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Nightmare Fuel: Best Books About Nightmares

Unsurprisingly for someone who writes about nightmares, I love a good nightmare story. Below, I’ve compiled a list of recommendations if you too find yourself intrigued by the world of dreams and nightmares. (Some descriptions are from GoodReads and are noted below. All cover images from GoodReads)

Sandman series by Neil Gaiman

This highly regarded comic book series tells the story of Dream of the Endless aka Morpheus, the ruler of the world of dreams as he goes on a quest to regain his lost objects of power.

Rose Madder by Stephen King

It all begins with a drop of blood on the bed sheets. It is this singular image that causes Rose Daniels to leave her abusive husband of fourteen years. She escapes to a large city hundreds of miles away, hoping to disappear into a new life. However, the specter of her police officer husband Norman haunts her new life and her dreams. The story is suspense filled and as scary as any of King’s better-known novels. It also contains one of King’s best written female characters (it’s a tie between her and Susannah from the Dark Tower series for me), one of his most frightening villains, and delves deep into the psychology of abuse.

Poet Anderson…of Nightmares by Tom DeLonge and Suzanne Young

“Jonas Anderson and his older brother Alan are Lucid Dreamers. But after a car accident lands Alan in a coma, Jonas sets out into the Dream World in an attempt to find his brother and wake him up. What he discovers instead is an entire shared consciousness where fear comes to life as a snarling beast called a Night Terror, and a creature named REM is bent on destruction and misery, devouring the souls of the strongest dreamers. With the help of a Dream Walker—a guardian of the dreamscape, Jonas must face his fears, save his brother, and become who he was always meant to be: Poet Anderson.” -Goodreads

Wonderfully Wicked by C.J. Burright

“DREAMS CAN BE DEADLY Kidnapped by the man of her dreams, she must embrace the darkness within to save her life … and her heart. She’s an ordinary girl with a nightmare problem. For as long as she can remember, Kalila Montgomery has been tormented by creatures from her nightmares. Doomed to a solitary life with her cats, she’s determined to go down fighting. Until the man of her dreams— literally— kidnaps her and claims to know a cure. If only she could believe him. He’s no ordinary hero. Lydon v’al Endrian will stop at nothing to be free of the V’alkara, a dangerous brotherhood who feed on dreams. But the key to his freedom, sassy dreamcaster Kalila, might be his toughest challenge yet. No matter how much she protests, he intends to keep her safe from the V’alkara, even if it requires the ultimate sacrifice. But a girl can dream … can’t she? Now on the run with a man she can’t quite trust or resist, Kalila must decide— fight for her dreams of a normal life … or embrace a power she doesn’t want, to save Lydon.” -Goodreads

Dream Huntress by Michelle Sharp

“Detective Jordan Delany has a gift. Through her dreams, she connects with dead victims of violent crimes. Her isolated life as a drug cop is perfect for hiding the freakish visions, until her newest investigation has her posing as a cocktail waitress in a down-and-dirty strip club. When she’s saved from a drunken customer by a handsome stranger, the heated chemistry is exactly why she intends to keep Mr. Arrogant at bay. But learning he’s the new bouncer for the corrupt club she intends to bust just might be the one reason why she can’t. Tyler McGee suspects a drug ring operating out of the local club is flooding the streets of his hometown with heroin. Determined to get answers, he plays the part of a fallen cop and lands the job of head bouncer. What he discovers is that the club owner isn’t the only deadly obstacle he’s facing. His attraction to an intriguing cocktail waitress with a penchant for danger just might kill him first.” -Goodreads

The Dream Cycle of H.P. Lovecraft

The collection of Lovecraft short stories that comprise the Dream Cycle, including “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath,” an epic nightmare adventure.

Blue is for Nightmares by Laurie Faria Stolarz

“Stacey’s junior year at boarding school isn’t easy. She’s not the most popular girl at school, or the smartest, or the prettiest. She’s got a crush on her best friend’s boyfriend, and an even darker secret that threatens to ruin her friendships for good. And now she’s having nightmares again. Not just any nightmares – these dreams are too real to ignore, like she did three years ago. The last time she ignored them, a little girl died. This time they’re about Drea, her best friend who’s become the target of one seriously psycho stalker. It started with weird e-mails and freaky phone calls. Now someone’s leaving Drea white lilies – the same death lilies that have been showing up in Stacey’s dreams. Everybody thinks it’s just a twisted game . . . until another girl at school is brutally murdered. There are no witnesses. Worst of all, no one has a perfect alibi. With everyone as a potential suspect, Stacey turns to the one secret weapon she can trust – the folk magic taught to her by her grandmother. Will Stacey’s magic be strong enough to expose the true killer, or will the killer make her darkest nightmares come true?” -Goodreads

