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.


If you enjoy these peeks at the authors and artists I love, 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 Art of Fantasy now has a Korean-language edition! So this was actually a crowd-funded project, I guess? It looks as if all three of my books were crowd-funded by this particular Korean publisher. That’s wild!



I probably wouldn’t be so ridiculously excited to receive these foreign language editions of my books if I hadn’t had to fight so hard for the publisher to send them to me. It still feels quite novel and thrilling!
Ah, that’s silly. I’d be excited regardless.



I love this About the Author translation: “S. Elizabeth is a writer and curator who pursues decorative beauty. Her essays and interviews on esoteric art are published in [a whole bunch of stuff] …and her shaman culture blog ‘Anxious’, which covers music, fashion, horror, nostalgia, sadness, etc…”

My blog ‘ANXIOUS’. I have never felt so seen.



16 Jan

In September of 2017, I posted a fancy lady vampire painting to my various social medias. opining that surely my friends had it in their hearts to pool their resources and purchase it for me to hang in my boudoir for all eternity, to the tune of a cool 14K. As it happened, no one loved me enough for that! Regardless, I never forgot her lovely, spoiled little face, and I continued the tradition of posting the painting every now and again over the ensuing years. I loved her so much that I wanted to include her in The Art of Darkness, but alas, Richard Bober, the artist, never answered even one of my approximate 90 billion emails. it was not to be.

Sometime in the year 2021, Handsome Devils Puppets and I started plotting and scheming on the idea of coaxing her off the canvas and transferring her soul into the floopy-limbed, fabulously attired vessel of a custom marionette, as a sister puppet for Sei Shōnagon and Maria Germaova.



The project began in earnest in June of 2023, a month after I had written a blog post that blew up everywhere and got a lot of attention, inquiring about the mysteriously unknown artist of an iconic book cover for a certain edition of a much-beloved book. I was privy to a lot of speculation and chatted quite frequently with the podcaster who was eventually to report on it; I’d pass along more guesses and suggestions that I was receiving from blog commenters and emails, and she’d share industry tidbits and whispers that she was amassing in her detective work. A name eventually emerged that one or two people seemed quite certain about, and though it was a bit of a wild ride getting there–it was eventually revealed that those eagle-eyed individuals were correct. Y’ALL. Richard freaking Bober –the artist responsible for my favorite gorgeous goldilocked vampire mean girl– was the artist who created THAT cover art for Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time!!


That cover was something I wanted to include in The Art of Fantasy, but I thought, “Why bother? no one knows who the artist is; who would I even ask for permission?” But isn’t it funny that both these pieces of art caught my eye for various reasons, and without even realizing they were the same artist, I was hoping to have them in the pages of separate books?

I later learned through interviews with Richard Bober’s family and nephews that he was a bit of a recluse, and I don’t think he emailed much, so chances are, I was never going to receive a response to my inquiries anyway! And sadly, he died in late 2022, so he never lived to get proper credit for that book cover. From everything I’ve heard, though, I’m not sure he would have even cared!

So in a very roundabout way, this feels like it has come round full circle. Or looped around several times and tangled confusingly because I do tell a rambling story.

Anyway, isn’t she beautiful? She’s totally gonna steal my soul tonight. Worth it.

If you enjoy these peeks at the artists I love, 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? Maybe next time I can afford the 14K painting.



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The Princess Bride (Cover for Ballantine Books)

I first became aware of Ted CoConis’s artwork in 2015 when I had searched out the individual responsible for this cover art for the first edition of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. Seeing this starkers bird-headed madam made me wonder if I was remembering a totally different book? Or if the artist had even read the book at all??

I shared this on Facebook at the time, and a friend suggested that, as CoConis was a highly in-demand illustrator, it’s possible that Ballantine had bought several finished but unsold paintings of his in a batch, as his work would have been cheaper that way, and they stuck this one on Princess Bride because it was a fantastical-looking thing. That makes as much sense as anything else, but I still wonder what CoConis thought about it after the fact, especially if he was familiar with the story!


poster art for Labyrinth

A few years later, when I was putting together the initial list of artists that I wanted to include in the pages of The Art of Fantasy, CoConis’ movie poster art for Labyrinth came to mind. Labyrinth, that whimsical yet unsettling masterpiece of 80s cinema, had etched itself onto the childhood psyche of my generation. Sarah’s iconic, etheral, dream-spun ball gown, the seductive charm of the Goblin King, and the fantastical creatures woven from Jim Henson’s puppetry magic – all captured in CoConis’ poster, a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors and enigmatic shadows. It was a call I couldn’t ignore, a chance to explore the artistic wellspring that gave birth to such a treasured piece of pop culture. Unfortunately, for some reason or another (I honestly don’t know why), the publisher could not attain permission for this. SAD TROMBONE.

Curiosity piqued nonetheless, I delved deeper into CoConis’ world, only to discover a dazzling phantasmagoria of fantastical visions that transcended movie posters and book covers. His art isn’t merely illustration; it’s a prismatic panopticon, a protoplasmic symphony where sensuality and caprice entwine. Coconis was a psychedelic storyteller painting the pulse of emotions into fantastical tapestries.  And his artistry wasn’t chained to a single canvas. It thrummed on album covers, ignited imaginations on movie posters, and whispered inscrutable promises on book jackets (like the cryptic siren above )

Accolades were plentiful for CoConis. From the Society of Illustrators to prestigious museums, his work drew awards and recognition, tangible markers of a vision that enchanted audiences. While CoConis’ earthly journey ended in 2023, the echoes of his groovy magic still resonate powerfully. Here are a few of my favorites below.

Dorian Gray (Movie poster for American International)


Created in 1975 for the cover of Jerzy Kosinski’s The Devil Tree, oil on board, 1975


The Sims Sisters (Illustration for Ladies Home Journal)


film poster for The Man of La Mancha


Shostakovich Symphony No. 14 (Album cover for RCA Records) mixed media on board 31×31


album art for Year Long Disaster – Black Magic; All Mysteries Revealed, 2010


If you enjoy these peeks at the artists I love, 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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While I’ve certainly had some high points and some pretty interesting things happen last year, I’ve begun looking at it overall like this: did I keep my promises, honor my commitments, and do everything I said I would do in 2023?

This is a good question to ask myself because I wasn’t always very responsible or good at that.  But yes, I definitely was. I kept my word, I delivered on all of my commitments, and not only was no one left hanging, and nothing was half-assed– I think I went magnificently above and beyond everything that was asked of me. I consider that a wildly successful year. Maybe that’s super cringe and corny and Pollyanna. I don’t care. It’s important to me to be someone that people can count on and trust and be glad they did. And I was, to the very best of my ability.

(Ok yes I also wrote another book and spearheaded the solving of a decades-long art mystery! And those were very cool things, too!)

But I also liked a bunch of things, bought a bunch of things, made some recipes, and read some books. if you are interested in any or all of that, below is a roundup of all of my favorites from 2023. Be sure to share some of your 2023 favorites and highlights in the comments, as well!

(note: the pictures used for the collage in the featured image are not mine; they are from here, here, and here.)


Some of my favorite books this year …

✹ In Natural Beauty by Ling Ling Huang, our unnamed narrator (which becomes a more and more interesting choice the further into the story we delve into) is a former musician of formidable talent who has abandoned her passion for the piano after her beloved parents are in a terrible accident. The story opens as she is struggling in NYC, living in a cruddy basement apartment with crappy roommates, barely eking out a living, let alone earning enough money to pay for her parent’s rehab facility. She is then offered the opportunity to work at Holistik, a boutique selling wildly coveted, expensive–and perhaps experimental– products and services to beauty, age, and wellness-obsessed celebrities. The story is a beautiful meditation on grief, family, and beauty itself. And while it skewers the cult of beauty in a surreal and, I might even say satirical way –it also feels utterly, gorgeously sincere. The writing is lyrical, but it doesn’t veer purple. And the story is at turns beautiful, horribly grotesque, and very sad. If you like the imaginative strangeness of Mona Awad’s books, the crusty, bodily grossness of Otessa Moshfegh, or if you enjoyed the weirdness and WTFery of A Touch of Jen by Beth Morgan, then you may dig this one. Magical realism, alternate reality, speculative fiction? I don’t know what you call these stories, but if you gravitate toward books like this, Natural Beauty will be a favorite.

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

Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura Middle-schooler Kokoro is shy and struggling and has not been to class in quite some time. Her classmates are bullying her, and what begins as anxiety and fear about going back to school becomes a phobia about even leaving the house at all. Her parents are frustrated and are seeking out alternative schooling options, but for the time being, they allow Kokoro to stay home while they work during the day. One afternoon, a portal appears in her bedroom mirror, and she enters to find herself in a castle …where six other kids her age have apparently found their way as well. They learn they have some interesting things in common and were summoned for a reason, but they only piece it all together over the course of getting to know each other and becoming friends. I loved this magical, heartwarming story, and guess what! It’s a movie, too!

