DRACUL by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker
Guest review by Sam Hooker, author of Peril in the Old Country
I had high expectations going into this book. There’s a cold, undying spot in my heart for Bram Stoker’s 121-year-old masterpiece, so the stakes for Dracul (no pun intended) were far higher than any other vampire story written since Dracula’s release. My expectations were met and exceeded. Dracul was every bit the spiritual successor to the master work that I hoped it could be. Devils stood aside as Stoker and Barker paraded their proverbial snowball through hell, and it was as frosty when they left as it had been when they entered. Dracul is a prelude to Dracula, and the authors have snared the very soul of the latter in crafting the former. The characters are different, as is the plot, though there are harrowed reflections of the characters that I have loved all my life: Jonathan Harker, Mina, Lucy, Doctors Seward and Van Helsing—and, of course, the immortal villain himself. To capture the soul of the original work yet tell their own story so seamlessly was beyond my wildest hopes for Dracul. It was gorgeous and terrifying from beginning to end, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
It's hard not to fall in love with anything Christina Henry writes. The Mermaid tells the story of Amelia, a young mermaid who lives as a human after falling in love with a fisherman of a small village. When the ambitious and insatiable P.T. Barnum decides to find a mermaid for his new exhibition and tales of Amelia reach his ears, he convinces her to become part of his show. But Amelia begins to question whether or not she can ever leave and soon learns she must fight for her independence and agency as both mermaid and woman. Written with fairy tale-like narration and enchanting characterization, The Mermaid is a poignant portrayal of love and freedom. — Kelly
A follow-up to the novel Lock In, Head On was a book I simply couldn’t put down. The story reads like an Agatha Christie murder mystery, but with more corporate conspiracy and robots. Beyond the mystery and sci-fi, there are also elements of social commentary that had me questioning humanity’s shared beliefs on race and minority. While I enjoy the story’s alternative take on the near-future, I simply love the balance between the often-humorous banter of the main characters and the narrative’s action-packed moments. All this combined with the even pacing of the story, as the author avoids inundating the reader with too much information all at once, makes for a smooth and enjoyable read. If you’re a fan of crime dramas, sci-fi, and some humorous dialogue, you’ll love John Scalzi’s Head On as much as I did. — Nick
"Live in the Saddle. Die on the hog."
I never thought I would find myself so drawn into a story where the main characters are half-orcs. But by page three I was hooked, and rooting for them. This book took what I thought I knew about fantasy and flipped it on it head. The main character is Jackal, a half-orc and a member of the Grey Bastards, a biker-like gang that rides hogs with snouts and tusks instead of wheels. He is young but also cunning and head-strong. Along with his "brothers" they patrol the Lots and do their best to keep full-blooded orcs away from the human world. Jonathan French created a rich world filled with boorish jokes, scheming, fighting, brotherhood, friendship, and betrayal. Each member of The Grey Bastards has their own charm. Some you end up liking more than others, like Oats and Fetching. The Grey Bastards was a book that I actually found myself laughing out loud while I was reading. The characters breathe life into the pages and leave you wanting more. -- Victoria
This story has many elements – power struggles, casualties of war, love, steampunk, subterfuge, greater good, magic, witchcraft. Dr. Miles Singer, returned from the war, has hidden the fact that he is still alive from his family. If found out, his magical powers would be bound and subjugated to those of his sister. The dying decree of a man brought in by an enigmatic gentleman to the hospital where Miles practices (Tristan Hunter) sets the course for Miles and Tristan to discover the darkness within returning soldiers, why magical is dying, and where have so many souls gone. I really enjoyed this story and following the characters as they discover one hidden truth after another. This is C.L. Polk’s debut novel and is the beginning of a series. Can’t wait for the next book! -- Christine
The Book of M is so much more than an exciting, hyper-violent post-apocalyptic zombie thriller. The tale’s “zombies” are people who have lost their shadows and memory, creatures of fear who can be swayed by love. The main story is a love story about how Ory and Max are separated after Max loses her memory and how they traverse a devastated America searching for each other, despite all the crazies and zealots and terrifying death-kites, to arrive at last at a very moving and unexpected conclusion. The Book of M is a surprising and profound book, complete with fascinating reflections on Peter Pan, magical realism, and love. Very highly recommended. – David Joslin