Gossamer by Lois Lowry

“Where do dreams come from? What stealthy nighttime messengers are the guardians of our most deeply hidden hopes and our half-forgotten fears? Drawing on her rich imagination, two-time Newbery winner Lois Lowry confronts these questions and explores the conflicts between the gentle bits and pieces of the past that come to life in dream, and the darker horrors that find their form in nightmare. In a haunting story that tiptoes between reality and imagination, two people—a lonely, sensitive woman and a damaged, angry boy—face their own histories and discover what they can be to one another, renewed by the strength that comes from a tiny, caring creature they will never see.” -Goodreads

The House by Bentley Little

“Five complete strangers from across America are about to come together and open the door to a place of evil that they all call home. Inexplicably, four men and one woman are having heart-stopping nightmares revolving around the dark and forbidding houses where each of them were born. When recent terrifying events occur, they are each drawn to their identical childhood homes, only to confront a sinister supernatural presence which has pursued them all their lives, and is now closer than ever to capturing their souls….” -Goodreads

The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett

“Sixteen-year-old Dusty Everhart breaks into houses late at night, but not because she’s a criminal. No, she’s a Nightmare. Literally. Being the only Nightmare at Arkwell Academy, a boarding school for magickind, and living in the shadow of her mother’s infamy, is hard enough. But when Dusty sneaks into Eli Booker’s house, things get a whole lot more complicated. He’s hot, which means sitting on his chest and invading his dreams couldn’t get much more embarrassing. But it does. Eli is dreaming of a murder. Then Eli’s dream comes true. Now Dusty has to follow the clues—both within Eli’s dreams and out of them—to stop the killer before more people turn up dead. And before the killer learns what she’s up to and marks her as the next target.” -Goodreads

 

Top 10 YA Fantasy Quotes

As a writer it is probably unsurprising that I am obsessed with words and therefore quotes (see my quote Pinterest page for further proof). Below are 10 of my favorite quotes from some of my favorite YA fantasy books.

“The problem with wanting,” he whispered, his mouth trailing along my jaw until it hovered over my lips, “is that it makes us weak.” -Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone (Photo Credit: Laura Makabresku)  (Fans herself) I don’t know about you but this quote made my crush on the Darkling official. 

 

“No one was my master-but I might be master of everything, if I wished. If I dared.” -Sarah J. Maas, A Court of Mist and Fury (Photo Credit: bloodydamnit.tumblr.com)  Badass Feyre is my favorite. 

 

“Libraries were full of ideas-perhaps the most dangerous and powerful of all weapons.” -Sarah J. Maas, Throne of Glass (Photo Credit: Bloomsbury Publishing) Another quote from the marvelous Ms. Maas because I adore her and I will always applaud any quote that talks up libraries. 

“To stand in front of a person who is your whole world and be told you are not enough. You are not the choice. You are a shadow to the person who is your sun.”  -Victoria Aveyard, Red Queen (Photo Credit: PinterestThis quote is a gut punch if there ever was one. So good! 

 

“Wishes are false. Hope is true. Hope makes its own magic.” -Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Photo Credit: axxxa06, DeviantArt) Another one of my YA idols, Taylor write epic fantasy like no other. 

 

“Broken isn’t the same as unfixable.” – Marissa Meyer, Winter (Photo Credit: Julie, Cinder Lithographs Design Contest) The Lunar Chronicles are a case study in how to do fairy tale retellings right. Also, how to write some amazing characters. 

 

“There is no greater power on this earth than story.” -Libba Bray, The Diviners (Photo Credit: iStock) Truer words were never spoken (or written in this case).

 

“Guard your throats and hide your eyes. He’s not dead, you fools. Legends never die.” -A.G. Howard, Roseblood (Photo Credit: hannabalxmarie.tumble.com) Legends never die, just like my love of the Phantom of the Opera will never die.

 

“Memory cut infinitely deeper than swords.” -Erika Johansen, The Queen of the Tearling (Photo Credit: vk.com) A master class in characterization and world building. 

“They said that love was terrifying and tender, wild and sweet, and none of it made any sense. But now I knew that every mad word was true.” -Rosamund Hodge, Cruel Beauty (Photo Credit: E-moX, DeviantArt) One of the best hate to love stories out there.

