I am not quite sure where I first learned of The Velvet Vampire; in my memory, it was in Jessica/labelleotero’s guest post here at Unquiet Things, Ten Gems of Decadent Cinema. But in rereading, The Velvet Vampire is not among the films listed, and now I am starting to question everything!

Anyhow, I heard of it somewhere, and I’ve been meaning to watch this slightly surreal,  somewhat silly ~but very pretty~ vampire film for some time now. Well, it’s kind of a vampire film. They’re playing a bit fast and loose with that part.

Free-spirited couple Lee and Susan meet up with the enigmatic Diane Le Fanu at an art gallery function and she invites them to come hang out for a few days at her estate deep in the desert. The guests begin having strange erotic dreams about their host and, along with her flirty attention to Lee, it is driving a bit of a jealous wedge between them. Sexy dune buggy metaphors, haunted mine shafts, sun tan snake bites, midnight mind control, mummified husbands, and some dated, uncomfortable treatment of indigenous people ensue.

That dune buggy scene, though! Plowing through the desert sands, flying over the hills, screeching to a stop where Lee and Susan’s car has broken down on the highway on their way to her home – I am LIVING for Diane and her dune buggy! I am also living for her fabulous ensembles, all sorts of silk and sparkles! In one scene she is dressed just like Velma from Scooby Doo, and in the film’s final moment, a crowd tears off her pristine cream-colored cape to reveal a highly-impractical-for-traveling Zatanna-esque little get-up. Unfortunately, she doesn’t stand still enough to get a good screencap of it, so you’ll just have to watch it and see for yourself.

 

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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.

Things go weird before The Stitcher strikes. Technology becomes unreliable and stops working altogether. The animals begin acting in odd, disturbing ways. In their homes, many folks have increasingly horrific nightmares. This is when following the rules becomes especially important. Never be outside after dark. Never walk through town alone. And keep far, far away from Charles Vickers, a bizarre and unpleasant man who most suspect of being behind the murders, and who seems to obscenely revel in the accusations. Vickers always has an alibi and the police haven’t got anything on him, though–so maybe there really is a supernatural, monstrous entity behind the killings, after all?

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.

This book was freaky as hell! I worried though; in stories like this, I feel that freakiness is unsustainable because it massively hinges on the unknown. When we’re left to our own devices to fill in the blanks in a horror story, almost everything we come up with is going to be scarier than the actual answer, whenever the author reveals it. Even if it’s tremendously horrific! Because as soon as we know it, the power of that fear is taken away.

I will say that even though that may be the case in Where He Can’t Find You, when the story pivots in that direction it becomes something else entirely: a high-stakes adventure where everything–the lives of friends, family, even the fate of the town of Doubtful– is on the line.

Where He Can’t Find You by Darcy Coates is available on November 7, 2023. I grabbed an ARC from NetGalley and got to read it a bit early–and it really was a great read for Spooky Season.

 

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Last night we had company and the likelihood of talking Yvan and his brothers into watching The Velvet Vampire seemed very slim, so Meg 2: The Trench it was.

While I do have a fondness for the unknowable abyss and claustrophobic isolation horrors of both deep sea and deep space cinema, the Meg movies are basically like a bigger, goofier Jaws plus the cast and attitude of the Fast & Furious movies (Jason Statham and Vin Diesel are kinda interchangeable), and I don’t know if I can actually call it them horror movies. But if people being swallowed whole by a prehistoric “apex predator” isn’t horrific, then what is, right? Also “apex predator,” ugh. This dialogue. What is the collective noun for a group of bros? Whatever that is, the dialogue was written by this bunch of bros. Brundle of bros?

Is Meg 2: The Trench a great movie? No, it is not. Is it a good movie? It is not that, either. And if you got excited about it because you heard that Ben Wheatley directed it and you were maybe hoping for the artsy-fartsy vibes of A Field In England or Kill List or High Rise–ha! Sucker! Nope.

Was it at least good enough mindless fun to accompany a greasy meat-lovers pizza and several beers? Technically yes. And I literally have nothing else to say for it.

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Livide is a quiet, creeping shadowy fairytale of a French vampire film that I have been meaning to watch since 2011. It took me a long time to get around to it.

At the start of the story, Lucie is a young woman who is accompanying a home health aide making the rounds amongst the geriatric folks around town who require medical care. Their final stop is a remote estate where legendary former ballerina Mrs. Jessel lies decrepit and fading in her dark ancestral home, and also apparently needing mysterious blood transfusions. Lucie’s mentor is a chatty, though vaguely unpleasant woman, who slips into the conversation that there is said to be treasure hidden somewhere inside the creepy mansion. Of course, Lucie innocently later shares this intel with her boyfriend, and along with his brother,  the two siblings hatch a plan to sneak into the house and rob the old woman of her riches. Lucie reluctantly tags along. Naturally, what they find instead is more sinister and horrifying than they could imagine.

I finally watched this beautiful, bizarre nightmare of a film, and I am indeed satisfied. Here are a few eerie screencaps because the imagery was just too gorgeous to resist.

 

 

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2 Oct
2023

photo (and encouragement!) via Florence Welch’s instagram

Below are all the books I read July-September of this year; the first twenty or so reviews a bit more in-depth (whether because they are thoughtful and nuanced or I just tend to ramble idiotically, you can decide) and everything that follows is just some brief thoughts on each book. Hopefully, you will either find something that you’ve been curious about or that will pique your interest!

I had this blog post ready to go last week, but in double-checking my Goodreads stats, I discovered an extra nine books that I had forgotten to include here. I didn’t feel like writing reviews for these stragglers (though some of them are definitely deserving!) but I did go back and add them to the various sections below.

