Incantation was recommended to me by a handful of folks over on Facebook last month when I was fishing around for some new horror viewing ideas. I think people were correct in their confidence that this would right up my weirdo-dream logic-inexplicable terrifying happenings- alley!
I think the one-sentence summation would be something like “a found-footage film in which a woman and all those around her are beset by misfortune after she violates a religious taboo.” That’s more or less it, and I feel like the more you learn about what’s happening, the less likely you are to understand any of it…somewhat parallel to the story, where the more you learn about the curse, the less likely you are to survive it.
Six years earlier, Li Ronan accompanies her boyfriend and a mutual friend to a remote mountain village whose cult-like inhabitants are engaged in bizarre rituals involving a strange deity. Ostensibly filming it for their ghostbusters YouTube channel or whatever, the guys disrespectfully stomp through the village’s sacred spaces, including an off-limits evil tunnel, and while Li Ronan isn’t quite doing anything wrong, she shouldn’t be there, to begin with…and by the end of the evening, she’s the only one among the trio left standing to shoulder the curse that comes of their sacrilege. Oh, and while she was in the village, she realized she was pregnant.
Going forward a few years, Li Ronan is collecting her daughter from a foster care facility, to bring her back home again. I’m not sure whether she was deemed unfit at the time or she gave the child up willingly, for the child’s own protection, but we follow her awkwardly greeting her daughter Do-Do and bringing her back to the apartment…where things immediately begin to fall apart. Eerie disturbances occur, spookynoises are heard, Do-Do is seeing unsettling things, and for a time it almost seems like the child might even be possessed. Things are spiraling out of control from the moment they reunite.
Between the disturbing visuals and disjointed story and the “is she an abusive/unhinged parent or is there really something supernatural happening?” I spent a lot of this movie being scared, but of… what, exactly… I could not rightly tell you. Much of Incantation’s premise hinges on the dual nature of things like blessings and curses, and how they are intertwined, and toward the end we learn that what we believed Li Ronan was telling us, wasn’t quite the truth of it. I actually struggled with a sense of betrayal as the film ended.
You know what would also be a betrayal of trust? If I did not tell you that although it’s not a huge part of the story…if you suffer from trypophobia (DON’T look it up, it’s basically an aversion to clusters of small holes) you need to consider yourself hardcore forewarned.
First off, it never gets old, seeing a book that you’ve written on a shelf–whether your own shelf or someone else’s or in a bookshop or the library or wherever! I haven’t been to a bookstore since 2019, so seeing The Art of Darkness on my own shelf will have to do for now I guess. (Ok I just remembered that’s not true. I went to *one* but they didn’t have my book.)
But secondly …it’s time for a giveaway! Wouldst thou like to win a signed copy of The Art of Darkness: A Treasury of the Morbid, Melancholic and Macabre AS WELLS AS a print of the phenomenal cover art, Antiquity V, by Alex Eckman-Lawn?
This poster for The Last Matinee is a little puzzling, with its warning of “No Talking, no texting, no breathing,” because for a story taking place in 1993, there wasn’t likely to be much texting, was there?
Details, details. Cinema doesn’t need to make sense and often we don’t get all of the answers we wish, or sometimes, even any of them. Such is the case of this 2020 Uruguayan homage to brutal retro slashers and saturated Giallo films, The Last Matinee.
The film opens on a rainy evening with movie-goers exiting the theatre between films, while the staff is cleaning up and switching out in advance of the last showing of the night. A young boy fumbles a handful of colorful gumballs as he is dawdling behind his mother; we watch the candied orbs roll past his fingertips to bink and bonk down the staircase in sinister, dreamy slow motion. Foreshadowing? Keep your eyes peeled.
Engineering student Ana takes over the projector booth to give her ailing father a break from the potential of pulling a double shift. As he heads out, we learn of the other folks in the nearly empty theatre: Mauricio, a rumpled usher with a terrible haircut who ineptly flirts with Ana while a couple on an awkward date settles into their seats; a trio of obnoxious teens speculates about an attractive girl they saw on the bus who got off a stop earlier and who also happens to be in the theatre; and an underage kid, who has hidden under the rows, now climbs into his seat to watch the corny old-school Frankenstein thriller as the lights dim and the movie begins.
Unbeknownst to all of them, someone else has bought a ticket for this film– a trenchcoated killer with a murky jar full of eyeballs who begins violently picking off the moviegoers one by one. Who is he? Why is he doing this? We never learn. He’s not even masked, and he’s no one that is ever mentioned or referenced, even obliquely (like you know, in a 3-second news flash in the background, “killer on the loose!” or some such.) His identity is literally that unimportant.
The Last Matinee is lurid, gory, grotesque fun. Except for the killer, everyone’s got just enough personality to root for, or at least to care that their head’s being slammed into a toilet seat, or that their nice silk blouse is covered in blood from their own stab wounds, or whatever– you kinda like these people, even if you don’t get to spend very much time with them. (RIP Mauricio at the 10 minute mark, even you were kinda fun!)
And if I am being honest with you, I am having a hard time as to the why of that. I mean, I know why, but I think I feel ashamed to actually say it out loud, to see the words from my head, typed out in black and white in front of me.
But here it is: old people fucking.
So whatever else X was trying to show us, with its young, hot porn stars shooting a video on some crazy old couple’s property, I think it’s trying to drive home the point that hey, you’re only young once! Get the hot, horny shit in while you can! And I didn’t think I had a problem with aging, I really didn’t. But seeing wrinkly, decrepit old Howard and Pearl going at it, just really…not only grossed me out (I am so sorry, I thought I was better than that, but I am not) well, quite frankly, it UPSET me. There is so much to unpack here, I don’t even know where to start and it’s probably no one’s business, so I’ll do it privately, ok?!
