Best Books for Halloween

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NOTE: This post contains affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products that I love. Please read my full disclosure here for more information.

As Halloween approaches, you might be curious as to the best reading material suitable to the season!

Below I have compiled a favorites list of my top 5 spooky classics!

1) Dracula

This is the ultimate Halloween read, correct? For many years, I was frightened to pick up this one. One has a general expectation of blood and gore with Dracula. In reality, it is more akin to a gripping Victorian mystery. Except for one scene in particular, it is not graphic. The description of Transylvania at the beginning is atmospheric – brooding and sinister. I was particularly shocked to learn that the author, Bram Stoker, never traveled to Transylvania! He had a vivid imagination indeed.

2) Rebecca

Set in early twentieth century England, it follows a young woman who marries a wealthy older man. It is her first marriage, but his second. Once she travels to his estate, Manderley, she is constantly reminded, either by staff, her husband’s family, or by the estate itself, of his first wife Rebecca. Although this is not your typical ghost story, Rebecca’s menacing presence is felt throughout the novel and influences events at every turn. On a side note, the prose by Daphne du Maurier is gorgeous!

3) The Picture of Dorian Gray

This short novel by Oscar Wilde begins with an interesting premise. An innocent young man falls in love with his own portrait. He speculates how life would be different if he remained youthful forever, but his portrait aged instead? The results and implications are straight out of a horror movie. This book is for mature audiences only.

4) The Woman in White

This Victorian mystery novel, despite its length, is well worth the effort! It begins with a haunting image – a mysterious tragic woman dressed in white, in seeming distress, who follows the protagonist. Who is she, and who is hunting her? This tale of forced marriage, double identity, and murderous intent is a masterclass in suspense! Wilkie Collins, a contemporary of Charles Dickens, was much underrated in my opinion.

5) Jamaica Inn

Another English classic by Daphne du Maurier, Jamaica Inn presents the tale of Mary Yellan, an orphaned girl who comes to live with her aunt and uncle at Jamaica Inn. She is thrust into a world of mystery, for Jamaica Inn, she soon discovers, holds many dark and deadly secrets. The ending of this novel was quite satisfying, but it holds you on the edge of your seat from start to finish!

Related Post:

Lois the Witch Summary and Review

Lois the Witch summary and review

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NOTE: This post contains affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products that I love. Please read my full disclosure here for more information.

As a lover of classic literature as well as European and early American history, I was recently drawn to Elizabeth Gaskell’s novella, Lois the Witch, as part of her wonderful collection of spooky stories, Gothic Tales.

It is the most haunting and powerful work of fiction I’ve ever read.

This novella begins in late 1691, just prior to the outbreak of the Salem witch hysteria.

It follows the tale of the teenage Lois Barclay, who travels from England to Salem, Massachusetts following the death of her parents. This is a taxing journey for Lois, who leaves behind a wealthy young man who wishes to marry her but whose family does not believes poverty-stricken Lois is a proper match for their son.

In Salem, where she comes to live with her uncle’s family, the Hicksons, she encounters a very strange world.

The paranoia which grips Salem, and later proves fertile ground for the madness which would trigger with the witch trials, leaps off the page quite early in the novella. The Puritans are intensely religious, but their faith is devoid of love and compassion. The inhabitants of the town are terrified by the Native Americans, who “lurk in the wilderness” surrounding them. The townspeople are convinced that the Native Americans dabble in the dark arts, or witchcraft.

The relatives with whom poor Lois comes to reside hold equally bizarre notions. Her first cousin Manasseh Hickson, the darling only son of the family, falls deeply in love with Lois. Almost immediately, he begins to harass her to marry him, claiming that it’s “God’s will” that they marry. Lois, clinging to her lost love back in England, spurns his advances repeatedly.

Though Lois strives to endear herself to her aunt and two adolescent female cousins, her attempts fall flat. They are consumed by jealousy of Lois’s sophistication and beauty – and baffled by her unfamiliar English ways. Instead, Lois bonds with the family’s Native American servant, Nattee.

In this setting, paranoia erupts in February 1692 as witch fever takes hold.

The novella demonstrates the many reasons why the townspeople accused their neighbors – including jealousy and unsettled grievances. Sadly, it also demonstrates that many accusations were made simply to draw attention to oneself.