Jo Nesbo’s The Night House was a quick, fun read that had a YA haunted monster house vibe…until it abruptly didn’t, and it cycles through a few of those “…until it didn’t” iterations throughout the story. It was the sort of read that you munch cold pizza and guzzle icy diet cokes with on summer vacation while inhaling as many trashy paperback novels as your part-time babysitting money will buy from the musty beachside bookstore in your town with the amazing horror selection. In this story, 14-year-old Richard goes to live with his aunt and uncle after his parents have died in a tragic fire. Coming from a big city to a small town, Richard is lonely and bored on top of grieving the loss of his mom and dad, and is angrily acting out by bullying his classmates…who then begin disappearing in ways that he can’t even begin to explain to the authorities (because they are getting sucked into telephone booths and being turned into cicadas and other such horrifying things.) These disappearances also involve a house deep in the woods and a mentally unstable black magic-wielding individual, and the whole thing feels like maybe the whole town has gone a little nuts, or else the whole thing is happening in Richard’s head. or maybe, could it be that all of these things are true at once?

The Centre by Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi Anisa is a 35-year-old translator getting along in a somewhat privileged and rather aimless way, translating Bollywood films and living on her family’s money when she learns of an institute called The Centre where one may learn a language in the span of ten days through some sort of very hush-hush, esoteric immersive technique. Dissatisfied with her life, and bored and frustrated with her lackluster relationship with Adam (from whom she learned of The Centre), she commits to spending a week at The Centre, figuring that learning a European language like German will lead to her becoming the serious translator she’s always wanted to be. The whole place has a weird vibe, it’s all very creepy A24 energy, lots of meditation and seclusion, but hey, the meals are tasty and top-notch, so it’s not all bad. Nothing’s clicking language-wise until Anisa suddenly realizes she’s absorbing the lessons, and five days in, she understands every word of German; it’s wild! Outside The Centre, she goes on to translate a book that hadn’t previously been translated from German into English and makes a small name for herself and realizes that even as she’s become a more “serious” translator, she’s neither satisfied nor happy, and goes back to The Centre for more lessons. As she undergoes this immersion for the second time, she is becoming more friendly with the woman who manages the place, Shiba, an individual who, culturally, and perhaps in many other ways, Anisa has much in common with. And Shiba. as it turns out, is eager to share The Centre’s secrets. But is Anisa really ready to hear it? There are a lot of ideas to engage and negotiate with in this book, in exploring these characters’ relationships with each other, in how they treat language, but also in terms of feminism and friendships, class and conformity, power and consumption. I think what I found most interesting is how this author doesn’t give you a clear answer about anything, at the end, of course, in the treatment of the “big reveal” but also just in how mutable a character Anisa is. She’s really a cipher. I did not know what to make of her at all! And I really loved that.

At the End of Every Day by Arianna Reiche I am not sure if this is a book that rewards your patience or punishes it… and if I’m honest, it was a bit of a slog to get through, but then again, I can’t stop thinking about it or talking about it. This is one of those books where the author seems to have had a lot of different ideas; this could have been many separate stories, but somehow they all came together in a deep dive into the minutiae of behind-the-scenes amusement park engineering and separately, neon glass crafting? As well as old-world superstitions and modern-day celebrity worship, but not just that, really, how cults and religions are built around these things, and not just cults and religions but maybe entire experiences like movies and theme parks that shape generations and entire cultures? And there’s something about twins and doppelgangers and echoes, and oh yeah, L.A. is burning, and what if it’s not just L.A. –is there even a world outside at ALL anymore? This book is getting a lot of low reviews, and many folks are saying, “I don’t have the patience for this,” but people. You gotta. I need someone else to talk about this with. Have the patience. It’s not rewarded in the end, not really. But I think it the reward comes somewhere beyond that in some other story. I don’t know what I mean by that, but that’s why we keep reading, I guess. I’m still giving this book five stars. Don’t ask me to explain it.

Beholder by Ryan La Sala Did Ryan La Sala scour my brain for all my favorite stuff and weave it all into an electrifyingly imaginative horror adventure just for me? Threads linking the sublime nature of art and beauty, weird occult practices and secret power struggles at the heart of the elite art world, the startling and tragic connections between what we create and what we destroy, hallucinatory wallpaper (!!), and how beauty too dreadful to behold could be lurking behind any and every mirror–or, perhaps, inside the person gazing into its surface.

Midnight Showing by Megan Shepherd Take all of the bonkers ideas and concepts in Malice House – a horror/fantasy/thriller with an MC who, in the process of clearing out her estranged father’s house after his death, encounters more and more increasingly weird stuff and is eventually led along a horrific journey ending with the knowledge she is of a lineage whose artistic talents, either writing or art, brings monsters to life…and then drop this story in LA with creepy movie sets and haunted films and Hollywood urban legends and even more weird magic, murder and mayhem. Very into this series, wherever it heads next!

Let Him In by William Friend The atmosphere in this book of a father handling the tragic loss of his wife and the monstrous manifestations of his twin daughters’ grief was utterly exquisite. Combine the timeless melancholy and *extremely British* autumnal glooms of The Haunting of Julia (even the sunny scenes in this book felt remarkably bleak) with the “creeping dread in dark corners of a broken home at midnight” factor of Hereditary, and it made for a book that I couldn’t put down—an absolute stunner of a story.

