10 Best Books for Fall

Today is the first day of fall. And let me tell you… I’m ready for it.

Fall is my favorite season. After the unrelenting heat of summer, it’s nice to go outside and not instantly be sweaty and overheated. (I’d rather be cold than hot.)

Fall is such a pretty time of year too, with the leaves turning colors and the smell of woodsmoke in the air. Plus, fall has Halloween, which is the best holiday ever.

I used to look forward to the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks, but since I’ve started eating healthier, all I taste is chemicals. 😦 I’ve tried a few recipes at home, and some other coffee shops, but I haven’t found anything I like as much as I remember. (If you have an awesome recipe for PSL, please let me know… I will be forever in your debt.)

I always hear about summer beach reads. I think autumn hammock reads and autumn forest reads should be a thing. My list is largely horror, but I did throw in a couple that aren’t. Think camping, falling leaves, colder days, ghosts, vampires, and monsters.

  1. And the Trees Crept In, by Dawn Kurtagich This is a wonderfully creepy YA book. Silla and Nori flee an abusive situation and go live with their aunt. But the house their aunt lives in is haunted. And the trees get closer every day. This would be a fantastic one to sit and read in the woods. And then wonder if that whispering through the tree branches is actually them getting… a… little… closer.
  2. Dracula, by Bram Stoker Count Dracula is evil; no sparkles here. If you’ve never read it, there’s no time like the present.
  3. ‘Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King This is an underrated book of King’s, not one that gets talked about often. It’s the story of what happens when bad vampires take over a town.
  4. Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein This is a 5 book series. Of course, Mary Shelley’s original is wonderful, and everyone should read it. But this series is interesting, starting in modern day. Detectives Carson O’Connor and Michael Maddison begin investigating a series of strange murders. In the course of their investigation, they find that Victor Frankenstein didn’t learn anything the first time around, and that his monster has become more human than the man. Like most Dean Koontz books, they’ve got it all: fantasy, science fiction, horror, romance, exploration of the nature of what it means to be human.
  5. The Night Circus, by Erin Morganstern When I think of fall, I think of camping, haunted hayrides, music festivals– basically anything involving woodsmoke, apples, marshmallows, and that special crisp scent in the air. The Night Circus evokes those feelings. Bonus points if you actually read it while sitting outside by the campfire.
  6. Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake Cas Lowood kills the dead. For him, it’s not that big of a deal. But when he comes against Anna, it all gets more complicated. Because Anna’s ghost is not ready to stop killing. This is a two book YA series, with Girl of Nightmares following the first.
  7. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black Vampires are real and confined to Coldtowns so they don’t infect humans. Still, humans don’t go out at night, because vampires don’t always follow rules. When Tana wakes up one morning after a party, she finds that all her friends have been slaughtered, and her ex-boyfriend has been bitten. A delirious vampire is chained up next to him. The vampires who did it are in the basement, asleep. For reasons even Tana doesn’t understand, she takes them both out of the house, intending to drive them both to the closest Coldtown.
  8. House of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski This book is long and complicated, and so worth it. It puts a spin on the idea of a haunted house. Johnny works in a tattoo parlor, and finds a book in the apartment of a dead man. It’s called “The Navidson Record,” and it details the story of a family who bought a house that grows and shrinks, with hallways going places they shouldn’t, and creatures living in the dark. Though it’s presented as fact, Johnny can’t find any evidence that the Navidson Record is real. His obsession with the record drives him crazy. The book is told in an experimental fashion, with pages you have to turn sideways (or upside down) to read, notes scrawled in the margins, sketches, different colored text, and different languages.
  9. A Long Fatal Love Chase, by Louisa May Alcott Rosamond lives with her bitter old grandfather and wants more from life. She declares, “I often feel that I’d sell my soul to Satan for a year of freedom.” Not long after, a mysterious man (Phillip Tempest) arrives and romances her. She agrees to go away with him, if he marries her. He does, and they have a year of happiness. But when she finds out they were never really married, she flees, and Phillip pursues her, vowing never to let her go.
  10. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed Following a divorce and the death of her mother, with no real camping or hiking experience, Cheryl Strayed impulsively decided to hike 1000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail alone. She traveled from California, through Oregon, into Washington, meeting new people and learning about herself. I have no idea if the movie did it justice, but this was a fantastic memoir about one woman’s journey to self-discovery.

