REVIEW: Candle-Making with the Coven Mavens at Booksweet!

For those who prefer more intimate Halloween celebrations, this Samhain candle making workshop at new North Campus bookstore Booksweet was not to be missed. The Coven Mavens curated a truly magical experience right down to the golden place settings and the abundance of dried herbs and essential oils. Before we made our striped candles, Coven Mavens Juliana and Sara shared with us a bit about Samhain. “Samhain is the traditional celebration in Celtic and Wiccan belief at the end of Harvest before winter begins when the veil between worlds is understood to be thin. This means that we might feel the closer presence of the dead, or ancestors, or even spirits like fairies.” The Coven Mavens are two alumni of the University of Michigan who now facilitate magical events around Ann Arbor.

The Coven Mavens at the divination table
Coven Maven Juliana pours wax for a participant

This workshop attracted local Ann Arbor families and students a like. There were people like myself there who practice witchcraft and other types of spirituality but I would say we were outnumbered by participants as equally passionate about scented candles and candlemaking. The Coven Mavens helped us along every step of the way with tips to make even stripes and a large variety of ingredients including palo santo oil, dried lavender, and sea salt. My favorite scent to try was the white birch! The workshop also featured optional Tarot reading and a raffle. Each participant received a goody bag with a metal candle snuffer among other treats. I was really impressed with the quality of it all and excited to add my new candle and snuffer to my altar!

I hope in the future the Mavens will host more events and give us an even deeper glimpse into some of these magical traditions. The Coven Mavens may attract a wide range of customers but when it comes to witchcraft, they are the real deal. They practice magic themselves as part of a larger group and hold specific events to share some of their practice through their business. They are what Booksweet owner Truly Render calls “community experts”, local practitioners, writers, scholars, and activists based in Ann Arbor who collaborate with Booksweet.

Booksweet is a family owned and operated business that seeks to showcase the work of these experts and foster community around literature and discussion. The shop features curated reading lists, including a Racial Justice List and a Gender Reading List. Past partners have included Black Men Read and Booksweet is a proud partner for monthly Family Book Parties when the weather is nice. Next month, Booksweet is hosting  11/6 event with with Rise, a student-led advocacy organization committed to restoring funding for public higher education to make public colleges and universities affordable and accessible to all.

A selection of books on the topic of racial justice
Participants at the candle making table
My new Samhain candle!

Booksweet is not your typical Barnes and Nobles type of experience. Where as larger bookstores might provide variety and anonymity– a place to drink a coffee and work undistracted– smaller bookstores like Booksweet offer a curated, interactive experience. They have a unique selection of books ranging on topics from religion to current events to young adult fiction to graphic novels.

I picked up a gem I have been coveting, Misfits: A Personal Manifesto by Michaela Coel, the genius writer, director, and star of tv series I May Destroy You. Included at this event as well were various books of magic and tarot decks discounted to the participants of the workshop. If you’ve been craving a change in perspective, check out Booksweet on 1729 Plymouth Rd!



REVIEW: Jonathan Franzen Releases “Crossroads”

Acclaimed author Jonathan Franzen recently released his latest novel, Crossroads and is also presenting an accompanying virtual book tour in partnership with local bookstores around the country. Last Thursday, local bookstores around the midwest including Ann Arbor’s Literati Books co-hosted an online book tour event where Franzen read excerpts from Crossroads and discussed the book in conversation with Kathy Wang, author of the novels Impostor Syndrome and Family Trust.

The concept of an “online” version of the classic local bookstore book tour is a bit odd at first glance, but it proved to be a rewarding substitute for the pre-covid format. The event began with Franzen reading an excerpt from Crossroads. The novel itself focuses primarily on a single family over the course of a single day around Christmastime in the 1970s. To open, he chose a segment which at times felt deliberately uncomfortable, dealing with complex issues of religion, maternal roles and responsibilities, and the concept of the “ideal body” and dieting for women in the 1970s (when the novel is set). The prose isn’t terribly complex, but the associated emotion in the excerpt is compelling and palpable.

