And Then There Were Three

From time to time I like to surprise myself by reading something that doesn’t involve monsters or ghosts or the seamier side of humanity or teenagers in a flux of crisis. I’ll pick out a book normally labeled as Chick Lit but what I like to call “just a nice read about friendship.” Because even monster lovers like to read about the bonds of enduring friendship every once and awhile.

Jane Green’s The Friends We Keep studies a friendship between three people that spans 30 years. Evvie, Maggie, and Topher meet at college in England during the 80s. They form a fast friendship, forging their separate paths together into adulthood and the real world. Evvie, American born and raised, constantly starves herself and becomes a super model. Maggie marries college sweetheart Ben, whom she hates at first (isn’t that how most love stories start?). Topher becomes a well-known actor while keeping on the down low that he enjoys the company of men.

Like all friendships and the phases of the moon, the relationship between the three waxes and wanes over the years. They lose touch only to reconnect again and then lose touch once more. But each of them is hiding a dark secret, a secret they would normally share with each other but feel so shameful about that they keep them hidden and let them fester like a wounded limb going gangrenous.

Evvie’s modeling career is stopped in its tracks after an affair with a married man results in pregnancy. Topher has a childhood trauma that keeps him from fully loving someone and accepting love in return. Maggie’s marriage to Ben hasn’t been the perfect wedded bliss she pretends it is. Their marriage is on the brink of oblivion from Ben’s chronic alcoholism.

The three best friends get together close to the 30th anniversary of their friendship and move into a house where their secrets slowly trickle out and begin to poison the well. Will their enduring friendship survive such well-kept, yet insidious, secrets?

I think anyone with a soul can relate to this novel and see themselves in one, if not all, of the characters. We’ve all had friendships that have lasted for what seems like an eternity as well as friendships that seem to be over before they even get started. The true test is who we come out as on the other side.

If you want to read a novel with unforgettable characters (I’m still wondering how Maggie’s doing, living the second half of her life and hope she’s okay) pick up The Friends We Keep and take a ride in the ‘way back when machine’ to your own childhood friendships. If nothing else, you’ll begin to wonder what so-and-so’s up to.

Walk-Ins Welcome

They say that there are many parallel worlds all around us, just out of sight. Who are “they?” I don’t know. Fringe scientists, paranormal armchair detectives, somebody’s crazy Aunt Lulu down in Boca Raton who, some speculate, has been baking in the sun too long.

There is a popular thought that in each of these parallel worlds are versions of ourselves. In one world maybe I finally got off my ass and wrote the novel that would become a best seller. In another world, maybe I became the funeral director I always wanted to be. And maybe in another, someone wanted to marry this mess and procreate with me.

I first came across the term “walk-ins” while reading a Stephen King novel. Yeah. Big surprise. Walk-ins are those who very clearly do not belong in our world. They show up in the middle of a sweltering August heatwave wearing winter jackets 50 years out of date. Or they insist a building was once where a building never stood. There’s just something…off about these walk-ins.

Whew. Having said all that, let’s get to the book I want to tell you about.

In Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood, Alice is a 17-year-old girl always on the run from something looming but unseen with her mother. Her mother Ella doesn’t want them staying in one place for too long, but she’ll never explain why to Alice. Alice has never met her grandmother Althea before but knows that the woman has a rabid cult following because of a book of fairy tales she wrote years ago, set in a place called the Hinterland. Ella refuses to talk about Althea or her popular novel and flew into a rage the one time she caught Alice with a copy of the book.

After having settled for the millionth time in a new place and new school, they get word that Althea has died alone on her estate. The estate’s name? Hazel Wood. Alice has a faint memory of being a young child and being abducted by a man. Not exactly kidnapped in a rough fashion. She willingly went with the man. She was found unharmed and alone. Now, over ten years later, she sees the man again sitting in a café, unchanged, unaged. Something is going on, something hovering-like another world-at the edges of her vision.