Anyway, sweet, sweet octogenarian lovemaking aside, this was a lot of exhilarating, grotesque fun. And I know I have basically told you nothing here (it’s a slasher, nearly everyone dies, what more do you need to know) but– I don’t want to talk about it anymore! But I do want to see the prequel, Pearl, which I believe was shot simultaneously and has already been released!
Also, as I was watching it and listening to the soundtrack, I thought “huh…that sounds like Chelsea Wolfe…!” When I went to check, it looks like she had a hand in the whole score! How did I not know that before even seeing this movie??
Is Book It my entire personality now? Not quite! It was part of a bigger project I’ve been working on this summer, in service of little-Sarah.
To back up just a bit, and hopefully not make a long story longer, I was inspired to do this from a few conversations and tarot readings with my friend Angeliska of Sister Temperance Tarot. Trauma from my childhood was a theme that was repeatedly discussed, and the subject of reparenting was introduced to me. Growing up in dysfunctional families or in homes where parents were overwhelmed, grieving, depressed, or where there was substance abuse, many of us did not have the loving parent we desired or deserved. Our bodies store that trauma, neglect, and rejection, and, that yearning for the parent that you never actually had, or emotional childhood needs that were never met, to quote my friend on a recent blog post of theirs, is a hunger that never, ever goes away – and is never really sated or fulfilled. Reparenting the inner child focuses on making sure it feels the value, love, and protection it lacked during childhood, where, as adults, we learn to nourish ourselves, and tap into that connection within, and elsewhere in my life.
There is a whole lot of stuff to address in this conversation, and it involves a lot of tools that I don’t have, but which I am very slowly adding to my arsenal, among them some suggested reading, therapy, and showing up for myself every day in the act of lovingly tending to little me. I am not so naive as to think that any of this stuff in the video is an entire solution, and hopefully it doesn’t come across that way in my presentation! I know that would be pretty irresponsible. But these are things I started doing for myself and seemed like a fun, not too intimidating place to begin. As an adult, I’m not even sure that I know how to have fun, and I am fairly certain this has roots in the things that happened when I was a kid. Hypervigilance about things and situations feeling or seeming too good (because historically, mom- disaster was always looming and there was just no point in feeling good) and repression of my feelings overall (because in addition to her struggle with alcoholism, my mother was BPD with those erratic mood swings and behaviors) and I think in never wanting to be like that, I squashed all feelings altogether. Fun …just seemed like something that other children got to have.
In this video, I chat about treating my inner child, and some of the activities I engaged in as part of that. There’s a lot of work to do in service of healing my little-me, it’s hard to know where to start …so I thought I might begin with things that are fun! If you are interested, I hope you will go have a peek…even if you just keep it on the background, while you do some fun things for your little-you.
If you do have a visit, please leave me a comment if you hear something that resonates with you, or if you have ideas of your own that you’d like to share!
Writing and sharing on the internet can feel kinda lonely sometimes and I am always so appreciative of the folks who take a moment to say something nice, or even just say, hi! Or hello! Or, I see you there!
There’s something about a made-for-TV movie that seems lower stakes, emotionally speaking, than a film that was released in theatres. Maybe because made-for-tv movies traditionally get a bad rap, we expect them to be crappy and laughable, so we have virtually no expectations of them. I don’t know, but personally, I kind of love them.
I think I first heard the made-for-tv movie The Initiation of Sarah mentioned in a Gaylords of Darkness episode, and I mean aside from being interested in it because the title contains my name, I’ve also heard it described as “Carrie–but with sororities,” and that is more than enough to pique my interest!
Sarah Goodwin and her sister Patty are going away to college together. Sarah’s been adopted into the family for some mysterious reason or another (or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention) and while their mother has high hopes for the beautiful, vivacious, and outgoing Patty to get into her old sorority, she’s not so sure about shy, withdrawn Sarah. Oh well, she seems to say, cut her loose, she’s a nobody, she’s dragging you down. Great parenting! What Sarah lacks in popularity, though, she more than makes up in the interesting currency of psychic powers, causing “bad things” to happen to people when she gets angry. We see this at different points while the film is setting up: some handsy guy gets knocked down by a wave when he won’t take Patty’s NO for an answer; a piano being rigged up above a sidewalk by a bunch of dumb-dumb jocks, almost falls on someone, while Sarah is sulking about something or other. Wow, I just watched this and I’ve already forgotten most of it.
Anyway! Patty gets into the snobby sorority of beautiful people, led by the iconically bitchy Morgan Fairchild, and Sarah gets into a rival sorority of losers whose members and membership recruitment are pretty lazy and apathetic. Sarah gives them a pep talk and gets everybody jazzed up about things, even the prone-to-self-harm Mouse (played by Mia Farrow’s sister!) who’d actually like to just hide in her room and be creepy and play the violin, thankyouverymuch! Satanic Housemother Shelley Winters has a longer history with the college than anyone realizes and senses Sarah’s special powers– and the wheels start spinning in her weird, permed head that perhaps she will harness them for some sort of long-game revenge plot against the other sorority, just in time for Hell Week!
I actually thought this one was a lot of fun and there were SO many good late 70’s cardigans! I just realized there is a 2006 remake with Tessa Thompson in it, and because next to Michelle Yeoh, Tessa Thompson is my biggest celebrity crush, I will probably have to watch it. It also has Summer Glau and Jennifer Tilly in it. Gosh!
Here we are again, another October, another 31 days of vaguely horror or Halloween-related content!
In the past several years I tried to get creative with this concept, adding books and other types of media (podcasts, music, video games, etc) along with recipes, creative writing exercises, and whatever else sounded interesting to throw into the mix, but this year I’m going to be sticking with the basics, I think. I’m tired. I very was sick for part of the summer, I’ve spent the last year finishing and promoting a book and then starting and mostly finishing another book, getting married, moving house, and as of just last week I made it through another hurricane. I’m not complaining about any of that, but my point is: I’m tired. I’m tired!