 

And I’m going to throw in one of my own for good measure (and because I have no shame in my self-promotion game:

“Sometimes being different is not so bad. Sometimes it means you can do things no one else can.” -Alexandra Bittner, Daughter of the Mara (Photo Credit: Alexandra Bittner)

Top 10 YA Novels Based on Fairy Tales and Mythology

As The Mara Chronicles are based on a story for Norse and Germanic mythology I wanted to share a few of my favorite YA books that are based on fairy tales, folklore, or mythology.

  1. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer: This four book series is a fantasy saga loosely based around the stories of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White. A fantastic take on these tales where these four characters must take on a space plague and the evil queen who threatens to destroy their world for good. (Description below is for the first book in the series, Cinder.)

A forbidden romance.

 A deadly plague.

 Earth’s fate hinges on one girl . . .

 CINDER, a gifted mechanic in New Beijing, is also a cyborg. She’s reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s sudden illness. But when her life becomes entwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she finds herself at the centre of a violent struggle between the desires of an evil queen – and a dangerous temptation.

 Cinder is caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal. Now she must uncover secrets about her mysterious past in order to protect Earth’s future.

This is not the fairytale you remember. But it’s one you won’t forget.

 

  1. Ash and Bramble by Sarah Prineas: This fresh take on the Cinderella story reimagines Cinderella as a slave serving an evil fairy godmother who uses the power of story to ensnare everyone in the kingdom to do her bidding. One of the most original takes on the Cinderella story that I’ve seen.

A prince.

 A ball.

 A glass slipper left behind at the stroke of midnight.

 The tale is told and retold, twisted and tweaked, snipped and stretched, as it leads to happily ever after.

 But it is not the true Story.

 A dark fortress.

 A past forgotten.

 A life of servitude.

 No one has ever broken free of the Godmother’s terrible stone prison until a girl named Pin attempts a breathless, daring escape. But she discovers that what seems to be freedom is a prison of another kind, one that entangles her in a story that leads to a prince, a kiss, and a clock striking midnight. To unravel herself from this new life, Pin must choose between a prince and another—the one who helped her before and who would give his life for her. Torn, the only thing for her to do is trade in the glass slipper for a sword and find her own destiny.

 

  1. The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman: This gorgeously illustrated novella is a mash-up of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty where one princess saves herself and the other tries to bring about the downfall of the kingdom. Gaiman spins on exciting take on fairy tales that you won’t soon forget.

A thrillingly reimagined fairy tale from the truly magical combination of author Neil Gaiman and illustrator Chris Riddell – weaving together a sort-of Snow White and an almost Sleeping Beauty with a thread of dark magic, which will hold readers spellbound from start to finish.

 On the eve of her wedding, a young queen sets out to rescue a princess from an enchantment. She casts aside her fine wedding clothes, takes her chain mail and her sword and follows her brave dwarf retainers into the tunnels under the mountain towards the sleeping kingdom. This queen will decide her own future – and the princess who needs rescuing is not quite what she seems. Twisting together the familiar and the new, this perfectly delicious, captivating and darkly funny tale shows its creators at the peak of their talents.

 Lavishly produced, packed with glorious Chris Riddell illustrations enhanced with metallic ink, this is a spectacular and magical gift. 

  1. Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge: This dark take on Beauty and the Beast reimagines the heroine as a badass warrior destined from birth to destroy the beast. However, things get complicated and enthralling when she realizes she may not hate the beast after all.

Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny. 

 Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

 With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

 But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle—a shifting maze of magical rooms—enthralls her.

 As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

  1. Tam Lin by Pamela Dean: This take on the Scottish folk tale of Tam Lin can be a bit hard to get into but it is worth committing to. It is a rich tale of love and fairies and is filled with literary allusions which if you’re a literature nerd, like me, make it even better.

In the ancient Scottish ballad Tam Lin, headstrong Janet defies Tam Lin to walk in her own land of Carterhaugh . . . and then must battle the Queen of Faery for possession  of her lover’s body and soul.

 In this version of Tam Lin Janet is a college student, “Carterhaugh” is Carter Hall at the university where her father teaches, and Tam Lin is a boy named Thomas Lane. The book is set against the backdrop of the early 1970s.

  1. Impossible by Nancy Werlin: Based on the folk ballad “Scarborough Fair”, Impossible tells the story of Lucy and the curse laid upon her family by an Elfin King. Beautiful storytelling and characterization that are sure to draw you in. Also if you’re interested, you can find a rendition of “Scarborough Fair” here.

Lucy is seventeen when she discovers that she is the latest recipient of a generations-old family curse that requires her to complete three seemingly impossible tasks or risk falling into madness and passing the curse on to the next generation. Unlike her ancestors, though, Lucy has family, friends, and other modern resources to help her out. But will it be enough to conquer this age-old evil?

