2019 Summer Reading: Escape into Reality – Nonfiction Adventures

2019 Summer Reading: Escape into Reality With Four Nonfiction Adventures

 

Today I’m featuring a quartet of absolutely wonderful books that will suck you into adventure, mystery, and places you’ve never imagined you’d be. You’ll meet a colorful, dangerous, interesting, lovely, and witty characters. Best of all it is all true.

Good nonfiction is a wonderful thing. I think about some of my favorites that I could read again and again and again. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness is an autobiographical work by Edward Abbey is one book that should be on every book list and every book shelf. Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez moved my soul. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson made me think and also made me laugh almost unlike any book I’ve ever read.

Copies of these books, even those now out of print, can be found in libraries, on Amazon, B&N, eBay, your local used book store, and other online outlets. If you’re having trouble finding any of them let me know and I’ll help you look.

 

Attending Marvels – A Patagonian Journal

By George Gaylord Simpson

In 1930 George Taylor Simpson traveled to Argentina, was shot at, had a few exciting adventures, finally made his way to Patagonia, and dug for dinosaur bones.

This is on my list of top ten favorite books ever. Simpson will charm you, enlighten you, and inspire you. Attending Marvels is a marvel of a book. Look it up. Find a copy. Read it. It isn’t a long book so it is perfect for summer reading.

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The Lost City of the Monkey God

By Douglas Preston

Years ago I read a book called Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Then I read Reliquary. THEN I read one of my favorite books by the pair, and favorite books by anyone – The Cabinet of Curiosities. Like many I was hooked on the adventures of Agent Pendergast and the many other characters Preston and Child created. I can’t wait to read their next book which involved the Donner Party.

A few years ago I read The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston. It was about American student Amanda Knox who had been accused of murder in Italy. This was my first test of nonfiction by Douglas Preston.

I was so excited when The Lost City of the Monkey God came out. Unfortunately half way through the book I lost The Lost City of the Monkey God. Fast forward to this year and I found it. I will finish it next week while I’m on a road trip.

But what is this book about?

In 2012 Preston joined a team of scientists to find The Lost City of the Monkey God, The White City, in the Amazon jungle. The story covers stories of explorers, interesting characters, snakes (this will scare the jeebers out of you), rain, rain, rain, amazing discoveries, bugs, and a mysterious illness. Oh, I forgot, TECHNOLOGY. Finding a lost city in a jungle is no small task. Take my word for it. This is a fun book.

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Eldorado – Adventures in the Path of Empire

By Bayard Taylor

I love this book.

In 1849 a young reporter (and poet) named Bayard Taylor left New York, traveled to California by the way of Panama (pre-canal), and wrote about it. He wasn’t looking for gold. Taylor was looking for stories. With brutal honesty, detail, humor, and an eye for detail he covers everything from the journey to California, to life in the mining camps, the new and growing cities of San Francisco and Sacramento, Volcanos, Rain, Society in California, robbers, a trip to Mexico, and more.

This is a brilliant first hand account of the California Gold Rush unlike anything you thought you knew about one of the most amazing events in the history of the world.

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Empire Express – Building the First Transcontinental Railroad

By David Howard Bain

This year is the 150th Anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad. Empire Express was recommended by a docent at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, CA. Believe me, that if a docent from the California State Railroad Museum recommends a book it will be good.

Empire Express is over seven hundred pages and covers a lot of territory. I haven’t read it yet, but what I’ve seen (thumbing through it) looks great. I know this book will be as exciting as the big personalities it covers. It is an adventure, a social history, a story about dreams, heartbreak, triumph, and how the United States was forever changed.

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No matter what you’re interested in, or what you like to read, I encourage everyone to try something new, go out of your comfort zones, take a chance, and seek out new adventures through books.

I’ll be back next Monday with more 2019 Summer Reading.

If you have any suggestions for non-fiction books please leave them in the comments. Please share!

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman.

 

 

 

Innocenzio D’Antonio

First posted April 2, 2013

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Innocenzio D’Antonio

Innocenzio D’Antonio came to Sacramento in the 1850’s with a troupe of actors to make his fortune. He’d started as an opera singer in his native Italy and unfortunately did not make it into the famous opera houses in Europe, fell in love with an Austrian actress and ended up with her talking him into joining an American theater company touring California during the Gold Rush.