Mary: An Awakening of Terror by Nat Cassidy was a title that had been languishing in my TBR pile for a year or so. Turns out that middle-aged, menopausal Mary is probably my all-time favorite character and I am sorry I waited so long to get to it! Hot flashes are one thing, but grotesque hallucinations, losing time, and homicidal urges? Mary’s pretty sure something’s not quite right but of course, her doctor just pooh-poohs her concerns. I know I haven’t said much but don’t want to say anything else and risk having said too much! This book is gross and fun and you might think “What business does a man have writing about a middle-aged woman?” I thought that, too. Make sure you read the Afterword.

Children of Paradise by Camila Grudova: I guess didn’t write a proper review for this one, but there’s not much to tell, plot-wise.  A young woman begins working at a historical cinema and becomes part of the insular little group that works there. I think this weird, crusty little slice-of-life story was my very favorite of 2023. A recommendation from my best bean Sonya, who has three incredible short stories (one here, one here, and one here) published this year. Actually, forget everything I said above. Sonya’s stuff is by far and away my favorite.

Some of my favorite perfumes this year …

✹ Lvnea’s PÊCHE OBSCÈNE is a glorious fragrance, but what I mean is glorious in the way that something monstrous and magnificent stalks the dead zone of night, by stealth and in the dark. This is peach, irradiated and ashen and grown over with moss and broken bird’s nests and salted against curses, curls of ferric iron to both ward away and contain within. A peach more lore and legend than it ever had life, a peach whose shadow looms uneasily far beyond its ruined flesh. Juices corrupt with the grave dirt of vetiver and patchouli and oozing with osmanthus’ strange leathery/jammy incense, Peche Obscene is an undead lich of a peach, and it is absolutely, terrifyingly, bewitching in the way that all delicious forbidden things are.

Corfu Kumquat from Aedes de Venustas: In a small Greek village built on the slopes of the island’s highest mountain is a quietly atmospheric little ghost town with only two or three permanent inhabitants. One of them is a kumquat that never fully ripened, too sour and pithy for marmalade and liqueurs, too small and strange to be of much practical use. Perhaps it was overlooked. Perhaps it forged its own little path in life. It’s now the local guide for the village, steering tourists hither and yon along cobblestone roads, sharing historical anecdotes and eerie legends, and finally depositing them at the gift shop once the excursion has concluded. As the crowd disperses, it reaches into its pocket for a cigarette and lights up in the cool shade of an ancient stone cottage, exhaling smoke through its citrus peel pores, whirling and curling in satisfying vaporous salt-air swirls, while catching glimpses of the sun glinting on the sea through the undulating mountains.

Noire Encens from Mad et Len POV: you are a brooding pencil, prone to bouts of melancholia, that only scribbles at midnight and has only ever been used to draft architectural sketches of gargoyle-adorned gothic cathedrals and crumbling medieval monasteries and Baudelairian poetry and you listen to a lot of Cold Cave and Chelsea Wolfe. This one is discontinued, but you can still get samples here.

Tomie from Black Phonix Alchemy Lab: Tomie crawls beneath your skin, a slithery jasmine-amber-flecked marzipan cotton candy ghost musk of a scent, but not a fresh, hot carnival cone of the stuff–rather, the soft, sticky filaments of floss caught in your uniquely self-scented hair at the end of the night. And maybe a bewitched and bothered someone is bizarrely compelled to snip a few of those sweet, tangled tendrils while you’re sleeping because they’re an absolute psychopath, and maybe when you wake up in the morning the scissors are gripped in your own hands, the sultry tresses are tucked into your own little etched sandalwood box, and maybe, perhaps, the psychopath is you. Utterly obsessed with yourself.

Green Spell from Eris Parfums: This perfume is as if a celestial being of 100% chlorophyll descended from the heavens, its wings a crushing flutter of many leaves, broad and flat, delicate and curled, waxen, rubbery, pliant, radiating every variation of veridian. In a voice like seeping moss, like eroding rock, like insect wings disintegrating into the earth, it whispers to you, “Like, be not afraid, or whatever.” It’s the endless trailing succulent stem of a bittersweet pennywort patch through the soil until you reach a darkly massive gnashing malachite rootball nightmare. You awake with emerald scratchings on your palm and jade lashings of fern in your teeth.

Estate Carnation from Solstice Scents: A deeply gothic glamour amber, a musky murky chypre-adjacent fragrance that smells simultaneously like the figure in the white nightdress running from the manor house with the lone candle lit in the window at midnight and the surprise succubus that this figure is secretly possessed by–it’s all the iconic tropes of Avon Satanic Romance novel, and it’s perfect.


Favorite music and movies…

✹ I listened endlessly to the harrowing dreamy southern gothic bleakness of Ethel Cain’s Preacher’s Daughter, and also a lot of the drowning disembodied coldwave of Molchat Dolma (another Sonya rec, probably from ages ago, but I am slow) and the chilly melancholic The Strings soundtrack. was finally released (the movie came out in 2020 or so!) I also listened to Chelsea Wolfe’s hauntingly atmospheric “Dusk” single approximately seventy gazillion times.

✹ I watched very few movies because of all the reading I was trying to do, but in October, I recall seeing Evil Dead Rise, which was genuinely freaky as hell. And also Images, which was definitely not new, but rather a hazy 70s-era gem–strange and surreal and utter perfection. Also, the Deadloch series on Amazon Prime, following a string of murders in a small, extremely weird Tasmanian town, described by its creators as “Broadchurch but make it funny.”

Favorite social media…

✹ Booktubers Reading Wryly and Jen Campbell where I get tons of book recommendations and wonderful reviews brimming with nuance and insight. And this Azerbaijani couple, just going about their daily business of gardening and cooking on their country life blog. There are chickens and rabbits and flowers and bumblebees and breads and meat buns, and it’s just a gloriously peaceful thing to watch.  The Wolf In Lace on TikTok, whose dark fashion finds will grow your wardrobe and break your band account’s spirit. Joyceful Tingles, whose ASMR videos are a batshit delight. Two other Instagram accounts that purely just make me happy are the silly little illustrations of clunky picnic and the acerbic whimsy that is existential crisis cakes, baking the sentiments of bittersweet human experience into neon-frosted dreams.



Stuff and things: 

The Clio Cushion I hate to wear makeup, and it is the only foundation-type thing I will ever wear again. As a matter of fact, the only thing I order from Sephora anymore is a vitamin C serum. Tell me what you swear by, so I can quit them for good!

The Huskin Bee tea, is a mix of black and puer teas with crystallized ginger and apple pieces from Old Growth Alchemy that we enjoy for our afternoon tea break.

✹ These oversized amber wine glasses from Viski

✹ The Bata dress in a Rorschach print from Oseiduro.

Lauren Rad’s lovely sock patterns (I knit at least 10 of them in 2023!)

✹ Tinctures and balms from Banefolk

Le Bon Shop boyfriend socks (these are a forever favorite, I mention them every year)

✹ These Japanese bath salts are also an every year, every time favorite and that has not changed.

Weird Liza’s Colorama coloring books for turning your anxiety into art

✹ This French press looks very nice and keeps your coffee hot for a long time. This is NOT cheap, but even Yvan (who really balked at the price) admits it’s one of the best purchases we’ve ever made.

✹ This soda water and vinegar drink is SO GOOD, and it’s a cheat because I found it on December 31, 2023… but does it count if I wished I’d found it sooner?

✹ This Totoro airpod case sparks joy

✹ This little soy sauce dispenser

✹ This fancy glass cloche match holder thing and this “10 minute aroma incense matches” and  this incredibly frivolous wick trimmer.

Pretty picture frames from Simon’s Shop. These are inexpensive and really pretty.

✹ These extremely cozy joggers & even cozier slippers

✹ This colorful braided area rug which really tied the whole parlor together

My favorite new kitchen apron

Vintage Asta cookware I was influenced by this cozy coffee account on TikTok that has a certain pan in every video, and it took me a while to find out what they were called, but I eventually found them and I cook with them literally every day now.

✹ A pretty new quilt for the bed

✹ Hinoki-scented nail and cuticle oil

✹ The Luxelift pullover bra from Knix really helped with some body dysmorphia that I didn’t even know I was carrying around with me. It looks like they updated it and are calling it the Revolution bra now.

✹ I don’t think I purchased a lot of new jewelry this year, but I continue to love my rings from Flannery Grace Good, my necklaces from Bloodmilk, my earrings from Alexis Berger, and I really love this Forget Me Not pendant from Seance.

✹ There was also not a lot of new art other than a stunning piece from Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos,  some antique pieces from Roses and Rue, AND a new treasure from Handsome Devil Puppets which we have been conspiring on since 2020 and is arriving to me TODAY!!!

Turtlenecks, I would cover every part of my body with a turtleneck onesie if I could, but the logistics for peeing in that getup are pretty dicey, and I have a tiny bladder, so it’s never gonna be a viable option. I prefer to show as little skin as possible–not for prudish reasons, but rather, I guess as I’ve gotten older, I have reached the conclusion that my body is absolutely no one’s business.

You ever hear people say things like, “Why do you wear such shapeless dresses? You should show off your figure!” Fuck that. I don’t owe my body to anybody, in figure-flattering clothes or otherwise. And fuck “flattering,” too. Life’s short. Be comfortable. I’ll wear my turtlenecked potato sacks, and you can keep your mouth shut because what I wear and how I wear it and what my body looks like under my clothes is none of your goddamn business.

