The Top Ten Reasons We Love Vampires

Fall officially begins at the end of this week, but I’ve been gearing up for it for some time.  For those who follow my blog, I’ve already written a couple of posts this month related to my favorite season, with hopefully more to come.  Today, as I start planning the decorations I’ll be putting up over the next few weeks (Do I really want an entire cemetery on the front lawn this year?) I began thinking about one of my personal favorite monsters-the vampire.

The Bite
Dinner, anyone? Photo by Len Radin on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

What is it about these creatures of the night that is so fascinating?  The myths that surround vampires are hardly new, but because of new additions to literature and Hollywood, their lore is continually being renewed by modern culture.  There are even societies devoted to vampires, where members dress and act as if they are members of the undread.

Vampires are enormously popular, thanks to television shows- Vampire Diaries (Netflix), The Originals (CW), True Blood (HBO), as well as recently popular movie series- Underworld, Blade and Twilight, to name a few.  Of course, books about vampires can be found by the dozens and hundreds in any seller or online retailer, from authors such as Charlaine Harris, Anne Rice, and the one who started who launched the cult following, Bram Stoker.

But why do we love vampires?  Here’s a few of the top reasons:

Vampires have longevity.  The stories and legends of vampires existed long before Bram Stoker penned his epic novel, or before Hollywood first introduced Dracula to the masses.

Vampires are mysterious.  No matter the version of the story, all vampires have secretive pasts and hidden existences that leave an audience wanting to know more about them.

Vampires are often seen as romantic characters.  Whether they are seductive fiends that come into a woman’s bedroom at night, or brooding teens that shy away from their bloodthirsty nature, we can’t help but be drawn to them.

2012-09-15 Elf Fantasy Fair, edition Arcen 2012, Jerney
Imagine running into her at night! Photo by Qsimple, Memories For The Future Photography on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Vampires are powerful.  They have superhuman strength and speed.  In some versions of the story, they can turn into bats or wolves, and have the ability to take control over a human’s mind.

Vampires often have a duality of nature.  Vampires can be both scary and attractive.  We are captivated by them; while at the same time we fear them.  They appear to be human, right up till the moment they give in to the urge to feed-on us.

Vampires have history.  Many stories include vampires that have been around a century or a few, that have seen mankind’s many triumphs and missteps, and have acquired a great deal of wisdom from their extended lifespans.

The Fearless Vampire Killers (1966) Screencaptures
The Fearless Vampire Killers (1966) Screencaptures  Photo by thefoxling on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Vampires represent eternal youth, beauty, and immortality.  They are often portrayed as being attractive, appearing young, and of course, they live forever, or until they see the sunrise or someone stakes them.

Vampires are outsiders.  Many of us can identify with characters that exist on the fringes of society, which are often portrayed as being solitary, as loners.

Vampires are the ultimate bad boys.  They live outside the rules of society, because they must kill to live, or at least steal blood from a bank or animals.

Vampires are monsters, even if they appear human.  We can’t help being fascinated by the idea that something out there considers us prey, which makes us vulnerable.  After all, horror stories in general have widespread appeal.

When you have some downtime this week, why not dust off that vampire novel you’ve been meaning to read, or download your vampire movie about those creatures of the night?  After all, with fall right around the corner it’s the perfect time to feed a monster obsession.

Amy

 

 

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Family-Friendly Fall Activities

September in the Midwest brings with it a relief from the humidity and a slight drop in temperatures as we meander ever-closer to the beginning of autumn.  This gentle change in the weather is the perfect backdrop for a number of activities especially suited to the harvest season.  Here are just a few ideas of ways to spend quality time in the great outdoors with your loved ones this time of year.

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Go ahead and jump in that pile of leaves-we won’t tell! Photo by christielockwood on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Sunny fall afternoons offer the perfect excuse to breathe in the crisp air and enjoy some lawn games with your family.  Bring out a ball to toss or kick around, or play an old-fashioned game of tag.  Outdoor games such as cornhole, which involves aiming beanbags through a wooden target, are a good choice that can appeal to all ages and skill levels.  Take time to appreciate the colorful foliage, by letting little ones collect pretty leaves, and perhaps joining them in jumping in a pile.