The excerpt serves as a springboard for Franzen and Wang to discuss just how this book and its characters came to be. Franzen chooses to inhabit the consciousness of each family member, a decision that arrived slowly over the course of the creation of the novel. He discusses how originally he thought the matriarch, Marion, would be “just a mom”—a character without much depth or her own perspective. Yet she grew so much during the three years of the book’s gestation that she ultimately became a character so important that the multi-paragraph opening excerpt was focused entirely on her and her internal conflict.

Not only did Marion change throughout the novel’s creation, but Franzen and Wang also discuss how Franzen’s attitude towards his characters has changed with time, over the course of his previous novels up until now. Franzen admits that he’s not trying to be “kinder to his characters”, although in his eyes, he sees that as a potential loss of comedy. The inextricable partnership of anger and comedy is something I had never seriously considered before, but Franzen and Wang put it into sharp perspective. They discuss how, in Franzen’s eyes, it’s impossible to have comedy without also having anger, and how his choice to treat his characters in Crossroads with greater kindness—although never forgoing honesty—may have sacrificed some comedy in the interest of having deeper, truer characters.

The “peek behind the curtain” about the creation of Crossroads and Franzen’s literary process only increased my excitement about reading the novel. If you’re a fan of Franzen or just generally interested in reading the novel, I would recommend attending a book tour date! The tour is virtual and future tour dates can be viewed here: 

Stay tuned for an upcoming review of the full novel!

Welcome to [art]seen!

Our [art]seen bloggers are University of Michigan students who review arts events on and near campus, sharing their thoughts and experiences on live music, film screenings, dance performances, theatre productions and art exhibitions.
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REVIEW: The Four Winds

Set in the 1930s and telling the story of a family who fled Dust Bowl-ravaged Texas for California, The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah is not a comfortable book to read. That said, however, its descriptive prose and well-developed characters has the potential to draw readers in, and certainly kept me turning to the next page. Furthermore, despite the immense pain contained in the book’s pages, there is also an undercurrent of hope and survival, making it a worthwhile read in the current times. At over four hundred pages long, it is an excellent book for summer reading.

Elsa Martinelli, the main character of the book, is a woman who does not know her strength. As a young girl, a heart condition kept her from participating in many activities. Her family treated her as weak and as an outsider, and the resulting feelings of inadequacy haunted Elsa in a failing marriage and into middle age. However, she rises from these ashes to find family in her children and mother- and father-in-law, whom she fights fiercely for. This fierce love leads her to make one of the toughest decisions of all – to leave the Texas farm that is her family’s livelihood, but where everything is dying as a result of the dust storms, in search of a better future for her children.

However, life is not automatically better in California. Although the Martinellis escape the dust and its associated health consequences, work is hard to come by. Migrants fleeing the dust storms, referred to by California locals by derogatory terms such as “Okies” or “your kind,” were forced to live in inhumane tent camps, scraping together money to afford the most necessities. Though the story takes place nearly a century ago, it is hard to read it and not draw comparisons to the treatment of twenty-first century immigrants and refugees. So much progress has been made in so many areas since then, and yet we still tolerate, and even perpetrate, the same gross violations of human rights and dignity:

“Elsa couldn’t believe people lived this way in California. In America. These folks weren’t bindle stiffs or vagabonds or hobos. These tents and shacks and jalopies housed families. Children. Women. Babies. People who had come here to start over, people looking for work.”

However, fortunately, the human spirit also remains today as it did in the 1930s. In the Author’s Note, Kristin Hannah observes that strength can be drawn from others’ persistence in past hardships and applied to current struggles like the pandemic: “We’ve gone through bad times before and survived, even thrived. History has shown us the strength and durability of the human spirit. In the end, it is our idealism and our courage and our commitment to one another – what we have in common – that will save us.”

Even when things kept getting worse for the Martinelli’s when it seemed as though it was already as bad as it could get, they held onto one another, to friends, and to hope for better days. That is a message well worth four hundred pages.