But also! Tradition! I’ve been doing this every year for the past few years and even though a majority of those 31-Days blog posts have appeared elsewhere and since disappeared into the ravenous maw of the internet (and I am too tired to hunt them down on archive.org and repost them here; I am just too physically and mentally tired, and on the whole, I am tired of giving my time and energy to places that eventually disappear) but anyway, you can find a few instances of past 31 Days content here if you do a search for “31” using my blog’s search functionality. You should be able to find some stuff going back to 2017, so I hope you poke around a bit!
Anyway, back to tradition. I do this every year, and I have fun picking out and putting together lists of old movies I haven’t yet seen, new movies I’ve been meaning to watch, or just really weird and obscure stuff that no one’s ever heard of (or, ok, well, maybe I’d never heard of them) so even if I am a little tired, I’m gonna do it, dangit! Some of them might end up being, like, two-sentence reviews, but hey, we’re not writing for Variety magazine over here.
So, in the vein of a movie I had heard of earlier in the year and which I had been looking forward to… first up is UMMA!
Sandra Oh plays Amanda, a first-generation Korean-American woman living on a piece of farmland in the middle of nowhere, selling local honey to wellness influencers, I guess? Apparently, someone on social media gave her a shoutout and now she can’t bottle the stuff fast enough. I bet it was Emily Mariko. She probably drizzled it on her salmon rice bowl. A weird thing is that Amanda has a condition where she can’t be around electricity. Sort of like Better Call Saul’s brother Chuck, who thought he suffered from electromagnetic hypersensitivity, I guess? Anyway, it’s more likely trauma from childhood, which we see in a few brief flashback sequences with Amanda suffering horrific abuse at the hands of her mother, and which involves a frayed electrical wire.
Amanda is living alone with her teenage daughter, and on the surface, they seem to have a loving relationship, and business is going great, but Amanda receives news from Korea in the form of a visitor carrying a suitcase and an urn. Her uncle has tracked Amanda down to inform her that her mother has died and to chastise her about familial duty and honoring her ancestors by giving her Umma (mother) a proper burial. At this point supernatural things start to happen, and there’s some creepy jump scares, and the story progresses along those lines, but I think maybe things would have begun unraveling with or without Amanda having to deal with her the abusive, pitiless ghost of her Umma. Generational trauma doesn’t require ghosties and heebie-jeebies, it’s horrifying and heartbreaking enough on its own. Amanda and her daughter Chrissy have been living in isolation for so long; Chrissy’s been in the dark (literally, I mean these people are using oil lamps) about her family, where she comes from, what her mother’s gone through, and she has no idea about any of this. All she knows is that her mother is her only friend–and that’s the way it’s always been. Amanda has kept Chrissy close and has built the bee business from the ground up, just for her, because she thinks they are in it together, probably forever. That Chrissy’s never going to leave. All of this would have eventually become a problem to be reckoned with or without Umma. I don’t even think this movie needed Umma, to be honest.
Also, while I won’t say that the film did not need the appearance of the kumiho, or 9-tailed fox spirit…I think there could have been more explanation given as to its significance or a bit more context for it, or maybe just chosen some more appropriate moments for it to show up? I could be missing something here. Am I being nitpicky about this? Or maybe just ignorant? Both?
Sam Raimi’s name is attached to this film, and I think if you go into it expecting some sort of Sam Raimi spectacle, you will be sorely disappointed. If you want to see Sandra Oh in a horror movie though, you’ll probably not have a bad time. If you are looking to find it, I watched UMMA on Netflix.
I cannot possibly sing the praises of Zara’s Bohemian Oud highly enough. I don’t think ten choirs of angels could do it. But let’s just say you took a pillowy bit of the marshmallow fluff those angels were floating around on and stirred it into the lightest, fluffiest chocolate mousse you can imagine, served it in a hand-carved bowl made from some sort of resinous holy wood, and topped it with the incendiary floral of a dusting of gently toasted black pepper, then you might have an inkling what we’re all singing about. Bohemian Oud is a splendid delight made that much more fantastic because at less than $30, it is a freaking steal. Buy a bottle. Buy 12. This stuff is marvelous.
Ok, so, Ariana Grand Cloud… I’ll be honest here, I’m just as surprised as anyone that I really like this scent. There’s not much to say about it. It’s a marshmallow skin scent, a sort of floofy vanilla, a low-key magical-realism, everyday-fabulism, quotidian-fairytale scent…with an elusive hint of sour, canned pears. That’s a weird element that shows up very rarely, but I can’t pretend I didn’t smell it.
Violet Ida from Miller Harris makes me think of something I read recently, that struck me, it’s from The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu: “I am going to tell you a story you already know. But listen carefully, because within it is one you have never heard before.” In Violet Ida we have encountered these elements before: the cool chalky vanilla violet of vintage talcum powder, the smooth floral waxiness, sometimes rosy, sometimes lily, that you associate with the decadent nostalgia of certain decade’s old lipsticks. But then it takes turn– there is carrot seed’s woody-earthy melancholy, the bitter tears from an ancient elemental who has been weeping for a thousand years, and finally twists intriguingly, but dead ends with the barest balsamic sliver of mirrored amber, a resinous veil that’s somehow reflective, too. It broods on all of those other notes and casts them back at the wearer, never allowing further glimpses into what one imagines to be its sweeter, warmer heart. The path just…stops there. I’m thinking maybe it was deceptive to open with that quote; I’m quite certain that there has just got to be more to this story, and maybe I just haven’t unlocked the last leg of the journey yet.
Do I need another smoky vanilla? I don’t know, man. Hypnotizing Fire from The Harmonist is stunning but I hate the way the copy reads and how most reviewers talk about it, all sexy this, seductive that. You people need some cold showers. Or maybe I’m a cranky old hag with a cooter full of cobwebs. I’d liken this perfume more to the silken veils of an ancient seer, gauzy with prophecy and incense fumes, softly draped over their faces and shoulders as they channel the words of the gods from the depths of trance as black pepper pods are tossed into the smoldering embers of sacred, spiced woods. But no matter how fabulous and fantastical the revelations from this ritual might seem to be…at the end of the day, when you lift the veil, it’s just a smoky vanilla scent (even if it does have a really cool name) and I have a handful of scents similar to this sitting on my shelf, already paid for…and this one goes for $250 for a bottle. Le sigh.