As you can tell, I feel pretty strongly about this. But also, I love turtlenecks because I wear my wear up a lot and my neck gets cold. I like these thin ones from J. Crew for layering and I have a few obnoxious floral prints from brands like Scotch & Soda. They’re all sold out for now, but I just saw this one from another brand, and I think it’s calling to me…



Recipes and such…

✹ Soup for breakfast:  I am a savory breakfast person through and through. Whatever you’re going to try and tempt me with–french toast, pancakes, waffles, cold cereal, yogurt and fruit, smoothies with the works–it’s all a hard pass for me. I don’t have a sweet tooth in general, but in the mornings, the thought of something sweet makes me want to barf. My perfect breakfast would be a lightly toasted (but ideally fresh and just warm, not toasted) everything bagel with scallion cream cheese, lox, capers, onions, tomatoes, all that stuff. My second favorite breakfast would be inspired by traditional Japanese breakfasts: a piece of grilled fish, a rolled omelet, a bowl of soup, some rice, and various pickles and assorted veggies.

Using the latter as a jumping point, I paired it down to just the soup portion, and over the course of the year, I have fine-tuned how I make it. Water and soup stock powder, lots of veggies, a protein, and maybe a starch. I really like zucchini, cabbage, bok choi, Japanese eggplant, and enoki mushrooms, but often, I’ll just toss in whatever I have lying around. If I have it in the fridge, fresh corn is extra lovely! For protein, I’ve added shrimp, mini scallops, tofu, or marinated pork belly, or if I have them in the freezer, these little wontons are particularly nice in the broth. Sometimes, I’ll throw in a few chewy rice cake tubules, or maybe serve a bit of rice and pickles on the side if I have extra time, but most of the time, we just slurp our soup at our desks when we start the work day.

I should note that the above is my summer recipe, but when the weather gets colder, I like my soup spicier. All the extras are the same, but I will include whatever kind of kimchi I have on hand, along with the water and hon dashi, when I get the pot of soup started.

✹ Pasta or gnocchi with a creamy gochujang sauce, you can find variations on this recipe everywhere, but I like it with spicy Italian sausage,  lots of garlic and lacinato kale

✹ I’ve been making this kani salad a lot lately! One recipe calls for adding tobiko or masago as well as furikake, and it adds a good texture. I serve it over rice with pickles and soup on a summer morning. Speaking of pickles, we ate so much of this Filipino cucumber salad this year

✹ Early last fall, I made this French apple cake, and as someone who doesn’t really even like cake all that much, I’ll tell you what. This is the best cake I have ever eaten.

✹ I remembered to make cardamom buns for Christmas this year, and they turned out so beautifully. I know they are regularly thought of as a Swedish teatime treat, but I think it makes such a lovely offering for a winter holiday breakfast or brunch.



Stuff that is not things…

The idea of doing the bare minimum when you don’t want to do anything at all.  Sometimes, you just have one of those days where you wake up and think, “I don’t wanna!” The air feels heavy, your bones creak like haunted floorboards, and even the thought of brushing your teeth seems monumental. It’s on these days that “the bare minimum” whispers like a really benign and actually pretty wise devil on your shoulder.

Yes, it’s a phrase often frowned upon and seen as synonymous with apathy or laziness. But I think critics miss the crucial point: the minimum means putting forth the least amount of action and energy necessary to get the desired output (or something very close to it.) It’s not about doing nothing, it’s about doing just enough.  Don’t want to work on your story or write that essay? Write a sentence and walk away. Don’t want to exercise? Pace around the house for 5-10 minutes. Don’t want to cook dinner? This is one that makes me feel particularly guilty, even though it’s just me and Yvan. Bagged salad mix and frozen chicken tenders, then. For housework, take care of whatever is bothering you that you can actually see. If you can’t see it, it can wait (unless it’s a gas leak or something, but obviously, you’re the best judge of what’s happening in your home.) If it’s work-work, do the things that can’t wait until tomorrow. Do just enough to keep the wheels turning, the bills paid, the body fueled. Enough to not crumble, to maintain a sliver of forward momentum.

It’s a pragmatic choice prioritizing self-preservation, and on days like these, that’s as good as it gets–and that is totally fine.

Doing things for future-Sarah. This is going to sound so corny and annoying and maybe like advice that your parents would give you. But there are probably readers amongst you who are young enough to be my children, so I guess I should just lean into it. Also, this will sort of sound somewhat the opposite of what I just wrote in the above bullet about doing as little as you can get away with doing.  But hear me out.

Ok, so you know those times you’re staring at a mountain of dishes in the sink after dinner in the evening? And you want to read or watch Netflix or literally anything else instead of cleaning that up? Just do the dishes. Tackle it and get it done and over with. Future-you at 6 am in the morning will thank you for it when you walk into a clean kitchen and don’t have to face a sinkful of nasty, crusty lasagna pans and salad bowls when you’d rather be getting coffee started. I don’t know of any other examples that resonate as strongly as the dishes, but whatever the thing is that’s worse to face in the morning? Look out for future-you and do that thing now. This is something I have resisted for years, and what it took was looking at future-me as a completely separate person from present-me and pondering on how I will go out of my way to make other people’s lives easier, but not my own. But if future-me is actually “other” from me, well, that’s another person, and so it’s second nature for me to want to make that other person’s life less complicated than it has to be. Which is wild because that’s a complicated way of coming to what should be a foregone conclusion.

Realizing that I love reading. Not books. I mean, yes, of course– I love books! But I love what they represent, the stories and knowledge and promises they hold. The physical medium of books themselves…? Maybe not so much. I mean, I can appreciate their beauty and their solid heft in the hand, absolutely, but I do not feel the need to HAVE them. Last year, with the exception of some nonfiction, poetry, and titles that a few friends wrote, I purchased fewer books than any year in recent memory. Out of the 220 books I read, less than 20 were physical copies–most of them were digital copies from the library or digital ARCs from Netgalley. Realizing this, I am now beginning to downsize my own collection. If it is on my shelf and the possibility that it will be reread is very low (which, if I am being honest, is most, if not all, of the fiction on my shelves) then I am either going to donate it somewhere or sell it on Pango. I’ve already got a little shop set up! (Pssst…there’s a current 10% discount running!) I think I’d rather save my shelf space for reference material and art books. And knick-knacks, probably.

Getting back into dream journaling For many years, I used to wake every morning and hunch over my pages, scribbling images and impressions of dreams from the night before fast-fast-fast before they’d fly out of my head. Somewhere in 2021, in the midst of house-moving chaos, I just…stopped. But I recently began immersing myself in the pages of Naomi Sangreal’s Little Hidden Doors: A Guided Journal For Deep Dreamers, and it’s really inspired me to get back into it! My dreams run from the mundane (back on the line at Checkers making hamburgers at rush hour and wondering why they haven’t paid me in 25 years) to the ridiculous (last night Matt Berry whispered the word “tumescent” in my ear) and I like to remember and linger on all of it!

…and slightly related to the above in terms of journaling: I have tons of lovely blank journals that just feel too pretty to write in, especially if I am not using them for something special and splendid and perfect. But that’s silly and I want to fill those blank pages,  so one by one I have been using them as “idea journals.” Once a day, I open a page and write down an idea. It could be some passing impressions of a perfume, a particularly good line of dialogue from a movie that struck a chord with me, or menu ideas for Sunday dinner. Whatever! Could be messy or magical or mundane or massively ridiculous. No pressure or polishing. Just a few scribbles a day.

Rediscovering poetry Poetry is another thing I’d kind of just given up on. I mean, on one hand, I’d never truly “give up” on poetry! Gosh! But on the other, I’ve been pretty unimpressed with the handful of collections I’d read in recent years, and was feeling ambivalent about the offerings of contemporary poets. Until I started taking notice of the poetic things and snippets of poetry that people tend to repost and reshare on social media. I don’t mean the Rupi Kaur-type stuff; that’s not really my bag, and I don’t want to be mean about it, so that’s all I will say. But more like, well, how many times have you seen Laura Gilpin’s breathtakingly heart-breaking two-headed calf poem reshared? Or quiet hitching, stifled sob of Wondrous by Sarah Freligh? Or definitely not as weepy as the other two, this one by Nanao Sakaki? I thought to myself that if I love these poems by these three particular poets so much, wouldn’t it make sense to read the collections that they came from and perhaps some of their other works?  It did make sense, and it definitely rekindled my enthusiasm!



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9 Jan

I’m coming to the realization that it is the act of *reading* that I love, not so much having/retaining the physical book in my possession. Is anyone else coming around to feeling that way?

This may be due to the fact that in the past two years, I have moved almost exclusively to reading on devices because my eyes can’t see the printed page very well in an actual physical book. And this is even after I got my new glasses prescription! So, most of the things I have read are ebooks from the library and digital ARCS from Netgalley.

I have got so many books on my shelves that I will never read again, and they are just taking up space and gathering dust. And if we move house again, I’ll be damned if I am packing up and hauling around 60 boxes of books that are no longer doing me any good! Not gonna happen!

