Booking Through Thursday: Scary

Booking Through Thursday Booking Through Thursday asks…

“What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read?”

I love horror novels as much or more than I love horror movies, but most of them only affect me in the moment. Like many people of my generation, I grew up reading Stephen King novels as they came out. I was a teenager when I read IT for the first time, on a visit to my grandparents’ house in New Jersey.

While their neighborhood was nothing like small-town Derry, Maine, it did have the same kind of old-style gutters depicted in the novel, and I spent most of that summer crossing the street to avoid the possibility that a killer-clown might be peering up at me from within one.

I’ve often said that Stephen King and Garrison Keillor have the same folksy style, but that the difference is that Keillor isn’t going to have a monster show up to dismember you on page twenty six. I believe one of the reasons King’s work sticks with us isn’t the films, which, let’s face it, are never as scary as the books, but the fact that he sounds like every hometown storyteller, sucking you into small-town life.

BTT: Anything You Can Do…

Booking Through Thursday is a blog that asks a bookish question each week. This week, BTT wrote:

A while ago, I interviewed my readers for a change, and my final question was, “What question have I NOT asked at BTT that you’d love me to ask?” I got some great responses and will be picking out some of the questions from time to time to ask the rest of you. Like now.

Patricia asks a particularly insightful question:

Ever read a book you thought you could have written better yourself?

I don’t have titles falling of the tip of my tongue, but I know that there have been books where half-way through (or sooner) the dialogue has been so stilted or otherwise unrealistic, or the awareness of space and objects so bad, that I’ve entertained thoughts of writing it better. Ultimately, however, I end up either finishing the book and grumbling about it, or not finishing the book, and grumbling about it.

As much as I love the wide variety of free ebooks that are out there, I have to say that while many are very, very good, there are an equal number that were published by people who should never again be allowed near a keyboard without supervision.

When I interviewed Marsha Mason for ATG a couple of years ago, we talked about her memoir, and she said she believes everyone should write.

I agree. Everyone should write, whether it’s fiction, letters, or a diary.

But not everyone should publish, even on Amazon.

I should add, however, that sometimes a poorly written story still has an amazing or interesting concept, and when I do think, “Oh, I could do that better,” it’s generally the concept I’m responding to.

Review: The Shakespeare Manuscript

The Shakespeare Manuscript

The Shakespeare Manuscript
Stewart Buettner

Product Description (from
Not one of Shakespeare’s plays exists in manuscript form until a failing bookseller discovers a long-lost, early version of HAMLET. In an attempt to trace the puzzling manuscript’s origins, its new owner finds he can’t trust the identity of play’s author and soon has doubts about his own. But by then, the race to stage the new HAMLET is on, taking a toll on everyone involved. In the end, the new play leaves audience and actors alike wondering about the unexpected and moving consequences of the play they’ve just experienced.


This was my last book for the 2011 RIP Challenge, but I’ve been so busy that I’m a week (or more) behind in getting the review loaded. I FINISHED reading it on October 27th, however, so it still counts.

This was part soft mystery part contemporary fiction. We have a dynamic playboy director, an agoraphobic actress, the actresses gay rare bookseller father who seems to be suffering from dementia, a politician and his family, and a remote country house. All of the ingredients, I thought, for “Deathtrap” with “Hamlet.”

It was no “Deathtrap.”

But it was a lovely story about relationships, finding your place in the world (again), and being true to yourself. It was also an exploration of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, who really wrote it, and whether or not the script found in the novel is really an early version of the script, a prequel, or a hoax.

The characters felt like they could have been real, for the most part, and I liked that the author didn’t give us a real answer to who wrote the script…there are several possible solutions to that mystery.

Goes well with a mug of strong coffee and a slice of peach pie.

The Shakespeare Manuscript
Stewart Buettner
Performance Arts Press, April 2011
278 Pages
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Readers Imbibing Peril (art by Melissa Nucera)

Mini-Review: Lassiter

Readers Imbibing Peril (art by Melissa Nucera)

Paul Levine

This is a mini-review, because the real one will be over at All Things Girl later this month, but I just finished reading Lassiter, which is one of my entries for RIP. It’s a little more violent than I usually like in a mystery, but really a compelling read, an old-school detective novel, in a decidedly modern setting.