Innocenzio D’Antonio had the voice of an avenging angel, rich and strong. He could certainly sing the corset off of any woman but he was pure of heart and a true and honest lover to his dear Austrian maid. Well at least until she left him high and dry in San Francisco, leaving him for a dashing gambler.

Upon reaching Sacramento Innocenzio D’Antonio noticed a young man singing one night at a party held by a well-known business man. It was odd to him that a child so young should be up so late into the night. But that was put aside when he heard the child’s beautiful voice. The voice was precious beyond compare. It was the voice of heaven and the angels above. It was the voice of all that was good and pure in the world. It brought Innocenzio D’Antonio to tears. And yet, there was something strong and dark about the voice. There was something about the voice that brought the opera singer both to tears and made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

A well dressed man stood next to Innocenzio D’Antonio and said “I noticed you were moved by the sound of the my son Andrew’s singing. Amazing considering he is only nine years old. However, my child could use formal music lessons from a master, such as you. If you’re interested I will pay you well. I have four other children as well. The eldest three could all benefit from your talents Mr. D’Antonio.”

The next evening Innocenzio (as we shall now call him by his first name only) showed up at the elegant home of the child Andrew. He was met warmly by the father and met the rest of the family. The oldest boy was 10-year-old Maxwell, followed by 9-year-old Andrew, then 7-year-old Aaron, then 16-month-old Valentine and the infant Juliette. Their mother was a vision of beauty and all that was good and pure. Such elegance in movement in style he had rarely encountered in his lifetime.

Over the next few months he came to look forward to music lessons for the three eldest boys. Maxwell and Aaron had uncommonly beautiful voice, but it was young Andrew who had the voice of an angel sent straight from heaven. Innocenzio thought of how many churches, even those in Rome would give anything to have this voice in their stables of singers. He thought of the great opera houses in Europe that would be mobbed with patrons trying to hear Andrew sing.

Before meeting this most wonderful family Innocenzio had suffered deep waves of melancholia. He’d blame it on heart-break, disappointment or even being cursed, but now, every time he left the home of Andrew’s family, Innocenzio felt as if he were the most content and happy man alive.

After a time the father announced that they would have a party and invite all of their closest friends. Andrew would sing at midnight. Innocenzio thought that was too late for such a young child but the parents brushed it off with a gentle smile. It was difficult for Innocenzio to disagree.

The night of the party was filled with excitement. The large mansion was filled with the most elegant people he’d ever seen. Some he’d met before while out in the evenings around the city and some were stranger. But they all had a certain quiet about them and calm that he had never seen anywhere else, not even in a church or monestary.

The mother, the beautiful mother who still took his breath away when he saw her, asked him to sing. Innocenzio was feeling happy and light so he sang the drinking song from the fairly new opera La Traviata and to his delight the group joined in. They all had good voices. Afterwards they gathered around Innocenzio and congratulated him on his success and welcomed him into their society.

While he was delighted and honored there was a certain sense of unease about him. Innocenzio had a sense that something was about to happen, as if he was a lamb facing the hungry jaws of a lion. A strong sense of fear started to creep into his soul. He was confused and ashamed. After all, he was in the home of people who had become dear friends, a second family almost.

The mother, pulled him aside and put her arm in his. “My dear Innocenzio, my love, do not fear. I know what is in your heart and soul. You know us so you sense that we are different. We are different you know. We’re very different from you.”

Her eyes were the color of a fantasy seascape, her lips perfect, her chestnut hair was loose around her shoulders. He lost himself and took her into his arms and kissed her. His head went light. She stepped back and smiled. It was as if he’d lost his entire heart and more so his soul to her.

“I could take your soul if I wished, but dear Innocenzio, I must tell you a story of my life and of my people.” Then she sat him down and told him the most fantastic and horrific tale he’d ever heard in his life. He was both seduced and repulsed. His senses were confused, his emotions out of control, his body yearning for everything she had to offer.

—————————————————-

2013

Sometimes being a mom is everything, but sometimes I like to have my time with my friends.  I heard the knock on my door and standing there was my dear friend  back from a trip to Europe.

“Juliette” he said with his gorgeous voice, “you are still more beautiful than Venus herself”.

“And you’re still full of crap Innocenzio D’Antonio ” I said with a smile.

“Never,” he said taking my hands and kissing my cheek.

We don’t keep many friends so long, but when we do it is worth it. Every time I see my mother I want to thank her for talking Innocenzio into being one of us.

As Vampires we don’t bring just anyone into our world, but when we do it is magic.