And so, I am downsizing my library, and I have opened up a little bookshop over on Pango. I’m not over here trying to make a living with it, and I am not deluding myself that there is much money to be made, but I imagine I’ve got some gently used titles that people wouldn’t mind having in their collections at a pretty discounted price, so why not!  So, if you follow my book reviews and recommendations and would like to get your hands on some of those books, have a peek at my shelves over on Pango. Any and all of these titles could be yours! I am continually adding more every day, so make sure to follow my shop and check back often.

PSSSST…I am currently offering 10% off on all orders because I accidentally activated the discount while I was tooling around, so take advantage of it while it is available!

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Björk photographed by Jurgen Teller, 1993

I did it! I read hit my 200-book goal in 2023! As a matter of fact, I read 220 books. I do not feel the need to ever do that again. Especially since in the last month of the year my iPad died and I was reading on my PHONE. If my eyes were bad before, they are a million times worse now!

I did, however, learn that I have more time available during the day to sneak in some reading than I previously took advantage of. I am already someone who wakes up ultra-early to read while it is still dark and quiet, so I couldn’t really improve upon that. Technically, I don’t really “break” for lunch; I generally just inhale my food while continuing to work. I know a lot of you already know this, but if you’re new here, I do have a day job that’s pretty consuming and which has absolutely nothing to do with anything you will ever read about here. Anyway, instead of hoovering up my salad and checking emails, I began opening a book during my lunch. It definitely helped with my reading progress, and it also helped with my indigestion, ha! I am not someone who likes to read in bed, but I did start bringing my books with me during my little foot baths. I also listened to way more audiobooks this year than I ever had previously. On an evening when I might typically knit while watching a supernatural murder mystery or someone on YouTube making dinner for themselves, instead, I listened to lots and lots of audiobooks.

I also got very back into poetry this year, and while I read a lot of poetry that left me feeling pretty “meh,” I also read some stunningly beautiful collections–and the great thing is, these are pretty quick to get through. I’ve taken to keeping a stack of 4-5 poet’s collections on my desk, and throughout the course of the day, when things are a bit slow or during a particularly tedious conference call, I’d read a few pages. It adds up! This is also how I read a lot of nonfiction this year. It is also how I read drafts of things I was asked to blurb or share commentary or critiques on. For some reason I can concentrate so much better on my reading when I am actually supposed to be doing something else, heh heh.

And lastly, if I was not enjoying what I was reading, I learned to get way less precious about DNFing it. I didn’t want to waste my time with something that was rubbing me the wrong way, or grossing me out, or just generally not tickling my fancy. Life is too short. If you don’t like it, move on to something else that you like more. No sense in torturing yourself because something was positively reviewed and you feel like you “should” like it, or because everything else is reading it right now. Nope. Read what you like. If you don’t like it, maybe it is meant for someone else, and that is ok.

As in the past reading updates, I have not written reviews for everything I’ve read–it was just too much, and if I expected that magnitude of dedication of myself, I’d probably never have written a single word about any of it.  Below there are 25+ reviews of the things I have read during this last quarter of the year, and everything else that I read is at least listed, linked to, grouped by category, and asterisked if I really enjoyed it.

Björk photographed by Jurgen Teller, 1993

You Know What You Did by K.T. Nguyen While I enjoyed this book to varying degrees, I am having a terrible time with the process of revisiting and gathering my thoughts for a review. The themes of Intergenerational trauma and mental illness in this one may hit a little too close to home for some readers. It did for me. Annie appears to living a beautiful life–one worthy of being featured as a magazine spread, as evidenced by the journalist who is visiting to get some accompanying photos the piece. A gorgeous home, a handsome, doting husband, and an art practice that while not yet a flourishing career, may be poised to take off. However, Annie’s mother just died and theirs was a terribly complicated relationship. Things begin to unravel for Annie soon after her mother’s death; neuroses, once under control, are resurfacing to a debilitating degree, and what’s even more terrifying is that people around Annie are starting to die. I found Annie difficult to empathize with. Grief can cloud your thinking, and compounded with mental illness it’s a combination not conducive to making great decisions, but I more and more began to find Annie’s choices mind-bogglingly frustrating to the extent that the story became physically painful to read. Of course, I am coming into this book with my own experiences and I know that’s not entirely fair to the story. YMMV. (reviewed copy provided by NetGalley)

Where He Can’t Find You by Darcy Coates Abby and Hope’s father disappeared several years back and their mom hasn’t been quite right ever since. It’s safe to say almost everyone who lives in Doubtful has suffered a similar tragedy, whether it’s a family member or friend, most residents of this haunted town know someone who has been taken by The Stitcher. Or worse, who has been returned by The Stitcher, chopped and mangled and sewn back together, hideously mutilated and utterly unrecognizable. More often than not, these grotesquely damaged corpses are missing several parts. Abby and Hope aren’t alone, though; along with loyal friends Rhys, Riya, Connor, and Jen, the new girl who refuses to believe in town conspiracies or things that go bump in the night–they comprise The Jackrabbits. A jackrabbit never drops its guard, it’s always ready to run–and run fast. And most importantly, it survives. And then Hope gets taken. From her bedroom, in the middle of the night, without a sound. Desperate to find her sister and to find answers, Abby will stop at nothing to get Hope back–and her friends are with her every step of the way. I shared a few more thoughts on this one for 31 Days of Horror if you’d like to read more.

A Haunting On the Hill by Elizabeth Hand Holly is a struggling playwright who has been awarded a grant, and, being in the area and happening upon the expansive opulence of Hill House, she immediately falls under its spell. She becomes convinced that it would be a grand idea to rent it out for a few weeks and invite a group of her actors and collaborators to work on her current project together. The intimate gathering, sequestered away from the bothers of the world for a time, would afford everyone the opportunity to appreciate the material and put their own spin on it and sink into their roles, etc. Once ensconced in its oppressive walls, the group begins to realize that the space is not as luxurious as it might have initially appeared. Rooms are dimly lit, dusty, and damp. There are more rooms and twisting hallways than would seem possible, and it is easy to become lost, alone, and open to the awful energies of the place. All of the members of the troupe begin to encounter varying degrees of strange and terrifying weirdness inside Hill House but because of their various agendas and commitments, they each have their own reasons for looking the other way (or in some cases, leaning into it) and seeing it through. This is another one I reviewed for 31 Days of Horror, if you want more details.

The Dead Take A Train by Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey I’d found the previous title from Cassandra Khaw that I’d read (Nothing But Blackened Teeth) a bit off-putting. In that story, five friends convene to have some pre-wedding adventures at a purported haunted castle– but I have never in my years of reading been subjected to a group of friends who hated each other more. The Dead Take A Train, for all its bombastic horror and gore, ruthless demons and repulsive gods…is actually a tale of love and friendship? I liked that. I found the writing lush and disgusting and completely over the top –which is very much my thing!– and the story itself, that of self-destructive demon hunter/supernatural-squasher Julie attempting to prevent a cosmic-horror-end-of-the-world scenario and save her friends in the middle of New York’s gritty, magical underbelly–was an absolute hoot. It reminded me a bit of the post-apocalyptic demon-punk romp of Simon Drax’s A Very Fast Descent Into Hell!

Out There Screaming: An Anthology of New Black Horror by Jordan Peele Exploring “not only the terror of the supernatural but the chilling reality of injustice that haunts our nation,” this was an outstanding collection wherein almost every story was so good that I wish it could have been expanded on for a full-novel experience. What I find interesting in these gatherings of tales across cultures, is seeing what it is that scares me (the end-of-the-world ones are particularly freaky) as opposed to something that while perhaps fascinating, doesn’t seem all that frightening–because it comes from a part of the world so wholly different from what I know. Even as I am writing those words, I realize that is some privileged white lady shit. I am not unaware. Three exceptionally memorable ones in that sort of personally-scary-for-me apocalyptic vein are Invasion of the Baby Snatchers, which is as outlandish and otherworldly as you might imagine, and both “Flicker” and “Pressure,” which begin as mundane little tales but are –absolutely– not. (reviewed copy provided by NetGalley)

Godzilla: The Half-Century War by James Stokoe Ývan surprised me with a copy of this Godzilla story about a soldier who spends the entirety of his career tangled in kaiju conflict, up to and including the very last seconds of his life. Bold, exciting, and unexpectedly poignant, I sped through this excellent graphic novel in an afternoon.

Where Monsters Lie by Kyle Starks and Piotr Kowalski (Illustrator) If you’ve ever wondered where slashers shack up between murder sprees, well, you probably would not have envisioned them as a coterie of killers relaxing in a gated community–complete with an HOA and monthly meetings. This short, vicious collection of issues 1-4 comprises those dysfunctional group dynamics, the story of a kid who can’t seem to escape them despite his best attempts, and the agent that’s been training to hunt them since the slaughter of his own family when he was a child. Be forewarned–this experience really does put the “graphic” in graphic novel, but it was SO much good(bad/awful/murderous) fun!

The Keeper by Tananarive Due When it comes to a Tananarive Due story, I know I’m always in for a treat that’s going to tug at my heartstrings before straight up ripping my heart out of my chest –and The Keeper with its proliferation of childhood fears and trauma does just that. Aisha’s parents are killed in a car crash and shortly after moving in with her elderly grandmother, the ailing woman’s health takes a rapid decline.  Before dying, she calls forth a dark spirit to protect her granddaughter…or is this entity actually an ancient curse?