The Clinic by Cate Quinn is one of those books that you can see it happening on screen in your mind’s eye, a story that seemed like it would be wildly popular as a ridiculously fun, twisty, and binge-able murder mystery series on Netflix. Strung-out Meg works undercover at a casino in L.A., catching cheaters, loan sharks, and related nogoodniks. Upon learning that her famous, manipulative rockstar twin had died after having checked into a remote, luxurious rehab facility and that the death is being passed off as a suicide, Meg decides to check herself in and investigate, believing that her selfish narcissist sister would never do such a thing. Also, Meg is in desperate need of a detox herself. The story unfolds both through Meg’s perspective and Cara’s, an individual who manages the facility and prides herself on the orderliness and beauty of the resort…and with whom Meg immediately butts heard. Meg learns the stories of the other residents, all of whom could be suspects, as well as the shady tactics of the clinic’s head psychologist and doctor, all the while Meg is struggling with her own addiction and finding herself quite against her nature, making friends and becoming vulnerable. I understand that the author struggled with addiction and has her own experience to draw from in terms of rehab and what may go on there, but I oftentimes found myself struggling with the book’s explanations of trauma and addiction and how it talked about sociopathy. From an outsider’s POV, I don’t know how much I can comment on it, but some of it felt a little irresponsible. Then again, this book was pretty absurd overall, so maybe I am overthinking it. Still–it was one of those compulsive, impossible-to-put-down reads, so maybe just don’t get caught up in the details.

The Heiress by Rachel Hawkins  spins and churns with secrets and scandal, centering on the wealthy McTavish family and its notorious matriarch, Ruby, who was kidnapped as a child and miraculously returned to her family only to grow up and develop an infamous reputation for very different reasons than her childhood disappearance (she was widowed four times over!) The story takes place in past and present timelines, spilling through a dead woman’s lips in the form of revelatory letters from Ruby about her storied life as well as the current circumstances of Ruby’s adopted, estranged son Camden. Camden wants nothing to do with his family, but his wife Jules is weirdly obsessed with getting Camden back into the familial fold despite his reluctance to reconnect with his shady relatives and tragic legacy…and, of course, claim his sizeable inheritance. Although Camden and Jules are clearly devoted to each other, you learn that they are both withholding secrets from each other and while that would seem like the worst time to reconnect with your despicable cousins in their creepy old mansion and attempt to stake your claim on the whole den of vipers, we probably wouldn’t have much of a story if they didn’t, right? And it was a pretty twisty, captivating story too, right up til the end, which I thought was exceedingly clever.

Ripe by Sarah Rose Etter was a panic attack on speed. This story, both all-too anxiously, heartbreakingly real, and yet vaguely, weirdly magical realist, follows Cassie from the cruelly competitive environment of her Silicon Valley tech/marketing job to her home life, which includes toxic, terrible friends, an occasional lover that technically belongs to someone else, and a long-distance relationship with her parents that does more harm than good. And while we follow Cassie, so too does the ever-expanding black hole that’s accompanied her for her whole life. Cassie’s loneliness and desolation –and that of the city she lives in–are captured in the author’s lush, dreamy prose and passages in which I forgot for a moment that I was reading about profoundly unhappy characters who deeply hate themselves. At this story’s heart is the question, “How does anyone bear themselves?” And the end shows us, in the starkest manner possible, that they simply don’t.

The Trap by Catherine Ryan Howard Told from multiple points of view, The Trap explores the circumstances of three missing women in Dublin and the people who are resolved to find them and/or decipher the mystery of their disappearance. There is Lucy, the sister of Nikki, who had gone missing the year before and whose life is on hold, unraveling with the unknowing. There is Angela, a civilian working in the Missing Persons Unit who hasn’t yet passed her physical but is determined to prove her worth, and, unexpectedly, the killer himself, who shares their history of urges and crimes. Though I found the premise and the individual stories intriguing, as the story unfolded and the twists were revealed, it felt like the story fell apart with the decisions and behaviors of the characters not making much sense at all. I had a lot of fun with and quite enjoyed Run Time and 56 Days by this same author, but I’m not so much a fan of this title.

In Delicate Condition by Danielle Valentine, Anna, an actress approaching middle age who has finally secured the role that’s put her on the map, is desperate to have a baby with her husband Dex. She has undergone several painful rounds of IVF to achieve this dream and finally becomes pregnant. For what should be a joyous time, however, the pregnancy is immediately fraught. Everything feels “off”, Anna is experiencing much more pain and discomfort than is normal, and there are strange and unsettling occurrences happening around her. It seems that externally, someone–perhaps a stalker?– does not want her to have this baby, and internally, the baby seems…well, rather monstrous. In this twisty, creepy thriller, nothing is quite as it seems for either Anna or those of us following along …is someone threatening Anna and her unborn child? Or trying to warn her of the danger posed by what she carries inside her? I kept shuffling this one to the bottom of my TBR pile, and shame on me for that because it’s intense and atmospheric and SO GOOD. CW: lots of pregnancy body horror and scenes of miscarriage.

The Followers by Bradeigh Godfrey As irritating as I find social media influencers, I am also hopelessly fascinated by them, so I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing them as characters in mysteries, thrillers, and horror novels. At their best, we’ll get to see their humanity and a peek behind the “highlights reel” of their life, and at worst, well…perhaps they’ll get what they deserve. Mommy influencer Molly Sullivan is more or less a good egg and in the former category, and we read of her struggling to find like-minded friends in a new town and balancing a new marriage to a Scott, a private, introverted fellow, with sharing her life on social media, maintaining engagement with her followers and making good in her promise to always let them in on her authentic life journey. Meanwhile, she does make a new friend. A young woman named Liv, who is temporarily living locally to Molly and who thinks that Molly’s husband is actually the man who killed her sister and kidnapped her niece over a decade ago. As Molly and Liv’s friendship deepens, Liv is increasingly convinced that she has tracked down the right man…but then, who is the stranger creepily sneaking around and watching all of them? I don’t love romance mixed into my thrillers and there is a lot of that in this one but it’s not shoehorned in or handled sloppily, so it’s tolerable in a story that’s fast-paced and a lot of fun.