Her mother inexplicably vanishes, taken by something or someone. All that’s left is a note in her mother’s handwriting reading “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.” Not damn likely to happen, Alice thinks and with the help of a classmate named Ellery Finch (who is a hardcore fan of Althea’s book of fairytales and has his own reasons for helping Alice out) Alice embarks on a dangerous mission to rescue her mother. A mission which includes slipping through to a world not just made up in the mind of Althea.

What follows is a thorn choked path where everything Alice thought she knew to be true turns out to be false. But will she find her mother and escape the strange fairytale world and make it back to her world? Will she be the same person? Are any of us the same person at the end of a magnificent and harrowing adventure? Not damn likely.

Frankly in Love

In Frankly in Love by David Yoon, Frank Li straddles two worlds: the world he knows, being an ultra-smart and awkward teenage boy born and raised in Southern California and Frank Li, son of two Korean immigrants who came to America so their children would have better (and more) chances in life. Frank barely speaks any Korean and his parents aren’t the stereotypical helicopter parents, pushing him to make excellent grades and to be the best in everything.

Frank’s already getting straight A’s and is headed to a college far away. As much as he loves his parents and his Southern California upbringing, he wants to get far enough away to see who he really is. All his life he hasn’t felt Korean enough or American enough. It’s like he floats in some vicious limbo where he’s not enough of either. He can go away to college and just be Frank Li. But he has to get through his senior year first.

And while his parents don’t force Frank to be all Korean, the one rule is he has to date and eventually marry a Korean girl. There’s just one problem: Frank Li falls in love with Brit, a white girl. Frank’s older sister is a lawyer in Boston. She’s been disowned by their parents because her boyfriend is black. They refuse to speak to her.

Along with living in a cultural limbo, Frank also lives in a limbo where his parents are casual racists. Frank’s best friend is black and while they’ve always been polite to him, it’s been a cool and aloof polite. There’s no way his parents would accept Frank being in love with a white girl. And the equally horrible (but relatable) thing is Frank doesn’t explain this to Brit, how his parents want him to be with a Korean girl. The only way Frank can bring Brit around to see his parents is if he invites a group of friends over and pretends she’s just a friend.

And then Frank comes up with a seemingly foolproof plan: he’s going to pretend to date a Korean girl while actually dating Brit. He knows the perfect Korean girl. Joy Song. She and Frank have grown up together and he happens to know for a fact that she’s in a similar situation: she’s dating a Japanese boy her parents would forbid her from seeing if they only knew.

Frank explains the plan to her, and she agrees. Both of their families think they’re dating. Whenever Frank and Joy go out on a date, they make sure their parents see them together before they go their separate ways with their taboo loves for the evening and then meet back up to make a show of having been busy in love all night.

Meanwhile Frank is finding out that Brit is his first love and it’s overwhelming. He wants to tell her his plan, that he’s fake dating Joy for his parents’ approval but something keeps his mouth shut. Unfortunately, it’s about to get even more complicated for Frank when he finds himself falling in love with Joy.

At turns hilarious and heart breaking, David Yoon’s Frankly in Love is a novel about first love, belonging, family, and future. It’s about choosing what’s best for yourself while still loving your family and knowing you’re loved by them.

The Summer of Jordi Perez

Normally, I would tell you to take novels about romance and shove them, but I enjoyed The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding so much that I couldn’t resist sharing it with you. My normal stance is: stuff falling in love, stuff romance, and stuff soul mates, but this novel caught me off guard.

I think what attracted me to this novel was the gay aspect. I’m not gay (well, maybe a little gay) but love is love is love and though I’m loathe to use the words “heartwarming” this one sucker punched me right in that empty space in my chest I usually save for Cheetos and horror movies. Abby is a plus-sized girl who is deeply in love with fashion. She applies to an indie fashion store for the summer before her senior year and gets the internship along with another girl from her high school named Jordi who she thinks might have been in one of her classes.