The Amulet by Michael McDowell Good lord. There is no one, NO ONE who writes Southern small-town nastiness like Michael McDowell. Sarah Howell finds herself trapped in a nightmare. Her husband, Dean, had a rifle blow up in his face during a training exercise before he shipped out to Vietnam. He’s been horribly disfigured (the extent of which we never even find out, he’s swaddled in bandages like a mummy through the entirety of the book) and more or less left a living corpse. Sarah is forced to care for him, while also enduring the scorn of her hateful mother-in-law, Jo. Jo is truly one of the most awful fictional characters you will ever encounter. Dean’s friend Larry pays a visit, hoping that he is doing the right thing by stopping in, but is feeling terribly guilty and uncomfortable about being there. Larry was unable to secure a job for Dean at the rifle factory in town, which led to Dean ending up in the army. Jo has a laundry list of grievances about everything in general, but she especially blames the town for her son’s circumstances, and Larry in particular. Jo sends him away with an unusual amulet to take home as a gift for his wife Rachel. That night Larry and Rachel’s house burns down, with them and their three children inside. The amulet inexplicably passes from one hand to the next, wreaking havoc and leaving extraordinary carnage in its wake. Not even a quarter of the way through the book, the undertaker is running out of coffins! And no one is safe–while it may have started with someone linked to Dean’s accident, it doesn’t limit itself to locals with those sorts of ties…a poor woman passing through town with her husband gets her throat torn out by her own hogs when the amulet makes its way into her possession. Sarah begins seeing a connection in the string of bizarre deaths and becomes convinced that somehow, the trinket is involved. As the body count rises, Sarah realizes that she must somehow stop the amulet before it’s too late. But how can she defeat an evil she can’t understand or even hands on–especially when no one believes her?

I literally exclaimed OOOOOOF aloud when I finished this book. GOOD LORD.

Björk photographed by Jurgen Teller, 1993


Nowhere Like Home by Sara Shepard Toxic friendships, lying liars, and murderous stalkers with far-fetched, convoluted schemes for vengeance–does this sound eerily, excitingly familiar, and quite possibly AWESOME to fans of Pretty Little Liars who were hoping for an adult version of all that nonsense where if one person told the truth, even once, the whole story would fall apart? Throw in cults, communes, and kidnappings and it sounds like you’d have a winner, right? And you more or less do with this story of intense friendships and women trying to either fit in or find family …and how it can all go so very wrong. Told from multiple perspectives in past/present timelines, we are introduced to Rhiannon and Lenna whose friendship burned fast and bright and fizzled unexpectedly when Rhiannon disappeared. Enter Gillian, whose social anxiety keeps her on the outside looking in, until she catches Lenna vulnerable after Rhiannon’s disappearance. And then Sadie, Gillian’s roommate, who Gillian describes to Lenna and all of her social media followers as unstable to the point of becoming threatening…but is it Gillian who is actually the problem? Fast forward to a few years later, Lenna is married with a child, desperately unhappy and haunted by a mysterious incident. Rhiannon resurfaces and invites her for a visit to a serene desert commune, where she will have a chance to recalibrate and spend some time with like-minded women. Or …is there an ulterior motive to Rhiannon’s timely reappearance in Lenna’s life? Why did Rhiannon disappear in the first place? Whatever happened to Gillian? What sorts of weird shenanigans are going on at this isolated commune? Will anyone ever utter one true thing, clear the air, or fess up to anything? Eventually yes, but unfortunately, the book doesn’t quite stick the landing. Still, it’s so much fun getting there. (reviewed copy provided by NetGalley)

Come Closer by Sara Gran Amanda, seemingly living a relatively happy life, finds her world slowly unraveling as she starts to hear strange noises, begins losing time, and then…things get much, much worse. Gran masterfully builds a sense of dread and paranoia, leaving the us questioning not only the reality Amanda experiences but also the very fabric of own own. The subtle horror lies in the insidious way Amanda’s agency is stripped away, replaced by a dark entity that feeds on her desires and vulnerabilities. Come Closer invites readers to grapple with an unsettling blend of horror and humor, showcasing Gran’s ability to craft a narrative that is as darkly entertaining as it is psychologically unnerving.

Black Sheep by Rachel Harrison Vesper, the exiled and estranged daughter, reluctantly returns home, only to find herself thrust back into the chaotic whirlwind of her family’s dynamics. A dysfunctional family reunion with a gleefully infernal twist, where long-buried grievances and unspoken truths fester beneath the surface of a seemingly ordinary gathering.

Good Bad Girl by Alice Feeney is a skillfully crafted mystery that weaves a web of secrets and betrayal amidst the seemingly idyllic setting of a nursing home. Twenty years after a baby is stolen from a stroller, a resident is found murdered, setting in motion a chain of events that threaten to unravel the carefully constructed lives of those involved. As they delve deeper into the investigation, they uncover a tangled web of lies and hidden agendas, forcing them to confront uncomfortable truths about themselves and those they thought they knew.

None of This is True by Lisa Jewell Alix, a successful podcaster, becomes enthralled by the captivating story of Josie, a woman whose life seems too perfect to be true. As their connection deepens, Alix finds herself drawn into a web of inconsistencies and contradictions. Jewell expertly builds suspense, slowly revealing the cracks in Josie’s carefully constructed facade. Despite a nagging sense of unease, Alix chooses to overlook the weirdness, continuing their association despite Josie’s increasingly uncomfortable and unhinged behavior –and this line of thought process on Alix’s part really stuck with me in relation to this–“I overrode my instincts when I said yes.” A stark reminder of the trouble we can invite into our lives when we prioritize social graces over listening to our intuition. As Alix delves deeper into Josie’s world, the lines between reality and fabrication blur, leading to a series of chilling revelations that will leave you questioning everything you thought you knew.

Thorn Hedge by T. Kingfisher A grumpy toad with the biggest heart and a lovely peach of a knight with a gentle soul meet in a prickly twist of a familiar fairy tale curse. I have adored every single thing I have read by this author; I find her particular blend of delicious wit, whimsy, and weirdness the perfect recipe for something that will resonate with me on every level.

The Haunting of Velkwood by Gwendolyn Kiste The Velkwood Vicinity, a once-ordinary suburban cul-de-sac, now stands shrouded in a sinister veil, its inhabitants forever trapped as ghostly echoes of their former lives. Twenty years ago, Talitha Velkwood, along with her two childhood friends, inexplicably escaped the nightmarish fate that engulfed their town. Now, haunted by fragmented memories and an overwhelming sense of loss, Talitha finds herself drawn back to the site of the tragedy, lured by the promise of answers and a chance to finally confront the demons of her past. (reviewed copy provided by NetGalley)

The Deep by Nick Cutter plunged me into the abyssal depths of terror, both literally and metaphorically. Eight miles beneath the surface, where darkness reigns and pressure crushes, a research team unearths a substance that unlocks primal fears. As sanity unravels and the lines between reality and nightmare blur, the crew’s fight for survival becomes a descent into the very heart of horror. In the midst of the escalating terror, I found myself so engrossed, so utterly swept away by the story, that I literally forgot to breathe.

The Whispers by Audrey Audrain A Desperate Housewives-esque affair, focusing on fractured friendships amidst the gilded cages of suburbia, at the center of which lies a troubled and comatose young man –and the individual who may be responsible for the accident.

The Reformatory by Tananarive Due Set in the Jim Crow South of the 1950s, the narrative delves into the horrific nightmare of the Gracetown School for Boys, a notorious reform school shrouded in a legacy of brutality and injustice. Through the eyes of young Marvin, wrongfully imprisoned for a petty offense, we witness the unimaginable horrors inflicted upon the boys within these walls. Due’s prose is both poignant and unflinching, exposing the raw pain and trauma endured by these victims while simultaneously weaving chilling supernatural elements that whisper of a past unwilling to be buried. The ghosts of Gracetown are more than spectral figures; they are the embodiment of systemic racism and the enduring legacy of cruelty, resonating with a chillingly familiar truth. I can’t even look at the cover of a Tananarive Due book without weeping, and The Reformatory was no exception.

The Invited by Jennifer McMahon A chilling tale of haunted land and the enduring pull of the past. In the seemingly tranquil Vermont countryside, Helen and Nate embark on the dream of building their own home, unaware of the dark history buried beneath the soil. As construction progresses, whispers of the deceased residents become increasingly insistent, blurring the lines between past and present, a haunting that extends beyond the spectral, echoing unresolved trauma and the weight of generations past demanding to be acknowledged and finally laid to rest.  I don’t think this was my favorite of this author’s offerings, and I kind of love/hated one of the twists–it’s always a bummer when a favorite character isn’t quite what they seem, and not in a good way.

Starter Villain by John Scalzi Charlie, a recently divorced substitute teacher, inherits his estranged uncle’s unconventional business: supervillainy.  Thrust into a world of lasers, talking cats, and unionized dolphins, Charlie embarks on a journey of self-discovery amidst the absurdity. Humor and intrigue simmer –dangerously, delightfully!–beneath the surface of a dormant volcano in a remote island lair.  Themes of morality, responsibility, and the intricacies of family, remind us that sometimes, even the most unconventional legacies can hold unexpected possibilities for redemption.

