint a specter of ambiguous innocence, while coconut milk and rosewater offer a fleeting glimpse of soft youth and beauty, but a shadow lurks beneath. Labdanum’s leathery balsamic resin and cardamom’s uneasy floral spice weave a tale of forbidden desires and dark bargains, leaving a scent that evokes a seductive, albeit perilous transformation.

Witch-Birds: A beguiling liveliness of ripe plum and velvety violet shrouds a shadowy heart of dark magic and bitter vengeance, resinous opoponax and mysterious opium evoking the midnight feathers of forbidden knowledge

And finally, a peek at the Miss Behave Favorites collection from Poesie in Celebration of Women’s History Month

Anne of Cleves: A shimmer of green tea’s subtle bitter complexity and dewy earthiness, steeped in bright, clear, sunlight and citrus-infused rainwater, and sweetened with a golden kindness of vibrant, minty wildflower honey. A lush green sprig of lemon verbena floats gently atop, its graceful reflection mirrored in emerald.

Cleopatra: A languorous cascade of peachy musk, draped in balmy moonlit jasmine, imbues the air with an indolent opulence. The ephemeral sweetness of the lotus, a sunset’s fugitive heartbeat, surrenders its delicate petals to the warm, velvety embrace of sandalwood. An ancient tale whispered on arids wind of a queen fed on champagne and pearls, bedecked and perfumed for ecstatic rites invoking forgotten pleasures and enduring power.

Emmeline Pankhurst: An icy rain falls on slick black cobblestones, a gust of wind rattles the windowpanes; Inside, a cup of strong black tea is nestled on a soft linen napkin on the sill, plumes of fragrantly astringent steam veiling the chilled, rain-streaked glass. Just outside, a solitary violet blooms boldly in the crevice of a standing puddle, unyielding in the storm, a parable of profound resolve.

Frida Kahlo: Is a profusion of intensity in delicate balance; tangy passion fruit curd, the tangier, unparalleled tart effervescence of a freshly sliced wedge of lime, the cool, melony crispness of prickly pear, the creamy richness of coconut pulp, and a sugarcane straw to sip it through while you ruminate on how Frida Kahlo purportedly said to “Take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are a bourbon biscuit,” and ponder on how to channel that same energy into your own creative practice.

Josephine Baker: I was a little bit afraid to try this one; the scent of a ripe banana is enough to drive me from a room. But this is more the sweet verdant sap and grassiness of the banana leaf gently enveloping a subtle custardy creaminess, like a small, perfect spoonful of creme brulee tucked around a sun-kissed wisp of glowing amber. This one is a thoroughly delightful and beguiling subversion of my expectations.

Zitkala-Sa: This is not the apple I thought I was getting, but it’s ever so much dreamier. This is a breezy apple orchard in spring, an ethereal cloud of awakening blossoms perfuming the air, its delicate canopy throwing lacy shadows over fragrant honey-vanilla sea of clovers. Supporting it all, rosewood and cedar root deep into the earth, their secrets grounding and strong.

If you enjoy these fragrant musings, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

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Image credit: Alex Segre

This was initially written for Dirge Magazine in 2015. Dirge has since disappeared, but I hate the idea of my writing being homeless, so here it is for my own blog–which is probably where it belonged in the first place. 

IN THE AUTUMN AND WINTER MONTHS I am drawn to the somber quiet of cemeteries and graveyards – places that house the still, silent dead. I suppose as the afternoons grow darker and colder, so do my thoughts and mood – and as such, melancholic meanderings alongside spirits and shades are often the order of the day.

The mind tends to wander strange, surreal pathways during these wintry boneyard rambles, and yet one sometimes finds oneself contemplating such practical frivolities as fashion and fripperies whilst traversing between headstones. The thought, for example, that aside from all the dead folk beneath your feet, cemeteries are also full of fascinating sartorial inspiration: the curious gravestone iconography; the bleak, chilled color palette of concrete crypts, porcelain urns, and faded funeral bouquets; the varying textures of cracked stone, velvety moss, and the tangle of overgrown, interwoven vines.

Incorporating these solemn motifs into ensembles for cemetery strolls when you’ve got a case of the morbs would then seem a logical progression, would it not?

See below for a selection of crypt couture and funereal finery fit for early winter visits to even some of the world’s most famous cemeteries. Pack your bags for a whirlwind, worldwide cemetery tour, fashionable saddies and tapophiles!

Seriously, pack a lot of bags. I didn’t skimp on the accessories and accoutrements.

 

Highgate Cemetery, England


Private Practice Jacket $98 // Rag & Bone Distressed Skinny Jeans $255 // Commando camisole & briefs $70 // Michael Kors “Joanie” knee-high boots $295 // Halston Heritage suede tote $297.50 // Lipstick Queen “Black Tie Optional” $22 // Morph Knitwear Shapeshifter shawl $124 // Acanthus Vanitas pendant $390 // Bittersweets NY Memento Mori ring $1300 // KMRII “Estoc” belt $320 // LUSH Death & Decay perfume £30

 

Lutheran Saxon Cemetery, Transylvania

Dolce & Gabbana lace blouse $1875 // Alexander McQueen coat $5795 // Maticevski “Predator” skirt $1000 // Chantal Thomass hold up stockings $55.69 // Agent Provacateur bra $590 & panties $450 // Lancôme gel liner $25 // Saint Laurent lace up boots $524 // Charlotte Olympia suede bag $1195 // Eres + Maison Michel wide brim hat $970 // Christian Louboutin nail polish “Under Red” $45 // Antique black enamel bracelet $2450 // Gisele Ganne Mourning Blacking ring £210 //  CB I Hate Perfume “Winter 1972” $20-$100

Cimetière du Père Lachaise, Paris


Bolongaro Trevor Faded Snake parachute dress $92.56 // Theory “Virny” blazer $192 // Lonely Harper bra $75 & briefs $60 // Gareth Pugh “Runway” wedge boot $643 // Skull mask ring $200 // Pamela Love cross ring $250 // Luxirare wallet necklace $95 // MAC pigment “Softwash Grey” $31.50 // Bloodmilk Two of Swords Tarot earrings $200 // COMME des GARÇONS Silver Words fragrance $149.50

If you enjoy these sartorial musings, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

 

 

 

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19 Feb
2024

I am going through a weird time. I’m reading a dozen things and not paying attention to any of them. I have been halfheartedly knitting the same socks for two months now and somehow not making any progress, and I was just realizing that I haven’t tried any new and fun recipes for a long time. We eat soup and salads daily because I just feel like I don’t want to be bothered with the whole business of cooking. Don’t get me wrong; we’re not turning into ascetics over here; these are exceptionally loaded soups and salads; nothing minimalist about them (like that kimchi stew in the image above) but still…it’s a lot of the same thing, over and over again. And I’m …kinda fine with that? Which worries me for some reason that I can’t put my finger on?

I feel like…I’m not looking for the New Thing anymore. I guess I was forever trying new things because I was always looking for the holy grail of *something.* And there’s something that always felt necessary and vital (to me, at least) in that pursuit of that Best Good Thing, whatever that might be. But could it be that somewhere along the line, I found it? And if so, what was it? And why don’t I feel satisfied? But also, why don’t I feel like looking anymore? Why don’t I feel like doing anymore?

I guess that’s what I’m struggling with: whether these feelings I am experiencing right now are of being content? Or is this more like..stagnating?