Abby came out a little while ago and has never had a girlfriend, never been in love. She’s had a couple of heart-breaking crushes (straight girls who find boyfriends and leave her in the dark), but no one has shown an interest in her. As body positive as she is in her blog about fashion, she believes that no girl could ever fall in love with her (I hear you girl; as a chubby chick, I have my doubts too) and she can’t see a future with a girl who would ever fall in love with her. That is until she finds herself competing for the job at the indie dress shop with Jordi Perez. But does Jordi even like girls? Should Abby even bother nurturing a crush on her?

At home, Abby’s mother is becoming famous for her healthy vegan recipes and ends up going onto local talk shows all while making her daughter feel bad about herself for being overweight. She lets slip one time to Abby that she would be so much prettier if she lost weight and Abby hasn’t been able to forgive her. In her plus size fashion blog, Abby never posts pictures of herself. While she’s body positive, she’s still uncomfortable showing herself.

When Jordi starts showing an interest in her, Abby is slow to believe it. After all, Jordi is tiny and a talented photographer, and Abby’s competing against her for a job at the dress store. But Jordi is into Abby and they both find themselves falling in love and spending time together. Jordi is a bit of a bad ass although the moniker of “Juvenile criminal” is a bit misplaced. She wanted to take a picture of a fire and ended up burning the lawn of an abandoned house. Both Abby and Jordi are aware that they’re competing for the same job, but that doesn’t stop them from falling in love. Ah, youth. If only I could find a way to legally suck it out of them and inject it into my bitter old heart.

Abby’s been spending time with Jax over the summer, a boy from school who she used to see as a spoiled brat with a McMansion and nice ride. He asked her to be his wingman (or wingwoman) as he tried to pick up girls and to help him out with one of his father’s inventions which happens to be an app rating the various burger joints in town. She learns that Jax isn’t quite the “bro” she thought he was and finds herself enjoying his company. Abby’s mother thinks she’s dating Jax, even though Abby came out to her parents several months ago. Abby’s mother seems to think if she lost weight and got skinny, she
might enjoy being straight.

Not so. Abby’s wildly in love with Jordi even though the prospect of them both being up for the same job in the fall is weighing on her. Abby’s job in the store is to be a social media presence and boost the popularity of the store while Jordi is tasked with being the photographer. Everything is going perfectly until Jordi does the unspeakable during her first photography show at an art gallery. Will Abby forgive her transgressions? Will Abby get over herself? Will Abby begin to see herself as more than a plus size girl? Will Abby believe that she is worth loving and being in love with?

For fans of books such as Dumplin and She’s Come Undone, The Summer of Jordi Perez offers everything: first love (that wild and nauseating feeling of handing your heart to another person), self-acceptance, and trying to accept how others see you (and accept that they’re going to see you a certain way that is totally out of your control). Get ready for an emotional roller coaster and if you have PTSD from being a teenager, take this novel slowly. I had a panic attack while Abby was trying to figure out if Jordi had feelings for her or not. I went all the way back to being 16 and almost didn’t make it back to my 43-year-old self.

Read this and then go forgive your mother for not loving you like you wanted her to. She tried her best. Please remember she’s human and lived an entire life before you were born. And now, go live your life how you want it to be. You’ll thank me later.

These Witches Don’t Burn

It’s hard enough to be a teenager without the added baggage of being a member of an ancient family full of witches. Add to that the fact that these teen witches sometimes must wear a ring that binds their powers and dark magic showing up in town, and you have something that would give any Salem Witch Trials survivor vivid flashbacks. Welcome to the world of These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling.

Hannah is from a family of elemental witches in Salem, Massachusetts. They harness the power of the four elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. A handful of other families are ancient lineage witches, but they all have to keep it a secret and cannot risk exposing their lifestyle to the Regs (kind of like Muggles: regular people who don’t know that witchcraft actually exists). Witches can be excommunicated from their covens for showing their magic in front of Regs.