The Book of the Most Precious Substance by Sara Gran is a most excellent blend of all of my favorite things to read about–rare book enthusiasts, forbidden knowledge and people doing desperate things to unlock those arcane secrets, and …detailed descriptions of what people are eating. Lily Albrecht is a writer who hasn’t written in years. She cares for her declining husband, who has an undiagnosable form of dementia, in their remote home in upstate New York while she hunts down rare books for rich buyers to make ends meet. When a rare grimoire promises the granting of your deepest-held desires comes across her radar, Lily follows its siren song e across the globe in desperate pursuit of its power. A heady cocktail of shadows and secrets in which even the strangely mundane thrums with the thrill of the occult, this book was a gritty, intimate rabbit’s hole of delights. A note to those looking for smut–this book is kind of spicy, but not wildly so. There’s lots of sex, but it’s not very interesting sex. (Which is fine with me; I’d rather read about the books and the 10-course meals)

101 Books to Read Before You’re Murdered by Sadie Hartmann. This is exactly what it sounds like, and a really great resource. I actually found a handful of authors I never heard of in Sadie’s lists, and I had both my Goodreads and Libby apps open the entire time I read this so that I could add titles to my “to read” lists and find them to borrow from the library. Sara Gran’s Come Closer (above) was one of these books, and I really really loved it! One thing in particular I loved about Sadie’s approach is that the books she has included are all fairly recently written. We’ve all seen these

Kindle Unlimited has some great collections of 90-minute short stories by familiar, beloved authors, and Goodreads actually counts these as full books, so maybe this is a cheat, but whatever.

In Joe Hill’s The Pram,  secrets in a dilapidated farmhouse blur the lines between grief and macabre secrets. In The Backbone of the World, Stephen Graham Jones treats us to his signature brand of weird wit, weaving a chilling tale of vengeance on the desolate plains with Millie Two Bears facing an unrelenting tide of prairie dogs that seem to possess an almost otherworldly intelligence. In My Evil Mother,  Margaret Atwood cooks up a darkly humorous stew of family dysfunction, where the ingredients include teenage snark, questionable parenting decisions, and a generous helping of the uncanny. I also Ankle Snatcher by Grady Hendrix, In Bloom by Paul Tremblay, The Tiger Came To The Mountains by Silvia Moreno Garcia, Bloody Summer by Carmen Maria Machado, Wildlife by Jeff Vandermeer, and Wehr Wolf by Alma Katsu. Now I just need to remember to cancel by Kindle Unlimited subscription.

Graphic Novels

A Guest in the House by Emily Carroll

Tomie by Junji Ito (I’d never read all the stories before!)


Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass by Lana del Rey

Please Do Not Touch This Exhibit by Jen Campbell

The Shining by Dorothea Lasky

Sad Math by Sarah Freilgh *

Without Protection by Gala Mukomolova

Clock Star Rose Spine by Fran Wilde

Registers of Illuminated Villages by Tarfia Faizullah *



The Resting Place by Camilla Sten

She Started It by Sian Gilbert

The Sanitorium by Sarah Pearce

The Venue by T.J. Payne * (this was ridiculous and fun)

#FashionVictim by Amina Akhtar * (this also was ridiculous and fun)

The Disappearing Act by Catherine Steadman (I listened to this on audiobook, read by the author, who is also an actor, and it was pretty decent)

The Fury by Alex Michaelides  (this was an ARC and it was…not good. I have to eventually write a review for Netgalley, but I won’t waste your time with it)



The Switch House by Tim Meyer

The Hacienda by Isabel Canas (this tricked me into reading a love story and I’m not sure how I feel about that)

September House by Carissa Orlando * (this was a hoot and I loved it so much)

The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw

Rites of Extinction by Matt Serafini

Schrader’s Chord by Scott Leeds * (this book mentions one of my favorite perfumes! Chanel Sycomore. That has nothing to do with the story, though. Which is also good.)

Nestlings by Nat Cassidy * (Nat Cassidy sure can pen an afterword.)

Nordic Visions: The Best of Nordic Speculative Fiction by John Ajvide Lindqvist; Maria Haskins; Karin Tidbeck


Weird/Speculative/Magical Realism

Children of Paradise by Camilla Grudova * (I think this weird, crusty little slice of life story was one of my favorites of 2023)



Worlds Beyond Time by Adam Rowe * (read more here)

Death’s Garden Revisited by Loren Rhoads * (full review here)



Midnight is the Darkest Hour by Ashley Winstead 
by Josh Malerman (I got 67% of the way through it and I DNFed it anyway; I usually love this author, but Goblin was a slog)
Everything the Darkness Eats by Eric LaRocca (I think I have given up on reading this guy)
Number One Fan (the early mention of a UTI made it too real)
Rouge by Mona Awad (I’ve previously enjoyed her stuff alot but this one felt experimental in a way I didn’t enjoy; probably my biggest letdown of the year)


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[Blog subscribers, please note: if you received an extra email notification about this blog post, it’s because there was a glitch during an update,  and the blog was down for a while. The backup restored everything right before this post was published. I am reposting it and backdating it, and you’re probably going to be notified that this is “new,” but it is not! Many apologies!]

I am glad you all are here with me today. Here, at the end of all things. Ok, ok, no need for Mount Doom melodrama; it’s only the last monthly gathering of perfumes for 2023! If you missed any of the previous 150 fragrance reviews over the past year, you can find them here: November + October // September // August // July // June // May // April // March // February // January

A sizable portion of these (64, I believe!) were fragrances from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. You can find a few individual scents mentioned from month to month, but if you are looking for reviews of their major seasonal releases, you can find them here: 2023 Lupers // 2023 Weenies // 2023 Yules

Dirty Amber from Heretic is a warrior queen’s anthem, a grit-kissed growl of bergamot and juniper, teeth bared against the dawn. Geranium, wild and bruised, clings to cracked leather armor, frankincense, a smoldering altar to forgotten gods, hangs heavy, the acrid bite of cassia bark a whispered curse upon her foes. Tonka’s honeyed siren song of stolen pleasures is cloaked by a bitter, swirling fog of labdanum and myrrh. Cypress and patchouli, the musk of untamed forests, bind her to the earth, roots digging deep into forgotten bones of empires. And then, the heart of the storm erupts: fossilized amber, a guttural roar, a scourge of scorched starlight trapped in the golden opulence of sun-baked tears. The fragrance of a lineage steeped in fire, a war cry echoing through ages, of monsters fallen and kingdoms claimed. Dirty Amber is the scent of a Frazetta goddess, eyes blazing with the wild light of a thousand moons, a blade poised at the throat of destiny. This is beauty that bleeds, stains your skin, marks your bones, and etches its story into the air you breathe.

Corpalium from Marlou is the chilled earthen blooms of a sunless, subterranean iris, wrapped in a velvety feathered cloak of woodsy musk and honeyed, balsamic smoke. It’s a dark bird of myth, a single ebony plume plucked from flame, an unblinking amethyst eye, crystalline and plum dark under the cobweb veil of the pale winter sun’s sweetness. This is heart-stoppingly stunning, and I don’t think I have anything in my fragrance wardrobe quite like it.

Tom Ford’s Ébène Fumé with its incandescent glowing cacophony of sunset woods majesty, spider-pronged and prickly tines of moody-fiery black pepper, and the mystical ambiguity of palo santo’s piney/licorice/camphor vibe is a brazenly beautiful scent, perilously intense, and all-consuming. Smoky, regal, and fearsome, a tiger queen who set her kingdom on fire rather than see it fall, the incense burned on an altar of protection, invoking darksome saints with flaming swords. Desperate, dangerous prayers granted in gorgeous and terrible ways.

 Harvest Mouse from Zoologist, and I think this is one of the most fantastical fragrance transitions I have ever experienced. Right out of the bottle, it is a charming chamomile cutie, like a honeyed hay Hamtaro, but then it immediately shows you its big brave, beautiful heart, formidable and fabulous, a heady vanilla resin benzoin, swoony forested balsam and mystical oakmoss owl-masked creature by Lily Seika Jones.



Mad et Len Noir Encens POV: you are a brooding pencil, prone to bouts of melancholia, that only scribbles at midnight and has only ever been used to draft architectural sketches of gargoyle-adorned gothic cathedrals and crumbling medieval monasteries and Baudelairian poetry and you listen to a lot of Cold Cave and Chelsea Wolfe.

Spirit Lamp by DS& Durga (currently unavailable as a perfume, though you can purchase the candle) is a fragrance that evokes a forgotten corner of a botanical garden where a baleful spirit of untamed wilderness thrives unchecked. The initial impression is a thick, oily green, not of manicured lawns, but 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 acrid herbal musk. This greenness isn’t fresh and invigorating; it’s greasy, thick, and almost suffocating. As the scent unfolds, a metallic tang emerges, the scent of rust or singed copper wire, a chilling counterpoint to the verdantly depraved heart. It’s a perfume that evokes images of forbidden rituals and forgotten practices, a potent concoction brewed in the cauldron of nature’s darkest corners.