Never Whistle At Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology  From the beautiful cover art to the exciting line-up of authors and the enthusiastic forward by beloved contemporary master of horror Stephen Graham Jones, I had high expectations of this right from the start–and I was not disappointed. Never Whistle at Night is an outstanding gathering of eerie stories that speak to an expansive range of indigenous experiences, exploring the darker aspects of their history and culture. This felt like a thoughtfully–even lovingly–curated collection of tales involving both everyday, mundane horrors of colonialism, identity, and power dynamics as well as fantastically supernatural curses, creatures, and monsters–the monsters calling from both within the house and outside in the darkness. Though there were some offerings I liked more than others, I enjoyed almost every single one of them, with a good handful of them I would have liked to have seen in longer form because they were just that incredible. But I say “almost every single one” because there was one that bored me stiff after a few pages, and I gave up. That story aside (and who knows, I may give it another try), this was a phenomenal anthology.

The One That Got Away With Murder by Trish Lundy What are the chances of becoming involved with not one–but two– suspected murderers when you’ve transferred to a new school to run away from your own checkered past and all its demons? Lauren and her mother move to the idyllic-seeming town of Happy Valley, Pennsylvania, after a fiery incident that leaves her a mentally and emotionally scarred social pariah. Things aren’t looking so great in her new school, either, when Lauren’s classmates and soccer teammates begin avoiding her and harassing her when they realize she’s hooked up with local-rich-boy-with-a-bad-reputation Robbie Crestmont. Folks in the town blame Robbie for the death of his girlfriend, and funny enough, Robbie’s brother Trevor also has a relatively recently deceased girlfriend himself. In desperately trying to unravel the mystery of the murders and the family at the heart of them, Lauren is also tangled in the guilt and grief from her own past–which may be blinding her to dangers that are much closer to her than she can even conceive. I read this propulsive thriller pulsing with secrets and twists over the course of a single evening, and it was a great time all the way through.

Green Fuse Burning by Tiffany Morris Struggling with grief after the death of her father and coming to terms with the unsaid but inevitable dissolution-in-progress of her current relationship, artist Rita is primed for my favorite horror subgenre of a story: “artist goes off to create in seclusion; weird shit ensues.” Spending a week at an isolated lake local to where her father grew up, Rita takes advantage of her girlfriend having forged her application–and having won– an artist’s residency complete with a creepy cabin in the woods, with some local folks behaving weirdly, as an extra treat. Rita begins to experience strange visions/hallucinations and possible instances of lost time or what might seem to be out-of-body experiences, and her resulting artworks reflect both her mood, the atmosphere, and her either literal or metaphorical (both? neither? not sure what was going on, really) journeys and experiences while exploring the land and the lake around the cabin. Morris’ writing is breathtakingly gorgeous, from the descriptions of the landscape to the artful essays detailing each painting, in the voice of an art critic. Overall, I’m not sure I completely loved the story but I definitely appreciated the lens of beauty, terror, and decay that it was written through

Mary: An Awakening of Terror by Nat Cassidy This is a title that had been languishing in my TBR pile for a year or so, and man I really slept on it. 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.

Lapidarium: The Secret Lives of Stones by Hettie Judah.  Have you ever gazed into a stone and wondered as to the stories it stores? The powers it possesses? In her fascinating book, Lapidarium: The Secret Lives of Stones, Hettie Judah explores the hidden history of these lithic marvels, from their role in ancient cultures to their modern-day influences and uses. An absolute feast for the senses, the book itself feels very much like a collector’s treasure hoarded wunderkammer of mythic and mysterious curiosities. It is split into six sections (Stones and Power, Sacred Stones, Stones and Stories, Stone Technology, Shapes in Stone, and Living Stones), and each section reveals a chapter devoted to unearthing an individual stone with imaginative, artful descriptions and a pretty wild, or wildly fascinating story connected to each stone. It’s a stunningly presented and designed book, with color-coordinated pictures and beautiful illustrations by artist Nicky Pasterfield for each stone, evoking the charming pictures in old geological and scientific publications. Referencing science, history, chemistry, physics, literature, philosophy, and pop culture, Lapidarium is an extravagantly storied chamber of stones, the next best thing to having a secret sparkling cache of curios at your fingertips. Writing with humor, compassion, and wit (I cackled out loud more times than I can count), Hettie leads us sure-footedly on our craggy journey down a glittering path of 60 mineralogical eccentricities, ancient souvenirs of deep-Earth drama, and travelogues that cross the strata of time as well as space. I wrote an in-depth review of this book here on the blog earlier this summer.

