The Phantom Of the Opera

I love musicals.

Les Miserables, Fiddler on the Roof, Singing in the Rain, and My Fair Lady are great favorites of mine, watched and enjoyed many—many times over.

Now, to set the record straight, I have never been to see a Broadway play. Ever. I would love to go one day, but tickets to New York City are expensive, and so are tickets to Broadway. So I have contented myself with the beautifully done film versions.

To those theater fanatics out there who are having a heart attack because of my ignorance, I apologize.

I will see a proper musical one day.


It’s on my bucket list, I promise.

But for now, the films—and in some cases—the books have completely enchanted me. Les Miserables in particular has stolen my heart time and time again, the book no less than the movie. I cry when I watch it and hold the book in a very treasured place in my heart as one of the most beautiful works of literature that I have on my shelves.

Which is saying something, because my shelves are packed.

Another incredible musical that I have fallen in love with is The Phantom of the Opera. The 2004 film starring Gerald Butler was a gorgeous and haunting rendition of this timeless classic, but in many ways, I felt that it was too romanticized, too gentle with the Phantom. The book, in many ways, was much darker and much more twisted than I had anticipated. It was morbid, suspenseful, and in a word, marvelous.

I loved it.

The story begins with the change of management at the Palais Garnier, an opera house in Paris. The new owners are shown the facilities and left with a very strange set of instructions concerning the treatment of the ‘opera ghost’. Including a ridiculous demand to leave box No. 5 open every night for the ‘ghost’ to watch the performance.

They laugh off the mysterious demands, setting them aside as a prank set by the new owners, and sell the tickets for the box anyway.

All too soon, the results of their rash decision become apparent. A stagehand is killed, hung from the rafters by this phantom of the opera, and more and more accidents afflict the employees—and eventually the guests of this haunted opera house.

Amidst this turmoil, Christine Daaé makes her debut onstage, and it quickly becomes apparent that many of the ghost’s tantrums revolve around her and her stunning performance. He refuses to acknowledge any other singer, insisting that she take the lead role in an important production instead of the manager’s initial choice.

But Christine finds that her ’Angel of Music’, the mysterious patron who has guided and tutored her for many years, is not the sainted spirit that her father told her stories of when she was young. Too soon, she is caught in his labyrinth of traps and lairs beneath the opera house, forced to choose between allowing the death of the man she loves and her own freedom.

The Phantom of the Opera is a haunting, bone-chilling tale of intrigue and horror, wrought cleverly throughout with tragedy and love. The musical captures in part the beauty of this story, but misses a large portion of its suspense. If you’re putting together a list of horror novels to read for Halloween this year, I highly recommend adding this to your list!

Erik is not truly dead. He lives on within the souls of those who choose to listen to the music of the night.



God will curse you, he told us when they took him away. God will curse you if you leave this place. Wait, and I’ll return for the faithful.

I wake to the first crow of the roosters, and his voice is the first thing in my mind. Sunlight is filtering through the curtains in my bedroom, and Wax is lying on the rug beside my bed, watching me. Waiting for me to wake. I roll over and smile at her, and her tail thumps the floor. She has mismatched eyes, this dog of mine. He said it was lucky, a blessing from God.

Emmanuel used to say things like that all the time. I never understood them.

God will curse you.

The rooms are empty when I rise, and the house is silent. I make my bed, folding the quilts, and watch the dust play in the light spilling through the window. Most of the others left immediately. They were ashamed to see him driven away in the back of a squad car. They left in the night, stealing away like thieves through the back pasture, and I wrote their names on the wall beside my bed and wondered every night if they were happy, or if God really had cursed them.


Maybe he did. I don’t know.

The rest left one by one. Some after the trial, after the sentencing. Others drifted away through the years, tired of waiting for a man that wasn’t going to come back. Only I stayed, reading the list of names beside my bed every morning and every night and praying that wherever they are, wherever they went, God really didn’t curse them.

Wax follows me downstairs. I feed her first, then the cats. The kitchen is clean, my plate from last night in the sink. Emmanuel used to tell us that leaving dirty dishes is a sin, that it made our house less holy. It took me years to wonder if that was really true or not. Three years. It’s been seven since they took him away, five since the papers said he died in prison. The last of the faithful left when that happened.