While the notes listed for Mad et Len’s Apocalypstick, violet, rose, mint, (I thought I saw macadamia listed somewhere?) sound like a pleasant enough combination, what the perfume smells like to me is a village of small children infected with a vast malevolence of pure evil. This cloying candied floral doesn’t just tiptoe on the precipice of sweetness and decay; it’s not just a playful saccharine innocence masking a sinister undercurrent of rot. It is an immediate and overwhelming assault of viciously poisoned sugarplums stuffed with razorblades served to you by sticky fingers and pale faces with sharp teeth. It lingers, sickening on the skin like a toxic premonition, like a perpetual stain, an indelible mark of repulsion.

I’m thinking about how Bramble from Herbcraft embodies a sentiment that profoundly resonated with me from the very moment I heard it, even though the person who brought it to my attention was one of the worst people I’ve ever known. Poet Katherine Mansfield wrote: “The mind I love must have wild places, a tangled orchard where dark damsons drop in the heavy grass, an overgrown little wood, the chance of a snake or two, a pool that nobody’s fathomed the depth of, and paths threaded with flowers planted by the mind.” Bramble is a striking example of how that mystery, that unknowing, may well be your undoing. Its initial whispers weave a narrative that mirrors Mansfield’s words, with the emergence of a subtle green element reminiscent of a somewhat ineffectual hedge. A verdant barrier to deter trespassers, it’s a feeble guardrail that ultimately fails to conceal the allure of what lies beyond—a little wood gone to seed, a snarled and shaggy thicket beyond which fallen leaves whisper deathly secrets, and the air hums with a mordant mockery of life. At its heart is a rose steeped in shadows, kissed by the nightmares of midnight berries, each crimson petal undead and undying. Every step closer in an attempt to inhale its fragrant aroma feels like tempting a fate more terrible than you can comprehend, and yet your feet move forward unwaveringly.

“THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else.” What perfume were they wearing? Kurt Vonnegut Jr. never really got into that in his satirical dystopian science-fiction short story “Harrison Bergeron,” but I suspect it was Them, by Neandertal, a fragrance distilled to its most minimal, stripped-down DNA. A radical exercise in simplicity, a deliberate erasure of complexity. It’s very essence, a complete and total absence. A void, a vacuum, a nothingness. Olfactory egalitarianism in a bottle, where no note dominates, not a single note is even discernable. Wear it not to make a statement, but to embrace the scent of unadorned equilibrium—a radical olfactory utopia where no note rises above the others, and every aromatic expression is rendered equally silent.

P.S. now is probably a good time to remind you that I have a Patreon where I talk about perfume-related things that you might not see here (including the snarkier stuff, heh!) There are also giveaway opportunities and a monthly scented missive in your mailbox from yours truly!

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Vintage Snow Man Blow Mold (a milky plastic shell of frosted blue spruce, illuminated from within by 40 watts of glowing amber) If this scent could be a book cover, it would 100% be an R.L. Stine Goosebumps book.  Inside its plastic sarcophagus, a spectral sentinel stands guard, shimmering with the trapped souls of forty dead watts. Enchanted with its kitschy charm, you inhale deeply…and are immediately hit with a damp slap of mildew, the smell of dusty basements and rain-soaked attics. Not pleasant, exactly, but…intriguing, summoning whispers of forgotten winters, of attic dolls weeping silent tears, of cobwebs spun with memories. The scent of time clawing and gnawing at plastic and wood, turning memories into dust. Softly, a chill creeps in. Not the icy bite of winter, but something deeper, more unsettling. Flowers, pale things like ghosts blooming in the snowman’s hollow chest; the sweet decay mingled with the mildew beneath the fake plastic sun of the snowman’s smile. But there is warmth, too, hidden in the depths. Amber, like sunbeams trapped in honey, a counterpoint to the decay, a whisper of life clinging to the skeleton of memory. The snowman’s heart, beating faintly in the plastic ribs.

To A Wreath In The Snow (tobacco flower, white oud, lavender bud, and ambergris accord) Shadows of grief, the ghosts of winter, a sky bled grey by sorrow. A phantom flower blanketed in frost while spiced embers and woods spark and sizzle in a hearth nearby, an anchor of warmth and hope glowing through a glass pane inches away from the frozen bloom. A transparent divide, the bittersweet ache of proximity, a thing so frail can’t help but yearn–

Snow-covered cathedral (ecclesiastical incense wafting behind candlelit stained glass and icicles thrusting from stone archways)  A Sanctum Glacialis, a sacred space, where the aroma of lemony resins, frosty breath in the fir-scented air, and the hallowed whispers of a forest prayer beneath a sky of frozen stars converge.

Hearth (sweet pipe tobacco, cherry wood, the warm, worn leather of an easy chair, and a pleasant, subtle waft of fireplace smoke) A velvet-swathed alcove, flickering tongues of gaslight, a crystal decanter, amber liquid catching the light, a molten jewel held captive in glass, swirling with the scent of cherries bruised and black as midnight and the secret incantations of honeybees.

The Poinsettia Gown (rose cream, jasmine cream, mallow, vanilla foam, and sweet amber) Corsets creaked, silk rustled, and whispers slithered like vipers amongst the polished marble. The world of debutantes held secrets far more intoxicating than forbidden schnapps and stolen waltzes. But the elusive beauty in the poinsettia gown floated through the crowd of cutthroat Victorian debutantes untouched by their vicious mutterings, aloft on a coquettish cloud of pillowy, powdery whipped cream floral divinity. “She smells like a beautiful vintage Barbie doll Christmas card,” a blonde in pink taffeta giggled tipsily. Her dark-haired twin in canary crinoline elbowed her and whispered nastily, “Well, that’s an anachronism, dumbass.” The girl in the poinsettia gown shyly glanced their way before gracefully pirouetting from the room, and the sisters blushed all the way up to their hair ribbons.

21 Snowballs (gin-soaked slush) Overheard in the writer’s room:

Writer 1: “..with all due respect, who wants to smell like a melted snow cone dipped in bathtub gin?”

Writer 2: “Oh ho ho…this isn’t your bodega slush, this is high-society slush. Slush for the one-percenters. Slush that glides on the ice rink of life, tiara perched askew, a perfectly chilled martini in paw…”

Writer 1: “Paw? What is this? An ice-skating raccoon? Are you suggesting raccoons wearing tiaras now?”

Writer 2: “Not just any raccoons! We’re talking raccoon royalty! Imagine, Duchess Trashpanda McGillicutty the Third, gliding across the frozen pond of Central Park, diamonds sparkling, fur glistening with the essence of juniper berries and chilled tonic. This fragrance is an ode to her, a symphony of sophistication with a playful wink! Like a posh raccoon’s boudoir after a night of ice skating and high-stakes poker. You get the zesty citrus of her freshly squeezed victory cocktail, the crisp snap of her caraway and rosemary-lined nest, and the faintest whisper of that perfectly aged gin, lingering like a mischievous grin on her furry little face!”

Writer 1: “Ok, ok you had me at Trashpanda McGillicutty!”


Sugar Cookies and Bourbon Why does the experience of wearing this feel like being in a gritty/glittering sepia-tinted Lana del Rey Christmas song?


neon lights, sugared air,
bourbon kisses billionaire–


sippin’ on that amber gold,
vanilla’s got me in a stranglehold–

Ok, I have embarrassed us all enough, and this incredibly gorgeous scent–and my favorite of the bunch–and deserves better than my silliness. BUT. I’m also not wrong.

Snake Oil Hot Toddy (Snake Oil, soaked in whiskey, honey, and a twist of lemon) Spice and honeyed warmth and old friend Snake Oil slithering in, its mossy patchouli cloak warmed by brown-sugared vanilla, the musk a rumble in the chest, with a twisty citrusy sting like a bright yellow lemon dropped in mulled wine. And then! Apples, wonderfully squashy and blushing, stewed long with cinnamon’s fire, cloves sharp spiced pungency, and nutmeg’s gentle hum, chased by a nutty browned butter Manhattan, its rye bite tempered by sweet vermouth. There is a lot going on here, and all of it is lovely.

Gingerbread Snek (gingerbread thickened with molasses and patchouli, spiced with Snake oil, and frosted with sugared vanilla bean) Gingerbread Cabin enters the battlefield tapped unless you control three or more other Forests. And as it happens, you do have in your possession many forests, woodlands, and thickets across the wilds of Eldraine. All redolent with resinous pine snap and earthy blankets of fallen leaves beneath verdant canopies of fir. So untapped it is then, in which case, when Gingerbread Cabin enters the battlefield untapped,  a Food Token is created. I have no idea what the Food Token does, I only remember seeing the Grimms fairy tale-inspired commercials for this particular MtG set, but I imagine it smells like this: a warm, cozy gingerbread house drizzled in vanilla bean glaze, its spicy walls mingling with the patchouli’s woody whisper, lying in wait under a sky of cinnamon stars and clove-studded moons.