Zara’s Unusual Flower is herbal green sharp and peppery acrid, like the med-mist spray of Bactine, the chemical weirdness of insect repellent, and the mineral UV filters of sunblock, along with both chlorinated pool water and salty ocean air. It sounds awful, but you know what, I love it. It reminds me of childhood summer vacations with my family. The sharpness dissipates and it becomes a combination of a sort of cottony crisp linen spray and the classic late- 90’s early aughts omnipresent ubiquity of a certain scent: that sparkling grapefruit, watery cucumber, sweet honeydew melon spa water fragrance that I’m sure some amongst us recall vividly. I do, because it’s the fragrance I associate with my best friend’s townhome, where I housesat for a week, while they were visiting Japan. It’s a fragrance that makes me think of Neon Genesis Evangelion marathons, Soma FM’s Groove Salad downtempo electronica radio station, and oversized cargo pants that unzipped at the knee to better allow for flailing to bootlegged Japanese copies of Dance Dance Revolution. This scent is not “good” (just my opinion, man) but this is an instance where the heart tells the brain “you know nothing,” because friends, I love this perfume.
Trying these samples from Poesie has been a really surprising experience, somewhat because I’d forgotten the notes and the descriptions, and they didn’t seem to square up with my preconceived notions of what they should be…but also because these are just really fun, exciting fragrances and when I did go back and read the inspirations, I was like, oh that’s right, it was some of my dreamy favorites themes and motifs in mythic and gothic literature! Anyway, here are my brief thoughts on a few. Whisper Your Bitter Thingsis a shifting cipher of a scent, a very pretty but unnervingly inconstant beauty. At first sniff I thought it was honeyed tobacco, and then it became an earthy spiced coffee and shortly thereafter a sort of peppery apricot floral. Library Ghost is following the soft susurrus and whispering trail of a floating cotton bedsheet through the stacks, only to corner it in the supernatural romance section, whip the linens from its levitating form and see that the spirit was three sugary bundles of cotton candy heaped on top of one another and a pocket full of adorable cereal marshmallows. Full Moon (at the Temple) is a fragrant burst of citrus and the dank, mineralic tang of limestone and gypsum, cave rock and and the cool, pungent mist of late night rain, like feeding a soggy baby fruit bat a little piece of tangerine.
Honey and the Moon from Tokyo Milk is if Aquolina’s Pink Sugar had a twin, not quite identical, but there are moments where they could swap places and you might not be able to tell the difference. Honey and the Moon has that same spun sugar DNA but it’s the gilded, bronzed slightly burnt brown sugar dusty golden hour version of it. Another difference is that when Pink Sugar dries, it becomes the bark of the cotton candy tree, but with Honey and the Moon, as it wears, there’s something a bit metallic about it, like those candied strands of cottony sugar floss are threaded with copper, like maybe there’s nanobots in it, or little fairies wearing steampunk goggles. And I don’t mention that as a detractor, I love every aspect of this scent and it’s definitely going on the shelf of things that my inner child is going to reach for quite often.
I have a fragrance sampler set from Fat & the Moon. I did have some preconceived notions of what these organic and plant-based scents might be like, and what fits into what I know of this brand’s vibe and aesthetic: hand-crafted, herbal body care for natural, inclusive sustainable healing that aligns with the earth and so on. I have tried a few of their bath soaks and I love their lip paints which I like to wear in an aggressive gash at the center of my mouth like I have been nomming on a blood popsicle, but I’m not so sure about the fragrances.I tried all four of them: Artemis at Dawn, Green Man, Persephone Emerges, and Wolf Shepherd. As you might suspect from how they are made and the ingredients they include, they are all very…earthy. Some in a musty, mossy sort of way, and some more in a fresh mud pie sort of way. I really wanted to love Artemis with its notes of Patchouli, Black Pepper & Rose Geranium, but its Persephone’s Cedar, Coriander & Jasmine that is ultimately the easiest to wear and whose clay and dirt eventually lightens to a dusty floral. I did pay my own money for them, and I’m glad I tried them but they’re really not for me…however if you’re a fan of very natural-smelling botanical fragrances you can grab a set of all four generously on their site for something like $46.
L’Artisan Abyssae is exciting for me in that I do believe I have found another rose that I can tolerate. The camphoraceous aspect of the eucalyptus reigns in that effusive, extravagant jamminess of the rose and lends a quality that while not antiseptic, feels in some way discreet and brooks no frivolity, while the cashmeran enshrouds it in shadowy, softly balsamic woods. It’s a scent that is still and quiet but a tick shy of calming…there is something vaguely unsettling about it. I keep coming back to the name, “Abyssae,” which to me, sounds like it could be another mystically terrifying witch-mother from Dario Argento’s giallo thrillers. There was Suspiriorum, Terenbrarum, and Lacrymarum. Abyssae adds to the ancient triumvirate but instead of joining in on their esoteric and attempt to rule the world, Abyssae’s thing is just sitting around in arcane solitude while her sisters wreak havoc. She’s reserved, she’s dignified, she’s not interested in an invite to your stupid gender reveal party. She’s a rose thinking serious things in silence.