On the other hand, anytime a true friendship forms, even if nobody changes, it is magic and a true joy.

 

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman (who felt like posting this today just because it is April 2, and a time to consider how lucky I am to have so many treasured friends.)

The Travelers – A Tale of Mystery, Love, and Hope

A Christmas Tradition at Vampire Maman

The Travelers

A Tale of Mystery, Love and Hope
from Juliette Kings

The night was falling on the travelers, Daniel and his son Tad and daughter Ada. They had to stop before the dark of night and freezing snowfalls. The father and his children were finally going home, from the broken dreams of gold to the city where Daniel had found a job in his profession of typesetter and reporter. When his wife had passed on he followed his dream to the California gold fields taking his teenage children with him. For good or bad they’d made the new state their home.

As the snow began to fall they came upon a cabin, the door boarded up from the outside, the windows shuttered. It looked deserted and like shelter for the night. Dan and his son pried the nails off of the boards, which secured the door and went into the two-room structure. Inside was a cozy room with a fireplace, comfortable chairs and a wall full of books. Dan sent Tad out to bring in firewood.

Ada went to the bedroom and called her father. On the bed was a man, still as the night, cold and pale as the snow. In his arms, wrapped in blanket was a tiny girl in a red velvet hat, a scarf covered up most of her small face. She was also still and pale.

Ada’s heart sank. The poor souls in the bed looked to have passed on. But why were they trapped in the cabin? Had they been sick? Why were they not buried with a prayer and the proper respect? The man’s coat was obviously expensive and of the finest materials. His boots were of the most beautiful leather and style. His face was handsome and refined. Ada took off her glove and touched the back of her hand to the man’s face. He was indeed cold as ice and still as death. She called in her father.

“I know this man.” He said. “A fine man. A poet. I heard him read when I was in San Francisco. What a tragic pity to find him here with his child.”

The looked upon the bodies of the father and child when they saw the slightest movement and the man opened his eyes.

“My daughter, please help her,” whispered the man on the bed.

Ada took the girl in her arms. She weighed almost nothing. The child let out a sigh. Ada brought the girl into the other room and sat in a rocking chair by the fire Tad had built. The girl started to move and put her face against Ada’s warm neck. Ada soon fell asleep with dreams of flowers and all things good.

In the morning the poet and child were gone.

The travelers found box covered with red paper. In the box was a golden heart and a note to Ada.

Dearest Ada,

This heart belonged to my dear wife who was murdered by villains of the vilest kind. Please wear it knowing that you will always be loved and you will always be a part of us.

TK

On the table in the front room was a bounty of food. Where had it come from? There were fresh baked goods, milk and juice, exotic fruits, sausages and chocolates. Under small quilted cozies were pots with fragrant tea and coffee. Another note was slipped under the teapot.

Daniel read the note aloud to his children.

My heart thanks you for your generosity.

You saved our lives.

You never questioned who had trapped us or hurt us.

You never judged us.

You never feared us.

The love between parent and his children is burned into your heart like the fires that burn in the heavenly stars.

My daughter and I will never forget you.

Your children and their children and their children will always be safe and watched over and kept from the harm of wicked men. I owe and promise you that.

Never fear the night or the darkness for we will always be watching your back.

Wishing you a Happy Christmas.

~ Thomas Kent

As the travelers ate they talked of the sweet dreams they’d had the night before, along with stiff necks they had that morning. Daniel and his children  spoke of Mr. Kent and his precious daughter and wondered why they’d been trapped in the cabin.

Many many years later after a long and wonderful life full of romance and adventure, Ada fingered the heart, which she still wore. As she took her last breath she said, “I have never known fear, only love”.

An ocean away Thomas Kent felt an icy wind, then hope and gratitude in his cold Vampire heart.

~ End

Short Story Sunday: Donner Lake

Donner Lake

Travis glanced at the sign as they drove past. His wife was asleep. The baby was snoozing in the car seat behind them. It had been a long day driving across Nevada.

Donner Lake

Sure there was snow today, but in 1846 there had been a lot more snow, a lot earlier, and no highway. Just a rocky dirt road through the mountains and fucking wagons.

He wouldn’t have let anyone eat his wife or child if they hadn’t have made it. Their two dogs would be safe too. Nobody was going to eat his dogs.

