Top 100 Horror: Sunglasses After Dark by Nancy A. Collins

Along with fearless friends DeAnna Knippling and Shannon Lawrence, I am making my way through “Nightmare Magazine’s Top 100 Horror Books.”

Sunglasses After Dark is the first Sonja Blue book, originally published in, I believe, 1989.

When this was made into an e-book, there were some grievous errors made. I kept stumbling across typos, usually “ly” left off. So “actually” became “actual.”

But the worst error I found? “The looks on their faces…” became “The looks on their feces…”

Big, BIG difference there. I don’t know if it’s just the version I got from Amazon or what, but the book was riddled with errors.

Which is a pity, because it’s a cracking good vampire story, and I don’t think or say that lightly. It’s not even apparent in the beginning that Sonja is a vampire, and even when you get to that realization…”vampire” just isn’t a big enough word to cover it all.

SPOILER ALERT! I liked the way this book built, and the way the reader is initially led down the completely wrong path in regards to Sonja Blue. Gradually, you realize your error, taking the word of those around her, or her enemies, for who or what she is. Then you realize that she doesn’t even know what she is. If you’ve ever tried to write that way, misdirecting the reader without them knowing that’s what you’re doing, then you know how hard it is to do well.

Although I loved most of the pace and the plotting, the big show down at the end fell flat for me. It was build up, build up, build up, fearsomeness, ohmygod, build up…and then poof, it’s over in a minute, and our heroine wins too easily. It’s one of those moments where the protagonist grits her teeth and decides to win, so she does. That always feels like a let down to me.

But the writing in the rest of the book? If I can find the next one in the series without all the hideous typos, I want to read more.


Filed under Uncategorized

Chutney Challenge Part 2: What Did YOU Cook?

In September I formulated the Chutney Challenge. Find something old that is languishing in the back of your cupboard in just use it. Because I listed the many, many bottles, jars and bags that I need to either use or lose.

Here’s the trick: don’t let your family read the expiration dates on the bottles before dinner. I mean, those bottles are sealed. The contents are just fine. So what if the company doesn’t make that product any longer, and has, in fact, gone out of business? Ain’t no big thing.

Moroccan Grilling Sauce. This was almost too easy. Poured the bottle over some boneless chicken breasts and grilled them. Tasted fine. Tasted like chicken. Marinade was a trifle sweet, but not bad. Served with couscous (for a pantry double play), and carrots roasted with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, cumin, garlic and salt. I have to do carrots that way again, they were delicious.

Red Dragon Asian Sauce and Dressing. Well, hell. Got leftover chicken anyway, made Asian chicken salad. Lots o’ greens, snow peas, bean sprouts, cucumbers, a yellow pepper and chicken. The dressing was great, because it had a little kick of heat that crept in as you kept eating. I think this would be a great dip for pot stickers. Or could be awesome on chicken wings, but I’m on a chicken wing kick right now, and would probably eat them in a boat or with a goat.

Remember the Red Curry Dipping Sauce? Well, there I was, about to make a meatloaf that called for some tomato sauce. Wait! What if I subbed in the curry sauce? Which I did and it was delicious. I will say, I’m not the world’s biggest meatloaf fan to begin with, so it doesn’t take much to make an improvement on most recipes.

Next up was the Spicy Bulgogi Barbecue Sauce. What to do, what to do. Then I came across a recipe that everyone seemed to be talking about on Pinterest. It’s designed for a 9×13″ pan. You put a line of boneless, skinless chicken breasts down the middle of the pan, then pile small new potatoes (or cut up mature potatoes) on one side, and green beans on the other. As I had just been to the farmers market, I had the potatoes and the green beans. The interweebs says you’re supposed to sprinkle a packet of Italian dressing mix over everything, then pour a stick of melted butter over the top. Um, why are we taking the skin off the chicken if we’re just going to pour a bucket of another animal’s fat over the top? I don’t get it.

But I dutifully assembled the dish, and instead of butter and dressing mix, I drizzled the bottle of Bulgogi sauce over everything and baked it at 350 till the chicken and potatoes were done. And it was seriously delicious,  a little bit spicy and maybe a trifle too sweet for me. As you can tell, I don’t like my savory dishes to have too much sweet in them. But I realized I could try this recipe again any time, just changing out the sauces. Maybe try carrots in place of the green beans. If you attempt this at home, be sure you cut up the potatoes. I believe I also chunked up the chicken, so it would be cooked all the way through.

Next up, I need to use up more couscous. And what will I do with the green curry paste? I haven’t even mentioned the metric ton of fruit jam we now have, thanks to Thing 2’s experiments in the kitchen with a friend this summer.