Imaginary Authors Sundrunk I don’t want to call this a novelty scent because that’s a little dismissive, but it is definitely the sort of thing that one might wear to evoke a very particular nostalgia. In my case, it’s being locked outside in the afternoon heat of childhood summer vacations; my mother would hand us each a sticky, effervescent orange push-up pop, and send us outside to, ostensibly, get us out of our hair. The door wasn’t actually locked behind us, but it felt like to seek entry back indoors would be risking the sort of fury and frustration on the part of our mother, that as children, we feared immeasurably. So there’s that syrupy, citrusy, fizziness, the scent of fresh-cut grass and chopped-up jasmine from the lawnmower, a sort of soapy green honeysuckle note, and a bit of a chemical-plasticky element, that you will recognize if you have ever had your damp, brassy, freshly Sun-Ined hair, drying in the sunshine on a sweltering Florida day. I don’t know that this scent is very wearable, but I am glad that I got a chance to sniff it.
Unum’s Ennui Noir is a fragrance that I have been calling Ennui LOL for the past few years and I couldn’t remember why, until I reacquainted myself with a bit of the PR copy I had found at the time, which must be some sort of weird translation. Lots of talk of the void and mediocrity and boredom and emptiness, interwoven with word salad ingredient highlights, hyperactive patchouli, psychotic vanilla, and so on. Here is my favorite snippet: “boredom as well opening you, throws yourself in another dimension, distant from every trivial and certain contamination. There is no certainty in the dark boredom, as it is experienced on You, becoming part, crust, bark of your deep hidden woods. A lonely flute in the fog of yourself.” I shared that with a friend when I first read it, and they got an Etsy seller to embroider a charming little piece of art with that phrase, and it remains one of my most cherished possessions. As to the scent, it literally makes my lip curl in disgust, it’s a bit of a gourmand, and I don’t see where the “noir” aspect comes in. It’s a perfume that affects me on a visceral, gaggy level and it’s hard to pinpoint why, so here’s a word salad of my own to sum it up: woody mildew, softly decaying fig, unsettlingly, cloyingly sweet floral musk, musty-powdery to the point of chalky, putrefying heliotrope pudding.
Eagle-eyed readers of this blog may have noticed that I accidentally published the bare bones of this bookish round-up last month. Le whoopsie! I unintentionally hit the “publish” instead of “save draft” button, and I totally blame WordPress for not throwing up a “are you sure you want to publish now?” warning on the screen to alert me! Yes, it is WordPress’s fault! At any rate, if you caught that, I guess you got a bit of a sneak peek!
It appears that I read quite a few books over the summer! I am not sure how many! I’ve added this up several times, and keep coming up with a different number, but it’s somewhere between 25-29 books. Including 5 graphic novels, which I didn’t write reviews for, but if you are curious, they were: Neil Gaiman’s gorgeous Snow, Glass, and Apples and the swoony sadness of The Dream Hunters; the chaotic dystopian frenzy of Philippe Druillet’s The Night; Jude Ellison S. Doyle Maw, teeming with terrible, monstrous rage, and Dracula, Motherf**ker which had a very cool cover going for it but, sadly, not much else.
Anyway, I suppose “quite a few” books could mean different things to different people. To some of you, 25+ books is probably nothing, you do that in a few weeks. And to other folks, that number is your reading goal for the year. It’s all pretty subjective, I guess. But that many books read in three months feels pretty good to me!
Back to the subject of being eagle-eyed, or, in my case–quite the opposite. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but the problem with being active on so many social media platforms is that I forget where and when, or if I have already shared something. But with regard to all of the books I have written about below, they’re digital versions. Until I get my eyeballs looked at and get some new glasses, my physical books are gathering dust, unread, because I can’t see well enough to read them anymore. And before you get on me about the frequency of eye exams or whatever, lemme stop you there. These are (relatively) NEW glasses I’m wearing right now. I think I got them in late 2021. I’ve been wearing glasses since I was ten years old. My vision is terrible and it’s been getting worse. But in February or March of 2022, I just woke up one day and just couldn’t see the words on the page. It seemed to have happened overnight! So I am waiting until I can get on Yvan’s insurance because my glasses always end up being expensive as hell, and in the meantime, I am muddling by with my Kindle.
(Please don’t ask me if I am still, even as recently as last week, buying physical copies of books anyway. Because I think you know the answer. It’s a problem!)
Let’s dive into the stacks!
Unnatural Creatures by Kris Waldherr. Oh, how I adored the lush, transportive, and terribly heartbreaking beauty of this Frankenstein revisiting and reimagining, lensed through the perspectives of three women, all incredible in their own right. Caroline–Victor Frankenstein’s exquisitely gentle, selfless mother; Elizabeth, the beautiful and accomplished cousin betrothed to Victor, with secret torments and a mysterious past of her own; and poor, broken, and orphaned Justine, devoted to the family–but just how far will she go to prove it? I loved how richly imagined and fully realized these three characters were, and in my rapt, convulsive reading of this tale it dawned on me how desperately it needed to be told. (via Netgalley)
All’s Well by Mona Awad. I’m here for any old weird story that Mona Awad wants to tell us, the more unhinged and unraveling the better (see Bunny, which is a book I have recommended more than any other in the past year or so.) Miranda Fitch, a former actor/current theatre professor, suffers agonizing chronic pain due to injuries incurred in a stage accident a few years prior. Despondent at the lack of compassion and effective treatment from her dismissive, disbelieving doctors, frustrated and furious with the staff and classes who seem to be undermining all of her plans to stage a production of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, and disturbed by her one semi-close friend’s dwindling rations of empathy, Miranda is going a bit out of her mind with grief, pain, and exhaustion. And then: a weird trio of “doctors” grants her a strange, golden cure. Delirium and chaos ensues where wrongs are twistily righted, just desserts are served, as if things are looking up for Miranda it may well be a dizzying descent into “be careful what you wish for” territory. I won’t promise you will love this one if you loved Bunny...but if you did love Bunny, you owe it to your love of Awad’s deliciously dark writing and magically bizarre stories to give All’s Well a read.