Chilly autumn nights are the perfect time to utilize that fire pit on the deck or in the backyard.   Settle down with your loves ones for an evening of s’mores and sharing your favorite ghost story.  Many communities will host bonfires in the fall, often in celebration of back-to-school or in support of a local sporting event.  Check local listings for events, and don’t forget to pack lawn chairs. A blanket may come in handy as the temperature drops, too.

Feed your artistic side by carving a pumpkin.  While this can be done indoors, it’s often easier to move outside, especially with younger helpers participating!  Pick up pumpkins at a local grocery, nursery, or farm, and use your imagination.  Kitchen knives work well but specialty carving kits are easy to find, as are carving tips and designs in magazines and online sources such as Pinterest.

Everett Carving His Pumpkin
Every jack-o-lantern is unique, just like its creator.  Photo by Joe Shlabotnik on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

If you want to make a pumpkin creation that will last beyond the season, faux pumpkins make of foam, cardboard, and wood are available from your local craft store, and can be decorated with carving tools, paint, and any type of decoration you desire.

Visit a nearby farm.  Check directory listings for rural venues that offer special seasonal events.  Many of these destinations will feature attractions tailored for families, such as hayrides and corn mazes.  Spend an afternoon picking apples, selecting a pumpkin straight from the patch, or wandering through displays of colorful fall flowers.  As the sun goes down, warm up with a mug of hot apple cider or cocoa, before you carry your bounty home.

The varieties of activities that are available to make the most of nature and the harvest season are as unlimited as the autumnal colors surrounding us.  I hope you can take time to breathe in the cool air, smell the falling leaves, and spend some precious time with your loved ones today.

Amy

Is it too Soon to Get into the Autumn Spirit?

September has arrived, and while the temperatures here are still in the nineties mid-day, school is officially back in session and everywhere I turn, I’m beginning to see signs of the impending autumn season.

I don’t just mean the planter full of mums I just put out front, either.  A visit to nearby Target or Meijer will showcase a clearance rack of back-to-school needs, alongside half-stocked display shelves full of costumes, decorations, and knickknacks styled for the upcoming fall, and sometimes winter seasons.  The local gardening stores have begun to carry planters filled with seasonal foliage, and grocery stores are already stocking decorative pumpkins in the produce aisle.

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This little one is getting into the spirit of the season! Photo on Foter.com

I ask you, is it too early to decorate for fall?  Is it too soon to pull out the orange candles, the colorful silk leaves and plastic spiders?  Is it time yet to think about Halloween costumes, and where to hide the candy so it actually survives long enough to be handed out to trick-or-treaters?

I tend to go a little overboard when it comes to fall.  The drop in temperatures invigorates me, and I absolutely love the colors, the smells, and the foods of the season.  As my family can attest, this is hardly a new phenomenon for me.  I’ve had the habit since I was a child, and I shared the love with my own kids, to the point we have nearly as many boxes of decorations and paraphernalia for fall and Halloween as we do for Christmas.

To me Halloween has always symbolized a freedom of expression- the one time of year (other than Comic-con or Renaissance Fairs) when it’s socially acceptable to become someone else, for just a little while.  It’s okay to live a fantasy, to act out a favorite character, to revisit the childhood joy of make-believe and imaginative play.  That’s why I tend to dress up, even if I’m just handing out candy, because why should the kids have all the fun?

So while I’m going about my daily tasks, I’m also planning the display we’ll set up this year, the costumes I need to get or make, and estimating how much candy to buy.  I’ll be digging through my recipes to make my special pumpkin coffee cake, and choosing between recipes for pecan pie.  Of course, once fall officially arrives later this month, I’ll have planning for Thanksgiving to do, too, and then the winter holidays.  The next few months are going to be busy!

Graphic Novel Review-They’re Not Just for Kids

Recently I’ve shared reviews of a number of books that I’ve read for my local book club.  This month, the club is doing something a little different-we’re reading graphic novels.  I know many of my long-time readers may wonder why a grown woman, with grown children, would choose to read what essentially is perceived to be a comic book.  The truth is that graphic novels have come a long way, to the point they are actually considered a sophisticated art form.

While some graphic novels are still collections of a series of comic books that go together to form a longer story, bound into a book format, that definition no longer encompasses the whole usage of the term.  Many graphic novels are refined works, sometimes retellings of existing novels or sometimes new, independent stories, where illustrations play at least an equally important part to the text.  Though some are designed with children in mind, many graphic novels often include more mature or darker themes than would generally be expected to be found in comic books, and can contain any type of subject matter, from fiction to non-fiction.