What’s lurking in your cabinet? What are you going to do with it, hm? Tell me, i want to know. I need the inspiration!

And today’s bonus WTF moment: the spellchecker here wanted me to turn skinless chicken breasts into sinless chicken breasts. Because that’s a thing.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Choir of Ill Children from the Nightmare Magazine Top 100 Horror Books

And here we are with another book read.

Confession: although I never got to meet Tom in person, I got to know him through email when we were trying to invite him to Colorado Springs for a conference or workshop. Then I discovered he had written a mystery novel (not his usual fare) set in a small town in upstate NY, which led to me writing to ask him, “What the heck?” Turns out there had been some sort of family cabin on a lake there when he was growing up, and the memories never left him. He was a wonderful writer and a fine human being, and he was taken from us much too soon earlier this year.

Now then. A Choir of Ill Children. A Southern Gothic novel, which I fully expected to trudge through while women fainted and ghosts fluttered and nothing solid ever really happened.

I’m pleased to say i was so, so wrong. I loved this book. The language is lyrical with a mysterious beat that hooks you and draws you in. The characters are drawn in bold, strong, colorful strokes, and the creepy atmosphere of Kingdom Come, the backwater swamp town where the story is set, will creep into your bones so hard you’ll be itching from imaginary mosquito bites and sweating in the literary humidity.

I sometimes complain because not enough questions are answered in horror novels. In this book, while every single question isn’t answered, there is a sense of completeness, of story finished when you reach the end. Some might call the ending too pat, or too much of a turnaround, but I don’t think so.

I will also never see the word “vinegar” the same ever again. But this book is full of that, little twists and sidesteps that you don’t see coming.

For instance, the main character owns the town sawmill. There are a million ways Piccirilli could have played that character in that situation, but he made it unique. Not the literary hero drowning in white man’s guilt, and not the bored and/or cruel overseer that we’ve seen a million times.

The main character is aware of his town, his family, and his place in both. That sounds frustratingly vague. I don’t want to give up too much about the plot. You’ve got granny witches, conjoined triplets, ghosts, missing parents, a best friend who is truly afflicted by speaking in tongues, a documentary crew of two, and a mysterious girl found in the woods. It all ties up in ways you won’t expect, that you couldn’t expect.

I kept telling myself, as I read the book, “I should hate this. It’s too lyrical. It’s not straightforward enough.” At the same time, I was falling in love with the words and couldn’t put it down.


Filed under Uncategorized

The Other (Real) NaNoWriMo Prep

The days are getting shorter. The wind is starting to stick cold fingers under your collar. Your favorite writers are talking about this strange being, NaNoWriMo. Making plans. Making outlines. Writing character sketches. Writing blogs, if you can believe it, telling unsuspecting citizens how they can write 50,000 words in thirty days.

I have no writing wisdom to share. I’m here to talk about the dark and gritty underbelly of National Novel Writing Month, and how to survive with some shreds of your sanity intact. You want to know how to really get prepared in the next couple of days?

  1. Buy new underwear. You can wear the same sweats all month long, but your ideas and your genitals will both stagnate if you wear the same underwear for thirty days in a row. If you really stock up, you won’t have to do laundry until the Thanksgiving turkey is going into the oven. Or later.
  2. If you have a sweet patootie, have sex now. When you’re getting up early and staying up late to squeeze all those words out of your brain, while convincing yourself you aren’t an absolute worthless hack, you aren’t going to be feeling particularly sexy. Make the beast with two backs now, then maybe you can canoodle again on Thanksgiving, while your underwear is all in the washing machine.
  3. Warn your family. Don’t be coy about your writing or your schedule. This way, when you start snarling in week two about not having met your quota, they’ll nod and go off to happy hour without you, their eyes wide in awe and admiration, whispering “Writer!” (This is not a free pass to act like more of an asshat than you usually do, by the way. Because when December 1 rolls around, you’re going to need all the support your poor, battered ego can get.)
  4. Delete all your game apps from Facebook and phone. I would suggest ignoring Facebook for the whole month, but I’m realistic enough to know that nobody is going to do that.
  5. Get realistic about your menu for the month. Lower your standards. You could go all Betty Crocker and make a month’s worth of freezer meals, and I have walked that path in years past. But it takes cooking skills and time. Stock up on cereal and take-out menus, and tell your children it’s their turn to cook. Realize that pizza is not your enemy. Throw in some fresh fruit, though, because I don’t want to be responsible for anyone coming down with scurvy. Do not try to live on utter crap, like dollar store taco chips and generic chocolate soda.
  6. Get a flu shot. Then stop by the drugstore and stock up on allergy meds, vitamins, tissues, and Visine. The latter two are helpful for colds, allergies and crying jags when you realize you’ve written yourself into a corner. For the third time. Today.
  7. Don’t try to change your entire life. This is not the time to tack on a new running program, a 30-day plank challenge, a switch to vegetarianism, marriage counseling and adopting a litter of feral cats that have possibly been contaminated with actual alien DNA. If you try to do it all at once, you will implode. And some other enterprising NaNoWriMo participant will watch and write about it.
  8. Stock the bevs. Get your favorite caffeine or sparkling water, cider, cocoa, whatever fuels your muse. You might want to save the booze to celebrate at the end of the days when you make your word count. Fueling your muse at 8 a.m. with a couple of shots of tequila is not recommended, especially not if you have a day job. Employers tend to be quite unyielding in their expectations of “fit for duty.”
  9. Make the call: dawn or dusk. You already know if you’re more productive in the mornings or at night. If the idea of 5 a.m. makes you weep, write late instead of early.
  10. Don’t be a snob. Stop being a hipster princess and fussing about monsooned coffee, designer fonts that nobody can tell apart and what indie music is just exquisite to listen to while you’re writing your pivotal enigmatic scene involving horn rimmed glasses.You don’t actually need a computer or a snuggly blanket or the perfect light to get words onto the page. Scrawl notes on a napkin at lunch. When the boss takes a smoke break, jot your ideas into a small notebook. Record thoughts on your phone at stop lights. Write whatever you can, wherever you, whenever you can.