I’ve got to go back and read all the first books in this series…because Lassiter (the character) is awesome.


Paul Levine
Bantam, September 2011
304 pages
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The Sunday Salon: Monster Mash?

Illustration from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

When we think of monsters – not monstrous people or monstrous acts – but Hollywood-style monsters, two of the first that come to mine have to be Frankenstein and Dracula.

Two years ago, as part of an English/Literature tutorial for a friend’s son, we studied Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and noted the differences in the way the character was written and the way he’s appeared since. For example: Dracula can walk about during the day, but his powers are limited to that of an ordinary person; his powers include the ability to take the forms of bat or wolf, fog, or elemental dust.

Then, too, there’s the ending – or rather, the ending of the Count, not quite the ending of the novel:

By this time the gypsies, seeing themselves covered by the Winchesters, and at the mercy of Lord Godalming and Dr. Seward, had given in and made no further resistance. The sun was almost down on the mountain tops, and the shadows of the whole group fell upon the snow. I saw the Count lying within the box upon the earth, some of which the rude falling from the cart had scattered over him. He was deathly pale, just like a waxen image, and the red eyes glared with the horrible vindictive look which I knew so well.

As I looked, the eyes saw the sinking sun, and the look of hate in them turned to triumph.

But, on the instant, came the sweep and flash of Jonathan’s great knife. I shrieked as I saw it shear through the throat. Whilst at the same moment Mr. Morris’s bowie knife plunged into the heart.

It was like a miracle, but before our very eyes, and almost in the drawing of a breath, the whole body crumbled into dust and passed from our sight.

I shall be glad as long as I live that even in that moment of final dissolution, there was in the face a look of peace, such as I never could have imagined might have rested there.

The Castle of Dracula now stood out against the red sky, and every stone of its broken battlements was articulated against the light of the setting sun.

More than one more modern author, among them Fred Saberhagen, has looked at this death scene, and noted that since 1) You can’t kill a vampire with a knife, and 2) Dracula crumbled into dust, he was not actually killed at the end of the novel. A novel, which by the way, he appears on only 58 pages of. The rest of the 200+ pages are spent talking about him, his powers, his deeds, and everyone else’s life. Like the shark in Jaws, Dracula-the-character is scariest when we don’t actually see him.

But Dracula was a past project.

For the last month, I’ve been reading mysteries, partly because I love them, but partly because it’s autumn, and I think mysteries go well with lengthening shadows and crisper evenings, but the book I began this morning takes me back into classic monster fare.

It’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which, I’m almost embarrassed to admit, I’ve never actually read. I remember seeing Boris Karloff as the Monster in the old movie, and being chilled at the scene with the little girl, the Monster, and the flower. I remember reading riffs on Frankenstein, and of course I know that Rocky Horror for all its silliness is still derivative of Shelley’s work.

So as the nights lengthen further, the weather grows cooler even where I live, in Texas, and the shadows turn into puppet creatures beckoning us to explore the dark and deep parts of our psyches, I’m about to take a break from conventional mysteries and thrillers, leave the comfort of cozy novels, and begin reading Frankenstein.

The Sunday

30-Day Book Meme #6: Tuesdays with Morrie

Tuesdays with Morrie

There aren’t a lot of books that really make me sad, though there are many books with individual moments that cause me to get a little weepy. One book that does make me sad, however, is Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie. I actually only read it for the first time last month, but it made me sad, and it made me angry – we don’t treat our older citizens very well – and it made me miss my grandparents.

Sunday Salon: Bookless?

The Sunday

September is nearly over, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t finished reading a single book. As is my custom, I have several started, but nothing is capturing my attention. I could blame work, or the weather, or any number of other things, but the reality is that I just haven’t been able to fall into anything I’m reading.