Teen witches must go to classes and if they’re caught abusing their powers, they have to wear a binding ring that nixes any use of witchcraft. Hannah broke up with her girlfriend Veronica a few months before. Veronica, from another family of witches, continuously inserts herself into Hannah’s life trying to make up with her, but Hannah doesn’t want to go backwards. She wants to move on with her life, become more adept at magic, work her part time job at the Fly By Night Cauldron selling witchcraft paraphernalia (her boss is a practicing Wiccan and Tarot card reader; she’s not a real witch but she has excellent senses) and just live a fairly normal life.

But months before while vacationing in New York, a deadly magical being known as a Blood Witch tried to attack Hannah and now there are signs that a blood witch in in town. But who is it? Is it the emo kid who keeps coming into the magic shop to buy hexes against his bullies? Is it the new detective in town who is always suspicious that Hannah seems to be around whenever something bad happens? Gemma, Hannah’s best friend and a reg, hooks her up with a new ballerina in her troupe. Could it be her? Something is targeting everyone Hannah loves, putting their lives in danger and soon they will do anything to kill them.

Fast-paced and original, These Witches Don’t Burn will satisfy your need for fantasy, lgbtq+ characters, and strong family bonds.

Not That Kind of Party

I was once standing in line in a bookshop (remember those, the humming thrum of all those captured words waiting to be freed from the shelves so they could release their stories?) when the couple in front of me began talking about one of my obsessions: the Donner Party.

A little back story: The Donner Party is one of the most well-known ‘wagons west survival stories.’ Many people think they were just unlucky, unprepared or downright cursed. I believe all three had a hand in what happened to the wagon party of several families who set out to forge a new life in the West, got caught in the Sierra Nevada mountains in a brutal snowstorm, and ended up resorting to cannibalism to survive.

The Donner party set out with hope for a new life in California and put their trust in a man by the name of Lansford Hastings who said he had “worked out a new and better road to California.” The Hastings Cutoff ended up being a disaster, with the wagons and animals barely able to make it through.

The party pushed on, crossing into Truckee Lake (now known as Donner Lake because hey, after having to eat a few of your traveling companions to survive, you should get a lake named after you). The Donner party decided to camp 3 miles from the summit near a cabin that had been built by previous pilgrims. Then 5-10-foot snow drifts trapped the party and the food ran out…

You get the picture: a big wagon party forging westward gets stuck and the living must eat the dead to survive.

But back to the bookshop. The man was saying to the woman beside him something about the anniversary of the Donner Party coming up. The woman shuddered like she felt one of the cannibal’s frozen hands slip down her back and hissed that she didn’t think she could ever resort to cannibalism, even if it was to survive. I’m not the kind of person to join in on strangers’ conversations, but I pushed a thought at the shivering woman: you have no idea what you would do when push came to shove in a matter of survival, even if it meant slicing a chunk of flesh out of a body half buried in the snow, face down so you can’t see who it is.

Well, that was lovely. I went dark there for a minute, didn’t I? I’m not sorry. It’s what I do.

Alma Katsu’s novel The Hunger follows the Donner party as they make the trek westward. The families start out excited and happy to be beginning this new part of their lives, but soon the journey becomes exhausting, things go wrong, and supplies run out. A child goes missing one evening and is found torn open by some beast. Tamsin Donner, on her second husband and maybe a little bit on the witchy side (making potions and concoctions and collecting herbs), begins to sense that something is not right. Something more than the normal peril of crossing America has attached itself to them.

One of her stepdaughters, who is thought to be a bit touched in the head, hears the voices of the dead. Some of them are full of madness while others are trying to warn her. Strange beings seem to be following them, appearing in the dark, watching them and waiting to catch them off guard. Up close, these things are barely human, more monster than man. More members of the wagon party disappear and some begin to get sick. Is it one of their own who is summoning these beings and passing a disease around the families or is there a reasonable explanation.?