 

 

Another thing I feel like I have sort of given up on is Instagram. Or I guess I should say, I have stopped trying to be good at it. I struggled with this last year, but it turns out the weirdest, most counterintuitive thing is what helped me. For three years, I have been posting perfume review videos on TikTok, and until the end of 2023, I kept it mainly on that platform. I did talk about perfume from time to time on Instagram, but not too often because people aren’t really into it, and those posts got very few views and engagement, and it just generally made me feel shitty about myself. I shared the TikTok reviews in my Instagram stories only because it cut off at the 30-second mark, and it was only on the app for 24 hours or so, and then it was gone.

But a friend encouraged me to post these video reviews on my main Instagram feed because many people don’t have TikTok and don’t get to see them. I waffled about it at first, knowing that these are the exact things that would flop when I post them because it’s a niche thing, and not many folks/friends share that interest. But I gave it a shot. And I do think it made some people happy. But I was right; the perfume video posts on Instagram are all very unpopular duds.

Here are some numbers. I have 13.4K followers on Instagram. Most things I post get around 100 likes on average. That seems a little weird and low, but I am used to it by now. Sometimes it’s more than that, but between the vagaries of the algorithm and people in general, I have no idea why or how. My perfume videos, which I now share as reels on Instagram, get about 20-25 likes on average, which is awfully pathetic. But you know what? I kept at it for the past two and half months, and while the numbers have not increased or changed, my attitude about it did. I’m used to it. As pitiful as it sounds, I have adapted and become inured to those butthurt feelings of rejection and moved on, so all in all, I am actually glad that I started doing it. I’m sorry if it’s not what people want to see, but oh well! So now you could say I am actively leaning into being bad at Instagram. The above image is from my Lorenzo Pazzaglia Van Py Rhum perfume review. If “slutty bloofer lady” is your vibe, you may dig this one.

Wow, all of these sounds like a bummer, and it all sounds like dumb, petty problems. I wouldn’t disagree if you said so. Of course, other things are going on with me, too, things that are much more of a bummer and a whole hell of a lot dumber… but that’s too much for this little blog. Let’s move on to something nice.

 

We are celebrating our two-year wedding anniversary this week! With yard work! How romantic! The constant threat of a letter from the HOA keeps us on our toes; we are a corner lot on the main road through the neighborhood, where a prominent founding member of the community once lived, so I feel like we are under extra scrutiny. We have a lot of trees on our property, and the leaves are falling perpetually, matting up in the shady areas and killing the grass, so it requires constant vigilance and dedication to keep on top of it.

And the thing is…we are neither vigilant nor dedicated, and I think I can speak for Yvan in saying that what we lack in vigilance and dedication, we make up for in simmering resentment about all of it. We just want to let our lawn do its thing! And in a neighborhood without an HOA, that would be fine. But that’s not where we live, so we both took off work on our wedding anniversary to rake leaves. We could be mad about it, but we’re gonna have a little picnic lunch and make the best of it. Recommendation time! I know I have mentioned these before, but they are probably my favorite thing in the world: these Duluth Trading Company gardening overalls. Pair that with a tie-dye UV protection tee shirt, a Garfield bucket hat, and my neon blue ponytail; I definitely cut a colorful figure when I am out in the yard, even if I am grumpy and scowling the whole time!

We went to a local brewery yesterday for an early celebration, though, so it’s not all manual labor and aching limbs… we celebrated with a tipple, flipping through a seed catalog, and ignoring each other in favor of our books because we know how to party!

 

 

I guess February is a little late to chat about New Year’s goals, but I somehow forgot to talk about it at the beginning of the year, so here we are. This year I made four goals for myself, and my face is the featured image for this section because I’m thinking real hard about my goals, okay?

  • Start downsizing my book collection. The goal here is NEVER to load fifty boxes of books onto a moving truck again. I am slowly selling the things that I know I will never read again over on Pango, and I’m doing okay, I think; I’ve already sold 60 books! I upload new titles every week, and I run sales every weekend, so if you are looking to supplement your bookshelves with some weird and spooky titles, go give my Pango shop a little peek.
  • Figure out how to do Downward Facing Dog. Sure, I could say, “Start doing yoga every day,” but that’s a very broad and nebulous goal, and it’s easier for me to focus on one very specific thing. Since January I stretch for about five minutes every morning while waiting for the kettle to boil, but here’s a confession. I’ve been working on the version of this pose that exists in my mind, but I only just this second looked up how it’s supposed to look and how to do it. Classic Sarah!
  • Get back to taking the time in the morning to write down my dreams. I have been doing this on and off for twenty years, and I fell out of the habit right before we moved,
  • I have begun writing fiction. It’s all I have ever wanted to do in my entire life, and I’ve come at it through my writing in every way: from the side, underneath, essays, poetry, interviews, articles, blog posts, and reviews–every kind of writing BUT fiction because I’ve just been too chicken to try! So I try to get as close to it as possible through all these other writings! It has been super scary, and nothing might ever come of it, and I am trying to be okay with that. To clarify, it’s not the thought that it won’t be published and people will never read it that’s giving me pause; it’s just…I’m not sure what my end goal is here. My writing has always had an end goal: post it up on the blog or review site, send in the article for publication, submit the chapters for the book deadline, etc. I have difficulty thinking about nebulous projects (see “yoga,” above.) I mean, I guess at this point, the point is practice and building writing and thinking about writing muscles that I don’t know how to use, but beyond that…what then?

A few more recommendations before I toddle off to bed early because YARD WORK…

  • In the first several episodes of Harlan Coben’s most recent Netflix adaptation, Fool Me Once, Michelle Keegan’s lips are practically blue, and I don’t think this was intentional, but I want the look. The hydrating shine lip balm from MOB in sheer black is super, super close.
  • Not a recommendation per se, but I know that me and a thousand of my close friends need this sweater from Batsheva’s Fall 2024 Ready to Wear collection.
  • This headband and wristband combo for washing your face (I hate it when the water splashes up your arms! Thanks for giving me the head’s up on these, Shar!)
  • While it says it is a noodle basket/colander, I love it for washing and straining vegetables and leaving them to dry while making a meal.
  • I have been living in this Victorian spider lady sweatshirt from Altar & Orb!
  • I’ve written before about how I can’t stand the feeling of not wearing a bra, but I also hate traditional bras with pokey wires and pushuppityness. Last year, I finally found something perfect for daytime, which sort of swaddles and flattens (which may not sound ideal, but I love it), but everything for sleeping seemed too restrictive. This cropped tank from Girlfriend Collective doesn’t really provide any kind of support, but it turns out that it’s exactly what I want under my tee shirt for sleeping.

If you enjoy these musings, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

 

 

 

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13 Feb
2024

Ryan Heshka // “Voice of Bloom”

 

I’m unsure if I shared any artful ocular extravaganzas in the form of Eyeball Fodder collections at all last year, not even a single one! Well, here’s the first one of 2024, full of moody blooms, weird, staring faces, and just a general gathering of gorgeous, unnerving vibes.