Only I’m still here.

The sun is already hot by the time I get out into the barnyard. Heat shimmers on the gravel drive, and the goats are waiting for me. They nibble at my faded sleeves as I let them out into the pasture, and I give them all the grain we have left. The chickens, too, get the last of what we have, although it’s much more than I usually give them. I leave the gates open when I go back to the house, and Wax follows me with her nose pressed against the back of my knee, as if she knows something is different about today.

I sweep the floor before I leave. Dust the mantle. Wash my dishes and put them away. Emmanuel watches me. The papers published an article about how he died. They really seemed to think he was gone, but I’ve always known better. He’s alive in this house. I still hear his deep voice, his persuasiveness, his gentle prodding.

I’ve waited a long time for his memory to fade. It still hasn’t.

I lock the door when I leave. Wax comes with me, and the backpack I was carrying when I first came, all those years ago. Nothing else. I couldn’t take anything else and still escape from him and his stupid curses.

God will curse you.

I bury the key in the garden, between the kale and the carrots. Wax follows me to the end of the lane, past the willow trees and the Black-eyed Susans growing in the ditch. I brush their heads with my fingers as I pass them, and they leave their pollen on my hands. The gate at the end of our property is open, and Wax is the first out on the road beyond. I follow more slowly, leaving the gate to swing wide behind me, and wait for God to strike me dead for leaving this place when I swore I wouldn’t.

He doesn’t. A soft breeze floats through the willows, toying with my hair, smelling of fresh hay and dust, and the gate swings shut on its own. As if God himself were closing it behind me, as relieved as I am to see the last of that house. And of Emmanuel.


There is something deeply bittersweet about the last book in a series.

Has anyone else ever felt this? You spend two, three, even five books lost in a single world, traveling with a group of characters through hardship, loss, and triumph, and then suddenly, you pick up the final book and realize . . . this is it.

This is the final adventure you will share together. The last glimpse into a world that lives within the page. You can go back and revisit where you’ve already been, of course, but you can’t move forward any further. Once you reach the last page, your ticket into this particular world has reached its limit, and you have to find another book to wander in.

(Or reread the old series obsessively because you aren’t ready to let go just yet. We’ve all been there. No judgment.)

For me, one of the hardest ends to a brilliant series was Inkdeath, the last book in Cornelia Funke’s Inkworld series. The two previous books in the series, Inkheart and Inkspell, are some of my favorite fantasy novels ever. They are beautifully written, deeply engaging works that have held me spellbound from the moment I picked them up.

Inkdeath, as the last book in the series, had a lot to live up to as a finale, and yet it more than surpassed any expectation that I had of it.

Now permanent residents of the Inkworld, Mo and his daughter Meggie are adapting to the beauty—and the darkness—that surrounds them on a daily basis. The Adderhead, now rendered immortal by the White Book that Mo bound for him, is ruling the Inkworld with an iron fist. Dustfinger has been taken by the White Women, and the Adderhead’s pompous brother-in-law has taken over Ombra castle, taxing the already impoverished people into starvation. Their only hope lies in the Bluejay, the name of the robber that Fenoglio, this world’s author, has styled after Mo.

Mo himself has taken on the role of the Bluejay, and his dangerous escapades have his wife and daughter fearing for his safety. But Mo, far from being willing to listen to their warnings, has found that he has a taste for the danger that he’s put himself in. In many ways, he has forgotten that the Inkworld is anything but an exciting story, one in which he is allowed to play the hero.

But his new role—and his defiance of Death’s supremacy in the previous book—soon land him in more trouble than he can escape from. All too soon, he is struggling to save not only his own life, but his daughter’s as well.

Inkdeath is a stunning conclusion to the Inkworld series, and although there have been rumors of a fourth book in the works (we can always hope, right?), it perfectly finishes the series off on its own. Still, I was sad to see this stunning series of books come to an end.

Do you have a book series that you were disappointed to see end? If so, let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear about it!

He looked up at the towers, as many of them as if a new one grew every year, at the maze of oriels and bridges and the stone griffin above the gateway. “It didn’t look like a happy ending, Meggie,” he heard himself reply. “It looked like a place from which no one ever comes back.”