How We Disappear Novella and Stories by Tara Lynn Masih. I loved how this captivating collection of diverse stories felt like the intimacy of sharing a strange series of dreams with a friend. Each vignette was as distinct from the other as they were vague in form…they often seemed to begin at the middle, or the end of a journey, and yet they only seemed like a beginning. For all that, though, they were all emotionally filling enough to feel complete. I feel to say more than that is — (via Netgalley)
Daphne by Josh Malerman. I’ll be honest. I went into Daphne a bit skeptical. “A basketball ghost?” I know that’s a lazy summarization but after reading the book’s synopsis, that was my takeaway. A vengeful spirit brutally stalking a high school basketball team. Huh. I don’t know about all that. I mean, I am the reader who skipped through several chapters of Quiddich matches in the Harry Potter books because they were “too sportsball-y.” (Yes, I know JKR is a problem, but I can’t pretend I never read the books.) So when I admit that I found this psychological horror/slasher-esque/coming of age story about Kit and her teammates and the terrifying events befalling them in their beloved hometown of Samhattan to be immediately, irresistibly compelling, I think I was more surprised than anyone. So, yeah…not really a book about basketball. I mean there’s practice and there are games and there’s sportsy jargon being tossed around and camaraderie between the friends, but running through all of that, overshadowing it, underscoring it, are a number of other things. How secrets have a habit of festering and never staying buried, how darkness and demons are better faced than ignored, how it’s important to talk about the uncomfortable things, the painful things, even the pants-shittingly terrifying things. How we are more than the sum of our parts–more than our anxiety, more than being a basketball player, more than being the “funny one”, or “the good one”–but that said, we have to acknowledge and honor those parts of ourselves, too, and that’s what makes us whole. So well done, Malerman. I guess you made me read about a basketball ghost, after all.(via Netgalley)
The Wilderwomen by Ruth Emmie Lang was a unique coming-of-age tale about the bonds of family, both sisterhood and motherhood, and how those threads, through time and circumstance, can tangle and strain, and not always weave the sort of tapestry that you had envisioned–or in retrospect, was perhaps threaded with more secrets and unspoken private darknesses than you had realized. Zadie and Finn are two sisters with special gifts; elder 20-something Zadie has a future sight that she refuses to use, and just-graduated-from-high school Finn has the ability to step into the echo of a memory. Their relationship in a tenuous place after their mother’s mysterious disappearance 5 years prior and Finn’s subsequent placement into a foster home, they embark on a post-graduation beach vacation-turned cross-country adventure, in search of their mother. The sisters reestablishing their trust and rekindling their connection provided some lovely, grounding moments during a journey that proves to be unexpectedly, beautifully magical, and ultimately, happy-sigh-inducingly satisfying.(via Netgalley)
The Memory Librarian by Janelle Monae Well. This is embarrassing. I read The Memory Librarian earlier this summer and I just don’t remember much about it. I was really good about writing up reviews for most of these books immediately after finishing them because I knew there was no way I’d ever be able to remember all of them otherwise. It seems I didn’t even take any notes for this one, just one highlighted passage and an Instagram story where I demanded that everyone “READ * THIS * FUCKING * BOOK.” (Wow, so bossy.) But please don’t take my failings here to mean it wasn’t immersive and really just extraordinary. If you enjoyed or were intrigued with the dystopian world of Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer album, then I think you’ll really savor this speculative anthology that expands on the concepts and narratives she introduced there. Monae and her co-authors expand on this world and explore themes of dreams, imagination, art; time and memory, resistance, identity, and community building, all through the lens of gender-expansive, marginalized people. The quote I highlighted if you’re curious, was this: “… the hard, old way of forgetting, which is remembering with grief.”
Though wildly different in place and setting from the previous books I had read by Catriona Ward, (The Last House on Needless Street and Sundial) the hallucinatory gothic mysteries playing out in the pages of Little Evewere equally, if not twice as compelling. I didn’t quite know what sort of story this was, or where it was going, when I began reading of this enigmatic, isolated family living in a strange, crumbling castle at the watery edge of a small village. As the tale unfolded and I began to settle in, a slew of things happened, murderous things, secret and sacred and brutal things, melancholic and tender things. As the past and present converged, these things twisted in and upon one another, and my “settling in” became increasingly unsettled…but of course in the very best, Catriona Wardiest-sort-of-way. (via Netgalley)
Zoje Stage’s Mothered brought to mind a funny thing I see on the internet sometimes. “Are you funny?” a meme with forgettable visuals asks… and then the gut punch of a punchline: “…Or did you have a happy childhood?” This never fails to elicit a bleak cackle from me, and I gotta tell you, Mothered is a mother-frikkin’ bleak cackle of a book. If you had a happy childhood, then perhaps the book’s premise doesn’t seem like the trappings of a potential horror movie: wherein Grace has just lost her job and her elderly mother, recently widowed and just out of the hospital, has moved in with her. Seems win-win; Grace needs the financial support as she has just purchased a home and being unemployed during a pandemic makes it tough to pay the mortgage, and her mother obviously is going to need a bit of help recuperating after having been unwell. And there is of course a lot of unhappy history there; Grace and her mother are estranged, there’s childhood neglect and trauma –and maybe some other stuff!–that’s never been adequately addressed and with all of this in their past, they are really struggling to reconnect and communicate while living under the same roof again. Grace begins having nightmares, losing time, and sleepwalking, and endures a heartbreakingly gruesome accusation by her mother. What’s going on? Is Grace slowly unraveling from sleep deprivation? Is her mother the one who is losing it? Maybe it’s both?! If you’ve got a dark sense of humor and that cackling darkness was developed as a defense mechanism, I think that you, like me, will find Mothered a grim, gripping giggle of a summer read.(via Netgalley)
I read Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas in one freaking sitting and I can’t remember the last time I did that! It’s got that lush, gorgeous, dark academia “we were perfect and beautiful because we were young” cloistered university student vibe, there’s these gothic, dilapidated structures the students are living in, the whole institution has this vaguely cult-like energy AND there’s a weird, speculative element to it as well. I will say that it is very long on atmosphere and maybe a little short on the plot. Ok, that’s not quite fair, in retrospect, but, and this is why I will never be a fantastic reviewer…I can’t quite put into words what I mean here. But when you dial the atmosphere up to 20 I can forgive anything! A few of the things I liked about this tale of sequestered students in this hidden-away and vaguely controversial school are the things it didn’t have going for it: it didn’t feel YA to me (I don’t know if the book is or it isn’t, but once I get that vibe, I lose interest) and it wasn’t too “here’s a 30-year-old thinking about that time their friend was murdered in college and hey look here’s a class reunion where secrets are going to be revealed” and it wasn’t too “wizarding world of whatever.” It was very much set in the real world of things…but just slightly…not. And don’t get me wrong, I’ll read all of those things I just pooh-poohed, but Catherine House was the perfect combination of none of those things and it was exactly what I needed.