Are there any on my list you agree or disagree with? Any fall reads you’d add?

Z is for Zsadist

Hello, and welcome to Blogging A to Z 2017! Thanks for stopping by. Fellow A to Z-ers, please make sure to leave a link to your blog in the comments.

My theme this month is 26 of the Best Characters in Fiction.

IMG_8478Zsadist is a character in the Brotherhood of the Black Dagger series, by JR Ward. These books are shelved in romance, and while they do have a lot of things in common with regular romance books, I think it’s an oversimplification.

The Brotherhood is a group of vampires who protect their species from the Lessers. The Brotherhood are scary, badass vampires who have no interest in humans. In this universe, vampires take blood from one another, as human blood would be too weak to sustain them.

Each book focuses on a different brother and his romantic attachment to a female. There’s sex and romance and all the typical stuff you find in a romance novel, including a “happily ever after” ending.

One of the reasons I love these books is that each of the brothers struggles with some form of disability. One brother is blind. Another has a prosthetic leg. Another struggles with a “beast” that emerges whenever he gets too emotional. And they’re still badass.

Zsadist is considered the coldest and cruelest of the brothers. When he was a young man, he was kidnapped and sold to a female who abused him physically, emotionally, and sexually. Because of that, he’s really just frightened of everyone, especially women, and uses his hard persona to keep everyone away. Though he’s loyal to the brothers, even they pretty much think he’s a psychopath.

When Zsadist meets a female who’s interested in him, he reacts the way you might expect: with fear that comes across as cruelty.

His story happens in the third book of the series, Lover Awakened. He’s really well-drawn. At times, my heart ached for him. But he didn’t come across as pitiful. He’s someone who was coping with his abuse in the only way he knew how, and I loved how he still managed to be a hero when it mattered.

It’s rare to see a male survivor of sexual abuse in a story, much less one who’s still masculine and tough. In a later book, he counsels a younger male about living with this kind of trauma, and it’s a powerful thing. The more fiction talks about it, the more we take steps to destigmatize it for the survivors.

Because his book is the third in the series, we get to see him from other points of view first. His behavior makes him look like the horrible person everyone believed. I think it’s a powerful reminder that we can never truly know another person’s story unless we’re in their head.

These are great books. If you’re not usually into romance, give these a try anyway. They focus as heavily on the vampire world and war as they do on the love story.

How do you feel about vampire books? Can’t get enough or overdone?

A is for Anita Blake

Hello, and welcome to Blogging A to Z 2017! Thanks for stopping by.

My theme this month is 26 of the Best Characters in Fiction. So let’s get to it, shall we?

IMG_8298I first met Anita Blake when I was a teenager, in the first Laurell K. Hamilton book in this series, Guilty Pleasures. Anita was my first encounter with a female character who was strong in this particular way. She was the best at what she did, and could keep up to the men in her life, yet she was still essentially female.

In so many books, if a woman is (excuse my language) kick ass, then she’s also basically a man in her attitude and her dress. Her femininity is stripped away. Anita Blake wasn’t like that. She was still insecure, looking for love, with nurturing tendencies. But she also wouldn’t hesitate to kill a vampire (or other monster). She didn’t back down if someone tried to intimidate her.

As the series progressed, Anita’s beliefs about vampires began to change, and it was interesting to see the evolution of her belief system in the face of new evidence. I loved that she wasn’t so stuck in what she believed to be right that she couldn’t change.

If you haven’t read it, the first 10 books in the series are wonderful. They’re books I own and re-read occasionally. There are currently 27 books, and I got less enthused about them as time went on. I think I’ve only read through about book 17. As with friends, sometimes as time goes on, you just grow apart. That’s what happened with this series.

It’s nothing personal; it’s just life, right?

I’ll always be grateful for the lessons she taught me, that it’s okay to both be tough and a girl. And to wear your scars with pride.

Any Anita Blake fans out there?