Single file while the wind blows, he tells us. One in front of the other. Sometimes I’m so afraid I’ll lose the person ahead of me that I keep my hand on their shoulder. Dust storms are hard to travel in, but it won’t be bad enough to stop until we can’t see the road under our feet, and I can still see the white lines between my boots. So we’ll have to keep moving. Socket doesn’t like to stop until we’ve made our miles for the day.

By the time we do make camp, the wind has died down again, and the air is so still that I can hear my own heart beating. Our tribe has grown in the last few weeks, and there’s near thirty of us camping on the road beneath the stars. We sort ourselves out, five or six to each fire, and the night swallows the bare hills and floods the valley below us.

I kick off my boots and toss them out of the firelight. They smell now, the leather as dirty and patched as if I dug them out of a trash bin, but they were brand new when I found them. We’ve been walking a long time. Four years, I think, although I haven’t counted. Maizie counts. She joined the tribe before I did, a dirty little redhead with a smudged nose and a black eye that’s never healed. She sleeps by my fire nowadays, and when the stars are wheeling overhead, bright as silver against black velvet, she’ll show me the book she carries.

She’s got everything in that book. Where we’ve been. What we’ve seen. In four years, I’ve forgotten most of the places we’ve seen, although we walked so far to see them. But Mazie always remembers, and she reminds me of them all. The big pine forests to the south, where the trees grew over top of the road and the ground was so thick with pine needles that we had to dig near a foot down to find real soil. Or the mountains in the west, where the air was thin and so cold that I thought we’d freeze in our sleeping bags. I can’t read her writing, but she flips through the pages with me, lying on her stomach with her chin propped up on her elbows, and tells me the stories that she likes most to remember.

I like listening to her read about them, although I don’t tell her so. She’s shy, shyer than almost anyone else I’ve ever met, and I have to pretend not to look at her while she chews on a strand of her red hair and reads by the firelight. When she reads about the deserted cities we’ve walked through, describing the cracked pavement and the dirty water, the shattered neon signs and the abandoned cars in the road, I can almost see them again. Like most drifters, we don’t stay long in the cities, preferring to keep to the road and continue on our way, but I’ve always liked passing through the empty streets. There’s always a chance of finding something in the dumpsters or the neglected stores. Most of them have been raided by now, probably many times, but I know where to look, and sometimes I find things.

But we never stay long. Socket leads us, not me, and he’s a drifter to his soul. He’s looking for something, I think, although I don’t know what that something is. Maybe he doesn’t either. So we keep to the road, roaming from shoreline to desert, from rolling plain to craggy mountain ranges. People join us sometimes, and people leave too, when they find the place they’ve been looking for. Everyone has somewhere, a place where a bit of their soul has always rested. When they find it, they stay, and we go on. Still searching. I’ve been looking for four years, but I haven’t found it yet.

Maizie is digging through her bag, looking for a pen that still works. I roll over on my stomach, watching her flip through the pages of her book and mark the date at the top of the page. She’s writing about the dust storm today, I think. About the bare hills and the shriveled, wizened trees we passed and the rocks that have been scorched red by the sun. About the stars that blaze so brightly that they almost light the sky for us.

Her writing is too small to read, but she catches me looking and smiles, reading along as she writes. I rest my chin on my arms, listening to her and watching the firelight play about her red hair until it’s nearly gold. I’m nearly asleep before I catch myself wondering if that bit of soul I’ve been searching for might be in person, not a place.

If so, it would explain why I’m still searching, even after all this time.

The Curse of the Spiderking

I got a book signed while I was in Missouri.

Actually, two of them.

It was very exciting. I’ve never had any of my books signed in person. I ordered a signed copy once, quite a long time ago when I first realized that owning your own copy of a book was not only allowed, but also very exciting.

That was a monumental discovery for me.

I am pretty sure that it’s only a coincidence that I have been broke ever since that day.

Getting my books signed was by far one of the most exciting highlights of my trip to Missouri. The author, Wayne Thomas Batson, has been a great favorite in our household ever since I was a young teenager. (I mentioned getting to meet him—and posted pictures—here.) His books have been passed from hand to hand through my family, introduced to the younger siblings as soon as they can possibly understand them. Several of my brothers were adamant non-readers until they picked up Batson’s books.