The challenge set for my book club specifically is reading graphic novels with paranormal themes.  Since some of these are shorter than regular novels, I decided to review a few of them together in one post.  This is just a small sample of what can be found in your local bookstore, comic shop, library, or online.

Archival Quality by Ivy Noelle Weir
Archival Quality 
by

Ivy Noelle Weir (Goodreads Author), and
Steenz (Goodreads Author) (Illustrator)
This original story found exclusively in graphic novel format features a young woman who has suffered a nervous breakdown, resulting in the loss of her beloved job as a library assistant. Anxious to put her life back together, Cel answers an ad for an archivist position at The Logan Museum of Medical Oddities.

From the very first, she finds her new job full of surprises. She is required to live in an apartment inside the library building, because she is expected to do her work at night. Her boss has a habit of appearing and disappearing at the most inopportune times. Cel begins having dreams of a young woman who was tortured in the building, which at one time housed an asylum. Then she begins suffering mysterious nosebleeds and losing time.

What is happening to Cel, and how does it relate to the mysteries of the museum? Was the woman a patient at the asylum, and why is the only record of her a picture found misfiled in the archive? How is the board, whom none of the employees ever see, involved?

While I sympathized with the main character, Cel, and was drawn into the mystery, many of the other characters seemed annoying or unnecessary to the storyline. Cel was the only one fully developed, while the others, such as her boss Holly and boyfriend Kyle seemed to be used more as plot devices to move the action along than as actual individuals important to the plot. The artwork was fluid and enhanced the tone and scope of the novel, despite the “comic” nature of the characters. If this story was produced in another format, I would say it would make a good short story or novella, perhaps in a collection of horror stories. Overall, I give it three stars.

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Jim Butcher's Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files: Ghoul Goblin 
by

Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)Mark Powers 

and

Joseph Cooper (Illustrations)
Author Jim Butcher has augmented his popular novel series, The Dresden Files, with a set of graphic novels. While some of these are retellings of other books in the series, Ghoul Goblin, #3, co-written by Mark Powers, is an original addition to the Dresden universe. Consisting of a set of six comics bound into one volume, this beautifully illustrated story is as detailed as any of the author’s novels.

Deputy Sheriff Prescott “Pres” Tremaine travels to The Windy City to hire Harry Dresden, wizard for hire, to investigate events that have unfolded in his small Missouri town. A family of seven orphans, the Talbots, has been devastated with the deaths of their two eldest under mysterious circumstances. Dresden recognizes the handiwork of supernatural forces in the crime scene photos, and agrees to investigate.

Arriving just in time for the funeral of the two Talbots, Harry runs afoul of both the remaining Talbots, led by the skeptical eldest remaining brother and the town sheriff, who refuses to believe anything out of the ordinary is at play, even when the undertaker, who turns out to be a goblin in disguise, attacks.

Despite being warned away, Dresden begins his investigation that soon shows there is more than one supernatural presence in the small town. The Talbots are under a curse, one which draws the residents of the Nevernever to them like flies to honey, and now two separate creatures are competing for territory, and the right to see who can end their line first.

The only thing this graphic novel has in common with comic books was the fact that each page was covered in artwork, but the quality far outweighed the illustrations of any comic I read as a kid. From the very first page, where Harry is fighting a water demon in Lake Michigan the reader is drawn into a world where the supernatural lives alongside our own.

The characters were well-developed, with the depth and attention to detail I’ve come to expect from Butcher. The story, while containing less text than usual for the author’s work, nevertheless was just as complete and riveting as any I’ve read in this universe, and easily fit inside the chronology as a case for Harry Dresden. I award this graphic novel five stars and would recommend it to anyone interested in The Dresden Files novels, paranormal or thriller stories, or just dipping their toes into the world of graphic novels.

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Odd Is on Our Side by Dean Koontz
Odd Is on Our Side (Odd thomas Graphic Novel, #2)
by

Dean Koontz (Goodreads Author),
Fred Van Lente (Goodreads Author),
Queenie Chan (Goodreads Author) (Illustrator)
In Odd is on Our Side, Odd Thomas, a character from Koontz’s series of novels, sees dead people and tries to assist them in crossing over. This graphic novel features a Halloween celebration in Odd’s native Pico Mundo, CA. Odd, with the help of his girlfriend Stormy, investigates when Odd begins seeing bodachs, ominous heralds of death, creeping around town.