D is for Dracula


imagesI’m ashamed to admit that I hadn’t read Bram Stoker’s Dracula until last year (hangs head in shame).  I knew of it, of course.  I’d read Frankenstein and other classic horror, but somehow, I just never got around to Dracula.

That changed when I had an idea for a vampire story.  I started doing a great deal of reading on vampires on the internet, and pretty much smacked myself in the forehead when I realized that I’d skipped Dracula.  I had an idea what it was about, collected from other references, so I didn’t think it would offer me many surprises.

I ended up pretty much being wrong.  That’s the story of my life.

I never know if classic novels are going to be hard to get through or not, and this one turned out to be a really good read.  The creepy atmosphere gave me chills and made me want to stay inside after dark.  I didn’t sleep with a stake by the bed or anything, but… let’s just say I’m glad I enjoy garlic.

I’d gotten used to the modern vampire.  You know, the sexy one who can be domesticated and play nicely with humans.  I loved the fact that Dracula was straight up evil.  That he had his “human” personality, but when he was being a vampire, he could not be tamed, reasoned with, or seduced.  The only way out was to outwit him, use a stake, garlic, or a cross.

I don’t want my wolf to put on a sheep suit, sit at the table with me, and pretend that he’s not eyeing up my dog for dinner.  I want that wolf to have dripping fangs and red eyes, to growl and make his intentions clear.

Dracula reminded me of how scary horror can be.  Modern fiction wants antagonists who have motivation, who are understandable and maybe have sympathetic elements.  And while that’s great and all, sometimes, in fiction, I just want a bad guy to be a bad guy.

Life is complex.  Now and then, I just want my fiction to be black and white.

“How good and thoughtful he is; the world seems full of good men–even if there are monsters in it.”

-Bram Stoker, from Dracula

Confessions of a Vampire Lover

Look closely and you can see a big spider...  Creepy!

Look closely and you can see a big spider… Creepy!

I’m a little ashamed to admit that I’ve never read Dracula.  I read Frankenstein, so at least I don’t have to be completely ashamed, but… how did I miss that?

I’m reading It Started with Dracula: The Count, My Mother & Me by Jane Congdon.  It’s a memoir written by a woman who has always been a Dracula fan since she saw her first Dracula movie, starring Christopher Lee.  She explains that she had always wanted to see Romania, but that it took her until her 60s to get there.  Once in Romania, she started resolving some of her childhood issues.

She explains that she had read about travel being a transformative experience, but that she didn’t expect to actually experience any transformation or changes.

I’m not very far into the book, but so far, I’m really enjoying it.  She talks about vampires, and I realized that it’s been a long time since I’ve read anything with a “real” vampire in it.  I think the last one must have been ‘Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King.

Recent books with vampires have romanticized them, with books like Twilight, the Anita Blake books and The Vampire Diaries.  Vampires just aren’t scary anymore.  They’re sexy and rich, and can be tamed like puppies.  What made Dracula so scary was that he was sexy and evil.  He couldn’t be tamed.  Vampires of yesterday treated humans like food or vermin.

Here’s a list of 55 best vampire books per Goodreads.  I think my next mission is to work through this list.  What’s the best vampire book you’ve ever read?

O is for Older

“The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”
-Madeleine L’Engle

DSC_44A lot of people get upset about getting older, but I’ve never been one of them.  Probably that’s partly because I don’t feel my age.  I know how old I am because I can do math, but I feel like I’m still in my 20s, like I have plenty of time to do everything, and that the whole world is still waiting for me.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing.  It just means I haven’t lost my sense of wonder and possiblity.

You couldn’t pay me to go back to my teenage years.  Sure, it would be nice to get rid of all the adult responsibilities again, but being stuck in a hormone-ridden body, driven by emotion?  No thanks; I’ll pass.  High school and college weren’t great.  It wasn’t until I got into the working world that I really felt like I came into my own.  I love writing and reading Young Adult fiction, but that doesn’t mean that I want to live there.

One thing that really bothers me about books like Twilight is that Edward is over 100 years old mentally, and he’s into a 17 year old girl?  Is it not disgusting because he looks 17?  I know I’m overthinking this, but I’m not the only one this occurred to, right?