The Picture of Dorian Sufganiyot (a deep-fried fougere with three pale musks and dark, sugared vanilla tea) A dribble of jelly clung to his lips as he lifted the velvet curtain from the portrait. This angelic young man who looked to be sculpted from ivory and roses stuffed the remainder of the oil-kissed fritter into his mouth, a shower of glittering sugar dusting his cuffs, rendering him that much more celestial in appearance. He gestures vaguely at the monstrosity in the portrait, a study in corruption and decrepitude. “Yeah, yeah, that’s meant to be me then; what of it, mate?” he scoffs, spraying my face with fragrant crumbs and small clots of rich berried jam. “It’s a good thing his guy smells so good,” I mutter disgustedly to myself, taking in his scent of softly sweetened tea and creamy, silken musks as I pick up my brush to paint over this junky canvas of horrors.

Pomegranate Ink To you, A— my sweet-skinned muse,  I send poems of love on fragrant winds. For on my island, alone as I am with the sea and the shore, I have unearthed a perfume that echoes the pomegranate’s song, a tale Pausanias dared not speak. It bursts forth in song, a chorus of rubies– the fruit’s jeweled heart exposed to the sky, laughter spills from its crimson chalice, sweet and bright as nectar. But within this mirth, A—  a shadow stirs. Inky tendrils, like dark riddles murmured in moonlit caves, coil around the light. It is the scent of ancient papyrus, of leather-bound tales, a smoky inkwell, where myths swim in obsidian depths, their truths veiled in darkness.  This is the pomegranate’s paradox, a goddess with twin faces. One wreathed in sunlight, her cheeks blushing with scarlet wine, the other draped in midnight, her eyes holding the shadows of the world. And oh, deepest blood of my heart, oh how my fingers yearn to trace the mysteries etched in this ink! To brush away the shadows and glimpse the stories secreted within. For here, in bright sun and cool midnight, I see our love reflected. Come, A— let us follow the hidden path, hand in hand, and unravel this strange fruit’s music. Let us become the ink and the parchment, the sun and the shadows, and write our own tale—

Midnight Mass Because I don’t have a lot of experience with Midnight Mass as a spiritual practice, what comes to mind is a stirring sermon in Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass Netflix series, where Father Paul describes that faith means “in the darkness, in the absence of light and hope, we sing.”  Father Paul, piggybacking on your excellent point, would you allow me a few words?

Close your eyes, and let the thurible swing, a pendulum between heaven and earth. Each arc releases a chorus of secrets – frankincense, that ancient whisper of devotion, the very tears of the sun hardened to gold. Myrrh, heavy with wisdom, echoes the gifts of Magi, a fragrant ode to sacrifice and the mysteries locked within. Benzoin, a bridge of warmth, a holy caress. Wisps of styrax and opoponax, ghosts of forgotten rituals, prayers in tongues long dead. Let them mingle in your lungs, these veiled blessings, and know that the greatest mysteries are not those writ in books, but those breathed on the wind of belief. And oh, brothers and sisters, how they linger, these sacred echoes! Long after the last ember fades, the incense clings to your soul, a benediction etched in smoke. It is a reminder that even in the deepest darkness, in the quiet hours when doubt gnaws at our bones, the song of faith remains. We sing in the absence of light, in the hollow between breaths, for that is where the mystery burns brightest, a fragrant hymn to the unseen.

Midnight Mass becomes a fragrant hymn of spiritual devotion and ceremonial grandeur to something larger than ourselves—a fragrant homage to midnight prayer, sacred intention and a sensory invocation of the profound mysteries, calling us to sing even in the darkest of moments.



Santa Doesn’t Need Your Help (sugar plum lavender marshmallows) is a sweetly herbal fragrance with a soft, fruity tang, the olfactory version of the gentle illustration on the box of a seasonal sleepytime offering from Celestial Seasonings, along with a little poem:

Sugar plum dreams with a lavender sigh,
A marshmallow moonbeam, a twinkling eye. 
Santa takes over, a welcoming sight,
and parents, unburdened, can sleep through the night.

Lavender Plum Galette (a mouth-watering mixture of glistening plum wedges and ground almonds, enfolded in flaky crust and drizzled with lavender sea-salted caramel) This is an astonishingly gorgeous scent that, if you looked up the recipe for it on a blog, you would have to read a 20k word cautionary tale and descent into the realm of culinary darkness that begins in the heart of the enchanted forest and hints at a narrative that defies the expected dichotomies of good and evil. I really do feel like there is quite a story with this one! But no one’s got that kind of time, so I will sum it up for you. Picture a cursed orchard, a spectral bakehouse, and a dessert table tainted by the obscure whims of an otherworldly confectioner of unknown intent, a gourmand elegy of the unsettling and delicious.

Lavender Rosemary Baguette (perfectly crusty and yeasty with a pillowy-soft interior, sprinkled with lavender sea salt and brushed with herbed olive oil) From the yeasty tang to the briny sea salt to the herb-infused nuances of the olive oil, this is a perfect bready balance and the baguette-iest fragrance I have ever smelled. I recently read Sara Gran’s The Book of the Most Precious Substance (it is very good, and I highly recommend that you read it if you have not already), and aside from the murders and the mysteries and the rare books and the sex, there is A LOT of food in this book. I’m pretty sure the author detailed every single meal, and weirdly enough, this Lavender Rosemary Baguette perfume is a composition that somehow (?) captures the spirit of the story. It’s a fragrant tableau that mirrors the sensory delights of Sara Gran’s sumptuous literary landscape.

Lavender Earl Grey Cookies (a bitter, tea-stained ache soothed by softly herbaceous sugar cookies) I guess I was expecting a lullaby with this one, but it’s more a playground of sugar gremlins, citrus confetti sunshine and mischief brewed in lavender fields. A vibrant floral astringency, bergamot’s subtle fruitiness, and an effervescent extravagance of sugar crystal carnival energy launches the entire blend into a hyperactive crescendo of joyfully demented, sticky-fingered Muppet Baby chaos.

Vintage Candy Garland Blow Mold (an enticing swirl of multi-hued fruit and mint flavors, illuminated from behind by twinkling amber tree lights) I close my eyes, and I can smell a bobbled milk glass dish of vintage seasonal candies just like this, a kaleidoscope of cellophane dreams: chocolate raspberry spun-sugar swirls, pearlescent limes like sugared gumdrops, the sharp green kiss of peppermint spirals, a gateway to a childhood Candyland where plastic reigned supreme and sugar was the currency of dreams– fantastically melting Technicolor hues forever preserved in the honeyed amber glow of nostalgia. As a matter of fact, as hyperreal as this perfume is, it also has an element of the surreal, like art-witch besties Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo challenged each other to bring their own singular vision of this candy dreamscape to the canvas, hallucinatory worlds of spun sugar and starlight, the delicious chaos that erupts when two magic-wielding artists collaborate

Gingerbread London Fog Captain’s log, stardate 46254.1 Holodeck recreation “Gingerbread London Fog,” simulation running. A bistro bathed in perpetual twilight, the air thick with the scent of rain and pipe smoke. Ah, but what’s this? A  fiery sweetness pierces the fog, a whisper of cinnamon and cloves, like an exotic spice trader’s cloak brushing past. Intriguing. Adjust the olfactory interface. Notes of Earl Grey tea, vanilla, sugar, and… whiskey? A peculiar concoction, Captain. Indeed, Number One. Yet, it draws me like unexpected intrigue on Riza. The tea, smooth and familiar, mingles with the sharp nip of whiskey, a touch of mystery in a mug. The vanilla, it’s not the cloying syrup of replicated desserts, but a whisper of warmth reminiscent of a home and a kitchen many years ago. And the ginger… ah, the ginger. It’s the heart of the mystery, a fierce, fevered spice that lingers on the tongue like… a detective’s hunch. Curious, Captain. Would you say this fragrance has… narrative potential? Potentially, Number One. Perhaps a femme fatale named “Sugar” in a silk dress the color of midnight, her lips stained with the same spiced sweetness. Or a gruff inspector with a penchant for Earl Grey and secrets, the aroma of tobacco clinging to his trench coat like a second skin. The bistro fades. Brick walls crawl with shadows, gaslights sputter, casting long, incriminating fingers. The scent of gingerbread transforms, no longer a treat but a clue, a trail of crumbs leading to a darkened alleyway and a whispered confession. Intriguing, Captain. Shall we embark on this olfactory investigation? Indeed, Number One. We’ll follow the whispers of ginger, the ghost of whiskey, and see where this trail leads us. Engage.

It may be a short respite, but between exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, and boldly going where no one has gone before, even a Captain deserves a touch of fantasy and intrigue. And so, we step into the perfumed fog, ready to unravel the mystery that clings to the gingerbread and hangs heavy in the air. The night promises secrets; the scent whispers clues, and the Captain… well, the Captain’s ready for some silly escapades, even if it’s only for a brief, spiced escape from the vast loneliness of space. End log.

The Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab 2023 Yule collection is currently live and available for purchase. As this is a limited edition series, sample sizes imps are not available.

Need more Yule scents? Have a peep at my Yule reviews from 2023 and 2021 and a single review for 2019 though I could swear I have several years’ worth of BPAL Yule reviews floating around that out there. And I know this because…

…PSSSST! Did you know I have collected all of my BPAL reviews into one spot? I’m about a year behind with adding new stuff to the document, but as it stands, there are over 60 PAGES of my thoughts and rambles on various limited-edition scents from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab over the years: BPAL REVIEWS BY S. ELIZABETH (PDF download)


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