In a plot that is one part Sixth Sense and one part Scooby Doo, Odd follows clues that leads him on a wild goose chase after devil-mask wearing teens stealing jack-o-lanterns to toss downhill for the annual Pumpkin Roll, to a young costume-wearing ghost, and into the history of the man who poisoned the town’s trick-or-treaters twenty-five years earlier.

In the end, Odd and his friends find that the true danger comes not from the supernatural, but a criminal in disguise, and only they have the means and the knowledge to save the town.

Despite a full cast of quirky characters, including resident eccentric novelist Ozzie Boone, his editor Valerie Malovent, and the helpful shade of Elvis Presley, this story is mostly plot-driven, with numerous twists and turns that kept me on my toes yet all came together in the end. The illustrations were all done in black and white, and while not as detailed as in some other graphic novels I’ve read, conveyed the action well and were an integral part of the story. In fact, some pages were wholly or mostly artwork, but still carried the weight of the tale.

This was a very enjoyable story that I thought did very well in this format and I award it four and a half stars, and recommend it to fans of the paranormal as well as fans of Dean Koontz’s works.

Summer’s End

The summer heat has been slightly less oppressive in the last week, as August winds down and we realize autumn is right around the corner.  While there are still tomatoes growing on the vine and my petunias haven’t yet bloomed their last, many of us are already consumed with thoughts of back-to-school time.  Soon we’ll be dealing with a barrage of colorful leaves covering the lawn, and looking forward to tailgate parties and bonfires.

First, though, summer has one last hurrah in the coming weeks- Labor Day is almost here.  For many of us, this national holiday, a tribute to the labor unions and the American worker, means a rest day off from work, a time to spend with family, a last chance to visit an amusement park or the lake before the end of the season.

Girl, Sitting, Happy, Pretty, Dock, Water, Lake
It’s time for the last blissful days of summer.  Photo on Foter.com

This year the holiday falls on September 3rd, and all over the country people will be breaking out corn hole boards and s’mores supplies, packing up the RV or the four-wheelers, and setting out to enjoy one last weekend of summertime fun.

For myself, my family will most likely stay home this year, but that doesn’t mean we won’t celebrate.  I’ve already started going through recipes and deciding the menu for our cookout.  Which of our favorites have I used this year, and which will be the best to cap off this summer?

Burgers, brats, or something more exotic?  I’ll have to poll the guests, and check what’s on sale this week.

Potato salad?  Done it, but it’s always worth repeating.

Fried green tomatoes?  Done that a couple of times too, so put that on the maybe list.

Homemade cherry pie with homemade filling?  I haven’t actually made that this year, so this might be the time, while the cherries are still in season.  Or maybe peach cobbler would be better?  Decisions, decisions.

Nothing like a picnic in the great outdoors!  Photo by derbon on TrendHype / CC BY-NC-SA

I’ve got some time to work on the menu.  After all, the most important part of the day is not the food, or the activities, or even the location, but the time spent together.  Labor Day, and any holiday really, is first and foremost a time for families to reconnect.  Everything else is really secondary as we visit, relax, and let the stress of jobs and outside activities melt away.

I hope however you spend your holiday you enjoy yourself, and have the opportunity for some quality time with those you love.

Amy

Ant-Man and the Wasp, American movie (2018)

Marvel’s latest release, Ant-man and the Wasp, came shortly on the heels of Avengers:Infinity Wars, which was much darker and over-the-top depressing, leaving fans clamoring for a do-over in the fourth planned installment to the series. Raistlin0903 shared his review on his website of the “comic relief” addition to the Marvel Universe.

Raistlin0903

One of my favorite parts of going to a movie theatre, besides eating snacks, is the previews. It’s always exciting to see new and interesting trailers for movies that will be coming out later in the year. However these days, trailers have changed a lot from what they were years ago. While the main purpose of one is of course getting you excited for an upcoming film, nowadays I think that trailers quite often just give away too much. Sometimes whole plotpoints are revealed, and at times this certainly make me regret looking at one in the first place. Now I know what you are going to say: Why watch them then? I think that is a very good question. A good trailer for me, is one that shows you scenes to give you enough of a tease to look forward to a film, while at the same time holding…

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Easing Growing Pangs-Dealing with Empty Nest Syndrome

One of the hardest parts about being a parent is when their children move out and begin a life of their own.  Whether their kids are going away to college, beginning a career in another city or state, or simply settling into a new home with a significant other all parents face a sense of loss.  They can sometimes feel like they are no longer needed or as important in their children’s lives.