That’s how you get 50,000 words in thirty days.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The 2015/16 Book Group Reading List

New and improved! Now with more fiber! And extra cleaning power!

I’m in a mood.

These are the titles we’ve selected for this year. I’ve decided to note my preconceptions about the books, then I’ll come back after reading them to see how reality matches up with expectations.

October              Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty (Can’t wait to read this. Sounds quirky and fun. I don’t know how a crematory works, but I will after I read this.)

November          The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco: A Book Club Mystery by Laura DiSilverio  (I’ve already read this, and I’m eager to see what the rest of the group thinks. Crossing my fingers that we might be able to get the author to join us for our discussion.)

December          Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral by Mary Doria Russell   (I’m actually fairly neutral about this one. Not opposed to a Western. I suspect it will either be well done or over done.

January               Living with a Wild God by Barbara Ehrenreich (I think I would read anything she writes. There was some discussion about whether or not to read it in December, but some people thought it would be anti-spiritual. I disagreed, but I don’t really care when we read it.)

February             Death by Food Pyramid: How Shoddy Science, Sketchy Politics and Shady Special Interests Have Ruined Our Health by Denise Minger  (My initial reaction was: Yawn. I feel like this is a subject I already read a lot about, and people are constantly talking about, and I get enough of it outside of book group.)

March                 Mink River by Brian Doyle  (I voted no on this book, simply because it’s not very available (the library has 0 copies and the paperback is $18) and whoever wrote the book description should be taken out and flogged. It’s just a list of words, items that we’ll encounter in this fictional small town. I lived in a small town. They really aren’t that interesting. One of our members said she didn’t want to limit the books by what was available. I countered that I didn’t want to have to purchase all the books on the list. Since I know who recommended it, I suspect the writing will be beautiful.)

April                    We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh  (Neutral. Must be popular, because the wait for hard copies or ecopies at the library is hella long. Family drama. The American Dream.)

May                    Lila: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson   (This one intrigues me–homeless girl meets and marries a minister– but only 1 copy at the library and not out in paperback. Yes, ease of acquiring the book matters to me. But this one I’m willing to work to get my hands on.)

June                    The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (Set in England between the world wars, it could be interesting. My great-grandparents ran a boarding house, although I never heard many stories about that. Color me curious.)

July                     Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth  (Hard to get and I completely don’t care. Saw a little of the TV series based on this book and fell in love with it. When I saw this on the list of books, it was the first one I knew I was going to vote for.)

August                All We Had: A Novel by Annie Weatherwax   (Sneaky me, I’ve read this one already. I hope it will prompt some good discussion with the group. The storyline itself is not unfamiliar, but it’s not set in the 1950s or in a dysfunctional southern family. Sometimes I think there’s an unwritten rule that coming of age stories must be set in the 50s or 60s. Did we stop having seminal experiences that defined our transition from children to adults? Or are the bygone years tinted with the amber patina of nostalgia?)

September         The Choosing   For those new to this part of my life, over the summer the members of our book group submit possible books for the coming year. Prior to the September meeting, a list is sent out with title, author and description for each book. The meeting is a lot of fun; we eat (it’s a potluck), talk about the books, and vote.

And can anyone tell me why we have to append “: A Novel” to so many titles now? Is the general reading public really too stupid to figure that out?