I’ll tell you right now, no, there is no reasonable explanation. What is happening is beyond the realm of the known and defies explanation and…..you know what? No. I’m not going to tell you the rest. If you want to read an adventure story based on historical record dive on into Alma Katsu’s The Hunger. You may think you know the full story of the Donner Party, but Katsu turns it on its ear and sets it off down paths of the supernatural and unexpected. You’ll devour this book. And if you don’t like it, eat me.

Patty the Vampire Slayer

In The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix, Campbell loves her husband and children, but she thought she’d be living a bigger life than running errands all day, cleaning the entire house, doing loads of laundry, and cooking gourmet meals for her less than appreciative family every night. Oh, and on top of all that, her elderly mother-in-law, in the grips of dementia (the poor soul has almost forgotten how to eat) moves in and Patricia has another person to look after.

Campbell has given up her career as a nurse, married a very ambitious (and now often distant) doctor, and makes herself nearly insane by being part of a book club where execution is the preferred method of shaming if you haven’t read the assigned book. It’s at one of these horrible book club meetings that a smaller faction of women who don’t want to read ‘Books of the Western World’ come together to form their own book club. The new book club includes four other Southern housewives: Slick, Kitty, Maryellen, and Grace.

The new club reads true-crime novels with titles like Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs and Buried Dreams: Inside the Mind of John Wayne Gacy. They also choose more well known titles like The Silence of the Lambs, Psycho, and the oddly chosen Bridges of Madison County because one of the club members thinks the main character is a serial killer who drifts around the country killing housewives. The book club is the only exciting thing in Patricia’s dull life of driving her two children to after school events, packing lunches, and getting no support from a husband who spends most of his days at the office.

One evening, with the thrill of a book club meeting still fizzling through her, Patricia sees that her son Blue hasn’t taken the garbage bins to the end of the driveway. She can’t really blame him since the cans are stored at the side of the house and it’s pitch black and a little scary there once night falls. So she heaves a sigh only a mother can sigh and begins to drag the garbage bins down the driveway. But a noise catches her attention: the slurping, gulping, crunching sound of something being eaten.

In the shadows she sees her neighbor from down the block, Mrs. Savage, a mean old biddy not much beloved by the neighbors. Mrs. Savage is down on her haunches behind the cans with a raccoon stuffed in her mouth. She disembowels the dead animal while growling at Patricia who is backing away from the old lady and is about to make a run for it when the old woman pounces and tears off Patricia’s ear lobe. The cops and an ambulance come and take both Patricia and the old lady to the hospital.

Patricia is patched up and sent home. The next day she hears that Mrs. Savage has died from some sort of blood poisoning. There’s evidence of intravenous drug use on the on woman’s inner thighs, injection holes that have pierced her skin. Patricia knows that Mrs. Savage has a nephew living with her and acting as her caretaker. Like any Southern woman worth her weight would do, Patricia decides she needs to take a consolation casserole over to the grieving man.

When she gets to Mrs. Savage’s house, she sees it’s completely closed up and the blinds are drawn even though it’s a scorching hot day. When no one answers the door, Patricia lets herself in and begins to search the house for the nephew. She finds him lying in a bedroom. She can tell he’s not breathing. Her old nursing skills kick in and she immediately begins to give him CPR. His skin is cold and dry and she’s positive he’s dead until he sits up with a gasp.

This is her introduction to James Harris, a seemingly shy and artistic man with a hint of appealing strangeness to him. The sunlight hurts him and makes him fatigued. He seems helpless in both his grief over his aunt and whatever ailment haunts him. She decides James Harris is going to be her friend (perhaps more?) and helps him get settled as a real resident of the town: setting up a bank account and going to pay his power and water bills because he can’t bear to be out in the light. He drives a white van (the kind that you expect to see ‘Free Candy Inside’ written on the side) with windows that are heavily tinted to dim any light from getting in.

One evening, James comes over to Patricia’s house while the family is having dinner. Patricia’s mother-in-law, Mary, is having a particularly bad night and takes one look at James and starts babbling about a picture she has of him. Her behavior is excused because of her waning mental faculties. Soon, however, Patricia begins to think James Harris is something sinister with his cagey, secretive ways, the fact that he doesn’t go out during the day much, and his creepy van.

She starts to hear stories about children in town disappearing only to return as ghosts of themselves and eventually committing suicide. Not much has been done about it because it’s in the ‘bad part of town’ where most of the people of color live (remember, this is the early 90s in the South). Mrs. Greene who lives in that part of town and who is Mary’s nurse, tells Patricia about the missing children and how they come back.

Curious, Patricia decides to go there and investigate. She finds a very familiar creepy white van in the woods and what she sees happening in the back is something she can’t explain to herself, let alone to anyone else: James Harris with a monster’s face leaning over the prone body of a little girl. Patricia thought he might have been a serial killer but what she sees in the van is a creature from the depths of myth and folklore.

Patricia tries to tell her book club all about it, but they think she’s nuts and let her know they won’t put up with her crazy stories and theories about James Harris, who has become an upstanding citizen and businessman in town. So Patricia decides to go it alone, to get proof that he is indeed a monster that needs to be destroyed. But even crippling James Harris on her own is more than she’s capable of and in the end, it seems like he will continue snatching small children while charming the town and the book club members husbands. That is, until another book club member witnesses something and they band together to take this creature down.

If you like funny horror novels that are just a damn pleasure to read from beginning to end, pick up Grady Hendrix’s The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. You’ll laugh, get scared sh**less, laugh again, and find yourself cheering on a group of somewhat cliched Southern belles whose only worries up until that point had been packing lunches every day and making sure their kids make it to swimming practice on time. Much like blood on the lips of a vampire’s mouth, this book will stick with you for a long time. For God sake, go download it and get to reading!!

Lolita Does Boarding School

God, I haven’t thought of Glenn in years. Or was his name Carl? No, his name was Glenn. Glenn with two n’s, not just the one. It was about 25 years ago. I worked as a grocery bagger (I know they call them courtesy clerks now but the main thing I did day in and day out was to bag grocery’s and make sure not to put the watermelon on top of the eggs) and there was this older man, a sometime cashier who mostly worked in the back stocking the shelves. He wasn’t particularly good looking. In fact, he reminded me a lot of Dorothy’s sleazy ex-husband on the Golden Girls, Stanley Zbornak. But there was something about Glenn with two n’s that made me notice him. And made me want to be noticed by him in return.

In Kate Elizabeth Russell’s My Dark Vanessa, it’s the year 2000 and 15 year old Vanessa Wye is at a Maine boarding school called Browick. She’s going through the motions of being a teenager, not really interested in classes until her English teacher, Mr. Strane, seems to take an interest in her. He seems to be the first person who really looks at her, really notices her and she likes that feeling.

It begins with him loaning her his favorite books. One of those books is Lolita, the story of an older man grooming a teenage girl to become his lover. One day while the rest of the class is busy, Vanessa is at the front of the class partially blocked by Mr. Strane’s desk. He touches her knee as they discuss something. It is a brief touch but filled with more meaning than the actual brevity of the act.

Mr. Strane, 42, confesses his deep love to Vanessa and begins to gaslight her. He trots out all the familiar lines of “I’ve never felt this way before, I’ve never been this deeply in love.” And of course, Vanessa, at 15, soaks the attention up even though a part of her knows how wrong it is. Their relationship becomes more intimate. She sneaks out of her dorm room to spend the night at his house. He gives her a skimpy pair of pajamas almost exactly like those given to Lolita by the pedophile Humbert Humbert in the novel Lolita.

Vanessa sees how their relationship mirrors the novel, the secrecy, the forbidden meet ups. All the while Strane is telling her how much trouble she could get him into, how he could be fired from his teaching position and even go to jail for statutory rape. It’s all about the trouble he could get into and never about the mental toll the affair is having on Vanessa.

By her junior year, rumors begin traveling around that she’s having an affair with Strane. Her once best friend, Jenny, thinks she sees something in the way Strane grab’s Vanessa’s arm during a fieldtrip and reports him. Vanessa – with a lot of manipulating from Strane – takes a bullet and sacrifices her life at the boarding school, telling the higher ups and a group of students that she lied about the affair because she liked the attention. Strane, for his part (which Vanessa doesn’t find out about until years later) tells his colleagues how Vanessa had been a pesky student who had an obvious crush on him and he was trying to nip it in the bud.

Vanessa is kicked out of school but her relationship with Strane never really ends. Well groomed and slightly mentally abused slave that she already is, Vanessa spends years obsessed with Strane, constantly worried that her life isn’t up to snuff for him, that she’s somehow disappointed him. She doesn’t even get into any other relationships because she’s so mindlessly devoted to him.

The novel bounces back and forth through time, telling the story of 15-year-old Vanessa and then jumping to 32-year-old Vanessa working at a hotel and barely living her life while still under the thrall of her former English teacher Jacob Strane. She finds an article about Browick, her old boarding school, telling the story of a female student who was assaulted by a teacher there. When she confronts Strane, he brushes the assault off as a young girl who misconstrued his patting her knee which was meant a comforting gesture.

Vanessa’s world, already crumbling from the unfaced disaster that began with her teenage affair, begins to rapidly break apart. She realizes she wasn’t the only one Strane mentally waterboarded; she wasn’t the only one who got the line “I’ve never felt this way about someone.” Soon, she begins the work of digging around within herself and asking why she always defended Strane, refusing to see what he did to her as sexual and mental abuse.

At turns horrifying and relatable, My Dark Vanessa is a book that won’t be put down until the last page is soaked up and the story of Vanessa and the almost 20 years under the shadow of a powerful man comes to an end. Whether you have daddy issues and have been in a relationship with an older man who was only flattered by your attention without giving you love in return or you want to read a novel touching on a subject gaining strength and attention throughout the world, My Dark Vanessa will not disappoint you.

Hmmmm…I wonder what Glenn with two n’s is up to these days. Or was it Carl? I really need to write these things down when they happen.

The Stand in a New Light

I’m surprised I’ve never written a post about Stephen King’s The Stand before. I read it about once a year. Maybe its massive size (just over 1,000 pages) has deterred me from trying to write about it. But there’s no better time than now to write about a book depicting a super flu that wipes out most of the world’s population; leaving behind both good and evil who then must battle it out to save what is left of humanity.

The Stand begins at a government base where a man-made flu breaches a medical lab. In the days following, people begin to come down with the flu. It’s not unusual to hear coughing and sniffling in a movie theater and in the streets. People begin to stay off the streets, quarantining themselves in their homes. What starts off as a seemingly simple flu becomes a pandemic nicknamed Captain Trips. The human population is reduced to almost nothing and the streets and freeways are littered with cars and the bodies of people who tried to flee the cities. The world becomes a wasteland.

But there are pockets of people who are immune to the flu, people who pack a few belongings and set out to find other survivors. As decent people search for each other, people filled with darkness also seek out their kind. Randall Flagg, also known as The Walking Dude, is a god to some, but a demon to others. He gathers the evil ones to him and has a plan for what’s left of the population. The heels of his cowboy boots can be heard clicking down the roads of America as he searches for those with evil tucked away in them. Side note: Randall Flagg pops up in King’s Dark Tower series as well. It’s a cross-over event, like when two of your favorite shows merge.

Stu Redman becomes the reluctant leader of a group of good people who find a new place to settle and begin life again. But Randall Flagg has appeared to many of them, showing them nightmare visions of the world he wants to create. On the flip side, there’s Mother Abigail, a 108-year-old woman who is tasked with saving the rest of humankind. She needs to gather the good of humanity to her to give them a chance to overcome Randall Flagg. Along the way, a couple of Flagg’s spies have embedded themselves in Stu’s group and wreak havoc. In the end, there can only be an ultimate sacrifice to bring about a new beginning.