REVIEW – Please Stand By: The 2021 Stamps School Senior Exhibition

Please Stand By: The 2021 Stamps School Senior Exhibition is a virtual showcase that highlights the work created by the graduating students of the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design. As a featured artist myself, I can personally claim that the creative process has been immensely complicated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, evidenced by the impressive display, the unprecedented conditions we’ve experienced together this past year have not prevented our collective perseverance and the creation of astonishing projects! Even though it is saddening that most senior studios went unused, I couldn’t be more proud of my fellow classmates for advancing their practice and fostering immense creative and professional development through their studies. Congratulations! 

That being said, if you haven’t checked out the exhibition, you should definitely give it a look! Here is the webpage: Ironically, even though everything is digital, we have amassed a lengthy selection of books. In Between: este lado y el otro lado by Olivia Prado, a multidisciplinary artist, is a book that resists preconceptions of Mexican-American identity through the juxtaposition of poetry, drawing and painting, photography, and text messages with family members. Prado intentionally creates a multi-faceted narrative that contends with expectations for artists of color to reduce personal experiences to simplified concepts for white viewership and consumption. By offering a variety of rich and formative experiences, Prado opens a space for people to better understand, yet not entirely, the complexities of personhood as it relates to the communities we are a part of.

Additionally, because the website format allows for each artist to upload up to ten documentation photographs, the display configurations of more sculptural works are highly mutable. This is applicable to the Parasitic Vessels: Forms of Disuse series created by recent-graduate Ellie Levy. Levy is particularly interested in the introduction of invasive protrusions and modifications to bowls as a question and critique to the utilitarian nature of ceramic design. Although, with this mutation comes a supplemental and beneficial quality to the human interaction with an object. How do we perceive the bowls differently? As the material body of the bowls are mutated, a fused identity is created through a balance that allows for new existence. The parasite becomes a catalyst for the imaginative.

These are two of the many amazing and captivating works in the exhibition, which will remain permanently in the digital space. I encourage you all to explore what we have created!


Artist Information:

Olivia Prado – Website:

Ellie Levy – Website:; Instagram:

REVIEW: Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile

Despite being familiar with Brandi Carlile’s music, her new book Broken Horses took me by surprise. Generally, I would expect memoirs by artists to be enjoyable, perhaps gratuitous, for fans, but Broken Horses is, I daresay, of a different breed. It is impressive in its wisdom and authenticity, and a book that I would recommend regardless of whether the reader has listened to Carlile’s music.

The book chronicles Carlile’s life and development as an artist through present-day, and is punctuated by song lyrics (Carlile’s, as well as other songs and artists mentioned in the prose, including the Indigo Girls, Elton John, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and others) and annotated photos. It is part narrative and part introspection, and it is self-deprecating, humorous, and raw.  The cast of characters is extensive, anchored in the center by Carlile’s musical “family,” including her bandmembers Phil and Tim, her wife, Catherine, and two daughters.  It is a vivid portrait of a human being who also happens to be a GRAMMY-winning singer-songwriter.

Broken Horses also traverses a wide range of themes in its three hundred pages: family, friendship, sexuality, religion, forgiveness, and many others. Carlile offers her thoughts and experience of each, without pretending to have all the answers. One of my favorite passages in the entire book is in relation to the genesis of the 2018 album By the Way, I Forgive You. In addition to its insight (even in its admission of lack of insight), it also, in my opinion, captures the essence of Broken Horses as a whole:

“Before I start sounding too earnest, understand that I wasn’t “teaching” forgiveness. I was and still am learning it. I’m not evolved. I’m as much a part of the problem as every other person in the world. This isn’t wisdom or insight, it’s a work in progress and it never did come from me. It came from our parents and grandparents. Our flawed heroes and our favorite TV shows. We were just playing dress-up and trying forgiveness on like a costume. We intend to learn these lessons over and over again the hard way for as long as we’re human. If you want the real thing 100 percent pure, the Everclear …you should talk to Lazarus.”

-Brandi Carlile, Broken Horses (2021), Chapter 17: By The Way

Quite fittingly, I would describe Broken Horses as a song above anything else (which makes sense, considering the author). It is a song of the human experience, and one that is not to be missed.