Rabbit Hole by Kate Brody The older I get the more I devour stories about the messy lives of 20-somethings who seem to be perpetually teetering on the brink, or maybe perpetually trapped in free-fall. Wildly careening out of control, numbing with sex, drugs, and dangerous, stupid scenarios, it seems like they never quite hit bottom, yet it’s always too late to stop from tipping over the edge. They fixate and fuck up and fail spectacularly–out of school, jobs, relationships–they can’t seem to get a grip on the messiness of their lives and it spirals ever further into chaos over the course of the story. I might be so obsessed with these characters because, in my late teens and early twenties, my life was practical and predictable;  I held down jobs while attending school and paying rent. I didn’t always get it perfect and my family had its own issues, but my life looked nothing like these books. Then again, my sister did not disappear and eventually become an unsolved cold case, and my father did not die by suicide, consumed by grief and guilt, ten years later. That’s a lot of loss and trauma, and that is what our main character Teddy is grappling with. Teddy begins to piece things together from Reddit threads and accounts she finds on her father’s computer, she falls into an uneasy friendship with an amateur internet sleuth, and becomes involved in a fraught relationship with an older man that she suspects had something to do with her sister’s disappearance. Her job performance as a teacher at a local private school becomes more and more erratic and her life is basically going to shit –and she’s not doing anything to stop it. It’s such an uncomfortable, unrelenting study of a grieving person that it feels almost exploitative in a morbidly fascinated “I can’t look away from this train wreck” kind of way. It wraps up confusingly and abruptly, and I am a little embarrassed to say that toward the end I had no idea what was going on. It’s not that it seemed all that complicated or twisty, and yet I still couldn’t really figure out what was happening. Up until that point though, I couldn’t tear myself away.

 

MYSTERIES/THRILLERS

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell A young mother and her boyfriend go missing in an English village after partying with some friends. A year later, a writer moves into town and is drawn into the mystery thanks to some strange clues left on her property.  This was a thoroughly engrossing story, I’m learning that you simply cannot go wrong with a Lisa Jewell novel.

The Family Game by Catherine Steadman Novelist Harriet Reed is finally getting to meet her fiance’s wealthy family and soon realizes that there’s gonna be a lot of weird and dangerous hoops to jump through if she wants to be part of the clan.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley  A group of friends get together at an isolated hunting lodge during a winter storm, and the usual secrets and murders ensue. Lucy Foley’s always fun with multiple POVs and timelines that shift from the recent past to the heart-pounding present, and there’s usually never a dull moment.

I Didn’t Do It by Jaime Lynn Hendricks A murder at a mystery/thriller writer’s convention! Could anything be tackier or more sensational? If you think you know from the get-go what’s going on, you’re probably right.

The Vanishing Hour by Serafina Nova Glass After a horrifyingly traumatic experience, Grace has sequestered herself away from the world working at a small, coastal town bed and breakfast. As the season comes to an end for the summer, she is startled by a last-minute guest who brings with him the very kind of trouble she’s been trying to run away from. This is the second or third thing I have read from this author and while they all seem wildly implausible, they’re so well-written, I don’t care. (How are nit-picky details in a thriller more implausible than say, ghosts or vampires? Shut up!) On A Quiet Street x

The Last Word by Taylor Adams Even more implausible (but fun as hell so who cares) was this book about a woman staying at an isolated beach house who becomes the target of a stalker after she has written a negative review about a really terrible horror novel…and the author doesn’t much care for her opinion.

 

GRAPHIC NOVELS

Wonder Woman: Ars HistoriaThis story of how the goddesses of Mount Olympus were just fed up with men, and how the Amazons subsequently came to be, was breathtakingly gorgeous and a powerfully moving read.

Trve Cvlt by Scott Bryan WilsonWeirdly enthusiastic fast food employees get caught up in the lunacy of a satanic cult’s search for an ultimate weapon

Night Fever by Ed Brubaker This was a noir-type story of a middle-aged traveling salesman who gets caught up in a nightlife-fever dream of brutality and debauchery on one of his business trips abroad. A “shining the light on the violence within men’s hearts” series of vignettes.

Hauntology by Jeremy Haun An interesting diversion

 

POETRY

SUPERDOOM by Melissa Broder I did not love these poems nearly as much as I loved the title of the book. There was an unholy number of instances of the word “cock.” I like my poetry dickless, honestly.  Dick-free poetry only. No thank you and good day.

Small Crimes by Andrea Jurjević  An intimate wander through the horror and beauty in early 90s Croatia during the war, and then later in America, after the war. Raw and rich with hope amidst ugliness and despair,  dark with the scraped and scabby wit of a perpetually open wound, this collection affected me and resonated with me much more than the one above.

The Hocus-Pocus of the Universe by Laura Gilpin Unfortunately, I think the devastating two-headed calf poem gave me higher expectations than this book could ever deliver on. At this point to make such a reference is sort of low-hanging fruit, but there was definitely a Rupi Kaur-like quality to several of the poems, a bland vapidity that was so on-the-nose that nothing actually meant anything, everything felt shallow and empty. I was disappointed to discover that, because again–that two-headed cafe poem! I cry if I even think about it! The rest of the collection gave me nothing to think about at all. That feels like a really horrible thing to write. Let’s chalk it up to an instance of over-inflated expectations.

 

 

HORROR/FANTASY/SPECULATIVE

Lone Women by Victor LaValle Adelaide is an isolated homesteader making a new life for herself out west, and her story is one of monstrous secrets and terrible burdens and dark pasts, and there is an aspect of it that reminds me in a way of a book that I desperately want to mention, but I feel like if I do, that will somehow spoil a little something about both books. I’ll just say the book that springs to mind is by Terry Pratchett. If you’ve read both and somehow are reading my mind and the connections I am making, please tell me! At any rate,  never has a story drawn me in with such immediacy and immersed me so quickly and completely.

Weyward by Emilia Hart I had been putting off reading this for the longest time. The reason is that I kept seeing on friends book lists, and these are friends that I associate with Fantasy with a capital “F.” Which is all well and good for visual art and cinema, but as an adult, I like my fantasy a little more low-key, sneaking into the lives of regular people who are firmly rooted in my world. It turns out Weyward is more witchy than fantastical, following the lives of three women across multiple genergarions who are born with mysterious gifts, and who are either learning of, accepting, or dealing with the consequences of their remarkable powers. It’s a really lovely book, and if you dream of living in a lonesome little cottage with a garden just outside your window, where you hear lashes of rain in the springtime and birdsong in the summer, you will love this book as much as I did. As I am the last one in the world to read it, I am probably preaching to the choir here.

Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle This is an unfair assessment, but I’ve never read Chuck Tingle’s books, only giggled at their silly titles. I was surprised at how…lucid… this story of conversion therapy via demonic possession was. I realize “lucid” is a very low bar for reading material.

We Spread by Iain Reid You never know what you’re going to get with Iain Reid but at least I didn’t want to hurl this particular book about an unsettling elder-care home and its appalling secrets into the sea, like I did with I’m Thinking of Ending Things. I’m afraid the title “We Spread” somewhat hints at the mystery, but even recognizing that, there’s still about about the story that I didn’t quite get.

Finna by Nino Cipri This was a quick little read about navigating codependent relationships and the messy breakups that sometimes follow…which is even worse if you have to work together. Even worse than that, when interdimensional wormholes open up at the  IKEA-esque superstore where you’re both employed. Very queer, weird, anti-capitalist fun.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix I loved Patricia, a gracious southern housewife whose family kind of sucks but who finds connection and kindred spirits in the women in her community and their unexpected book club. An interesting new element is introduced to the neighborhood in the form of James, a charmer under whose thrall the majoirty of the town eventually succumbs.  Patricia begins to suspect terrible things about James and this is where the book becomes massively uncomfortable for me. The gaslighting is off the charts, the community’s treatment of Patricia–even from her friends– and the way her husband and children behaved toward her, made me nearly physically ill. And these next issues are not typical of a Grady Hendrix story (at least not that I can recollect) but I hated the male gaze-y way the characters were handled; I am referring to scenes with both Slick and Patricia’s daughter, after their individual assaults. And even the fact that there were instances of sexual assault at all–I found pretty shocking. Not shocking for horror. Not shocking for horror written by a man. But shocking to have read it in this author’s books. It made me sad if I’m being honest. I expect all manner of marvelous, freaky ridiculousness from Grady Hendrix. But I don’t expect this.

The Watchers by A.M. Shine  This tale of a remote forest, the people who become trapped there, and the sinister inhabitants of its ancient realms is intense and creepy, but the writing is a bit weird. For example: our main character for reasons that sort of make sense as they relate to the story, gets lost in the forest with a parrot. The author frequently refers to it as “the yellow one”–not “the bird,” not “the parrot,” not even by its name. It’s one of those things that becomes stupid and annoying after a while and you’re just like, “WHY? and it begins to affect your overall enjoyment of the story. That twist at the end, though!

You’re Not Supposed to Die Tonight by Kalynn Bayron This was a lot fun

She Is A Haunting by Trang Thanh Tran I loved this one, recommend for sure

These Fleeting Shadows by Kate Alice Marshall I did not care for this one

Monstrilio by Gerardo Sámano Córdova This one was super interesting, highly recommend

Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak This was just sort of whatever

 

 

LITERARY FICTION (not trying to be pretentious here, but really didn’t know how to categorize these)

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!

The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya Two musicians connect, and briefly share a profoundly close friendship; fame, envy, self-doubt, and the internet ruins everything

The Guest by Emma Cline Alex is a hot mess express, pretending to be someone she isn’t at every turn, grifting and scamming her way through the Hamptons. I read this in an afternoon and was stressed out every second.

All-Night Pharmacy by Ruth Madievsky See above Rabbit Hole review re: chaotic 20-somethings and their messed-up, violent, strung-out, sexy lives. Sprinkle in complicated siblings, magical realism, mysticism, and a more satisfying (although maybe the slightest bit cheesy?) ending.

Maddalena and the Dark by Julia Fine  An atmospheric, dark academia(esque) fairy-tale (sorta) about the budding friendship between Maddalena, the daughter of a wealthy Venetian family, and Luisa, an orphan at the Pieta, where girls are schooled in the musical arts. At turns devoted to each other and obsessed with each other, the shifting power dynamics and feverish desire between the two will be the undoing of one of them.  Which is all to say…ooof, I hope you never have a friend like Maddalena.

Chrysalis by Anna Metcalfe Captivating and frustrating

The Vegetarian by Han Kang Skip it

Yellowface by RF Kuang Definitely do not skip it

 

I did not finish the following books. In the majority of these instances, I didn’t even make it a quarter of the way through. In a typical reading year, I might have been a bit more forgiving of plots that did not immediately hook me in, or whatever other various issues I had, but for these purposes, I figured I just didn’t have time to dick around if I am trying to reach a goal.

The Witcher this was gross and rapey, I’ll just watch the shows and play the games

The Force of Such Beauty Barbara Bourland this was taking to long to go anywhere; life is short and who knows how much time I have left

The Handyman Method under no circumstances will I partake in the tedium and existential angst of a long, boring trip to Home Depot

Everything the Darkness Eats sorry Eric LaRocca, I could not get into this at all

 

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I’m probably the last person on the planet to start watching A Discovery of Witches, and I have no plans to read the book (unless you can convince me otherwise? But I’m almost certain I will find it infuriating.) And I am only two episodes in and I am pretty sure the show is going to be really dumb, too– it gives me Twilight vibes, sorry guys — but gosh. It sure is pretty.

So far from what I can tell is that Diana, an academic and historian with some sort of witchy lineage that she has probably squashed way down, uncovers an alchemical manuscript that’s supposedly been lost for years, and now all the demons and vampires want to get their hands on it. Because the powers of these supernatural creatures are fading, and they suspect there’s a cure in the manuscript.