 A beautifully wrought modern fairy tale from master storyteller and award-winning author Nancy Werlin. Inspired by the classic folk ballad “Scarborough Fair,” this is a wonderfully riveting and haunting novel of suspense, romance, and fantasy.

  1. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas: Like Pamela Dean before her Sarah J. Maas (who I adored before this and now love even more) takes on the tale of Tam Lin and runs with it. There is a little bit of Beauty and the Beast thrown in as well in this story of Feyre who, after killing a wolf to survive, finds out that the wolf was a fairy and she is now bound to live out the rest of her days in the kingdom of fairy as punishment. However, not everything in her new home is as it seems and she soon finds herself faced with an evil unlike any she has ever known.

Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price …

 Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.

  1. The Immortal by Christopher Pike: One my all-time favorites by Pike, The Immortal weaves Greek mythology into the story of Josie’s vacation to the Grecian islands where the theft of an ancient artifact changes her life forever. (Author’s Note: Both this book and the next on the list have more modern covers available but these are the one’s I own and I think they’re the best).

Josie is on vacation in Greece with her father, his new girlfriend, and her best friend. While visiting the sacred island of Delos, she accidentally stumbles upon an artifact-a tiny statue of a Goddess. Immediately Josie is enchanted by the statue and she takes it with her when she leaves the island.

Then the trouble starts. A guy takes her for a boat ride and she is almost killed. Then the image of the Goddess begins to haunt her dream. The goddess wants something from Josie that she doesn’t want to give.

The immortal wants to be mortal. The Goddess wants Josie’s life. 

  1. The Forbidden Game trilogy by L.J. Smith: Another all-time favorite of mine, The Forbidden Game trilogy tells the story of a Shadow Man names Julian who falls in love with a human girl names Jenny and will do whatever it takes to make her his. This book was the height of romance when I was a teenager and after rereading it recently it still holds up pretty well, especially with the frequent references to Nordic folklore.

He’s watched Jenny Thornton for years. His name is Julian and he lives in the shadows, the youngest of an ancient race. From his own dark world he has seen Jenny’s brightness and beauty, and for the first time felt a new emotion…love.

 

  1. Touched-The Caress of Fate by Elisa S. Amore: This paranormal romance by Italian author Elisa S. Amore is an indie YA hit. Rooted in Norse legend this story of an Angel of Death who falls in love with the girl whose soul he is meant to steal.

What are you willing to sacrifice when the only person who can save you is the same one who has to kill you? 

 After vampires and werewolves, after wizards and fallen angels, a new breed of Angels is here to usher you into their dark world. An ancient, deadly, inescapable race.

No one can see them. They’re shadows of destiny. They’re knights of death. They’re the Subterraneans and they’re here to claim our lives.

Commanded by a mysterious congregation called the MAsala, the Angels of Death ensure that each man’s destiny takes its due course on Earth.

But what happens when love intervenes?

Can an Angel of Death deny his own nature and challenge destiny?

Can love rebel against fate?

 When Gemma’s eyes first meet the dark, piercing gaze of Evan James, an ominous shadow creeps into her life, ultimately leading her to face her destiny. She doesn’t realize Evan is one of Death’s soldiers and that Death is summoning her.

Her time is up: Gemma must die . . . and Evan has been sent to kill her.

But what if she’s the only one who can truly see him?

 Against every rule. Against fate itself. Against everything and everyone. A story of forbidden love and star-crossed destinies.

 

All book blurbs and images courtesy of Goodreads.com.

Mara: The Nightmare Legend

The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli (1781)

The mara or mare (mara is Old High German or Old Norse, while mare is Old Dutch) is a creature featured in Scandinavian folklore and Nordic legends associated with sleep and nightmares. The mara is described as a being who would sit on the chest of a sleeping person and bring them nightmares. The etymology of the creature’s name is drawn from Nordic words for nightmare (the Norwegian word for nightmare is mareitt, the Icelandic term is martroo, while the Swedish translation is mardrom). Mareitt and martroo roughly translate as “mare-ride”, referencing the original use of the term, while mardrom translates as “mare-dream.” The story of the mara originated in the Norse Ynglinga saga, a 13th century saga written by Snorri Sturlson, an Icelandic poet. In the saga King Vanlandi Sveigoisson of Uppsala is killed by a mara which is conjured by the Finnish sorceress Huld, hired by the king’s abandoned wife.