I have this urge to invite people over just to read plays or short stories and discuss them. Not books. I have no patience for book clubs and book groups, because I read too quickly (most of the time), and by the time everyone else has finished the book, I’ve read five others. I was this way in school, too, which made literature classes difficult for me. I wish it had occurred to me to ask for the exam work as soon as I finished reading a book; it never did.

And so, this blog lies empty-ish, and I skipped posting anything to Sunday Salon last week, and I want to read, I do, but my brain won’t engage.

On the other hand, I’ve written twelve pages of a story I’m working on for fun, and five of my novel, so the month hasn’t been completely useless.

The Sunday Salon: Shifting Seasons

The Sunday

Labor Day weekend doesn’t really have a lot of significance when you work from home as a writer. My “office” is the Internet, which never closes, and there are weeks when I choose to work Saturday and Sunday and skip Monday and Tuesday, and other weeks when I work a more conventional schedule. It depends on deadlines and whether or not I’m feeling at all creative.

Naked Heat

In the part of Texas where I live, Labor Day weekend doesn’t bring much of a temperature change, either. Sure, the days of being able to swim instead of sweat for exercise are dwindling, and the nights are getting a little cooler, but summer often lingers into October here, at least, if you go by the thermometer.

Long years of conditioning, however, have marked this weekend as the time when I shift my reading away from summer “beach” books (and I mean that literally – last year I read all of Elin Hilderbrand’s Nantucket novels; this year I still have Summer Rental and Maine to finish) to other types of books.

For some reason, I read a lot of mysteries in the fall. Maybe it’s because the falling leaves and cooling days lend a touch of unpredictability to my mood, or maybe it’s because the earlier sunsets and lingering darkness in the morning are sort of murky and shadowy.

Already in the last week or so, I finish last year’s “Castle” tie-in Naked Heat, and I’m half-way through Cleo Coyle’s latest coffeehouse mystery, Murder by Mocha.

Murder by Mocha

I’ll read other stuff of course, but for me, fall is Mystery Season.

What about you? Does your reading shift with the calendar, or do you simply read whatever your mood calls for?

30-Day Book Meme #5: Bread Alone

Bread Alone, by Judith Ryan Hendricks

The 30-Day Book Meme asks me to write about a book “that makes me happy,” and the first title that popped into my head is Bread Alone by Judith Ryan Hendricks. I love this book so much – about a woman who is dumped and left mostly penniless by her cheating husband, moves to Seattle, works in a bakery, and eventually rediscovers her best self, her romantic self, and her love of baking and fabulous bread.

Partly, I love this book because it’s a cafe story, and partly it’s because – except for the cheating husband part – she’s living one of my fantasies. I’ve bought and given away multiple copies of this novel. It’s well written, draws you in, and has vivid characters.

If only it came with freshly-baked sourdough, it’d be just about perfect.

Booking through Thursday: History


On Thursday, August 25th, Booking through Thursday asked:

Sometimes I feel like the only person I know who finds reading history fascinating. It’s so full of amazing-yet-true stories of people driven to the edge and how they reacted to it. I keep telling friends that a good history book (as opposed to some of those textbooks in school that are all lists and dates) does everything a good novel does–it grips you with real characters doing amazing things.

Am I REALLY the only person who feels this way? When is the last time you read a history book? Historical biography? You know, something that took place in the past but was REAL.

When I was fourteen, I read Nicholas and Alexandra several times, and loved it every time. Some of my go-to books are biographies, published journals, etc. Madeleine L’Engle’s Crosswicks quartet are a series of her jounals turned into books, that were contemporary (more or less) when originally published, though have become historical now.

I love biographies, but the most recent I’ve read, those of Hilary Clinton and Queen Noor, are more contemporary than not. I love memoirs, but most of those I’ve read recently, like Carlos Eire’s Waiting for Snow in Havana, and my birthday-book from my aunt this year, Under the Big Top: A Season with the Circus have also been fairly contemporary as they both take place in the 20th and 21st centuries.

I know I’ve read things that are truly historical, but nothing of that ilk is speaking to me just now.