 

Rosalie Lettau // “Choosing Flowers”

 

Alexander Reisfar

 

Jess McAran

 

Linda Larson // “Going Dutch”

 

Rachael Bridge // “Malevolent”

 

Tetsuhiro Wakabayashi // “The breath that overflows”

 

Nicole Duennebier // “CALIGO”

 

Shoko Ishida // “Eclipse”

 

Benjamin Vierling // “Rose Canina”

 

Dan Hillier

I am terribly saddened to hear that artist Dan Hillier has passed away. Dan’s was among some of the first works I fell in love with in my Tumblr era, circa 2009-2012 or so, when I was discovering and becoming enamored with all sorts of contemporary dark artists. Below are a few of my recent favorites from this brilliant creator, gone from us much, much too fucking soon.

Dan Hillier

 

Dan Hillier

 

Dan Hillier

 

Dan Hillier

If you enjoy these artsy-fartsy collections, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

 

 

 

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Oiseau sur une fleur

 

In the 2010s, or maybe just a soupçon prior, the thing was to “put a bird on it.” Do you remember that? I do. I was wild for all of the twee, sweet, bird things from Anthropologie. If I could have afforded it, I would have birded up my entire wardrobe with their various collections. That was well over a decade ago, but it’s funny how things jump to the forefront of your mind, given the right conditions.

A few weeks ago, I came across the delicate, hauntingly introspective artworks of Kiyoshi Hasegawa. I first thought they were as if poet Pablo Neruda looked over his body of achingly melancholic works and thought, “hm, this is all wrong. It’s missing something. Let’s put a bird on it!”

 

Bird on Roots

 

Still life with Mexican dove

But from what I can see, Kiyoshi Hasegawa (French/Japanese, 1891–1980) wasn’t one for trends or fleeting fancies. This printmaker, who spent most of his life etching away in Paris ateliers, was far more concerned with whispers of soul and the quiet poetry of existence. Sure, birds flitted through his works – ethereal creatures, often solitary, perched on windowsills or etched against a darkened sky (or dressed in Parisienne finery!) But they weren’t mere decorations, these feathered friends. They were symbols of longing, memory, and the bittersweet beauty of impermanence.

Oiseau et Papillons

 

Parisienne Pigeon

His art, primarily wood engravings and mezzotints full of rich blacks and velvety textures, spoke in soft, nuanced tones. He found magic in the mundane – a forgotten teacup, a lone wildflower in a vase, a toy fox of knotted rope. Meticulously crafted with a lifetime of honed skill, each image resonated with a melancholy grace, as if capturing the echo of a half-remembered dream.

Hasegawa was an artist attuned to the subtlest frequencies of life, a soul who whispered stories of the enduring beauty found in the in-between spaces. His work spoke of solace in solitude, expressing the complexities of the human experience through seemingly simple scenes. He wasn’t about putting a bird on it; he was about etching an entire universe onto the soul of a single feather.

 

Time Still Life

 

Field flowers in a vase

 

Fleurs des champs dans un verre

 

Bouquet de fleurs des champs

 

Nature morte au gyroscope

 

The Fox and the Grape (from Fables of La Fontaine)

 

Graminées dans un verre

 

Coupe de fleurs des champs

 

Sympathy between Bird and Fish


If you enjoy these artsy-fartsy musings, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

 

 

 

 

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Poesie generously sent me samples of each fragrance from their Cardamonth collection. I shared these reviews with them, and I am so honored that the reviews are now included as copy on the site!

Coquette: A sugar spun whirl under cardamon crystal chandeliers, a frothy ballet of cotton candy whispers and rose jam wishes. Pinkberry musk and dreamwood hearts, pastel lullabies swirling through billowing marshmallow meringue petticoats, carnation, and champagne ribbons trailing whipped cream silk.

Invent the Universe: If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you set adrift in a cosmic orchard, you nibble an apple-shaped asterism, stardust crunch on your tongue. Heart a furnace, sugared cream of the Milky Way vast and steaming, a soft cinnamon wind thrums in the trail of a meteor falling before you were born and falling still one thousand years after your grandchildren are gone. A still more glorious dawn awaits, and if we do not destroy ourselves, we may bake dreams from falling stars. So, then. If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

Golden Hour: Honey-skinned dusk, distilled. A thick, heady syrup, a twilight elixir, an extract of gloaming, rich with a musky-soft particulate, prickled with lavender sighs.

Kindness + Mischief: The sun unzips its heart to reveal a lemon that peels its skin back to betray its blossom brulee heart. A citrus trickster god weary of chaos tames its tartsy tanginess in retirement, watching TikToks of cute animals, scrolling with hands sticky from sweet lemon pearls and lemonade creams. The gentlest essence of all these things in a shy, pale yellow bouquet, each blossom an airy lemon souffle.

Pod Person: ethically sourced palo santo essential oil, violet, cedar, sandalwood, cardamom, ginger and sheer amber; I have only listed the notes here because I am just now realizing I did not write a review for this one. Palo santo is a tough sell for me, there’s something too minty/mentholated adjacent for me, and in most cases I cannot.

Where Most She Satisfies: candied almond, cardamom, warm vanilla, creamy white sandalwood and saffron threads a candied confection made from the contents of an oaken barrel of aged sandalwood and vanilla incense fumes, something so decadent it feels almost sacred.

Seattle Perfumers’ Discovery Set:

Under The Mango Tree by Anjali Perfumes is sour, herbaceous, and woody; it’s the unripe, sun-warmed, gold-tinged celadon skin of the mango along, with a damp floral musk hinting at the promise of future sweetness.
Séverine by ge de Querelle feels like a rendezvous with possibility, all rosy glowing, and musky blushes, the effervescent giggling flush of first kisses. Of all that I’ve tried, this seems the most familiar or relatable, which isn’t to say it’s my favorite, but I can see how a lot of people would be drawn to it.

Dead Writers by Immortal Perfumes is something I’m pretty sure I smelled several years ago when I was writing for Haute Macabre, maybe even before that. I don’t think I gave it enough of a chance last time. You have to wait a few minutes, and how it smells directly on the skin isn’t what you smell hovering just before beyond you. It’s a quill of cloves, vetiver’s dusty archives, an echoing swirl of pipe tobacco, and tattered heliotrope lace gloves on ghostly ink-stained hands. WOW.

Samar by The Tea House is a giant Studio Ghibli yokai of a ripe, fuzzy peach sipping alternately from a clattering of teacup sprites offering both osmanthus and jasmine tea.
Notget from Filigree & Shadow is inspired by Bjork, our lady of perpetual weirdness. It’s a briny cove of sea-whispered driftwood secrets, where mermaids hang their salty linens on twisting lines of kelp to dry.

Alpine Flowers by Namesake Fragrance opens as a camphoraceous cacophony of mentholated mayhem, a bitter medicinal mountain elixir like a slap in the face. But as it wears, it becomes a softer, sweeter, gentler thing, bluebell and lupine musk and fragile beauty blooming against the steel sky.

Venetian Mask by Atelier Madrona is an enigma of smoky, plummy leather, and the tannic blackberry tang of cold sugared tea. There’s no fruit listed in the description, but there is definitely phantom fruit tickling my nose.
Lions in the Library by L’Aventura Perfumes is the scent of a fierce hunger for forgotten lore, the heady hum of intellect aflame. Earthy, dusty, and resinous with labdanum, leather, and the musky murmurs of civet, this is the thrill of unraveling the mysteries hidden between the lines, the firelit triumph of a curious mind.