***Warning (Spoilers ahead!)

In this manner, Lois is swept up into the madness. Prudence, her youngest female cousin, eager for the widespread attention which leveling an accusation often brought, charges her with witchcraft.

It is clear that Lois herself is not immune to these delusions. After her accusation, she worries constantly that she, unbeknownst to herself, is actually a witch. Only Manasseh, who is struggling with mental illness, defends her – all in vain. It is furthermore clear that those who defend the accused themselves ran the risk of being charged with witchcraft.

Lois is tried, found guilty, and sentenced to hanging. The Hicksons’ Native American servant, Nattee, is similarly accused and sentenced. They comfort one another in the jail, on the eve of their executions. This is one of the most touching – one of many! – parts of the work:

“When all was quiet through the prison, in the deep dead midnight, the gaoler outside the door heard Lois telling, as if to a young child, the marvelous and sorrowful story of one who died on the cross for us and for our sakes. As long as she spoke, the Indian woman’s terror seemed lulled; but the instant she paused, for weariness, Nattee cried out afresh, as if some wild beast were following her close through the dense forests in which she had dwelt in her youth. And then Lois went on, saying all the blessed words she could remember, and comforting the helpless Indian woman with the sense of the presence of a Heavenly Friend. And in comforting her, Lois was comforted; in strengthening her, Lois was strengthened.”

Lois and Nattee are executed.

In tragic irony, Lois’s lost love from England sails to Salem in the spring in order to claim her as his bride. There, he learns the devastating truth as follows:

“The people of Salem had awakened from their frightful delusion before the autumn, when Captain Holdernesse and Ralph Lucy came to find out Lois, and bring her home to peaceful Barford, in the pleasant country of England. Instead, they led them to the grassy grave where she lay at rest, done to death by mistaken men. Ralph Lucy shook the dust off his feet in quitting Salem, with a heavy, heavy heart; and lived a bachelor all his life long for her sake.”

The final pages of the novella detail how the people of Salem later publicly and bitterly repented of their violence toward the victims, including Lois, although it was too late.

Historic Salem, Massachusetts

Thoughts and Lessons

1) This powerful work is not about witchcraft or the supernatural; instead, it demonstrates that true evil lies in what humans do to one another.

2) There is a good reason for separation of church and state. It is said that the Salem Witch trials laid the foundation for this vital tenet of our American government and buried Puritan theocracy.

3) Beware mob rule and groupthink. No matter how noble the cause they champion, the proverbial “mob” has several common features – paranoia, propensity to violence, and eager to strip away rights from their fellow citizens. Lois falls victim to this “mob,” as have many other poor souls throughout history. Individuals with differing opinions should be respected; the alternative is frightening.

4) Any entity which begins restricting basic rights – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, right to a fair trial, etc. – must be regarded with utmost alarm. Lois the Witch reveals what happens when these basic safeguards to society are removed.

5) Religion without love is worthless and dangerous. As a Christian myself, I’m reminded of James 2: 14-17: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

6) Think before you speak or act. You find a frightening, reactionary world within the pages of Lois the Witch, where people swiftly accuse and respond with violence. Instead of reacting with rage to a given provocation, go to a quiet place. Read. Meditate. Pray. Do not act immediately, as you might regret your actions, like the accusers of the Salem “witches” eventually did.

7) Remember that every human being is someone’s child. A dear friend gave me this advice years ago, and it has remained with me. Lois’s memories of her idyllic childhood, which return quickly once she is accused, constitute perhaps the most poignant part of the novel. She yearns for an innocent time, when she was dearly loved and not viewed with suspicion and hatred. Like the Native Americans, she is an outsider, which is her greatest sin in the eyes of the Puritans.

If you would like to read Lois the Witchwhich I highly, highly recommend! – you can purchase it on Amazon as part of Elizabeth Gaskell’s story collection, Gothic Tales (link below).

If you are interested in the later colonial period as well, you might check out my Revolutionary War novel, Cadence to Glory.

Top 5 Self Help Books of All Time!

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NOTE: This post contains affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products that I love. Please read my full disclosure here for more information.

We all love a good self-help book! They help us to organize our lives and motivate us toward greater success in all areas, including love, career, and finance!