London Rules is a mordantly funny British spy novel set in present day London. The fifth installment of the superb Jackson Lamb series, it features a group of oddball, defunct MI-5 agents relegated to Slough House, the Secret Service equivalent of Siberia. Their boss is the politically incorrect Jackson Lamb, a former top field operative who hides his brilliance and humanity under a thick layer of repugnance. Their dull world is shaken-up when one of them realizes that a series of recent, bizarre terrorist attacks are related to a leaked document containing dark secrets from MI-5’s past. The Slough House group bumbles into action, and we are treated to an ingenious plot, brilliantly crafted characters, absurdly clever dialogue, and scathing political satire. Herron’s prose is sublime, and his mix of serious themes, current events, biting social commentary, dry humor, and empathy is unparalleled in modern spy fiction. Highly recommended for fans of espionage and dark comedy. — Kim
Death Notice is a gripping cat-and-mouse thriller by China’s foremost suspense writer, Zhou Haohui. The story pits an elite Chengdu police task force against an elusive vigilante assassin who crowdsources his victims. The killer calls himself Eumenides, after the Greek goddesses of vengeance, and, prior to each assassination, he sends the police a “death notice,” detailing his next victim’s name, alleged crimes and date of execution. The constantly shape-shifting plot includes a series of similar murders that occurred 18 years ago. Moral dilemmas and the quest for retribution are prominent themes, and the modern Chengdu setting is an uncommon treat. Death Notice is the first book in a hugely popular trilogy, and the online series based on these novels has over 2.4 billion views in China. Highly recommended for fans of cinematic police thrillers and international crime fiction. — Kim
Splinter in the Blood is a mesmerizing debut police thriller set in Liverpool. In the spectacular opening scene, Detective Ruth Lake is holding a loaded pistol and gazing at the bullet hole in her boss’s chest. She and her boss, Detective Greg Carver, had been trying to find a sadistic serial killer whose signature involves laboriously covering his victims’ bodies with bizarre tattoos before poisoning them. Ruth thinks her boss is dead, and she calmly removes crucial evidence from the crime scene. What on earth is she doing? When Ruth realizes Carver is alive, the secrets and lies begin. The story follows Ruth as she investigates both the serial killer case and the shooting, enlisting Carver’s help while he recuperates in the hospital. But both of them are lying, and the serial killer is watching. Ruth and Carver examine tattooing rituals, poisonous plants, symbolism, psychics, and dark secrets as they gradually unravel the truth. This impressive debut features intense and complex protagonists, intriguing supporting characters, a provocative plot, and fascinating forensic details. Highly recommended for fans of psychological thrillers, police procedurals and classic whodunnits. – Kim
My Boyfriend is a Bear is the book I can’t stop recommending to everyone who’s ever been in a relationship. Nora, a Los Angeles woman who has been in a series of less-rewarding-than-she-deserves relationships, first encounters an American Black Bear in the hills outside LA. She flees, dropping her magazine in the process. When fire later causes the bear to relocate to the metropolitan areas, he rummages in Nora’s trashcans. Despite the unorthodox “meet cute” and protagonists, this is an amazing story of the accommodations we make, and gifts we receive, when we choose to open our hearts. – Maryelizabeth
What, per chance, will be the outcome of
My Lady’s Choosing? The course of one’s
life and relationships lies in the hands of the reader, as they determine what activities the unfashionably mature and penniless protagonist will spend her time on and with whom. Not only are the actual story selections a romp, but the footnotes by Zageris and Curran add a soupçon of extra delight. Fun for romance readers of all genres, not just period romances. – Maryelizabeth
"Love Me Never by Sara Wolf"Life is full of ups and downs and navigating your teenage years can be difficult. It is full of your highest highs but lowest lows and high school is the ultimate battlefield. This book is the classic tale of the strong willed new girl in town who is an outcast plus the bad boy everyone wants but can’t have and how their hate for each other just might become something more. It is done perfectly and with beautifully real characters who show how growth can be painful and messy but possible. The cold exterior we sometimes create is simply the best armor we can find to get through all the hurt buried deep inside and wrapped in scars.
The fun dialogue hooked me right away and the pacing of the chapters kept me reading until I was done. I’ve never read a book that so perfectly placed me inside the head of a smart, sarcastic, but troubled teenager and I loved every minute of it." -- Constance
Children of Blood and Bone, the first book in Tomi’s Legacy of Orisha young adult fantasy trilogy, introduces readers to the West Africa-reminiscent kingdom and its once common, now persecuted minority magic wielders, the divîners. Tomi interweaves the point of view of divîner Zélie Adebola, who is both eager and fearful to embrace her heritage, and fanatically anti-maji King Saran’s offspring, Princess Amari who questions the established narrative, and Crown Prince Inan, torn between fulfilling his father’s expectations and determining his own values. At times as graphically brutal as it is compelling, this stellar new fantasy will have an enduring legacy. Highly recommended. – Maryelizabeth