Omega Fool from The Phoenix and the Fool Omega Fool is prominently a riddle of Palo Santo’s smoky swirls, piney mirages that dance between licorice and camphor, maybe mirroring the Fool’s playful paradoxes. I feel like palo santo is a note that I expect to be one thing, and it never is, so I think this is a scent that encourages seeking wisdom in the unexpected and relishing the joy in tripping over your own truth.

Flame & Fortune from Sarah Baker Perfumes smells like the shivery thrill of the chase and obsession for something elusive and rare, a chimera whispered on the wind, a mirage glimpsed in moonlight– and the inevitable reckoning at the end of this road of reckless desires. A charred diary page retrieved from the incendiary blast of a midnight explosion under the desert stars. Illegible script, a puzzle of ashy smudge in a swooping desperate hand, the labyrinthine cipher of a faded map whose details are lost to dust and sand, an exquisitely-detailed botanical revelation of a night-blooming flower both intoxicating and terrifying, the softly spiced mysteries of which might be a deadly curse, might be a cure for all the world’s ills. The dawn bleeds like an accusation, like a bullet wound, like a dying breath, and in that final inhalation, orange blossom, tuberose, jasmine, the fragrant honey of buds unfurling in the rising heat of the morning. The wind rustles with the fading memory of that sweetness as the sun rises where betrayal saw you fall.

Viole Nere from Meo Fuschiuni is a wistful Rilke poem of a violet. I will say I really love violet, though most I’ve encountered smell very similar, dainty, and delicate in either a powdery or an earthy spring rain-way. Viole Nere, while similarly subtle, presents differently than those nostalgic candied pastilles or small, damp purple blooms. It’s the gossamer violet bruised and thrumming ache of never-quite-becomings, the bittersweet vetiver musk of breathless possibilities half-glimpsed, the gentle, patchouli decay of late autumn’s dying reminder that things unlived also have their season, their own quiet beauty. A melancholic wisp of frankincense dissipates like phantom ink on pages no one will ever read, an ode to a beloved who never arrived, who was lost from the start.

I have four new scents from Haute Macabre in collaboration with Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. Back when they were also goth lifestyle blog, I wrote for them for several years, articles and interviews about art and music and books and fashion, and so smelling their new offerings always makes me feel quite nostalgic. I’ll be honest with you: right now I am wearing them all at once because I couldn’t decide which one I liked most. And yes, I know, only earlier this week I said that I wasn’t going to review entire collections in a single video, but here we are again.

Dragon’s Blood Incense is all dreamy red musk and heady champaca flower and a swoony curl of dragon’s blood smoke and is the olfactory equivalent of an oxblood velvet babydoll dress, big stompy boots, and lying on the floor in your first apartment at one am and listening to Concrete Blonde

Swampkin: When a soggy, alligator-chomped, flaming gourded-headed god emerges from your mossy backyard swamp in late autumn, you obviously leave offerings of PSLs with extra amber pumps of pumpkin sauce for it. Each morning the cups are emptied, and the silent god oozes a strange resinous sap, redolent of riches and good will. You think you’re onto something.

London Smoke is a perfectly brewed cup of black tea, malty and brisk, sweetened with a bright dollop of lemon curd, and garnished with the sylvan charm of young fern, unfurling in the steam. A gorgeous striation of golden light through a smoky quartz prism.

Got the Morbs actually freaked me out in that it smells like something familiar, but in a way that I, as I am here and now, could never possibly recognize. I can’t even tell you what that means. This is the scent of the velvet tremor of dusk, where shadows stretch and shiver take shapes. An invisible but slightly alarming aura that clings to the hems of twilight. Equal parts warning and pronouncement, the slither of something just around the corner that you don’t want to meet, but you’re not going to be able to stop yourself. I know this tells you nothing because it’s such a personal experience, so just imagine dusty clove incense and opium musk.

Natural History from Seance Perfumes, where the sepia-stained tableau of an attic library reveals dusty sunlight piercing the cobwebs and painting golden the peeling leather spines of centuries-old volumes of poetry and myth. A single rose, once blushing and bold, now pale and brittle with the patina of time, is pressed between fading stanzas. The ink and singe of antiquated words once quill-scratched by candlelight, loosed stories now fluttering in the air, thick with the hushed hum and papery potpourri of slowly turning pages.

Hexensalbe from Stora Skuggan is the scent of a sleazy promoter palming you a velvet VIP pass to a pulsing neon witch’s rave in a forgotten warehouse district. Moonlight refracted through sharp herbal wormwood and licorice shots, hemlock and lichen, earthy and ancient, scratch and hiss beneath twisting, writhing bodies, the dead language of angelica’s forked tongue whispers in time with the throbbing patchouli bassline in your blood, a strobing verdant blur of movement and magic, the electrifying hum of a thousand viridian dreams threaded through the smoke machine’s misty veil. Painting the town emerald, bleeding the jade of the moon, one prickly rosemary sequinned heartbeat at a time. TLDR; it is the witches’ orgy sequence from Sleep No More, distilled, bottled, and sold as an unsettling green tonic that shimmers when you hold it to the light and shudders down your throat like an ultraviolet bloom of algae.

Y06-S from Blackbird While generally I don’t review fragrances that I don’t like (unless I somehow felt personally attacked by them and I had to be spiteful and petty about it) this one is so bizarre I can’t stop thinking about it, and if I’m thinking about it so much, I am probably going to write about it, and if that’s the case, it seems like a waste not to share those thoughts here, too. I received this sample along with an order I placed for some other things, and the person who included it knew I wasn’t going to like it, but I think they thought perhaps I should experience it. And honestly, I think that’s really thoughtful, and I appreciate it. So, to get yourself in the mindset for this one, imagine the Lynchian dissonance and incongruity of the fish in the coffee percolator. This is neither fishy nor coffee beany, but I think you know what I mean. Initially, this is a fleeting whiff of Korean banana milk, and overheated electronics, maybe the chubby plastic container spontaneously combusted, splattering frothy banana juice and frying circuit boards, and the whole arcade catches fire and burns down. The metallic ozone and static of sparking wires eventually and somehow inevitably– in the way dream logic feels perfectly reasonable and rational – gives way to a monstrously animalic indolic jasmine, and somehow inexplicably becomes a barely perceptible smoky floral skin scent. I don’t think Y06-S is a scent you wear; it’s an experience you endure. It’s bizarre and bewildering and a little bit nauseating, but I think it’s a good reminder that perfume is an art form, and art shouldn’t always be easy to digest. It should make us think a little bit.

Atomic Bee Women from the Abyss from Zoologist. Oh, wait, it’s not called that. Because they didn’t consult me on the name. It’s just Bee. But this definitely a deliciously campy, over-the-top, apian B-movie femme fatale honey trap of a scent. A real Atomic Bee Women From Beyond type of experience. Imagine, if you will, Jessica Rabbit, but instead of a slinky red dress, she’s draped in a slick, sultry cascade of golden honey, held aloft by the teensiest of gleaming wings, which is quite a feat considering she’s a monstrous 50-foot tall intergalactic bee queen. Lusciously hovering with a dizzying buzz, she oozes a sweet, sticky, powdery vanilla and sandalwood secretion atop skyscrapers and military personnel as the city erupts in chaos. “I’m not bad; I’m just drawn from the honeycomb that way,” she coos, delicately drilling her enormous stinger into the aromatic dessert wine richness flowering summer gardens of mimosa and heliotrope scattered in a park at the city’s center. You realize too late as the air becomes suffused with the heady nectar of musky orange blossom and ginger syrup’s candied fire that her squadron of sisters has breached the atmosphere, thick waxy clouds of intoxicating yellow florals announcing their arrival. The city, drowned in pollen and pheromones, falls into a delirious stupor. Mankind, forgotten, dissolved into the honeyed haze, their last sighs swallowed by the incessant thrumming of a million tiny wings.