With a brilliant and memorable cast of characters, Stephen King’s The Stand is about more than just Good vs. Evil. It’s about the human condition when presented with the end of the world and the luck of an immune system that bucks disease. The Stand is about being alone at the end of the world and then finding people to create a new life. To quote another King book, Doctor Sleep:  We go on, even in the dark. Even when the darkness seems unending. We go on.

Now look, I know this new disease is terrifying and something like The Stand doesn’t seem like fiction right now, but remember this: wash your hands while singing Happy Birthday all the way through twice, stay away from large gatherings, and if you hear the clip-clop of dusty cowboy boots, run the other way. The Walking Dude has found you.

Gonna Wait ‘Til the Midnight Hour

Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour begins with a doctor visiting a beauty of a Victorian house in the Garden District of New Orleans. Two elderly sisters have asked a doctor to see to their youngest sister who has been in a catatonic state for years. The doctor often sees a man standing on the porch with the catatonic woman and when the doctor asks who the man is, both sisters deny the existence of a man visiting with their sibling.

The doctor doesn’t think much of their denial. It is, after all, New Orleans where wealthy people don’t even try to act like every day normal humans. But the doctor knows he saw the man being tenderly attentive to the woman locked within herself. When the man attacks the doctor, the physician believes he’s lost his own mind. Because the man wasn’t there when he attacked the doctor. There was no physical form to the doctor’s attacker. Shaken and having escaped the house, he realizes the only explanation that makes sense is that he was attacked by a spirit.

The Mayfair’s are an old money family with a not so secret history of being called a family of witches. Rowan Mayfair has been kept from the New Orleans Mayfairs and was raised by another family member in San Francisco with the knowledge of who her birth mother is: the woman languishing on the porch of the grand painted Lady house in New Orleans. Rowan is a brilliant neurosurgeon with an odd talent of being able to heal a sick patient along with the power to destroy a life. Her mother’s death in New Orleans sends her back to her birthplace where she begins to learn about the family she’s been estranged from for her entire life.

Michael Curry was born in New Orleans but left for San Francisco many years before to become a popular architect whose talent is restoring old Victorian homes. Michael dreams of the houses of his childhood in New Orleans and longs to return. One day Michael drowns in San Francisco bay only to be brought back to life by Rowan who found him while sailing. A side effect of coming back from the dead is Michael’s clairvoyance, a very unwanted new skill. He can touch any object and see its past. Rowan and Michael fall in love (as two people usually do when brought back from death) and Michael travels to New Orleans with Rowan.

Aaron Lightner is a scholar with a shadow group known as the Talamasca who study strange happenings. He has followed the Mayfair family for centuries and calls them “the Mayfair witches.” He has also seen the ghostly man on the porch and knows what it is – not human and not exactly a ghost – and that it means danger to those outside the family. The not human man has a plan for Rowan, and nothing can stop it from getting what it wants.

This hugely sprawling novel spans centuries of the Mayfair witches along with the guardian man who attaches itself to the stronger females in the family. Will Rowan be the family member to break the thing’s hold or will she too become seduced by it and its ancient history?

Ah, now I remember why I never posted about this book. I can’t fit all the details in from this 976 page saga of a family of witches and the being who is passed down to them like hand me down jeans. The Witching Hour may be ridiculously long, but it doesn’t read as a long novel. It doesn’t feel like you’re slogging through a dense forest of words. Instead, The Witching Hour plays out like a rich theatrical release and the credits roll before you’re ready for them.

If you get into Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour and want more, don’t worry. She has written a series of books featuring the Mayfair Witches and at one point the books have a crossover between the Mayfairs and the vampires from Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. So enjoy, take frequent breaks, make yourself a snack and keep reading as the Mayfair world unfolds like some kind of night blooming flower.