It’s okay to be sad when the kids leave the nest, but life doesn’t actually stop for mom or dad just they suddenly have a different role in the lives of their offspring.  There are ways to cope with the change in your relationship, and many things to look forward to ahead.

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Life changes, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.  Photo by Chilanga Cement on Trend Hype / CC BY

Take care of yourself first.  If you feel depressed or overwhelmed by becoming an empty nester, talk to someone.  Whether you have a significant other to turn to, or you confide in a friend, or even seek professional help, it really does make a difference to know you’re not alone in this.  Your kids are starting a new chapter in their lives, and so should you.  The feelings of loss should ease as you settle into your new norm and your new relationship with your children.

Your relationship is changing, but your kids will always be yours.  The worry and the concern will remain, even when they’re out of the house and if you don’t see them as often.  They will always be a part of your lives and in your hearts and minds.  Keep in touch however you can-whether you call, text, skype, or email.  You can always visit, or have them visit you.  If you live close enough schedule regular family dinners, either at home or a restaurant.  Let them know that it’s still okay to turn to you when they need a sounding board, or advice.  You can offer to help them with big “adult” things, like shopping for a car and decorating a new home.

Your future is in your hands.  Just because your children don’t live at home anymore doesn’t mean your life is over.  Take advantage of your situation to try new things.  Make plans to travel somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, but couldn’t manage before because of schedules or budget.  Find a new hobby you can share with your spouse, or take a course at a local college.  Join a book club.  Volunteer.  Spend time planning how you will spoil any future grandkids.

Having your children grow up can be harder on the parents than it is for the kids.  Remember how big a wreck you were on their first day of school.  Hey, you survived that, right?  You’ll get through this too.  Just hang in there.

Amy

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Into the Drowning Deep

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
Into the Drowning Deep (Rolling in the Deep, #1) 
by

50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review

Imagine if a multi-media corporation launched an expedition to uncover the truth of the existence of a legendary sea monster, the mermaid.  Imagine a ship sailed into the Marianna Trench, to search for evidence that the myth was actually based on fact, and crewed by scientists and cameramen.  Imagine they actually found what they were looking for, and were not at all prepared for it.

The Imagine Corporation has one failed expedition under its belt already; the crew of the Atargatis was a total loss, leaving behind grieving family, and impending litigation.  Seven years after the initial tragedy, a new expedition is organized, with twin goals of proving the existence of mermaids and restoring the image of the company.  The Melusine sets out with a new crew, many of whom have studied the footage recovered from the doomed Atargatis.  They know that the “mermaids” are out there and hopefully, they will survive long enough to get some answers this time.

I don’t often read horror stories, but Into the Drowning Deep was a recent choice of my local book club and I was intrigued enough to stay up late at night reading it through.  The preface contained flashbacks and reports drawn from camera footage of the doomed Atargatis, done in a manner that reminded me eerily of The Blair Witch.  As the story continued, I realized the monsters themselves and the action present would make a far better horror movie than many I’ve seen.

The author uses multiple points of view, as several of the narrators fall prey to the invaders, with a lot of thrills and action in the plot.  Grant also finds moments in the story to comment on the purpose of the expedition and of life itself with gorgeous prose, such as this quote from Chapter 18, where Luis Martines is musing on the job they have set out to do:

“Let deforestation do away with Bigfoot, let sonar destroy Nessie, but the sea would always be deep, always be dark, always be filled with wonders.”

The author clearly demonstrates that the ocean is stronger and more mysterious than man is capable of understanding or conquering.

In fact, the misnamed “mermaids” are truly more than the crew of the Melusine can handle-they are smart, fast, and strong, they can breathe air, and their secretions are toxic to humans.  Can the crew, led by a sirenologist and an Imagine executive survive long enough to raise the broken shields on the ship and trap the mermaids inside, or will they all be devoured by something even more deadly from the deep?

This book is truly an exciting read, which I give five stars, and recommend to anyone interested in horror, paranormal stories of creatures, or thriller stories.