❈ When I first saw this label art for Zoologist’s Penguin, I’ll confess there was a part of me that thought, dang, I really hope this smells how the grizzled and extremely unhinged William Dafoe looks in Roger Eggers’ The Lighthouse. Of course, anyone who saw that must know that I am mostly kidding (although perversely, I am not totally kidding), and instead of an olfactory tour de force of maritime menace, unfettered madness, and the salty tang of brooding, brine-soaked despair,  we get the mythical chill of Frosta, She-Ra’s Empress of the Snows on the fantastical planet of Etheria. An invigorating blast of frozen air, crisp and clean, a tonic bracing and bittersweet, a glacial window to the indifferent beauty of the bone-chillingly wintry landscape. An ember of pink pepper trills tremulously through juniper’s whispers of icy ancient pine; saffron reveals the warm honeyed spice of its mysteries only to become lost in the cool, unknowable depths of sea moss. And yet… there’s a stormy heart to this scent, of musk and rain and the desolation of sirens and the destruction of sea gods. Perhaps that gnarly lighthouse keeper has a place in this story after all. I’m not sure what happened to the penguins, though.

The Lantern Bearers from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Much like Maxfield Parrish’s luminous artwork itself, this scent is both a lively nocturne and a study in incandescent joy. You can’t smell this and be sad. Or rather, you could also be sad because we’re capable of holding space for all of these things in ourselves, but within these haloed spheres of citrus and smoky resin, like the molten gold bellies of constellations of fireflies, there’s a glowing lemony defiance to sadness. This ember of citrine warmth doesn’t banish the night or deny its mystery– that plummy promise of the dark that still hangs heavy like velvet curtains. It simply illuminates it, freckling the musky orchid of the twilit sky with zest and glee. This is a scent that knows the ache of longing, but it also knows the unyielding spark of wonder –and is a reminder that joy and sorrow are not so much opposites but partners in the grand existential clown show of being human.

I tried Coreterno’s sample set, and here are my three favorites (though, if I am being really honest, I think people are buying this brand more for the aesthetic appeal than the fragrances. I found some nice things to say about them because they are objectively nice, but they are not mind-blowing)

Mystic Sugar, spun-sugar cobwebs woven by enchanted almond blossom arachnid fairy godmothers, shivery threads glimmering with vanilla frost and powdered cocoa snow.

Psychelicious is a kaleidoscopic glitter cannon of a K-pop music video with at least 50 costume changes, ballgowns in rosy blushing peony with dazzling strawberry and raspberry gemstones embroidered into the silk, champagne-drizzled litchi truffles nibbled between every take.

❈ And finally, Freakincense. Imagine an old Nordic church nestled in the snow, bathed in the alien light of the aurora borealis, incense smoke steeped into every stone. Lime, tart and electric, bursts like a renegade star tumbling through the heavens, pink pepper, sharp and crackling, echoes the descent, otherworldly exile, announced by heavenly fanfare. Cashmeran, elemi, and labdanum, soft, smoky, and twining with resinous secrets, whisper a lullaby of fallen grace. From the dark stained glass window, a weathered abbess sighs and lights a lone beeswax candle, its sweet ritual glow a beacon for this wanderer in the night, whose wings, once ablaze with celestial fire, now cast no shadow at all.

Я by Toskovat is a perfume inscrutable and obscure, a sigh of brakes, a hiss of steam, and a silhouette emerging from the dark as you exit the bus on a foggy evening. The shadowed figure leans close and whispers four words against your ear. “Find the secret heart,” they breathe, ghost of a smile flickering, a gloved hand, a glint of silver, a packet of forgotten sweets. The apparition is gone, vanished into the labyrinthine alleys, a wisp of a figment of a dream. The echo of their words lingers, a riddle etched in the citron zing of powdered sugar gems, the delicate swoon of sugared violets, and a blush of candied strawberry musk. You clutch the crumpled cellophane packet, the scent itself a ghostly sugared map leading ever inwards, towards the secret heart within your heart.

❈ I’ve purchased, unsniffed, a full bottle of Guerlain Shalimar Millésime Iris on the recommendation of a friend. I don’t know that our tastes align perfectly, but she was really enamored with this one, and I feel like sometimes the only way you can really commune with a far-flung friend whom you may never spend any time with in person (although I did actually meet her once) is to steep yourself in the things that they enjoy. Which is also why I bought something else she had mentioned, but we’ll do a separate review for that later. So Shalimar. I don’t care for the original. Or at least what I know to be the original, and which I’m sure is not the original-original, and you just know some smug well-actually person is going to point out in the comments because what kind of world would it be if these snobby self-congratulatory fuckers weren’t always slithering in through the cracks to shit all over everything nice. ANYWAY. At first sniff, this is a real bombastic towering vanilla powdered wig spectacle of a Sofia Coppola Marie Antoinette confection, but there’s something kind of tacky and trashy about it too, like it’s all that “ Let them eat cake” audacious opulence filmed through mob-wife cigarette ash on a leopard print suede purse Instagram filter of a reality tv show, thick with manufactured drama and desperate thirst. It’s a sort of sticky, gilded Versailles meets Bada Bing dumpster fire of a fragrance. And believe it or not, initially, when I was testing it…I didn’t hate it. Later in the evening, I smelled a woody smoky vanilla floral phantom masterclass of luxury and beauty wafting from my sweater cuff, and I nearly swooned. Surprise! It was that tabloid headline trending hashtag of a vanilla from earlier in the day! Millésime Iris, you contain multitudes, and I am here for all of them

Montblanc Signature is a weird one in that it’s not really weird at all (it’s pretty basic in composition and execution, right?), but it makes me feel some weird, twisty things. If that makes sense. It’s a sort of echo-y, empty, fresh, woody,- dewy-floral melange that smells like you’re using someone else’s shampoo, a pearlescent lather of white musk more expensive than you care to consider. You’re sleeping under a stranger’s crisp white sheets, cool against your skin, the lingering dryer sheet scent of magnolia petals and fat peony blooms, their honeyed sweetness clinging to the fabric.

Maybe a friend of a friend has an apartment for rent while they’re off being an influencer in France, so you’re availing yourself of their expensively furnished, minimalist-chic accommodations for a few months in a particularly hip part of town. You spend a lot of time lonely in the apartment, trying on her silk blouses and cashmere sweaters, picking through her curated book selection of vintage Vogue and art photography books, and trying to get a sense of who she is. You’re also stalking her social media a fair bit, and like a magpie hoarding glittering scraps, you gather up her turns of phrase and mannerisms, embellishing your own reflection with borrowed plumage. You begin ordering Door Dash deliveries under her name, all the culinary delicacies she’d artfully Instagrammed in her travels, noodles slick with sauce, and hundreds of tiny, bitter cups of coffee. You imagine her beside you, laughter echoing in the sterile silence, a phantom limb you ache to touch.

