5 Dreamy Book Towns

5 Dreamy Book Towns, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Book lovers are dreamers. We dream of other worlds and other lives. We dream of what we just finished reading and what we’re going to read next. We dream of homes crammed with our book collections, libraries that never close, and cozy local bookshops where we can spend massive quantities of both time and money. And some book lovers dream of entire towns devoted to books and then make them a reality. Did you know there are dozens of book towns around the world (enough that one writer even wrote a book about them)? At a time when so many events have been cancelled and travel is difficult, if not impossible, for most of us, dreaming is more important than ever. Here are five book towns to dream about (and where one day, hopefully, you’ll be able to live your dreams).

Have you been to any book towns? Which are your favourites? Share in the comments…

Hay-on-Wye, Wales

5 Dreamy Book Towns, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Probably the best known of all the book towns, and credited with inventing the concept, Hay-on-Wye is home to numerous book and antiques shops. It hosts the Hay Festival, a literary event that (normally) travels to other cities throughout the year (click the link to watch this year’s events online). There’s also a castle.

St. Pierre de Clages, Switzerland

5 Dreamy Book Towns, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

A Medieval village, St. Pierre de Clages is Switzerland’s only book town. The town specializes in antiquarian booksellers, but that’s not all you’ll find there. They also host an annual book festival that’s described as a must for “book lovers, amateur readers, history buffs or fans of comic books.” (No word on what’s happening with the festival in 2020, but it’s probably safe to assume it’s cancelled.)

Featherston, New Zealand

5 Dreamy Book Towns, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

One of the newer book towns, Featherston has already established itself as a place for book lovers. Its annual Featherston Booktown Karukatea Festival, usually held in May, was postponed, but a Words in Winter event is currently taking place until August– key features include author talks and book signings.

Hobart, USA

5 Dreamy Book Towns, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Located in the Catskills (New York), Hobart was essentially a ghost town not too long ago. Now it’s a dedicated book town with stores featuring books on topics ranging from American history and feminism to vintage cookbooks and craft books. Massive book sales are held on Memorial Day and Thanksgiving weekends, and Hobart also hosts their Festival of Women Writers (currently postponed but there may be virtual events).

Sidney, Canada

5 Dreamy Book Towns, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Sidney is Canada’s only book town, as far as I can tell (something they’ve apparently been claiming since the 1990s). Located on beautiful Vancouver Island, Sidney bookstores include new, used, and antiquarian books on everything from military history to classic children’s fiction. There’s a special focus on local authors and culture, and many stores hold regular events. Most books are in English, but you can also find a good selection of Japanese and Chinese titles. There’s also the annual Sidney LitFest (returning in 2021).

These are just a few of the dozens of book towns that exist around the world (although most seem to be in Europe, hopefully this concept will catch on). You can find out about more book towns here and here.

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Aspasía S. Bissas

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Vampire’s Garden: Nettle

Vampire's Garden: Nettles, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo by Mareefe on Pexels.com

Love Lies Bleeding‘s readers know that main character Mara is both a vampire and a botanist. Trained in botany and herbalism when she was still human, she continues to study plants and have a garden. This post is ninth in a series exploring Mara’s plants. Are you interested in botany, gardening, or plant lore? So are some vampires…

Please note: Medicinal uses are given for informational purposes only. Always consult a medical professional before diagnosing or treating yourself or anyone else.

Please also note: Nettle is known as stinging nettle for a reason. See “Caution” below.

Botanical Name: Urtica dioica

Common Names: Stinging nettle, common nettle, nettle leaf, stinger, burn nettle, burn weed, burn hazel, feuille d’ortie, slender nettle, tall nettle, wild nettle. (Not to be confused with dead nettle, Lamium spp.)

History: Native to Europe, temperate Asia, and parts of northern Africa, nettle can now be found throughout the world. It grows abundantly in areas that receive regular rain, such as the Pacific Northwest, and locations that have been disturbed by humans (e.g., ditches and fields). The German idiom “sich in die Nesseln setzen,” or to sit in nettles, means to get into trouble. The medical term for hives, “urticaria,” comes from the Latin word for nettle: Urtica (from urere, “to burn”). It has been used as medicine, food, tea, and as a raw material for textiles since ancient times.

Language of Flowers Meaning: Rudeness, coolness, scandal, pain, slander, cruelty, protection (no two sources I found gave the same meaning).

