Gothic settings, Viking sagas, SF horror & more (#October #books #movies #writerslife)

What’s in this update? My thoughts on EIGHT books and movies I recently read/watched (any of which would be a perfect distraction for this month), what’s next in my TBR pile and movie queue, what I’ve been up to besides writing, and a chance to subscribe to my newsletter (I offer exclusive content and a quarterly giveaway).

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Two authors I’ve read a lot of lately are Ruth Ware and Linnea Hartsuyker.

Ruth Ware’s thrillers are set in interesting places:

All of those places are places I’d like to go. They all sound amazing, beautiful, relaxing, charming, picturesque, etc. But, of course, the things that happen there during the course of each story transform those places. They become creepy, sinister, isolated, and claustrophobic.

Her books are popular with book clubs, possibly because her characters are damaged, unreliable narrator types — and those stories have been popular picks for a while.

Recommended for: anyone who enjoys suspenseful first person mysteries where the main character is part of the story’s uncertainty.

Linnea Hartsuyker writes historical Viking fiction inspired by the Heimskringla, a 13th century origin myth written by Snorri Sturluson, which itself might be part fiction (a fact Hartsuyker is upfront about). The epic poem tells the story of how Iceland was settled — and the rise of the first king of Norway.

Although Harold Fairhair (first king of Norway) features prominently in Hartsuyker’s books, her two main characters are Ragnvald Eysteinsson and his sister, Svanhild. At the beginning of the story, they are minor royalty — the grandchildren of a king — in a country where everyone’s ancestor was a petty king.

The titles of the first two books in the planned trilogy make it seem as if book #1, THE HALF-DROWNED KING, is Ragnvald’s story and book #2, THE SEA QUEEN, Svanhild’s, but their stories are given equal time in both.

Hartsuyker’s books are well researched and full of detail. Ancient Norway, Iceland, and the North Atlantic are brought to life. The books are full of action (attempted murder, assassinations, raids, and battles), political intrigue (anyone who enjoys stories about power struggles among small ruling factions will enjoy), and love (the siblings’ bond to each other is as strong as any they have with their lovers, which makes for great conflict at times).

As a writer, I appreciated that Hartsuyker’s stories were inspired as much by history as her own imagination. Her characters and worldbuilding skills are terrific.

Recommended for: anyone who likes Nordic culture, ancient worlds, historical fiction based on epic sagas, and/or stories of heroic men and women who seek to rule… or just survive.


Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN, OR THE MODERN PROMETHEUS in anticipation of my library’s excellent lineup of programs for FrankenReads, the international celebration of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Shelley’s classic novel.

If you’re local (Baltimore, MD/York, PA area), check out Hereford Library’s awesome FrankenReads offerings. If you’re not local, see what YOUR library is doing to celebrate here.



ANNIHILATION and A QUIET PLACE – both science fiction horror.

Annihilation stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, et al. Based on Jeff VanderMeer’s novel, it’s the story of a group of women scientists (a biologist, psychologist, anthropologist, and surveyor) who enter a mysterious area known as “The Shimmer” (a.k.a. Area X).

At times, melancholy, sad, and contemplative; at others, horrifying, suspenseful, and gory; it evokes both ARRIVAL (alien visitors make us question our reality) and THE DESCENT (all-female cast ventures into dangerous territory).

Recommended for: anyone who liked Arrival and The Descent, of course, but also anyone who liked Ex Machina, Interstellar, or Solaris (although those last two are set in space, not on Earth).

A Quiet Place stars real life married couple John Krasinski and Emily Blunt, playing a married couple who live in a post-apocalyptic world where monsters kill you if they hear you. So no one can ever make a sound. Ever. (It requires a high level commitment in your willing of suspension of disbelief, but if you’re like me — you don’t mind this in exchange for a good story — you’ll be fine. Go with it.)

Imagine a world where kids can’t scream or yell (I can’t) or where parents and kids can’t laugh together or say “I love you” (much sadder to think about). Or a world where babies can’t cry. A frightening future if you happen to be pregnant.

This family has made some amazing adaptations to everyday life in order to survive. Paths strewn with sand, sign language, a sound proof basement… But the creatures find them anyway. (What’s a monster story without the monsters?)

A Quiet Place reminded me a bit of BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman, although in Bird Box the danger was seeing the creatures rather than being heard by them. (Bird Box was recently made into a film and is releasing December 21st. Which seems late for a horror movie. Why couldn’t they have released it this month?!)

A Quiet Place was surprisingly moving. It had much more emotional depth than I expected from a post-apocalyptic survival movie. And the performances, not just by the two leads, but by the kids, were outstanding. I’m interested to see what Millicent Simmonds does next!

Recommended for: fans of Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, and post-apocalyptic horror.


THE ENDLESS: two brothers receive a videotape in the mail made by a camp they attended/escaped from as kids. One brother believes the camp was a UFO death cult; the other doesn’t. They return. Filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are the same duo who made SPRING, which I loved.

MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER: anime movie by Studio Ponoc, which was founded by a former Studio Ghibli producer. 


Adhesive Capsulitis (a.k.a. Frozen Shoulder): you’re either saying, what the hell is that? or dude, that suuuccckkkkks!!!!! It’s a weird condition that I’d never heard of until I got it, but now that I have it, it seems everyone I know either had it or knows someone who did. Basically, what happens is your shoulder freezes up due to a previous injury or because Life/Luck/Fate has decided to punish you for no apparent reason. The excruciatingly painful “freezing” part of the condition takes around three months. For me, those three months were summer 2018.

What does one do when afflicted with this ginormous PITA (technically, PITS)?

  • Conduct extensive research on the shoulder joint (did you know the shoulder is the most mobile joint, but also the most unstable?)
  • Experiment with turmeric (I’ve now downed 50 zillion lemon/ginger/pepper wellness shots)
  • Whine… to myself… to you

But lots of people have far worse to deal with. Most of the pain has subsided, although my shoulder’s range of motion is still practically nil. At least I can type and click. And give high fives about as well as Tugg. 😉

Book Face Displays: made a “book face” display at my library, which then inspired me to do book face pics of my pets. Want to see them? I’ll be posting them on my Facebook page this Thursday. Want to join in the four-legged fun? Get thee to a library and find the 636s! 😀

Jarring/Labeling Honey: We harvested enough honey to sell it at a local festival this fall, which is very exciting! (New followers, we’re amateur beekeepers — we have two hives and have been beekeeping for about 2 1/2 years. It’s a challenging hobby. In Maryland, bee hive survival rate is somewhere between 33%-50%.)

Halloween Prep: fall is one of my family’s favorite times of year. E and I picked up a new BFF the other day. We made sure he was safe driving home!

THEN and NOW pics of E at the Halloween store…


(possibly old news but worth mentioning)

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Until next time, best wishes! Keep writing! Keep reading!!