The line between mimicry and metamorphosis blurs. The creamy magnolia unfurls, a faded photograph of intimacies never shared. The luminous musk, clean and faintly powdery, becomes a shroud, a borrowed identity that both suffocates and intoxicates. This fragrance doesn’t just smell like wearing someone else’s perfume; it smells like the unsettling alchemy of becoming someone else. And in that borrowed skin, in that stolen life, the question lingers: just how far will you go to become more than just her shadow?

❈ When I first saw the label art for Zoologist’s Penguin, I’ll confess there was a part of me that thought, dang, I really hope this smells how the grizzled and extremely unhinged William Dafoe looks in Roger Eggers’ The Lighthouse. Of course, anyone who saw that must know that I am mostly kidding (although perversely, I am not totally kidding), and instead of an olfactory tour de force of maritime menace, unfettered madness, and the salty tang of brooding, brine-soaked despair,  we get the mythical chill of Frosta, She-Ra’s Empress of the Snows on the fantastical planet of Etheria. An invigorating blast of frozen air, crisp and clean, a tonic bracing and bittersweet, a glacial window to the indifferent beauty of the bone-chillingly wintry landscape. An ember of pink pepper trills tremulously through juniper’s whispers of icy ancient pine; saffron reveals the warm honeyed spice of its mysteries only to become lost in the cool, unknowable depths of sea moss. And yet… there’s a stormy heart to this scent, of musk and rain and the desolation of sirens and the destruction of sea gods. Perhaps that gnarly lighthouse keeper has a place in this story after all. I’m not sure what happened to the penguins, though.

 

If you enjoy these fragrant musings, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

 

 

 

 

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Bruce Pennington’s 1974 cover to A. E. van Vogt’s The World of Null-A

As a kid, I staunchly believed there were only two camps: you were either team fantasy or team sci-fi. And since Star Trek didn’t have elves and unicorns (I hadn’t yet seen the holodeck!) I wasn’t interested.  Fairies shimmered in fairytale castles, while alien princesses, if they existed at all, ruled from sterile metal fortresses. Drawn to the whimsy of talking animals and magical forests, I dismissed sci-fi’s offerings as devoid of the fantastical.

But stories have a way of defying rigid categories. And above all, I came to realize whether scribbled in glitter or etched in chrome, it was the stories that captivated my attention–and, by extension, the beautiful art that accompanied them–not especially the genre trappings through which they were envisioned. One summer afternoon, while browsing my weird uncle’s dusty comic collection, I stumbled upon a cover, unlike the werewolves and vampires that dominated most of the towering stacks (by then, I had moved on from fairy princesses to the monsters haunting crumbling, gothic crypts) Lush, cosmic swirls enveloped a lone, impossibly graceful spaceship, its sails catching the light of a thousand alien suns. It was sci-fi, yes, but rendered in a style that wouldn’t look out of place on a fairy tale tapestry. That day, the 2-camp theory dissolved. Sci-fi, I realized, could shimmer with wonder, could paint impossible visions across canvases both grand and intimate. And not very long after that, on another summer afternoon, I uncovered an ungodly amount of my dad’s back issues of Heavy Metal magazine, and –say no more, right? You know what I’m getting at. I was hooked.

Years later, this revelation lives on. I consider myself an enthusiast of fantastical art of all stripes, and I couldn’t have been more excited when I realized that the creator of one of my favorite art-related Tumblrs–Adam Rowe of 70s Sci-Fi Art— was soon to be publishing an art book. If you don’t know any Tumblrs but recognize Adam’s name from somewhere, well, it could possibly be that you heard him on the Endless Thread podcast about the Wrinkle In Time book cover art. While I babbled about the mystery of it all and sounded like a total space cadet, Adam was the one with the grounding and logical insights who was actually saying all of the smart stuff!

Brimming with dazzling dreams of fantastical futures and explorations of the vast cosmos, Adam’s book celebrating the groundbreaking sci-fi art of the 1970s would have delighted skeptical childhood me and shown me everything I now love about that golden era of science fiction art today. It’s a vibrant showcase of retrofuturistic visions, stuffed to the gills with phenomenal art–from the abstract and avant-garde to the trippy and surreal, from the murky and lurid to the vivid, vibrant, and hyperrealistic, Worlds Beyond Time is an incredibly curated gallery-in-a-book, and love letter to this breathtakingly beautiful and frequently bizarre genre. Of course, it’s easy enough to fill a book with art (HA! That’s a lie. It is not easy.), but what really elevates an already special tome is that all of this gorgeous art is seated alongside a plethora of ridiculously well-informed, engrossing essays written in Rowe’s warm, chat, irreverent voice.

And speaking of warm, engrossing chats–that’s the reason we are here today! Adam graciously answered my questions about Worlds Beyond Time,  his fascination with sci-fi art, and some of the colorful characters and favorite artistic tropes he features within the pages of the book. See below for our Q&A, and thanks from the bottom of my weird, awkward heart, Adam, for your generosity of time, energy, and spirit.

 

Island City in Green, Paul Lehr, 1988

 

1974 Frank Kelly Freas cover for Promised Land

 

SE: I’m always interested in the formative stuff! Is there a definitive moment in your childhood that you can hearken back to wherein a fondness/fixation regarding sci-fi art was born? Or was it a series of snapshots, a thing here and there and so on, which drew you in? What initially engaged your interest and piqued your curiosity about the world of sci-fi art, and what continues to fascinate you about it?

AR: I’ve always enjoyed any sort of genre fiction, particularly old and out-of-style ones. I think the formulas that tend to get reused for disposable entertainment will tell you a lot about cultural anxieties or values. But my interest in sci-fi art is very specifically tied to the look of 70s and 80s art styles – they just really light up my amygdala in a way that even 50s and 60s sci-fi art rarely does. I don’t know how to explain it! That’s actually why I went so specific with my blog name when I first started my Tumblr in 2013. I had stumbled on an illustration on Reddit, and I couldn’t find an existing tumblr specific enough for me at the time, so I created my own.

There are other, similar-but-different art niches that I’ve sort of “spun off” my interest in over the years. I still love 70s sci-fi art, but I also love 80s/90s computer and tech illustration, as well as the 90s yuppie kitsch vibes from artists like Christian Riese Lassen.

 

1996 John Harris cover for The Ringworld Throne

 

In John Koenig’s Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows (not really sci-fi related but definitely full of otherworldly notions and ineffable explorations), the author meditates on the idea of “Astrophe,” the feeling of being stuck on Earth, occasionally looking up at the stars, dreaming of other worlds–but always, always being pulled back to reality, that feeling of being grounded. Is there a particular sci-fi artwork you revel in or an artist you admire whose art is so bold and striking that somewhere in your mind, it permanently yanks you right out of Earth’s orbit, perhaps quells that Astrophic yearning?

A great artist for sci-fi yearning is John Harris. There’s a bit of a removed, timeless feel to his artwork, there’s often a lot of cosmic awe. I’m repeating myself from my art book, but one of my favorite stories about him is that NASA commissioned him in 1985, and his chosen subject matter wasn’t a scene set in space or depicting a spacecraft at all. Instead, he painted the smoking, empty launchpad immediately after a launch. It’s a sharp contrast to the triumphant images you’d get from Robert McCall.

Another couple of favorites are Bruce Pennington and Angus McKie. Pennington always captures ideas and images that feel archetypal without being cliche, and McKie always has tiny delightful details that take a while to notice. I can stare at their work for a long time.

 

1980 Richard M. Powers cover for The Number of the Beast

 

In your book, not only do you showcase the artistic brilliance of the individuals you feature, but you also unveil their unique personalities. Your chapter on cheeky visual satirist of chaotic abstraction, Richard Powers, particularly captured my heart– as I have a massive fondness for the goofballs and weirdos, for silliness and absurdity. Beyond their artistic achievements, these artists led rich and complex lives. Can you share some other examples of how their personal experiences and dispositions influenced their artistic expression?

Yeah, Richard Powers is quite a character! In a good way! Fun fact: I read a lot of art books while writing this one, and The Art of Richard Powers by Jane Frank was probably the best one for offering a candid picture of an artist, flaws and all, and fully avoiding the hagiography trap.

Leo and Diane Dillon were always exploring, which led to an art career covering so many mediums and styles that it’s hard to pin down. John Harris’s deep interest in transcendental meditation is impossible to separate from the cosmic awe of his art that I mentioned earlier. John Schoenherr had a love of naturalism that contributed to the lived-in feel of his famed Dune illustrations. And I really love Rick Sternbach’s dolphin in a spacesuit, which I slipped into page 4 of my book at the last second – he wasn’t commissioned for it; he just wanted to explore the idea as a thought experiment because of his interest in marine biology. Basically, any artist who wants to carve a legacy for themselves should let their love for other subjects flow into their art.

 

Rick Sternbach’s dolphin in a spacesuit

 

I really appreciate the way Worlds Beyond Time is structured, jumping back and forth between spreads featuring specific artists, themes, motifs, tropes, and gimmicks, as well as the subjects and landscapes of the stories themselves. It’s an unexpected and deliciously unpredictable format, curious and singular–much like how the best examples of sci-fi art and their stories can be. How did you come up with the configuration for the book?

I’m glad you asked! For the longest time, I didn’t think I could do an art book, but it was when I realized I could do that format that I realized how fun and interesting it would be to write. And I only realized it was an option because I read a book with a very similar structure: Grady Hendrix’s 2017 Paperbacks From Hell, about 70s/80s horror paperbacks. And I know you loved that book too, because I looked it up on your site and saw your review!

I love how fast-paced Paperbacks From Hell is, and how funny and irreverent the writing style is. It’s divided into sections, covering specific books and authors as well as fun themes and min-trends. Seeing that crystalized for me that I could do the same thing. When I first started putting together my proposal for Worlds Beyond Time, Grady was in the area as part of his book tour for We Sold Our Souls, and he was kind enough to meet with me and give me advice! He also recommended I talk to Vincent Di Fate, the artist and art historian who would go on to write my foreword.

Basically, reading Paperbacks From Hell really opened my third eye when it comes to how a nonfiction on fiction book can work. Also, as an aside, I’m trying to make the term “nonfiction on fiction” happen, as a way to describe history books that document eras and types of fictional media. So far, no one’s going for it, and I think it’s because it just sounds like you’re saying “nonfiction” twice when you say it out loud. It’s like the Little Caesar’s guy who says “piece a pizza,” but more confusing.

 

Fred Gambino’s 1974 cover for Dangerous Visions 1

 

And of the common themes or motifs that you see recurring in the sci-fi art you included in the book what were some of your favorite to write about and think about? How did these reflect the cultural and social zeitgeist of the era in which they were created–and is there anything about it that still resonates today?

One of the most popular and striking visual tropes I covered is skeletons in spacesuits. It’s an immediately cool concept all by itself (a very memorable Scooby Doo and Doctor Who antagonist both basically boil down to this trope; that’s pretty cool). But it also has a history drawn from pulp adventure illustrations, where explorer skeletons were always popping up in deserts, caves, and islands. Adventure is a genre that a lot of early science fiction stories emerged from as far back as Jules Verne and HG Wells, so being able to see the visual connections is fascinating to me.

One of my favorite sections is the one featuring reflections in space helmets. There’s an interesting practical reason behind the concept’s popularity – it’s an economic way to get a landscape and a person into one scene, and it lets the reader project an appropriate emotion onto the figure. Plus, it also shares a bit of a history with adventure illustration, where you’d occasionally see the same trick pulled with other reflective surfaces like monocles or gun scopes.

Finally, there’s cities in domes, which is a particularly popular concept for this era of sci-fi art. It’s easy to grasp, looks cool, is fun to paint – but it’s also fairly impractical as a functional concept. Moon bases are more likely to be underground bunkers than domes. But geodesic domes were pretty popular and futuristic in the 60s and 70s.

I wanted to do a section on floating cities as well. I wound up cutting it, partially because it shares so much with domed cities, and partially just because the best examples were from artists who are more expensive to license, like Robert McCall and Chris Foss. The idea of a big floating city feels even more fantastical and disconnected from reality than a domed city.

 

1981 Rowena Morill cover for Project Pope. You may recall we are big Rowena Morill fans around here. 

 

Artificial Intelligence comes up in your chapter about robots, and I’ll confess, today’s AI-driven image generators and language models are something that concerns me greatly, with its creation of “art” without the consent of the human creators whose works were used to train their algorithms. I strongly feel the anxiety of living in a world where the line between art created by human and machine is increasingly blurred, for example, you only have to look at imagery shared by well-meaning family and friends on Facebook, life-size cats crocheted by obscenely grinning nonagenarians or sand sculptures of beautiful woman whose hair has been rendered so finely that it gently drifts in the breeze?! Come on people! THAT’S NOT REAL! Robots, cyborgs, machines becoming sentient, beings enhanced with technology, and all the dangers that transhumanism and artificial intelligence represent…I didn’t get the sense from art and stories that the dangers we’d be facing from AI would have to do with the art itself. I know this is a crazed and rambling question, but what are your thoughts on any of it?

I agree! I think you hit it on the nose with your takeaway about how science fiction didn’t prepare you for the real-life counterpart. But then, the stuff we’re calling AI today isn’t anywhere near sentience; Ted Chiang has said “applied statistics” would be a more accurate term for all real-life innovations than “AI.” But of course, it’s a better marketing pitch to feint at creating tech from famous science fiction stories. The tech we have with ChatGPT is definitely cool, but it’s a shame that it requires copyright theft and exists mostly as a way to cut enough jobs to boost quarterly revenues another 2% or whatever. The real problem, once again, is capitalism.

I do find the topic of how science fiction interacts with Silicon Valley ambition to be constantly entertaining. So many big tech figures love science fiction. I can’t imagine Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t know that the Metaverse from Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash is a dystopia, but he does seem to think that it doesn’t matter.

 

The bird Boris Vallejo painted for The Boy Who Saved the Stars. Despite the question below, this image is actually in the book. Didn’t seem fair to show something not within these pages!

 

It feels a bit tragic, doesn’t it, to omit some really fantastic pieces from a book on a subject dear to your heart that you’re sharing with the world? And annoyingly, you know there’s going to be people who say “I can’t believe you *forgot* x/y/z!” – as if it’s simply a matter of you “forgetting!” Tell us about art-shaped holes in your heart and in your book that you would have loved to include if you had been able.