Cultivation: Perennial. Nettle needs moist, rich soil (it’s also an indicator of fertile soil wherever it grows wild). Start seeds indoors about 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date, or sow seeds directly in spring or autumn. Transplant hardened seedlings in spring, spacing plants 30 cm (12 inches) apart. Make sure to grow nettle away from high-traffic areas in your garden. The plant grows 1 to 2 m (3 to 7 ft) tall in summer and dies back in winter. Harvest leaves in early spring (don’t use once the plants have flowered) and roots in autumn. Nettle spreads easily via rhizomes, so if you’d like to grow it but don’t want it taking over your yard, keep it contained with a barrier around its roots (if it gets invasive, regular and persistent tilling can help get it under control; otherwise, you may need to resort to herbicides). Add nettle leaves to compost as a source of nitrogen (or make compost tea). You can also forage for nettle in green spaces and open woodland (just be sure it hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides or steeped in car exhaust).

TIP: Aphids love nettle. Grow nettle to keep aphids away from other garden plants (like roses).

Uses:

Medicinal: The fresh plant is a traditional spring tonic. Fresh or dried leaves and the powdered root have been used to treat disorders of the kidneys and urinary tract, and for sore muscles, osteoarthritis, rheumatism, and gout. The leaves are also used for skin conditions, to treat anemia, and to reduce hay fever. There is some evidence that nettle lowers both blood sugar and blood pressure. Some folk practitioners still practice Urtication, or flogging with nettles, to treat arthritis and rheumatism, and to increase circulation (although this has been shown to be effective, before you try it keep in mind that Urtication has also been used as a sentence for criminals).

Hair Care: A tea made from nettle leaves can be used as a hair rinse to add strength and shine. Some people believe it also stimulates hair growth, but that is purely anecdotal.

Culinary; Nettles are rich in Vitamins A, B, and C, as well as iron, potassium, calcium, and protein. Use young plants picked in spring (plants that have flowered or gone to seed contain gritty particles that can irritate the urinary tract and kidneys). The sting can be removed by cooking or drying nettles, or by soaking them (I can confirm that cooking and drying works, but I’m hesitant to try the soaking method– please let me know if you have, and how it went). Fresh nettle can be used like spinach or other greens, or made into chips or pesto. Dried or fresh leaves and flowers can be made into tea. You can also brew beer from young nettles.

Fun Fact: There’s a World Nettle Eating Championship, where people compete to see who can eat the most fresh nettles. Those with a low pain tolerance need not apply.

Wildlife: Nettle provides food for the larvae of several species of butterflies and moths. Ladybugs (a beneficial garden insect) also prefer laying their eggs on nettle. When harvesting, watch out for eggs and caterpillars (a curled leaf can be a sign of a resident) and avoid damaging those leaves.

Textiles: Nettle has been used to make a linen-like fabric for at least 3,000 years, and unlike some plants (looking at you, cotton) nettle doesn’t need pesticides. Some modern European manufacturers are starting to produce nettle fabric again.

This short video demonstrates how to make nettle fabric:

And this video shows how to make paper from nettles:

Natural Dye: Nettle produces yellow dye from its roots and a yellow-green or grey-green hue from its leaves.

Caution: The leaves of most nettle species are covered in hollow needle-like hairs that inject histamine and other irritating chemicals into the skin when touched, causing a stinging sensation and contact dermatitis (known as contact urticaria). The sting is removed when nettles are cooked or dried. Wear gloves and use caution when handling the fresh plant. Dock leaves are a traditional remedy for nettle stings, and dock often grows close to nettle (you can also use spotted jewelweed, plantain, antihistamines, or anti-itch creams).

Caution 2: Nettle has been deemed likely unsafe to take during pregnancy, as it could potentially cause a miscarriage. Although it has a history of being used to induce lactation, it is now recommended to avoid nettle while breastfeeding. Nettle can also interfere with some medications; let your doctor know if you are using it.

Mara’s Uses: Mara would include nettle in tinctures and teas to help strengthen bloodletters (human volunteers used by vampires for their blood) and to prevent or treat anemia.

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

Further Reading

Aspasia S. Bissas's books: Love Lies Bleeding, Blood Magic, Tooth & Claw
Make sure to download your FREE copies…

Love Lies Bleeding: SmashwordsBarnes & NobleKoboApple Books
Blood Magic: SmashwordsBarnes & NobleKoboApple Books
Tooth & Claw: SmashwordsBarnes & NobleKoboApple Books

If you prefer a good paperback to an ebook, order Love Lies Bleeding from Bookshop – a portion of each sale goes directly to independent bookstores, as well as to myself. Thank you for supporting indie! ♥

 

Canadian Wildlife Federation (includes recipes)

Gardeners’ World: 10 Uses for Nettles

Penn State Hershey (medicinal use)

Surprising Ways to Use Stinging Nettles (with recipes)

Stinging Nettle: Useful and Delicious

Tips for Growing Nettle

How to Use Nettle as a Fertilizer

Dyeing with Nettles

Wikipedia

Floriography, Language of Flowers

Meaning of Flowers

WebMD

World Dracula Day: 5 of the Count’s Best Crossovers

World Dracula Day: The Count's Best Crossovers blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo via the BBC.