There’s a grim, handsome vampire who is a professor? doctor? scientist? Downtown Abbey alum? definitely a stalker, who immediately becomes obsessed with Diana, probably because she smells irresistible or something–and I can already tell his is going to be a politely horny show. I don’t have a problem with that per se, but I already hate Diana, so this may be hard to watch. In the first episode, she calls her witchy aunt back in the States at 5 o’clock in the morning; weird shit is happening and Diana wants some advice. Her aunt (River Song!!) attempts to advise her, and Diana throws a tantrum and hangs up because guess what–she didn’t call for advice or anything! UGH.

I will probably keep watching, or at least have it on in the background while I am knitting; the eternal autumn Instagram filter cinematography is stunning, and if nothing else, it makes for a cozy October backdrop while I am doing other things.

 

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It is that time of year again and I am woefully unprepared and massively unmotivated. Summer-me anticipated this problem and at least put together a list of ideas for October-me, so we’ll see what I can do. It’s Sunday and I’ve got to spend the rest of my evening dreading Monday, so I think the sharing of my movie inspo is just about all I’ve got in me for today.

I typically make a habit of reporting on my 31 Days of Horror progress on social media, but I don’t think I’ll be doing too much of that this year. Not sure I want to call attention to my lackluster efforts. Still, if you are one of maybe two people who check in around this time of year to see what I’m reading, watching, or otherwise horror-ing–hi, and hello! I am gonna do my very best (but let’s keep our expectations very low!)

 

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Peche Obscene from Lvnea, in collaboration with musician Chelsea Wolfe is glorious– 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.

With notes of “gasoline, dirt, rocks, leather, and funeral flowers” you’d probably expect Procession from Seance Perfumes to be a somewhat challenging scent, or a fragrance that some people might describe as “an acquired taste.” But that’s not the case at all. From the very first sniff, this gentle floral is all about softness and solace. Not the heavy, sinking desolation of sorrow, but rather the easement of having your grief and suffering witnessed by someone who is not trying to fix it, or make you feel better, just to quietly sit with you in sadness. All sorts of blooms, lilies and orchids, hydrangeas and lacy sweet alyssum, powdery, creamy, honeyed blossoms gently perfuming the darkness so that it’s not so lonely there.

I reviewed House of Matriarch Vanilla Caviar over on TikTok. You kinda need the visuals.

Fiery Pink Pepper from Molton Brown opens with so much promise, a zesty dust storm of dry citrus peel and pith, ginger’s tangy effervescent spice, and some underlying rosy-peppery woody notes. It rapidly becomes a somewhat predictable smelling woody cologne that is somehow also aquatic, but both aspects are equally lackluster. It’s that bubbly, vivacious new acquaintance that when you get to know them, you realize that they don’t actually have any interests or passions and they don’t have much of an internal life. Fun for a very short time, but it’s no one you are ever going to have a deep or lasting connection with. This fragrance is the essence of that person–what little essence they might have, anyway– distilled and bottled.

In this review for Ethereal Wave from Liis there are a few thoughts on music, and I just want to put it out there that I am an enthusiast, not an expert. Take my opinions with a grain of salt and also probably not very seriously. So Ethereal Wave is a fragrance that I am given to understand, is inspired by the gauzy, gossamer otherworldly sounds of the genre of music pioneered by musicians of the ineffable, the Cocteau Twins. And while there are just no words to convey how very into this concept I am, I am not sure that’s exactly what the fragrance gives me. I get a bright, lush, honeyed apricot (which I don’t think is a note even in this perfume), haloed by a white tea’s crisp, clean, grassy elegance. I don’t get a sense of the cardamom listed in the notes at all, but together the apricot-esque-ness and the white tea aspect meld to create something shimmering and luminous with an almost fluorescent neon radiance. Let’s say Cocteau Twins are at the more dreamy, delicate atmospheric end of the spectrum, and then all the way on the other end is the bold and strange (but also strangely catchy) sci-fi, avant-garde dream pop of Grimes, who is basically an anime character of a musician. So that’s the sort of stream-of-consciousness thinking that got me to the place where when I’m wearing this sample, I feel like a member of a colorful kawaii magical girl gang fighting space aliens when they’re not being school girls and pop idols, and i don’t know if any of you have seen or remember Tokyo Mew Mew but that’s where Ethereal Wave has taken me.

 Himitsu from Regime des Fleurs is a scent that I immediately loved and felt like it understood me, but it oddly and immediately called to mind a scent I don’t care for and which I can’t relate to…and yet on some level, they smell strangely similar. That scent I’m thinking of is Daim Blond from Serge Lutens, and its cool floral iris, expensive suede handbag, and apricot sunbeam vibes are the embodiment of someone who has it super together, they’re on a career track and probably going to make partner, they do yoga and host book clubs. I imagine they probably live in the city and they thrive in that energy and the atmosphere. I feel like Himitsu is the country mouse version of that person and they grew up with the exact opposite temperment. They live in a secluded little cottage at the edge of some remote hamlet,  and their only friends are like 25 varieties of wildflower and maybe one bluebird and they wear an actual, honest-to-patchwork, ruffled Holly Hobby bonnet which they wear unironically.  They probably own a grainy recording of the Royal Ballet’s Tales of Beatrix Potter.   They smell of dew-dappled violets at dawn, lacy cotton curtains drying in a chilly October breeze, and soft leather boots that have never clicked or clacked on concrete;  they only know the quiet creeping moss and curling fern of woodland paths.