The Rule of Threeby E.G. Scott was sold to me as “three couples whose game night goes horribly wrong”…and that’s not quite it. I was expecting all three couples in the same house, playing the same game, and you know, someone’s necromancer summons a foul entity that shows up in corporeal meatspace and does some real-life murder and mayhem. No. That’s not this book. I probably should have read the whole synopsis, not just one line (but I think they need to revisit that line!) So, actually, the wives are having a book club night and at the same time, the husbands are having a poker night. All three men end up either dead or hospitalized, and if you’re thinking “gee, I bet they deserved it,” you’d be right; all three of them were pieces of work. So, who did it, and why? In this exclusive, posh community, it seems like every neighbor has a motive…and that’s not even counting the various reasons and resentments their own spouses might be harboring. Speaking of the wives, their internal dialogues/external conversations sound so familiar to one another that at first, I had a hard time telling who was who among the three main characters. They eventually differentiate themselves, but the “hive-mind” feel to their thoughts did throw a bit of a stumbling block for immersing myself in their story. Was it still a gripping story, fraught with tension, intrigue, and drama? Sure, it had all of that, and it was a fast-paced story that eventually drew me in and kept me engaged. I’ve just got a few nit-picky problems, is all. (via Netgalley)
The Sacrifice by Rin Chupeco A legendary island notorious for curses, missing people, and human sacrifices becomes the set for a Hollywood film crew in this tale of you-dumb-people-shoulda-left-well-enough-alone. Mysterious local, teenage Alon, becomes the guide for the documentary team, which is headed up by their fearless leader, a reality show survivalist who is hell-bent on making a comeback. Or is there more to it than that? Everyone is a bit more, or a lot more than they seem on this island where mysterious things breathe and move and won’t stay dead …or were never really alive…if they were ever really there at all? I loved the setting and the atmosphere of this story, which I thought was thrillingly original. The nonbinary Alon was aloof and enigmatic, and very, very cool, and if I was looking for some YA horror, I would have loved this. But I wasn’t, and I didn’t realize that’s… sort of what this story is. is. If that’s your thing, you’ll dig this.(via Netgalley)
Earthlings by Sayaka Murata. This book is profoundly weird and unpleasant, tackling themes of abuse and control and personal autonomy and individual spirit vs. tradition and conformity–and there is absolutely nothing subtle about it. Which is not to say I didn’t like it. Young Natsuki doesn’t feel that she fits in, is treated horribly by her own family, and is in fact convinced that she is an alien from another planet. Her only comfort is her cousin Yuu, who either feels similarly on the alien front–or whom she has convinced that he feels that way because he does seem easily led. After a disastrous family visit to her grandparent’s mountain home where in the course of the stay she is forbidden contact with Yuu (maybe for good reason), she is thrust back into regular home/school life again, where she is being molested by a teacher, but no one believes her. Natsuki’s existence as an adult is deeply informed by her experiences as a child and she’s grown apart from society with, some might say, fairly antisocial and anti-establishment beliefs–and she still believes she’s an alien. She meets a man that she relates to, in a way, as he has had traumatic childhood experiences of his own and has grown up a jaded individual who also holds some unorthodox beliefs as well. In a bizarre bargain struck between them, they marry, but it’s definitely the sort of marriage made to keep their respective families off their backs and certainly not a love match. It doesn’t necessarily work as they’d hoped, and to escape scrutiny, they reconnect with cousin Yuu and go to stay in the now-abandoned family home up in the mountains. I’ve toned down the bizarre elements of the plot, so I don’t think I’ve actually given much away… even though it seems like I’ve walked you through the whole story!