Once in a while, you stumble across a self-help book which completely changes your world view and impacts your life in ways you could not have imagined.

In this post, I’m going to detail my top 5 self help books of all time, books which have opened my mind and caused me to question conventional thinking.

1) How to Win Friends and Influence People

This was the first self-help book I ever read. It is iconic for a reason. Probably the most jolting (and most important!) takeaway from this book is that most people do not care about you – they care about themselves. This book shows how to achieve success in all areas of life by recognizing this fact. For example, when having a conversation with someone, you will establish more rapport (and achieve more leverage) by taking an active interest in the other person and his or her life. Use the other person’s first name (if appropriate); a person’s own name is the most beautiful sound in the world to him or her. Smile. Allow the other person to save face if a mistake is made (we are all human!). Be a good listener. Many public figures praise this book for teaching them the people skills which enabled their rise to the top. Dale Carnegie is the author.

2) The Rules

In the age of feminism, this one is controversial. However, it is time-tested, and it works! In a nutshell, this book demonstrates, through numerous anecdotes and observations to which all women can relate, the ancient truth that men like to hunt. Men are also visual creatures; a slim figure and long wavy hair are two of the most potent mating calls to men. These features may not win a man’s heart, but they will draw him over to you for a conversation. He will never have a chance to fall in love with your loving heart, brilliant mind, or winsome wit if he is not first visually attracted to you! These are harsh truths, but truths nevertheless. For years, I had impeccable makeup. However, I never attracted dates until I lost weight and grew my hair long. In addition, men flock to sought-after women; despite what politically correct talking points proclaim, relationships do have a better chance of long-lasting success if the man pursues the woman first. This book is also a potent protection for women against dead-end relationships; if a man does not want to work hard for it, he was not that attracted to you to begin with (and the relationship has no potential)! The Rules was co-authored by Sherrie Schneider and Ellen Fein.

3) Wheat Belly

This book revolutionized my health 9 years ago. It helped me drop around 30 pounds within a few months and keep it off for a very long time. Packed with eye-opening information about the food industry, it reiterates that the bread we are eating today is not the same bread that our parents ate. Instead, it is genetically modified poison, and it is probably what is making us all fat. By eliminating or, at the very least, minimizing sugar and wheat products, losing weight is far easier. It demonstrates that the best diet for human beings is one rich in lean meats, vegetables, and fruit (in moderation). This book was written by Dr. William Davis.

4) The Secret

Although I’m not fully decided on all the tenets of this book, I’ve included it on the list because it has truly revolutionized my appreciation of the power of positive thinking. This book proposes many intriguing metaphysical principles, including assertions that thoughts impact reality on a strictly material level. While I cannot attest to that on a scientific basis, I do believe, when we have a vision in our minds as to the life we crave, and we cling to that vision, we are subconsciously arranging our actions to align with that goal, thereby increasing our chances of bringing that dream into existence. What we think and speak does have profound implications upon our lives. Even the Bible argues this fact. What we fear most is what often appears in our lives, and this book demonstrates why that is the case. This book is written by Rhonda Byrne.

5) Rich Dad, Poor Dad

I’m ending this blog post with perhaps the most explosive book in the bunch – and the only finance book. We’ve all heard the conventional, often-parroted wisdom for all high school and college graduates. Go to college, graduate school, and beyond. Find a good company to work for. Save as if your life depended on it. Work hard so that you will have a lot of money when you retire, and then you’ll have money to burn during your 10-15 year retirement before you die. We’ve all heard it. Robert Kiyosaki (the author) shatters these cliches. He shares the secrets of the ultra-rich – the “rich dads.” Among the countless provocative revelations in his book, he contends that the rich buy assets, not liabilities. Liabilities are purchases that quickly depreciate in value – such as clothes, luxury cars, golf clubs, etc. Assets are purchases that continue to make money over time, such as rental properties, stock, bonds, or intellectual property (royalties). He has some fascinating critiques about education. He does not disparage college, but he believes that advanced education as a whole creates debt slaves (a fact!) and should encourage entrepreneurship. I only wish I’d read this book in my early 20’s. I would probably be a millionaire by now – but it’s never too late to apply these concepts!