Donner Lake

Keseberg had been the guy who’d eaten people with glee. Aside from being creepy he’d been a jerk by all accounts. Keseberg had joined the Donner Party late in the journey with his wife and a small child. He proved to be an abusive husband and was a real asshole to everyone else in the group. Travis and his wife had gone to the old Sacramento Cemetery and seen the grave of Keseberg’s wife. He had no idea where Keseberg was buried. No doubt he was thrown in the trash or fed to a someone’s pigs.

Going across country in a wagon train, or even by ship back then took guts. Travelers would go hundreds of miles, maybe even thousands without so much as a city or town. Maybe there would be a trading post but those would be few and far between. The native people wouldn’t be welcoming in most cases, or at least Travis imagined they wouldn’t be.

He thought of his infant son in the back seat. He would have died. Not just with the Donner mishap but with any group of settlers trying to make it across the country, or around the tip of South America, or slogging across the Panama. The idea of losing his son was unimaginable. He wouldn’t have done it.

Donner Lake

Travis thought of when his parents told him stories of driving cross country right after WW2, his dad on the GI Bill going to college in California. It was an adventure that had lasted a lifetime. Travis and his brother had grown up in the land of sunshine, wine, and weekends surfing at the beach. It was a far cry from what the Donner children went through after Keseberg killed and ate their parents leaving them to be at the mercy of anyone who was willing to take them in.

By the time Travis drove down the hill to Auburn his wife Kit was awake. He didn’t mention the Donner or Keseberg, or anything else that had gone on in his private thoughts while he drove. Instead they talked about when and where’d they get their Christmas tree, and what they wanted to pick up for dinner that night.

Back up the highway, surrounded by snow, the ghosts of distant travelers settled around Donner Lake. They remembered what had happened, despite the fact that someone had eaten their brains, or just left them in shallow graves. The ghosts marveled at the modern folk who came to visit. There would be boats in the summer, and skiing and snow ball fights in the winter months.

George Donner turned to his wife and said, “Tamsen, I told you to stay with the children. You shouldn’t have tried to find me.”

She smiled and turned to her husband. “Sorry dear. I lost my heart to another man.”

Same joke every night and he still didn’t find it funny.

Donner Lake

~ end

 

 

 

Short Story Sunday: Conversion

Conversion
(An Austin and Elizabeth Story)

“Durant, we found something.”

“What do you mean you found something?”

“Live dead bodies.”

“Vampires?”

“Yes, vampires. Happy fucking Halloween.”

“I’ll be right there.”

Austin Durant had planned on spending the morning grading papers. When he wasn’t teaching history at the local state college he was a contractor specializing in restoring historic buildings. When he wasn’t doing that he was a vampire hunter. The vampire hunter part wasn’t planned. It just happened.

Now a call from his construction site foreman Matt changed his Sunday morning plans. Damn. He made a call and headed out.

His attorney and friend (the term friend was sometimes questionable) Aaron Todd stood on the front porch. How could anyone always look so elegant, even in jeans and a fleece jacket?

“Why don’t you people take care of your own?”

“You people? Really Austin. You sound almost racist.”

“You’re a vampire.”

“The ones in the walls are not my people.”

Aaron had a point. He was an attorney and lived in a beautiful modern house, with a beautiful wife who looked like she was right out of a Botticelli painting.  Aaron had nothing in common with the dried up husks with long yellow teeth and claw like fingers who were hibernating in the old walls.

Aaron was holding a pink box. “I brought donuts and coffee for your guys. It was the least I could do.”

“Thank you. The good kind,” said Austin, looking at the beautiful assortment of donuts, sweet rolls and bear claws. “Do you ever eat these things?”

“No. They make me sick.”

They waked back to the small bricked in room where the vampires had been found. The 8 x 8 foot space had been bricked in from the inside.

Aaron looked down at the still dead looking forms. “I know those two. I’d wondered what had happened to them. Not that I cared. I was glad to see them gone. The last time I saw them was this time of year. My wife Verity and I were downtown late at night and spotted these two on the steps of the new Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.”

“New?”

“It was 1890.” Aaron smiled and sipped his coffee. “They watched us with empty eyes coveting our existence. These two in the walls are creatures with no souls. They exist with nothing but longing for blood. They have no idea what the empty void is that fills them. That is why they wall themselves up to sleep for years. They know no torment. They feel no longing. They exist and that is all.

These two had come out to California to seek their fortunes right after the Civil war, like so many uneducated dullards. They were both pretty enough and young enough that they made a living selling their bodies. They were stupid enough to be seduced by evil. They forfeited their souls for eternal life. Either that or the idiots who converted them botched the job and only brought them back after their bodies were empty of any life at all. It doesnt matter. They might not even have had souls to begin with. They were the kind of people who just survive and nothing else. Their lives have no meaning.”