Tuesday is World Dracula Day, when we celebrate the anniversary of the first publication of Bram Stoker’s vampire classic Dracula. Over the 123 years he’s been with us, The Count has encountered all sorts of other characters, some more memorable than others. Here are some of my favourite Dracula crossovers…

Dracula vs. King Arthur

World Dracula Day: The Count's Best Crossovers, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

After making a deal with Lucifer to become a vampire, Lucifer then decides to send Dracula back to Arthurian times to take over the world. Hi-jinks ensue over the course of this comic book’s four-issue run. It’s maybe not the best-executed crossover (Lucifer wants to send Dracula back in time to before vampires existed so the Count can start turning humans and spreading evil– so why send him back to the time of legendary heroes? Why not to, I don’t know, any other time in history that wasn’t legendary?), but the concept of Dracula vs. King Arthur is a good one, and Camelot fighting Dracula is a fun idea (Merlin as sinister anti-hero doesn’t hurt, either).

Dracula vs. Frankenstein

World Dracula Day: The Count's Best Crossovers blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

As two of the most popular monsters, it’s no surprise that Dracula has faced off against Frankenstein*. In fact, the two have met many times over the years in movies like Dracula vs. Frankenstein and Les expériences érotiques de Frankenstein (ooh la la); pulp novels like Frankenstein Meets Dracula; and comic books, including The Frankenstein-Dracula War and A Story of Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein, which came with a corresponding LP so you could listen to the story as you looked through the book. Whether you root for the undead or the reanimated, these stories have you covered.

*Yes, Frankenstein is the doctor, not the monster. It’s been 202 years of people calling the monster Frankenstein– can we just accept it?

Dracula vs. Zorro

World Dracula Day: The Count's Best Crossovers, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Zorro and Dracula meet on a ship heading to Europe and become instant enemies. Although it’s hate at first sight, the fight doesn’t get serious until they meet up in the catacombs of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (as one does). As a fan of both Zorro and the Count I’m not sure who to root for in this mashup, although I am slightly disappointed that (spoiler) Dracula doesn’t turn Zorro. Now that would be an interesting story…

Dracula vs. Sherlock Holmes

World Dracula Day: The Count's Best Crossovers, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

I don’t know why I was surprised that Dracula has met up with Sherlock Holmes, but he has– and numerous times, too. I haven’t seen or read any of the existing versions (yet), but there’s one Dracula/Sherlock crossover I would love to see, and that’s one put together by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, creators of the BBC’s Sherlock and Dracula (2020). It’s true I didn’t really enjoy their Dracula miniseries earlier this year, and the last season of Sherlock left a lot to be desired, but if the two of them were inspired and brought their A game, they could make a crossover for the ages with their versions of these characters. Dare we hope?

Dracula vs. Batman

World Dracula Day: The Count's Best Crossovers, blog post via Aspasia S. Bissas

It’s definitely worth seeking out the animated The Batman vs. Dracula if you’re a fan of either character. Based on The Batman TV series, the story brings Dracula to Gotham, while also featuring some of the typical characters you’d expect, like Penguin and Joker. The movie touches on the influence of Dracula on Batman, which I appreciate. The animation is fantastic, especially for Dracula and the other vampires. I actually reviewed this movie years ago on my other blog, if you feel like taking a look (I have since come to appreciate Dracula more as a character). I don’t think there are any plans for a sequel, but I would love to see more Dracula-Batman stories.

There are other great Dracula crossovers, but I’m going to save those for another post. In the meantime, which is your favourite (including those not mentioned here)? Who would you like to see Dracula go up against? Share in the comments…

Happy Dracula Day!

Aspasía S. Bissas

Aspasia S. Bissas's books: Love Lies Bleeding, Blood Magic, Tooth & Claw
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If you prefer a good paperback to an ebook, order Love Lies Bleeding from Bookshop – a portion of each sale goes directly to independent bookstores, as well as to myself. Thank you for supporting indie! ♥

5 More Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of

5 More Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

Chances are when you think of vampires you’ll think of Eric Northman, Drusilla, Barnabas Collins, or any of the other fanged creatures-of-the-night that populate modern culture, including Mara from Love Lies Bleeding. The vampires we’re familiar with are (generally) human looking, powerful, often charismatic and attractive, with a thirst for blood and a dislike of stakes. But that wasn’t always the case. History and folklore are full of vampires that are nothing like what we’ve come to expect. Here are five examples…