Their poor opinion of books changed very quickly.

Although I had plenty of Batson’s books to choose from on my shelves, including Isle of Swords, I decided on only two. The Curse of the Spiderking and its sequel, Venom and Song. The books were written by Batson and another author, Christopher Hopper, and they are a phenomenal example of the imagination and skill that goes into all of his works.

The book ties together seven main characters, a feat most books would shy away from. However, each of the seven teenagers is so unique and so brilliant in their own right that switching between them is anything but confusing.

The story twists itself into a mixture of history and present, telling the story of a fallen kingdom in another world and the kidnapping of the Lords of Berenfell, seven newborns that were whisked from their world to one completely alien from their own.


The seven children are separated, left in orphanages and foster families all over Europe and America. They are raised without any knowledge of their past, safe from harm but hidden from the men and women trying desperately to recover and restore them to their own kind.

But their safety can’t last forever, and as each of them reaches their thirteenth year, strange events in their once ordinary lives threaten to expose them to the hunters on their tail.

The Curse of the Spiderking is a kaleidoscope of brilliant characters, stunning imagery, and spine-chilling villains, all tied together in a fast-paced plot that keeps that pages turning. It has been a great favorite of mine for many years, and I am so excited to have a signed copy sitting on my shelf at last!

The policeman and her mother laughed. “A man who speaks with spiders? I’ll make a note of that,” the policeman said as he walked away.

Render Unto Caeser . . .


Wounded men leave blood on the floor. That’s the greatest difficulty. The nuns who work in the outer nave have scrubbed the tiles a thousand times, but we’re always afraid they’ll miss something. A spot of blood. A smear of filth that we can’t explain away by talking about the rains and our kitchen garden. We take the men to the crypts, hide them behind the gravestones and the tombs while the nuns tend their wounds, but they bring the stench of the battlefields with them, and it’s nearly impossible to hide.

Abbeys are not supposed to smell like blood.

I’m ready when a novice comes to tell me that there are men here to see me. We’ve lit scented candles in the halls, in the nave, even in my office to hide the scent of death, and the nuns have taken the men deep into the vaults where the dead rest and the air is still. We’ve done what we could, and more than many would have advised. We are ready.

The man waiting in my office has medals pinned to his chest and silver braid on his shoulders. The uniform is a familiar one by now, although it doesn’t belong to my country, or any that I would have sworn friendship with. He is lingering at my shelves, his fingers stroking the thick tomes, the leather bindings of the books I’ve spent years collecting. He smiles when I enter, but his eyes never leave the books, as if he’d found something in them to use against me. “Are you aware, Father, what the penalty for harboring the enemy is?”

The very bluntness of the accusation was, I suppose, intended to unnerve me. When I say nothing, he looks up from the shelves to search my face and smiles. “You admit guilt then?”

I shrug. “I’m not admitting anything. You’ve come here before, Captain. You found nothing then. You’ll find nothing now.”

His smile remains, his eyes growing as cold as the fog that rolls in over the barrows. “So you claim, Father. But the third time is the charm, they say.” He skirts my desk, his gaze wandering over the papers, the letter I’ve been writing, the Bible open on the corner. “Remind me, Father,” he says softly, “it was Jesus who told his disciples to ‘render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s’ . . . correct?”

I have to resist the urge to laugh. “It was.”


“Are you implying that I don’t pay my taxes?”

His smile disappears, and he slams a hand on the desk. “I know those men are here, Father. You might have some form of protection from the general because he’s a religious man, but if I find them here, even he won’t be able to help you.”

The silence that falls between us is poisonous. He’s searched our abbey twice now, looking for men off the battlefront. I’ve seen executions he holds in the streets, the prison camps where he sends the few he doesn’t kill. Every life we take within our walls escapes hell.

I meet his eyes, saying softly, “You have my permission to search, Captain. I’ve told you before. You won’t find anyone.”

We both know I’m not lying. This abbey is too old, too large for him to search properly, and the vaults beneath the floor are not on any map. No one outside the brothers and sisters living here know of its existence. He and his men will never find it.

At last, he straightens up, retrieving the gloves he’s left on my desk. “Very well, Father,” he says, low. “But remember this. Those robes aren’t bulletproof. Men of the cloth can be casualties of war as well.”