“You’re harsh.”

“I am realistic.”

“You saw them on the cathedral steps. You were going to tell me something about them.”

“It two days before Christmas, they sat on the steps huddled together. I was going to approach them and tell them to leave town, when a priest came out into the dark and sat with them. We could hear what he said. I’ll never forget.”

Aaron took a deep breath as if he was almost human. “It was obvious they had been there before. The priest made a sign of the cross then put his hands on their shoulders and said, those who are loved will earn their souls. It is not in the scripture but I believe it. I know it. You are loved. Believe me. Believe my brother and sister.

Austin was amazed at what the vampire told him. “Do you believe that Aaron?”

“I want to, but no, I do not believe it.”

Austin knew vampires were cold hearted but he assumed that maybe… then again, when it came to the heart of a vampire assumptions were dangerous.

“By the way,” said Aaron, “the good priest was found dead a week later. His body had been drained of all blood. Funny how things work out that way.”

They looked down at the corpse-like vampires who lay on an ancient cot, huddled together in a cold embrace. Their old fashioned clothes still showed some color through the dusty and faded threads.

Austin raised the chain saw and was about to start it up when the male opened his eyes. It sounded like paper shredding. The woman did the same.

“Do it now,” hissed Aaron.

Austin started the chainsaw and cut off their heads.

He looked up and saw writing on the wall scrawled in what could have been blood above the cot.

We no not wat we do

“We know not what we do,” Austin read out loud.

In the curled up clawed hand of the woman Austin found a small carved figure of a baby in a manger. The paint looked almost new.

In the hand of the man was a holly branch.

“Those were gifts from the priest,” said Aaron.

The bodies turned to dust before their eyes.

“Aaron, what do you want to do with the ashes?”

“You have a shop vac don’t you?”

“Man, you’re cold. No pun intended.”

Aaron shrugged. Austin put the baby in his pocket and gave the dried holly branch to Aaron.

“Maybe I should believe,” said Aaron.

Austin put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Maybe you should.”

 

~ end

Tangled Tales

For more Austin and Elizabeth adventures CLICK here.

What happens when a History Professor/Restoration Expert/Player followed the footsteps of his Granny and becomes a Vampire Hunter? He discovers basements full of undead creatures, a thriving community of hip and trendy Modern Vampires, and the maybe love of his life (who just happens to be a Vampire.)

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

What if… questions of history and an alternate reality

Oscar Wilde

I have always adored Oscar Wilde.

What if history had turned out differently? We’ve all thought or read about it. Some of us have even written about it. The more common “what if” questions are: What if the South had won? or What if Germany had won WW2? or What if Kennedy or Lincoln hadn’t been shot?

I was recently thinking about the tragic end of Oscar Wilde, and that got me thinking about a lot of things.

What if Oscar Wilde had stayed in California and never gone back to England after his tour? Would he have lived a happy life and died happy surrounded by friends?

What if cats never did funny things?

What if slavery had been abolished during the Revolutionary War?

What if women had been given the vote in 1787 when the American Constitution was written?

What if Frida Kahlo had never been in the bus accident?

What if Leonardo Di Vinci had been born a woman?

What if Philip K. Dick had decided to go into politics instead of writing?

What if dogs had never been domesticated?

What is Disney never made any princess movies? What if Walt Disney had made erotic Westerns or graphic Horror films?

What if Sylvia Plath had lived and divorced her husband and found happiness?

What if Errol Flynn had been cast as Dracula in the 1931 film?

What if a large group of Bigfoots had rescued the Donner Party in 1846?

What if Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan had never been lost?

What if humans didn’t have finger prints?

What if Vampires were accepted into society?

What if Galahad had found North America on his search for the Holy Grail?

What if people weren’t stupid?

 

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What if? I don’t know. But I did name my cat after Oscar Wilde and he is extremely happy. I also have a beautiful sweet German Shepard named Alice but that isn’t her in the meme above.

What do you wonder about? Let me know. Also feel free to use any of these questions as writing prompts. I’d love to see what you come up with.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

Marla Todd _ Oscar Gray

This is Oscar. I love this cat so much. He was named after Oscar Wilde. He is gray like Dorian Gray but unlike Mr. Gray, he doesn’t have a weird painting in the attic, at least not last time I checked.