Vetala

5 More Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo via https://detechter.com/three-famous-vampires-in-india/

Also known as vetaal or baital, the vetala is a blood-drinking demon in Hindu mythology that haunts burial grounds and crematoria, hangs upside down (like a bat) from trees, and possesses dead (or occasionally living) humans or animals. Not unlike the vampires on Buffy, the demon sets up shop in the body it’s possessing, while the original soul that inhabited said body is “completely gone.” Unlike the vampires of Buffy, the vetala retains none of the memories of the person it’s possessing. As well, destroying the body doesn’t destroy the demon, which simply moves on to the next handy body. Vetala are chaotic, revelling in the damage they cause, including driving people insane and killing children. Interestingly, some vetala are not evil; there’s even a Disney Channel series in India where a harmless vetala is friends with a boy. It’s also possible that Bram Stoker was inspired by tales of vetala before he wrote Dracula.

Revenant

5 More Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo by Dylan Sauerwein on Unsplash

There’s some debate about what revenants actually are. It has been argued that they are a type of vampire, zombies, or simply generic undead. Since the word itself means “one who returns,” it could refer to anything from a ghost to (technically) someone coming back from a long trip. Augustin Calmet wrote in the 18th century that revenants were created by sorcerers “who sucked the blood of victims.” Most historical accounts agreed that revenants are caused by the restless spirits of wicked people re-animating their corpses. Whatever a revenant is, stories show a number of similarities with classic vampires, from their bodies being swollen with blood (usually from gorging on it); to only being able to move about at night; to needing their heads and/or hearts removed and destroyed in order to finally stop them. Illness and death almost always follow in a revenant’s wake. While vampires are said to require blood as sustenance, a revenant doesn’t need the blood it consumes. Another difference is that revenants, unlike vampires, decompose.

Draugr

5 More Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Draugr (or draug, pl. draugur, AKA aptrganga) is essentially a Norse revenant. Unlike other revenants, draugur can increase their size at will, are motivated by treasure (as well as revenge and the general desire to do damage), and are not affected by sunlight (although they prefer the dark). Draugur have magical abilities and can shape shift (one form they were known to take was a cat that would sit on a sleeping person’s chest, getting steadily heavier until the victim suffocated). They can also rise from their graves as wisps of smoke or pass through solid rock. Draugur can enter the dreams of the living, leaving a “gift” as assurance that they were really there. Draugur kill their victims (both human and animal) by draining their blood, but can also kill by crushing, devouring, or driving their victims mad. They were also thought to run animals to death by chasing or riding them. They can be killed via burning, dismemberment, destruction of the body, or simply by eventual decay.

Izcacus

5 More Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Illustration by Mexicankaiju on DeviantArt

(AKA Aizhakos) A pagan shaman on trial during the Hungarian Inquisition described a demon called Izcacus (meaning blood drinker), which could be called forth to destroy the enemies of the pagans. The name has ancient Turkish roots, and may have been originally spread by migrating tribes who were themselves influenced by the Assyrians. Specific information on the Izcacus is hard to find, but if it does have roots in Assyrian vampire beliefs, it could (like other Assyrian vampires) be a violent, merciless spirit or demon that devours its victims’ blood and flesh.

Guaxa

5 More Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Image source (and I believe this is the artist).

Originating in Spain, the guaxa (AKA guaja or guajona) is an ancient vampire resembling an old hag (think stereotypical witch) with bright eyes and bird legs (any relation to Baba Yaga?) She sucks blood (preferably from children) with her single long tooth/fang. The guaxa sneaks into homes at night through keyholes and chimneys, and slowly drains victims over the course of weeks, causing them to waste away. Unlike most vampires, they are born, not turned. One source claims that the guaxa’s weaknesses include silver, antlers, running water, and magical amulets, but I couldn’t find any corroborating sources, so it may not be accurate.

Have you heard of these vampires? Which do you think is scariest? Tell me in the comments…

Edit: I forgot to add the link to my original post, 5 Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of. Enjoy 🙂

Aspasia S. Bissas's books: Love Lies Bleeding, Blood Magic, Tooth & Claw
Get more vampires right now– download my books FREE!

Love Lies Bleeding: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books
Blood Magic: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books
Tooth & Claw: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books

If you prefer a good paperback to an ebook, order Love Lies Bleeding from Bookshop – a portion of each sale goes directly to independent bookstores, as well as to myself. Thank you for supporting indie! ♥

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

 

Further Reading

Three Famous Vampires in India

Vetala Indo-European Vampire

Wikipedia: Revenant

Mythology.net: Revenant

Wikipedia: Draugr

Vampire Underworld: Draugr

Vampire Folklore by Region

Monsters from Mesopotamia

La Guaxa Es La Vampiresa Asturiana

Wikipedia: Guajona

The Monster Blog of Monsters: Guajona