The Originals

by The TV Guy

thI was flipping through the dial when I accidentally came across this odd little show. For those who watch prime time TV and live in a substantial viewing market, you are likely to have a CW network. This is a younger viewer’s network; it has vampires and monster hunters and lots of pretty people playing all the hip roles. I often flip through and just go by because the shows they offer do not excite me.

I took a look at The Originals, a vampire show where all the beautiful people never age and they are in a battle with werewolves, but only sometimes because they have made a truce with some of them and not others. I think I am losing IQ points as I ramble on about this show.  I sat through entire episode and was quite sad at the end as the idea is all right but the execution was horrendous. This is a block of time I can never get back, but I hope through my words, that you will avoid this one like the plague.

Lover Reborn- A Review

I love JR Ward’s books, and I think each one gets better than the last.  Book Ten, Lover Reborn, focuses on Tohrment, aka Tohr.  In this book, Tohr has to learn how to live again with the help of a mysterious woman who lived among the chosen.

My favorite books are the ones about the core brothers (and John Matthew), and this one is no exception.  If you’re a Black Dagger Brotherhood fan, or if you’re new to the series, this is a wonderful book.  The only problem with these books is that I have to wait for the next one, and I really want to see who the books focus on next.  I keep hoping for Qhuinn and Blay, though there were some interesting developments with Layla during this book, and I can’t wait to see how that plays out either.  I love being able to watch how the characters and different story lines develop.

If you like romance, danger, suspense, and vampires, this is the series for you.

Mall Sitting

Last night, my partner and I had a few minutes between calls and went to get some frozen yogurt at the mall.  This mall has an indoor part like a traditional mall, then an outside portion as are common in Arizona.  We sat in our van in the parking lot like a couple of stalkers and watched the foot traffic.

Women in stilettos tottered in to eat frozen yogurt and shop for designer lampshades while pulling down their dresses to make sure they just covered their modesty.  Men in jeans and untucked button down shirts walked beside them, one hand just hovering near their elbows.

I can honestly say that I’ve never gone to a mall in heels of any description.  I did realize, however, that a mall would be a great place to hide during the zombie apocalypse.  I know that was done in Dawn of the Dead, but malls and technology have come a long way since 1978.

My partner last night was not my regular partner, and I thought she took my psychotic musings rather well.  Of course, she said that her 14 year old son often talks about the zombie apocalypse.  Zombies are in and cool right now.  I can’t imagine that they’ll ever be sexy the way vampires are.  I’m not sure when vampires became sexy (I sense a future blog entry…), but I imagine prior to that happening, no one saw that coming either.

So, what do you think of mall watching?  What do you think of the whole zombies craze?

Happy Birthday, Vlad!

Today is Vlad the Impaler’s 580th birthday!  Vlad the Impaler was the inspiration for Dracula.

Vampires were known throughout time as corpse like creatures that fed on humans’ life force.  It was more of a spiritual thing than an actual “drinking blood” thing.  In 1819, a novella called The Vampyre by John Polidori was published, leading the evolution of vampires from something akin to an animated corpse to the suave and sophisticated creature more often written about today.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula came out in 1897, and is the quintessential vampire novel.  Most vampire novels share some similar characteristics.  Vampires have some sort of problem with sunlight, they feed off blood (most often human), and they’re immortal unless staked in the heart or cut off at the head.  Wood hurts them most.

While I wouldn’t call Twilight, by Stephenie Meyers, great literature, what was interesting about it as a vampire novel is that it broke many of the “molds” of other vampire novels.  Many vampire novels and movies make vampires at least a little scary along with sexy.  Twilight’s vampires are almost a sanitized version of vampirism.  In my opinion, one of the reasons it was successful is that it took an existing mold, and instead of being faithful to it, twisted it into something recognizable, but something different.

In writing, it can be hard to come up with new ideas.  Twilight shows that you can dust off an existing idea, perhaps even one that’s been done to death, and showcase it in a new and interesting way.

Here’s a link to an interesting “alternate” take on Twilight.  If you’re a Twihard, this might offend you…