Influencer Islandby Kyle Rutkin. I can’t decide if this book was dumb or brilliant. Or maybe the brilliance lies in exploiting how dumb we are, the people reading this, or those who would watch something like this if it actually existed. A concept consisting of obnoxious social media celebrities lauded for …nothing, really– just as influencers in real life–pitted against each other on some desert island version of Big Brother Battle Royale Hunger Squid Games Or Whatever. Masterminded and orchestrated by some enigmatic avant-garde artiste who paints portraits of famous people right before they die. NONE of these contestants found that suspicious enough to have qualms about being under this guy’s thumb for a whole season’s worth of a tv show? But as obnoxious as the personalities were, I would have liked these characters to be more fully fleshed out, to feel something (even triumph!) when they die. But no, I felt nothing. I will say though, that as silly as I thought the story was, it did absolutely suck me in and keep me feverishly reading to find out who this masked artist was and what the heck was their deal. So I don’t know, I was brilliantly suckered in because maybe I too, am dumb. Or maybe the book was a brilliant commentary on all of this dumbness? At this point, I don’t even know. (via Netgalley)
In Full Immersion, Gemma Amor deftly spins a web fraught with deeply uncomfortable themes. Depression, grief, and trauma are tangled with ideas of memory, potential, possibility, and the vagaries of the human mind, and at the center of this cat’s cradle of weird science, pseudo realities, and the expanding horizons of dreams, is a woman in a medically-induced state of hypnagogia, deeply immersed in an experimental therapy. Will these pioneering explorations into her psyche save her sanity– and her life– or is she the catalyst for something much bigger, and is there much more at stake? I have a lot of admiration for the bold breadth and scope and vision of this story, all of the difficult fears and issues it examined and disturbing themes explored, without once losing sight of the human at the heart of it, the humanity at risk. If Full Immersion is a general indication of what to expect of this author’s works, then I look forward to reading many, many more of their offerings (via Netgalley)
An almost unbearably slow burn of creeping dread and atmosphere dialed up to 20, Darcy Coates’ Gallows Hillkeeps its secrets close…until you learn all of those bonkers secrets and they’re getting *too* close, as a matter of fact, now they’re getting in the house and they are after you! Or after Margot, that is! Margot Hull has just inherited the family business, a winery up on Gallows Hill, on land that the townspeople believe is cursed. Her parents, from whom she has been estranged for reasons unknown to her, have recently died mysteriously in their beds, and the undertaker is doing nothing to convince her it was a peaceful passing. Alone in the rambling house that’s falling into ruin, Margot begins seeing strange, awful visions, and hearing noises that panic and terrify her. She comes to learn that the property’s curse–a terrifying bane about which the housekeepers. maintenance people, and workers at the winery are disturbingly nonchalant– is in fact, shockingly real, and that Margot herself may be at the heart of it… and that it will get much, much worse (via Netgalley)
Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney is a locked room mystery featuring an estranged, dysfunctional family with lots of secrets, and a really atmospheric location in the form of a crumbling old gothic home that gets cut off from the world when the tide is high. Our main character, Daisy, was born with a bum ticker and may be …an unreliable narrator? It’s Daisy’s beloved Nana’s 80th birthday and the family is gathering together for the first time in years, for the celebration. Everyone is already having a perfectly awful time…and then someone is murdered. It’s a bit much, in an over-the-top Clue murder mystery sort of way, and there is a twist, which you may either love or hate. I thought it was fun!
The Hollowsby Daniel Church is proper scary. I found myself during the course of it –quite literally– forgetting to breathe! I have a fondness for mysteries and murder set in small, isolated wintry settings, and anything supernatural is a plus, so I was sure to have a good time with this intensely creepy story of a tiny village, trapped, cut off from the world, and banding together against terrifyingly vicious nocturnal creatures in the middle of a once-every-century strength snowstorm. And of course, there are the human monsters to contend with, in the form of a murderous clan of scumbags living in a farm at the age of town, and the subterranean Boss Monsters, who if, awoken, usher in the end-times. All this from a story that started with a dead guy, mistaken for a hiker who froze to death! This is the case of a story delivering much, much more than I was expecting, and it was indeed, a lot of fun. (via Netgalley)
Some titles with the word “Dark” in it, that I enjoyed but don’t have much to say about are: Dark Things I Adore by Katie Lattari: artists, secrets, dark ambitions, trauma, murder, and revenge–very good, I liked this one and Things We Do In The Darkby Jennifer Hiller: murder, dark pasts, celebrities, podcasts, not super dark- I would recommend if you’re looking for a fluffier mystery
The It Girlby Ruth Ware: I will always read Ruth Ware, but her stories are consistently mediocre; college secrets coming back to haunt a 30-something, blah blah murder and twists and whatever)
Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter(thanks to Elizabeth of Reading Wryly for recommending this one) I had never read any Karin Slaughter before but she is definitely the antidote to the ubiquitously fluffy, mediocre Ruth Ware (sorry Ruth.) Karin Slaughter goes there and goes pretty hard while she’s at it. In Pretty Girls, the Carroll family is ripped apart when oldest sister Julie goes missing and in the ensuing years is never found, either dead or alive. The remaining siblings, Claire and Lydia, have grown apart, live drastically different lives, and are virtual strangers to one another –until Claire’s husband is murdered right in front of her and then in the following days, finds some truly distressing, reprehensible things on his computer. What follows is a gruesome, graphic, twisty, and harrowing story the likes of which I have not read since I was really young, like eleven years old or so–which id immensely, intensely disturbing itself– and picking out paperbacks from the used bookstore solely based on their lurid, provocative covers.
Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough. While I really enjoyed the last title I read from this author (Behind Her Eyes) this one was pretty forgettable. As Emma approaches her 40th birthday, she is quietly freaking out. But not for the typical, over-the-hill reasons. Much like her own mother in the weeks before her 40th, Emma is experiencing increasingly worse (and terrifyingly weird) bouts of insomnia, which in her mother’s case, resulted in the attempted murder of her own child, and a mental breakdown. And it’s possible Emma may share the same fate. I don’t want to say I didn’t enjoy the journey of this story, but the fact that I really had to struggle to recall how it ended is a bit telling, right?
Any Man by Amber Tamblyn. So the actress from Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (which is how I tend to think of her, sorry if that’s reductive Amber T.) is also an author and I do actually own a book of her poetry (Dark Sparkler, which I have never read. Again, sorry Amber.) In Any Man, we learn the stories of a handful of men, their harrowing experiences of sexual assault, and their attempts at picking up the pieces and living through that trauma. What makes this interesting–if that’s the right word to use here– is that this shockingly violent serial rapist is a woman. I don’t think I want to share any more than that.
I received an invite code from an outreach person at Shop My Shelf who said that some perfume brand brought me to their attention. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I do know that I like to curate lists of things I like! So I made a little page for myself and now you can shop my skincare and fragrances and home goods and various other things! These are affiliate links, which means I may eventually receive some commissions someday. I have also put a permanent link on my site, right up top next to the Amazon shop link, to make it easy for you to find.
So…am I an influencer now? Have I finally MADE IT??? MUAHAHAHAHHAAAA.
*wipes away a tear in influencer*
..and yes, I am totally stalling. I do have a Stacked installment of book reviews for you that I hope to post very, very soon!