I purchased Shay & Blue Cotton Flower because I thought it might be similar to a scent I am very fond of: Bath and Body Works Clean Cotton Blossom which then became Sea Island Cotton and which is now Fresh Cotton, but is perhaps not even available anymore? I loved the idea of that scent because it always conjured a sort of Anne of Green Gables Gunne Sax feeling for me, like cottagecore pre-whenever people started referring to it as cottagecore. Cotton Flower is less bleachy and screechy than any of the B&BW iterations; it doesn’t have that harsh lemony lily of the valley cleaning product aspect. It’s a bit woodier and muskier and warmer, with a golden nectarine glow, which is not to say it’s fruity, but it’s got a rather peachy-coral-vermillion-emberglow YouTube vaporwave neon sunset version of the scent of something like a nectarine. Shay & Blue Tonka Angelica is a resinous vanilla incense almond blossom pudding, with an underlying plastic milkiness reminiscent of Japanese milk candy.

There’s something about Craft from Andrea Maack that feels sleek and reflective, like the soaring chrome spires of a retrofuturistic sci-fi megastructure and its mechanized cybernetic inhabitants. It’s a cool, bloodless scent, like frost flowers on glass, and wintry chilled metal. I hadn’t read the description prior to writing down these thoughts and now I’m simultaneously pleased and peeved because I picked up on this perfume’s vibe to such an extent I’ve almost quoted the website’s copy about jet packs and robots right back at you. This is one of those instances when it seems the concept and the execution align in an almost preternaturally perfect way… like the android overlords have implanted these ideas directly into my brain!

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At the start of September I was pretty bummed because Florida Septembers are not super magical.  I don’t know what it’s like where you’re at, but in Florida, autumn really seems to dither and dilly-dally and lollygag and all those funny old-fashioned words that mean something’s taking too effing long!

So I  just did all the autumn things I love anyhow, to make myself feel better and perhaps summon some autumn feels while I was at it… and I thought it might be fun to film them along the way for a MONTAGE. Who doesn’t love a montage?  So yeah, here’s 3 weeks of homebody autumnal stuff distilled into about 5 minutes worth of video.

My videos aren’t like the top quality or whatever, but I have fun making them, so I hope you will give it a watch! And as per usual, everything mentioned in the video can be found below.

🎃 wreath and felt woodland creature dangle from World Market
🎃 pumpkin spice creamer recipe
🎃 sourdough bread recipe 
🎃 pumpkin bread recipe
🎃 Dragonhoard yarn
🎃 Comfort Fade cardi pattern
🎃 Zoologist Bat https://www.zoologistperfumes.com/pro…
🎃 Chris Collins Autumn Rhythm
🎃 Solstice Scents Estate Carnation
🎃 Pineward Fanghorn II
🎃 bloodmilk x BPAL Owl Moon
🎃 Arcana Wildcraft Holy Terror 
🎃 BPAL Limited Edition Pumpkin Smut is not available but their 2023 Halloween collection is live!
🎃 Botanical Interest seeds
🎃 Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle 
🎃 Lone Women by Victor LaValle
🎃 Let Him In by William Friend
🎃 Never Whistle At Night : An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology
🎃 Mary: An Awakening of Terror by Nat Cassidy
🎃 The Watchers by A.M. Shine

 

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cover art by George Ziel for Shorecliff by Marilyn Ross

A full moon hangs low in the sky, its eerie glow casting flickering shadows in the tangled, overgrown gardens. Ancient trees loom like spectral sentinels, their gnarled branches tangling the curls of an anguished heroine, her hair whipping in the wind as she flees an unseen menace. Hark, a lone candle beckons from a distant window–but is it in welcome, or in warning?

In the shadowy realm where danger and desire entwine, George Ziel’s (1914–1982) haunting brushstrokes captured the essence of the genre, bringing to life its dark and captivating world. Ablaze with passion and peril and replete with the gothic imagery of crumbling castles, abandoned ruins, and overgrown cemeteries, these works were mesmerizing bewitchments, both beautiful and terrifying, invitations into a world of mystery and suspense.

cover art by George Ziel for The Haunting of Elizabeth Calder

An artist in his very soul regardless of circumstance, Ziel (born Jerzy Zielensky) survived the atrocities of WWII and the Warsaw Ghettos with his powerful need to create art intact; after his liberation and during hospital convalescence, he turned the desperate scrap paper and charcoal sketches of his fellow prisoners in the notorious camp into new drawings which were then collected into stark, unforgettable books and published in 1946.

After the war, Ziel moved to New York City and embarked upon his incredibly prolific career as a commercial artist, creating countless pulp paperback novel covers. He left behind a legacy of many hundreds of lurid book covers– brooding gothics, macabre horror, even lush romances– a lifetime of painterly visions and shivery wonderments to capture the imagination and transport readers to mysterious realms of secrets and darkness.

Read more of George Ziel’s biography and career over at Lynn Munroe books, and see below for a small gallery of my favorites from among his beautiful nightmares.

 

cover art by George Ziel for Inherit the Mirage by Julia Thatcher

 

cover art by George Ziel for Twilight Return by Jean Kimbro

 

cover art by George Ziel for The Storm Witch by Elisabeth Barr

 

cover art by George Ziel for The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart

 

cover art by George Ziel for Nightgleams by Julia Thatcher

 

cover art by George Ziel for Black Candle by Christine Randell

 

covert art by George Ziel for Appleshaw by Christine Damien

 

cover art by George Ziel for House of the Darkest Death by Alicia Grace

 

cover art by George Ziel for Dark Waters of Death by Sharon Wagner

 

cover art by George Ziel for Whispering Gables by Sandra Abbott

 

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