“Driva bribed the witch-

wife Huld, either that she should bewitch Vanlande to return to

Finland, or kill him.  When this witch-work was going on Vanlande

was at Upsal, and a great desire came over him to go to Finland;

but his friends and counsellors advised him against it, and said

the witchcraft of the Finn people showed itself in this desire of

his to go there.  He then became very drowsy, and laid himself

down to sleep; but when he had slept but a little while he cried

out, saying that the Mara was treading upon him.  His men

hastened to him to help him; but when they took hold of his head

she trod on his legs, and when they laid hold of his legs she

pressed upon his head; and it was his death.  The Swedes took his

body and burnt it at a river called Skytaa, where a standing

stone was raised over him.”

Ynglinga Saga, Verse 16

 

The mara also appears in the Icelandic Vatnsdæla saga as a spirit connected to the fate of the person it is attached to and in the Eyrbyggja saga (also Icelandic in origin) where the sorceress Geirrid is said to assume the shape of a marlíðendr or “night-rider.”

My Dream, My Bad Dream by Fritz Schwimbeck

The mara legend has also been observed in several places outside of Scandinavia. In Germany there are records of charms and prayers to ward off the mara, such as the below:

Here I am lying down to sleep;

No night-mare shall plague me

until they have swum through all the waters

that flow upon the earth,

and counted all stars

that appear in the skies.

Thus help me God Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen!

-Charm Against Night-Mares

In Polish folklore the mara is described as a soul of a living person who leaves their body at night and are seen by others in the guise of wisps of hair or moths. In Czech lore there are mentions of a “night-butterfly,” also thought to be linked to the mara legend. Russian legends paint the mara as invisible but with the ability to also take the form of a woman with long hair. Other mentions of mara in Slavic folklore include descriptions of the mara as a succubus-like creature who invades men’s dreams and lead them to their doom (Croatia) and as a spirit who enters through the keyhole and strangles you while you sleep (Serbia). In Turkey, the mara is called the Karabasan which translates to “ominous-presser.”

Mara by Johan Egerkrans

The legend of the mara is also connected to the mythos of the old had or night hag, a story used in many cultures to explain sleep paralysis. The first definition of sleep paralysis appears in Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary under the term “nightmare”:

Nightmare n.s. [night, and according to Temple, mara, a spirit that in the heathen mythology, was related to torment to suffocate sleepers.] A morbid oppression in the night, resembling the pressure of weight upon the breast.

A female Mare riding on a sleeping man’s chest. (Andy Renard Artwork)

The folklore of the old hag is seen all over the world including:

  • Folk belief in Newfoundland and parts of the southern United States where the hag leaves her body and sits on the chest of the victim.
  • The legend of the kana tevoro in Fiji where it is seen as a recently deceased family member with unfinished business.
  • Thai belief describes sleep paralysis as being caused by a ghost called Phi Am.
  • In Japan it is referred to as kanashibari, which translates as “to bind” or “to tie.”
  • In Mongolia sleep paralysis is called khar darakh, which translates to “to be pressed by the Black.” (Author’s Note: this is super creepy and I love it.)
  • In Arab cultures it is referred to as Ja-thoom which means “what sits heavily on something.” It is believed sleep paralysis can be prevented by reading the Throne verse of the Quran.
  • In several African cultures (including Nigeria, Egypt, and Ethiopia) sleep paralysis is believe to be caused by a demon who has possessed the body while dreaming.

If you’re curious about learning more about the legend of the mara, visit the links below:

Mare (folklore)-Wikipedia

Night-Mares: D.L. Ashliman

Atlas Obscura

“The Folklore of the Nightmare”-Eric Edwards Collected Works

Mara (folklore)-Project Gutenberg

We’re Copyrighted!

The day to day of being a self-published writer is often a monotonous existence of continuously throwing your book out into the world and seeing if anyone pays attention. It can suck but every once in awhile something happens that makes the author within squee with delight. One of these things is pictured below:

I received the official Certificate of Registration for Daughter of the Mara’s copyright from the Library of Congress today (cool right?!) and it makes things feel even more official then they already did. Also, as a trained librarian, receiving an envelope from the Library of Congress gave me a nice warm feeling inside. Anyways, just wanted to share my random excitement-now back to working on Heir to the Dreamscape.

My Book it Out!

So after an exceedingly long time spent writing, editing, and avoiding doing both of those things, my first novel Daughter of the Mara is out in the world for people to see. It is an exciting and absolutely terrifying feeling. Maybe you’ll like it, maybe you won’t, but it was time to push it out into the world. Anyways I think it’s pretty great and hopefully you will too. You can find all of the links below:

Amazon

Kobo

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Scribd

Apple iBooks