I couldn’t afford to include as much art as I would have liked from some of the biggest names, including Frank Frazetta, John Berkey, and Chris Foss (and arguably shouldn’t have included the images I did use since it blew past my budget and came out of my own pocket). Paul Alexander and Peter Andrew Jones are two other great artists I didn’t include at all – the former wasn’t essential enough to my book to justify some rights requirements, and the latter felt he had enough art collections out already that would compensate him better.

But the biggest one that got away was this beautiful Brothers Hildebrandt wraparound cover for Earth’s Last Citadel by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore. I had a great scan ready to go, and I was willing to pay more than I did for any other single piece of art, but the estate just ultimately wasn’t interested. I couldn’t bear to cut the paragraph writeup about the image in the book, however, so you can still read all about it on page 152. Funny enough, I used to hate it when an art book would discuss an image that it didn’t feature. Now, I get it.

 

Enrich Torres covert art for the July 1973 issue of Eerie

 

But back to things that were in your book! I was delighted to see that horror gets a spotlight! From mentions of cryptozoology to ghosts and Creepy and Eerie magazine, the horror-nerd in me was totally geeking out. Obviously, you have a great love for sci-fi, but as a horror fan, I’m compelled to ask about your relationship with the horror genre.

I definitely appreciate horror almost as much as sci-fi! Fantasy, supernatural horror, and sci-fi all emerged from the same early-1900s primordial genre goop of “weird stories,” and they still work well when blended today. With movies, I particularly like when other genres are thrown in, like horror, comedy, and action horror. I saw Ravenous last October; it’s a great historical horror. I’m in the middle of reading the second Clown in a Cornfield novel by Adam Cesare, and I definitely recommend it.

 

William Teason 1963 cover art for We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. This image is not found in the book, but it is one of my one-time favorites and too good not to include.

In that vein: if you’re a horror fan looking to dip your toes into sci-fi art, is there any artist/creator, or work, visual, or otherwise (ie literature or cinema) that you’d recommend?

A cover artist for retro horror books that I’ve always loved is William Teason – take his classic 1963 cover for Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle or this artwork for Mary Roberts Reinhart’s The Case of Jenny Brice. Some big-name science fiction illustrators have done plenty of horror illustrations as well, like Michael Whelan and Bruce Pennington. Of course, Paperbacks From Hell will tell you all about other great retro horror artists that fans of Worlds Beyond Time will probably enjoy.

Also, I don’t know what the classification is, but I saw this video a few years ago when it first came out, and I still keep thinking about it. Someone needs to give that creator a blank check to make the feature-length version of whatever it is.

 

According to Adam, “Sadly, the talented artist or artists behind MUFON’s 1977, ’78, and ’79 itinerary covers has been lost to time.”

Since it seems we’re delving into darkness, how do you think sci-fi art has explored the darker side of human nature, such as fear, paranoia, and the unknown? How has sci-fi art intersected with the occult and paranormal, and how has this influenced our beliefs in, or even disinclination toward the supernatural?

Man, I dunno! Strictly through the lens of my art book, I’d say a lot of the darker, more challenging art was swept off of sci-fi covers around 1971 since the publishing industry was expanding and worried that creepier surrealism would scare off readers. (Another example of profit incentives hedge-trimming artistic expression!)

Science fiction has always been a venue for facing horrifying world-ending threats head-on, though. Back in the 70s, nuclear war was a big one, and today, climate change is. Fiction can help raise to the surface some otherwise unthinkable concepts, although fiction alone is never going to save us. The pen’s only mightier than the sword when it’s writing to a lot of other people with swords.

This does remind me of one of the more fun illustrations in Worlds Beyond Time: The Mutual UFO Network’s 1977-79 itinerary covers. The designer is uncredited, but the covers have a great sense of precision and clarity of concept to them, which I imagine is pretty important to an organization dedicated to an often-dismissed phenomenon like UFOs.

 

Bruce Pennington 1974 cover for A. E. van Vogt’s The Pawns of Null-A. 


Onto something a bit more frivolous: I’m a bit obsessed with Richard Hescox’s works, how the gleaming luminosity of his paintings really lends itself to the shimmering details in fripperies and fineries–jewels and gemstones, crowns and headdresses, all sorts of fancy accouterments. Bruce Pennington is another artist who shines at capturing a fashion-forward moment; I’m thinking of an image you included in your book for the cover of E. van Vogt’s The Pawns of Null-A, where Pennington “dresses a power-hungry emperor like an otherworldly Pope,” whose robes are embellished with a treasure trove of glittering symbols and beads– into which the artist had apparently secreted his own name! I’m curious if you can think of any other sci-fi artists who indulged in a sartorially-minded spirit in their book covers and other artworks?

Sci-fi fashion is pretty cool! Although often over-reliant on jumpsuits and cloaks. I have a “fashion” tag on my tumblr that I bet you’d enjoy scrolling through. I see Peter Elson’s work pops up several times; His 1978 cover to Jack Vance’s To Live Forever is pretty eye-popping! This David Schleinkofer fit actually might be considered cool today, which I can’t say about the guy on Roy Virgo’s 1980 cover art for Mannes éphémères, by Clark Darlton and KH Scheer. But the real winner is the robot drip on Isidre Monés’ cover to the 1981 German edition of Robot, by Adam Wiśniewski. Incredible energy on that cover.

One interesting fashion angle is the idea of astronauts having visual ID on their suits, either as heraldry like knights, or as a way for regular joes to express themselves, like sailors with tattoos. There’s an Ed Emshwiller cover for an issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction that captures that idea. Shoutout to Winchell Chung’s site Atomic Rockets, where he discusses those topics over here. If I were to ever get a sequel art book, I’d definitely have a two-page spread on fashion in sci-fi art. I’ve just added it to my sequel brainstorming doc, right alongside other ideas like “Christ figures,” “bugs,” and “spaceships shaped like fish.”

Michael Whelan’s 1987 cover for 2061: Odyssey Three, by Arthur C. Clarke.

I used to include a final question in my interview Q&As, something like, “what’s next?” But that’s a bit presumptuous and a lot of pressure, isn’t it? Isn’t it enough to enjoy what you literally just put out into the world earlier this year? So, instead of stressing you out, my question is more along the lines of what do you do to de-stress? What are you doing when not exploring and examining worlds beyond time? Adam Rowe is a complex creature and contains multitudes– what does he get into when he’s not writing about 1970’s sci-fi art?

A lot of movies and TV! I was just telling someone that I need a friend who actually appreciates mediocre mid-budget 90s movies as much as I do. I also like old crime movies – I just saw 1967’s Le Samourai for the first time yesterday and loved it. Aside from that, the most noteworthy thing I’ve done lately is uploaded the 2006 Jimmy Buffett cover of Werewolves of London to YouTube – it wasn’t available anywhere on the internet if you can believe that! Get the word out, I’m hoping to get past 47 total views.

I’m also developing a taste for other types of illustration from within the 1960s-’90s zone. The Tumblr Lookcaitlin has an amazing collection of retro-tech magazine illustrations, and I just finished the complete collection of the Antonio Prohías Spy vs. Spy comics.

For writing, I’m in the planning stage for another potential art book, but no spoilers yet. I’m also trying to keep doing articles to get the word out about Worlds Beyond Time. This year’s Hugo Award nominations open up on March 1st. Best Related Work? Maybe! Someone needs to explain to me how getting nominated works. Maybe I’ll talk to my publicist.

 

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