Have you read any of the books on this list? Do you want to? Do you think I’m on target or way off base on any of these?

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Top 100 Horror Books: 999

Along with fearless friends DeAnna Knippling and Shannon Lawrence, I am making my way through “Nightmare Magazine’s Top 100 Horror Books.”

“999” is an anthology of tales by some of horror’s greatest writers, edited by Al Sarrantonio.

I’m not the ideal audience for a book of short stories. I know this. It’s my shortcoming, has nothing to do with the stories themselves. I read to escape, and short stories are not generally long enough for me to escape into.

I like “Amerikanski Dead at the Moscow Morgue” by Kim Newman, because there was a lot of cleverness in both the zombies and what ends up driving them.

“The Ruins of Contracoeur” by Joyce Carol Oates was a little marvel, warping a seriously gothic sensibility with modern technology. And an ending that I won’t soon forget–it was squicky. Gave me a little shudder.

“The Owl and the Pussycat” by Thomas M. Disch is good for a few nightmares. When you finally figure out where the story is going, it’s like an asteroid rushing toward the earth in a big-budget movie–you can’t look away.

Loved “Good Friday” by F. Paul Wilson. There was enough story there to allow me to root for the characters. Well, some of them.

My very favorite was one I had read before, “Mad Dog Summer” by  Joe R. Lansdale, who can do no wrong in my book. Perhaps not classic horror, but the story will chill you even while the writing has you sweating along to the east Texas summer heat.

The last story in the book was “Elsewhere” by William Peter Blatty (yeah, wrote a little book called The Exorcist, you might have heard of that.) I did not see the first twist coming until he wanted me to see it coming. And the note upon which the story actually ended had me pondering for days after reading it.

For my own sanity, I need to give myself more time to read anthologies instead of trying to read them as quickly as a novel. Great way to give myself mental whiplash. I do wish, though, that this Top 100 list had fewer anthologies on it.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Chutney Challenge

Go ahead. I dare you. Take the chutney challenge with me.

Featured image

Go to your kitchen cupboard or your pantry. Throw it open. Reach into the dark recesses and pull out that jar at the back that’s been sitting there, neglected, since you bought it on a whim.

Open it.

Use it.

Tell me what you did with it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m going to list the many such jars residing in my own pantry. And then, over the next few weeks, I’m going to list how I use them while I refrain from buying any more. (That last part could easily be a lie. I am powerless over delicious-sounding condiments. I just bought chow-chow at a distillery in Palisade from a drunk New Jersey native who was quoting Hunter Thompson at me. True story.)

I have:

Red Dragon Asian Sauce and Dressing (maybe for Asian chicken salad?)

Moroccan Dipping Sauce. Or maybe it was Grilling Sauce. (I don’t have any Moroccans that need to be dipped. Or grilled.)

Wasabi Ginger Sauce (I bet I can make a slaw with this.)

Red Curry Cooking Sauce (Sounds like an easy one.)

Spicy Bulgogi Barbecue Sauce (I can probably make bulgogi, but I know I’m too lazy to make all the side dishes. Good thing I know where to find the Korean grocery store with the best deli.)

Tikka Masala Sauce (I believe I also spotted a box of naan bread mix.)

Pad Thai Noodle Sauce (so, yes, I could make Pad Thai)

Green Curry Paste (This scares me.)

Roasted Red Chili Paste

Harissa Sauce (Supposed to be fiery and delicious. But can it replace Sriracha sauce in my heart and on my table?)

Salsa Verde (2 large jars, which is good planning on my part because I use this all the time)

A bottle of dry barbecue rub

Three kinds of couscous (regular, whole wheat, and large/Israeli)

I also have dried fruit so old and gnarled that I’m not sure what fruit it started out as. If anyone has an idea how I can refresh that and use it, I’d love to hear it. I suppose I could make a very large amount of fruitcake. (Haters: shut up. Good fruitcake is a revelation and a delight.)

And I do have a bottle of the Major Grey’s, pictured above. That one isn’t a challenge, it goes into a dish I make called Curry in a Hurry, which uses any leftover meat (or none, for the veg-heads) and pretty much any combination of vegetables you want to put into it. Takes about 15 minutes to get it ready, not counting cooking the rice you’ll want with it.

How many of these items can I use on chicken to be grilled? How many can I slip into butternut squash soup? How many can be used to make slaw? Warning, we could have some very funky pizzas coming up.

If anyone is still reading, I’ve started a Pinterest board where I’ll try to keep track of the recipes I’m going to use or will consider using. The green curry paste will be a challenge, since I’m not altogether sure I even like it.

What are YOU going to do for the chutney challenge? Or would you like to trade something for my curry paste? Please?

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized